self


As a Time Management trainer I am constantly preaching for the use of “To Do” lists. And in fact not only do I preach but I practice too. But today I want to write a different kind of to do list. A happiness to do list that needs to be looked at everyday and maybe one day I will be able to cross everything on this list:


  1. Eat something fresh, whether its fruits, vegetables or something freshly baked.
  2. Buy flowers or water the ones you got yesterday.
  3. Have a fresh cup of really good delicious coffee.
  4. Take the time to breathe and breathe deeply.
  5. Write, draw, photograph, tap on a drum… etc. even if it is just a line, a click or some noise. Let your inner creativity play.
  6. Try to find something beautiful to say to someone – anyone even a stranger on the street, and sometimes you don’t have to say it but you can wave it!
  7. Help someone even if you don’t know them or see them.
  8. Play- a card game, a board game, a video game, a sport… but play. As adults we sometimes forget to play.
  9. Connect with someone you haven’t talked to in ages, they would love to hear from you.
  10. Look at this list everyday and try to cross of as many things to do as possible.

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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.

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.

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.

  

 

One of my favorite reads in the past few years is Amin Maalouf’s book On Identity entitled: In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. The book discusses how our identity is made up of multiple facets and “it is built up and changes throughout a person’s lifetime.” The book was a response to 9/11 and was trying to answer how murderous identities are born. But I won’t go into that now, you can read the book if want to learn more. But the question begs itself, Who am I?

The idea that we relate to many identities and react to the various criticisms or praises to a part of our identity and it comes to the forefront was fascinating and understandable. It made sense that when a part of you is under attack, misrepresented, misinterpreted then you want to change that and you react or act. But I’ve never really took an in depth look into who I am from that sense. I always introduced myself within a context. Until now. So with out context and for the sake answer the question this is my Identity.

Two identities come to the forefront of my mind: I am an Arab, I am a woman. Both have been the strongest identifiers for me. The first comes from two places, assumptions people make about me, and pride. I am constantly told I look nothing like an Arab and so I am addressed as and treated as a foreigner in my own home. Here I constantly correct that assumption by asking “What does an Arab look like?” When someone speaks to me in English despite being spoken to in Arabic my response today is “Ana Ma fhimet, Ma ba7ki Englizy”. This translates into I am sorry I don’t understand, I don’t speak English. Yes I know this piece is in English and I’m always using English ,I will explain that in another post.

I am proud of being an Arab, I am proud of being Jordanian . This pride comes from constantly representing my culture, my heritage and explaining it to westerners. My first experience at being a cultural ambassador/ translator was a visit to America six years ago. The trip lasted about two months and it was such an eye opening experience. I never knew how Arab I was until I had to speak up about my country, my region, my language, my traditions, my society …etc. It is hard trying to break stereotypes and presenting a positive spin on years of negativity and misrepresentations. But it is so rewarding when you succeed in changing fear into understanding.

The other part of me is my womanhood. I love being a woman. I have struggled very hard in a man’s world to be. I grew up amongst three brothers, in a misogynistic home with gender stereotypes constantly being reinforced in the simplest of daily chores and activities. I worked in male dominated fields early on in my career, in which I had to be tough and masculine in my attitudes. I walked in streets where I am made conscious of my status as a female, made sexual with a look, a comment, and sometimes even a touch. My early conditioning was to accept apologetically this placement in life. To accept that men will always be superior. Ha ha ha… yeah right. They are more than welcome to think that, but I will not apologize for being a woman, and I am not inferior. And if anyone has a problem with that I am more than happy to set them straight! I love being a woman and I enjoy my mind, my body, myself.

There are other parts of my identity that I used to relate to strongly but not anymore. I think that I have grown enough that I no longer need to validate those parts of me by making them important and constantly wearing them on my sleeve. Not that I need to validate being an Arab woman. But I am secure enough to know that I don’t need to showcase all my facets. It also makes for interesting discoveries of oneself by others.

The Middle East is known for its aversion to feet. We find them filthy, disgusting, and dirty and we hate them. Because of this I know that a lot of us are fascinated with them. We look at them all the time, especially in the summer when sandals, flip-flops and bare feet are all over the place. I personally always sneak a look and stare at feet. On the flip side of that I try to keep my feet clean and my toes well manicured. My feet aren’t the prettiest but I have come to respect them, love them and be comfortable with them.

So why am I talking about feet? If you read any guide book or etiquette book about the region one of the things you can count on being there is feet and how you should never put them in someone’s face when you cross your feet, or put them up. Also in there is how you should keep them clean at all times and wear slippers in the house and such. But with prolonged exposure to other cultures my attitude towards feet, especially my own, has changed. I no longer get annoyed if bare or covered feet are in my face, if someone is walking around barefoot (I enjoy that from time to time). I don’t mind putting my feet up either. I still keep my soles away from peoples’ face, but I no longer shy away from sitting comfortably with my feet poking out, instead of tucked away neatly and away from the public sphere. So today when a gentleman tried to joke about smelly feet, trying to get me to conform to social norms of feet tucked away I just smiled sweetly and thought “I love my feet and it’s your problem not mine that you can’t deal with there being some red toes showing!”

Feet are feet, it doesn’t matter who they belong to. We would be off balance with just a toe missing so can you imagine if you took a whole foot away. Respect them, enjoy them, look at them, play with them, massage them and celebrate them. You’ll have a hard time walking without them!

Today I delivere my first speech in two years at Toastmasters. I opted to do another icebreaker, a speech that introduces me to the club. Here it is…  

When I want to introduce myself I find it very hard to do so through the typical age, occupation, family and history approach. These are all things you can learn about me from a business card and an ID card. So I thought about what it is to know someone, to truly be introduced to them. That led me to close my eyes and look inwards. This is what I saw.
When I close my eyes I look at the world around me.
I see a world that has no conflict, hunger or poverty. I see no global warming and no pollution. I see a world so beautiful with many spectacular places to travel to and make friends in I see history, culture, art and music enriching our lives and accessible to all.

When I close my eyes I look at the work I want to do. 
I want to lead change, I want to be change. I want to work with people. I want to make a difference. I want to work with my hands and be engaged in my mind. I want to put smiles on people’s faces. I want to create. I want to serve. I want to teach. I want to be.

When I close my eyes I look at the people in my life.
I see so many faces, many have come and gone. Many are yet to come. Some are friends, some are foes. I see the children around me and as a friend once said they are the messages we send out in to the future. I see my elders before me with their wisdom and years to learn from as the oracles of the past. I see our differences and celebrate that for in our differences we are one.

When I close my eyes I desire a love to fulfill me.
I desire love in all its forms. A love that is pure like that between mother and child. A love that is undemanding like that between friends. A love that is energizing like that for life. A love that is consuming like that between lovers.

When I close my eyes I see my retirement.
A small hut set between trees with the surf a short walk away. The coconut trees casting a shade so lazy that you don’t want to get out of bed. A hut with windows looking out to sea. White linen curtains billowing in the breeze. A room full of books, a warm kitchen for all the good food, and an open living room that is always welcoming. Outside, a boat, moored on the shore for fishing. And when I don’t fish, I teach the children about language, about math, about life and laughter. And as the sun sets, I lay in my hammock strung up between two trees. And at night a fire on the shore to keep me warm my arms wrapped around my knees as I listen to the surf and look up to see a star filled sky.

When I open my eyes I see the world that I live in and strive to make it better place. I see the work that I do in development and education and it makes me believe that we do make a difference one person at a time. I see my life full of amazing people everywhere I look. And I see the love that surrounds me. As for my retirement I look forward to finding my little paradise and inviting you there.

But I want to ask you, what do you see when you close your eyes?

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