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. 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!

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

The End: Things You’ll Learn

The university I attended was not my choice…or it was…but it was a difficult “I want but I don’t want” choice. I still remember the day I went to sign up, not knowing what it was I wanted to major in. I even remember orientation day, where I’d meet one of my best friends. I didn’t know it then, but I’m sure of it now. That’s the thing…you learn things along the way you never thought you would. Here are the bits I learned…and would have liked to tell my few-years-ago self.

You’ll see the beauty of your campus just like the girl who is to be your best friend in the years to come commented on on orientation day. You’ll hate it, but on quiet days, you’ll love it and even get a sense of nostalgia.

No one will understand the choices you make. No one. Except like two people. And that’s okay. You don’t have explain anything as long as you know why.

You’re going to be so nervous in those Arabic classes you take. You’re going to feel left out, even though you know the language. But you’re going to get comfortable speaking Arabic…even your Falahi Arabic.

You’re going to make good friends. These are the friends that are going to remind you to keep going and to keep it real. They are the group you look forward to seeing after your classes, even though you vowed to not make any friends when you started college. You’re going to have good moments, bad moments, inside jokes, tears and sadness, and lots of good laughs. You’re going to thank God.

You’re going to regret your decisions when you’re having a bad day. Remember that it is just because you are having a bad day.

Boys…If they don’t support you, if they think you’re “too strong” or “too outgoing” or “too opinionated”, walk away like #byeFelicia.

You’re going to hear about students going to prison and even being killed. Even if you don’t know them personally, their faces will come to mind every now and then.

You’ll hear this extremely, painfully loud silence as the body of a fellow student is off to be buried. You’ll remember it always.

There’s nothing to lose with tiny acts of kindness.

Some professors will encourage you, and they’ll never know they had such an impact.

You’ll eventually make a promise to yourself that you’ll never turn down opportunities out of fear of being not good enough or fear of change. And you’ll always silently pray to the person who got you to this point.

Anxiety attacks? A lot of them. Tears and tissues? Lots of them. Depression? it happens. You eventually get through them.

Your mother is your number one fan.

You’ll find yourself saving horrible photos of yourself because the memories were so good.

You’ll start a blog. You’ll get writing opportunities you did not see coming. And those that know how much writing means to you will be happy for you…happier than you, even.

You’re not going to know what you want out of life…a lot of times. And you’re going to remember one of your professors when she once said, “It’s okay to not know what you want to do.”

You are going to learn so much about yourself. You’re going to cross that finish line and realized how much you have grown as a person. And you’re going to realize it even more when people around you start noticing.

You’re not going to give a crap about what people think when you go get that diploma, and you’re going to dance.

That extra year you were worried about? You’re going to be thankful it happened.

So, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll come across other things I have learned on my rather tiny journey. I’ll look back at this post one day and add things or even remind myself of these things.

For now, ladies and gents, I’m ready to take on what’s next. At least I think I am.

Birzeit Politics: Wolf packs and flags

Around this time of year, Birzeit University looks like Hogwarts in preparation for the annual game of quidditch. Flags of the different political affiliations and colors (green, yellow, white, red, the occasional Palestinian flag) wave on rooftops, tieds to fences, and even raised to the tips of trees (and here’s where a dear friend comments and says, “They race to see who will hang the flag the highest as if they are racing to free Palestine.”) You also have your students from different parties huddling in groups like wolf packs.

If anything, those colors signal the beginning of election week. Actually, no. What signals that BZU’s student council election week is coming are the university security guards that start asking for your student ID each day from the beginning of the month before you enter the university.

The next day, after the colors go down, is the debate. The university – or whoever – suspends classes for two hours, and students and professors alike stand (or sit) under the sun and listen to six different groups plead their cases.

The debate is usually sponsored by eight things (I’m sure there are more):

  1. Who Can Yell The Loudest Through The Microphone
  2. Who Can Answer The LEAST Amount of Questions Asked By The Moderator
  3. Who Can Bring Out The Biggest Basket of Dirty Laundry For The Other Party
  4. Who Can Make The Most Empty Promises
  5. Who Can Shame The Other Party More
  6. Who Is The First To Go Over 5 Minutes
  7.  Whose “Followers” Can Cheer The Loudest
  8. Ignoring The Smaller Parties

The Islamic Bloc (commonly known as Hamas) debators and the Martyr Yasser Arafat bloc (commonly referred to as Fateh) debators stand at either side of the stage – with the other parties in the middle – and start with the “big” politics of Palestine, mentioning all that goes on in Gaza and the West Bank…and how Gaza will turn into a bed for ISIS and how the West Bank will make room for traitors. They call for the continuing of the “3rd intifada” that seems to have died down. It only escalates from there. Lemons and other fruits are introduced to accompany analogies I couldn’t comprehend. Also, the Martyr Yasser Arafat Bloc’s debator promised 1,000,000 Jordanian Dinars to go as student financial aid for the next 5 years if they win the elections. And if they don’t, where does this 1 million go? No idea if it even exists.

The two blocs stand there and call for unity among the parties. They even hug it out, and they go back to their shaming each other and calling out each other for not answering the questions asked and not making women a part of their parties.

And the students get so hyped! I’m pretty sure the revenue for the koffiyeah factory went up, with all the koffiyeahs, in all its colors, on students’ shoulders. The media gets hyped! It’s rumored that BZU student council elections get more coverage than any other political election in Palestine.

Today was voting day. There are five different spots students vote in according to their student ID numbers, and then, everyone waits for the results. How were the results this year?

The voting turn out was 76% out of the students eligible to vote. The Islamic Bloc won 25 seats compared to a 19 seats won by the other bloc out of a total of 51. Note that the Islamic Bloc won last year, making this a two-in-a-row win for them.

This is my last year attending BZU Student Council elections. What have I learned? People call for change and conformity and unity and division at the same time every damn time.