What Have I Done?

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When I woke up, we had just landed in London, Heathrow. I jet setted through these airports so often, that it actually felt like I haven’t left home at all. There was nothing foreign, all felt familiar, and I knew it was too early to celebrate.

the layover was strategically short. I’ve heard too many stories of girls being intercepted at layover airports, locked up or drugged, taken (forcibly) on board private jets, and sent back home. In most cases, these girls disappear.

It’s not too far-fetched now, thanks to the stories of Saudi girls making the rounds on Twitter, but back in 2015? most of this was never unheard of in the west. The princesses of the UAE, the Saudis, and their stories too.

Girls disappear, want to know what happens to them? Death, forced marriage, imprisonment, forcefully being kept in a mental asylum, and fed drugs til the day they exhale for the last time. I used to think of that last breath often, how peaceful it must feel, the warmth you get to feel for the last time as you wilt into… into what… whatever it is, it mustn’t be worst than this. peace… that must be the only time I’ll ever be close to it.

What was it that we’ve done to deserve this but be born women?

Have I truly angered the Gods by just wanting a happy, albeit simple, life? Yes, I understand, happiness is what you make of it, when YOU have a choice, we do not.

My wrist wound was starting to pound and I needed to find my way into a pharmacy, Boots it is, I guess. Problem is, I did not have enough money, I had the emergency cash of around 2000 EUR and that would hardly be enough until I figured out how to get my savings out of the country. I decided to try and use my card, what’s the worst that could happen… and… it worked!

you see, debit and credit cards had to be signed off for use abroad by the bank, either via their app, or in person. everything in Qatar was linked to your ID#, to your telephone number, and since I did not have my Qatari sim which my brother has now that he has the phone, I could not access my funds.

i felt relief, I had authorized my card for use abroad when I was in London in July, and look at me… using it in the same city, and I’ll be able to use these cards for the next few months.

I bought some rubbing alcohol, cotton, and hygiene products. I forgot to bring shampoo and more with me, and it seemed like a great idea at the time, and headed back to the plane.

I got intercepted by two men, white, I don’t even recall their nationalities but all I do recall was that instant fear and trembling in my knees. I turned the autopilot on, “remember, you’re a lovely little girl from the Gulf with a lot of money, going to see your boyfriend in the States, and don’t know when you’d go back to Qatar so you haven’t booked a ticket yet.

That’s what I convinced myself was the persona, and hence I needed to act it out.

And… it worked?

I think I was taken aback by how easy all of this has been. I’ve had more trouble getting in and out of the country on previous occasions, and here I was, smooth sailing away from the motherland… and into… the unknown.

As I sat there On the plane, a mixed bag of feelings came over me. Calmness, pride, and anxiousness for the future took turns on my nervous system, until, I fell asleep again.

Have I truly succeeded where so many others have failed

Is this fate? it must be fate, there is no “facile” in life, unless it is all meant to be

perhaps I am just convincing myself I am chosen for this

and New York… of all places…

But my sister, and my niece, will I ever see them again…

what have I done?

Chasing What I Never Could Have #1

I was sitting in a room full for people, staring. Today, I told myself, something was different.

As they kissed each other on the cheeks and shook hands, I felt as if I was in a glass box, observing and seeing the outside world as if through a window sealed shut, or like those of shop windows, never meant to crack.

At that moment I stared on and wondered “what strange behaviors”. I hated being touched as a child, I somewhat still do, and just couldn’t understand why we would have to greet each other by kissing, caressing or shaking hands.

Touch overwhelmed me.

I think that was the first time I felt different, or perhaps, the first time I was conscious of it.

I was 5, playing with dolls, staring at visitors walking to the female assigned guest room connected to our living room, as my mother greeted them for a dinner party.

I still recall asking my mom around it – why do we greet each other this way, who decided it?

I never got answers from her, only anger and shouting. I still wonder whether she was just annoyed, or if I hit her incompetence nerve as I call it, because she never liked looking stupid or sounding stupid. I stopped asking her for anything, I recall, at around 7. she was hardly involved in our rearing, and even when she was, it was to punish.

I always thought differently, and was a different kind of “smart”, and she never liked that. She liked anything which praised her, which made her feel “superior”

My father was the opposite, and I still think he added more to who I was in the 9 years of my life he was alive to see, than she did up to now.

My father was an intelligent man:

He completed 4 years of highs school in 1.5. I recall something about them (father and uncle) going by boat to Bahrain for classes too. He studied all over the world, from Norway or Finland, Japan, London, Hawaii, to the United States and more.He studied Telecom Engineering in Scandinavia, in either Finnish or Norwegian (my mother managed to burn all his books, so we couldn’t figure it out) and he didn’t know a word – he claimed mathematics is a universal language, and he didn’t need another language.He was our human calculator, we threw any numbers at him and he was able to solve them in seconds.

But most importantly, he was well read, and always allowed me to read his scientific journals and books – though I wish I didn’t read about Marie Curie at 6 because I developed nightmares about radioactive material – and gave me the freedom to ask any, and as many, questions I wanted.

He listened, answered or directed us to where we could find answers, and only wanted what’s best for us. I still hate God for taking him away.

With him, I felt the most normal. he accepted me for who I was, and that window felt thinner than if I was with someone else.

He also understood I was a different kind of smart, and pushed for my education hard.

My mother is vehemently against any sort of education, even today, and she hence wasn’t too excited about my dad registering me at a bilingual kindergarten.

She initially delayed my enrollment because she thought I was “stupid”, and my dad and sister disagreed.

There, I recall trying to play with others and not knowing how to, I also didn’t know how to communicate with them. I thought I was doing well, but the teachers told my mother I was:

“too much to handle”, “disobedient”, “destructive”, “inattentive” “hyperactive” and downright just didn’t abide by their instructions.

I was hence marked as “unfit” for pre-school class and shoved into a room with 3 year old shouting and eating candy. I guess I didn’t care since I was having fun.

All I recall is learning about money in the kindergarten, and my mind was blown. I needed “money” to get candy? how have I never noticed this before!?

My mother made the decision to approve this, and all I recall are a few fights between her and my father on the subject.

To her, it was one less thing to focus on, she did not want to think about my homework, that’ll take from her socializing time, or want to help me with it, since it made her feel “incompetent”.

I was enrolled in a public school a year later. she pushed hard to not put me in a private school too.

So, was I all that the previous teachers described me as?

Oh, hell yes. I was a destructive handful who had too much energy, didn’t sit still, got into fights with 6th graders and anyone who dared bully me.

But I was also a Straight A student. I scored in the top 5 Percentile at elementary school.

suck it, I guess.

Alas, my teachers were perplexed, and divided over how to deal with me. They didn’t want to punish me and discourage me from studying, plus I was intensely bullied and they weren’t sure how to manage it.

I somehow knew I was always going to get away with it too. I was chubby with pink cheeks, had brown curly hair with gold locks, and was considered too “white” in complexion to fit in, so I was bullied on my looks often, though that came in handy with teachers.

I was “cute” and had a lisp, so whenever I got into trouble, they would call me to the principle’s office, they’d ask me to say a sentence that was going to sound cute with my lisp, and I’d be let go, scot-free.

I continued to bully back the other girls, terrorizing them by swinging my shoulder strapped Barbie water thermos around in the air and once it garnished enough velocity, hit them with it. My water bottles were deservingly stolen from me multiple times due to that.

My mother never took my behavior well, she was losing face in public, but then praised for raising a “smart daughter” so of course, a beating at home was eminent, and was kept behind closed doors.

What is wrong with me?

You would assume I was having the best time of my life, but I really can’t explain the dichotomy which exists within me up to today.

I never understood this combined rejection of my being. In both Kindergarten and Elementary, I just wanted to fit in. I wanted to have those friends you see on TV, and even more so, I wanted those real friendships I saw in class, during recess, between teachers – am I such a bad person?

Heck, I was the only kid not invited to this girl’s birthday.

How did I know? she announced it in class.

I recall being punished during class for disrupting the class and enjoying it. I was assigned tot his sticky desk on the side of the class, away from everyone. Is this punishment? isolation? you already do that, so your punishments suck, really.

Reject that which rejected you

The dichotomy was, then, this desire to belong, to have friends, to be normal, clashing with the desire to be left alone, to rebel against those who reject me and taunted me.

That desire to belong I blame for so much misery in my life, and so much pain.

The child in me couldn’t deal with the constant rejection, and the adult in me still tries to find her place in the world with a hot track record of failure.

the glass box I am in becomes thicker, murkier, and my desire to leave it hard to find.

What they did not know, was that they were setting me for success elsewhere.

And All That Could’ve Been #2

Nothing good comes easy, but why must it be this hard?
Anxiety can be a blessing, and so can all the quirks I never knew were going to come into play at that moment in my life.
I switched on the autopilot, I let my mind take the wheel.
I memorized all my credit cards, this was way before autofill on Chrome was a thing, and I somehow looked at booking tickets to two places, the first the Netherlands, and then the second, the US.
The earliest ticket I found was to New York, and it was flying in under 2hrs.

I Booked it.

With the blood rushing through me I ran to my room, put on anything I could find in the short amount of time I had.
I assumed it was cold, so I put on boots, a cardigan and grabbed a coat.
It was easier to put a dress on plus leggings due to my cut wrist, so I did that.
I looked like Annie with the dress and cardigan I had on, an Annie ready for a snow day, and ready for tomorrow.
I needn’t be too prepared for Choice #2, my autopilot chose arrival with the least amount of suspicion.

My autopilot failed at one thing, though, and that was the anticipation of how I was going to react to the sight of my niece.
Even though she was nonverbal autistic, she communicated well and she showed tremendous love.
My sister and niece stayed in a room right opposite of where I parked my car.
As I started my car and backed out of the driveway, there she was, looking outside the window.

My niece always lifted the blinds, and look outside the window to either greet me or say goodbye.
The look on her face this time was different… she knew… that child somehow knew that it’ll be the last time she sees me. She stared on, our eyes locked, and my autopilot shut off.
I cried all the way to the airport, her look instilled in my mind. I have abandoned her and let her down.

What have I done.

The drive was a blur, and I had to stop crying to reduce any suspicion and avoid any undesired attention.

I turned my autopilot on, and tried to keep cool.
As I did not print my ticket I had to go collect it at the counter.
Simple exchange most days, but today was different. He took a moment checking something on his screen and tells me he’ll take a moment.

My façade breaks and my anxiety kicks in. I remember thinking that they found out I left and called the police, that I’m soon found out and will return to that little hell of a home.

“Ma’am, you do realize you should arrive at least 2.5hrs before departure? We wouldn’t be able to check in your baggage on time. Do you have any baggage to check?”

“Not at all, and really sorry about that, I had to change my flight last minute. I’m going to go shopping in New York and just get stuff there. I already have a list of stuff to get my family, too!”

“Yeah there’s a lot of stuff there for sure! Let me print your ticket and get you ready.”

I grabbed my ticket. Challenge 1 was done, it was time for immigration.

I hate this step, I hate the questions and the judgements and always try to choose someone who looks easy going.

As I awaited my turn anxiously, I needed up with a lady in her mid 20s with one hell of an attitude.

She looks at me and grins momentarily. This isn’t the friendly grin, this is the grin you see on the side of a person’s mouth, exuding judgement, and a need to feel superior.

I gave her mine and smiled, not too widely, not too happily, not too suspiciously, just enough to pass as uncaring and hence unnerved. All I could think about was how much I hated the scrutiny I always received at immigration, the unnecessary questions:

“where’s your guardian?”

“why are you travelling alone”

“does your family know you’re out and travelling”.

“Do you have a no obligation letter from the police signed by your brother”
“Why are you not wearing your headscarf”
… Why won’t you just leave me alone and let me be.

She looks at my passport, flips it, astonished as it’s maroon and looks at me, stares again at my passport, gives me a look, opens it, flips to my page, stares at it and looks at me and repeats the process as if to assure herself she’s doing something right.

“One moment”

My façade breaks some more at this stage.
Of course! I thought, it wasn’t the agent at the ticket counter they’d tell, the police probably filed a travel block and it shows in the system
I’m fucked

A man is called and he comes towards us, she grabs him and speaks to him, though in front of my eyes, everything seemed secretive. They exchange a few words, they look down at my passport, they then look at me, and it felt as if my organs failed, my breath was gone and so was my future

“where’s your Abaya?”

“I take it off before I travel”

The officer nods, they look at my hair and smirk. Curly hair isn’t a thing to be proud of in the Middle East.

He leaves, she looks at me a smirks again as if she was the decider of my fate. And she was but didn’t know it.

“you’re good to go”

My heart restarts again like w failed engine, I catch my breath and hold my tears back.

“thanks” (Mashkoorah)

I rush through the security checks and to the free duty area and buy the first cheap phone I find. There was a lot I needed to do and my laptop wasn’t going to do the job.

I set up my phone and connect to the wifi and let my autopilot do the rest

I changed my passwords

I deleted all my social media accounts

I logged in to Google’s Where’s My Phone service and wiped both phones.

They’ll never find me. They’ll never find anything “haram” .

I’ll disappear, and so will the burden and shame they made me carry on my shoulder my whole life.

“that whom never belonged, never was, and never shall be. ”
I needed to think

Oh! Address! I need a place to stay in New York. But for how long… where…

I just booked the first Hostel I found.

Hostelling international, it was one of the few with last minute rooms and it was the first to pop up on my search.

The day’s work was far from done, though.
I like to think I’m alone in this world, but that’s far from the truth. In the days I was gone, my friends worried, and I confined in a few and told them what was going on.
One-way tickets to the US, I learned, were suspicious.

I needed to devise a good story that’ll convince the US security at the gate that I’m not going to stay.
I had all the indicative marks they looked for:

Battered, and female, distressed.

No luggage, Or a lot of luggage.

One way ticket.

I emailed my ex at the time who was in Denver:
Title: I am running away
Body: I made it into the airport and now waiting to board. Please send me your address in the states
I wasn’t going to let this slip. I’ve made it this far, it is time.

Choice #2 is my only, it’s now or never.
I’ve been wanting to leave this country since I was 8. I never felt that I fit or that I belonged. I was relentlessly bullied by family members, teachers (even they were assholes), classmates and even colleagues.
I was always looked down upon and even more so they made sure I felt like an outsider.
I was so alone… I felt so alone…
Will this change for me now, will the world take me on or will it reject me as well.
I could never tell if it would, but it’s time to find out

As I pass through security, they check my bags, they check my Passport for the visa and my ticket, and clearly the questioning ensues.
“you booked this ticket last minute. This is also a one-way ticket, why are you flying to the United States?”

“well I haven’t seen my boyfriend since 2013, I met him in Denver when I was studying (I did not). We usually meet up in Europe which is mid way and he just told me his leave of absence has been approved. I just really miss him and wanna stay with him for a bit and I haven’t yet decided how long I’d like to stay. I’ve got over a month of leave from my company, too! So I’ll just go shopping and probably see more of the US”
Nothing like a good sob story about a “good” Muslim girl in a secret relationship with a heathen boyfriend to make the hearts of freedom lovers throb.

And their hearts did, as they smiled and I smiled and blushed, they let me go through
You’d notice by now shopping is a theme. I just wanted to sound as Qatari as possible, as spoiled as possible, as clueless as possible. This was the only way. I needed to utilize my reality to for theirs. I learned this style of masking as a form of safety, and due to my neurodivergence.

If you’re reading this, too, you’d wonder why they haven’t asked anything about how I could “afford” the trip.
Well… for once, the stereotype of the rich girl from the Gulf came in handy. Money wasn’t seen as a problem and hence that isn’t even part of the screening.
Who knew… that being abused for ages, Learning how to make people happy, masking, negative stereotypes and anxiety, could be my saviors that dreadful day?
I pass through my gate and sit on my assigned seat in coach. In the back of my mind I always thought that, until that planes in the air, I shouldn’t celebrate.

And so, as I sat there, thinking they’d make the plane turn back somehow, as soon as the wheels left the tarmac, all systems and defenses were dropped. I felt my shoulder drop with the pressure on the plane, as if an armor fell off and onto that tarmac, an armor of years of masking, shame, and fear, we’re left on that tarmac, and I did it.
I recall hugging the airline’s blanket close to my chest and breathing deeply. There were no tears left in me, I suppressed them beyond their short lived existence.

And as i looked down at my wrist, oh, how insignificant life can be. As my family did not care, so did no one at that airport. If any significance came from that incidence, it’s the breaking of my imaginary shackles and binds. I set myself free.

Exhausted, I didn’t have time to lament what I’ve left behind.
I did not, after all, have much to leave. With not many friend, no real family, no real “traditional” life, I had nothing but material things attached to that location.
I couldn’t lament on what was not there, or all that could’ve been.

And All That Could Have Been. #1

We don’t always like the choices we’re given, but what’s beautiful about humanity and this age of being is that happiness and fulfillment are a choice.

TW: suicide, abuse

That morning was a haze. 3 days of no sleep, locked in a room at home with no access to the outside world, I stared at my open wound on my wrist and wondered why have I not gone through with it?

The only things which were keeping me alive for years were taken away, in the blink of an eye. I was no longer master of my universe, they made sure to remind me I never really was.

And yet, and yet, something beyond my comprehension was keeping me alive, and full of hope.

Was it God?

Was it the universe?

Or, was it stubbornness?

I’ve looked for that answer a majority of my life, and failed to find it even then and there. The emptiness persists, yet a beam of light has been shining through it: so small and easily dimmed on those dark days, but consistent and always there.

I then stared, into nothing. I’ve never felt more hopeless nor emptier than I did at that moment, and really couldn’t cry or reflect on the misery I was in.

Numbness is meant to keep us alive, after all.

As I sat there and took in the silence of the morning, I saw her leave the house, my oldest brother followed.

all I recall was my heart clenching.

A rush of anxiety took over me. I could feel every hair in my body rise, there was such a rush I felt my heart was going to pop out of my chest.

Something was wrong.

While to some it’s normal for people to dress up and leave in the morning, my brother was shaven; the man hasn’t shaved or left the house in months, let alone at such early hours with the sun barely up. He was dressed in traditional clad he hardly wore outside of funerals or family gatherings, he was dressed to meet with authority.

A knock on my door snapped me back to reality, but in the 3 days I’ve been in here, no one but her (my mother) came into the room just the day before.

I still recall that moment as she waltzed into the room towards me. She sits next to me and strokes my hair and I feel like my body was slowly being covered with slime.

“My poor girl, you’re suffering. I hate to see you suffer… If only you’d obey me and listen to my demands, then I can make all of this go away”

I mustered whatever energy I had left in me, and using my cut hand, I swatted hers off.


“You will regret this, jew”

I still take pride in being able to fight back. I was the last of her children to “break” and proved I’d never be.

Hasn’t she realized it by now?

When they broke into my room, beat me up, and told me they’ll be taking away “all the rights we’ve given you so far”

I chose death.

She made sure I knew that my universe is under her control, and unless I do her bidding, I would bever be “free”.

and I chose death.

I chose to take my life before they did.

And that was choice #1

I guess… It was stubbornness that was keeping me alive. and spite.

The door opens, and it was my Yaya, who’s been with us for over 20 years. She has seen me grow up, she has seen first-hand the physical and mental abuse we endured. I never understood why she stayed, but on that day, I was so glad she did.

She brought me breakfast, a cup of juice and a sandwich. But that was not all she brought.

“They’re going to court”

“Did they find my passport?”

“They were looking for your passport, I hid it with me. I also have your spare car key, and your wallet. It is not safe for you here anymore. You must leave.”

At that stage, my whole life collapsed.

The court, in Qatar, issues paperwork such as a “travel ban” on women.

It really didn’t matter how old you were, or what status you held. In some enclaves of the Arab world, guardianship means you’re always someone else’s property.

I briefly cried, without tears in my eyes it felt more like an agonizing scream.

I was already working full-time, and behind their back, studying Law full-time.

They forbade me from studying Law.

“No man would want an overly educated woman”

“You’re getting too old

That day, they took both away.

and now, they wanted to take the world…

What choice have I left. What was there left for me?

I had no friends, she managed to isolate us from society and I never really bothered to fit it.

I had no family, they abandoned us once my father died, and I never heard from them, or desired to, since.

The only things I truly had were my work, my pride, and a large world to explore.

all gone, except…

Choice #2