Muslim Mothers, Berber Boys, and Arabian Knights


I CAN tell that she’s stunning, even beneath her Muslim hijab, as she sits next to me on my flight from Dubai to Casablanca, this pretty Palestinian woman and her handsome husband, a Moroccan man. She smells of musk and optimism and when I ask her about the name of her perfume, she opens her phone and conspiratorially shows me a photo of a beautiful woman with long, flowing hair.
“It’s me,” she whispers.
Despite her head covering, we are not that different, my seat mate and me. During the seven-hour flight she listens to Adele and watches Wonder Woman. I view a documentary on Whitney Houston, and punctuate the hours by listening to Mariah.
From time-to-time she teaches me a few Arabic words: Maharba (hello/welcome); Shokrun (Thankyou);  and Smaheli (Excuse Me). The phrase I most adore, Mashi Muskil (no problem), rolls off my tongue with such delight I can practically taste the words.
But she looks perplexed when I ask her for a polite phrase to use in case I am hassled or harassed.
“You won’t be hassled,” she assures me.
Yet, I persist, until she asks her husband who eventually utters “Baed Meni” meaning “stay away from me.”

Seven hours later in Casablanca, a rusty, dusty place, my first impressions of the men pendulum from being complete gentlemen concerned about my welfare as a woman, travelling alone until I meet my tour group, to that of a bunch of leering, jeering fools.
Earlier that evening on the street, while talking to my hotel door man, I am hassled by three men speaking Arabic. I don’t understand what they say, but my hotel host looks horrified and explains: “They say something very bad to you. They are drunk.”
I have just met a bunch of Casablanca wankers.
“I can get this shabby treatment back in Brisbane,” I want to shout after them, but my limited Arabic fails me.

I have a long, dark night of the soul in my basic hotel room with an inexplicable amount of door locks. I can’t work out whether they are to keep me in or to keep someone out. Why have I come to this strange land all alone?
The solitary light bulb in my spartan room explodes, stranding me in complete darkness. I toss and turn until I hear the dawn call to prayer wailing out above the sleepy city.
So unfamiliar am I with this haunting, yet beautiful sound, at first I think it’s a motorbike in the distance. I lay in bed in the early morning cool and wait, impatiently for first light, still searching for meaning behind my latest travels. Of course, I am here to hunt and gather stories and photographs for my editors, but on a personal level, what is it that I seek?

The next day, I steel myself and catch a cab to the art deco museum which is a feat in itself, as cabs in Casablanca are shared affairs, with the driving stopping randomly to pick up other passengers. By now, I’ve learned the word for “hot” as in the weather. I practice my Arabic, telling the driver it is hot today. He replies “You are hot.”
I’m frustrated when, as each male passenger enters his cab, they begin a long conversation which, from the pointing and staring, includes me.
I make a lunch reservation for one and dine at Rick’s Café. Over Moroccan lemon roasted chicken with saffron rice, raita, and a cold Casablanca beer, the water asks: “You like Moroccan food?”
“Yes, very much,” I say.
“You like Moroccan men?” he asks.
“I don’t know yet,” I respond.

Is it fair to impose my Australian views on feminism onto another culture? I juggle this concept in my mind during my 13-day Intrepid Morocco Uncovered journey which starts in Casablanca before heading north to Rabat, east towards Meknes, north to Chefchaouen, south through Fes, Midelt and the Sahara, before hooking back west again through the M’Goun Valley, Ait Benhaddou and finishing at Marrakech.
Khaled, my Intrepid Travel tour guide and a proud Berber man from Morocco’s Indigenous people, teaches me about Moroccan marriage law.
As late as 2004, a man could have three wives under former laws which were brought in to support poor women. Now, a man can only take a second wife if his current wife agrees. And women can divorce their husbands, and in most cases, custody of the children is awarded to the mother.
It’s a complex system where if a Muslim man marries a non-Muslim woman, the woman need not convert to Islam, but if a Muslim woman marries a non-Muslim man, the man must convert.
Arranged marriage still exists in some villages and if a man visits a woman’s family and they serve him tea with sugar, he has been accepted into the family. If the tea is bitter, he has been rejected.

One magical morning, while wandering Morocco’s blue city of Chefchaouen, I catch an elderly couple holding hands. They disappear around a corner. Like a lost puppy I follow them for a while, watching him assist her up those steep streets. Wondering about their love story.
Khaled, 35, is a modern Moroccan man who, by his own admission, is a “bad Muslim” who drinks alcohol and rarely prays.
He confesses how he once told a young Moroccan woman in Marrakech who was wearing a skimpy outfit to cover up, saying he found her outfit “disrespectful.”
She told him to “mind his own business.”
I ask Khaled why there appear to be no woman anywhere in the country who frequent the coffee shops at which there are copious men.
He explains that “women don’t like going out for coffee”. He believes Moroccan women have equal rights to men in his country.

Exploring feminism in Morocco is like stumbling into the Fez medina without a guide. There’s 10,000 streets here, and in one wrong turn you can become hopelessly lost. Hakima, our Fez guide, says if a woman is smart, she will learn to shut her mouth to a stupid husband, and then do what she wants anyway. Perhaps feminism isn’t struggling here, but cleverly hidden, under the veil many women discarded here 1912.
Despite its differences and difficulties, allow yourself to fall in love with the people of this colourful kingdom in northern Africa. For they are generous souls with an incredible history.
By the end of my journey I know about 13 Arabic phrases, one for every day of my trip. And I’m smitten. Arabic sounds as spectacular as it looks in its written form. A rush of long, curly sounds and words that stretch as far as the Sahara itself.
Wrap your mouth around Morocco. And open your mind and heart. Things won’t be the same again. Inshallah.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Intrepid Travel https://www.intrepidtravel.com/au/morocco/morocco-uncovered-100927

Happy New You!

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OUT on the patio we sit, and the humidity we breathe. 1980s Aussie rock band GANGgajang is on stage, stating the obvious on a scorching summer day, which feels like Satan himself has tossed a hot blanket over the entire Woodford Festival site. There is no respite from this cauldron so I have two choices, to complain (which strangely doesn’t make it any cooler) or, as GANGgajang states, laugh and think…this is Australia.
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Under the big canvas of the Blue Lotus tent, Mary-Lou Stephens – author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation – has lured me in with her talk entitled “Change Your Life Without Doing Anything”. It’s an enticing concept, borne from Stephens’ tortured childhood and time spent in silent meditation retreats.
“I changed my life, saved my job and found a husband through meditation,” she tells the sweltering crowd. But, we quickly learn, it’s not as simple as all that.
“I grew up in a charismatic, Christian family. I was told at the age of eight by my mother that I was a prophet, a healer. My mother was desperate for me to be special in some way,” Stephen says.
“I developed a lot of addictions and had a childhood described as being akin to growing up in an alcoholic household. I never knew what to expect when I came home. I knew my family was different to everyone else’s family and I was embarrassed to bring my friends home to this.
“There is an urban myth that the youngest child is spoilt. But by the time your parents get around to you they are tired. They don’t care what you do. I grew up a victim of gross neglect. I grew up wild and feral, stealing money and food.”
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So damaging was her childhood, that one of Stephens’ brothers died from alcoholism and two of her sisters nearly died from anorexia. And while she went on to have a successful career with the ABC, even that was not without its anxieties – at one point she was using heroin and speed just to get up in the morning. But through meditation she not only conquered this, but went on to meet the man she would marry.
“I had been very bad at relationships. I had been like a frightened animal. I just felt so trapped and vulnerable,” she says.
“But I discovered there is a thin membrane between the conscious and subconscious. When we meditate we drop into a different place, into that place which really drives us.
“Even the most hideous thing, the most painful thing, will eventually change.”
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Change, it emerges, becomes my personal theme for this year’s Woodford Festival. Even Australian musician Gotye has gone back to his roots and is performing as somebody that we used to know, with his original band – The Basics. Later that day I stumble across The Lettering House, Woodford’s first post office. Here you can send real letters, strung on a washing line with pegs, but also leave a random note to a stranger. I find this concept too seductive to resist and hence pen a note which simply says: “To the man of my dreams. Please find me…”
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The next day I happen across the postie on her push bike. She looks so cool amid the heat I ask to take her photo. There’s no letter for me, but an unexpected compliment after the final click of my shutter. “You have the cutest smile,” she says, before riding off. That one kind comment from a complete stranger makes me sparkle all day. In return, I attract the most interesting strangers and companions along my Woodford wonderings.
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I’m waiting for my breakfast, a tantalising Turkish Gozleme – pastry filled with spinach, cheese and mushrooms – when I encounter a Turkish/Australian woman. Bilge, 34, was born in Istanbul but moved to Australia in 2007 to learn English and is performing in the Fokloricka tent at the festival.
“Have you been to Turkey?” she asks as we wait for the soupy Turkish coffee to boil.
“Yes,” I offer. And in the manner in which many foreigners try to connect to Australians by mentioning a well-known Aussie, I add that I have been to Gallipoli and was deeply touched by former Turkish leader Ataturk.
Quite unexpectedly, fat, salty, serious tears fill Bilge’s eyes.
“I get very emotional about Ataturk,” she smiles through her tears, “he was such a great leader.”
“They say once every 100 years in the world comes along a leader who is a true leader. Ataturk is that man.
“He believed in women and allowed us to work and lose the veil.”
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I stay struck by this simple, yet powerful connection I have with Bilge, and memories of this great leader who believed in positive change, for the rest of the day. Down in the Greenhouse, on a subject called Essays From Contemporary Australia, author Ben Law talks about racism, his writer sister Michelle Law about sexism, indigenous curator Bruce McLean about Aboriginality, and feminist Clementine Ford about mental illness. Again big change, it emerges, needs to happen in this country. The issues are sticky, just like the Woodford weather.
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Before I depart Woodford, I have one more task I wish to achieve. I visit Woodford’s acclaimed clairvoyant. She’s so popular that I sit outside her tent in the shade for an hour, watching the colourful parade of festival goers saunter past me. Interestingly, at the very moment I’m about to enter her tent, my ex-husband walks past me, looks at me, looks at the tent, pauses as if he’s about to say something, before moving on. I enter the tent feeling sick and rattled. But we read my cards and they are good news and more importantly, accurate. At the end of the reading, the clairvoyant asks me whether I have any questions.
“I have two,” I say, before relaying the ex-husband incident as I entered the tent.
“That’s just your past, walking past you,” she says.
“Is it finally over?” I ask.
“Yes. And now you need to really learn to be comfortable in your own skin, and then you will meet someone. He is out there but you need to change a few things,” she says, answering my predictable second question.
And so, this year, that’s what I aim to do. Simply sit with myself. Out on the patio. Breathe in the humidity. And laugh and think.
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The Global Goddess was a guest of the Woodford Festival. For more information on this year’s event, please visit http://www.woodfordfolkfestival.com
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Fiji’s Fabulous Females

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IN this land of lore and legend, of caves, coconuts and conch shells, kava, chiefs and tradition carved deep, they have become the unlikely faces of Fiji’s feminist movement. They probably don’t even call themselves feminists, western labels as unnecessary in paradise as a three-piece suit. But these are the women who are carving a new path. These are the strong, smart women of the South Pacific.
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This story begins with Una Murray, the Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji’s Public Relations Manager of 32 years, who died late last month. If you love a good legend, you’ll adore the tale of Una, who was 70 but told everyone she was 60. Why? Well, Una liked a party as much as she loved rugby and could be found in the resort’s Vakavanua Lounge seven nights a week, often till 1am. We’re sitting in the very same bar, which has introduced the Una Boogie Boogie cocktail in her honour, discussing her life and death.
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Executive Assistant Manager Lindsey Palmer says Una knew “everyone” on the island from the Attorney General to Fiji’s International Rugby team who would drop in and find her in a spot in the bar.
“She used to hang out here. We used to have to kick her out. She’d just sit here with a glass of red wine and relax. She was spoilt rotten and she would spoil us,” he says.
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So revered was Una, that during her illness the resort supplied their own nurse to her Sigatoka Hospital room, sent down their maintenance team to fix up her room, and brought her breakfast, lunch and dinner, and much-needed morphine. When she died on May 22, the Outrigger negotiated her beachside burial with two separate chiefs, offering copious kava, a suckling pig and gifts to ensure Una’s passage on her next journey.
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Want more feisty females? Well, the Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji Communications Manager Talei Tora also happens to be the first Fijian woman to be trained by the Australian military in Duntroon. She was forced to quit the army due to a leg injury but as she says “I’ve done my bit for my country, now I can have fun.”
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Fun includes promoting some of the resort’s other fabulous females, such as Sous Chef Priya Darshani, who you’ll find in the upmarket Ivi Restaurant. In 2012 Priya was named Fiji Chef of the Year and won third place in the Global Chef’s Challenge in Perth. Priya was also named the resort’s Manager of the Year; and she and her team won best team among all of the Outrigger properties world wide. Which is all pretty remarkable given she started as a trainee chef straight out of school at the resort in 2005 and had never seen a hotel before.
“2012 was a good year,” Priya says simply.
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These days when she’s not in the kitchen, you’ll find her hosting a cooking class with the resort’s Executive Chef Shailesh Naidu, who also happens to be the country’s most awarded Fijian-born chef. Shailesh, who is an Indian-Fijian man, says while coconuts are one of the crucial elements of Fijian cooking, chilli also plays an important role.
“Never joke about chillis with the locals, particularly the Indo-Fijians. Even if we are having a breakfast omelette, we have spoonfuls of chilli,” Shailesh says.
“We tell people to put some love into the plate.”
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Love. Lore. Legend. All part of this land. Just like the fabulous females who form the fabric of Fiji.

The Global Goddess was a guest of Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji
Outrigger on the Lagoon_Fiji http://www.outriggerfiji.com; Bebe Spa Sanctuary http://www.bebespafiji.com; Off Road Cave Safari http://www.offroadfiji.com; Coral Coast Tourism http://www.coralcoastfiji.org; and Kula Ecopark Fiji http://www.fijiwild.com
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That nasty “F” word

MY 12-year-old niece broke it off with her “boyfriend” this week, telling me yesterday: “He acts one way around me, and another around his friends.” “Ah, mixed messages,” I told Miss Twelve, who didn’t quite understand the concept, despite deeply feeling the hurt. “He was shocked,” she added. And who said feminism was dead?

If we needed any convincing that feminism wasn’t dead it was this week’s outstanding performance by Prime Minister Julia Gillard who stood up for herself, and the women of Australia, to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. In her 15-minute speech in Federal Parliament during which Gillard never once stumbled, she did what was a long-time coming. She told the man who has taunted her with cruel jibes among which have included standing in front of a banner which labelled her a “witch” and a “bitch”, that she would “not be lectured about sexisim by this man”. Regardless of your politics, I implore anyone who hasn’t seen it to go to YouTube and see exactly the kind of mettle of which a woman scorned is made.

The best Abbott could do this week was trot out his wife and three daughters as a poor example of how this somehow made him a feminist. The mere fact he did this was a sexist act in itself. It’s a bit like telling someone “my neighbour is gay/indigenous/disabled”. Worst of all for Abbott, even if this did score him a couple of cheap political points, with possibly another year to run before the Federal Election, he’s potentially pulled out his trump card a little prematurely. So now he has to rely on his character. 

Let me be very clear. This is not a political post. I, like many other Australians, have been deeply disappointed by the argy bargy and broken promises of both sides of the Parliament in recent times. Yet, sometime in the next 12 months, I will have the opportunity (a result of feminism) to choose one side. This is a blog about feminism. It’s a blog about basic human rights.

We live in interesting times. Despite the fact 60% of university undergraduates are women, in 2012, Australian women earn approximately 17.5% less than men. We’ve all been privy to the recent abhorrent behaviour of a certain football club’s end-of-year antics and their lewd comments towards a female television reporter who was simply doing her job. And then there’s a certain male radio announcer who decried Australian women as “destroying the joint.”

Globally, things are far worse. This week in Indonesia, a 14-year-old school girl victim of child trafficking was expelled from her school because she had “tarnished the school’s reputation.” In Pakistan, a 14-year-old girl is fighting for her life after being shot in the head by the Taliban. Her crime? She believed women should be allowed an education.

I’ve always been proud to call myself a feminist and for anyone who wonders what this means to me, it means I think women should be receive the same pay as men for the same work; that they should be able to walk down the street in whatever they choose without fear or favour; and they should be afforded the same opportunities as men. Women should be treated with the same respect as men.

And yet, in recent times, even I’ve been led to believe there is something wrong with me. This week, when a male friend sent me a private email making a lewd comment about my breasts, I was deeply offended. I told him so, and he apologised, yet it didn’t stop me choosing the baggiest blouses to wear all week and slouching my shoulders, something I haven’t done since I was a teenager. Through his comments, I felt that I should somehow be ashamed and embarrassed of my womanhood.

This weekend I’ve found myself waiting for a phone call from a man I’ve never met, who enticed me with the promise of a coffee date. That phone call never came. In the scheme of world events, and how women are treated, it’s nothing. It’s a very First-World problem and possibly even a luxury to have such a light-weight worry. But it still hurts, as did my mate’s comments. As these blokes would never denigrate their male friends like that. And doesn’t it simply come down to that? It’s not whether you are male or female. It’s how you would treat another human being.

This week, through Prime Minister Gillard, and people like my 12-year-old niece who wouldn’t have a clue what a feminist was, we saw a glimmer of hope. A spark.

Maybe feminism isn’t dead after all. Like myself, after 40 odd years fighting the good fight, perhaps she’s just been having a long-deserved beauty sleep. And there is nothing wrong with that.