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2005 Writers Forum
Maliha Masood

Maliha Masood is a writer, traveler and activist. Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, she has lived in Paris, Rome, Cairo, Damascus and Beirut, while considering Seattle, WA home since 1982. Her forthcoming travelogue, In the Middle of the East: A Muslim-American Woman's Odyssey from Cairo to
Istanbul will be published by Cune Press in 2005. Maliha is also the co-producer of Nazrah, a documentary film exploring the perspectives about American-Muslim women from the Pacific Northwest (www.nazrah.org). She is currently in the process of establishing Diwan: Dialogue on Islam, a Seattle based cultural institute. The organization aims to engage interactions between Muslims and Americans through radio and TV talk shows. Maliha has a Master's Degree in International Affairs from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She frequently writes essays and commentaries on Islam, gender and culture. Her languages include French, Arabic and Urdu.
Maliha Masood photo
photo credit:
dean wong
Listen to an excerpt of Maliha's reading (MP3)
Read and listen to excerpts from a discussion between Maliha Masood and 2005 curator John Mifsud.
Peek-A-Boo (excerpt)

To travel in the Middle East is to confront the staring mafia. A curious and friendly lot, these men, women and children don’t mean any harm. They are just intrigued at the sight of the ajnabee or foreigner whose peculiar habits provide ample training ground for professionally certified stares. Even though I still wore my headscarf, in Amman I couldn’t blend in as I had in Cairo.

Perhaps it was my slow measured walk and wandering eyes taking in my new surroundings that gave me away. I changed tactics by trotting on the streets of downtown Amman, like those no nonsense executives blasting their way through Midtown Manhattan. Some days, I even pretended to know where I was going, to the point of losing all my bearings in the labyrinth of back streets. No one else around me walked as fast. Jordanians preferred a centipede crawl. Women often linked arms with each other and men held hands with a childlike affection rarely encountered in the West. They would pause in front of shop window displays of Nike and Adidas. Heads tilted to one side and ears glued to cell phones, as the idiot foreigner swirled by like a hurricane.

So whenever my American girlfriends groan knowingly about the hassles of traveling in the Arab world—even though they have yet to experience it for real—I tell them, well yes, but think of some of the advantages. Instead of wallowing in the blandness of being a Nobody back home, a woman can feel like a Hollywood celebrity for a day by strolling along the streets of downtown Amman.

From the moment Bea and I stepped foot outside our hotel, we were made to feel like Greta Garbos in disguise. For starters, the men’s eyeballs were nailed to our faces. Then, they would audaciously walk ahead of us and turn around to steal another glance, teetering backwards like a pack of drunken sailors. One day Bea and I tried a little experiment. We walked out with our heads uncovered, but this produced no difference.

At that time, I resented their gawking. But the reverse cultural shock of public anonymity in American streets caused me to yearn for our attentive fans in Amman. Despite the annoyance factor, the men had made us feel alive simply by acknowledging our existence in the world. Now that I am no longer a part of that world, I miss the heightened curiosity towards strangers that was once so bothersome. It was simply another way of saying, Yes, you are here and your presence matters.

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