Lulwa Khalifa

Break the Bubble 

The geography of the home that I grew up in was rough. A rough terrain where one could not escape without passing the living room, aka the den of the predator. To successfully clear out wearing the miniest of miniskirts, I’d have to make a break for it shortly after 5 p.m. My dad would take off for his routine nap, typically signally that everyone else would head to their rooms. In circumstances where I had not been successful, it usually was because I hadn’t thought to put in effort. For instance, one summer when I was 16 years old, unaware of my more mature appearance, my mother stopped me from leaving to a shopping center for supposedly wearing a shirt that was too tight. In other instances, the shirt would show too much back, too much shoulder, or too much collarbone. Each time, I couldn’t understand why I had to change, why I had to hide. My bra had to be tighter, my shirt looser, hair neater. Growing up with three brothers, the one thing I knew was that such scrutiny had to do with the fact that I had a female body. One thing I did not know was what was so wrong about it. 

How dare you be a woman? 

How dare you have boobs? 

You are walking sin. 

Where I’m from, educational institutions are often lacking, which means that to get into a good college one would have to travel abroad. It is believed that parents should be wary about sending their daughters overseas to study out of fear of them turning wild. The idea upends the essence of our moral code: men are inherently moral because of their manliness (penises) and women must be charged with protecting the family’s honor. She is the provider of life after all, isn’t she? Nonetheless, there are many cracks within this blueprint. It’s fostered deep-rooted

misogyny and sexism in our societies because the idea that women can have lives outside the close-knit family unit threatens the core system. Or so we think. Why is there a fear of us turning wild in the first place? Don’t they know that that insituates our desire to live more open lives? I know this to be true because many of my friends have explicitly been told by their family members that the possibility of an outside education was impossible. The dogma is stronger if she were seeking a liberal arts education. It would be too dangerous, open to all kinds of evil temptations. 

She will forget her culture. 

She will forget her religion. 

She will become too much like them. 

Everything I know I know from music. It was the root, the seed because music is where it all comes together. First, culture. Second, politics. Third, fashion. The more I studied music, listening to The Beatles, Bowie, and Madonna, the more I understood how music can come to represent, reflect, and even embody sentiments of its time; anti-war movements, feminism, and sex positivity. Chuck Berry said that the best way to release aggression is to get up and dance and that this is the essence of rock and roll. What would it be like to dare to move? Dare be imperfect? Dare to be uninhibited? Rhythm has always offered this release. Perhaps this is why some believe it to be the root of all evil. In another perspective, a tool to burst the bubble of control. After all, what better way is there to embrace your existence than to dance? To move in tune with the vibrations radiating out of the guitar. To have your heart beat in perfect alignment with the pounding of the drums. 

You are here. 

You are alive.

Don’t dare feel guilty. 

During my first semester of college in the US, I got a call from my mother before heading out to my first concert. 

“Have fun, but remember to be careful and don’t post online too much. You know العين, right?” 

“Yeah, mama don’t worry. Inshallah, I’ll be careful. Love you. Bye.” 

“Love you, habibty.” 

العين, or Al Aayen, is more famously referred to as the Evil Eye. A superstition that dates back thousands of years and has long robbed our societies of all kinds of pleasure, seeping insecurity, and fear of the unknown. Generally, people who believe in the Evil Eye have the presumption that drawing attention to yourself, like by making others angry or jealous, will ignite the powers of evil against you. A hefty challenge, for sure. One could see why a parent with such a belief would do anything to advise against it. However, after making it this far, there was no way I would allow myself to be senselessly preoccupied with what others thought about me. To think that my everyday behavior actually mattered to “evil forces” or people I don’t know. No person, no kid should live with that pressure. 

There’s something ethereal about being in an enclosed space with people who all love the same tunes and reverberations as you. Here, I can dress without trepidation. Paint my face with glitter and powders. I’m dressed in my favorite purple collared shirt to match my tweed skirt, with sleek black tights and boots. I meet the crowd, everyone here with the purpose of sharing love and being uninhibited. The atmosphere is overflowing with excitement, bright colors shooting out from all corners of the room. We don’t know each other yet we aren’t strangers. We are all aware of this transient trip yet we embrace the momentary smiles and gestures as the kindred, nomadic

spirits of this world. This was not my escape. I have not lost myself but instead unlocked a part of myself that would disillusion my perspective on the world. People in silvers, sparkles, and sequins all around me. Why can’t we dress like this on the regular? Why can’t every day be a celebration of simply being here

I think about my friends back home who I wish I could share this with. I laugh when I remember that one of my good friends had warned me not to have too much fun. I’d appreciated that it came from a place of love, not العين. Then again, I have been careful to adopt her advice since she was suspended in disbelief by someone claiming that religion has done irrevocable damage to society. I think about my parents, who grew up in a smaller bubble, and were told that they must live with fear and that that is holy. Told to respect the powers that be so that they can have a share of the rewards. Told that to deviate would mean penalty and retribution. 

At night's end, I have never felt more confident. That’s what the fight is about. A protest against boredom, against the restrictive bubble, against the Evil Eye. Leaving the venue, I imagine gushes of wind swirling around me as warnings. Leading my eyes to catch those of the spirits around me. Bright blue, standing out amidst the dark sky. They whisper faint notes of crime and punishment. I also imagine myself taking those eyes and flushing them down the toilet. The eye would no longer follow me around. 

I wish I could argue, I wish I could fight against all who try to get people to little themselves and conform. But I couldn’t. All I could do was continue dancing. Show that it was harmless. Show that openly expressing yourself is a celebration of your humanity and that is not sinful. I have no problem with religion. I have a problem when it is used to spread fear and hate. 

Hatred and fear are tools used to divide and conquer, tools for distraction so that the hierarchy never falters, never wavers. They are tools to tighten the bubble. When the bubble gets too tight,

hate and fear have nowhere to go but inward. Seeping into the skin, sowing doubt and insecurity, limiting your innate power. When in an unfree world, I say the first cure is to dance. Openly embracing existence and autonomy. The more powerful the swirls and twirls, the more cracks that gape in the bubble until eventually… 

POP

About the Author: Lulwa Khalifa  is a Bahraini-American college student studying political science and literature in Washington D.C. After graduation, Lulwa hopes to build a writing career, involving journalism and books. She writes about a myriad of topics, but her work almost always ties back to themes of humanity and the dismantlement of oppressive power structures.