I want to say more, reflect more and share more about this wonderfully restorative trip I’ve had here in Oakland. But with so much to do I think it will have to be this short message (which was of course a FB status lol):

How has this happend? 6 weeks have flown by. I am sad to be going, excited about what is coming, and I am so happy I had this time to start coming back into myself! Thank you to all those that I have met, crossed paths with, had long conversations with, played and partied with, and broke bread with. You made my stay ♥

more later- today is about being here and tomorrow is about getting there – Amman here I come.

 

:D

I first started to cross stitch 12 years ago a friend of my mother’s taught me. It was really easy. You get a fabric with enough holes in it and count out the pattern. But it wasn’t about how easy it was or knowing how to count. It was about being completely and utterly consumed. So consumed that there is no room for a single thought other than needle in, needle out , cross over and count. If you are distracted, look away, think away a stitch is dropped, and the pattern skewed. And so it was the perfect all consuming activity to replace the ex. The ex who took up four and half years of my life. And in his departure left a huge void to fill. I didn’t want him replaced by another, nor did I want him back. But I wanted the time and space he occupied in my life reclaimed. So I embroidered. I consumed myself with something other than him.

 

Embroidery became my therapy. And so over the last 12 years I have picked up my needle and thread and thought up patterns in times of distress. I started after him and stopped when I was ready to reengage and face the world without him. Having something to fill the time and space when there wasn’t anything else. I picked up again seven years ago when my world was turned upside down. I made a few pieces and stopped mid piece about two years later, when the world was right side up. It took me five years to finish that particular piece, and only recently. It was started in Amman and finished in Beirut. I have been embroidering like a fiend in Beirut for the last two months. A sign of distress and dissatisfaction. A sign that I needed to stop my mind and still my thoughts and consume my hands, my eyes, my head and my heart.

 

I have started another piece now and want to finish it and be rid of it. You see I rarely keep any of my work. When I was reflecting on that I realized that these works come from a place of sorrow and sadness and sometimes even depression. And when they are finished I give them away, and in that act make them pieces of joy. This last piece I am working on was started as a piece of joy. I wanted to turn the tables around on my act of consumption. I wanted it to be a work of joy and to be given in joy. The irony is that though it may have been a labor of love, it will now be given away in sorrow.

 

A lot of people know I am fatherless, few know he is a missing person. I rarely speak about it. He’s been a missing person for 20 years now.  He was abducted by Kuwaiti militia after the “liberation” of Kuwait in February 1991. I know this because it was the last piece of reliable credible news we were able to get about him after he disappeared in the past 20 years.  I don’t know why I feel the need to say this now, or even put it up for public consumption. It is and has been a long battle of denial and affirmation, struggle and joy, of unknowing, and of silence.

As the years moved on, he crossed my mind less and less. The most reoccurring thought is “what if he is behind that knock on the door?” As the years moved on, that thought too diminished slowly. As the years moved on, we fought less and less to find news about him. To find him.  A part of us just got too tired.

So much has happened because he is missing. So much of it has shaped the dysfunctionality and the functionality of my existence. Sometimes I wonder what would have been had I remained that precious daddy’s girl. Would I be the woman I am today? Would I be where I am today? Other times I just don’t wonder.

Twenty years after the fact I ask myself what do I want? Do I want justice? Do I want retaliation? Do I want compensation? Nothing really helps with the black hole of not knowing.  Nothing really makes up for an absent parent. Twenty years later all I want is one thing. Closure.

Dad as young man

Dad as young man

It is now officially a year. A year since I arrived in a car with two people, two cats, useful and useless stuff and a lot of hopes and anxieties. One year later I am not sure what to say about this move and this life I have made for myself. I initially moved for four months to “test the waters”. Four months in I knew this is not the place for me, I just don’t fit in. This is not to say Beirut is bad, it just doesn’t work for me. I am not suited to live in the Paris of the Middle East. Yet I stayed. I was doing something I really enjoyed and believed in and that is why I stayed. I persevered and struggled along day in day out. Some days were better than others and I must say I have accomplished a lot in this year. However, is a good “fulfilling” job worth staying in a place where I have progressively and accumulatively gotten angrier and angrier and sadder and sadder?

 

 

And so one year on I know that I am planning my exit strategy. To go where and do what I do not know, it is challenging, it is scary but I know that I can’t stay in a place of anger, in a place that takes away hope and laughter from me.

I’ve been in Beirut for a little over nine months now and throughout those nine months I have been on more planes and crossed more borders than I care to remember. But on my last trip I transited through Amman. That trip was a turning point, for many reasons. I feel I have finally closed the doors of Amman and now I have opened doors, or am really trying to, in Beirut.

Its been such a difficult time on so many levels, Beirut is a difficult city to assimilate into and be a part of its social circles. But its even harder when you are stuck in a life you took 20 years building. It’s harder when your history only goes back on average a year and my oldest relationships I have here are two years old. Having no sense of history, having to have to go through all the social angst I had as an adolescent and young adult and try to build relationships from scratch all over again, takes its toll. I have been on a roller coaster of emotions for nine months. This ride has had some very low dips and few high peaks. And I hate roller coasters!

Knowing you are falling into deep despair and trying to pull out all the tools in your arsenal to stop it was what I have been doing for nine months. It didn’t work, until recently. Looking back it didn’t matter what tools I tried to use because there were factors that were not in my favor and things I did that didn’t help me. I travelled way too much and it’s hard to settle down somewhere when you are only there for two or three weeks at a time! It’s hard to establish yourself when you are seen as an extension of another person and not as your own entity. It’s hard to be committed to exploring and trying a new place when your heart and mind are elsewhere. It’s also really hard to start from scratch when you leave behind you a life of complete and total success, satisfaction, and fulfillment. It’s hard when you have to relate to your nearest and dearest electronically and through machines when touching them and seeing them were daily occurrences. It’s hard when the smells and tastes of 20 years’ everyday are replaced by the strange, the foreign, the alien. It’s hard having seamlessly traversed the various communities of Amman and been a part of so many people’s lives, and part of so many different circles, ideas, initiatives to become so one dimensional, viewed from one lens and through a box or label. It so hard going through a year of firsts away from home, where tradition and ritual gives way to… well nothing really, and no one really understands what the fuss is about.  It’s hard knowing that the life I left behind is… well, left behind and there is no going back.

A month or so ago, at my new Toastmasters club, I gave an ice breaker speech to introduce myself. Standing in a room full of strangers I spoke of this transition and how painful it is, and I likened it to the transformation from a tree to a bird. I will quote a part of that speech here as it sums up how I feel about this transition and my future outlook about my time in Beirut.

“But in knowledge and self awareness lies power and I am determined to make the transformation work. This metamorphosis is a long process and it started with my uprooting from Jordan. It is, I think, the  most painful and challenging part of the transformation to be ungrounded, to be wobble and blowing unsurely in the wind. Exposed. Vulnerable. But these raw bare roots that are swimming around in the air like the tentacles of an octopus are slowly receding into the trunk that is the body of the bird, becoming my inner strength to carry with me wherever I go.

My branches that are full of leaves and fruit and melding together in a canopy of colors and light new feathers, transforming into beautiful powerful wings that will fly me every which way I want to go. They are still a bit stiff mind you, and I am learning to spread them. But when I am done they will be strong and ready for flight colorfully gliding through the clouds.

This tree is becoming the bird it always wanted to be and when it does the whole world will become its nest.”

I know my time in Beirut is limited. It is not a place I will spend 20 years building a life; I also know that Amman is no longer an option. I need to move forwards not backwards. And so Beirut is the place where I will learn to fly in stormy weather, after which, the clouds will part, the sun will shine, and the wind will be high. I am optimistic. I am determined.

I have hit rock bottom on numerous occasions. There was the professional funk, the financial insolvency, emotional turmoil, dead end relationships that resulted in a broken heart, and of course the dreaded depression. But the thing I have learned consistently and with ever bedrock I hit was that the only way is up.

No matter how hard you hit, for how long, whether this is hope or not, whenever I was at my worst something deep inside always said it just can’t get worse. And believing that and knowing it meant that things could only pick up and move forward and upwards.

I remember in 2003 when professionally, in one year I was fired, then resigned, then laid off, then out of work for the longest time. It seemed like my professional life came to a complete standstill, and slowly I was running out of what little savings I had. I went from interview to interview and the jobs I wanted either didn’t transpire or the jobs that wanted me were shoot me boring. So towards the end of the year I was penniless and without prospects of any financial security. But what happened was the spurred me on to become a freelancer. I was and still am a “Jane of all trades”, resourceful, with a good head on my shoulders. This meant that I could do anything I wanted to and it didn’t have to be in the framework of a 9-5 position. And so after hitting rock bottom, I thrived. I learned that I could aspire to be anything I wanted to be and have fun doing it! I became a story teller, a trainer, a proposal writer, a project coordinator; I learned all about cross cultural education and managed programs in informal learning. I’ve dabbled in community organizing, activism, volunteerism and I’ve thrived. The past six years have been so robust and alive and I’ve enjoyed the bigger chunk of them. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t challenging or trying, there were moments of extreme boredom and frustration. But that only meant I had to evaluate what it was I was doing and have the guts to change it. Getting the guts, taking the leap – well that’s another story for another time.

In 2005, I found myself facing a different set of challenges. Ones that were related to family and home. It’s a scary thing realizing that though we may be related by blood, our nearest are not our dearest. Learning to deal with that concept and evaluating a home built around misogyny, selfishness pitted directly against sacrifice, emotional guilt tricks, stunted growth and potential withheld by tradition, religion, and culture that transgressed into ones physical and emotional self. Suddenly waking up to all this and seeing it clearly left me more resentful than happy. I hit family rock bottom. So what did I do? I made changes that had very negative effects in the short term including a depression. That rock bottom was not bedrock! But four years after taking the steps to assert my needs, stop the guilt trips, put an end to the transgression, saying no to misogyny and taking responsibility for myself as an individual, my relationship with my family has improved dramatically. There is respect for my privacy, my needs, and myself. Its not always rosy and bright mind you, but we have all come to know our boundaries and limitations in the most positive of ways today. My relationship with my mother has never been better!

Oh but two years after that crazy family journey came the big whopper. In May 2007 I fell in love and subsequently got my heart trampled all over it. It was a secret love affair; some may even say it was one-sided. I won’t go into the heartbreak for it left me jaded, distrustful, and more a commitment phobe than before. But it did result in some beautiful things. I learned that I had the capacity to feel at a very deep level. I learned that I could let people in and share parts of my life without it leaving me feeling vulnerable and weak (including starting this blog). Towards the end it taught me how to regain myself after being lost in someone completely. And I am not as jaded or distrustful as I was back then. The commitment issues I am working on ;).

If I were to chart my life it would have a lot of dips and a lot of highs. But one thing that screams out at me when I look at this chart is that I climbed to the highest peaks after each dip; the deeper the pit, the higher the climb was. And so I have learned to succeed from my failures, and truly appreciate what it means to be accomplished. Today I am surrounded by my accomplishments and I am very proud of every abyss I fell through as much as I am every triumph of spirit and soul.

Its been a while since I stood before an Ocean, the last time I did I had felt so heavy. It was a dark night on a beach that stretched 6 KM of the southern coast of Sri Lanka. As I stood before the ocean, I felt rooted at my spot. I wanted to go in, but I knew I was heavy. Neptune was very compelling and I stood there for a long long time in the dark silence, only the surf was talking, it spoke on Neptune’s behalf whispering “walk in, come in, come play with us”. It was a night in which I knew if I walked in I would never walk out.

But tonight it was different. This time the waves were happy, they came up and gently kissed my feet. Saying hello and welcome. I responded with smiles and playful walking up and down the shore, following the light lapping of the surf. It was calming, light and quiet. It was happy. I want to go back in the morning to catch the sun come up over that beautiful gulf.

On December 24 I wrote a blog post that I never published. It was entitled Here is to 2009. I thought I would wait a bit before publishing it and then the Gaza Massacre happened and other things became more important than my personal rants and raves about 2008 and 2009. Yet I have been thinking about the post and I have decided to post it below. I post it and yet want to comment on how three days after the positive note the year was ending on was turning sour, the big bang I wanted to start 2009 with was not that of guns and bombs.

 

Yet I look at it on a personal level again and though I first felt impotent, angry and I didn’t know what to do with my energies, I put my first resolution to the test. I did get more involved with different initiatives and will continue to get more involved on different levels.

 

In positing this I am still thinking there is much to be done and some of what I want to achieve is trivial but these trivialities are a privilege and I am thankful for the privileges in my life.  2009 did not start on a positive note with occupation, genocide and abuse being the dish of the day. But I am an optimist and I think that things will change and turn around. I think that because in my own way I know I can help initiate change even on a small scale with a word, a picture, an action. Small change can become big change and there are ways to turn misfortune into small wins. We just need to find that silver lining.

 

So if you wanted to know what I was thinking that happy day here it is, but do watch this space to know how things have changed and progressed in the mundane life that is Shalabieh’s World!

 

 

Here is to 2009

 

Last year I ended the year with a Thank you note (And I want to thank…)

 

It was a review of a year gone and passed it was year that ended positively for me 2007 was great. It was the year I turned 30 and it was definitely a milestone year. Looking back at 2008 I can only say it just keeps getting better. My thirties are definitely better than my twenties. And as the fortuneteller in Bangkok said: “30 good, 31 better, 32 BETTER. Good money, good job, good lover!” So 32 here I come. But not before I say good bye to 2008.

 

The year 2008 was a wonderful year. This year saw some much growth and change and all for the better. This year was a turning point in many ways with many wonderful things happening:

  • It was the year I reconnected with Palestine after an absence of 8 years
  • It was the year I met my nephew for the first time and really knew what it meant to be an aunt
  • It was the year I got connected at home with a new laptop and allowed internet to reinvade my private space (not so sure that’s a good thing)
  • It was the year I took a passion to the next level and bought my first SLR camera and I love taking pictures with it
  • It was the year I made a lot of new friends near and far and got close to a lot of them
  • It was the year I realized how much I liked development work and working with people underprivileged and underserved to better all our lives
  • It was the year I explored more of the Middle East than any other with travels to neighboring and not so neighboring countries and I realized how much I love the Middle East
  • It was the year I reclaimed me once again from the clutches of an unfulfilling love.
  • It was the year in which I stood my ground
  • It was the year I asserted myself

 

It is a year that is ending on such a positive note that I can only look forward to 2009 with anticipation and excitement. I am looking forward to a number of things on so many different fronts that I will have different kind of new year resolutions’ list. 2009 will be the year that

  • I will get more involved
  • I get out of debt no matter how miniscule
  • I will work on a photography project that will result in an exhibition
  • I will write more here and start a writing project too
  • I will take up learning to ride a bike again
  • I will reclaim the kitchen again and start cooking for myself
  • I will go somewhere new I have never been before and I am not just talking about travel

 

2009 is my year because I want it to be, not because a fortune teller told me it would be. So I will defiantly be drinking to 2009 and bring it in with a nice big bang!

 

Happy New Year everybody and see you in 2009.

  

 

I got an unwanted call today from someone that exited my life a while ago. It was a surprise, a perplexing one since there was no purpose to the call. This person was at one point important to me. We spoke every day, saw each other as often as possible, exchanged so much, but it all came with a price… one that was too high, and so this relationship ended. We haven’t spoken in months, I have moved on so far from where I was and if truth be told I am happier now.

 

When it ended there never was a major blow out or discussion about it, it was a sore point for a while but right now I don’t care to have that discussion nor do I want to open a channel of dialogue. I’ve move beyond that and don’t really care if this person knows, understands or realizes what they did, it is not my place to teach them, but rather I have learned. I have learned to let go, I have learned to value myself, I have learned to love, I have learned to what extent I can give. But I also learned not to be in an unequal relationship. I have learned not to undersell myself. I have learned that I don’t need to validate my decisions through others. I have learned who my true friends are.

 

 I have done well to erase all traces of this person, what is left doesn’t move me, doesn’t interest me, doesn’t even sadden me anymore. But what gets to me is flimsy excuses to call, random SMSs once every blue moon to wish me a good Eid, and the casualness of voice, the tone that nothing happened. The fact that this person thinks we can pick up where we left off astounds me!

 

Every time this happens I want to blast off an email saying stop it you have no place in my life anymore and I don’t appreciate you trying. But I don’t because I don’t want to start a dialogue, I don’t want to give any false hope that we could be friends ever again. I lost all emotion, respect, and feelings for this person. I want to be left alone without the infrequent attempts of civility or contact. I am not interested in being a part of this person’s life in any way or want them in mine.

 

So I guess this is an open letter to this person to stop! We will never be what we were, we will never be friends, we can not have long conversations or short ones. There is no need to wish me a happy Eid when it comes or condolences when someone passes. There is no need or want for you in my life. Your space has been taken up by many others whose presence is much more rewarding. Our time together may have been special, it even had its beautiful moments, but it came at such a hefty price I am not willing to even consider anymore. If I were writing a book this chapter is over, closed, the ink dry and now there are many others after it. So just stop.

 

I would like to say to those in similar situations that they don’t have to keep going back, or keep the lines of communication open, the fear that there is no other way does leave you eventually, and that time does heal. There is life beyond a person, place, job, life even. Stop being afraid to move forward because if you stand still you won’t go anywhere. Take it from me, I stood still for a long time and now time has healed the hurt, the anger, the frustration and because I have moved forward I have so much behind me that the past is a mere speck on the horizon. It is a long long ways away and now my life if full of many others who bring more, give more, return more, and deserve more and I’m the better for it. So yes time heals, but only if you move forward. 

I am in Palestine. My ancestral home. I breathe its air, I walk on its dirt, I hear its voices. I have returned after being away for eight years. It is a strange journey. Strange in the feelings it stirs. Strange that it is familiar and not, welcoming and not, free and not, normal and not. It is a land that stirs up feelings of repression, oppression, security and occupation, happiness and suffering, hope and hopelessness. It is a land of walls and open skies. It is Palestine.


I came here to learn, to explore, to understand. I also came here to explain, present, communicate, and connect. I’m a participant in a workshop that brings together some 30 participants from eight countries. We are trying to learn and exchange thoughts, ideas, experiences, feelings, and cultures under the umbrella of diversity, discrimination and building understanding. These are areas I believe strongly in and love to learn more about them all the time. I am also representing Jordan, and you all know I love being Jordanian J. I also love exchanges, you learn so much. You learn about other people, other cultures, you encounter new ways of doing the same things. But most of all you learn about yourself.


I am in Palestine, I am at odds with myself for being here and having a fabulous time. But I am open to learning, open to seeing, open to living, open to being here. I know these feelings will be resolved when I return home. Reflecting back on the day I told one of the participants “to be present”. And so for now I am here. I am in Palestine.

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