Promoting an underground press in the
United Arab Emirates:
distro Thaili and the zine Maya
interview with Rahel
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
by Elke Zobl
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!
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?
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.)
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.
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
We promote an underground press where there is none; literacy
and awareness in a cultural wasteland.
in the f-word that
feminism is not a dirty word and that the personal is political.
passion over passiveness and other good stuff.
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.
is your zine Maya about? What topics do you discuss most often? Is it written
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.
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.
how long have you been running your zine and distro now? Are you the only editor
or is there
Just about two months now and it's me alone.
was your first exposure to zines and distros? How did you find out about them?
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.
do you hope to accomplish by making and distributing zines in the Middle East?
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.
do you love and find challenging about zine making and distributing?
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.
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.
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.
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
I wasn't around during the riot grrrl movement; I really
were some of main influences that have empowered you in your life (music, etc.)?
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
a novel; make fantabulous music.
Change this country; change the world.
very much for the interview!
#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."
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
images from Rahel's web site.
distro [AT] thaili.port5.com. MSN: ieatpropaganda.
PO Box 1989,
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