Generations Past and Pass: On Change

Donald J. Trump came to visit Palestine a week after I flew in. I turned on the television and sat across, watching Trump’s every move and hearing his every word. On the issue of Palestine, he was not going to be any different than his predecessors. Palestinians know this even before he utters a single word…even before he was sworn into office. Again, on the issue of Palestine, he was not going to be any different than his predecessors.

“That’s Donald Trump.” My youngest sibling walked into the room and sat next to me.

“The very one,” I replied.

“What’s he doing here?” She asked.

I didn’t know how to answer that. I silently hoped that when she was my age, a different, better story would be told.

I watched him speak and glorify the state of Israel and ignore the facts on the ground. I watched him meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and not utter a word about Palestine, the hunger strikers at the time, or anything he should have said. It was all about him wanting to combat terrorism and make the world great again.

As he shook hands with Abbas and left the podium, I thought to myself. How many generations have passed watching different United States presidents stand on a podium, preaching the same thing with no tangible….with no acknowledgement of the facts on the ground?

I thought of my grandparents, parents, myself, and my youngest sibling. We have all seen this two-podium-scenario with different presidents.

Today, there was a gathering in Ramallah in protest of the heinous measures Israel is taking against Palestinians in Jerusalem, especially in regards to Al-Aqsa Mosque. The protest was made up of a gathering of no more than 40 people.

“If this were to happen back in the day, everyone would have taken to the street,” my aunt, in her 40s, noted.

I nodded.

We rode a taxi, and as the taxi driver dropped us off, he said, “God help this generation. Darker times are yet to come.”

Darker times are yet to come. I wondered across how many generations this sentence has been uttered. 

The Two Sides of Qalandia Part 16: My Grandfather’s Request

“Grandpa, what do you want me to bring you back from Jerusalem?” I asked my paternal grandfather a day before I would go visit Jerusalem for the second time in the month.

I watched my grandfather, who turned eighty last November, as he slowly walked to his spot on the couch. I was waiting for him to say something like, “Thank you, sidi – Grandpa” or “Just go have fun.”

“Bring back Jerusalem,” he replied.

June of this year marked fifty years since the 1967 six-day war, or Al-Naksa, when Jerusalem, as well as the rest of Palestine, was occupied by Israel. Jerusalem is separated into East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is what is proposed as the capital of the State of Palestine on paper. It is where the Old City of Jerusalem, rich with history, exists. For people with a green identity card or with a Gaza identity card, entering Jerusalem is simply difficult.

As I thought of what my grandfather was saying, I remembered my maternal grandfather. He passed away in the United States a little over two years ago, but he always told my grandmother that when his legs were strong again, he wanted to go to Jerusalem. It is that kind of city.

“Bring back Jerusalem,” he replied.

One day, sidi. One day we will bring back Jerusalem. We will be able to get there and make more beautiful history between the gates and walls of one of the holiest cities in the world.

The Trip Home: Anniversary June Part 2

The trip home does not end when the airplane lands in Jordan. It begins.

The taxi radio was on. The radio talk show host was talking about how the next day marks 69 years since the occupation of Palestine. She began talking about the problems in Palestine, the negotiations that died long ago but politicians keep bringing up – as if there is a hidden message we have failed to catch – , the prisoner hunger strike, the, the, the…the list went on.

I was still in Jordan. I would be for a while. I wondered how, for the past 69 years on May 15th, things have not changed…not for the better. I wondered how many more generations will come and hear that for so and so years, things have not changed…not for the better. I will wonder this again, around a week later, when President Donald Trump comes to Palestine.

The next day, I get a message from a dear friend:

“How ironic you arrive on the day we were displaced.”

And my thoughts continued to struggle between the past and the future…when Palestinians were displaced and when they…if they will come back.

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.

 

 

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

Enjoy.