John Lennon imagined a world with no countries or religions; I’m imagining a world where my Arab homeland has no hymens.
No, this is not a typo. It’s that hymen. That sacred membrane that marks a woman’s virginity. That revered tissue, which unleashes wars, triggers tribal disputes, and breaks families.
That part of a woman’s body that men call their honor and vow to protect with all their might.
That membrane whose absence can cost women their lives while its rupture is celebrated on wedding nights.
That obscure body part that defines a woman’s journey.
Imagine there are no hymens, no virginity tests too.
I’m envisioning a hymen-less society where women are born without it due to a genetic mutation that becomes mainstream.
My world is a hymen-less tale, but instead of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid Tale where women are property of the state, it’s a utopian one instead of dystopian.
In my world, Atwood’s Gilead is a place where women don’t bleed on their wedding nights and instead enjoy a night of intimacy without worrying about the menacing gauge of their morality.
In my world, the word honor is not an ugly one, a burden lugged by the whole society; it’s a beautiful word celebrated and cherished by all.
In my world, women are born whole and not turned into female adults after being taken by men.
ّIn my world, that genetic mutation, makes women whole.
A girl named Dalia
In my world, there is a 15-year-old teenager named Dalia who dwells in her happy place. She can ride bikes and horses without worrying about how this physical activity might rupture that membrane, turning her into used goods. She won’t have to think twice about how this will jeopardize her chances of finding a husband.
In my world, she has the choice to explore her sexuality, to love and make love, without fearing for her life.
In my world, Dalia and her twin brother Adam have equal restrictions. They have the same curfew and should be home at the same time.
In my world, Adam can’t fool around in a quest to quell his manly desires, while Dalia sits locked away behind closed doors, wondering why Adam has more freedom.
Both of them have the option to invite their partners to dinner if they wish to and to hold hands around the dinner table.
In my world, Dalia never has to think of ways to fake blood stains on her wedding night sheets using tomato sauce or “blood powder” capsules.
She would never have to find a shady doctor in a dark alley who promises to sew her hymen back for a hefty sum.
In this utopia, Dalia would never read about 5,000 women perishing each year due to honor killings – where women are butchered by family members for shaming their tribe with a sexual act.
In this world, Dalia would never be another honor statistic.
She would never read about men getting away with murdering their sisters in the name of honor. She would never have to worry about the pressure imposed on Adam to protect his tribe’s honor.
In my world, Dalia would never hear about the 200 million women whose genitals were mutilated to deprive them of sexual pleasure and protect them from deviation.
She would never be robbed of sexual pleasure.
In my world, some might reminisce about their distorted vision of a better time, the old days of the virginity tests and life before the genetic mutation.
However, the reasonable voices would always outnumber the skeptical ones, and all women would stay equal, no virginity gauge to separate the good from the deviant, the chaff.
My world, my land is a happier place. The youth are employed, conflicts have decreased—nothing to kill or die for.
That is my vision. That is my utopia.
You may say I’m a dreamer, a foolish fantasizer.
But I sure do hope I’m not the only one.
I have shied away from telling the story of how I was scammed because I was ashamed. How did I get fooled that easily when I pride myself on being a digital native, having worked in digital communications since the mid-nineties?
Shouldn’t I have been immune to the same old tricks of the online scammers? Shouldn’t I have known better?
I’m swallowing my pride now, and I’m about to tell you what happened.
Maybe because I just finished watching Netflix’s The Tinder Swindler, and I was reminded of that sense of dread that took over me when I got scammed. That awful feeling of being violated. I felt I needed to tell my story so that others won’t fall for it. The story of how I was scammed for $1700 by online thieves who tricked me using the same sophisticated tools I frequently use from Upwork to Slack to Google Chat, and finally Zelle.
This story is not all doom and gloom. It has a happy ending, so bear with me.
It all started with a job posting on Upwork about a remote, flexible opportunity for Arabic-English translators.
I was looking for gigs as I was building my online content creation business during the early days of the pandemic. As a bilingual, translation is traditionally something, I always fall back on when looking for cash flow.
It never crossed my mind that I would be scammed while applying for translation opportunities on Upwork of all places.
A few days after I applied, I got a reply from someone saying the company hiring manager would like to set up an interview with me and that the job was with “Transperfect”, a well-known and respected translation company in New York. I looked up the person that responded to me on Linkedin, and her profile matched her name and picture.
The “interview” was done via “Google Chat ” which I thought was a bit strange but brushed it off as a millennial brave world thing.
The “manager” who interviewed me via chat asked good, standard industry questions, and I thought I gave them accurate, intelligent answers.
A few days after the interview, they contacted me and offered me a part-time remote translation job.
I was happy, especially as the pay was good and the work was flexible, and this gig would have provided me with the cash flow I needed to situation my content creation business.
The rush to buy
They invited me to join their Slack channel to attend my “orientation session” the next day.
I woke up early the next day for the orientation session, all excited. The session started with questions about what kind of equipment and translation software I had, and they immediately recommended that I buy a specific software and use a PC instead of a Mac.
The person chatting with me said the company would cover these costs and send me a “check immediately” to buy the software and the computer.
As soon as I got the checks and deposited them in my bank (and provided them with proof per their request), I was asked to buy the equipment from their “vendors” via Zelle, which I did quickly because I wanted to impress them.
Right after I made the second purchase, I started to feel uneasy. Why were they rushing me like that?
So I decided to call the company and speak to the person corresponding with me.
Someone picked up the phone and told me that the person I asked for was on vacation and that she was pretty much off the grid.
That was when I knew I had been scammed, so I went online looking for answers and found this article.: People who turned to Upwork to find freelance gigs say they’ve lost thousands of dollars to scams
I immediately called my bank and told them what had happened. They told me they would do their best to mitigate the situation, but they didn’t think they could get the money back since this was sent through Zelle.
I lost a total of $1,700. I didn’t have much money, and I sunk into a dark mood. How can I be so dumb?
Scam alerts to be on the watch for
Looking back at what happened, here are the scam flags I should have paid close attention to:
- The Gmail account.
- The “interview” via Google Chat without seeing anyone’s face on camera.
- The robotic-sounding answers to my questions.
- The constant pressure to buy the needed equipment immediately.
The thing that tricked me:
- The Slack channel with profiles of other “employees.”
- The stolen Linkedin profiles.
- The real name of the company.
- The” good” questions that were asked at the “interview.”
The happy ending
Six months after the incident, I received an unexpected email from my bank telling me that Zelle had managed to return the money. (Yes, I’m a forever huge fan of Zelle!)
I decided to do something unique with the money after getting it back. I didn’t want to spend it on something that I would forget, so I decided to invest in my health and mental sanity and got myself a Pelton bike that I regularly use.
Every time I look at the bike, I remember the story of how I got scammed and how eventually things were sorted out, and I ended up with a cautionary tale to tell.
As Philip Roth once said: “Nothing Bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material.”
*Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels
Here is a quick update to my last post. Compass Direct, which broke the story about the ongoing deportations of Christians in Jordan, ran a follow-up today that I personally found extremely heart-wrenching. Here is a highlight from the article:
While it was unclear what the government considered false in the report, the fact of deportations of Christians was further verified as authorities on February 10 expelled an Egyptian pastor with the Assemblies of God church in Madaba – one of five evangelical denominations registered with the government.
Married to a Jordanian citizen and the father of two children, Sadeq Abdel Nour was handcuffed and blindfolded and taken to the port city of Aqaba. There he was placed on a ferry to Egypt. The previous week an Egyptian pastor from a Baptist church in Zarqa was arrested, held for three days and also returned to Egypt by ship from the port city of Aqaba. The pastor, 43, is married to a Jordanian woman and the father of three children.
If these pastors were working for legally registered churches why would you deport them in such a humiliating manner? The response of Acting Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh to the initial Compass Direct article was: "The authorities have deported a number of people who entered the country under the pretext of performing voluntary work but were spotted carrying out missionary activities."
Was this really the case in the issue of Sadeq Abdel Nour? I wonder.
Frankly, I find these to be dark times for Christians in Jordan. There are obviously discrepancies between what the Jordanian government is saying and what’s actually happening on the ground. The government needs to be more transparent. Handcuffing, blindfolding and deporting a pastor with no explanation should not happen in Jordan or any country that claims to respect basic human rights. I’m angry and disappointed.
I have been extremely disturbed by the latest controversy rocking Jordan over the expulsion of what have been dubbed "Foreign Christians" and the reactions of some Jordanian churches (in Arabic). For those that have not been following the controversy, here is a brief synopsis.
- Compass Direct runs an article detailing the Jordanian government’s expulsion of "Foreign Christians" from Jordan.
- Shortly thereafter a group of Jordanian churches, which did not include all Christian denominations in Jordan, agree with the government decision and publish a statement in Al Rai newspaper (in Arabic).
- Jordan confirms the expulsion and makes reference to the supportive statement of the Jordanian churches.
The issue is probably too controversial for me to comment on fully and might offend some, so I will try to tread carefully. This is my humble opinion. I’m not trying to take sides. I’m merely observing and commenting, nothing more, nothing less; so bear with me. My two main points:
Religion should be a free choice. If individuals want to tell others about their religion, they should have the right to do so. This is what happens in democratic societies. In the US, for example, preaching about Islam is not a crime. Christians convert to Islam on a regular basis, no sweat. This is not the case in Jordan, since it is not yet a democracy. I believe it is a basic human right for any individual to have the right to choose whatever spiritual path they want. Hence, I disagree with the Jordanian government’s decision to expel anyone based on religious activities. But then again, this is the case in Jordan and it may never change. People may just be satisfied with the status quo. Personally, I think the status quo contradicts any moves Jordan makes towards true democracy, but that’s just me.
I think the statement by the Jordanian churches (Arabic) inflamed the controversy and it was unnecessary. It created tension between different Christian denominations in Jordan. It was unmerited and, I hate to say it, but it bordered on "bad taste." From what I read and heard, many of those deported were actually Arab ministers belonging to various evangelical churches in Jordan. The churches’ statement basically created a divide between the Eastern Christian denominations and evangelicals whom the statement labeled "illegitimate."
A number of those that were deported worked for the Jordan Evangelical Theological seminary. In response, the president of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, Dr. Imad Shehadeh said:
The variety in denominations should not express discord and enmity, but rather, like the tree with many branches, it should express beauty as well as unity in diversity. Evangelicals are not perfect. Many individual evangelicals, like anyone else, have undoubtedly made mistakes. But let us all learn, love and cooperate together for the glory of God and the upholding of our beloved country of Jordan.
I remain disturbed by what occurred. I wish it had not happened. Frankly, it puts Jordan in a bad light internationally and has created unneeded tension amongst Christians in Jordan. Finally, if anyone wishes to comment, please keep the discussion decent. Thank you.
Here are some reactions from the Jordanian blogosphere:
Accompanying Jeff to the department of motor vehicles this morning, I brought along The Washington Post to read while he took care of business. On the front page I found a lengthy story about Jordan. No, this was not a story about the two Jordanian entries for the Sundance Film Festival — a first in the history of the Kingdom. Rather, it was a report of something else: torture.
What was new this time was a photo illustrated table listing the inmates allegedly held and tortured in Jordan alongside the methods of torture used upon them. According to the article, torture in Jordan comes in two flavors: Falaqa and Farruj
Former prisoners have reported that their captors were expert in two practices in particular: falaqa, or beating suspects on the soles of their feet with a truncheon and then, often, forcing them to walk barefoot and bloodied across a salt-covered floor; and farruj, or the “grilled chicken,” in which prisoners are handcuffed behind their legs, hung upside down by a rod placed behind their knees, and beaten.
Of course the report disturbed me for obvious reasons. But I’m also upset at seeing my country’s name linked yet again to this inhumane practice. Living in the DC metro area, where everyone is politically charged, I get a comment or two about Jordan being linked to torture when I reveal my nationality. If the information were true, then really Jordan should put an end to it. It is inhumane and uncivilized. Just end it!
I also got annoyed because the Post seems hung up on the issue when discussing Jordan. How many times do you have to report on this, really! Why not replace the front page story with something positive for a change. Here is a headline for you: Two Jordanian entries at Sundance Film Festival boost Kingdom’s cinematic ambitions.
Okay, this post is giving me a headache so I’m going to stop whistling in the dark here and find something better to do. I of all people should know that journalists revel in bad news and rarely file reports that leave you loving life and wanting more. Uff!
Update: Ammon News is reporting (Arabic) that Jordan has introduced a new law into the Penal Code that penalizes anyone that tortures any citizen to get information. The penalty is imprisonment for a period of between six months to three years. Here is the news in Arabic:
بشكل هادىء ودون ضجيج ادخلت الحكومة الراحلة تعديلا مهما وكبيرا على
قانون العقوبات الاردني يمثل انتصارا كبيرا لكل المدافعين عن حقوق الانسان والحريات العامة .. ويتمثل هذا التطور القانوني في تعديل المادة 208 من قانون العقوبات بما يكفل انزال عقوبات مشددة بحق اي موظف عام يمارس التعذيب ضد اي مواطن بهدف الحصول على اعترافات منه وذلك انه كان يكتفى بتجاهل هذه الاعترافات اذا تبين انها اخذت تحت التعذيب ..
وبحسب النص المنشور في الجريدة الرسمية بعددها 6734 جاء فيها انه وبناء على قرار مجلس الوزراء بتاريخ 9-10 -2007 فقد تقرر ادخال تعديلات على قانون العقوبات ليصدر بصفة قانون مؤقت يحمل الرقم 49 لسنة 2007 ليقرأ مع القانون 16 لسنة 1960 .
وجاء في نص القانون الجديد من سام شخصا اي نوع من انواع التعذيب التي لا يجيزها القانون بقصد الحصول على اقرار بجريمة او على معلومات بشأنها عوقب بالحبس من ستة اشهر الى ثلاث سنوات
That’s really good news. Hopefully this inhumane practice will come to an end soon, not only in my home country, but all over.
I’m not really sure why I can’t understand the logic behind the court sentencing mentioned in the article below. Perhaps it is because it is the end of the day and I’m too tired to fully grasp what I read in the Monday edition of The Jordan Times. Can anyone shed some light? Does the article below really state that a man that kills his daughter can get a reduced sentence because of a claim that his daughter "left home without his permission and cursed him"?
The Criminal Court has sentenced a 41-year-old man to seven-and-a-half years in prison after convicting him of murdering his daughter following a domestic argument in November 2006. The tribunal first handed Mohammad A. a 15-year prison term after convicting him of bludgeoning his daughter to death with a club at their family’s home on November 23. But the court immediately reduced the sentence to half "to help the defendant in life and because the victim left home without his permission and cursed him." Source: [The Jordan Times]
If this really is what I think it is then I’m simply speechless. I really have had it with the blatant dehumanization going on in the society in which I grew up. At this moment of my life, I truly believe that Jordan needs to set the investment in malls and towers aside, and instead invest in restructuring its judicial system.