remembrance


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.

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So it is the first day of Ramadan, or is it? When I look around me, there is no Ramadan. Nothing around  me tells me it is except for the facebook statuses of old friends and of course the call to my mother where we chat about the ritual that is the first meal in family. There are no Ramadan decorations,  food stalls with Ramadan specials, or any of the other signs that it is Ramadan today. If you are wondering where I am, I am smack in the middle of a Christian neighborhood  in Beirut.

 

Nothing really changes here, offices hours remain the same, banks stay open and operate with the same hours and restaurants continue to serve food throughout the day and it is not against the law to eat on the street. Many of the people I know think this is all cool and great. But me, well, I grew up for 33 years in countries that rearranged public life to accommodate Ramadan.  I grew in a home where I was taught to fast and it was a struggle to unlearn that. I grew up in countries where shops, restaurants, schools, banks everything really ran on a different schedule for a month. I was surrounded by things that only appeared during Ramadan like atayef stands, amareldin juice, Big charity food tents for iftar and an overall sense of something different. At night people divided into three groups: those that prayed taraweh, those that played cards (in Ramadan tents or at home), and those that stayed in and for 30 days watch Ramadan specials on TV. Sometimes people mix and match between the three evening activities. But here I find none of that, and it makes me sad and nostalgic.

 

Growing up I went through phases of dealing with Ramadan from believing to questioning to disgruntlement to acceptance and today living in a place where there is no Ramadan I am in a phase of missing it. I have no issue with being told not to eat or drink on the street during the day, or any other “restriction”. For a month there used to be an atmosphere of community even if that atmosphere was one of disgruntlement at all the angry drivers or the nicotine withdrawal  shouting. For a month our social calendars would be full of invitations to share and break our fasts with different groups of friends and family. Ramadan is not just about the religion and the farida of fasting, it is a social event with it very own rituals and rules, and it lasts one whole month.

 

This is my second year of Ramadan away from Ramadan and I am going to try to recreate some of it in my home , even just a little bit. Happy Ramadan to you where ever you are… and when you breaking your fast this month and you are having atayef, have one for me.

 

Ramadan Kareem.

 

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

I miss you. I miss you so terribly. I miss how you made me smile no matter how I was feeling. I miss how safe you made feel. I miss how we talked for hours about nothing and it all seemed so important. I miss how you put a spring in my steps and made the world pop with color and life. I miss how full you made an empty room. I miss how words seem to fill the blank left by an unfinished sentence. I miss the words that tumbled and spewed out of my keyboard from the simple ideas you put in my head. I miss the inspiration you put in my life. I miss our morning conversations and our endless nights filled with the radio waves of a lonely hearts station even though our hearts were not lonely. I miss the turmoil of not touching you despite your closeness. I miss feeling all the way to the deepest darkest core of my soul and knowing that pain meant I can feel where there was nothing before. I miss you. I miss you so terribly. But I don’t want you anymore. I miss you, but I don’t want you.

Last week I heard the unfortunate news of Abu Firas’ passing. He died of a heart attack in his sleep. I was saddened and  at the same time happy when I heard the news. You see Abu Firas was an amazing man who I trusted, loved and shared a lot of traffic time with. He was one of the few drivers I used constantly when in Amman. He had been integral to my social and professional lives. He was special and so even though I am sad he has left us, I am happy that he had a painless  quick and simple death. To go in your sleep is perhaps one of the best ways to go, and knowing that he worked hard for that good death is reassuring. He deserved it.

For those of you that don’t know him, Abu Firas was a man you could count on to be where you needed him, when you needed him. He was patient, driving for hours in the heat or the cold in his old beat up car and in the new one. When you needed him to wait outside for “10 minutes” he waited the half hour and the hour and never got annoyed. He was funny with his falafel, George Bush and Tony Blair, and donkey driving  jokes that many of us heard over and over again.  He was honest even when he over charged us. We knew he was over charging us and he knew it, but he also he knew when to give us a break and when we should give him a break. He was the lynchpin that connected so many of us , never forgot any of his customers, for he always asked, always, about old friends that have left and new that he just met. He was dependable and ran many errands for me and others alike picking up, dropping off and collecting all sorts of goods from all over the city. He had an amazing memory for places not just because he was a cab driver, but he cared and made it a point to know. We even had our own names for the neighborhoods and the streets because of all the errands we ran together. He was who you called in the middle of the night to pick you up even if you had no money because you could always pay him next time. His passing, to me, marks the end of an era. No longer will I be able to call him and ask for a ride when the sun is high and the traffic murderous. No longer will he wait patiently when the sky is dark and the streets empty and unwelcoming to take me safely home. No longer will he pick up my mail at the post office and bring it home to me when I visit Amman. No longer will he wave as he whizzes by me on the street and call out my name.

I got one last ride with Abu Firas and we chatted and looked after each along the way , each in our own way. I am glad I could say good bye to him, for I was at the airport, and airport farewells are somewhat more resonating than the quick thank you in the city.  Good bye dear man, you will be remembered. He was special.

Abu Firas

One Last Ride

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.

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.

 

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