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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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.

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.

 

Last week I had the privilege of dinning with the unprivileged. In a group iftar for some 200 kids from various orphanages and centers, five toastmasters (myself included) volunteered with Action Committee and Family International to help with the kids and entertain them. We were all hosted by Al Isra’ University.

 

I must say when our club circulated emails about the event I dismissed them. I had no inclination to do this. The our club president called and we discussed it over and the conclusion was we needed to help and supervise activities for the kids and he had me slated to story tell. That pretty much sealed the deal. And off we went to the university.

 

We walked onto the football field to find kids as young as 5 and 6 years old and young adolescents that were 16 years old. They had with them their surrogate moms and dads from the centers and everyone was having a good time. We were all running around playing games, learning dabkeh, playing ball among other things.

 

We then broke fast for those fasting and had dinner for those that weren’t together. The energy in the hall was lovely. Everyone was having a good time. I was impressed with how organized, well behaved and obedient the kids were. One of the groups came from a center for juvenile delinquents and contrary to my image of how these boys behave they were a joy to be around and such fun.

 

After dinner I put on my costume, and prepared myself to tell a story. I got up on a stage, put on a mic and pranced around with different voices, different characters and a story to tell. I had such a great time, and the kids as well as the adults were all having fun. For 25 minutes I was able to put a smile on 200 kids faces.

 

It was such a feeling of euphoria, I have done this kind of thing before but usually at parties for the privileged. Parties with spoilt kids who are thirsty for pop culture not history or fairytales. That night though it was I who was privileged.  The lives of these kids are so removed from ours that we forget them. We forget that they exist, we forget that they need love, care and attention not just from individual but from society. And if there is one thing I am grateful for Ramadan for it is the remembrance of these kids. It is their inclusion into our lives. It is the spirit that we lost.

 

I am glad that I was able to recapture the lost spirit of Ramadan, even for one night. And as Ramadan comes to an end this week I would like to wish all those that partake in the month a Ramadan Kareem and a Happy Eid.   

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.