On Growing Up: Conversations with The Little One

“I want to grow up, but I don’t know how,” my youngest sibling told me, as she sat across of me in a small dessert shop in Ramallah, scribbling in her notebook.

She informed me a few weeks ago that she wants to be a writer. She’s in elementary school.

I am at that age where it seems that you are pressured to have your life figured out – or at least, have someone figure it out for you according to their terms (but that’s another story). I often feel myself stuck in the same time, still trying to test out roads not taken, but not knowing when to take the plunge.

A week ago, I attended Sard, a spoken word event in Ramallah. This month’s guest was Suad Amiry, architect and writer. She spoke of a “ten-year itch” she has – she tends to change the course of her life every ten years. Listening to her speak, with her charisma and liveliness, I thought, All is well. There is nothing wrong with changing and trying new things…things that are out of our comfort zone. Here’s Suad. Fearless Suad. 

I don’t know how to grow up, either, but I think it goes something like this: it’s not about the money, the houses, cars, and all that. It is about growing. It’s about being okay with changing courses in your life. It’s about reading something you have written and wondering, Ten years from now, where will I be? How will I look at this differently? What have I learned since then? 

I don’t know how to grow up, either, I want to tell her. We’ll learn and help each other along the way.


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.



Short Fiction: My Mother’s Hair*

*You can read the first scene, “My Mother’s Alzheimer’s”, in the Stories section of this blog.

“What would you like to do with your hair, Alise?” The stylist, Sandra, asked.

“Well, I want a change. I was thinking of getting a different haircut. It’s long enough for layers now, right?”

“But it’s so beautiful this way,” Sandra commented, shuffling her fingers through Alise’s hair.

Alise sighed. “I know, but I want a change. I haven’t really done much after my mother passed away.”

“Very well, then. Give me a few minutes till I finish with this customer, and I’ll be right with you.”

“Sure, I have nothing else to do today.”

Alise took a seat on the sofa and grabbed a magazine from the coffee table. She was flipping through it when a woman and a little girl with curly bright red hair walked in. The girl must have been around six years old.

Alise closed the magazine and placed it on her lap. She stared at the little girl watching her mother pick out a color to die her hair from the book of hair colors.

“I think you should have red hair like me, Mama,” the little girl said.

The mother laughed. “Well, I could use a change from the honey brown I usually get.” She placed a kiss on the little girl’s cheek and nodded to the stylist. “Yeah, we’re going red.”

It was then that Alise remembered the time she went to the salon with her mother. She was five at the time, and her mother had woken her up that Saturday morning.

“Alise, baby, want to come with Mama to do her hair?”

Alise had rubbed her eyes. “Can I do mine?” Her mother smiled at her. “We can have them make you a hair-do. What do you think?”

“Sure, Mama,” Alise replied. Hand in hand, they walked into the mall and into the salon. Alise and her mother were greeted by the stylist. “What can I help you girls with?”

“Well, I want to do something different with my hair,” Alise’s mother said.

“What were you thinking?”

“Well,” Alise’s mother looked at Alise. “I’ll do whatever Alise thinks is pretty.”

Alise  grinned from ear to ear that day. “Anything?”

“Anything, baby.”

Alise thought of how her mother started crying as the stylists were fixing her hair. “You don’t like it, Mama?”

“Of course, I do.”

“Then, why are you crying?”

Alise didn’t remember what her mother had said to reassure her that day, but when she was old enough to understand, her mother would tell her that she thought it would be her last time ever to do her hair. Earlier that month, Alise’s mother was diagnosed with gastric cancer. It was still in its early stages, but she was going to have to undergo chemotherapy. Her hair, she had told Alise years later, was going to be controlled by chemotherapy. So, that Saturday, one week before she would start treatment, she wanted to have one last say as to what would happen to her hair.

“Alise, I’m ready for you,” Sandra, the stylist called.

Alise smiled at the woman and the girl with the red hair, put the magazine on the coffee table and followed Sandra’s voice.





Hares Al-Tantura: The Guard of Al-Tantura

It was a July evening, and everyone was making their way through the old town of Birzeit to attend a children’s play. Everyone. The children, their parents, young adults, and the elderly.

We sat on plastic chairs under lines of yellow light bulbs while the children sat on a carpet in front of the stage. The tiny stage was set, an LCD screen being the background and speakers on either side.

Suddenly, hares Al-Tantura, or the guard of Al-Tantura, walked out. Al-Tantura was a Palestinian village that was destroyed while Israel was being born. The man who played the guard (and throughout the play, many other characters) was in his 40s. His real life job is to create and act in children’s plays with his family. The entire cast and crew are is his family: his wife and children. I learned about this because the little kid sitting next to me told me. I was wondering outloud who these people were when he proudly told me it was his family and raced to get me their business card.

Throughout the play, I realized something I never really gave much thought to. When I was growing up, the first stories I ever heard of were scary Halloween tales and the story of the Grinch who stole Christmas. I heard religious tales about the prophets. I don’t recall hearing what my younger sibling and her generation are hearing – stories of nostalgia and war that never ended and politics they can’t being to comprehend. Then again, that’s a by-product of where we are now – in Palestine as opposed to the “free world.”

Here’s a few things the hares of Al-Tantura told us.

The hares described the orange groves that used to surround the village. The stories I heard as a child never started out with such descriptions. The stories I listened to when I was a child started with “Once upon a time.”

In one of the scenes, he began chasing a train that filled up the LCD screen so he could go to the sea in Akka. When it passed him and kept going, the hares stopped, hurt and annoyed, and said, in Arabic, “That’s the train of negotations passing by.” The adults and elderly shook their heads at the sly criticism they did not see coming (some even applauded his daring comment), and the children kept watching in bewilderment. They felt what he was feeling when the train passed by. I could tell by the look in their eyes.

In another scene, as an actress playing a girl going to visit her grandmother in Akka was on stage, she was stopped by a wolf. The wolf told her she was not allowed to pass by. I have seen this story before: Little Red Riding Hood. Except the wolf, in this case, was depicting Israel.

“Did you enjoy the play?” I asked my youngest sibling.

“Yeah, I did,” she replied. “Did you see that wolf?”

I saw the orange groves that have been passed around in stories for 68 years+. I saw the sea. I saw the beauty of the village that was not allowed to stand. I saw the wolf clearer than ever.

“I did. It was a scary wolf, right?” I replied.

“Yeah, but she got past him, anyways.”

She did. She got past him.

Get past the wolves standing in your way.



The Case of The Tiny Hands: On Body Image

By now, I’m used to the comments I get on my extremely tiny hands. My mother says it’s because I’m always typing away at a keyboard or phone screen. (This is where she and my grandmother make deformed typing gestures with their fingers. The comments get even worse and more hilarious when I say my hands are freezing.) The very first comment on my tiny hands came from one of my closest friends whom I met in college. Then, they just started coming. People I’ve known – and people I’ve just met would (awkwardly) grab my hands and match it to theirs and say things like, “Woooaaahhh. They’re smaller than mine.” Even my driving instructor once asked, “What wedding ring is going to fit on these fingers?”

Those comments are fun. I always get a good laugh, but the other day, what came after the usual comment got me thinking…and writing this.

I was sitting with a friend and her friend around campus when two of our acquaintences stopped by. One thing led to another, and the conversation went from some weird, don’t-say-this-in-front-of-my-mother talk to my tiny hands.

“Wow. They are tiny. You don’t look it, though,” one of them said, glancing at my hands and then at me.

Ladies and gents, that is a subtle comment on your weight/your build/your structure/your features. I know she did not conciously want to make a subtle comment like that, but it happened. I know she probably did not mean it as a way to call me huge or “big” as opposed to my “tiny” hands. Nonetheless, it is these comments that the hidden, body-critic “being” (so to speak) feeds on.

I think we all have this devillish “creature” brewing in us, except some are able to keep it in check more than others. This is the creature that has us looking in the mirror and seeing things that aren’t really there. (You know what? So what if these “features” are there? Congratulations. You’re a flawed human – you probably don’t want to be human while Trump is running for president, but congrats, nonetheless.) This is the creature that criticizes you for looking the way you do wearing what the flawless mannequin was wearing. This is the creature that wants you to change your hair color, your eye color, your height, your breasts, your buttock, and anything else that is changeable because “that is beauty. Not you.”

Sometimes, you overcome this creature. You push it all the way in the back with every nagging, criticizing, second-guessing voice…until you get subtle – and sometimes, not so subtle comments (Thanks to the people who do not mind their business.) You (hopefully) and I don’t like subtle and not-so-subtle comments.

When it comes to body image (and lots of other things that are subject to critcism and bullying by others and ourselves),  we need to be accepting. We need to embrace what is or isn’t there. We need to believe that we can shut down the “creature” in our heads for good, and we can leave the comments far behind in a place where the “creature” cannot even take a whiff of them yet alone feed on them.

As humans, we have a tendency to bully ourselves. We are so quick to fall out of love with ourselves before we even get to know who we are. We can point fingers at the fathers that weren’t there, the mothers that didn’t know any better, the friends that aren’t friends, the media, Trump…the list goes on, but at the end of the list, it is our reflection in the mirror that we’re pointing at.

Point at yourself with acceptance. Point at yourself with love. Point at yourself with wanting to be the best you can in a world that never ceases to judge.





Short Fiction: My Mother’s Alzheimer’s

I was four different people to my mother the night before the morning she died.

That night, she was sitting next to the fireplace with a maroon velvet quilt on her shoulders, her dark brown eyes turning crimson from the reflection of the fire. I watched her eyes blink slowly with reminiscent sadness from the kitchen. I picked up my  fresh, warm cup of coffee and went to take a seat on the couch next to her.

“Mom, you’re sure you don’t want anything warm to drink? It’s getting chilly,” I asked her.

“I’m sure,” she replied, flashing a faint smile towards me. She continued to stare at the fireplace.


I wasn’t Janine. I listened.

“I hope when Alise is born, she’ll be exactly like you. Steadfast and a heartbreaker.” She began to giggle quietly.

“Mom, it’s me, Alise.”

“You think that’ll be her first sentence?” She giggled even more.

I looked at her and smiled, the way her high school friend Janine would smile. “When is your due date again?”

“Two more months.”

“They’ll go by before you know it,” I remarked.

“Two months until her fifth birthday! George is thinking of getting her a Barbie themed cake, but I’m not big on the idea. What do you think, Anna?”

I wasn’t Anna.

“I think Barbie’s okay. I mean she’s only five.”

“You sound like George now.”

“What were you thinking of doing then?”

“I was actually going to buy her a book. A children’s story. Something she can always go back to. Her first book.” She grinned.

“Do you have anything in mind?”

“I think we need to sell her books before she goes off to college. Sonia, how old is your youngest? I think we have books for ages five to sixteen.”

I wasn’t Sonia.

“My youngest is-”

“She’s nine now, right? Amal.”

I nodded.

“I’ll have George and Alise drop them off at your house.”

I nodded. “Perfect.”

“I can’t believe Alise is graduating high school. She doesn’t know what she wants to do, you know? It’s bothering her. She thinks she has to have it all figured out.”

“I’m sure she has interests.”

“She does, but nothing practical in today’s world. She wants to act and direct. Medical school would be a better investment for her. Look how it turned out for me.”

“The best physician out there,” I replied, trying to hide the tears behind a smile. I was always proud of my mother.

“No, I still have a long way to go, Sonia. I’m not the best. Not yet.” She went back to staring at the fire. She had her hand to her mouth, the way writers do when they’re thinking where to take their character – their written child – next.

I heard the front door open. It was my father.

“It’s a bit chilly out there. Early December looks like a cold December,” he walked in saying. He saw my mother and I sitting in the living room together in front of the fireplace.

“Are my girls having late night talks without me?” He said, taking his hat off. He put his hand on my shoulder and kissed my mother on her forehead.

“Oh, George, Alise and I were just talking about you.”

“Were you?” My father looked at me, with a gentle smile.

“This is our life, George. You, me, and Alise.”

“This is our life, indeed.” He turned to look at the fire, wiping something off his cheek.

We were there, and for a moment, for a last moment, she knew.


The Town and Its Outliers: Tonight’s Encounter.

On the map – and I can’t tell you how many maps there are of Palestine over the years of Israel’s “divide and conquer” – the place I reside in is considered a city. However, I have never truly seen it that way. I am a fast typer, but every time I come to mention the place I live in by name, I hesitate for a few moments in the midst of wondering whether I should put “city” or “town” after it. Tonight, I will refer to it as the town I find it to be.

My siblings and I always plead with my mother to drive us around town before we head home for the night after spending a good half of the day at my grandparents’ home. Sometimes, we’re overruled, but tonight, my mother decided to drive us around but “not for too long.”

The town isn’t too big if you’ve been living in it for a while. If you are a child, you’d know every corner of this town within three years. If you are an adult, you’d know every corner in this town within one. In other words, there’s not much room left for exploration. There’s that constant need to “get out” and “go somewhere else” because “you feel so choked up.” Since it doesn’t exactly rain money or opportunities and life gets in the way, we manage by taking little strolls or drives (though we’re old enough to drive ourselves) around town.

As a writer who tries to find a story in everything I observe, I also try to take on a different perspective in the “same, old scenery” and “boring town” that’s constantly in my face. Though, I have found that while I’m looking, I seem to not have been able to find much for my mind to play with. It’s when I’m not looking that I find that outlier*, that one thing that speaks of what I already know and see but I desperately needed to hear.

Tonight, as my mother was driving through the quiet streets of town, I found an outlier. We were at this fairly awkward intersection between a mosque, the cemetery, and this five story apartment complex. From afar, under a street light, an old man in a neat light brown suit was walking, a cane in his right hand.
As we got closer, I could see the old man wearing a red/white checkered koffieyah with an ‘igal situating it on his head. Suddenly, as he stood between the mosque and the cemetery, the man put the cane under his arm and raised both of his hands to the sky as the mosque called for prayer.

As we drove past him, I looked through the rearview mirror and saw the man’s lips moving, mumbling something. Perhaps it was a prayer to his late wife. Perhaps it was a sweet prayer to the people around him. Perhaps it was something else entirely.

In Islam, Fridays hold a great importance. It is even said that the day of Resurrection will take place on a Friday. Fridays are also said to be a day where prayers are accepted. There is a saying by the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that goes along the lines of there being a certain hour on Fridays in which prayers are accepted so one must use Fridays to pray.

That is what this old man, this outlier, reminded me of. He reminded me of the people we love so much that we constantly pray for. He reminded me of the dreams we spend days and nights trying to achieve and in moments of desperation, we pray for.

The town is a small town, and I’m pretty sure I’ve explored every corner there is to explore, but that outlier that catches me by surprise…That’s what I live to tell.

*In biostatistics, outliers are the not-so-common data. In short, they are the “odd ones out.”

Who Are They: A Short Dialogue

“Who are they?” One of the two children standing at the beginning of the world asked.

The other grinned, bearing no teethed, and replied.
“They are the only two who will hold us when we cry.
They are the only two, whom for us, they would lie.
They are the only two who would fight for our existence.
They are the only two who, in their love for us, will remain persistent.
They are the only two who could bring us into the world.”

Then, the child that inquired said, “You forgot. They are the only two who will worry about us until they die.”