The Lingering Smell of My Grandfather and Father’s Old Antique Shop

Some time around October of 2016, when I was still adjusting to moving back to New Orleans, I found myself stopping in front of a gate entrance with a “No Parking” sign on St. Louis in the French Quarter. I paused for a moment. I always passed by this, but a gust of air carried with it a familiar smell this time…a smell I could not quite put my finger on until I stood there for a moment.

I looked into the gate entrance. Beyond the gate, there was a long hallway to what seemed like an abandoned courtyard, like the ones I imagine to be a part of old Syrian or French homes. The smell was mixed of paint and wood, and it was too familiar to leave behind. I stood in place for a few moments, and my nose flared as I took it in. I can’t begin to tell you about the connection between smell and memory, but right at that moment, I saw what I was looking at.

The gate entrance led to my grandfather and father’s old antique refurnishing shop. I spent most – if not all – of my weekends there as a child growing up in New Orleans before I moved to Palestine. That hallway that led to the courtyard was where I would put one hand in my mother’s palm and one in my father’s so that they could swing me high up in the air on our way out.

The empty courtyard was where my brother and I would pick on each other or entertain ourselves with whatever toys we got from the French Market.

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The Courtyard, French Quarter 2018

My grandfather and father owuld be inside working on antiques – painting, refurnishing, polishing. My grandfather would call out to my brother as “Abu Steif” and myself as “Hasheematon”, adding an Arabic grammar affect to my name. He would give us paint brushes he wasn’t using and have us paint on something him and my father didn’t need. After that, he’d give us cotton balls with a bit of alcohol to wipe the paint off our hands.

The paint stains never left his hands, and they haven’t left my father’s.

I stood there a few days ago and looked in. The smell was still there. I moved to Palestine. Hurricane Katrina happened. My father and grandfather relocated their business to a second location since. Thirteen years passed in Palestine. I moved back. A year passed. My grandfather passed away. But the smell is still there reminding me of time…where this journey began.

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My Grandfather: A Story About His Birthday

A few months ago, I saw my father flipping through an old notebook filled with pages of Arabic handwriting. It was a notebook of poems my grandfather, Mustafa Afaneh, had written – some poems dated back to the 1970s. I took it from my father and put it on my desk. We needed to make copies of this in case it ever got lost, I thought. It’s still sitting on my desk.

A couple of months later, right before the new year rolled up, my grandfather passed away. He was eighty-two years old – half of those years spent in the Middle East and half spent in New Orleans.

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Mustafa Afaneh, Sr.

Some years ago, when it was olive picking season in Palestine, the subject of my grandfather’s birthday, which is on November 4th, came up.

“You know, I’m not quite sure if November 4th is actually my birthday,” my grandfather said in Arabic. We were sitting on the baranda of his home in Palestine that faces an Israeli settlement. He was holding prayer beads and sat across from me, staring into space and smiling.

“How so? Your passport says your birthday is the 4th of November,” I replied, breaking into a laugh. I knew a story was coming along. He always had a story.

“Well, at the time, they [the British] put November 4th on my birth certificate, but my mother said that I was born between mawsem el teen wel zaytoon, the season of figs and olives, which is anywhere between April and November,” he told me.

I was fascinated by the idea that at one point in time, birth dates revolved around the present season in which the event took place. In a way, they still do. I smiled at my grandfather, and he smiled back.

“That’s how November 4th is my birthday, but we’ll never really know.” He laughed. I can hear his laugh as I write this.

“Then, we’ll have to celebrate your birthday at least once a month from April to November,” I replied.

I think back to his life some times and the lives and places he’s touched, especially when I walk around the French Quarter. He worked with antiques, created some of the most beautiful work, and taught my father the craft. He, along with his brothers, also wrote and sang Palestinian folklore. He was a beloved grandfather with a sense of humor like no other.

We could make copies of poetry books – even of antiques –  but we can never copy or replace the people we love and lost.

One Thousand Questions: Conversations with The Little One

“I have one thousand questions to ask you,” my youngest sibling says over the phone.

I sigh. I am in the middle of midterms – most of which are papers. She has a thousand questions. I feel a bit of guilt, take back my sigh, and respond with enthusiasm.

“One thousand? Want to ask some of them now and the rest later?”

“Sure,” she says.

“Okay, what’s your first question?” I asked, a grin on my face.

I did not expect her first question.

“When did the Jews take Palestine?” She asked.

I correct her. “The Israelis.”

“When did the Israelis take Palestine?”

I explain to her that it happened over seventy years ago.

She asks, “Well, were you alive?”

I laugh. “No, I wasn’t, but Siti [Grandma] Rahma, was alive.” Siti Rahma was our great grandmother. That put things into perspective for her.

“I see. Well, not all of them hate us, right?” She asks.

I sigh. “No. Not all of them. We shouldn’t hate anyone either, right?”

“Right. What does occupation mean?”

I try to search for a word that a second-grader would know. “It means…it means…taken. It means ‘taken.'”

“Okay. I’ll ask the rest later.”

“Okay.”

That was the end of that conversation a few months ago, but I know it isn’t the end of her questions. I still have questions of my own that I search for an adult to answer. No one can seem to give me one.

Conversations Over A Magazine

When I first moved to Palestine, over a decade ago (though it seems like only a year or so ago), I desperately searched for something to read in English. I didn’t bring any books back with me from the United States save for a copy of Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban. Although I was fresh out of a fourth grade classroom from an American elementary school, I knew how to read and write Arabic. After all, my first language – the language my parents taught me and spoke to me with – was Arabic. Attending an American elementary school, however, equipped me with better English reading/writing skills, and often times confused my answer to the question: “What is your first language?”

Hence, the reason I searched for something to read in English when I first moved to Palestine.

My family members in Palestine knew where to find books in Arabic, and my new school had a library with English books, but none of them were quite the read I was looking for. I managed, regardless.

It was in the seventh grade, at Angelo’s Restaurant in Ramallah, that I noticed copies of a small magazine on a stand there. I don’t recall what the issue was about, but I do remember that I was always on the lookout for the magazine, which was This Week in Palestine, hoping one day, I’d even write in it. The rest, as they say, is history.

I thought back to this memory a few days ago, when I was eating breakfast with my mother at Zeit o Zaatar, another restaurant in Ramallah. There were copies of the August issue of This Week in Palestine – the 232 issue. I grabbed one, and as we waited on our food, I began skimming through the articles. I read some passages aloud to my mother, with many “Did you know?”‘s. We then flipped to the pictures of the Palestinian traditional dress and marveled at the beautiful attire, discussing which kind my grandmother and my mother, herself, owned.

It is magazines like these that keep conversations going, even for people that are from the same place the magazine revolves around. After all these years, this specific magazine introduces me to people, voices, ideas, information, and images that I like to pass on. It has become a sort of “family gathering” muse, and I am glad the journey started in the seventh grade.

 

On Going to The Theater Alone: Anniversary June Part 1

I walked into a theater alone once. I was bored, and it was cold, so, I walked in the rain a few blocks to the nearest theater from my place of residence. I bought a ticket to the movie Loving, based on the true story of Mildred and Richard Loving’s fight for interracial marriage versus Virginia. It has been fifty years since that case, and this June has held a number of significant…anniversaries, if you will, of which more I will write about in the near future.

I walked into the theater alone, and I felt awkward. Who goes into a theater alone? Well, it turns out, more people than I thought. In a theater of six people that came to watch the movie, four were sitting alone.

As I watched the movie, my mind kept turning and twisting the question: Why does society makes us think that being alone or doing things alone, like watching a movie or traveling, is lonely? Why does society pity those who choose to walk alone?

I don’t know what need society wants to fulfill by slapping on labels or choosing what is the “norm” and what is not, but from my almost-a-year away from a place I call home, my friends and family, I learned that regardless of what society thinks, it is okay to want to be alone. Technology and social media make it difficult to be secluded completely, but it is okay to want to break away and be with yourself for some time. It is okay to get to know yourself on your own. It is okay to sit in a coffee shop by yourself or go watch a movie. You start listening to yourself – hearing what your mind, body and soul want and need so that when you decide to hang out with the rest of the human population, you know what is worth your time and what is not.

Mawtini: On singing and grandparents

I don’t remember when I first heard Mawtini , a poem written by the late Palestinian poet Ibrahim Tuqan, but I do remember a beautiful memory associated with it.

It was May 2014 at my brother’s high school graduation. I was sitting next to my maternal grandfather who was sitting next to my grandmother. As it goes during graduation ceremonies, we were whispering and looking around and ahead at the graduates. Then, the national anthem began playing on the loud speakers, and we all stood up. Immediately after, Mawtini began playing.

At that moment, I heard my grandfather singing along. I turned to look at him and smiled. He was happy. He was looking ahead and singing along. I never before had heard or seen my grandfather sing. I have heard and seen my paternal grandfather sing but never my maternal grandfather.

I wasn’t the only one that turned to look at him. My grandmother also looked at him and expressed her astonishment over the sound of the music. “Ye, Mohammad – Oh, Mohammad! – I never knew you knew how to sing this.” My grandfather kept looking ahead, singing along, and smiled playfully at my grandmother’s comment. The song finished, and we took our seats to watch the ceremony commence.

I have started singing along to Mawtini whenever it plays. I still feel nostalgic, for Palestine, for my grandfather, and for beautiful moments that turn into memories.

May his soul rest in peace. We miss you over another Ramadan, Sido.

 

 

The 3rd World Countries You Come From

“So is it considered a 3rd world country?”

Cringe. Didn’t they stop saying “third world”? 

“I’ve been to a third world country. It was beautiful. But, like, people like going to those places.”

Those places? Why the stress on ‘those’? Stress on what was once unstressed. 

“We have to remember. They’re still third world countries.”

You don’t have to remind us. We have to remember why they’re still, as you put it. 

 

 

People from Over There

“I read so much about Afghanistan. It’s a shame what is happening over there.”

Over there. 

My father and I were at the register when the woman at the regiter began speaking about the books she reads, where she checks them out, and the episodes of National Geographic she watches. We looked foreign to her. We looked like people from over there. 

“Yeah, well, war does that,” my father began. “Just like what is happening in Iraq and Syria.” I wondered if my father was thinking of the Syria and Iraq my grandfather – his father – would tell us about. I was thinking about how his eyes would almost begin to sparkle when he’d say, “Baghdad kanat Baghdad.” Baghdad was Baghdad.

“Yes, yes. It’s a shame. I believe everyone deserves equality. No one should live like that in Afghanistan.”

“We’re actually from Palestine, anyways,” my father responded.

“Hmph.”

Hmph. The number of times I heard that hmph. 

“It’s a shame for the people of Afghanistan. I’m going to keep reading about it,” she said as she printed out the receipt.

“Yeah, you keep reading,” my father told her.

“And praying. Reading does no good. Praying does it,” she replied.

“Then, pray for equality.”

Later that day, my father asked me, “How many books do you think they need to read before they finally get it?”

 

Dancing and Belonging: TWIP

Hey everyone,

I haven’t been writing and updating my blog in a few weeks because I have been adjusting and moving half way across the world.

Do expect pieces really soon, though!

In the meantime, check out my contribution to June’s edition of This Week In Palestine. Meet Hala Sweidan, who is inspired to dance and also inspires with her dancing!

http://thisweekinpalestine.com/dancing-and-belonging/

Happy reading!

When You Open Up Your Own Bakery

I always say that when it comes time for me to retire, I’d open a little bakery with an outside seating area.

Well, a friend of mine beat me to it and is running her own bakery. Check out her story here, a piece by myself on Barakabits:

From Unemployed Palestinian Psychology Graduate to owner of Asal Bakery