Four Random Scenes From My Life

There was nowhere the cat could go but under the sofa. This was tremendous progress in its character. The pool man’s pole was so high and creepy thin the cat was convinced it was going to get it. It had been lying down on its favorite chair when the giant pole began to rise and dip itself into the mysteries of the blue water. It was a lot of restraint for the cat not to rush inside and to wait it out under a nearby sofa. And that amazing feat of courage paid off. The pole monster didn’t go much farther; it soon retreated. And the cat, forty-five minutes later, began to relax again, and the fur on its arched back and tail began to lay back in place, reverting the cat to its original size.

The cat had intellect and it was using it. The balance between instinct and intellect in its little head got the upper hand. Danger subsided. All was alright.

********

She’d been dreaming of this all her life. Since the age of sixteen she decided that she wanted to learn Italian. Because she was not the one paying for the lessons, her father insisted that she learned Spanish instead, said he would only pay for Spanish, and Spanish it was. She enjoyed it nevertheless but it didn’t seem to satisfy the thirst for linguistic music inside her head. In her mind she could speak and understand every word. She could read it well. When she was old enough to pay for her own Italian classes she couldn’t keep them up. She allowed work and politics and “faithful sisters” to define her life’s purpose. Suddenly, rallying for bearded men who spoke shiny words became more important to her than speaking Italian. And she let the years go by.

Then one day she woke up from her slumber and decided it was time to get her life back. What was that language she so wanted to speak? She thought with a smile in her head. The moment finally came for her final stretch with it. She sat in front of the teacher, dumbfounded. Words were racing each other inside her head but none of them were the ones she wanted to use. Everything came up to her throat and choked in there while her teacher looked at her with a compassionate smile. The silence was murderous. But she would not let it kill her dream. She was listening to Italian, the teacher was promising her Italian, and all was alright.

********

She was in white, standing in a crowd of eager women from different parts of the world. There was a wall separating them from a destination they had traveled thousands of miles to reach. It was now only a few short steps away once the door opens through that wall. The talking and the chattering echoed in the vastness of the mosque. White marble pillars stood eternally around them, cloaked in gold carvings, perfumed with Oud – the time old Arabian incense. The coolness of the powerful air conditioners and the lingering scent of Oud elevated her. The crowd was suddenly a part of the divine experience. All those women, barred from his blessed presence by the misogynistic sheikhs that have come to take his place despite their false claims to be his humble followers. All those women, standing patiently, waiting for the male ego to subside so that they could be with him at last, and tell him how the men have broken their promise to him to treat them well.

Then all at once the door opened and the women flooded into the forbidden quarters of the grand mosque. Joy filled them as some of them began to ululate, allowing their instinct to challenge the sin-minded conservatism of the men around them. Tears began to stream down her face as she rushed towards the shrine of the prophet. She walked into the sunlit platform where she used to chase the pigeons when she was only seven as her mother sat quietly in a corner and prayed. Back then women were allowed this proximity to the prophet at all times. Back then the entire mosque was her playground. She kept walking, enjoying the sound of the pigeons’ fluttering wings, stepping once again into her childhood, until she finally reached him. She stood there with a smile on her face, and all was alright.

********

She stared longingly at the wedding cake. She had been to a wedding in that hotel before and she knew how well they made those cakes. Most people she knew were chocolate cravers, she never was. Chocolate always came in handy to her on difficult times, but she was never a chocolate seeker. To her, the whiter the cake the stronger the lure, and if frosting was included her mouth would fill with saliva no matter what important event she was in. The wedding was coming to an end and she was worried they might forget to cut up the cake for the guests. Soon everyone began to leave and her heart began to sink when suddenly, her aunt came to her with a piece of the cake. She grinned and held it like an archaeologist would hold an ancient treasure. She took the first bite and peace drifted into her veins. And the world disappeared. And all was alright.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

My Laissez-faire Affair with Death

Within the past ten years we had five deaths in our family, two of them were my parents, and the latest one was my aunt, who died last week. In between the family deaths I lost a very close friend of mine who died suddenly before I got the chance to return her call, my art teacher, and the wife of a friend whom I met on my climb of Kilimanjaro. The latter two died within two days of each other.

Death used to draw me like a helpless moth to a flame. On many summer mornings in our place by the beach I would wake up to distant screams and shouts over a drowning person everyone is trying to save and I rush to the balcony, anxiety taking over every inch of me, only to discover on most times that no one could save them. I would then spend the rest of the day thinking of them and their families, wondering what a drowning experience must feel like.

I tend to dwell on the details of death. When I kiss a dead person goodbye – and I’ve done that five times – the sensation of their cold skin against my lips stays with me and comes back whenever I recall it. I see their dead faces when I close my eyes alone in bed at night. The silence of their still bodies next to the weeps and prayers of their loved ones pulls me down to its hollowness. I find myself staring at two worlds simultaneously; our stricken, uncomprehending, loud, one-dimensional world and their seemingly apathetic, knowing, silent world that seems to suck me into a bottomless stillness. My mind continues to drift along with their bodies as they’re carried to the grave. I wonder what it would feel like to be wrapped in that white Muslim shroud, covered head to toe, and laid to the ground for eternity. I put myself in their places and I find myself running out of breath as those claustrophobic thoughts begin to suffocate me. And when the first night draws in I think of them alone in the grave, and it haunts me how only 24 hours before they were safe in their beds with their families and friends, and I wonder where I would be 24 hours from then.

I came close to death twice in my life. On the first time I was unaware of the danger as I kneeled towards an unexploded cluster bomblet in south Lebanon after the end of the 2006 war, my face was only inches away because I wanted to take a good picture of it. The second time was a brush with death that happened only three weeks ago, and I don’t think I saw death the same way since.

I was diving in the red sea with a large group of people and I lost my diving partners and my air was closing in on the red mark. Normally this should be just enough to get me to the surface, but due to the current I found myself being pulled to the surface faster than I safely should, my computer was beeping like mad. So I went back down yet my lack of experience and practice had me doubt whether or not I was safe. Such worries are laughable when I think about them now since I wasn’t at a dangerous depth, a safety stop for 3 minutes is usually required after a deep dive to prevent lung rupture. At 20 meters it wasn’t even mandatory. Yet my hesitation caught the attention of another diver who was visibly a few meters lower than me. He asked me what was wrong and I tried to explain to him my hesitation but I’m not sure he understood. At the end of my invented sign language speech he offered me his air and gave me his extra regulator. I didn’t think I needed that but he insisted. Again, my hesitation and lack of confidence had me assume that he knew better. So I took it and as I tried to inhale my mouth was flooded with water. I tried to retrieve my regulator and there was water again. At this point I had run out of breath and there was little air left in my lungs to push the seawater that got into my mouth out, and instinct was beginning to pull the water into my lungs as my system tried to breathe. I realized then that I was drowning and panic struck. A voice inside me kept saying, “This is it. This is your hour.” My body began to jerk in all directions and my mind was clearly pushed to the backseat and silenced. My hand reached for his regulator and pulled it out of his mouth. But again, water. That is when my feet started kicking to push me up to the surface, desperate for air, and he surfaced with me. I gasped at the surface and looked at him apologetically. “We got out too fast!” His eyes were hazy and his voice was barely audible. He murmured, “It’s alright. Don’t be afraid.” My cousin suddenly appeared from behind me and held my frantic arms. My eyes were still on him. I was very concerned that I had forced him to surface with me. He left me with my cousin and put his face down in the water. For a fraction of a second I was looking at my cousin when suddenly I heard divers screaming, “NO! AHMAD!” I looked around and he was unconscious in the arms of three of his friends, foam and blood were streaming out of his nose and mouth, and it seemed to me that matter was coming out of his eyes and ears as well.

Ahmad died before anyone could save him. And I was left alone with the horror of death, which seemed to take a last minute steer as it was descending upon me and took someone else instead.

The chaos and the confusion and the conflicting theories of divers over Ahmad’s death tell me that I will never know what killed him. And I will never know if he died instead of me or if it was his angel of death looming towards us as I felt its presence in my struggle for breath underwater. But I do know that there is a reason why I was the last person he saw, and that I was last person he tried to help minutes before he died, and I may spend the rest of my life trying to figure it out.

For many nights since then I hated myself for not being more experienced. I hadn’t realized that Ahmad’s lack of reaction as I struggled with the regulators was a sign that there was something wrong with him, that it was he who needed help, not me. The sudden turn of a situation where I thought I was going to die but saw someone else die instead has shaken my soul. Yet no. I did not cheat death on that day, because no one can. When death strikes there is nothing we can do to stop it no matter how hard we try. In a room where there is death, death always has the upper hand. This thought, as morbid as it may seem, has led me to acceptance.

I don’t only accept death now because I have no control over it, I accept it because it has proven to me, personally, how close and common and casually present it is along with everyday life.

I will never be able to tell Ahmad how sorry I am for being the hazardous mess I was in his final hour instead of being a source of comfort. But I accept the barrier that has come between us.

When my aunt passed away suddenly a few days ago I did not shed a single tear. I’m not sure if that is because I have become numb inside or if it is because of death’s forceful return into my life. It wouldn’t even wait for me to process and digest why it brought a stranger into my life minutes before taking him right in front of me. It came back and struck right then and there, while I was unsuspecting it, as a humbling reminder of my lack of control.

It will take me some time to stop anticipating death almost ten times a day, or to silence my obsessive thoughts of it whenever I get a shortness of breath or close my eyes in bed every night, but I think I have already put my feet on the right track. I have accepted its unexpected arrival, and I’ve learned to sit and watch it take its course as I look at the grief-stricken people it leaves behind. Nothing I can ever do or say can alleviate their pain, so let the lesson of death ease it for them over time. So when I woke up yesterday to screams coming from the beach I tossed in bed and closed my eyes again.

The dying stranger’s last words to me were “Don’t be afraid.” He’d seen death a lot more clearly than I did, so clearly there is nothing for me to be afraid of.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

I Visit Him Everyday

A portrait I drew of Saleh

A portrait I drew of Saleh

This day one year ago I was whining and complaining once again over the detailed drapery I was supposed to draw tied in the background to a bottle and a jar.

“Sharpen your pencil! I keep asking you to sharpen your pencil.”
“I did.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did. You saw me.”
“That’s not sharpening your pencil. Let me show you how.”

And he took my pencil and knife and sharpened it to a needlepoint, then he made me get off the chair and began to set an outline for the shadows and the curves that were evident in the drapery. He pointed to details I could barely notice. Thus began my first lesson in the most important prerequisite for art: patience. There was no chance for a good drawing with a real life looking outcome except with precision, and precision comes with patience.

He then walked away from my easel and left me to what was my third or fourth attempt as I silently cussed and cursed until it was time for me to leave. I was more or less satisfied with the result. The guy was right, I never sharpened my pencils. Before I left I decided to show him what I managed to accomplish and looked for him in the studio. I could overhear him talking to someone from his private room so I decided he was too busy. No big deal, I thought, I’ll see him again in two days and then I can show it to him.

Only he never got to see it again, and I never got to hear his voice again. A few hours later after I walked out of my last class with him, Saleh, that assertive, fiery, funny artist who walked into my life and shook it vigorously died of a heart attack at the age of 37. That bolt of lightening that used to show up suddenly behind my shoulder whenever my lines began to shake and dwindle out of frustration, was snuffed out as easily as a candle.

The drapery. The last drawing when Saleh was alive. I deliberately left it with a plain background to preserve his hand sketch on the left, barely seen here.

The drapery. The last drawing when Saleh was alive. I deliberately left it with a plain background to preserve his hand sketch on the left, barely seen here.

Before I met Saleh I had a liking for art, but as much as I used to enjoy drawing as a child my attempts never went too far beyond what they were; an eight year-old’s drawings. In the last few years, however, my liking turned into a passion, and I was always the type that needed to get physically busy, I needed to be able to express myself with something that was other than words, because sometimes emotions can run so sore it’s hard to find the right words to express them, or sometimes silence can be your best cry. Drawing can deliver emotions of love, anger, and serenity with the strokes of a pencil, and that was what I hoped to achieve but never dared to express for lack of confidence. So when I first walked into Saleh’s studio and looked around at the paintings and drawings I stood in awe as I stared at a detailed pencil drawing he told me was at entry level. “Could I possibly draw like that just by the end of the course? I can’t imagine,” I said with my eyes popping out with wonder. “Yes you could,” he replied, “and you will. You’ll see.” He said it with so much confidence that I felt a little puzzled and, to be honest, motivated.

Saleh was actually glad that I had no proper background except for my childhood drawings. Students of this kind are so much easier to teach, he said. It’s always easier for a beginner to learn new techniques than it is for an established artist to change to new ones. Art is always very subjective and affected by the person who delivers it to you, but a good messenger would take you bit by bit, hand in hand, until you’re strong enough to stand on your own and go on alone, developing your own approach and technique. That’s the kind of messenger Saleh was.

There’s not a day that goes by whenever I think of my drawing that I don’t see Saleh and remember the sound of his oud as he played for us in the background while we struggled with the shadow outlines–that incredible technique that, to me, is the whole difference between a real life picture and a drawing that is just a drawing; one that borders subjects with actual lines. Sometimes his dog, Picasso, would wiggle his tail and sit at his feet whenever he reached for his oud and begin to sing along each time Saleh began to play. His favorite song was Zorooni (visit me), a famous old sad Egyptian song lamenting loneliness: “visit me once a year, do not forget me.”

Little did I know then that I would be visiting Saleh every moment of every second I’m holding a pencil and staring at a blank page.

I recently went through my old morning pages and found that I had written this three days after Saleh had died:

Third morning I wake up with him gone. The emptiness surrounding me and the lump in my chest grows bigger everyday. I’m still left hanging from a cliff, his hands are no longer holding me up, I’m holding on to nothing but a thin rope we were supposed to strengthen together. Now it’s just me, my grip, and the rest of my body and soul in the air. Just what am I supposed to do now? I feel lost and helpless, but I can almost hear him say “Hold on with a stronger grip, pull yourself up and you’ll get there, and I’ll be there. You’ll find me when you try. I’ll always be there.”

I drew my cat

I drew my cat. I had to use two pictures for this, one with the face only that didn’t have the ears, and another one of the ears that I shot especially for the drawing, getting bitten and chased in the process.

After Saleh’s death, and at the very moment I walked into his empty studio to finish the drawing, met the grief-stricken eyes of his assistants and took his lonely, confused dog into my arms I resolved to turn my grief into art. There was no better way to honor his memory. So I set my easel and looked at that drapery that used to give me so much pain with much more determination. I could feel him looking over my shoulder as I did my layering with the perfectly sharpened pencil he had prepared to show me, and I began to draw with my tears streaming uncontrollably down my face. Luckily there was no one else to watch me except Picasso, who sat huddled in a corner with his eyes over me until he fell asleep. From that day on I decided to turn his loss into a positive energy that simmers within and brings out the best that it can.

When my drapery was done I left out the background where the outline he had done for me to illustrate his technique was on the side. A small, unintentional gift that I will continue to cherish.

And from that day on I didn’t put my pencil down. I had found that unspoken language I could use whenever words were nothing but a fuel for war. In a time when Egypt was even more turbulent in the summer of 2013 people were becoming more and more polarized as I felt more and more alienated from everyone. My only refuge was the art that Saleh taught me, so I grabbed my pencils and tried to draw some more on my own. I decided to draw my cat, and since there was no way I could keep him still I had to copy from pictures. Later I decided to draw Saleh himself. It was a rather ambitious project for me, he hadn’t gotten to a point where he explained human skin and how to depict it. I put every bit of emotion I felt for his memory out there, and I know that if it hadn’t been for this, the madness that was happening around me and the unsettling words that came to me from the social media would have killed me. I could see Egypt on the verge of a civil war and I had never felt more frightened. My friends may not have realized it, but without uttering a single word I let my passion bare itself for the world to see, and miraculously I was able to pull everyone together to agree at least on one thing: my work. It was a chance for me to remember the important things, and I thought perhaps it was a way to remind my friends to cherish the people they love every second, because life is very, very short.

For that reason and for countless others I thank Saleh. He may or may not know it, but I do visit him everyday.

 

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

The Healing Hand of Art

Primavera by Sandro Boticelli (1445-1510)

The streets are happy. The TV shows are happy. Fireworks never stop in my street. We have a new president. No one wants to hear any words of truth right now. Those who wish to speak of anything that is not remotely euphoric are considered party poopers. I keep my mouth shut as I have had it for the past two years. There’s a war going on inside me, but I’ve learned over time to live with it. I’m tired and drained of sharp argumentation. I’ve learned to marginalize my feelings and my sentiment and enjoy the day, but sometimes I fail to ignore a piece of news or a little article and the feeling overtakes me once more.

Now it’s all over me because I just finished reading an article by Ahdaf Soueif titled “Let Them Rejoice” that goes on to list the young people who are held captive in prison without visitation or even lawyer rights. All fine, energetic, well educated young people. Some were picked randomly and some have a history of activism. All from the age group that constitutes the majority of the population. All are the kind of people that a rising nation would anchor itself to if it entertained any hope for a better future.

There is nothing I can do about any of this except sit and take it. So I’ll take you with me and show you how I deal with this. We’re flying to other places and we’re talking about other things. We’re talking about art. I’ve never studied art, but I have an ignorant man’s drooling passion for it that I find myself drawn to museums and galleries like a magnet.

Boticelli's Flora

Boticelli’s Flora

Let me take you to the sunlit hallways of the Uffizi gallery in Florence. This beautiful old building that was originally a private property holds a treasure of the Renaissance art that always mesmerizes me. I remember last year when I went there with my family. We had one day to spend in Florence and we tried to compact the entire city in a few hours. By the time we were at the gallery it was going to close in minutes. We created our own tour and decided on the particular works we absolutely had to see and began our mission, racing from one work to another until it was time for the reason why we got in in the first place. There shone down on us Sandro Boticelli’s Primavera, spring, that beautiful, colorful, almost sparkling painting bursting with life, symbolizing love and, to me, hope.

Venus stands in the middle of the picture, yet the face that draws me is that of Flora, the goddess of flowers, who stands on the right. The serenity in her face and the soft, subtle smile inspire me. That’s the mental state I wish I could stay in all the time. Yes. All the time, no matter who says what and no matter who kills whom. I want to keep that face and I want to keep that inner peace that comes with it. Some people do that no matter what goes on around them. They give flowers. They blow me away and make me feel ungrateful.

Anyway, back to my journey.

Time Orders Old Age to Destroy Beauty

Time Orders Old Age to Destroy Beauty by Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787)

How about London? I could sure use a nice cup of coffee while I take in the beautiful June breeze of Trafalgar Square, then eagerly fly up the gigantic stairs of the National Gallery and walk in silence and contentment as I let the refreshing scent of old wood awaken my senses and tickle my brain. Unlike the freaked out visit to the Uffizi (which I intend to go back to with more time on my hands), I was blessed with countless visits to the Gallery. Over there I’m a dreamy wanderer floating from one painting to the next. Sometimes a certain one grabs my attention and I stand still before it, sit down if I can, and stare at it for as long as it takes. A particular one that captivated me was eighteenth century Time Orders Old Age to Destroy Beauty, by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni. There stood a hunched, old woman reaching to a young woman’s face, while Father Time sat pointing at the face. The painting is very large, large enough to be a mural. So the first time I saw it I sat back and looked into it for a very long time to take in the lighting, the drapery, and the detailed feathers of Father Time’s wings. But in reality I think that it was the idea itself that grabbed me the most; the thought of time and what it can take away from you. Looking back, it wasn’t about the fear of getting old as much as it was about the things we lose over time; all those people and moments we take for granted.

Le Lion de Florence by Nicolas-André Monsiau (1754-1837)

Le Lion de Florence by Nicolas-André Monsiau (1754-1837)

Apart from Primavera, I seem to have an unusual taste in paintings; ones that have a sense of anguish and loss usually draw me. That’s something I wasn’t aware of until a friend of mine pointed it out to me on our visit to the Louvre as I wandered everywhere trying to show her that painting I saw on my first visit with my father when I was only sixteen. It was a painting of a screaming mother whose baby was snatched from her breast by a lion. I didn’t know the title of the painting and I didn’t know who had painted it, but the mother’s expression had stayed in my head for 24 years. I found the painting with a miracle. It was also from the eighteenth century, painted by Nicolas-André Monsiau and titled Le Lion de Florence, the lion of Florence. I could not understand how a human hand could depict emotion so truthfully, how it could – with a paint of a brush – create sound and send chills down your spine. This is the beauty of art.

La Jeune Martyre by Paul Delaroche (1797-1856)

La Jeune Martyre by Paul Delaroche (1797-1856)

And it’s the very transcendence of European art that grips a person like me, coming from another part of the world and living in a faraway future, and matches her silent cries with a flash of light stemming from a painting or a pair of eyes that draw me into the souls behind them. During my visit to the Louvre, when my friend gave me her observation of my taste, I was a little drawn into myself, I didn’t know if it was true that I went after such paintings. It was too soon for me to accept that, but then my feet were suddenly stapled to the ground before a nineteenth century painting by Paul Delaroche, La Jeune Martyre, The Young Martyr. It depicted a beautiful dead young woman with tied hands, floating in dark water against a dark background, but her face was lit by a halo that was brilliantly reflected in the ripples. If you look closely in the dark background you see a silhouette of a man on a horse about to run off. I’ve read some interpretations that the silhouette was a symbol of moving on, of letting go, and hoping for a better future. To me, though, it was like a fragment of an ongoing war that resulted in the death of this young beauty. The focus on her in the painting told me that she was what mattered the most, she was the only thing at stake, and yet she was lost and the battle continued, indifferent to her loss, and the water carried her further away, out of the sight of the man on the horse, but further into the center of the picture, making her forever the most important, irretrievable loss.

Just like the young men and women in my country who dared to dream for their homeland. Some gave their lives, and some are losing it slowly behind bars, and the battle wages among us, making us lose focus and sight of what really is at stake.

So this is what I do when the ugliness begins to choke me. I travel with my brain to beautiful places and recall the memories I have of them. Yet somehow I always find myself coming back, seeing everything with the lens of the anguish and sorrow that I feel. Albeit with a deeper perspective that shows me that my feelings are universal. Art delivered the hands of the masters over time and across continents to me, to pat my shoulders and tell me that I’m not alone.

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

30 Seconds

When I used to work I used to stare uncomprehendingly at colleagues who used to complain to their bosses that they wished the day had an extra 24 hours so they could accomplish everything. It made me feel weird because I wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with the 24 hours God gave us. Reflecting on this years later in think I figured out my own humble answer. Sometimes recognizing the importance of time comes when your life stands still. It’s true that busy people running all over the place half the time wish for extra hours within the day to get everything done and to have time to rest. They’re always baffled at how fast time flies before they’re aware of it, but they spend it so busy with what they’re supposed to be doing that in reality they’re not actually conscious of the time, and that is why it slips. I think that the best way to truly grasp the significance of time is not by losing it or having it slip through your fingers as you race to compact all your chores and obligations, it’s by standing still and looking at it, observing it.

I never thought time could be so long, and I never thought it could go so slowly, but it does specifically when you’re conscious of it. You’re never fully aware of how long 30 seconds can be until you actually wait for them to pass. This whole talk and writing of time feeling like it stood still or feeling like it’s dragging its still, heavy legs isn’t coming out of nowhere. But I don’t mean it here except in the most positive sense. There is a reason why 24 hours are about as long as a day is, because 24 hours is already an awful lot and there is so much that can be accomplished in it. Take it from a jobless, childless, manless woman like me. I have no reason to be running around pleasing anyone while juggling that with a career I’m so desperate to keep. My time is mine and that is why I’m so aware of how precious and rich it actually is.

When divided by intervals of 30 seconds it becomes clearer. To some people 30 seconds is a small, uncounted part in a more precious 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and to others even an hour. But in my life 30 seconds are in many ways an eternity. 30 seconds is how long it takes for my milk to heat up in the microwave while I stare longingly at my coffee waiting for it to run through my veins and bring me back to life. 30 seconds used to be the hour of torture when my trainer first introduced me to planks and showed me what it would be like for your muscles to squeeze the breath out of you. Now it is the unending eternity of Hell when I battle with gravity and do those complicated push ups that require some bizarre knee on top of elbow action while bouncing from all fours. 30 seconds is more than enough for a silent response to a question to become awkward. It is also just enough for your entire tense, anxious body to loosen up and relax once you take a conscious decision to take a deep breath, close your eyes AND meditate. 30 seconds is that final, breathless push to the summit point on a mountain, that moment when you see it but don’t believe you’ve actually made it until you touch that sign that tells you you’re there. It’s the difference between your sense of desperation and sense of accomplishment, between the crash and the hope.

That is the only answer I can think of for why there aren’t 24 more hours in the 24 hour day, because it’s all right there, you just need to look at it and appreciate it to realize that it can give you a lot more than what you actually take from it.

Divided into a series of 30 seconds, I can live and laugh and cry and grow old in just a day.

, , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments

The Powerhouse of the Ignorant

Reenactment of Ashoura procession used to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment

Reenactment in Ashoura procession used to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment

A few days ago a close friend of mine posted a picture of two Muslim women dressed in black wearing the headscarf in a conservative fashion, covering not only the hair and neck but a large part of the chin as well, leading a line of little girls shrouded completely in black, their faces unseen, and their hands were tied together in chains. I normally don’t pay much attention to the many shares my friends post on Facebook because over the past few years I’ve realized that hardly any of the articles or pictures are accurate, but my friend’s horrified comment next to the picture made me want to see what the caption said. I clicked on it and went to its original post. The caption associated with the picture read “Muslim girls being lead off in chains to meet their new husbands.” Looking around within the picture I could see that the women in the background had their hands on their chest in what was clearly a rhythmic beating. I realized that I was looking at a Shiite Ashoura procession. The girls covered in black and chained were performing a reenactment of the aftermath of the battle of Karbala where the granddaughter of the prophet was brought chained to the Caliph in Damascus after her brother had been decapitated. Shiites mark this time of year to be a time of mourning and sadness and recall the heroism of the prophet’s descendants in the face of tyranny.

There were over five thousands likes and thousands of shares. There are over fourteen thousand likes to that picture as I write this and a sea of comments that doesn’t seem to end. Most of the comments are hateful rants towards Muslims and Islam that go all the way to extermination. Some have actually commented that Hitler “started with the wrong religion.” And in between these comments there were those who were trying to show the reality of the picture but they were either being ignored or shunned. The thread had become a powerhouse to the stubborn, angry ones who didn’t want to be told they were ignorant. Comments like “we don’t need to know the truth, this happens anyway” or “it doesn’t matter if the picture isn’t true” received dozens of likes.

Apart from the clear Islamophobia inherent in the post, there was more importantly a brazen show of disrespect to the audience that reminded me too much of the kinds of posts I see everyday about the situation in my country, where suddenly all people ever talk about is politics. There was a clear attempt to stir up emotions, and for the past three years most of the posts I’ve seen about Egypt were of this kind. One would think that ignorance is silent, receiving, acted upon, but I realized that there’s really no sound louder than the sound of ignorance, and no people more confident and outspoken than those who have no idea what they’re talking about.

We’re all ignorant about many things, and in difficult times when feelings are sore it’s hard to remain reserved and not say something, anything, to let the steam out. What we’re usually doing then is just that: letting out steam. We’re not adding anything and we’re definitely not receiving much. In conversations like these no one is even listening; it’s hard to dissociate what we’re receiving – be it a comment or a picture or a piece of news – from our feelings and from our previous related experience, so our reaction is usually marred by whatever that thing we’re receiving has conjured up. Rarely is it merely a reaction with the same size and magnitude of the action itself.

My friends recently bullied a person who was trying to pinpoint a technicality in the Egyptian justice system. She could have been saying something worth paying attention to or she could have been talking gibberish, but she was stating a fact worth looking into first before deciding on the value of her words or even her political allegiance. Yet somehow my friends quickly dubbed her as a voice from the enemy camp and tucked her away into a categorical mental box. She was immediately dragged into the forcefield of the powerhouse. Perhaps they knew her allegiance beforehand and perhaps they didn’t, but there was nothing in what she said, in my opinion, worth conjuring all of that. That is why I use the word “bully” and I mean it in every way. The mere fact that she was not joining in on the wailing automatically placed her in the opposite camp. They started jumping on her words and taking them to further hypothetical ends she never explicitly expressed. Needless to say the conversation got unnecessarily ugly from all sides, and I watched mortified as my friends continued to shoot at that person even though she had withdrawn from the conversation and blocked half of them. I actually considered interfering to her benefit, neither to attack them nor defend her, but rather to show them what their emotions made them do, or to just show them what the conversation looked like to me from the outside, but I thought better. My friends were way too emotional that I knew I would be risking being placed on the enemy camp along with her. I would say that that shouldn’t happen because, after all, they were my friends and they knew me well, but in reality I didn’t think our wounds allowed us to see each other anymore.

Behind the safety of the keyboard there is a liberty many of us aren’t really aware of. It just acts itself out as we clack our emotions away. Some people become passionate lovers and others become dreamy children, but the troubling ones are the sociopaths. I read some of the words in the comments on that picture of the little Shiite girls and I started wondering what the people who wrote those words were like in their actual lives. I looked at their profiles and there was nothing out of the ordinary, yet they seemed to be so ignorant of Muslim culture that they’ve been easily manipulated by fear of the unknown. I couldn’t help comparing them with our situation at home. Some of us show indifference to the suffering of others simply because they happen to come from the wrong side of the political camp. I know some such people personally, and some I know very, very well, and I know that they are nothing but regular individuals leading quiet, ordinary lives. It’s disturbing to wonder how many nice people in our lives hide inside them hating, aggressive, vulgar sociopaths that only come out in the virtual world, but I think the reality is that ignorance of the other has generated unbearable fear, a kind of fear so out of proportion that it can be easily manipulated into anything. Somehow, this fear only finds solace with the fear of others. From behind the screens we, the ignorant, bond and our confidence grows until we’re ready to gang up on anyone who dares to challenge the comfort of our ignorance. We choose to leave our real world and forever live in our powerhouse, and somehow, the scared, the lost, the confused become the confident, the know-it-all, the judgmental.

It scares me to think of what humans are capable of producing in collectivity, and I place myself as no exception. This realization that one is “not alone” is of course comforting, but it can have very dire consequences.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments

Inhale and Hold On, Exhale and Let Go

A fragment of my kitchen, or my mind

Wow! I just walked out of my kitchen with some very scary realizations about myself. I’ve had this strong desire to hold time standing still for so long I’m starting to see what my life really looks like inside my head. I’m in one of those gloomy, sorry weeks and I haven’t been clearing anything I use in the kitchen. Coffee mug used? Right where I left it. Next day other coffee mug used? Still there. Tray out? Right where I left it with its corner sticking out the edge of the table. Spoon used? Yes, right next to her sisters in the sink. Day after day with mug after mug and spoon after spoon, and before I’m aware of it I have a disgusting kitchen with piles of ridiculously dismissed items that hadn’t really needed more than a quick rinse to begin with. Now if I try to look for a clean spoon I wouldn’t find one. All would be used.

That is precisely what I do with the life I have outside my kitchen. I hold on to everything, good or bad. Each bad experience, no matter how small or big, comes in, carves something in my gut and sits right there, and I do nothing to clear it. I leave those experiences intact instead of picking them up and working out where they need to be stacked so they could be more useful and less painful. Needless to say, I dig into my brain for one creative thought and can’t find any; all are too busy twirling around old experiences, keeping them alive and simmering.

My kitchen is the perfect visual representation of my mind. And I can’t count the number of times I was advised by close people to let go. Somehow I find this to be the single most challenging uphill task I have to take. Everything around me seems to be screaming at me to get over myself. I see it in that bored look my cat gives me whenever I start to space out and stare emptily at the TV, in the janitor’s snicker when I fuss over the lit cigarettes in front of the elevator, and now it’s crept into my dreams.

Yep, my dreams. Now as I write this the dream I had last night is actually falling into place. I dreamed that my sister and I were waiting for our mother to show up in some mall and she didn’t. I got worried about her but my sister didn’t seem to be as concerned as I was. I checked with my aunt and she didn’t seem concerned either. I was so frustrated that no one was worried, but when I checked with a friend of mine and she seemed to conceal something, I kept pressing her until she walked into a room and came out with my mother. I rushed to her and hugged her, but she didn’t hug me back. Her body was cold, but it wasn’t the kind of cold that works its way through the skin from the weather while the core is still warm; it was that inner, lifeless cold that crept its way out through the skin and to the hand that’s touching it.

My mother was forever gone, and no amount of persistence brought her back to me. I was the only one holding on to something that was no longer there, unlike my sister and my aunt, who had accepted the fact that she was gone and simply let go–or so it seemed in my dream. Holding on to the memory of my mother’s presence in my life has been like taking a deep, satisfying breath of fresh, salty sea air. But because it’s just a memory, the air soon becomes a burden and nothing can relieve me except a powerful exhale. That’s what letting go is like; it’s like a much needed relief of a burden ripping at your chest, and I’ve been living my life with just an inhale.

But seriously now, I’m not sure what this is, to be honest. So before I conclude this particularly pointless post I’m going to go ahead and blame it on Cairo, as I always do with everything that annoys me. So maybe it’s a Cairo thing? Because I look around me at Cairo’s streets and whoa! That is one big grimy, slimy old kitchen that hasn’t been cleared up since the Mamluks. Cairo has layer after layer of history, and on a less romantic note, layer after layer of garbage and abandoned junk either crowding backyards of buildings or creeping into their service stairs, making them nice little hubs for rodents and reptiles. Many people have grown so accustomed to the mess around here that they no longer take notice of it. They’re aware of it, but they just accept it as the sorry reality that is their home city. It creeps into their subconscious and puts them in a bad mood each time they hit the streets, which could explain the road rage and the street fights and the honks. So yeah, Cairo has crept into my subconscious and given me this messy kitchen. And yes of course you’re reading this messy post, because how can I be creative with a mind as overloaded and messy as that kitchen, or as Cairo?

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,491 other followers

%d bloggers like this: