It started with a private car. One that I entered in Nike gym shoes, Victoria Secret sweatpants, and an Express graphic tee with a French model on it whose face can be seen clearly thanks to my flat chest. I was in New York City–a place filled with so many people looking for so many things: riches and fame, love and happiness, and those looking for the fashion. I was in the Big Apple looking for two of the above–fame and fashion–but before that, I needed to run down to Sephora to grab my Makeup4Ever long wear lipstick in color number four. The closest one was in Times Square, about three blocks from my hotel, so I packed up and went on an adventurous walk over. I made sure to keep my mother’s advice in mind since she was a New York native all her life before moving to Chicago in 1985.
NEW YORK CITY SURVIVAL GUIDE
- DON’T ask a soul for directions, unless you want to get lost.
- DO NOT get into a cab with a guy who randomly approaches you about getting into his cab.
- When in doubt, wear black!
As I walked down the bustling city being jostled by passersby going at NY pace–in other words, get-the-fuck-out-of-my-way pace–I tried my best to admire the attractions without being told to, well, “Get the fuck out of my way.” Somewhere between Broadway and 4th, I got completely lost. I mean, I had no idea where the hell I was. So, I broke cardinal rule number one and asked for directions from two men loitering around the outside of a building under construction. They seemed so certain on where I should go as they directed me with a point here and a confident, “Oh yeah, yeah you’re not that far.” Turns out they were absolutely wrong as I cut one corner and the next looking for the Sephora that was, “Right around the corner.”
After about an hour of wandering and after tanning two shades darker, I found myself on 7th and some shit.
“Oh for the love of God,” I said out loud in frustration.
“Can I help you?” said a voice from behind me as if it were God himself.
I turned. It was a construction worker walking towards me adjusting his hard hat.
“No, thank you,” I replied, knowing very well that New York City construction men are no different than Chicago ones: horny, flirty, and interested in putting their drills in a lot more than the concrete.
I decided to weave my way back where I started. The only problem with that was that I wasn’t exactly sure where that was. I wanted to use my Map App on my phone, but my battery was dying and I couldn’t be without a phone, so I turned to the person with the NY map imprinted in her head- my mom. Unfortunately, she didn’t answer, so I was really screwed. I found myself going in a ring of circles as I tried my best to figure out where I was and where I needed to go.
I spotted a Police Officer and so I asked him for directions to the Sephora. The only problem was that me, in my infinite wisdom, had completely forgotten the address and couldn’t browse the Internet for my recent search since my phone was already flashing red. Instead, I stood there with a wide and rather stupid smile asking the officer, “Do you know were Sephora is?” I asked as if it were his home away from home.
“There are hundreds. Which one you lookin’ for?” he asked with a smile of his own. His sweet demeanor comforted me. “Listen, there’s over a dozen in the area.”
“Well, I’m looking for the closest one to my hotel,” I said giving him the name and address.
“Oh, well that’s right in the middle of Time Square and it’s also right behind you,” he said. I quickly turned to notice the beautiful sign directly across the street from me. Never before was I more happy to see that sign. That’s what I love most about New York City: even when you’re lost, you’re found.
My lipstick was bought and my trip had officially begun.
I can’t get into the many arbitrary journeys I had, considering that that would turn into a novel of its own, but I will say that my week in New York City turned into one magical, almost surreal journey at times. Meeting friends: some new, old, and others that I tried to forget. I saw plays that aroused my imagination in a way I never thought possible. I walked around the many parks that were both intriguing and romantic. I saw couples–so many, many couples–holding hands, laughing, kissing, sharing warm embraces. I envied them, although somehow feeling a sense of serenity in the moments I didn’t share with a significant other. It rained… a lot and yet still New York glistened. It’s a strange yet alluring city filled with so many people from so many walks of life sharing one commonality: New York City.
It ended with a private car–my driver, a Syrian from Aleppo, immediately recognized that my name was “Arabic,” as he called it and asked where I was from.
“My father is from Palestine,” I answered.
“Palestine,” he said. “Wow!”
“Yeah,” I answered. Then he asked me the question every Arab man asks every Arab woman he meets.
I decided, considering the fact that I would never see the man again, I thought, why not have a little fun with this and say, “I’m engaged to be married!” To which of course he answered with a long and excited, “Mabrooooooooook!” Congratulations.
“Thank you, thank you,” I said echoing the immortal words of Elvis Presley.
“Is he a Palestinian too?”
“Yes, he is!” I said adding to the little white lie.
“Your father must be very proud of you,” he added.
“I’m sure he would be if this were true,” I thought. I smiled at him, although I was very confused. You see, in the Arab culture, it seems that a parent’s pride is surfaced when a child of theirs gets married. As if it’s the only act that can instill pride in them. Sometimes I feel that if my Harvard interview back in the day, would have gone well and I would have been accepted to Harvard University, even that would not have instilled the pride my father had in me the moment I accepted Nidal’s proposal.
“I have three daughters and four boys,” he said. “All my girls are married.”
Somehow I felt that if I didn’t congratulate him on this, I wouldn’t be considered a good Arab, and so I did.
“Thank you thank you,” he said with a wide proud smile.
“How old were they when they married?”
“Two were seventeen and the other one was sixteen,” he said.
I thought that was rather young, but considered that I have two cousins who also married at that age, it wasn’t shocking to me.
“Yeah, we had to go to court and I had to sign for them and the judge had to ask them all those stupid questions like, are you being forced to do this, is your father putting you into this. Do you want to get married? All those stupid questions.”
I didn’t want to tell him that a part of me was wondering the very same thing. I’ve heard a lot of stories and seen a lot of situations where girls are pressured, guilted, and yes, sometimes forced into marriage to restore a family’s honor, save their reputation in front of the community, or because the father couldn’t afford to keep her any longer and he would rather her marry a man who can take care of her.
“But, they love these men very much and so I approved it. One of them even married an Italian man who converted to Islam.”
“Oh wow,” I said. “Were you upset with that?” I asked, knowing very many Arab men who would not be ok with their daughter marrying out of the culture–my father, being one of them.
“Yeah, why not? He loves her, she loves him. He makes her very happy. He treats her better than any man I’ve ever seen treat a woman. They are very happy.”
“That’s amazing,” I said. “There are a lot of fathers that wouldn’t be happy about that, especially Palestinian men,” I added. “But, I believe as long as the man is Muslim, why not?!”
“Exactly. It’s the twenty-first century. The Palestinians are very old-fashioned, very old-fashioned,” he repeated. “They need to get out of the thousand-year-old traditions and move into 2013,” he said.
“Oh, I like this guy,” I thought. He was right, the Palestinians are, of the Arabs, the most prideful. We are so set in our ways that to a certain degree, many of us– like my father, uncles, and cousins–refuse to modernize their views, particularly on marriage.
“Remember,” he said. “Marry a man you love, not a man who loves your father.”
He was absolutely right and could have been an ambassador for my website since I advocate for the same exact thing. I believe that since we’re the ones who have to live with the men for what we hope will be the rest of our lives, we had to be happy with the choice we made. We have to love the men.
“That’s why I tell my daughters, you can choose whoever you want but not dating. You meet someone and you’re interested in them–that’s it. That’s who you’re going to marry,” he said. Although I didn’t agree with this, especially since his daughters married at such a young and impressionable age, I couldn’t argue the fact that his daughters, who were now in their mid-thirties, were not only well-educated, but still married to the men and from my understanding going very strong.
The ride continued on for another twenty minutes where we spoke more about marriage, those that are arranged and others not. The success and failures of both and our belief that love–true love–conquers all. I enjoyed the company of the man who introduced himself to me just before shaking my hand, “People call me George, but my name is Mohammed.” We shook hands and parted ways as I rolled my luggage into La Guardia Airport and checked in to my flight.
Sitting in the plane and peering out the window made me sad. I was going to miss New York even though I new I would be coming back very soon. Suddenly, that sadness turned into happiness as I remembered the city I was returning to–my city–Chicago. I had been away far too long and needed to go home. Sure it doesn’t glisten like New York, nor have the many unwinding streets that even a rat can get lost in, but if there’s one thing that can be said about Chicago, it’s that there is no city in the world that has its swag.