family


Happy Birthday Baba

Last year I wrote about my father, it was big deal for me to break a wall of silence about my missing parent. I find myself thinking about him in a very different light after that post. I think about resurrecting him and bringing him back to life. To trying to tell stories about him and bringing him closer to us as a family. It was interesting to see the reactions from my siblings and my mother. Some of us have made more peace with our histories and for others the scars are still raw.

Well once again it is his birthday today, and my gift to him and to myself on this day is to remember the man that was my father. And to do so publicly and out load because he was buried in silence for far too long.

I will tell a story from my foggy memory to keep your memory alive and to pass it on to my little brother who never really knew you, and to my neices and nephews. One of things I remember quite vividly was you never could eat alone. I remember you coming home tired and sweaty from a hot day’s work in the sun. Coming back to our home in Salwa, Kuwait. I remember a spread of food being laid out for you in the living room on the coffee table in front of the TV. We had all eaten hours earlier, but you would insist that we join you. I realize today that I carry that tradition with me, I will always eat, even if it is just a nibble, with others. A part of me can not let a friend or loved one eat alone. I now know this comes from you :), so thank you for a lovely habit.

Happy Birthday, I am glad your memories keep coming back.

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

So really I am not big on organized religion or religious rituals but there is something special for me about Ramadan. It is if anything a family time when my dysfunctional family puts most of its dysfunctionality aside and we gather for the iftar meal around one table. Sometimes we are passive aggressive yet most times we are civil. It is a time for me to bring friends to the family home, to break bread to commune together. It has been the norm for 33 years.

The first of Ramadan is especially special because we as a family have our ritualistic meal of all white dishes to kick off the month. We don’t accept invitations on the first of Ramadan but I have always cheated and invited some to ours on this day because I truly believe no one should be alone on the first of Ramadan- especially if they are fasting! The first of Ramadan meal is the one meal throughout the year that we can count on. It consists of sweet corn chicken soup (for its milky white color), chicken fateh (for the white yogurt it has on top and the white meat), fatoush (with white radishes in it), and cheese burak made from scratch and cheese atayef (both stuffed with white goat cheese). Everything is white for good luck and to start off the month with the symbolism that white embodies.

This year though it doesn’t feel like Ramadan. Nothing on the streets, in the shops or even on people’s faces says it’s Ramadan. I actually had to double check with friends if it is so! This saddens me for not only am I missing my favorite meal of the year, I feel I am missing out on the great excuse to come together with friends and family to eat copious amounts of food, complain about the boredom and restrictiveness that is Ramadan, among other things. Ramadan is to me ingrained as a cornerstone of the year a cultural marker of my life that is changing and slowly slipping away. I know that some of my friends will be envious of my stay in Beirut where nothing will change and the restaurants, bars and banks all stay open for business as usual. But you know I miss the business as unusual, the good, the bad and the ugly of it!

Ramadan Kareem to those of you that celebrate in every which way you do. Please have an extra piece of atayef for me.

Flying kites is a thing I have never really done. I don’t know how to fly a kite let alone make one. This weekend I have the opportunity to do both in a community event in Jabal Al Qala’a made possible by Adraaj Amman. So if you want participate in kite making and flying free up your Friday morning. Places are limited so do confirm your attendance.

 

Date: April 10, 2009

Day: Friday

Time:10:30 am 

Location:  Jabal Al Qala’a

Meeting point: Citadel Entrance

Cost: JD 5- 10 (you will participate in buying materials for both yourself and for a child from the Local Jabal Al Qala’a Community.

 

Contact info: Raghda Butros raghda@gmail.com 079-6637377

Confirm by: Thursday 3 pm

Note: Children welcome

 

See you all there and get read to see your creations, and those of the kids’, soar in a beautiful spring sky.

 

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.

 

 

 

Michael S. Clark

1972-2009

 

Last night a man who had touched the lives of many passed away. I write today to honor him and his memory.  I first met Mike years ago when he would share my office when he would be in Amman taking a break from Iraq. We would both sit there quietly sharing the space working away. He then moved and became my boss and it was in this time that our relationship evolved from two people sharing an office space to that of two friends. I was lucky to have been a part of his life here in Jordan. He was an amazing boss but more than that he was a wonderful human being.

 

In my years of knowing Mike our relationship shifted as only a relationship with Mike could to a friendship built on trust, respect and understanding. He was a man that loved life and took every opportunity to live it. He was so sensitive to the people around him and the culture that he lived in like no other.

 

I have many fond memories of Mike, I remember the day he tricked me into being a wedding planner by asking me into his office to talk about a project he wanted me to lead and after checking that I have the time and was available he told me he wanted me to help organize the wedding. I was privileged to be part of such an important event in his life.

 

I remember how he would go off on little trips around Jordan on the weekends and how sacred his personal time was. I learned from him that we should work hard but personal and family time is also very important. He loved life and lived it.

 

I remember how caring and thoughtful he was. Before he went to Iraq for a few weeks he left the house fully stocked so that his pregnant wife wouldn’t have to leave the house unless she had to so if you walked into the kitchen the floor was covered with bags and bags of cat litter and shrinks of water.

 

I remember the day Baby H came into the world a day early because she was very assertive like her father. He was so proud and happy. I remember how he held her fondly and with such tender love and care. I remember her baptism as he and Lynne stood proudly carrying H who was well behaved and angelic as she was being baptized.

 

I remember what a magnificent cook he was. He was such a puritan about his ingredients and his recipes … such that anything he made was scrumptious. I especially remember being over there for lunch or dinner and there were three different pies and they were all so good you couldn’t choose which one you wanted more of. I remember hearing about his famous cheesecake but never tasting it because we couldn’t find the right kind of cheese.

 

I remember him being fair, kind, generous, humble, fun, funny, and an all round wonderful human being.  He connected with everyone and has touched so many lives. He left a trail of goodness where ever he went. Everyone remembers him as a friend above anything else. He made a difference.

 

Mike was a good friend, a wonderful husband and a loving and doting father. Mike to me was family. His presence will be sorely missed in this world. We take solace that he is now in a better place. He may not be here in body but he will always be in our memories.

 

Mike you will be missed.

I never realized just how demanding looking after a baby can be. This past few months have been very educational for me as I have learned to truly appreciate what it takes to look after a baby. It has been a privilege for me to spend time with baby H and be entrusted with her care.

I met Baby H months ago when she was still hanging out in mama’s belly (see Meeting Melon), and so I have gotten to know this baby since she was swimming her way into the world. Watching her grow, cry, feed, and now laugh and smile has been a wonderful journey. Babysitting baby H taught me that time means nothing, truly nothing when there is a baby around. You get so absorbed in the baby’s needs that when you do look up hours had gone by and you really aren’t interested in rushing to make up that lost time.

I also learned that when you are taking care of the baby then you are taking care of the baby. You cannot multi-task in any way … not even a phone call! Babies are in constant need of attention: you feed them, and that includes preparing the baby meal, you then burp them, they poo or pee and their diaper will soon after need changing- otherwise baby will get cranky, and after all that they take a nap. And when they wake up you play with them for a bit before you have to do it all over again. Baby H was no exception. All of this needed my full attention and so nothing else could happen.

If this is what it takes to look after a baby, then raising a child is no easy feat. It is not something one person can do alone. After this experience I truly do not understand how single parents do it. I have a new found respect for anyone raising a child single handedly. It’s hard enough looking after oneself let alone having a tiny baby or a helpless child dependent on you to fulfill its needs.

Babies and children are a lifelong commitment. You commit your time, your energy, your money, your thoughts, but most importantly your love. Seeing how baby H is cared for is a great insight to how bringing children in to the world should be. She is a loved and wanted child and will grow up with those privileges and many more. Yet as wonderful as being with baby H was, I still am sure that I am not cut out to be a mama… not for little ones at least. And unless something drastic changes in my life I stand by my choices not to wed or have babies. I am just not cut out for those kinds of commitment.

Yesterday night was I think the first time me and my little one year old nephew really started to bond. It was a fun and exciting experience where we had one on one play time. Granted it was only for 15 – 20 minutes but it was a fun time. Its hard forming a relationship with a child that lives miles away and being an aunt was an abstract concept until they arrived earlier this month. 

 

 

I have played, cajoled, cooed, and carried him this past week. But it was like carrying any child. But last night the fact that he was able to recognize me and want to be held by me was such a nice change and we had such fun.

 

Its funny my stance on kids was and still is so long as they go home. But I think that infants and babies are not my thing, regardless of how good I am at putting them to sleep or burping them. I like them when they are little children able to communicate and exchange ideas and thoughts with me. I love having conversations with kids and talking to them. It’s a very rewarding experience. So I guess I am now really looking forward to the little prince growing up a little bit more and being able to say more than ba and anda and such; coz that when the real bonding will start for me.

OK so today is Mother’s day, last month we had Valentine ’s Day, there will be a flag day, a best friend day, a tooth fairy day even, but my question is … what happened to everyday? I am sick of all this man made constructs f days that are pointless. Let me explain, the person who invented mother’s day must have had a great relationship with his or her mother and decided to celebrate it on a larger scale. That person then built this expectation and spread it. Today, we have gone into a commercialized and overly hyped state of recognizing our mothers. And please feel free to replace the word mother with any other word that suits the occasion. 

So today I am forced to recognize something someone somewhere decided to celebrate and obligated to fulfill an expectation set by others to make someone happy.  You know what… if my relationship with my mother is such I don’t need a mother’s day to recognize her. If I like my flag and respect it I don’t need a flag day to remember I am a proud flagger. You get the gist.

I am who I am. My relationships with people and things are what they are. I don’t need a day to celebrate these things I do that when and if I want. That’s what I would like to see happening. But the sad reality is I got my mother a gift she didn’t really like, we went out to a lunch I hope she enjoyed, and I got symbolically the one flower stem that didn’t measure up to my brother’s big bouquet.  Hmmm is it me or do I just not get it? Oh well we will be back to it being everyday tomorrow and for that I am happy to celebrate tonight… care to join me?

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