Podcast Episode: “Um Kulthoom Sang Here”

I am very pleased to announce the release of our very first podcast, “Um Kulthoom Sang Here” for AnOther Story. Get ready to be taken on a journey through Nablus’s coffeeshops that attracted artists, including Um Kulthoom, and hakawatyya from all over. In this story, you’ll meet some of Nablus’s locals with the most interesting stories!

I hope you enjoy this story as much as we enjoyed working on it. Thank you to Nicholas TurnerHalima Awad, Mustafa Azizi, Bara’ah Ab, Ramsis, Tahir Baker, Abu Ahmad, Abu Emad, the Kalbouna brothers, Deema, Ghaith, and everyone else who contributed and encourage the story. Below, you can find the links to the podcast in Arabic and English.

ARABIC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9QprcZS0SE&feature=youtu.be AND https://soundcloud.com/user-393460129/j2pzljn48v2d

ENGLISH: https://soundcloud.com/user-393460129/um-kulthoom-sang-here and https://youtu.be/CNPnOgV6r0U

Conversation with Grandma: Before the immigration ban

I would say that a good deal of my over decade long stay in Palestine was spent around my grandparents homes. Some of my favorite memories growing up in Palestine revolve around my maternal grandparents’ home. I especially enjoyed my grandmother’s conversations with her daughters – my mother and her sisters – and her friends and neighbors. I loved going there in the afternoon and listening to the current gossip in the “grandmothers’ clan” and hear the plot of the story change with each person adding to the conversation.

I also loved when the conversations get political. The comments were not based on any specific ideology or analysis, but it was based on what they truly thought…with no filter, if I made add.

So naturally, when President Donald Trump was running for president, I wanted my grandmother’s and her friends’ inputs on it. So, I would ask, “What if he starts kicking us (Muslims, Arabs, etc.) out?”

One of my grandmother’s friends, who has never left the country, would say, “Good. Everyone in the [Palestinian] diaspora would come back here, then.”

My grandmother, who is a U.S. citizen, would agree and add, “I only go to America for medical check-ups.”

Shortly after Trump won the election, I was visiting my grandmother, and I falsely told her that Trump is kicking all of us (Muslims, Arabs, etc.) out, even those with U.S. citizenship. (Yes, my grandmother and I analyze false scenarios). What did she tell me?

“I have a U.S. passport. He can’t.”

For my grandmother and myself, the conversation ends there until we are told otherwise…until another executive order arises adding more characteristics to the community that should be “banned from entering.” However, to so many others – to green card holders, to visa holders, to refugees – the conversation continues.





Where The Journey Begins

“My teacher asked me if I was Amreekia today,” my youngest sibling told me over the phone. Her teacher had asked the question because she noticed she caught on English quicker than the other students.

Amreekia. American.

“And what did you say?” I asked her.

“I said…I told her no. I’m not.”

“Well, what are you then?” I asked with a mount of curiousity at what her answer will be.

“I’m Falasteenia.”

Falasteenia. Palestinian.

If someone ever told me that my youngest sibling would tell me things that would have me reflecting on my past, I would have probably shook my head. Yet, in just a few words, she managed to take me back to the beginning of my journey with identity…my American-ness and my Palestinian-ness…I am never quite enough of each in the eyes of others.

My youngest sibling’s journey starts out in Palestine. Her vacation destination is the United States. She notices that she can go to America, and some of her relatives cannot. In contrast, my journey started out in the U.S. My vacation destination was Palestine. I noticed that I would go there in the summer, and my American friends did not know where I was going.

I remember two vivid moments when I realized I was also from somewhere else. The first was the language I spoke and how all I wanted to do on my first day of kindergarten was look for someone who spoke Arabic like me. The second was when my parents watched and commented on the news of what was going on in Palestine. I remember the television showing images of Palestinians throwing rocks and Israeli tanks roaming the streets.

My youngest sibling has me wondering. Does the search for identity start where the individual’s journey begins? Or does is it start when we are asked if we’re from somewhere else – and we are?





The Sound of Time

Years ago, I met my second cousin for the first time in years. She’s a few years older than me, and at the time, her being 15 was the most mature age you could be (until I turned 15 and now, I look back at being 15 and shake my head at how ridiculous I was). Anyways, we were outside of my grandparents’ home sitting under a grapevine when the call for Maghrib prayer sounded from speakers of the surrounding mosques. She didn’t live in Palestine, so I think that had a lot to do with when she turned to me and said, “You miss this. The adhan (call to prayer). It’s my favorite thing.”

I remember thinking about it and how, back where we lived (and where she still lived), there isn’t this. I don’t think I ever conciously realized this before this conversation.

On the last day before I moved miles away, I went to the back of the house and stood in the quiet night and listened to the call of ‘Isha prayer, the last call of the five daily prayers for Muslims. There was definitely something soothing about it. I’m not a religious person, but I don’t believe you have to be religious to be soothed by the words.

And there’s something else about this. If you didn’t have your watch on or your phone turned off, you can tell the time by the call of the prayer. If it’s calling for the ‘Asr prayer in the summer, then it’s probably 4:30 P.M.

This kind of reminder doesn’t exist where I am. I actually have a steamboat whistle that indicates the time for me where I currently am. The steamboat whistles three times a day. It whistles once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. That is how I estimate time here without having to dig for my phone in my purse.

The daily calls to prayer are definitely on my list of favorite things. My heart breaks when I hear that a bill is being negotiated to ban the call due to “noise pollution“. It is consoled. however, when I hear that churches raise the call to prayer as a result.

Is there something in your community that you attribute to the sound of time?


Between “Best Coffee” and “Ka’3k!”

About every morning for the past few months, I would sit on the same coffee table at my favorite coffee shop in the city, turn on my laptop to do some work, people watch, and sip some cold coffee.

And on these mornings, one of the tourist carriages (a carriage with tourists and a tour guide) would pass by and the tour guide would yell, “Best coffee in the city!” She’d wave at me, and the tourists would also wave along with her, and I’d wave back.

It took me about a month to think of what this encounter reminded me of. There was yelling, and there was food, but who was yelling and what the food was I could not pinpoint.

And then, it struck me! It was a Saturday morning, and the tourist carriage passed by again. She yelled, “Best coffee in the city!” She waved. The tourists waved. I waved back. And as I began to turn my attention to the work I was doing, my eye caught someone eating a croissant.

Aha! I heard it.

I heard the ka’3k* man. He was yelling “ka’3k! Ka’3k!” through the quiet streets on a Friday morning. I heard my mother telling my sibling to run across the street and go buy some. She’d place a shiny 5 NIS coin in his hand, and he – barely woken up – would walk grumpily up the hill to the next street and buy ka’3k from the man yelling “Ka’3k! Ka’3k!”

Every time the same carriage passes by, that is what I think of, and for a few seconds, I feel welcomed. I feel like there’s a routine, and isn’t home, sometimes, a routine?

*Ka’3k is an oval or round shaped bread with sesame seeds on it, often eaten with falafel or zeit o za’atar. My favorite ka’3k is that of Jerusalem’s.

What I hear when I listen to Fairouz

Yesterday, as my brother and I were running errands, we somehow got to talking about Fairouz, a famous Lebanese singer. Famous is an understatement. She’s….she’s Fairouz. She’s probably your uncle’s favorite singer, too. . My brother started talking about the times we used to wake up and go to school with my uncle. My uncle’s a cheerful guy. He’d bid us a “good morning.” He’d ask how we’re doing. We’d hop into his Opel, and he’d turn on the radio to Fairouz.

My brother and I, sitting in the back of the Opel years ago, would look at each other and make “what kind of music is this?” We’d widen our eyes at each other in disbelief. We couldn’t wait to get out of the car. For some reason, we didn’t find her music or songs appealing.

I can’t speak for my brother, but I’ll say that that view has changed for me. It took about eight years, but it did. On my way to my university, the service taxis would also have Fairouz playing on the radio. Three things were usually playing on the radio at any given time:

  1. News broadcast
  2. Words of the Holy Quran
  3. Fairouz

I became accustomed to hearing her in the morning, and I would actually look forward to hearing her on my way to classes. Even the university cafeterias would have her music playing. There’s a calm in her words and her voice can somehow draw you in. It can bring you to sit in silence for just a moment with your thoughts.

Now, I’m halfway across the world, and I miss hearing her voice carried from radios through the streets again. I wish I can hear her voice coming from the radios. What I hear when I listen to Fairouz’s voice is the sound of the man selling ka3’k in the streets of Ramallah. I hear the sound of the serivce taxi engines as they’re driving students to Birzeit. I hear the cafeteria owners humming along with her music. I hear peacefulness. I hear my own thoughts…and a nostalgia, which I don’t know stems from where.

I open a YouTube video and listen to her, and her voice has the ability to sit me down in silence for a moment. A moment much needed.

Here’s my favorite playlist I found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlDAzMpbZso


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.

To The “Most Powerful Men On The Planet”

In the nineth grade, my economics teacher had my class write letters to the president. I don’t remember how the talk went from the economy to writing letters, but I recall the twenty-seven of us in class got to writing. For a bunch of fourteen and fifteen-year-olds, we had our share to say to the man whose headquarters was only ten minutes away from our high school.

I also don’t remember what my letter said, but I remember it contained five paragraphs and ended with a question about what he was doing for the people of his country.

She – our teacher – told us she’d send them, but I doubt they ever crossed the front gates, and if they did – if they landed in anyone’s hands – they probably would have not liked what was in them.

Eight years later, I see different kinds of letters to a different kind of man…a man running to be president for the U.S., or as government officials in Scandal call this to be the race to become the “most powerful man on the planet.” (I still believe him running to be some sort of hoax).

The only comment I ever had about Donald Trump running for president was that he was actually running for president, like the rumors said he would. I paid no attention to his ridiculous, waste-of-time campaign, and I only read headlines of his narcissistic theories without clicking on the links.

Then, he mentioned that Muslims should start wearing badges (to single them out). He said that Muslims needed to be watched. As if identity cards were not enough to make a mark on someone. As if Muslims (and other minority groups) were not being watched enough.

This idea of singling persons out for who they are, where they are from, or what they believe in is not what America is supposed to be about. Sure, America hasn’t been what it’s “supposed” to be for a while now, but that is taking matters to another level…especially when putting this “singling out” in classrooms.

Should a child be singled out in his or her classroom for something that is given a negative connotation and association? What does this do to that child? Would he have the motivation to move on and continue his pursuit of education? What would this do to the other children? Would they be old enough to understand that this isn’t fair? Would they have gotten far enough to understand the moral of the fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling?” Because that is exactly what Trump is doing with his singling out (of any group of people); he’s pointing out the ones he deems to be “ugly ducklings.”

When I was younger, before I wrote the letter to my president, I lived in America, and maybe I was too young to notice, but I remember that people were singled out when they were gifted and talented. They were singled out for their achievements. They were signaled out for inventing, creating, and discovering. That is what created the colorful, diverse America I will never see again.

I didn’t think I’d write another letter to a “president” figure again, after I wrote one all those years ago. Though, if this is for anyone, it’s for the people that follow Trump and all oppressors around the world, blindly.

This Time, Last Year

This time, last year, I recieved news of your death. I was leaving campus and about to hop into the service taxi when my mother called. I thought she was laughing; what she was saying was intangible. Then, I realized she was crying, telling me my grandfather had passed away.

Everyone was shocked, even my grandfather’s best friend who kept saying, “My best friend left me.” 1601446_1506067319680188_3704609461498975964_n

One year later, it still doesn’t feel real. It feels like he just went on a really long vacation. Today, I passed by the little coffee shop he used to sit outside of early in the morning before he runs errands for my grandma.

I miss your laugh, Grandpa. I miss seeing your koffeiyah hung up on the coat hanger when I walk into your house. I miss seeing your gold 90s’ model Mercedes drive around. I miss seeing the newspaper on the table in the baranda as you, Grandma, and my aunt each read a section when we walk in. I miss you believing in me.

May you rest in peace, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Grape Leaves That Aren’t In Jars

Four years ago at my high school graduation, I began my speech with “Eight years ago.” Today, I would begin it with twelve years ago. That is where I find my words, in those “twelve years”.
In 2003, I entered this completely new world that I only recognized as a vacation spot. I cried the whole way on the plane, wiping the tears away as they came, and I dreaded the move. I wasn’t big on change then, and to be honest, I’m not that warmed up to the idea now (but I’m trying).
I had to suck it up and go with it: new school, new friends, new home, different faces, a different language, and somehow, along the way, I was sucked up in all these things, even the little things.
For instance, the breeze that one of my best friends sent me a message about last night. The summer night will be so hot sometimes, but then, for a brief moment, a gust of air enters and suddenly, it isn’t so hot anymore.
Then, there’s the olive groves that can be found almost anywhere you look.
There’s also the call to prayer that reminds you to keep a little faith.
There’s the loud streets of Ramallah and the quiet talks of old men near coffee shops.
There’s the summer night sahras that hold tradition.
There’s the friends and family in every corner.
There’s nostalgia that keeps that words coming.
There’s also the grape leaves that grow right outside your house door, winding and covering branches and metal pipes. Back when I wasn’t here, the grape leaves were found on one of the shelves in a glass jar made with a yellow lid and label in a Pakistani owned supermarket. I don’t miss that. I like the old-fashioned picking and putting in empty water bottles.
It’s these little things and more.

Tonight, I went to visit my mother’s best friend who just moved into a new home, and all those feelings from entering our home all those years ago came rushing back. The smell of paint and dust. The clean, white walls. The empty walls. The echoing. That’s what it was like twelve years ago.