Confession of an Urban Nomad

Mehrunisa Qayyum

“Urban Nomad Goes Mad”

I really needed to charge my phone—in malls you can find anything except an available power outlet.  I’ve been circling the upper level of Tysons Corner like a nomad without a caravan. which is why I really need to charge my phone and find out where Adrienne went and where to grab lunch.


“Hey, pretty girl, what are you looking for?” shouted out the heavily accented vendor.


Oprah, Othello, Athena: Meet Nomad

It is the simple question that triggers the overanalysis.  The simple questions complicate each young woman’s inner monologue.  It’s also exactly the same question that preoccupied the nomads looking for water, or that pleasant oasis that could ease whatever discomforts plague her.


Seems like lifetimes ago, which explains why nomads for me represent:

Nice Oprah-types Managing Awkward Dilemmas Superbly.  (Sorta—in my immediate case, as you’ll see.)  These young women are so empowered to deal with anything that comes their way—if only a Nice Open-Minded Astute Dashing Single would walk their way—they could cease their nomadic lifestyles and settle down. Isn’t that what previous lifetimes have taught us: from Nomad→Urban→Suburban? (or driving the proverbial Suburban or Caravan?  Car companies get it.)


But nomads come from all tribes; Nomad mindsets take on other forms: Nihilist Obsessive Males Amassing Delusional Symptoms.  Often, they expand their tribes by befriending these other types of Nomads:

  • Narcissistic Othellos Magically Attracting Desperate Susans (Think Teri Hatcher’s character Susan Mayer from Desperate Housewives who chase after drama kings.  If Othello had been less distracted with his issues, he might have really achieved something.)
  • Nymph Obsessed Males that Actively Deceive Society (One nomad who any straightforward Muslim woman doesn’t need in her caravan.)
  • Neglected Opportunities Maddening Athena’s Development Syndrome (These Nomads seem perfect until you see that they are only interested in their own tribe.  I still take offense that the only way a smart goddess could emerge could only be the result of a male suffering a migraine.  There was a missed opportunity to really develop Athena’s wisdom infused stories because she was held back in warlike quibbles with Ares.)
  • Nitwit Ogres Managing to Avoid Desperate Situations (Think macho, bodybuilder types who walk right through the door you struggled to open as you juggled your groceries.  This tribe accepts commit-phobes too.)
  • Nonsensical Ogling Males Avoiding Deep Statements (These nomads might make good eye candy, but their vapid thoughts are frequently interrupted by seeking out other eye candy.)


The second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth group of nomads are not looking to make peace with the first group of Nomads because they are too busy navigating the “shortest route” to the all-night oasis.  Guess they forgot read the travel brochure, which clearly warns that oases tend to be mirages.


Going from Nomad to Mad

“What’s wrong with my hair?” I asked defensively.

“Your hair is too rough and looks fluffy. We need to get the hair to match the face.”  He expertly stated. (What a way to put claws on a compliment.)


I rarely am sarcastic, but I’m afraid this dude is from the sixth group of Nomads. “Really—is that what we call curly hair?”


“Your hair needs to look more feminine,” this “expert” stated.  How do we do that? Let me guess this nomad’s response: straighten my hair?


In principle, I didn’t believe in buying flat irons to burn good strong Mediterranean curls into Megan Fox’s straight wisps.  Never.  Changing the texture of my hair reeked of orientalism—may Edward Said rest in peace.


Telling him for the 5th time that I don’t believe in making time to burn my hair escaped my mind because the guilt worked.  The guilt had worked before when the best advice I got from one of my superiors was “to smile more”.  (How was smiling more going to help me meet deadlines?)  I had thoughts, insights, and informed opinions.  If the goddess Athena were my boss, I’d like to think she’d congregate all the Amazons, hold a strategy session, and still include Mars/Ares in the final takeover.  (Yes, American-Muslims need heroines too—even if imaginary.  If envisioning an Athena is blasphemous, then picture Wonder Woman. Technically, the Amazons existed, right?)


Bargaining ABCs, Dealing with XYZs

“Sweetie, I’ll charge your phone for you if you just sit in this chair and let me demonstrate our products on your hair free of charge!”


This nomad needed to charge her phone.  Maybe bartering phone charging for being a test model might work.


“Umm, I dunno, I really need to catch up with my friends and find out where they are,” I reasoned.


“Perfect marketing opportunity:  I need a model, you need an outlet.  People will walk by, they’ll like what they see.  Let me fix your hair!” he bargained.  The expert stylist pulled a nomadic move: he bartered his electrical outlet for 1 hour of my time to “fabustyle” my hair with his straightening gadget.


My opinions and insights merged into this one thought: I can stop wandering, charge my phone, rest my feet, and have someone else worry about my hair; all I have to do is sitdown, shutup, and keep my opinions to myself.  Then the dude casually asked, “So where are you from, sweetie?”


“Oh, I’m from Michigan.”


“Nice…but where are you originally from?  You look Latin.  Are you from A, B, C?”


“Nope,” I replied.


“Oh—well with this type of hair, you’ve got to be from X, Y, or Z…”


“My parents…”


“Beautiful—see how smooth your hair looks.  You’re gonna look great tonight.  And you’re gonna want to give me your phone number since I’ve done a great job!”


“are from Z…” I finished.


“Your parents are from Z—no WONDER they came here to the U.S.!” he concluded.


“I guess,” I mumbled.  “Keep my opinions to myself.  Don’t be an Amazon. Don’t ask anything.  Don’t follow up.  Change the topic to how much my hair needs help,” I reminded myself.


“So, are you from Z also?”


“No way!  I’m from X!” he stated.


Not only would I not be giving him my phone number, but I realized that I also fell into another tribe of Nomad: Neglecting Own Mind and Athena-like Decisions.


“Oh, I see…I’ve been to X.  It’s beautiful with all the olive trees and the weather…” I diplomatically offered.


“Whatever, X is fine.  But the US is WAY better.  More places, better lifestyle, more nightlife—it’s just better”….


Don’t say it…don’t get mad…avoid getting into anti-orientalist diatribe.  Keep insight INSIDE.  So I changed the subject—sorta.


“But country X has so much beautiful history—as do Y and Z.  That’s what my parents miss the most…I mean, the U.S.—as fun and modern as it is—will never offer that kind of history,” I countered.


“Sweetie, all my friends would kill to be in your shoes and live here.  Here, lemme smooth out your roots and ends with this.”


I picked up the hair smoothing cream in front of me.  The label of the cream read “Made in X”…I opted to match my hair with my face over matching my hair with my mind.  My hair roots are poking my mind.


“All done—alright, sweetie.  Here’s your fully charged phone.  And you owe me a phone number.  What are you up to tonight?” he cooed.


“I’ve gotta wash my hair tonight…” I smiled back at him.   “And get all that Made in X out of my hair,” my roots echoed through the mall.




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