Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
April 2012

EYE WITNESS


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Private Parts and Pivotal Moments

 I’ll be honest. I’ve never had to worry about my parents sitting me down for some kind of brady-esque moment and giving me ‘The Talk’. The official ethnic family party line was that there are no birds and bees, and if there are, there are no birds and bees – at least until you’re married.

So for me it was kind of like putting together puzzle pieces (including a random glimpse of Revenge of the Nerds I’m not sure I can ever forget), but not knowing what the picture is supposed to look like. Not completely unique but, you see, Arabs aren’t very good at the fuzzy love stuff you see on American sitcoms, so it was that much harder.

I understood from a very young age one central concept: haram (forbidden), and it pretty much shaped how I approached things, including boys. So even my interactions as a child were a mass of do’s and don’ts, long before I understood exactly what I should, or shouldn’t be doing. Catching a pair smooching in public one day was my first clue that couples actually did anything together. It was a revelation, but on a par with sneaking into an adult film – like I’d stumbled onto something I shouldn’t be exposed to. It changed the rules. It was a ‘rude scene’. Later I watched American shows like Eight is Enough and read Judy Blume books, where people dated and kissed and got heartbroken, and it all seemed rather normal and it messed with my head. Was it right or wrong? What was first base, and what did baseball have to do with any of it? Why must we change the channel when the guy looked a little intensely at the girl?

Still, soon enough I understood there was more to playground tribalism than boy/girl germs (public school, bless). While curious, I was more concerned about winning my spelling bee and sniffing glue in year 1 than playing catch and kiss. But others were more advanced, like a BFF who threw a friend onto her bed and proceeded to ‘violate’ him. It ended in tears (his).

For a long while I only really understood that babies arrived wrapped in a blanket, looking adorable, and boys could make your tummy feel a bit funny. Meanwhile, they’d do mean things like, in one unfortunate folk-dancing incident, squeeze your hands so tight your blood supply got cut off.

Books and TV continued to teach me about what happens when two people love each other very much, but as a teen I was left traumatised by stories of village aunts dispensing pre-marital advice back in the old country. Naïve brides, who lacked even Judy Blume as a guide, got the lowdown on their wedding night from old women employing vegetable metaphors.

Just hearing about it was an ordeal up there with getting the rundown on self-love in year 8 Personal Development. I may need therapy one day.

Which reminds me. Private parts. The pivotal moment came when I saw our neighbour chase her naked son down the street. I had some questions - obviously. I couldn’t ask mum. She’s awesome, but if I asked her about anything remotely adult, she’d purse her lips and eye me up and down like I was a sleazy tabloid journalist. Even now the idea of it is enough to induce a nervous breakdown and make my eye twitch. That and it’ll most likely come out sounding all academic with words like ‘abstain’ and ‘fornication’. Although mum’s argument involves a bridge and crossing it in good time or something… Awkward!  But, slowly, the pieces fell together to give a bigger, not-so-terrifying picture. The puzzle took shape – weird metaphors and all – and it wasn’t as scary as it had been. It was exciting, as long as you can forget the village aunts. Vegetables and sex is clearly always a bad idea.

Amal Awad

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Frankie magazine in November 2010.


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