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Promoting an underground press in the United Arab Emirates:
The distro Thaili and the zine Maya

An interview with Rahel
from Dubai, United Arab Emirates

by Elke Zobl

November 2004

 

 

As the first grrrl zinester in the Middle East I know, Rahel operates her distro Thaili and her zine Maya out of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Thaili's mission is: "We promote an underground press where there is none; literacy and awareness in a cultural wasteland. We believe in the f-word that feminism is not a dirty word and that the personal is political. We support passion over passiveness and other good stuff." The team behind Thaili hopes "to eventually cater to the whole Middle eastern region, where a zine culture is almost unheard of; through this distro we aim to help establish one, bringing independent literature in from around the world, while also getting local voices heard." Rahel just started this distro and will carry zines from the Gulf and Greater Arab regions such as My very own guide to life or Ultra-reflective cat organ as well as international zines. Let's support this amazing endeavor!

 

 

Can you tell me first of all a little bit about yourself? How old are you, where are you originally from and where do you reside now?

My name is Rahel, I'm sixteen and I was born in India but live in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (a tiny sheikhdom on the Arabian Gulf). (Its a big, cosmopolitan city yet somewhat plasticated and culturally devoid, having sprung up out of nothing over the last 30 years since the discovery of oil and formation of the nation.)

 

What do you do besides your zine and distro?
A few years ago I started the now defunct Antifrat, (vox/bass) the (then) first girl band in the Middle East region. These days I play sax in a ska band (another first) bass/vox in an indie/experimental band (again all girls) and produce my own music, mostly lofi electronica. I'm also into art in a big way, and more recently, photography and film. I've always felt the urge to record my life (be it through music, writing or art) before it slips away and film is a fascinating, unexplored and yes, new medium for me (perhaps you're beginning to see a pattern here?). Otherwise I spend my days doing my a-levels, procrastinating and missing the rain.

 

What made you decide to start the zine and distro? How did you come up with the idea and the names Thaili and Maya? What does Thaili mean? What is the focus of your distro Thaili?
We promote an underground press where there is none; literacy and awareness in a cultural wasteland.
We believe in the f-word that feminism is not a dirty word and that the personal is political.
We support passion over passiveness and other good stuff.

I think that pretty much sums it up. Immigration laws make this a very transient society where most people leave the country after they finish school (or at 18), often back to their home countries. There's almost a prevailing attitude of "why bother; we'll be gone in a year or two… everything will be censored anyway" (though I personally have never had any problems with bringing in what could in some cases certainly be found to be objectionable content).

To a certain extent, the cosmopolitan nature of this country (where some 80% are expats) means that we find ourselves swimming in an oft confusing sea of amalgamated cultures where you'll often find yourself questioning your roots and identity (or lack of, thereof). Through the distro young writers, and eventually this country will hopefully be able to establish an identity through art and writing. 'Thaili' itself means bag in hindi (more specifically the flimsy blue polythene kind) just a word I like a lot aesthetically.

 

What is your zine Maya about? What topics do you discuss most often? Is it written in English?
Yes, its written in English (being my first language I find it easiest to articulate myself.) I would actually love to see some zines in Arabic (though I can't speak it fluently myself); this may happen soon.

I basically started this zine as a way to get some more experience writing 'Maya' itself is a doctrine of Hindu philosophy concerned with the unreality of matter, and is something I really relate to - the zine is mostly a perzine, dealing with apathy in my insular, often almost too surreal life.


For how long have you been running your zine and distro now? Are you the only editor or is there
team?

Just about two months now and it's me alone.

 

What was your first exposure to zines and distros? How did you find out about them?
When I started getting into indie music some years ago I'd always hear about zines and it always left me intrigued. It was only really this summer, though that I really got interested and started looking around places like zinebook and the panderboards, asking (perhaps too many) questions. When in Boston in July I found and devoured a copy of Harvard's Fuel and when I came home I found my first pander order waiting for me; I guess it all went from there.

What do you hope to accomplish by making and distributing zines in the Middle East?
Hopefully get more people aware of and interested in zines an other forms of alternative media and establish something concrete that will stay on and grow when I leave the country/region in two years.

What do you love and find challenging about zine making and distributing?
I am yet to get my hands on a long handled stapler so I do still find myself handsewing everything. Otherwise, exorbitant postage costs (which is a deterrent for many people here that would other wise order more zines in). What I do love is the amazing sense of community and willingess to help - zinesters seem to have escaped the scathing elitisms that plague the indie/punk/hxc communities these days.

What are some of the zines you read and admire?
I haven't read that many to be honest but I do love rock star with words, sobstory and brainscan.

 

I am very interested in international zines. Could you please describe a little bit the (grrrl) zine community or network in your country? Are there other women who are publishing zines? Do you know of other zines and distros in general in the Middle Eastern region?
Sigh. Up till around the creation of Thaili, nonexistent. When asking around I found that the majority of people had never heard of zines and the few that had, tended to huddle disgruntled, bemoaning the lack of any independent literature here. It's interesting that all of us believed we were the 'only ones', so to speak. Through the distro I've met some amazing people, a few who now put out zines or contribute to a local compzine (carried by thaili), and shall inshallah meet many more. Ladyfests and/or zine synopsiums would be fantabulous but well, it's early days yet and we have a long way to go.

 

Do you consider grrrl zines as an important part of a social movement? Do you think grrrl, queer and transgender zines, resource sites, and projects can meaningful social and political change at large - or do they have significance mainly in individual lives?
I wasn't around during the riot grrrl movement; I really don't know.

What were some of main influences that have empowered you in your life (music, etc.)?
Pretty much music - I play bass/flute/sax and listen to mostly indie/post/spacerock/experimental/jass. Books and the internet. People telling me that I can't do something; not to bother trying and to give up already. Also being the first to do things, be it bands/zineage/anything else.

Which role does play the Internet for you?
Quite a big role - It's often my only source of information as well as an invaluable method of communication. Perhaps a lot more so than most other zinesters, being that much younger, it's as much a part of my life as say, brushing my teeth -I'd honestly be lost without it.

 

Do you define yourself as a feminist?
I'm still figuring this one out.

What are the most pressing issues you are confronted with in daily life (as a woman/feminist/…)?
Expectations of women in Indian society; its juxtaposition with my upbringing here and the subsequent clashes it brings. Perceptions of women in Arab society and its portrayal by the media. The fact that here, feminism still is a dirty word.

 

What do you think about feminism today? Do you see yourself as part of "Third Wave Feminism" and if yes, what does it mean to you? Or, why not?
Speaking for myself, I do feel quite detached - these women, though I immensely admire their work and efforts, don't really seem to speak for me/us. As far as feminism today goes I really do believe that the personal is political, especially regarding the female body.

What are some of your personal wishes/visions/ideas/plans for the future, if you like to share them?
Apart from distro/zineage:
Go back and record a tangible demo with Antifrat; we won't fade away.
Put together a documentary about our collective strange/identity adolescences here.
Go to Columbia or Harvard.
Write a novel; make fantabulous music.
Change this country; change the world.

Thanks very much for the interview!

 

 

 

MAYA ZINE:

"Maya #1 :(it's starting to taste like your spit on the piano) is now available. it's 30 pages with a stencilled insert with a peach cover (subject to change, I'm running out fast, meh), stitched in red. I write about what maya is, how life = a pack of cards, the aesthetic pleasure of words, an odd dream, a two=part appreciation list, my two days in Weybridge (UK) and include parts of a dear-penpal letter that discusses the somewhat fantastical life here in dubai (in the United Arab Emirates, yup).It's mostly text heavy but there are a few photos/illustrations, and is $2.00 including postage (anywhere in the world, since it's the same for me - except if you live in the greater Arab region/the subcontinent). Email me for the address (or comment with email), or it's on my distro site. I'll also accept trades but email me first please."

 

 

THAILI DISTRO:

"We promote an underground press where there is none; literacy and awareness in a cultural wasteland. We believe in the f-word that feminism is not a dirty word and that the personal is political. We support passion over passiveness and other good stuff. We're located in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and hope to eventually cater to the whole Middle eastern region, where a zine culture is almost unheard of; through this distro we aim to help establish one, bringing independent literature in from around the world, while also getting local voices heard. This distro is run by Rahel, though we're always looking for volunteers, especially in the Gulf/Greater Arab regions."

 

All images from Rahel's web site.

CONTACT Rahel:

EMAIL: distro [AT] thaili.port5.com. MSN: ieatpropaganda.
SNAIL MAIL: Rahel,
PO Box 1989,
Dubai, UAE.

http://thaili.port5.com/

 


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