Category Archives: Khadeja

Muslima Nerd Life

Note: Muslima is the female form of Muslim, meaning someone who practices Islam.

I was born in a Chicago suburb to extremely nerdy parents. At <2 years old, I moved to Saudi Arabia.

I’ve told my story many times (tedious for me and others who have heard it sooooo many times). I’ve lived mostly in the Middle East and Mauritius, only recently coming to live in the United States. Most people who know me are aware of my travelling past and I forgive them every time they slip up when recounting it*. Everyone who knows me is damn aware that I am a huge nerd. However, my Western friends – they get confused. It’s like they see me as a nerd, but never seem to realize that I’ve been nerdy all my life. Yes, even during my childhood in such “terrible”** places as Saudi Arabia!

“How did you get to play games in Saudi?” one has asked. I imagine some dark underworld, unlabeled crates containing old NES cartridges, shifty men opening their coats. It wasn’t like that, oh please. Playing games in Saudi was just like playing games here. Sometimes, stores have low stock, and there are raids, but you can always find a game***. And movies? Pssh. NO problem. Sometimes censored, but sometimes not.

I guess it’s difficult to think of Middle Eastern countries as having awesome things because of how the media portrays them. The trepidation is reserved for Islamic countries especially, since the Western world finds Muslims terrifying. Saudi Arabia looks like Hell to the outsider when a landscape is painted with women unable to drive, movie theaters banned, and Shari’ah law. When I think of what Westerners think Arabs/Muslims are actually like, I imagine a bearded, turbaned brown man in a thobe**** wagging his finger on one hand saying “no fun allowed!” while bombing America with the other. Because of this, I can understand why my American friends, lovely as they are, are surprised that my nerdiness bloomed in Oman, Qatar, and yeah, even Saudi Arabia before I got here.

Another thing that some have found curious is that I am a passionate nerdette while still being a practicing Muslim. With that image of the restrictively-ruled Saudi Arabia in their minds, I know why Islam looks forbidding. After all, the Kingdom is home to Islam’s most holiest sites – one of which I used to visit just about every week. And here I am, missing that holy city of Makkah every day when I think about it – even while trying***** to get one stupid-ass headshot with my Psycho character in Borderlands 2. Ya Allah, just give me one headshot Insha’Allah!******

Being a Muslim nerd in a Muslim country is like being a nerd anywhere else.  I cannot tell you how it’s different being a Muslim nerd when, uh, I don’t know anything else. The sad thing is how I’m alienated by so much of the content in nerdy art forms, like video games, books, and movies, because there is nothing about someone remotely like me.That’s how many Muslims and Middle Easterners feel – the characters who could be like us are enemies, not protagonists. We’re caricatures, not people. And if we are people, we are whitewashed. Just look at the Prince of Persia series, movie or game. Even Assassin’s Creed, which is on the road to something better – Islam is hardly mentioned, if at all, although it was a huge reason that Saladin was who he was!

It’s not unbelievable that I played Fallout 2 while living in Oman, or Diablo in Saudi Arabia. It’s unbelievable that I still haven’t been able to play a game with a Muslim protagonist yet. I know Westerners are scared of fatwas on their heads, but maybe one day a Muslim will rise in the ranks of a company and make a decision to represent a Muslim or a Middle Eastener respectfully. From one Muslim to you, it is possible – but Allah, when?!

*I look this way because my mother’s ancestors came from India, not the Middle East. No, I lived in Riyadh, then  Makkah, then Riyadh again. No, I went to school in Jeddah, but lived in Makkah. I know it is confusing. I know…

**ugh, people, please. Saudi’s awesome.

***so, uh, the shifty men? They did exist, but they were chill.

****that white long dress things Arabs wear

*****and absolutely failing

******Oh God, God willing – things Muslims say

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(An Immense Lack of ) Excitement over New Tech!!!

Google Glass, Oculus Rift, 3D Printers…this is the time for huuuuge leaps and bounds in technology. The ultra-cool snazzy futuristic is coming to our very homes as our species evolves, and we’re living a cultural and technological (r)evolution right now. That’s great. w00t.

If you told 5 year old me that I’d be playing games in virtual reality, where I could be inside the game, my jaw would drop*. The gaping mouth would turn into a smile, and I’d ask breathlessly, “WHEN?!” When I was a kid, I was taken by my aunt to the now-closed Disney Quest in Chicago. There were virtual reality rides, a booth where you could make your own pop song**, make your own roller-coater…and it was all Disney. It was one of the best days of my life as a kid. I mean, I flew on a magic carpet in Aghraba, of course it was.

Today, I hear about the Oculus Rift and I am its hugest critic. I scoff at the low resolution. I remind everyone about the faux-motion sickness. I guffaw at the awkward, imperfect control. All in all, I find myself empty of the fire that inhabited my child’s mind. And it’s not just about virtual reality, oh no, I find a lack of excitement for any and all new technology.

Sure, the world and my age have made me cynical – I am, after all, reaching a quarter century. But, fellow nerds my age engage in orgies of delight over what’s new. I have had several gazes of expectation thrown my way, and I always give a disappointing shrug back with a “sorry guys, nothing here” look. I’m beginning to feel sorry, but I just don’t feel it.

Could it be that I’ve merely grown comfortable with the tech that I have? That I have become the old “get offa my lawn” man now that my iPhone can tell me where I am? Some tech has started to seem frivolous, even problematic. There are times when I want to scream things, like “GOOGLE GLASS WILL RECORD EVERYTHING, DON’T YOU SEE THE PROBLEM?!” or “3D PRINTERS GIVE OFF LIFE-THREATENING FUMES, DON’T YOU CARE?!” But everyone acknowledges these, like they acknowledge that Bruce Willis is basically the same character in all movies, but they like him anyway***.

It dawned on me a couple of days ago as I was scratching a scab that maybe their eagerness about “cool new stuff” was more just…more important than criticism. Maybe my friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and random denizens of the internet were hoping those issues would be ironed out somehow by developers later. It’s not a bad way to think – just not mine.

Perhaps, they have a huge advantage over me – they have faith. After all, tech doesn’t end at the concept or the first distribution. I mean, the Oculus Rift has already improved its resolution by far****, and all new tech goes through several iterations. Don’t we always joke about how when you finally afford that phone you’ve always wanted, they’ve come out with a new model?

I have to admit that the other thing that excited nerds have that I don’t, is, er, excitement. I don’t get enthusiastic*****. To be honest, I was a stoic, grumpy little kid, preferring books and my own company. Perhaps my inability to squee has grown from that. In any case, I won’t discount new tech, but I’ll always be careful about it. At least my friends will know they can always hear a different, albeit harshly realistic, side opinion from me.

* Well, I don’t actually know exaaactly what I would say, but come on, if anyone would be close to the truth, it’d be, uh, me.

** YES, I still have it and it is the CHEESIEST THING EVER. OH my GOD.

*** Me included, Willis is awesome.

**** of course, this leaves me with sweet, sweet Schadenfreude as I see my nerdy comrades sigh and admit they blew all their money on the Kickstarter edition…bwahahaha!

*****At least, not in a happy way.

Khadeja is best described as an angry caveman whose soul was transported into the body of an “alternative” third culture kid; making said caveman even angrier. She is a warrior prepared to defend her second home, the internet, from offensive jerks. When she isn’t writing, she is an aspiring professional voice actor whose work includes the upcoming Codename Cygnus — and hopefully much more.