Friday, October 30, 2009

In you my peace remains

Lady Detroit (not her real name unless we’re in a Miss America Beauty Contest) is new in Lebanon for less than a month, buzzing around town trying to unpack her 39 box-shipment that came with her from Michigan, and trying to put together a decent lesson plan each day for her classes along with understanding the overall famous “cultural complexity in Lebanon”.

At one point we talk about the assumptions made about American women in Lebanon. When I opened up my mouth about the topic, Lady Detroit who is a woman in her late 40s, lights up and pours her heart out with this: “ I don’t get it. The other day I was just over buying things at the grocery and then this nice man offers to help me with my bags. He says he is a professor at the Lebanese university and that he is a philosopher too. So I says okay, please do help me out nice sir. When we get near my building downstairs he tells me, ‘ I want to be your friend and lover’. I was like Whaaaat!! I took those bags over from him and asked him to leave.”

Lady Detroit’s story is not the first I hear around here: American or “white” women taken under the assumption that they are ‘easy’ and ‘willing’ because they’re from the “West”. The bigger surprise is that one hears stories about the ‘Hymen reconstruction’ business in the Middle East as a booming one. What’s further is that many of the clients for the hymen reconstruction business are veiled muslim women. Once again: veiled muslim women. You heard that right.

Lady Detroit says to me late that night: “you know what’s crazy is that I know a lot of Muslims in Detroit, and boy are they devout. Religion is religion and there’s no joke about that, whereas here there is so much of that cultural religion stuff and so much non-spirituality. I was raised in a family where a girl does not have sex before marriage, and that’s how I raised my own daughters. It must be so hard for you muslim girls who do want to have a sincere sense of faith here in Lebanon. There are so many other girls who are veiled who ruin Islam’s reputation here for you …. boy… what do you do with that?”

“ well, you just say no, like any other girl in the world chooses to say no” ( I was thinking of my post on Marc, here).

Lady Detroit is new, but other Caucasian women I know in Lebanon will tell me that the longer they stay here, the less they go out at night alone, for example. Harassment, physical abuse, taunting, and direct attack are not unheard of by Arab men towards ‘foreign-looking women’.

All I could think of, while Lady Detroit told me the story of how her daughter who got physically attacked in Egypt in broad daylight, hit and pushed down to the ground while everyone around watched and did nothing …. All that flashed in my head were the stories I heard in the news of veiled muslim women getting harassed in Texas by rednecks, or killed in other places in the world just for walking down the street and looking muslim …. And I said to myself…. Now you see the larger picture don’t you, that this sort of thing happens not only to us veiled girls but even to Caucasian women from Detroit or Canada or Europe or Australia who walk in the wrong place for them somewhere like Lebanon, Egypt or even Korea (I heard stories about that too).

I thought what if it was me who got harassed or pushed to the ground like that?


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Arab-Jewish Mixing a National Treason? But My Bestfriend Was ...

An Article from Alternet:

"A local authority in Israel has announced that it is establishing a special team of youth counselors and psychologists whose job it will be to identify young Jewish women who are dating Arab men and "rescue" them.

The move by the municipality of Petah Tikva, a city close to Tel Aviv, is the latest in a series of separate -- and little discussed -- initiatives from official bodies, rabbis, private organisations and groups of Israeli residents to try to prevent interracial dating and marriage.

In a related development, the Israeli media reported this month that residents of Pisgat Zeev, a large Jewish settlement in the midst of Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, had formed a vigilante-style patrol to stop Arab men from mixing with local Jewish girls.

Hostility to intimate relationships developing across Israel's ethnic divide is shared by many Israeli Jews, who regard such behaviour as a threat to the state's Jewishness. One of the few polls on the subject, in 2007, found that more than half of Israeli Jews believed intermarriage should be equated with "national treason."

The Source. Alternet
When someone sent me this little baby I was taken aback. Forget for a minute that dating is not in Islam, this article talks generally about dating, mixing and marriage in a pack.

Putting aside my analysis of all this, and after cooling off my waters (yeah come on, national treason?) ... I stopped and had a moment. I remembered highschool. Grade 9. My best friend was Janine. Her father was Palestinian and her mother was Jewish. She lived alone in Canada and considered herself very Jewish and not Palestinian, though she understood Arabic very well. We got along, two girls who just liked each others' company, no politics, not just yet. And now that I look back at those days, I remember more...

The first crush someone had on me: The first boy who I can say really truly had sincere feelings for me, a boy who would have pursued those feelings to the very end and probably admitted his love for me on national television with bells and whistles, had I given him one glimpse of hope, was Marc. He was Jewish. Captain of the football team, class president and valedictorian of the year. Beautiful green eyes, and dashing good looks. Smashing. Marc tried for three years until the very last day of grade 12 to look me in the eye and tell me he loved me. And each time, every time I saw that instinct coming in his eyes, I'd turn away, and he'd get it. Three years. That went on for three years. It took strength, on both sides.

Youth. We can be idealistic at times, I admit that much, and Marc was willing to keep away from his father's pro-Israeli local lobbying in Canada. Marc was willing to follow his heart. For all that it's worth and after reading this article above on inter-Jewish/Arab love as "national treason", I guess I'm lucky enough to have the memories of my teenage years to supplement my thinking here. Those Jewish psychologists in Palestine's Tel Aviv would have had a hard time "rescuing" Marc from me all the way in Canada. That's my point here. Leave people alone, they know what they want and don't want. Not to forget that Janine's parents were Arab-Israeli-Jewish in Canada. Regulate that.

If anything, the reason I stayed away from Marc is because I felt I was betraying my Islam and my "Arabness" had I allowed Marc to say the magic three words to me.

Not to overlook of course the humorous yet witty Romeo-Juliette backdrop in this picture: "Romeo, O Romeo, where arst thou Romeo?" " I'm over here across the apartheid wall, baby!"

In all, I don't know what all this means, but regardless, what I'm sure of is this: put all the national and religious lines aside, I can admit to myself that at one point in my life I was offered genuine feelings by a Jewish man, and an honest friendship by a Jewish-Palestinian best friend. And I'm honored by that.


.FYI: Marc is now a well-pronounced doctor and active member of the Jewish-Canadian community and the Jewish-Academic world in Canada.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Grouping It

It’s called a yearly group marriage. Every year, the ex-prime minister’s sister sponsors 100 couples in Lebanon – who are Palestinian or Lebanese – to get married. The group wedding happens in a sports stadium where people attend this mass celebration.

I remember trying to look up this event online having missed the actual thing which happened in the South. When I found no online sources, I relied on the conversation I had with my aunt at her apartment building across the stadium where the event took place. She describes it to me while we stood at her balcony one day.

Fast-Forward in time: Two Months later.

While talking on the phone with my mother …

Me: “ … and then I went to see aunty and she told me about that group-wedding”

Mom: “ Yes, I saw that on the Lebanese satellite channel, but didn’t you say Lebanese and Palestinian men are good-looking. I kept staring at the screen, they’re ugly”

Me: “ lol!’”

Mum: “ And the brides, they were too happy, dancing and singing all over that stadium. Must be the open space, they looked like they were about to take a run around that track in their wedding dresses too, like they’re on crack” (yes, mummy said that :-)

Me: “ umm, maybe they’re so happy because they get a free furnished apartment each one of them sponsored by the ex-prime minister’s sister”

Mum: “ What! You need to get your name on that marriage list”

Me: “ you think they’d toss in a husband along with that furnished apartment?”



Friday, October 23, 2009


She was one of the warm faces when I first got here. Tall, slim, composed and gentle especially when she opens her mouth and speaks with her catching British accent. Let’s call her Sultry Suzy for this blog entry, shall we.

Of Arab parents but raised in London, U.K, Sultry Suzy is a faculty member in the department. She’ll look you in your unsettled face, that face of yours that says I’m a new puppy in town still trying to settle in, and she’ll warmly declare: “ I’ve been here for eight years darling and it’s been magic. You’ll be just fine”.

Sultry Suzy is over 30 years old, single and looking. Or so I assumed when we were walking home one day, each one carrying a box of essays to mark and literally being the sight for sore eyes on the street. While we talked she said: “ those embassy boys are just clueless. I mean come on, what’s left is that I throw my number on the floor and pretend I need someone to pick it up for me”.

I giggle, she looks me in the eyes to see where I stand on this issue of boys and ‘number-tossing’, we both see in each others’ eyes the differences we have, and we both decide, in the same moment, to respect our differences.

Days went by and I run into Sultry Suzy on my way to the copyroom. Still elegant as ever, she giggles my way about having coffee these days, we keep saying we’ll have coffee to each other but it seems we never actually get to it. Which remains a good topic to strike up in a hallway conversation.

As we talk, Sultry Suzy suddenly says, while still half giggling about some joke I had said: “ oh and did you check out the new faculty men, I’ll have you know since we’re both single that there’s a cute one there, a must see”.

She tells me his name.

I say: “ oh. Him. Not my style but let me know how it goes my dear. You’ll have me at the wedding now wouldn’t you”. We keep smiling and talking and being friendly while still reading each others’ eyes for those unheard declarations of differences on the question of being single, and looking.

Perhaps I’ve never given it thought, but it did catch my attention how Sultry Suzy categorizes me with herself as a single person who’s on the margins of aging for marriage and therefore ought to catch the next train, running, running very very fast with her best pair of Addidas on.

In my mind, deep in there I guess, I must have thought that such a stereotype about “aging women” would only come from older, more traditional women and not Sultry Suzy who chooses to live an un-Islamic (I’m not sure she’s Muslim, actually, can never tell unless I ask) lifestyle of a modern city girl who dates men in order to find a husband.

It is good to learn that despite the different routes we take to approach the question of marriage, what remains common to just about every person out there is that level of anxiety, perhaps a sprinkle of resistance against societal pressure, or the common disappointments one encounters in men/women throughout life, getting through bad choices or growing peaceful with the search for the right one. Or that instinct of waiting for love and not rush. Or to rush and get it over with, regardless of love.

That zone, now I see more clearly, is a universal one, even across genders.

With peace,


Thursday, October 22, 2009


Question: What effect has it had on your life (or not) to be a veiled woman in the West?

It's kinda fun answering these theory-based interview questions. They're always mind-opening.

My answer to the lady was: "being a veiled woman in the west has led me to live a fully Islamic life, perhaps in defense, really, to protect my faith in a largely secular state. And this distracted me from my national identity as a Palestinian-Lebanese Canadian. It did. Such a warm womb it is to crawl inside the bubble of Islamic identity and to forget everything else. So the veil can pretty much occupy a girl's mind and keep her in the Islamic mindset for a lifetime. This is not about good or bad ... I'm not complaining. I'm just thinking.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hijab. Maybe Your Ten Year Old?

My very dear sister in Islam has approached me with a dilemma which I now share with you in hopes of advice. She has a ten year old daughter. The father wants the girl to wear the hijab for good as the family lives in North America in a primarily non-Muslim neighborhood.

The mother does not want the girl to wear the hijab so early in age, but the father insists. In between the two is the girl who remains anxious, worried and frozen about the entire issue as she goes back and forth between the "two schools of thought": aka: her parents.

I care for this little girl though she is miles away from me. Even from here, I feel her fears and tension. When the mother approached me with this question, my first inclination was to bring up educational material about the hijab and its rules or regulations for girls from online sources. The girl can take this material to her father.

Then, the mother would bring up her own material about the hijab from her own sources and offer those to the girl and the father. This way, there is some breathing space. While everyone stops. And thinks.

I'm in need of your advice. Or resources. If you have any suggestions of good sources about the hijab for girls, please let me know.

Think of yourself, perhaps, fast-forwarded in time when you are married and you have your daughter who is now ten years old. Your spouse has a different perspective on the hijab for your daughter than you do. Perhaps, before you married you had agreed on what to do -- but ten years later, you changed, or your spouse did.

What to do?


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From Tears to Laughs ( -:

Mother in Laws: the mystery continues :-)


Monday, October 12, 2009


A blog entry offered kindly to us by Yin Yang who guest-posts here from time to time.



Dancing in the Rain

It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80s arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am.

I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to able to see him. I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.

While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor's appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry.

The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I inquired as to her health.

He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer's disease.

As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late.

He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.

I was surprised, and asked him, 'And you still go every morning, even though she doesn't know who you are?'

He smiled as he patted my hand and said,

'She doesn't know me,
but I still know who she is.'

I had to hold back tears as he left,
I had goose bumps on my arm, and thought,

'That is the kind of love I want in my life.'
True love is neither physical, nor romantic.

True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been,
will be, and will not be.

The happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything;
they just make the best of everything they have.

'Life isn't about how to survive the storm,
but how to dance in the rain.


Friday, October 9, 2009

Embarassing Sweetness

While introducing myself to the class, I was saying: " As your teacher, I don't want your adacemic attention. I want your loyalty". Then, they rush in. Three of my students from last summer are now taking the next level of English with me this term.

They walk in while I was talking, and they say, with a sweet loyal smile and a cheeky tone: "Missssssss we're baaaack! We're with you forever misssss! English 102, 203, 204, 206 and whatever you teach. WE LOVE YOU!!!"

gosh darn it, this job doesn't help deflate my oh so growing ego. Oh boy. May Allah keep me straight on the path of humility and modesty, ameen :-)

PS: maybe that's why I chose to discuss next time: "how to take criticism in the classroom of life" as my next topic :-)


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What is Art

Leo Tolstoy once asked: What is Art? Then he wrote a book about it which many philosophers, writers and educators discuss in supposedly sophisticated circles of knowledge. But what happens when you discuss this in a first year English course with a bunch of juniors in Lebanon’s University?

Weehaaaaa! -- your horses run wild ‘n you do the Macarena with a square dance on the side possibly contemplating a moon-walk too. Never underestimate the mind of nobody.

For Tolstoy, art is when an artist feels something – pain, happiness, sadness, wonder, confusion, frustration, then writes or sings as a result of that feeling. Then the receiver who comes across this piece of art later in time, perhaps hundreds of years later, looks at the piece of painting for instance and feels the exact same feeling that the artist felt when he first drew the painting. Infected, as it were, by the original feeling. Only now has the artist succeeded at his art.

Like the difference, if you will, between a Bush speech and an Obama speech, or a conference on genomes in biotechnology as opposed to a Che Guevara talk on humanity. One can use words to transmit thoughts or one can use words artistically to change people.

The critics of Tolstoy might argue that this approach to art is a selfish perspective because it really just says: “art is about me and me and me. Get it, or get out”. Deeper critics of Tolstoy suggest an alternative: “Feel the original feeling that inspired the creation of the song or the painting – sadness or happiness – and go and create a piece of art of your own, in other words, get infected by the art, or get inspired. Don’t turn into Tolstoy, just get inspired by him”.

Something like a soothing Qur’anic recitation by a beautiful voice that inspires faith and piety, or a talk by a believing scholar on the condition of the ummah at an MSA social, for instance. For Tolstoy, art transforms just like faith transforms.

I ask: “What if you read a piece of art that completely offends your values or beliefs that you hold very dearly. Will you allow the infection of art to happen?”
Like a Salman Rushdie book.

I tell the kids a story that happened to me. Once when I was in third year university, the professor assigned Salman Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses”. For those unfamiliar with this work as were some of my students, Rushdie is a Persian writer who has lived in England for a long time. In his book, he took the figure of Prophet Muhammad who is an important aspect of the Islamic faith, and wrote of him as if a person who “sells” faith like a sales-person or a business man. Rushdie’s book is read all over the world except in the Middle East and the Khomeini had issued a ‘fatwa’ or Islamic ruling that allows for the killing of Rushdie because of this book he published.

When I went to class, a girl came up to me and said: “we can’t allow this book in class. We have to go to the Dean and report this. Nobody can read this book at the university”. Turns out this girl is Muslim and Persian too. I had no idea I had a Muslim classmate until that moment. After feeling puzzled, I tell the girl: “I’ll get back to you on that after I read the book”.

To enter a community of minds through art might also mean knowing more about yourself than about other people. What your values are, what your boundaries are: you might surprise yourself time after time. I told the students that I will reserve my opinion about Rushdie’s book when I read it, but the point is this: For Tolstoy, as a student eloquently put it, once you enter a community of minds, you will change and be changed. That is art.

But if you enter just to say your two cents and leave, then that’s just using words to transmit your thoughts. Something like a type-writer, or a Microsoft Word document, or like that person who sits at a gathering and talks with eloquent words, fluid sentences and perhaps a big word or two, and after 20 minutes of hearing him you kinda feel like that guy talked so much but said nothing. Even his thoughts he couldn’t transmit.

If anything I have learned that Leo Tolstoy’s dense philosophy tastes better when discussed in a first year English class, not all of them, just my noon class full of thirty bright young people. It is clear to see that this class has the capacity to receive, and the art to express.

With heart,


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Eight Pictures

You know how you go on vacation and you take your camera? You take tons of pictures to share with friends or even upload them on facebook? Yes. I took photos during this weekend’s trip to the South, but this time I took “mind pictures” which I’m sharing with you :-)

From sleepy head, with smiles

Snapshot One

In my diary: My father’s mother had a sister. That sister had a son. That son has a family up in the village of Babliyeh, a few miles away from Akbiyeh or Basriyeh: all of these primarily Palestinian villages are not too far from Tyr in South Lebanon where many have witnessed missile exchanges between Israel and Lebanon’s Southern borders. We spent the weekend there during this summer-like October along with my father’s sister, who came to visit from Germany for a week. Confused? Fabulous …

These villages are full of orchards also known in Arabic as “Basateen” where many Palestinians would live as farmers in lands other people own who are primarily Lebanese citizens. The ordinary scenario is one in which a Palestinian father and mother have a dozen, literally, children running around in the “Bustan” (singular for Basateen, or orchards) where some of these children would take pride in making money tilling the earth, while the rest of them dream elsewhere far beyond the boundaries of the orchard and never take interest in becoming future farmers like their parents. This last one, this last category was my father who dreamt of becoming a journalist while living at the orchard with his dad who was very business-minded and believed his son should be more practical in his career decisions. Hence the title of my father’s first book published around the age of 21 in Lebanon titled: “Father, have mercy”.

Everyone in the family seems to know the same story which goes like this: my father defied all odds, walked a tough journey and became what he wanted to become. Then he died of cancer. But what remains in the air as I step on the earth in the orchard, step after step, probably on the same earth that my father threaded around 50 years ago as we both walk towards the sunset in between a line of lemon trees shading us along the way … is …

Snapshot Two

At the village in Babliyeh: Asma is 14 years old and she has cancer. She is one of the daughters. I don’t want to think of her sentimentally because that’s the last thing on her mind. Last Ramadan, in 2008, this family lost their other 22 year old daughter in a bus accident: she was standing at the bus stop, bus came, hit her, she died. Six months ago, the family lost another one of their daughter to illness. Two butterflies hang on the wall in their living room right above the frames of their two angel daughters who are as beautiful as sunset in October.

When I did not know yet, I asked Asma who is their living sister who those girls were in the pictures. She looked at them and said with a smile and casual manner: “oh that’s Halimah and Bisan”. We continued talking and I just thought that the girls were married off somewhere.

Snapshot Three

In the hallway: “ You’re sure he’s gone?”
“Yessss I promise dad’s in the other room!”
“Okay just one more time. Ready!”

Asma and I are in the hallway and we’re ready to Tango! :-) Like literally. Okay hands on my waist Asma, head up like a Chihuahua, rrrrrrrrrrrrready aaaaand go! Ta Ta Ta Ta TA Ra RA RA Ra Ta TA TA TA Ta RA RA RA RA “heyyyyy I taught I’m Al Pacino and you’re the girrrrllll: you’re so not my senorita” and we laugh!! :-)

Snapshot Four

In the girl’s bedroom: Have you heard the latest song called Bisan?

No I haven’t, let me hear it.

Asma hands me her music player and describes the song to me while she gets the headphones ready. “The story is about this girl named Bisan, she was in a car with her cousin going home. Her fiancée who really really really loved her was driving in the car behind them. The car with the girl in it lost control and went flying in the valley and the guy saw all this while he sat in the other car driving behind them. So he wrote this song after he lost his fiancée who he really really really loved”. She giggles.

I hear the song.

Oh Asma I can’t continue hearing it. So touching I’ll cry and you’ll need to get me tissues. Let’s go outside and see what the cat is doing …

Snapshot Five

At the garden outside: Aunty, I really want you to help me with this. I need to get my Palestinian ID issued. For god’s sakes there is nothing on this green earth in any official document out there that proves I’m Arab. I’ve got a Canadian passport that says I’m born in Germany. Do I look German to you.’

When I say this to my aunty, my friend interrupts and exclaims: “What for. You don’t need the ID. It’s enough that you know you’re Palestinian and Lebanese”.

Snapshot Six

At the Bustan (Orchard): So you are Abdullah, my cousin’s husband and these are your two boys eh, so nice to meet you.

Likewise. I’m looking for a second wife, by the way.

Snapshot Seven

Indoors: Dear Lord Jesus Lord Dear Lord Jesus Lord: where’s the washroom! Gotta go Gotta go Gotta go. I’m in the washroom getting ready to go. I lock the door. I turn around. Where’s the toilet? Where. Is. The toilet. I look around and hello: An Arabic style washroom lies there for my eyes to see and for my bowls to look forward to. An “Arabic style toilet”, for those interested, is a hole in the ground. And that’s where you go.

Snapshot Eight

On the bus back home, my friend says: “ I can’t believe the father smokes in front of his daughter who has cancer but he totally freaks out if she touches the cat because he thinks it carries ‘bacteria’. Like? I’m never coming to this country again (frown). Except for the food. And beaches. And cats”.