I Want to Speak to the Owner!

I am a business owner now. And manager. And customer service. And secretary. And filing clerk.

This is the feeling of having a brand new business that has been slowly, but surely, rising.

Didn’t someone once make a song about “mo money, mo problem?” I don’t want to make it seem like I am rolling in hundred dollar bills, or anything like that. It isn’t like that at all. But, I would say, “mo clients, mo problems.” My advertiser does a good job, so the clients are there, I guess.

I, however, am trying to find a way to divide myself between various positions, perform various tasks, without driving myself into insanity.

As owner, I am the boss lady. I guess. I am also the one responsible for taking sure my clients are happy. For the most part, they are happy enough to refer friends. My business thrives on “word of mouth.” And, customer service is crucial.

I started doing customer service since I was 16 years old at David’s Bridal. Had that gig for 6 years on and off. Was pretty good at it; enough for them to take me between college semester, or on my summer vacation while in grad school. I was pretty good at customer service. Looking back, I know that the secret to good customer service is to have someone who is not emotionally involved in the business to do it. Did I give a damn about David’s Bridal? Not really. Did I care that a customer did not like the ugly bridesmaid dress? Not really. My job was to be nice and solve the problem so that the client leaves with a smile on their face.

After 6 years, I thought I had this customer service gig down to the T. Over this past week, I realized I have lots to learn.

It all started last week when one of my clients suddenly demanded a refund. We had done half the work he paid for, had been working on his file for 4 weeks, and our invoice clearly states 80% REFUND WITHIN THE FIRST 48 HOURS OF PAYMENT. There’s a logic to my ‘no refund policy”. First, I only take about 8 clients per month (it’s impossible to take more at this time). Secondly, I begin a client’s file within the first 48 hours, so some time is spent. Lastly, Paypal charges me a processing fee for accepting money AND returning. Refunding is really a hassle; therefore, it is clearly explained at time of pay.

Back to the story. Client demands full refund. His reason was that I had only done half the work; therefore, he was entitled to a full refund (?)! Of course, I said in my head: no fucking freaking way dude I just worked on your file, edited your essays, created your personal statement, searched for graduate programs for you and had two scheduled consulting conferences. WTF?” Of course, all this was communicated professionally through e-mail. Guy goes nuts and begins to trash me on my Twitter advertising page. Guy grabs all my potential clients and calls me a THIEF! A THIEF! I let it go on for a few days until he grew tired; thought he did, and later realized that he was using a second profile to continue to spam my clients.

Today, I needed to put a stop to this. He was undeservedly accusing me of lying and stealing. STEALING! Oh my God! My potential clients were believing this, and they avoided me like the plague. I called him, so that he can answer to me. I wanted to hear the shame in his voice.

I told him calmly: “why are you doing this, if you KNOW we have given you exactly as you paid for?”

He said, “I want my money back! I want my money back!”

I asked him, “Do you think it’s fair that we work and don’t get paid?”

He said, “I changed my mind. I want my money back! If I get money back, I will stop on Twitter?”

I told him, “Should I say thank you for putting a stop to your lies on Twitter?”

He said, “I don’t care. I just want my money back.”

I FUCKING LOSE IT AT THIS POINT. TEARS, SCREAMING, AND ALL!

I said, “Listen, Rayed, YOU are the liar, the thief and what you have been doing to me will come back to you much harder!”

He said, “I am Muslim, I am honest, and I just want my money back.”

I said, “Honest person? You defamed me and my business AFTER I worked honestly for you! You call me a liar after I have tried repeatedly to cooperate with you! You take my clients away from me, when I am simply trying to make an honest living…! A Muslim does NOT act like this! I work so hard everyday to build what I have for the sake of my family. YOU HAVE A BLACK HEART!”

I actually told the guy that he has a BLACK HEART (lol). I have to laugh now, because I am done with crying.

I finished the conversation with, “I will give you your entire money back today. I am worth more than $XXX.XX.” I hung up the phone, cried and sobbed in my car outside my office for a good 10 minutes.

The guy calls me back and begins to apologize, “I am very sorry, Cristina. I was very wrong. I took down everything from Twitter. I don’t want my money back anymore.I’m very sorry.”

I said to him, “I don’t want any favors, nor money from you. You can’t repair the damages you have done with your lying. What you did to me will happen to you, and it will cost you more than your refund.”

After months of not blogging, this experience has prompted me to write. Writing is my therapy, and I feel like a broken person today. Rayed did not break me. My inability to do everything well at the same time; the impossible task of making every single client happy; the struggle to divide myself into a million pieces as I try to build the foundations of my business. Every dollar I work for, I feel its gain and its loss, because I put my soul into my work. I feel deteriorated today. I feel so tired. I just want to take a bubble bath, get into my PJs and sleep a good sleep.

Business exhausts. Trying to be fair, yet firm, has made me tired. My business is at its birth, yet, it is growing strong. Someone comes along to damage what I have built, yet I know these are the responsibilities that come with managing a business. The customer is always right, they say. How about when he is dead wrong?

I wanted to finally make Rayed see me as a human being, so I let him hear me cry to make him feel.

Finally, he felt. And tonight, I just feel for myself.

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The Psychology of Guilt, Repentance and Belief

 A few days ago, my husband and I waited in the grocery line while I carried our daughter. 

When it was our turn at the register, my husband joked with the bag boy and said to him: “hey, you look a little young to be losing your hair…” The 18-year old boy didn’t laugh, but began to embarrassingly explain himself. He spoke in Spanish and only I had understood that he was losing his hair because he was dying. I looked down in embarrassment while my husband immediately regretted the joke.

In the car, he asked me what had happened to the boy and I told him that he was terminally ill. I felt angry toward my husband and I began to cry. “I didn’t mean to damage his feelings…I didn’t know he was sick” my husband said. He stayed silent the whole ride home. I knew my husband didn’t mean any harm, so I didn’t mention it again. My daughter was beside me –asleep–and I began to think about her birth: 

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah… (God forgive me,  God forgive me, God forgive me…)

Around the 7th hour of labor and as the contractions became more frequent and painful, fear settled over me. I thought about the possibility of death, so I began to ask for forgiveness.

My husband was laying down on an uncomfortable couch next to me half asleep. It had been a long night. I had arrived to the hospital at 11PM after my water broke and, for some odd reason, I thought I’d be out before morning. I wasn’t dilating and the nurse’s words were not hopeful: “Chil’, is this yo’ first baby?” I said it was. She said, “if you lucky, you’ll be outta heah in 12 hours… but you ain’t dilated even fo’ centameetas…we may have to start you on Pitocin by 7am…are you sure you don’t want  the epidural?” I wanted to say “yes”, but I said “no”. Perhaps I would be done in another hour? Clearly, I had no idea the way that this whole having-a-baby-thing worked.

The nurse left. My husband was asleep by now.

Perhaps other mothers can tell you that there is a space  in labor and delivery that belongs only to her–that no one can penetrate. And, there are moments where she feels very alone. I began to think about Surah Maryam and how Maryam (the Virgin Mary) had–while she was in labor with Isa (Jesus)–wished that she were dead. I haven’t wished my own death yet, so I must be ok. I imagined the way that Maryam must have teared at a palm tree that would later nourish her with water and dates.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I decided to change positions and crouch down with legs wide open. Perhaps the gravity would help me dilate. It did. In another hour, I was almost 7 cm dilated. “Whoa, 3 cm’s in an hour. How’d that happin’…?” Said the nurse. “I crouched…” I said. “Well, there ya go…but we still have to start you on Pitocin, dear. It’s been 8 hours and that baby’s gotta come out. It’s fo’ both you and the baby’s safety…Let me know if you change yo’ min’ about the epidural…” She said…

The nurse left. My husband drifted in and out of sleep. I was so bored of ice chips.

I thought about two Muslim sisters who had recently delivered. One delivered in four hours. The other in two. Both didn’t ask for any pain relievers. They were so strong. Why can’t I handle the pain? Why don’t I dilate? What is wrong with my body? I began to cry again.

Again, I was alone.

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

I called the nurse to ask her how much longer she thought I would be in labor. She told me that even with the Pitocin, it could be another 10 hours or so. It was my first child and my body was taking it’s time. I remembered my friends again and began to think that my body was somehow defective.

Once I began screaming and crying more loudly, my husband stood by my side. He was unsure of how to ease my pain. Perhaps he knew he couldn’t. I turned away from him.

He handed me dhikr beads and I began whispering to myself again:

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Ya Latif, Ya Latif, Ya Latif…(Gentle One, Gentle One, Gentle One…). I was asking God to grant me his Gentleness…

Finally, I called the nurse and asked her to send for the epidural. I wanted relief so badly, but even the epidural sent an electric shock through my whole body. After the anesthesia seeped through my veins, I drifted in and out of sleep. I continued to feel guilt for the numbness below my waist…

I continued to ask forgiveness for things I probably would never write about…

Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…

Twelve hours later, the doctor checked me and said “it’s time to push,” and I did.  “BIS-MI-LLAH!” I screamed in anger. My mom, who was in the room, also prayed with her head in her hands. She couldn’t watch, but she also couldn’t turn away. At the end of that hour and a moment between screams, the doctor tossed my daughter onto my belly. Her eyes were wide open. At that moment, I remember myself in a cold sweat and laughing from relief while my husband, mother, and daughter all cried.

I had done it. My guilt was gone. God must had forgiven me.

The same night of the supermarket incident, my husband suddenly jumped out of bed and got dressed. I asked him where he was going and he told me he’d be right back. When my husband returned home, I asked him what had happened and he said he had returned to the supermarket to apologize. In a desperate attempt to seek his own forgiveness, he also forced the boy to take all the cash he had in his wallet. “I didn’t mean to make him embarrassed…I had very bad Muslim eh-ticks,” he told me in regret. Ethics. A word he had just learned at the English program. I told him he should rest.

“Astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah, astaghfarallah…”

He continued until he fell asleep. I stayed awake trying to wrap my mind around the way the human conscience makes its peace with good, evil, life, death, guilt and God.

My Husband: The (Patient and Loving) Arab Villain

“Take care of her, [Muhammed*],” says a relative every time my husband and I leave her house after a weekend visit.

Muhammed: “Why doesn’t she ever tell you to take care of me? After all, I’m the poor guy who needs the extra care…” He laughs it off every time, but deep inside I know that he feels confused as to why anyone would believe otherwise; that is, that anyone would think that Muhammed would do anything else other than take care of me.

I had never thought about my relative’s weekly comments until I started to see the slight hurt on my husband’s face. I had never really thought about it much until we began to receive other similar comments from other relatives and friends: “If you hurt her, I’ll have to kill you…” or “You’re a lucky guy, Muhammed, take care of her…”

I have also received warnings from friends and strangers in casual conversation. “Make sure Muhammed doesn’t take you away to Arabia because we’ll never see you again…” or “Have you seen the movie Not Without My Daughter?” or “Did you husband make you convert?”

These questions and comments are all delivered half-jokingly/half-threatningly and followed with laughter. The truth is, however, that I know that some people who make these comments are usually waiting for my response so that they can cast away their doubt about my Villainous Husband. Others are watching, waiting and counting mistakes so they can say “I told you so,” never stopping to think that attributing someone’s flaws to their race and religion–rather than the fact that were all flawed human beings–is ignorance at the very least.

When I think about my protective, yet gentle and loving, husband, I feel hurt. I cannot understand the constant suspicion and mistrust towards another human being without cause.

The truth of the matter is that the stereotype of the volatile, controlling, sexually perverse and abusive Arab Muslim man is alive and well. 

I remember the sensitivity he felt the day he saw our unborn baby kick her chubby feet at our first ultrasound. Afterwards, he pridefully insisted that our child should bear his first and last name so that everyone would know exactly who her daddy is! I admire the quiet way he washes the dishes on the nights when I cook dinner (the rule at our house is: one cooks, the other cleans). I am thankful for the many times he has encouraged me to pray with him. I am amused when my husband walks to the left of me because he believes he is protecting me from wierdos and speeding cars. I am grateful when he pulls back my hair and rubs my shoulders when I have morning sickness. And, I won’t forget the night he made a healing balm from olive oil and Shea butter to rub on my aching back because I had been crying from the pain. I remember the worth I felt when he bragged to his family about his “smart” wife working on her Ph.D. I laugh when he suggestively picks out matching sweaters and scarves from my side of the closet when he thinks my chest is overexposed (a habit that reminds me of my own Cuban-Catholic father and brother). These flawed, yet well-intentioned, men. Villains, indeed.

My husband is my crutch.

On my last visit home, I snarked back at a relative’s comment: “You know, he beat me senseless yesterday. Look at these bruises (I pointed at my behind)! These Arab men! But, I beat him right back…” My relative rolled her eyes and silenced up. Afterwards, my husband said that I shouldn’t have made that remark and should simply ignore the comments next time.

My husband teaches me patience and back-bending respect.

I chose my husband because I know him and–flaws and all–I love him. The partner in my life, the self-proclaimed protector of our home, the proud father of our unborn child. Yes, this is the Arab Villain I have married.

The comments my husband and I have received have never been made with intentional hatred nor with an effort to inflict pain. On the contrary, they have been made from people who love us. The comments, however, reflect a larger problem in the way we (members of society) are constantly misinformed by the media about who “We” are and who “Others” are. More specifically, about who “Westerners” are and who “Middle Easterners” and Muslims are. We lack insight on this false dichotomy and forget that people are sometimes simply just people.

As frustrated as I feel sometimes, I do not hold these comments personally against anyone. Instead, I hope that my story serves as an example of how our unconscious ignorance really does affect the way we position ourselves in the world–oftentimes dehumanizing “Others” in that process. Most importantly, I hope that we could arrive at the realization that knowing someone’s race, ethnicity, religion, or cultural background does not mean we know a darn thing about who they are as people. 

*Muhammed is a pseudonym.

Finding Oneness

When I am praying–truly praying–I lose myself

to my Self.

I become centered.

My husband once told me that he knows when I really pray–

When I really pray, I am hypnotized. When I don’t really pray, I fidget.

He is right.

(Once, I couldn’t control my laughter while praying and kicked and giggled on my prayer rug while my husband turned red trying to control his own outburst)–

He blamed Shaytan, I blamed the towel that was slipping off his hips exposing him.

I stare blankly in the direction of the kaaba

the corner of the room that is piled with dirty laundry

(I don’t know where to begin to clean up that mess)–

I imagine the way home,

again.

I am lost,

self within Self.

Searching and seeking,

dreaming of finding–

something I am sure I once had. Or imagined I had.

Lost.

Prostrating, I relinquish myself to a world I cannot hold.

Pregnancy and Fasting

Yesterday, I felt very angry. Today, I feel very disturbed.

I had to rush a sister to the hospital because she almost collapsed from dehydration. The disturbing part is that she is pregnant and in her last trimester. Even on the way to the hospital, she refused to break her fast with water.

There is nothing heroic about putting herself and her child at risk.

I know that many pregnant women fast during Ramadan. I also know that there are many safe ways a pregnant woman can ensure a proper diet to prepare for fasting. God, however, has given pregnant women the relief from fasting if they feel that it may put them at risk. God is the Most Merciful and we must understand this.

At the hospital, I served as translator between my friend and the doctor because she hardly speaks English. What shocked me was her refusal to tell the doctor that she was fasting. The doctors could not decide what was wrong with her but had suspected she was dehydrated.

When my friend went to the restroom, I let the doctor know she hadn’t drunk water for almost 12 hours. I asked the doctors to keep this confidential. At first, I felt like I was betraying my friend’s trust. After a few exams, however, the doctors determined she was severely dehydrated and they put two IVs to rehydrate her. I continued to be shocked as she continually asked her doctors if it was necessary to break her fast. She could hardly lift a finger, yet she kept refusing.

I will repeat it. This act of martyrdom is not heroic, especially when putting another life in danger for the sake of God. I just wonder what makes her believe that her decision to put her unborn child at risk is pleasing God? God doesn’t ask us to do this. He is the Most Merciful and we cannot forget that.

She is one of my good friends, so I didn’t guilt trip her. Instead, I spoke to her husband and let him know the situation so that he makes sure she nourishes herself as she recovers.

Again, I recognize that there are safe ways to fast while pregnant.  I am not against it in general. I have hard that if done safely, it can be a successful and rewarding experience. I am also not saying that fasting while pregnant is strictly “right” or “wrong”. Only God knows what is best. I am simply disturbed by this particular situation.

This sister is one of the most generous and loving people I’ve ever met. In regards to the material, she doesn’t have much and she gives everything she has. I love this sister very much for the sake of God. But today, I felt very angry towards her. I just can’t help but wonder what is going through her mind as she physically struggles to maintain her energy in Ramadan while carrying a child.

A few weeks ago, I took her to the hospital and heard her baby’s heartbeat. I had never heard an unborn baby’s heartbeat before. Three days ago, she let me touch her belly while her  unborn child was pushing. I had never touched a pregnant lady’s belly before. These two experiences were very emotional for me. I can’t even imagine how I’d feel if I were the one pregnant. These two experiences also revealed the fact that a pregnant woman’s body is no longer her own. She shares it with her unborn child. Her womb serves as the unborn child’s shelter. While I never expressed my anger towards her, I became very angry inside because I saw her fasting (and refuse to break her fast despite her illness) as an act of selfishness with total disregard for the life that is growing inside of her.

She is still my friend, of course. Right now I am really struggling with my own judgments. But I continue to be disturbed by yesterday’s series of events and continue to have very mixed feelings in regards to women fasting while pregnant.

Does anyone have stories to share about fasting while pregnant? I have never had children, but I am really interested in understanding other women’s experiences in the case I am in a similar situation in the future. 

Reasons Why Extremist Rhetoric is All The Same

By the word “extremists,” I am referring to individual adherents of any faith who respond to the world around them in mentally and socially imbalanced ways.

1. They see the world in black and white; right and wrongs. The only exceptions are those that work in favor of their larger arguments.

2. They appeal to fear in order to gain followers. Ex: “If you don’t follow Q, then you will burn in the pits of Hell.”

3. They use logical fallacies when trying to “prove” their points. Ex: “This is wrong, because the guy with the religious man with the big beard says so.” (Appeal to Authority).

4. They are desperate to convince you they are right. If they cannot, they resort to the fallacies as a rhetorical tactic.

5. They condescendingly think they know something you don’t know.

6. They believe that they are neo-prophets. Their  role in this life is to show you the way to salvation.

7. They carry a lot of theory (book knowledge), but rarely any experience or practical knowledge about the way to their Creator.

8. They speak before they listen to others. This deafness leads them to make commentaries about subjects, religions and people without knowledge.

9. Anything that doesn’t line up with their worldview is simply “wrong” or “misunderstood”.

10. If they don’t get their way, they become violent. Ex: blow themselves (and others) up, burn Holy Books of other faiths, commit murder, verbally and physically attack, force others into submission, build oppressive theocratic regimes (these make me want to vomit), they silence their people, and so on. (Honestly, the Buddhists are the only ones who have gotten this peace thing down).

11. Last and certainly not least, they do not understand neither God nor Peace.



10 Things Some Feel Are “Normal” Questions to Ask Muslims

The biggest WTF Questions that are pretty invasive and absurd, but asked as if perfectly “normal”. Let’s see how they sound if similar ones are redirected at Jews and Christians.

1. You removed your hijab. Are you still a Muslim?

Imagine: You removed your yarmulke. Are you still a Jew?

2. How are you a Hispanic Muslim?

Imagine: How are you a Black Christian/Jew?

3. You wear makeup and eyeliner. Isn’t that immodest and unIslamic?

Imagine: You show too much cleavage. Isn’t that immodest and unChristian?

4. Do you have hair on your head?

Imagine: Do you have hair on your crotch?

5. Does God want you to kill kufirs?

Imagine: Does God want you to crucify your only son?

6. So every Muslim man can freely engage in polygamy?

Imagine: So every Christian/Jewish man can have 700 wives and 300 concubines? (See King Solomon–Kings 11:3)

7. What happens if you miss a daily prayer?

Imagine: What happens if you miss a Sunday/Sabbath service?

8. Why do Muslims want world dominance?

Imagine: Why do Jews want world dominance? 

9. D0 you believe that men should marry underage girls (under 18)?

Imagine: Do you believe that God should impregnate an underage girl without her consent and then not marry her? 

10. If you are really a Muslim, why do you curse so much?

Imagine: If you are really a Christian, why do you fuck so much?