Amitis Motevalli – Privileged Encounters

September 2012


Three years ago, I started the research phase of an extensive public art project called Everyday Imamzadeh. My research was looking at transnational Muslim communities and labor, remittance, migration debt and the displacement of existing labor as well as the engagement in the public sphere.


I have been able to travel so far to many cities in the US and Europe with large or growing Muslim communities. The research was somewhat rhizomatic and began with my own experience within my family as transnational Muslim laborers and expanded out. Apart from feminists and labor text, I read researchers and theorists, with a particular focus on transnational Muslims, the body and war such as Hamid Dabashi, Jean Genet and Junaid Rana. While traveling and meeting people, I kept personal documentation of locations and interviews. I believe in using any media or means to create close connections and reach a better understanding.


Most of my research and work is feminist and gender based. I had the opportunity to make connections with women and girls in many cities and begin art clubs and create public art projects that dealt with the Muslim body and visibility/invisibility. Since I was working to build with women and girls, my connections with men became limited.  I do believe in multiple feminist practices, and as a Muslim woman of color, it is impossible to do feminist research without inclusion of the entire community.


Some of my interactions were very formal interviews set up with academics, Imams or elders, who would speak on behalf of… At this stage, I really did want to be able to connect with men in the same way, as I was able to with women, without creating a sexualized distrust within the community. It is still very complex to enter a community and get close to men without causing a stir.


After overhearing a conversation at a hookah bar in Dubai, I realized that I might be able to chat with some men one on one through dating sites and applications. This also gave me access to Muslim men internationally. I chatted occasionally within one year with up to 600 people identifying as Muslim men and a few Muslim women. The chats come at a very fast pace as there are many Middle Eastern, South Asian and North Africans on some specific apps. My profile only provided an age, gender, and location, no photo. I also stated that I was Middle Eastern. Yasmine - Female, 36, Los Angeles, CA, US. These few excerpts are from chats that continued for a few months. The transcriptions lay a bit flat in relation to the cadence and pace of a live chat, but as documentation very informative to me on more levels than my project research.



Egyptian Lover – Male, 37, Petersburg, VA, US



Egyptian Lover *winked* at you




Hi sweetie. How are you?



Good. N u?



I’m great thank you



Were r u from?




And you? Where are you from?






Oh, yea… lol, Egypt?



hahaha yes

you been there?



 No, never, I’d love to go



not is not so good to visit



I would love to go now especially



haha, you crazy

I’m sure you are cute. Irani girls are beautiful



Where do you live?



Virginia, in the south



How long have you been there?



I be here in VA for going on 5 years

Are you single Yasmina?




You moved from Egypt to VA?



No I move to Washington DC first bcz I have uncle there

Yasmina, you have kids?



No sweetie no kids



Can I see your pic?



sent a pic



Wow, you good looking

You be marrd before?



No, never



Why? You look good girl

Why you can get no husband?



It’s not that I can’t







tell me about you



wat you want 2 now? Ask



How long were you in DC?



one year but no work for me



So what do you do now?



some my friends and me got a little store over here in VA



Oh really? What kind?



convenience store



in a poor community?



yea, people real poor here



you sell liquor?



yea we get special liscence, make more money

show me another picture



isn’t it haram to sell liquor?



no, why haram? I support my family two kids and more family in Alexandria

can you send another pic



sent a pic

what about all of the people in the neighborhood, do you care about them?



yea, people here cool

they cool with me cuz I’m cool with them

you tall? That pic you look tall

who is that man?



that’s Rafer Johnson, he was a gold medal decathlete.

I met him at an art event



hes your boyfriend?



no, I just took the picture with him

so you have kids? Are you married?



Yea, I have wife and kids back home



is it hard being away from them?



yea, I miss them but I visit and I skype everyday



you visit?



yea, I go cople times a year



Why are you on this app then? Why do you want to meet other women?



I just chat, nobody here Arab or Muslim so I chat



Are you lonely?



yea, you won come visit?



Virginia or Alexandria



come both, I show you my country



what will your wife say?



nothing she can not say nothing



stop it you know she’ll beat your ass



maybe lol

send me more pics



that’s it for now papa

I’m sleepy need to go to bed



I like you call me papa

one more

sexy one for good nite




t’sbah ala khayr



mashalla TESBA7 3ALA KHER







Khaled – Male, 31, El Cajon, CA, US






Hi Khaled



How r u

Were u live

Why no pic



Hi I live in LA

Where are you from?



Iraq I live san diego

And u from were






Oh nice

How long u her



Since I was a little girl




U marrid






Why no pic



Sent a pic



But I know the iran woman really cute

Nice u so cute and sexy

U live with parents



No sweetie



Oh ok with?

What u lookin for




And u? What r u looking for?






Oh that’s heavy

Can you find it here?



No coz no trusting



This may not be the app for love but who knows

So what do you do for work Khalid?



You mean job






I work in Ralphs store



Ok cool

How long have you been here?



1 year



Awww wow. Do you miss Iraq?



Yes much

I miss my family



Can you go an visit yet



No yet



What city are you from?




In south



Oh ok. Are you Shia?







Me too



I know coz much people from Iran shia








u marrid or stell virgion



lol. Not married



oh u lookin for marrid



No I’m looking for friendship



Oh nice

U r my friend now



Cool J



But sometimes I get danger



What does that mean?



That mean I can kiss my friend




Tell me more. Are you married?










And u stell no kids






U sexy

Send pic



Sent pic



I have this one

Send another



There’s no more L



Send sexy pic




Are you in school too?






What are you studying?



English class

What u working



Im an artist



What u do




No more like painting, drawing, sculpture



Oh nice

U lonely



Not really

Are you?



No my father



What does that mean?



With my father



Oh your father lives here




U so cute and no boyfriend



Where does your mother live?



In my country




Will you bring her here?



Not yet

I have make money first



Does all of your family live in Iraq?






Brothers and sisters?



Only one brother and three sisters in Iraq

I have had to more brothers



Oh where are they






Oh L

In war?




Come on send one more pic

u so cute



sent pic




so hot

send with no clots






nakid sexy pic



Khalid !!!




Come on baby




Ok here’s one in my bathing suit

Sent a pic







Rami – Male, 32 years, Roseville, CA, US



Rami *winked* at you



Hi J

How are you?



Hi sweetie, I’m great. How are you?



Good J

What are you up to?



Chatting with you



yea J

where are you from?



I was born in Iran



Oh nice



Where are you from?




You speak Arabic?



No sweetie, I speak Farsi

How long have you been here from Jordan?



Since I was 17



Wow, you came here with your family?



No, my family sent me by myself



Wow! That must have been scary when you were a teenager



Yea, a little. I had one uncle here, but I came to work



Oh, ok. So is your family here now?



Some of them, my dad and some of his family, uncle, aunt and cousins

One brother is studying in San Francisco and another brother in Los Angeles



Is your mom in Jordan?






Do you miss her?



Yea, a lot and my sister



Were you the first one here from your immediate family?



Yes, they all came after I was here

I was just in Jordan to see my mom

It was after a long time



Oh great, I bet she was so happy



Yes she was

Do you go to Iran?



Yes, I have many friends and family there



How long have you been here?



Since I was a little girl, I grew up in LA



Oh, nice

How about your Mom and Dad?



My Mother lives in Los Angeles, so does my brother

My father lives in Iran, he is remarried



Oh your parents are divorced?



Yes, since I was a teenager



Mine too, my dad is remarried

Are you married?



Not married



Me either

But my parents always try and find me a nice Arab girl



Haha, so why don’t you date them?



No way, they are too conservative. They don’t want to date. They just want marriage.

Also, they wear hijab



So? What’s wrong with hijab? Are you not Muslim?



Yes, but I don’t like a conservative woman

Besides, just because they wear hijab doesn’t mean they are pious. That’s all to create an image



Not all women who wear hijab are like that



Yea, that’s true

So are you Muslim?



Yes, I am



Are you Shia? Most Iranians are Shia






I worked around many Shia



Really? What do you do?



I’m a linguist



??? Humnnnn? What does that mean? Is it like Noam Chomsky?




I do translation



Oh, I see Arabic to English?






Where did you work with so many Shia?



In Iraq






I was with the troops




You translated for the troops during the invasion and occupation?



Yes for about 6 years



That’s a very long time. How long have you been back?



About 5 months

I went to Europe for a while the to visit my family in Jordan

Now I’m back in Cali

I’m staying with my dad, but I’ll get an apartment soon



Oh, so your life has completely changed all of a sudden



Yea, I just got an iphone

I’m getting a new laptop soon

My car got old too, so I’m looking for a new one



Was it good money?



Yes, I got about 80k a year



Was it difficult being in Iraq? During the war?



You get used to it, but we were isolated. I made many good friends. I miss our guys and gals there



Do you mean the Iraqi people?



No, the troops, here’s a picture

Sent a pic

I was here with the guys translating in Basra



Oh, wow, you wear the camo colors too, like you are military



Well, I’m civilian but I’m one of the troops



How do you feel being there in a war against our people?



Well, it was difficult, I’m glad I’m back

I think I’m going to get this Range Rover

Sent a pic

What do you think?



Oh, ok, the black car?



Yes, I think I’m going to buy it

How do you like it?



Ummm well, I don’t really like Range Rovers



Why not?



That’s the car the colonial british would drive



Oh, well I’m getting this, my other car is a Benz, but it’s old now

I let my brother drive it while I was gone



Rami, I’m getting sleepy



Oh, ok, I’ll talk to you later






Good Night Yasmine






What’s up Yasmine



Good Morning, what’s up Rami?



I’m going to go get that car today



Oh ok, well if it makes you happy



What are you up to?



I was just planning a project and drinking coffee



Oh nice



So what are you doing for work now Rami?



Well, I’m looking to invest in a business with my cousin



What kind of business?



I don’t know yet



So Rami, How come you haven’t asked for my picture?



You can send it if you want, I like you already



Oh, okay, but you don’t know anything about me



I will there is so much time



Well I’m an artist

I’m doing research right now on transnational Muslims who migrate for labor and to flee wars



Oh, yea there are many believe me

Especially in Europe, they are everywhere and the act so ghetto



Well I like the ghetto, I grew up in “ghetto” so tell me where…



I saw many in Dusseldorf and Frankfurt

You grew up in a Muslim ghetto?



Lol, no, there were no Muslim ghettos on the east side of LA



Most people in Cali who are Muslim already have some money in their family, how did you end up in a ghetto?



We spent all our money getting to New York, then drove across the country because New York was too cold



Oh you because of the revolution?



No, we came because of the king, before the revolution



He was our friend though.



Who? Your family? King Hussain?



No, the US



Rami, you weren’t even here in the US during that time and you say we?

Were you even born?



Lol, no



I’ll talk to you later Rami








Good Morning Yasmine



Good evening Rami



Yea, your profile says you are 5540 miles away



I am, I’m in Denmark



Oh, nice. What are you doing there?



I’m here for work



Oh nice, nice

Did you get the pictures of my Range Rover?



Oh, yea, sorry I’ve been so busy, between my job, preparing for this trip and being in travel

How do you like it?



I love it!

It’s so different, so much more computerized than my Benz was



Oh, ok, cool



I got a Macbook and an iPad too



Wow, that’s a lot of stuff, you’ve been shopping



Yea, look, I got these too

Sent a pic

Theyre true religion



Oh, ok, cool. Congratulations



Thanks! You never sent me a picture



You never asked



Ok, I’m asking



Sent a pic



You’re very pretty, you look like youre Arab



Thank you, yea we all have similarities in that region



Yes, true. Dark eyes, dark hair is nice. Do you have big breasts



Lol, no Rami, I don’t



Lol, I had to ask, I like big tits

Ok, then

Sent a picture

That’s my cousin and his son on my cousin’s speed boat

We went to the lake yesterday



Wow, it looks so warm and beautiful. It’s cold here



Oh, yea northern Europe, of course it is

I want to get a boat too



A boat? Rami, do you ever think about how you are getting all of the things you have?



What do you mean?



I mean that you helped the people who went to loot Iraq and kill Muslims



I didn’t kill them



Yes, but you helped



No the troops were my friends, they weren’t just killing



Ok, but were you not all there to control the population and take all the resources



Look you don’t know what I saw there

You have no idea

It is hard being a Muslim and seeing that

But the guys I was with are like my family too



You can’t judge, you haven’t been there.

In Iraq, they are so angry and sneaky

It’s not like your country or mine



Are they not also Muslims?

Are they not human, just wanting to live comfortably in their own land?



Yes, but, you have no idea, we did not kill all the time

They attacked us too



You were in their home, uninvited

If someone came into your home and started to rape your family, kill your brothers and sisters, steal all of the things you worked hard for, humiliated you, wouldn’t you fight back too






How are you Yasmine?



I’m good Rami, how about yourself



Not good






I have to go to Kuwait



Oh really? I thought they were trying to pull all the troops out of Iraq



It’s not Iraq, it’s Kuwait



Well you didn’t get drafted right? You don’t have to go



I don’t but I need work and can’t find any. I don’t feel like a man, I haven’t worked for almost a year



Isn’t there other work you can do?



Not any that pay me so good. Besides, I haven’t really been able to focus since I got back, I feel like sleeping always

I think this is the only work for me



No Rami, you have options, you can sell your Range and live a little more simple



I’m selling my car, I’ll get a new one when I get back

It won’t be that bad, It won’t be like when we were locked in in Iraq

We can drive around in Kuwait



But you seemed like you were upset about having to leave

Rami, last time it effected you, I could tell

You have to think about how this will make you feel years from now

The military is there for wrong reasons, you know that



Im not there for killing our people, I’m there to help

People need to talk to each other

It will be good to see many of my friends again

I need work, so I will go to work

Can I come see you?



I’m working now and leaving town soon

I’ll chat with you before you leave










Hi Rami

Hello J

Rami WYD?






Atakan – Male, 36 years, Berlin, DE






Hi sweetie how are you



I’m very good

Where are you Yasmina?

Your profile says Mitte

sprechen deutsch




No, English L



Very good

I speak English



Oh good

Do you live in Germany?



Yes, Berlin Neukolln



I have not been there yet



Are you visiting Berlin?






Where are you from?



I was born in Iran

But I live in LA and right now I live in Denmark for a few months



Oh, really? Copenhagen?



No in Aarhus



How do you like Berlin?



I like it

Well, kind of

It’s much sunnier than Aarhus J




It’s great weather now

You are here for holiday or business?



I’m here for business


Very good, what do you do?



I’m an artist



Very nice, there are much artists in Berlin

Are you going to the Biennal?



Oh, you know about it... yes, I went to the opening and back to see the art

Where are you from Atakan?



I’m from Turkey



Salaam J

Are you Muslim?



Yes J







Very nice, Iranian women who are muslim are very kind



Ha, thank you! Not always J



May I see your picture?



Sent a picture






Thank you!

How long have you been in Germany?



For 8 years

I have had family here, but in Dusseldorf



Oh, good, so there were people here to help at first



Yes, thank God



Did you stay in one of those big housing projects for refugees?



Haha, yes. How did you know?

It seems most immigrants stay in those in Europe


Yes, it was no good

I live in Turkish area now, but it’s very good



What do you mean no good?



It was bad. The people too close, not clean, very dangerous, many Germans angry at us


Why were they angry?



They are upset that we come here

And they don’t like Muslim



Oh, awful. Were people ever violent to you?



Yes, me, my family

We are strong, we fight J



Haha! Good!



What do you do for work?



I am an engineer



Oh wow, did you go to school here?



No in Turkey



Oh, wow, very good. I know the engineering schools there are very good



Yes, it’s very hard to go to University. You must have very high marks



Of course, so you are very educated, you are fluent in three languages?

Actually 4, I also speak Arabic

Wow, what type of engineering do you work in?



I am working now as an auto mechanic

My credentials from turkey are not excepted here






Well, German degrees are preffered.

I am lucky to have a job. Many people don’t have any work now

And my job has good pay



Oh, ok, so you like what you do?



Not really, but I like better than no food




Right haha



Are you married Yasmine?






Are you looking for a husband?





What are you looking for on this app?



Just friends and to chat



Just friends?



Yes, I’m also learning about a lot about Muslim men

What are you looking for?



Well to be honest sex

When I meet any Turkish girls, I’m expected to marry them

I would rather get to know a woman more before that

But as you know, humans have needs ;)



Ha, I guess so

Why don’t you have a girlfriend? Maybe a German girl?



Oh, no, I like woman from the middle east

So much more beautiful

I don’t mind German girls for just sex



Oh :/



Or women traveling and lonely ;)



Slow down




Can we sit and talk with some coffee

How long will you be in Berlin?



I’m hoping to get an overnight train tonight



Oh L

Can I meet you before you leave?



I don’t think so, I have to do a few things before I leave



Will you come back to Berlin?






Insh’Allah J




Mohammad Hakim – Male, 27 years, Oakland, CA, US

Hakim *winked* at you
Hi :)

How are you

I'm good n u

What are you up to?

Not much
I'm at work

Where do you work?

At Prada

Oh really? Where in Union Square?

Yes you know SF?

Yes, I went to college there for my bachelors degree

Wow so close

I love Prada



I hate Prada

Why? Don't you work there?

Yes, I'm a security guard

Oh is it hard work

Not really

Why do you hate it?

The people here

Oh really, why

They are so stuck up
They think they are more special than everybody
I hate that kind of attitude


Oh yea me too
Do they really think they are better

Where do you live now?

Los Angeles

Oh not too far
Your page say u r mid eastern

Yes I am. I'm from Iran

Oh good. U Muslim

Where r u from?






Very good, how long have you been here?



2 years



Your English is so good



Yes, I learn in Egypt



Which city are you from?




Send a pic



Sent a pic



You hot



Thank you!



Send another pic, with body



I’m not sending you a naked pic



No, so I see all not just face

Naked pic later ;)



Sent a pic



Nice body

You workout?






How tall?



I’m 5.8



Oh you tall, Im 6.3



You are tall too

Where is your family?



In Egypt



All of them?






You didn’t have family here?




You married?



No, are you



Yes, but not real



Really, why are you looking for women



I married, but not for love



???!!! for papers?



Yes, she is American woman I met online

I come here to see her and we marry




Oh, does she think it’s a real marriage?



Yes, maybe, idk



That seems so cruel. Does she know, did you give her money?



No she pay for my ticket and get a lawyer to help with



She seems so sweet, that’s very generous



:/  nooooooo



Why, she helped you



She use me too, believe me

American woman chase after Arab man so much, in Egypt, so many woman or man come looking for Arab

She don’t care about me, my family, my culture

She just want some spice, you understand?



I guess… how?



I am not equal to her



She married you and helped you right? Did she tell you she loves you?



Yes, but she love me like she love her dog or cat

She pay for them too



Oh so you think she wants to own you



Yes, she does not see me as partner



Well you didn’t see her as partner either, right?



You are right, I look for American woman to help me leave Egypt



Why did you leave Egypt? It seems you don’t like much here



No, I like here, I live in Oakland, I like my people, I like African people here, I like Arab, Mexican and some white too

I don’t like people who think they better



Oh, so you must hate San Francisco, lol



Lol, yea, SF is bad, too many arrogant



It seems like you have some arrogance yourself



Not arrogant, I am proud

I love Egypt, we are ancient culture

Europe and America learn from us and then steal from us



So why did you leave?



I came to make money and send home



Oh, I understand



I have young brother and sister

My mother need medicine



I see, so you came here to become a security guard?



My first job was pet husband lol



True, that was work



I work two job now, here at Prada and at jewel store



Can you get me some of that Prada? Lol



Sure come visit, we can steal some, lol



Ha! Do you steal from there?



No, I didn’t come here to go to jail



Oh right



Will you come to Bay?



Yes, I come visit sometimes

I have many friends



Come stay with me



And your wife?



No, I live small place now in Oakland

I have roommate you have to sleep in my bed ;)



Oh really? And you’ll sleep with your roommate right?






I’ll talk to you later Hakim



No, lol








Mohamed – Male, 22 years, Aarhus, DK



Hejsa Yasmine

J Wanna chat with me? I know I am young but hope it’s okay. I am just tired of young and superficial girls J



Hi Mohamed

Is it cold in Aarhus Now?



Yeah it’s pretty cold..

How is the weather in LA?



So hot!



hehe wanna switch? I am in my bed with the heat on.. it’s cooold

where are you from originally?




I just left Aarhus in June



really?? What did you do in Denmark?




I went there for work

In Gellerup



oh really? What do you work with? Impressing

I lived in Gellerup for 15 years



I like Gellerup but really didn’t like the rest of Aarhus



it’s so boooring+what do you work with?



I’m an artist


oh what’s your name? I am sure they have made an article in Danish then



Where r u from? Palestine?

Yes there were many articles



no Lebanon



oh ok



so are you married or single? Any kids?



Not married no kids



okay J



you were a child when you moved to DK?



you sound really cool…

no I was born in DEnmark

my parents moved from the war in Lebanon



Oh ok

Do you go visit?

I would love to go to Lebanon but haven’t yet



yeah in the summer.. I have a lot of family there

so what kind of artist are u?

its really cool... so beautiful



I’m a contemporary conceptual artist



you have to elaborate on the Yasmine ;)

I am an economics student..Just started my masters.

So I only understand numbers hehe


hahaha google is a good thing too







which university are you studying at?



ha idea becomes the machine that makes the art




Very good



so what ideas are you working with? Ghetto problems?




Doing research and working in Muslim ghettos. Lol



okay J

what else if you visited Gellerup hehe



Also doing research on transnational muslims

I stayed in Gellerup for 2 months



okay J sounds really interesting



I also worked in Norborro Copenhagen

with some of the camps

But I just finished a larger Danish project on immigration



okay cool



 there are serious problems in Denmark with racism


it’s not as bad as you might think

it’s worse in Holland





Denmark is one of the MOST racist countries I’ve been to

Israel, Poland, Russia may be a little worse

Israel a lot worse




and how do you judge that?

what parameters do you look at?





daily life of people

quality of life and access



okay :0



compared to rights and daily life in other countries

not that netherlands, france, italy, greece or us/uk are perfect



yeah J you are right



So do you mostly date Danish girls or Arab girls? Or…?



Arab girls

my last gf was Afghan though



oh ok



the problem is that not many girls wanna have a relationship unless it’s something serious..and I am not ready for marriage and all of that stuff

so I have been single for 10 months now



I see

prob because of family?



yeah, it’s still taboo

to have girl/boy friends

unless you are getting engaged or something

it’s easier in Lebanon than for us here

what about you? American men or Middle eastern?




physically I prefer middle eastern men.

They are way more attractive



hehe but you hate the mentality of the middle eastern?






jealous dominating :p



not all are like that

some are really cool



no but that’s usually the answer, sterotypes



all the men I’ve dated have gotten jealous and dominating



you sure know how to pick em :p

there is a fine line between jealous and protective



I think it has to do with me I’m more involved with my work than anything else


okay, yeah I can imagine the potential problems

so what is your next international stop?



I’ve got an ongoing project in Detroit

I’ll be going there soon

There’s a large Muslim community

so why are you chatting with an older woman so far away?



I just got curious..and one thing lead to another. And here we are having a really interesting conversation

what about you? Chatting with a young guy J



Well…. I’m on this app to talk to Muslim men who are away from their homelands

for my research

there are so many on here



okay J

so it’s not pleasure but business

I feel so used lol



no it’s both

I make friends



just kidding J..okay cool..



 But as you know in the communities I work with it’s very difficult

 Just to go up and talk with men



yeah, I know


Women start to distrust you



hehe lol

so you flirt with them behind their back? Hehehehe



Oh, you’re awful 


Relax, don’t take everything so seriously

Don’t be mad, but you are a little preachy, lol