March 2009


The other day my mother had a gathering. She invited her friends and sisters for some fun and entertainment. So the house was flooded by about 10 to 15 women. There was dancing, food, jokes and of course gossip and idle chit chat. Inevitably, at least one woman would come up to me and make that fateful comment. Talking to me about that dirty three letter word without saying it.

 

Throughout the years I have come across ever possible approach from these women. This includes the veiled compliments, the suggestions, the questions to the outright self important proclamations. They would be direct or indirect, they would be public or discreet, supportive or hostile… you name the approach and they’ve used it. The most common approach right now is marriage and how I should be focus on that and sure enough the comments about my figure would follow shortly.

 

That’s right you read correctly, they talk to me about being a bit FAT girl! Fat is a dirty word in our society, and by society I mean global society. It doesn’t matter where you hail from you need to be a size 4 or less. And what is worse here you have to have a skewed relationship with food. You make massive quantities of the most decadent dishes and deprive yourself of them. You have to be petite, tiny, slim-waisted and dainty so that you are an eligible young lady and prostitute yourself before these older women to find an eligible man and have a suitable life.

 

What is funny is none of these women have these figures they encourage me to have. These women do not have the life I want to lead, know nothing about me except from that sliver of interaction and yet they presumptuously think that I am unhappy in my skin! I wish it ends there too, at least there is a context in which these comments are made. I really don’t like it when strangers come up to me and tell me I have such a pretty face if only I would lose the weight, or a shop vendor or tailor makes that comment. And don’t you just love the people that try to push those magic weight loss products?! These people may think that they are doing me a service by telling me about my body and what is best for it. It’s as if they have a right to judge me solely by a number on a scale without knowing anything else about me.

 

I have been fat since I was a baby. To me being thin is being a size 14, I am tall, big, round, curvy and yes that dirty word we all try to avoid… FAT. And you know what I am not apologetic about it anymore, I don’t feel sorry for myself, I don’t think I need to change and when one of these women comes up to me today or a stranger comes on the street says something my responses are along these lines: who gave you the right to talk about my body, excuse and what do you know about me to make that comment or very proudly I love my curves and they love me and they go everywhere I go!

 

When I was growing up I never thought of myself as fat despite being so, I was athletic and active and never really felt heavy. Yet the world around me made me feel such, but as I grew older I came to understand my body and respect it and demand what I could of it by taking care of it. Being healthy to me is more important that the number on the label. I was also adamant, from childhood, about people respecting me for my intellect, my personality and not my looks.

 

But it still took me a long time to come to terms with that dirty word and use it: fat. Fat is not acceptable to our world today, but fat I am and like I said to that woman and I will repeat it as often as necessary, I love my body, I love curves and I love my fat! If you have problem with fat then please take it elsewhere because this big fat girl loves herself enough to say enough.

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OK for those of you that read my post about my birthday celebrations and want to partake I have an update. There is a lot of coordination and collaboration involved in making these things happen so I would like to thank everyone who expressed interest in joining me and more importantly those of you helping me make my thirty second birthday a celebration of us rather than me. And so here are the various events and ideas that all or any of you can help in and by doing so give me a fantastically rewarding birthday:

 

  1. Jabal Al Qalga Kite making and flying with the kids of the neighborhood with Hamzet Wasel Initiative
  2. Renovating and fixing of Women’s Center in Gaza Camp in Jerash with V-team Initiative
  3. Undecided event with Zikra Initiative
  4. Buy a tree and plant it in Palestine with APN – Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (http://www.apnature.org)
  5. Give me your old clothes, recyclable paper, tins and plastic and I will send them to a community center or the recycling center
  6. And finally for those that just want to hang out a walk in Jabal Amman and a walk in Jabal Al Weibeh (two of my favorite places in the city) the weekend following my birthday

 

 

I will post more info these initiatives and events and include dates, times, places and costs this coming week. And for those of you on Facebook I will create events for them. All are welcome even if I don’t know you and you want to do these things Ahlan Wa Sahlan.

Growing up I didn’t realize that what my mother made us do nearly every summer was going to be monumental to me later in life. We hated being dragged over the bridge, being humiliated, taken away from our creature comforts at home to go to see our grandparents in Palestine. I don’t think I realized then that my relationship with MY Palestine was starting and being formed.

 

But my relationship with Palestine was always defined by my mother’s, aunts’ and uncles’ stories of Palestine and their relationships with the places and the people. It was their relationships, views, ideas, prejudices, like and hates that I took on to be mine.

 

But 1998, when I was 21, I finally crossed into that beautiful land alone. I visited my grandmother, I visited my uncles and aunts, I visited the land, the cities, and the trees. I even went to Jerusalem for the first time. I started to see Palestine through my eyes and not anyone else’s. I started to form my own relationship with Palestine. But I may have been seeing it through my eyes I was still influenced by the anxieties and fears and thoughts of others.

 

In 2000 I went again, a friend of mine wanted to go and another friend was visiting her family there and so I decided to accompany one and meet the other there. It was a different experience for this time my grandmother had passed and it wasn’t to her home that I went and that too started to shape my relationship with Palestine and my family that lives there differently. I traipsed around the Palestine then with both my friends and was learning to navigate around the cities and was proud to show it off despite not knowing the lay of the land. I left just four days before Sharon entered into the Haram in Jerusalem and the second Intifada started.

 

With the violence escalating and oppression at its height, my solitary trips ended. Until last spring, a friend of mine was organizing an exchange workshop that was to take place in Ramallah for 10 days, I jumped on the idea despite being apprehensive for I had not crossed over in eight years and I had no idea what to expect. In eight years Palestine was an image on the TV screen, ink on paper, an idea, a slogan, a statistic. We very easily forget that it is a hop skip and jump away. We easily forget our family and people and their everyday struggle. We simply live in oblivion.  I especially was in oblivion for up until then Palestine was where we went to renew our papers and visit our grandparents. Israel was embodied by the TV my mother shouted or cried at when something was terribly wrong. We were never very political.

 

But last spring that all changed, I spent 10 days in Palestine. I went again in June and once again in December. I am reclaiming my relationship with Palestine and everything Palestinian. I bring back pictures and stories for those that can not go home or visit Palestine. But more importantly I am building my relationship slowly and clearly with My Palestine. The Palestine of olive groves and family gatherings; of uncles who love to laugh and cousins who struggle to live their youth; of cities and villages torn and divide by walls of cement and electricity. My Palestine where the fruit is that much sweeter, and the air that much purer. My Palestine, on my terms, with my impressions, my connections, my expressions.

 

I will soon be 32 and I have been asked what I want for my birthday whether it be for celebrations or for gifts. These questions got me thinking about past birthdays and gifts and what they’ve meant to me. I’ve done the crazy parties with the cakes and sparklers and massive amounts of booze, the traveling for my birthday and the quiet dinners. But this year I want something different, and I know exactly what I want.

This year what I want involves none of the above in any way, shape or form. This year I do not want any parties in bars or restaurants or cafes. I do not want any celebrations with cake, or alcohol or food. I do not want all that money spent for such a selfish and self centered purpose. My birthday! There have been many and who knows there may be many more too. But I do not want to be the excuse for a night of drunken revelry, I do not want massive amounts of food consumed at some lavish dinner in an expensive restaurant, I do not want anyone to go out of their way for me to celebrate in frivolity a day that comes a long often enough and there is really nothing special about it except that I popped out from between my mother’s legs like thousands if not millions of others on that day.

I do not want any gifts either not matter how big or small, grand or symbolic for I have enough stuff in my life and I am trying to get rid of a lot of it! There is nothing I really need at this moment in time and the things I want I can do without. So thank you but no thank you.

When I made these declarations to my friends their faces were so puzzled, confused and some were upset and said that was unacceptable! And so I told them that what would make me happy instead was for them to do something selfless, something that gives back to the community, something outside themselves and me.

One of my favorite quotes is “Be the change you want to see in the world” by Ghandi and this year this is what I want for my birthday. And so to celebrate I want organize an event that gives back to the community in some way or form. That recognizes the pleasure in working together to make a difference. If there is any money to be spent then it would be on the event and it should go towards your local community. And if you insist on giving me a gift then make a donation in my name to an organization that makes a difference to people’s lives like a cancer foundation, orphanages, NGOs that work on community development, and if you don’t want to give cash then clean out your closet and give the things you don’t want to people who can use them like the Gaza aid souk or the King Hussein center for the mentally disabled, or Ruwwad in Jabal Al Natheef, if you want to do this and don’t know how give me a call and I can help you or just drop things off with me and I can take care of it. Spend a day volunteering. If even that is too much trouble then just do something nice for a stranger in the street, it can be that simple.

If you still insist on giving me something personal then give me a good memory. Walk with me in the streets or Jabal Amman, come over and watch a movie, let’s have a good conversation, send me a letter or an email or help me paint a new bookcase I’m getting, take a picture and send it to me. I will also personally be arranging an outdoor activity that will focus on giving something back to the world we live in. Let me know if you want to be part of that activity, it will make me really happy to spend time with my friends doing something along those lines and I will post it here once the details are sorted out.

Help me be the change I want to see in this world we live in and embody some of the ideals and beliefs that I have. Yes I am an idealist and to some I may be foolish, but I think we can make a difference one small step at a time. Will you walk with me?