Thursday, July 30, 2009

Which Veil R Ya?

One of the “souk” or markets out here looks like this: a line of tiny shops stuck wall to wall from here until as far as the eye can see. And in between are side streets and alleys. Each one leads to infinity. On a shopping spree in a place like this, I sure put on some comfy pump slippers and I have my healthy whole grains for energy in the morning. Plus some vitamins and I’m super duper shopper woman! :-)

First store. I pick up a pair of baggy pants. I wonder what to wear on top. Scary how the sales person lady almost reads my mind: “for that you need to wear it like the manikin over there. A sleeveless black short waist line shirt”. I look at the shirt and I say, “ummmm……”

She gives a smile and says, “but you would wear a long sleeved shirt underneath to make it work”.

I come up with some excuse and I don’t buy it. But the moment stays in mind, this picture of a short really tight sleeveless waistline shirt being “solved” for a veiled girl with a tight long sleeved shirt underneath. Huh. She must have thought I roll like that. Interesting :-)

Next store. I pick up a long shirt that goes below the bum area and above the knees, sort of in between that space. Sales lady comes along: “no that won’t work for you hunny. You guys wear longer. Let me show you the section that’ll work for you”. All the “shirts” she shows me are really long dresses that go below the knee area. To wear with a pair of pants underneath. They’re also generally dark colors.

Interesting. I thought. Humm. That stayed in my mind, too. So the “appropriate” shirt, this time, is below the knee length and anything less than that seems “not right for us guys”. Huh. Okay. She must have thought I roll like that :-)

I’m in the next store. A bubbly energized sales woman with a vibrant smile handles me. I try on this fine dress looking all like the swan princess with a hale berry touch. Fine dress. Dang! But. Tight from the “top”. I say: “you know it’s an issue for me as a veiled woman to have this top area so tight, though it’s an awesome dress you know what I’m sayinnnnnn’. Purrrrrfect except for the darn top area!”

She looks at me, then says: “ But like that’s normal to even have a “top” area. I mean you’re a woman aren’t you, I’m sure you have atleast a shirt or dress that looks like that. It’s just being a woman. You can’t go anywhere with it hunny, it’s going to be there. I’m a conservative dressing person too and believe it or not I was veiled once too, so I understand. The dress doesn’t show your figure. And the top area….. that’s normal hunny”.

:-) -- Sales people. They can convince themselves the earth is square then they’ll sell it to you like its gospel. :-) Anyways. That stayed in my mind, too. She must have thought I roll like that.

Funny the assumptions made about a veiled woman and the ‘type’ that she is, because apparently there are ‘types’. And sales women here know this. Those that wear tight clothes but just cover their heads. Others kinda go border line with baggy everything except for that ONE thing that’s sorta kinda tight.

Or the ones that wear long tall baggy all the way from head to toe, usually same style all the time – long long long jacket/shirt/abaya with pants underneath. I wonder what “other” veil types come up when I shop next time ….. :-) …


Monday, July 27, 2009

Racism - Part Two

Sweet is the taste of power against ignorance.

I guess I couldn’t get over that experience with the cab driver’s racism the other day. I teach on Monday at the University. I had prepared a class lesson plan, but didn't follow it.

I walked in. I looked at my students, the kids (I mean it positively in a warm way). These are the future, I said to myself. The Lebanon of tomorrow.

And I’m standing here as their teacher. I don’t know if I’ll ever get another chance to be here, I could die the instance I walk out of the classroom. So. I. Picked up the chalk. Went to the board and wrote these questions:

“Have you ever felt discriminated against in Lebanon? Did you ever feel hurt by someone else when you’ve done nothing wrong to them to deserve such treatment in the first place?”

Almost immediately, one student said: “Yes miss, I’m half French and many Lebanese here treat me as a fake Arab when I love the Lebanese side of me. I think I’m more Arab than I am French”.

Another student: “miss, we usually don’t feel it here”.

Me: “Have you seen it around?”

The class is quiet….

Have you ever wondered why you see it, but you don’t receive it? You’re Lebanese. Did you ever think of your “privileged” position in society here? You’re all well-to-do people, middle to high class citizens, otherwise you wouldn’t be enrolled in this prestigious university that costs an arm and leg for tuition each term. If you haven’t experienced discrimination in one form or another, did you ever ask yourself why? Because you know it’s around…

Then, I talk about the maid system in Lebanon.

One kid, I see him in the back of the class, he starts touching the sleeve of his T-shirt and then talks to his friend.

Me: “What’s up Ahmad?” (not his real name, I’ll keep him anonymous).

Him: “miss see my T-shirt, she did such a bad job, my maid, it’s not ironed well”.
The class giggles and laughs ……

Me: “oh dear lord Ahmad, I suggest capital punishment by hanging, or perhaps public whipping on the back, 80 times? How dare she not iron your T-shirt properly!”

Him: “nah miss come on I didn’t mean it this way, I love her. She raised me since I was a child and I spend more time with her than I do with my parents. Sometimes I feel she’s my mother. I’d never hurt her”.

Me: “Then watch your language Ahmad. Respect this woman you love like a mother by talking about her in a respectable way”.

Another kid jumps in: “we should always be tolerant of others”.

Me: “Yeah, sounds deep kid. Did you get that from an Aldo commercial sweety? ( they laugh out loud :-)) ….Sounds like a logo or motto I’ve seen on some ad. What is tolerance, this word we hear everywhere, this word politicians dish out to us all the time, this word that sounds so right, so honorable. What on earth is tolerance?”

Student: “miss, it’s to treat everyone equally”.

Me: “when was the last time you saw this happen? Reality is not equal (I play the devil’s advocate here). There are laborers, and middle class citizens, and then bosses and presidents of companies and of countries. The world is not all equal. So what kind of crap is it to say everyone is equal? Sounds like the wrong tool for the job.”

Students jump in: “no miss it’s not like that, yes it’s true that we’re not all the same but it’s not right to hurt others based on our status in life”. And other similar comments are made.

On and on and on. This is how the class went on for an hour. They say something, I question. They say another, I question. The idea was to break down aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllll these abstract mottos they’ve been fed all these years, about equality, tolerance and liberty, these hallmark ideas that mean nothing if we don’t think harder about what they mean.

These kids need to stop. And think. We all need to stop. And think. Me first. We need to think of the difference between talking and acting.

My hope is that I have gotten these kids to ask a set of questions to themselves about such things as equality, racism and being in a ‘privileged’ position in life where you don’t receive racism, but you see it around you a lot, and never question it.

My hope is that these kids remember this discussion the next time they see racism happen.

Maybe Allah swt wanted to silence a confrontation between me and the racist cab driver the other day, so it eats me up inside enough for this class to happen.

So they can say no to any form of injustice and discrimination. So they can say to the cab driver what I wasn't able to say. Allahu a’lam….


Sunday, July 26, 2009

That's Racism You Jerk

Racism or discrimination is not new to many of us. What’s new is the different ways and degrees and colors and style and expression and smell and tone and rhythm and manner it takes every single disgraceful forsaken time it crosses our path!

Just when I think I’ve forgotten…

Taxi. Today I’m standing on one side of a four lane road waiting for a cab. He’s driving on the other side of the road, in the opposite direction. The road is wide, four lanes wide. He manages to stop smack in the middle and burn rubber while slamming those poor breaks hard so the car comes to a full stop while he’s smack in the middle of a turning lane.

Looks at me.

I know how it works now. So I yell out, from the opposite side of the road, as loud as I can: “I’’’’’’’mmmmm goooooooiiiiiiiiiiinggggg dowwwwwwwwnnnnnntownnnnnn”.

Nods his head to say hop in. It’s on his way. He’ll drive me there for less than two dollars.

The routine. As usual. Once I get the “green light”, I start running. Dodge the incoming cars on my lane while heading towards the cab, cross over to the other side without getting run over. Meanwhile, he has his rear door open so I can take a dive like I’m in a James Bond movie.

I’m in. He’s an old man. White hair, tanned face, ticked off expression. I’ve seen it before on many cab drivers who have been on the road too long, not making too much money.

He is polite to me. The usual Lebanese etiquette that I’m used to: “Downtown it is young lady, your wish is my command”.

I’m all huffing and puffing from the good run. I’m settling in. I fiddle with my purse. Fix my dress. Fix my hijab… rub the sweat off…. wait…..I … hear….talking…..

I look to my side and I notice. Yes. I notice that there are two more passengers sitting next to me. They are two women from the Philippines.

I understand what they are saying. My best friends back in high school were from the Philippines and I worked with a lot of people from the Philippines throughout my life, so I recognize the basics of the language.

One of the women was new to the country, hired as a maid, the other one, also a maid who is not new to the country, was getting the first one acquainted with the place. They were saying stuff like you take this bus to get to Achrafieh, that bus to get to Hamra. You don’t pay more than ten bucks if you go to Jounieh by cab. But by bus it’s cheaper.

Suddenly. In English.

Cab driver: “okay. Which one pay me?”

Woman who is not new to Beirut: “Ana Ammo (In Arabic. Me, uncle).

Cab driver: “ yallah, pay me now!”

Woman: “tfaddal Ammo, shukran kteer. (here you go, uncle. Thank you very much).

They step out. While they’re stepping out, the cab driver curses at them in a low voice. I hear him. The two women are still thanking him while they’re stepping out of the cab.

I look at them as they stand on the sidewalk. Still thanking him so gently and so politely while he curses in his low voice.

Burns rubber in their face and drives away.

I don’t know what helpless feels like in a situation like this, but I was feeling reckless, frustrated, angry and helpless all at once. Like taking shots in the dark, I ask him: “take me to Charles Helou bus station for three dollars please”. All frustrated.

I was asking for a much cheaper rate.

Usually, the rate is at least five dollars to get to Charles helou bus station. But all of a sudden I wanted to bargain. Get him in the pocket. Nothing hurts a cab driver more. That jerk…..

He looks at me.

Him: “Young lady, you know that’s not the rate”.

Me: “ But Ammo (uncle), I’m sure you’ll help me out today”. A smile on the outside, a bitter bitter resentment on the inside.

Him: “hmmmm okay, but next time just tell me you want to go there, and not downtown”. He smiles. Never seen an uglier smile in my life.

Me: “okay ammo”.

……………………. what disturbs me the most, you see, is that it’s not like me to be quiet about racism. On normal days, hell breaks loose. But this time, I just don’t know what happened…. I hate that I wasn’t being myself, especially in situations like this.

I know that what I did is NOT the right way. All I could do was use my power over him as a woman who looks “Lebanese” and get him on his taxi rate. That doesn’t solve anything. It’s just not my style of handling things.

I have no idea what got over me, but I should never let racism slip without saying no to it.

I remember someone saying to me once that what makes evil men prosper is all the silent good men out there.



Friday, July 24, 2009

This is Loco .... :-)

wut duh? :-)

You know when you’re working on your computer and suddenly a thought comes to your mind?

A thought that has been occupying you all week or something? Well …when this happened to me the other day, I opened a new window, went to my inbox and tossed over an email to my sister who lives on the other side of the world.

A total random one line email. Our previous emails had nothing to do with this line or topic or idea or nothing, so she had no possible clues to work with :-)

I write: “hey, my mind is heavy. I can’t stop thinking.”

10 minutes later she emails back. “ I know exactly what you’re thinking about. It’s …” And she says EXACTLY what was on my mind!


It’s like you're in a conversation with someone, about something completely off, like farming, and suddenly that person looks you in the eye and tells you your deepest secret! hahahaha lol!! :-) --- so so so so so so sooooooooooooo random!

Like????? :-)

But you know what, it’s cool… :-) I like how my sister rolls ;-P


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bring me to life

“I want to learn English so I can talk back to my American boss and tell him what he’s doing is wrong”.

A cigarette burns in his hands, he smokes it, sucks the life out of it with his silent lips. Those lips burning quietly, when so much wants to come out, so much wants to voice itself, so much wants to unleash itself. But. He can’t speak English very well.

He’s been coming to my English classes at the refugee camp each day, a diligent 35 year old Palestinian married man with a five year old child named Mustapha: “ Miss, oh you’ve got to teach me that word again, I think Mustapha knows it!” -- he always thinks of his son when I ask him to come up with new words in class.

The other day, when I said to the class “choose a word from the board and make a sentence from it”, he chose the word – Pain. His sentence was, “pain has been my best friend since childhood”. Good sentence, I say, and I quickly move on before he remembers his pain. Or feels it. Again.

He makes eye contact with me as if to say, “ do you feel what I’m saying?” ….

Ahmad witnessed the war in Lebanon and as a result has a physical disability. He cannot hear well nor pronounce certain words. He works with an United Nations relief agency here in Lebanon, a job he’s been doing diligently for many years after the war. “It’s my way of resisting, I teach Palestinians who were torn from the war to integrate back into society. That’s my little contribution”. He’d say this to me after class while I pack my stuff, and while he lights up that fifth cigarette, sitting on the chair, looking at me.

Me: “Why do you want to tell off your boss?”

Him: “ He asks me to lie. The other day, he asked me to register 12,000 people living in a given refugee camp, when in fact there are 20,000. They don’t want to do more work or provide better service to the people. If they tell the government they have less than what’s really there, the government won’t ask them to meet the demand of 20,000 people – but only for the 12,000”.

Me: “You told me earlier you want to tell your war story. Why do you want to say it in English? Just say it in Arabic, you’ll never be able to say it in English”.

Him: “How could you say that! You don’t know me, I can!”

Me: “I didn’t mean it that way. Your experience in life is 100 times better and wiser than mine, even if I’m your teacher. I just meant your war story is so much deeper than any English you can learn in a month or even a year”.

Him: “ I want to learn the language of the age, so I can speak”.

……… I feel sorrow for my student. It’s as if he’s waiting to come to life. He truly believes that this won’t happen until he learns English. Then tells his war story. Then dies. As his English teacher, I feel paralyzed because he can’t master the level of English he needs to tell a paragraph of his story, let alone all his memories of the war. And he won’t bulge, won’t change his mind.

When he asks me to teach him English, it’s as if he’s saying: “Bring me to life. Wake me up inside, so I can tell my story to the world before I die” …..

I remember someone telling me, "if you kill one muslim, it is like killing the entire ummah, and if you revive one muslim, it is like reviving all of humanity"....

Oh Allah swt, please show me the way to help ... ameen.


Saturday, July 18, 2009


Goodbye angel.

Goodbye Ammo (“uncle”. Respectable way to address an older man in Arab communities).

The taxi driver is gone, old man talks to me all the way about Islam, the shiite and sunni differences and how we’re all one ummah, should never be divided. I enjoy his talk and I listen to it carefully. Some taxi drivers here in Beirut take my full attention when they talk during the ride, as if wisdom is speaking to me, while others take my deaf ear, especially the nosy ones with nonsense in mind.

But with this driver, my attentive face must have touched him in some good way like doves touch the spirit of dead souls … because, you see, with a face full of pride he says goodbye angel to me, then drops me off with a smile on his face like he was in the presence of something immaculate … Ah, if only I was immaculate, old man…

I’ve been coming to the beach on alternate weekends, though I’ve missed a couple. I’ve been working and volunteering like crazy to the point that I crash like a baby on weekends. Even my folks on both ends - Tripoli and the refugee camps - have been wondering where my crazy self has been lately. In bed. I promise, I keep saying to them :-)

The women-only resort was full as always. Brilliant blue jewels blanket the surface of the beach while the sun shines like yellow pearls over the water. The breeze is warm, the air soothing like a mother’s touch. A beautiful portrait. As always. This time I go straight to the indoor room where we keep our belongings in lockers to prevent theft at the beach. I put my stuff on the table and ask the lady for a key.

While searching for my wallet in my purse I somehow look up and I see a woman over there standing on the side wearing her prayer outfit. She's here to swim and duhr prayer time came in. She has a big plastic bag stretched in front of her. She was getting ready for prayer. Now. Stop with me for a minute.

Remember with me: this is not Canada or North America where the norm (generally) would be a line of women huddling up for prayer when duhr or Asr or whatever prayer comes in while they’re swimming either at a reserved pool area, or, at a privately owned pool that belongs to someone they know (in my experience, there are no womens-only beaches in North America).

In Beirut, things are different. First, see all those women, they’re not all Muslim. Some just come here to the resort for a change. On other weekends they go to mixed beaches. Other women are non –practicing Muslims who don’t pray. These are the majority here, unfortunately. And other women are like me – unfortunately, each time I come to swim, I pray duhr with Asr when I get back home.

And. There I was. I stood there watching that woman who brought her prayer outfit and was gearing up to pray. She saw me look at her. My face must have had a “thinking” look on it, or something, but whatever it was the woman did not like it. She must have thought that I was looking at her in disapproval. She is probably used to that --- because like I said, most women here who do not practice Islam (but are Muslims) not only do not practice, but they look down upon the ones who do. I'm speaking of what I sensed here.

Therefore, this woman must have thought I was one of them, looking at her in disapproval. Little did she know that in my mind I was saying, “is she praying? Oh my, is it duhr already? I didn’t hear the azan, oh man she’s so great I want to pray too. I wonder if she’ll let me borrow her praying outfit after she’s done…”

I was just about to utter the words out of my mouth and ask her if I can borrow her prayer outfit, when she finally “had enough of my staring” I think … because she picked up her stuff and walked away. Looking a bit frustrated. She did not pray. Must have gone to do so elsewhere.

All this happened so fast. As if in a split second. In a moment she was gone and there I was standing.

“Locker number 11”.

Excuse me?

“You can put your items in locker number 11 but make sure to pick up your stuff before 6pm”.

Thank you...

…. The woman who was going to pray does not know me, and I’ll probably never see her again. Little does she know that she’s changed something in me. She reminded me that I like praying on time, let alone doing it because Islam says so. From now onwards, inshAllah, it is my intention to pray duhr on time at the resort when I go to swim.

That old taxi driver, he saw angels in my face. But I saw angels in her.

Angel, thank you for reminding me.


Monday, July 13, 2009


Salams All :)

I was advised to copy and paste the entire text here. Usually I go for short and sweet but I'll try something new*

Click Ain El Helwe for background information on the place.


Ein El Helwe Camp -- 2009

“I’ll be wearing a red shirt. That’s how you’ll know me”. It was around 1pm under the sizzling sun in Saida (Tyr) home to my family from my father’s side. Inside Saida is a refugee camp known for being most notorious and over-populated. It is walled with a concrete fence that separates the camp from the rest of town. Only Palestinians live inside, and only they are allowed to walk in and out of the camp that has security blocks at every entrance.

The camp is about a two hour bus ride from Beirut. The bus station in Saida was crowded with taxi drivers hustling to get the passengers away from the buses, and vice versa. I didn’t expect to see so many shops and buildings in the town of Saida – it’s been hit so many times during the war. But I figured I’ll see the difference in the camp itself when I get there, it holds about 70,000 people, my aunt later tells me, and you can go around the entire place in less than half an hour. Crowded. That’s the picture.

I sat on the side of the road just inside the bus loop waiting to spot a young girl in a red shirt. This would be the first time in my life that I’d see my aunt and her family of seven children, the ones living with her. She has another four living abroad.

Sitting. My head down. Exhausted from the ride. I lift my head up. My eyes hit the eyes of a woman, old, heavy, veiled, dark-skinned, her eyes searching. I had a feeling. I locked my eyes on hers so she had no choice but to look at me. Then I say, “aunty Bahija?” She looks like her. She looks like my sitti (grandmother). Almost a photocopy of her. My aunt smiled and came over to hug me. Yasmine, her daughter with the red shirt, followed from afar as she was in the middle of sending me a text message to say they’ve arrived. She didn’t need to do that anymore. The contact was made.

What do you say, really, when you meet family-strangers? What’s the procedure when you meet family for the first time?

In this awkwardness mixed with a high level of comfort as if sitting with the past, with my sitti and daddy, like being at home but not really, me and aunty and Yasmine sat in the taxi that drove us from the bus station to the refugee camp, about a 12 minute ride. Quickly, our conversation moved from random stuff like, “you look like our side of the family” or “Saida is not what I imagined it to be” -- to succinct directions from my aunt on how to enter the refugee camp gate. I did not have my permit with me that day, my aunt knew this so she was devising a way to get me in there un-noticed by the guard at the gate.

“Hold my arm and walk close to me while Yasmine walks behind you. If he asks, we’ll say you’re my daughter and you’ve forgotten your permit today”. Luckily, the guard never asked and we walked straight in. I looked up, from the un-paved, broken, dirt filled ground of the street so narrow it barely fit one person. Up above were the buildings, low roofs, peeled decaying walls, cable wires cut in half and hanging from poles, puddles of muddy water in potholes everywhere, a lingering smell from drainage, and on the side there, yeah, over there is a little girl, happy, eyes smiling, in a messy dress, playing with a group of children. Over ahead of us is a group of teenage boys, shirtless soaking in the sun as they watch pedestrians walk past them.

We turn so many corners. Like rats in a maze. This is the second Palestinian refugee camp I’ve been to in Lebanon and the feeling is the same: how on earth do people know how to get around in these camps? No cross-sections, no borders, no end or beginning of something, a street, definitely no street name, and for land marks, well, to my untrained eye, every house looked just about the same, and so does the unpaved rough muddy dirt filled narrow walkways, sometimes called a street.

I could easily get lost in one of these ‘houses’ in a refugee camp, not because it’s big, at all, but because of its architecture. But that’s another story.

While we walk, and while I take in my surroundings, my ears want to notice the way my aunt talks. Heavy Palestinian (we’re from Acre, originally in Palestine) dialect with a deep mature tone that’s soft yet tough, has speed yet is easy to follow. Not without effort to speak, she’s old, heavy and with high blood pressure. All together like music to my ears.

We enter a narrow decaying old beige door. We face an open space. On the right hand side is the neighbor’s “house”, and on the left is my aunt’s house. A shared space to the point that when the neighbor washes his car (which he uses as a taxi in Saida outside the camp) my aunt’s house gets soaked. No wonder there’s so much humidity in the house, Or is it from the other neighbor, on the other side who washes and drains her laundry just above my aunt’s dining room walls, from the outside, so the walls soak up all the water?

In anycase, I walk in. First, I get introduced to my cousin Nada, then Abir, then Ibrahim, then Miriam. Finally, Ali. Maysoon wasn’t’ there. And then I hugged the two little girls. No. Wait. They’re the neighbor’s kids. See, my aunt leaves the main door of the house open for air to come in, which means just about anyone might be in her face at anytime. Consequently, she never leaves her hijab. It’s either in her pocket, in the kitchen, at the main door, or even, check this, tucked neatly in her pants under her abayah. Or (giggles) tucked in her bra.

Which obviously means I couldn’t take off my hijab either the entire time for the same reasons, but also because of her sons, who don’t work or go to school. Including Ali, who is a 30 year old adult unlike the rest. Ali had spent eight years in the gulf, Kuwait. He worked as a camera-man for special events. After eight years, his Syrian boss fires him. He’s now back to his parent’s house. Not working. Not married to the girl he was engaged to in Kuwait, and not with money which he spent in Kuwait. For a young man in the prime of his life, I wish him better things and a better life. But given that he only has the Palestinian ID, he cannot work much in Lebanon, and not much in places in the Middle East. He’s thinking of going to the Unites States – to his other sister, Hanan, the pride of the family. I’ll tell you about her later.

We talked so much me and the girls that by the time it was late afternoon/evening, I had sweat about a gallon worth of my bodily liquids. From the heat. The house, lower ground, is made of a small sitting-room cleaned up for guests. It has a small door. Open it and you’ll be in the T.V room which has a T.V, two floor mattresses for sitting and a huge wall-to-wall closet for storage. My aunt has the master key to the main cabinet that holds such things a shampoo, soap, biscuits, other condiments and of course, her purse with money. She opened that closet about 10 times a day in order to send little Ibrahim to buy her things from the corner store. First it was some rice. Then oil. Then watermelon for me. Then ice-cream for me. Then cheese for me. To go with the watermelon. Then Mulukiyyah (spinach) for me. Aunty fed me all day long. And Ibrahim kept going to that store all day long. With bribes of course, of a dollar per trip which came out of my aunt with tons of guilt trips to little Ibrahim, such as, “ wouldn’t you rather get my blessings as your mother than that dollar?” To which Ibrahim answers, “No”. That day he gathered all his bribe-money and went to the beach.

Next to the dining room, on the side, is a small entrance-opening. Walk through it and you’re in the kitchen. A table, a fridge, a stove, a sink. Look up and up above the stove is a big whole/space in the wall covered with curtains. It’s a storage space. Look down from there to the side next to the stove and you’ll see the bathroom. Toilet, sink and an opening inside the wall that’s uncovered. It’s the shower.

To go upstairs, you need to step outside the house. Yes. The girls have to put on their hijab each time because they are literally outside. Then, you walk a bit and there’s a staircase that leads to an upper level above the ground level house. Those are the bedrooms. A door, decaying beige one, insert the keys to get in. Once inside, I’m confused. Yes. I still get confused on how to get around such a small space, too. For example, the girl’s bedroom is separated from the corridor with curtains. The other bedroom has no door, it’s on the right hand side. Inside that bedroom is another door to another bedroom where aunty supposedly sleeps. Come out of all this, step back and you’re inside a T.V room (yes, lots of TVs in my family) and if you sit and look out the window, no, if you stick your arm out, you can touch the neighbor’s wall. Not the Taxi-driving neighbor, but the other one.

I told the girls I’d need directions just to walk around the house, so small with two levels to it and two entrances and an outside staircase.

We laughed. I knew before I came that it’ll be a new scene for me. One that would require my camera for photos and video recording. But I decided not to bring it with me. Not the first time. Not to my family. I didn’t want to use them like they were an interesting subject/site/scene for my camera or for my studies or even for my blog. Let the human experience the human – leave the cameras for later. Atleast after I’ve soaked it all in and especially after getting their permission. I could sense that my aunt wants to be interviewed by me about life in the camps. I sensed this when I talked to her about my studies and my journalism and how I am seeking to work with a local Palestinian researcher/journalist in Saida on interviews. Turns out she knows the man I’m talking about, he’s been her neighbor in the camps for many years and she admires his journalistic work.

Small world. But what’s better is that my own aunt who lived in the refugee camp for over fifteen years, who gave birth to most of her children in the camp, considers herself removed from the ‘true’ authentic Palestinian experience, as in those “true” ones who witnessed all the wars in there, all the deaths, the internal strife, division betweed Palestinian groups, those who ‘sold out’ and helped enemies, those who killed, those who survived and fought for their freedom. The mothers who gave their sons up for the cause, or those who died trying. My aunt witnessed only one war and she lived for many years abroad. For this reason, she feels it’s important to tell not only her story, but also the stories of the older generation of Palestinians who she knows, heard their stories. She wants, I feel, to honor them (especially those who passed away) by telling her story in comparison or contrast to theirs in order to deliver the larger picture, the diverse experiences in the camp of her generation, the older ones, and even, in forecast, the stories that her children might have.

I’ve always wondered about those reporters who come to the camps and take a few pictures, do a couple of interviews with translators, and then go back to report as if experts all of a sudden, on the Palestinian situation. I get mad at something like this. I will run interviews and I will take pictures. And I will never call myself an expert on the situation. My own aunt who lived here for 15 years hesitates to call herself a “true” Palestinian because she hasn’t experienced all of it. What gives me the right, or anybody from the outside, to pretend we know it all, to know such a complex life and place just by taking a few pictures? There is a market for the question of Palestine, but we’ll talk about that later.

Part Two

I’ve always known that my father’s sisters aren’t big fans of my mother. I know this in a superficial way, kind of like knowing the name of a person, but not knowing much about that person himself or herself. To me, I’ve always known that the ladies aren’t best friends. Period. But I still brought the topic up with aunt. We were in the kitchen where she was feeding me, of course, and we talked about how we’ve lost contact of each other for so many years. Then, suddenly, my aunt says what can be translated as, “may Allah swt forgive your mother”. I quickly say to her, “ we have to talk about this, your relationship with mom”.

My aunt smiles and moves on to wash the dishes, somehow changing the subject. And over two days, each time my mother comes up in a conversation, either my aunt has no reaction, or she shows a face that is obviously suppressing reaction. She’d answer or react in a passionless way, like we were talking about taxes.

Vice versa is also true. When I later called my mother from my apartment to tell her about my weekend, her reactions were also very similar, passionless. I imagine that if by some miracle, the two ladies were to open up to me about their past and their relationship with one another, I bet I’d hear lots of criticism, blame, unforgiven pain, unhealed wounds, maybe even hate. And somewhere in there was my father.

I was praying duhr in the living room at my aunt’s house, then I look up and on the shelf were some pictures. One of them was that of my father looking at the camera, posing with his regular glasses on, his wristwatch that he wore all the time, standing there at the sea-side with the Mediterranean sea behind him with some ships at the dock. He was around 50 years old, dark skinned from all the hot climate countries he’s been to all his life, now sporting that famous thick mustache he always had, and his smile, of course. My aunt and Yasmine were in the room with me when I was praying. When I finished and looked up, Yasmine pointed me to the pictures on the shelf to show me the rest of her brothers and sisters on graduation day, but my eye caught my dad’s picture.

Yasmine was saying, “And this is my brother Ahmad who graduated from university. And this is my sister and me and my … “. “Is that my dad?” I ask. “Yes, it is” says Yasmine who continues “and that’s my other sister over here on her graduation from highschool and … “. “ That’s my dad” I say, almost in trance like talking to myself, eyes nailed on him. Yasmine stops talking, she’s silent now, and so is my aunt. I just saw a picture of my dad not in some photo album in Canada, not in any other country but on the shelf in Ein El Helwe refugee camp on Palestinian territory in Lebanon inside his sister’s house.

But like I said, my mother and this side of the family weren’t best friends and this means that that loveless marriage between my parents which terrifies me so much, has deeper roots that just two people with uncommon interests. I’ve sensed this before but I never knew how to think about it.

What could possibly dry up a marriage especially after five kids and so many years? It must be forces large and outside the immediate family. Or atleast such things contribute to it all. It’s all one big circle of influence, especially because my father was the eldest in his family and was connected to them in many ways but mostly out of responsibility. And also, my mother always identified with her family as in defined herself year after year and many miles away from Lebanon, always in relation to her family.

Therefore, I come from a disconnected family. Immediate and extended. And now I realize and acknowledge that it could only be this way. And I could have only feared a loveless marriage. And it stems from many points of emotional disconnections that happened over many years and for various reasons between my parents, who tried hard for their kids to keep it normal. But now I see they could have never won the fight. But only dance to its rhythm until the end of their time. I know when I marry, I will always fear a loveless marriage. I also know it all depends on my other half, and the kind of history he will bring with him, the “chemicals” so to speak that will mix with mine. And if the chemicals don’t spark, at least now I know how to think about it all. And if the chemicals do spark, I know I’ll take the extra mile to maintain it.


Thursday, July 9, 2009


AA Quest,

I hope all is well, Insha' Allah. Could you kindly inform your readers of the second Muslim singles event scheduled for Saturday, August 15, 2009 at masjid SALAM in Sacramento, California. Our first event was quite successful with 80 brothers and sisters in attendance. To register, go to the following website:

For the Facebookers out there, please check out the FB page that we created for the event:


A Brother in Islam

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Marriage fears -- yeah. I got some

I’ve been thinking of marriage-things lately and this always returns me to my parents. Let’s face it: if we want to be responsible adults, we better start facing our fears about marriage smack in the eyes as cold as that might be. I want to have a good answer to this. Better now than later …

What terrifies me to the bone chilling bottom of my spine is a loveless marriage. (There. I said it. Oh look I’m still alive) At times, I think single life is ten times more merciful than one of these babies. I honor, love and cherish the ground that my parents walk on – and at the same time, I don’t want to repeat some of their mistakes.

It is not easy to confess to myself that I grew up with parents who in my perception did not love each other. I do believe that they started out with love, I think it always starts there somewhere in that land of emotional sparks and fantasy of a perfect prince or princess. But then reality hits, and for my parents, we came into the world, all four of my siblings and myself. We looked at mummy and daddy and there they were …

In my eyes, if you had to ask me while growing up what is mummy and daddy, or what is marriage, I’d tell you it’s two people living in one place, and they seem to have children around them. I wouldn’t tell you, even now, at this older age, that it’s love/compassion and mercy between two people (at least not from my experience or memories while growing up) as is written in our beloved Qur’an and indicated in our sunnah.

As a child, I saw my parents each one of them separately as loving, compassionate and merciful people like no others I’ve seen in my life. But together, the chemicals just did not … spark.

I hear you, but I don’t agree. Love-mercy is not the same thing as compromise-submission. It is not a solution to switch the two concepts, because the end result is emotional suicide. It is honorable, no doubt, to stay in a loveless marriage for the sake of the children especially if they’re a hefty number like five, as we were.

But simply put, a scene of a family led by parents who compromise and submit to their loveless marriage in order to live, is one thing – and a family where the parents love each other is another scene.

This is not about right or wrong, it is not about good or bad, not about evil and right --- it’s simply about scenarios, and I’m talking about the one that scares me the most. I’m talking about the one that I know. And it horrifies me…

Those two, my parents, I remember like it was yesterday, they would radiate happiness when they were separate. When daddy took me to his gatherings… wow, that king, when he walked in the room everyone would stand up so he can go around and shake their hands. Man had a presence like Napoleon walked in the room.

And his eyes would shine with bliss as he led the conversation that night, while taking a quick peak from the corner of his eyes at his little girl to see if she was watching. Girls love their daddies, don’t they …

On other days, mummy would take me along with her to her friends’ house. Boy I’d never see her smile like that at home….mummy got jokes! Who knew. Beautiful woman she is, she would sit with her friends sipping coffee and she’d crack a joke here, tell a story there, cross her legs on her seat like she was Shahrazad telling her tale not to the king, but to her friends …. She’d shine with happiness.

When they came together at home, mummy and daddy did not hate each other. But little girl always wondered where her other mummy and daddy went, the other ones she’d see elsewhere not in her home. Kids. They have an emotional intelligence far exceeding that of adults. And they see things. Feel things. Don’t have the words to articulate it all, but they know.

I am an adult today. Thinking of this thing called marriage. May Allah swt shower His mercy and grace upon my two parents who have raised me with honor and commitment. To them, I am most indebted. And to return their favor, it is my duty to learn from them, especially from their mistakes, and to make my choices as a free woman.

Wow. I feel sssssssssssssssssso much better now that I have an answer to this. I feel ten pounds lighter baby. I love blogging. Okay. Your turn people. :-) --