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.

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From New Orleans to Palestine: Whose House is This?

My latest on Donald Trump’s Jerusalem decision and the New Orleans Palestinian community response:

https://www.fairobserver.com/region/middle_east_north_africa/palestine-israel-jerusalem-trump-arab-world-news-headlines-34406/

 

 

 

“Where’s the sea?”: Conversations with the Little One

“Where’s the sea?” My youngest sibling asked.

I’m sitting in a small coffee shop three blocks away from a river.

“Do we even have one?” She continues.

“Yes,” I sigh. “We have one.”

“Well, I want to see it.”

I remember the trips my high school used to take me on. We were next to the sea. The sea from “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

“When you come to America, I’ll take you to the beach.”

“We can’t go to the one here?”

It’s not complicated. We can’t. 

“Because it’s in Israel,” she continues.

“Yes.”

“Okay. When I come to America then.”

“Okay.”

 

 

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.

The Independence of Nothing

“Our future children are going to be so confused at our concept of ‘Independence Day,'” I tell one of my dear friends.

“Girl, we’re still confused at our concept of ‘Independence Day,” she replied.

We laughed. We laughed because it is true. Some of the breaths taken between every chuckle were filled with a moment – extremely brief moment – of reflection and a subtle sadness at the possibility that we may never know this independence we desperately seek in Palestine and that our future children – the future generation of Palestinians – will enter the world of chaos and identity crises that we are in.

I remember it was in my fifth grade elementary school that I heard of the Palestinian “Independence Day.” How could that be?  I lived next to an Israeli settlement. I saw IOF military jeeps every now and then. I heard of fellow Palestinians being killed and imprisoned. What’s independence? 

The independence of nothing…for now.

On Literary Evenings: Conversations With The Little One

The evening of May 18th was a calm spring evening in Palestine. A few days earlier, I had just arrived to the country after nine months of being away, and I had it in my mind to make this a very enriching, adventurous, productive and active summer – not only for my resume but also for my soul.

With that in mind, I was coming to Palestine right around the time that the tenth Palestine Festival of Literature, or PalFest, was happening. I clicked on the “Going” icon on the Facebook event and tagged a couple of friends and my cousin to tag along with me. I scanned the schedule for the event that would take place in Ramallah and took a mental note.

Earlier on May 18th, I met my dear friends and cousin for a little lunch. My youngest sibling tagged along also.

“Let’s go the PalFest? It’s the last day.”

“Sure,” we agreed. It wasn’t far from where we were sitting.

We got to Khalil El-Sakakini Cultural Center, and the performances were happening right in the garden. We sat and listened.

We listened to Ahdaf Soueif, Nathalie Handal, Jehan Bseiso (I even formally met her), and others. We listened, laughed, cried, and hoped. There was so much hoping and smiling.

When one of my friends was crying, my youngest sibling turned to me and said, “Why’s she crying?”

The words. The words.

One of the performances were for Nathalie Handal, and she sang to us. She sang something along the lines of “Dance. Let’s just dance.” It was so soothing, so magical, and as I observed my youngest sibling, with her head in her hands, watching and listening closely, I was overcome with such calmness for her.

After the performance was over, my youngest sibling turned to me and said, “That was really nice,” in Arabic.

I smiled. It was. She went home and told my mother about the performance.

When she’s old enough, I want to remember to ask her if this was a pivotal moment for her wanting to attend such events, even though the language is very complicated. After that evening, my youngest sibling wanted to tag along for other literary or spoken word events. At times, she did, and at other times, she wanted to ride her bike with cousins her age.

Sometimes, when we are sitting together, her and I, we remember Nathalie Handal and those words to that song, and we sing them over and over. I still hear her singing, “Dance. Let’s just dance.”

Podcast Episode

I got to speaking with Nadia Abuelezam, host of the Palestinians Podcast, close to a year ago, after indulging in many episodes regarding her podcast. We talked over the months, and she asked if I’d be interested in being interviewed. I’m just an ordinary person, but I thought to myself, why not?

As a result, my feature made it to the podcast’s 20th episode. Happy listening!

http://www.palestinianspodcast.com/palestinians-podcast—blog.html

 

 

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.

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.