food for thought

remembering miss universe 1971

Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971

Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971

Last Thursday night, my mother proudly proclaimed, “check out my smokey eye - don’t you think I look like Georgina Rizk?”

My mother, a lover of natural make-up and vintage fashion, seldom does a smokey eye. She’s an au naturale kind of woman and rarely opts for the sultry beauty standards of the Arab world. Yet, that night, my mother seemed particularly inclined towards a ‘smokey-eye’, and was quite proud of her ability to make dark eyeliner look good despite - in her opinion - her age. “I am so good at this, I could totally be a make up artist! You know, I could’ve been better than all these so-called designers in Europe, I could’ve been, you know, a true artist. If only I had the opportunities and exposure as a child…” she trails off. “Anyway, I definitely look like Georgina Rizk”.

In 1970, Lebanon announced Georgina Rizk the winner of the nation’s beauty pageant and crowned her Miss Lebanon. She was crowned Miss Universe in Miami, Florida only a year later. She was the first woman from the Middle East to be crowned Miss Universe, and only 4th in Asia to ever win the title. My mom must have been around 4 years old at the time.

For many young Arab women, Georgina Rizk was an icon. She was beautiful and symbolised a kind of “liberation” that was revered by the then youth of the Middle East. She controversially once said that she was “for pre-marital sex” and thought that women should “experiment” before making a commitment because “marriage is not a simple thing”. This, of course, did not go down well with the older generation, but many women in the region idolised her anyway.

In 1972, when Georgina Rizk was due to hand over the Miss Universe crown to her successor in Puerto Rico, 17 Christian pilgrims from the island were killed in an attack on Lod Airport in Tel Aviv by the Japanese Red Army - a militarised Communist group acting on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Ms Rizk was, despite having nothing to do with the incident, banned from attending the ceremony in Puerto Rico.

That year, my mom must’ve been 5 years old - her family in a state of disarray having only left Palestine five years prior. As refugees, my Grandmother collected her children - all 5 of them my mother being the youngest - and moved to Jordan. Without knowing it, so much of my mother’s potential would be defined by forces outside of her control. In the mid-80s, when the Soviet Union was still supporting Palestinian rights, my mother obtained a scholarship to study Fine Arts in Kiev, Ukraine. About a month before she was due to attend the University of Kiev, an earthquake devastated the capital. My grandmother wouldn’t let my mother leave and my mother never got the chance to become the artist she wanted to be. My mom was, despite having nothing to do with the earthquake or the geopolitics of the region, forced to limit herself.

Georgina Rizk was banned from attending the Miss Universe ceremony in Puerto Rico due to “terrorist activities” which had nothing to do with her. The attacks were committed by the Japanese (she’s clearly not Japanese) on Occupied Palestinian soil (a place she is not from: her father is Lebanese and mother Hungarian). Funnily enough, a few years after the attack on Lod Airport, Ms. Rizk married a Palestinian man who was responsible for attacks during the 1972 Olympics in Munich (he was assassinated by the Mossad in 1979).

In many ways, Georgina Rizk’s life was defined for her too.

. . .

Many people think that Occupation and colonialism end at check points and borders but for me, it’s been inside my home my entire life. I look back at the privileges that my parents never got to experience simply because of their history and, therefore, the privileges I never got either. I sometimes wonder what “could have been” - I can’t escape the could-have-would-have. I guess its a symptom of inter-generational trauma.

Despite all this, my mother thoroughly enjoys a Thursday night smokey-eye courtesy of Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971.

on finding a japanese bakery in dubai

Gif from the Hello Kitty and Friends cartoon

Gif from the Hello Kitty and Friends cartoon

Last night I had Korean BBQ at Hyu Korean Restaurant. Hyu is a family-owned Korean place in Jumeriah Lake Towers (JLT). JLT is the quintessential Dubai neighbourhood: towering skyscrapers, city lights, taxis, traffic, restaurants, bars, office buildings. Hyu is authentically Korean - clear from its frequently visiting Korean clientele - and is nestled between JLT’s modern buildings and awkward infrastructure (if you’ve been there you’ll know what I mean). The modernity and awkwardness of JLT doesn’t bother me much - I have taught myself to be indifferent to the pointless skyscrapers and accepting of the fact that the future of the city is uncertain and possibly dystopian. For me, I just wanted to enjoy and devour the Korean barbecued beef, which by the way, was insanely mouth-watering-delicious.

A Korean barbecue, a plate of Dakgangjeong, and a green tea later, we decided to go looking for Japanese cheesecake. “There’s a Japanese cheesecake at Yakitate in Al Rigga” said my companion who was researching Japanese cheesecake options on his phone for the last ten minutes. “Al Rigga it is” I said, ready to trek on the 40 minute drive across Dubai, to one of its oldest neighbourhoods. Al Rigga is the quintessential neighbourhood of old Dubai; low-rise buildings, flickering shop signs, bicycles, traffic and shared living spaces. Anyone who grew up in Dubai knows Al Rigga as the neighbourhood that held Dubai’s promise of modernity and is now part of a forgotten past. It is a glimmer of hope that a bit of the city’s history - my history - is preserved. To me, finding the Japanese bakery in Al Rigga was a relief. When we got there, I ordered a Japanese cheesecake, a tart, Mochi and a Nutella-filled croissant for the both of us. To my dismay, I didn’t really like the taste of any*.

The confusion and disappointment I felt at the end of this East-Asian adventure in the heart of Dubai made me think of our experience of Dubai in general. The continuous striving for modernity, the promise of the future, the idea of a “utopian” life in the Middle East. This all of course was triggered by my recent reading on Gulf Futurism and the image of Dubai as a “city of the future existing in the present”. For those of you that might be interested in reading more about these themes, check out this article by Yasser ElSheshawy, Professor of Urban Studies at UAE University.

Of course the idea of a utopian Dubai - or a utopian anything for that matter - is a sham. I don’t even think utopia is a necessary ambition. And also, its okay for everything to just be as it is. Al Rigga doesn’t have to be a sign of hope that Dubai’s past is still alive, and JLT doesn’t have to be a sign that the future is all gloom and doom. I guess what I am trying to say is, its okay to not enjoy Yakitate in Al Rigga. And its also okay to enjoy Korean in JLT. Maybe Hyu is a sign that the future will be alright after all.

*By the way, Yakitate is a really old Japanese Bakery that now has two branches in Al Rigga and also has great reviews on google. It’s affordable in relation to the more recent Japanese concepts popping up around the city. I highly recommend you try it.

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e-mails to my sister

Portrait of Susan Sontag by Annie Leibovitz. Source:

Portrait of Susan Sontag by Annie Leibovitz. Source:

I wanted to write a blog post about my love for Susan Sontag’s essay “Notes on ‘Camp’” but my enthusiasm for the essay was so great I wrote about it in an email to my sister instead. The essay touched me so profoundly that I felt the need to share it with her, the person who knows me the most in this world, because I knew that as soon as she read it, she will recognise that it touches on the many unresolved feelings I have towards "aesthetics”. Particularly those relating to the region. I decided, that instead of writing about Susan Sontag’s seminal essay here, I will share the email I wrote to my sister.

Darah Ghanem

Fri 10/5/2018, 12:18 pm

rama ghanem; rama; Rama Mustafa Alghanem

Hey sis, 

I don't know if you've already read the work of Susan Sontag at art school but I've been reading a lot of her essays recently and I am so enamoured. 

There are two essays I recommend you read: 

1) Notes on "Camp" - Camp is an elitist aesthetic style that everyone in Dubai (and probably Goldsmiths) is obsessed with. Imo its the aesthetic of the ****** crew, and how it's so exclusivist and so elite and lacks any meaningful content or message. I never thought that aesthetics were political until I read Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag. She basically explains the politics behind why certain aesthetics are "in", and why "Camp" becomes a vessel for upholding the status quo. This is my interpretation of her writing anyway, pls take it with a grain of salt. Here's a link to the essay:

2) Against Interpretation - I imagine you've already read this at art school but I thought I would share it anyway. I only read it last night so I don't know what to make of it but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. What I understood was that art doesn't need to be interpreted and by having armies of critics interpreting your work it essentially loses value. She says that we should focus on critiquing "form" rather than interpreting meaning in art criticism. What is form btw? does she mean aesthetics or does she mean technique? Lemme know. Here's a link to the article:

Anyway sis, I am sending these to you because I miss you and because I miss having someone to discuss these things with. I want to know what you think. Notes On Camp gave me so many ideas to create a parody zine. I think we can make the most hilarious parody zine -  "HOW TO BE A COOL ARAB". 

Lav you 


daily inspiration: "becoming ugly" 



Although I no longer use Facebook as I once did years ago, sometimes it has its perks. For example, I woke up today to a notification from the app letting me know of a memory I made last year today - namely, an article I shared titled "Becoming Ugly". The titled sounded familiar, and I was intrigued - what embarrassing thing have I shared a year ago today? 

Luckily, it wasn't embarrassing. On the contrary, it was something I consider to be worth remembering. As per my status, I added a year ago today: "a compelling read on how women who don't play by the rules make us uncomfortable." Although the article is over a year old, I believe it to be forever relevant. 

So, without further ado, here's the piece. Let me know your thoughts.