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.”

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?”

 

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?

 

 

 

 

Obama’s era: Transitioning feelings

I don’t quite remember what the assignment entailed days after the Barack Obama’s victory speech in 2008, but I remember exactly what I prepared for it. I dug into the closet where my father had folded a few of his ties and pulled out a blue patterned one – or not that I think of it, was it red? – and I opened my laptop and watche Obama’s victory speech over and over again. I studied his body language, and I listened closely to the stresses. I printed out the transcript of the speech and highlighted the parts that I was going to say – by heart – for the assignment. I suppose you can imagine the assignment had something to do with public speaking.

On the day of presentations, I wore the tie around my school uniform collar shirt and got up to present Obama’s victory speech as said by me. I imagine I did a pretty good job because I, like Obama, got a good wave of applause from my high school classroom.

“Yes we can.” For a high school student, those three words meant everything. They meant that if you dream, you can, just like Obama. Here he was, standing on stage in Chicago, as the first black President-elect.

However, come his 2012 victory speech – and up until the moment he bid farewell to the White House – I have had mixed feelings about Obama. He has a vibrant personality. He is a charismatic individual. And he is a great speech presenter. However, I once read somewhere that “personality doesn’t trump policy.” I agree with this statement in the case of Obama’s administration. I did not agree with Obama’s foreign policy, and that, at the time of living in the Middle East, is what concerned me. I smiled when I saw Obama’s appearances on different television shows, but I was quick to remember that his administration’s foreign policy was…heinous, and you can read more about how it affected the Arab world here.

As I was watching the pictures of Obama looking out of the helicopter window at the White House, I felt sad and angry at the same time. Sad because it is the end of an “era” as they say, but angry for two reasons: one being who office is for now.

I want to find a reason to thank Obama like many of my friends are thanking him, but I can’t find it. I think of all the times his administration could have stood up for justice in the world but didn’t. That’s the second reason I am angry. Some will argue and say that America isn’t everyone’s savior. Then, why is America up in everyone’s business?

Obama’s administration may have done great things. Obama may have led office with grace. But “personality doesn’t trump policy” for me.

He leaves office to an unpredictable man – a man who has a greater potential to make things worse for Americans and the world. I sit in a coffee ship and watch people as the buy coffee and go off to the “Women’s March” with posters like “Liar in chief.” I wonder where we go from here, as Americans and as global citizens.

 

 

Apology Turned Euology: A Poem

 

Reading your name

it took me a few moments to realize

we have met before.

We have spoken months ago.

And I wish I had given you an apology.

I apologize that it has taken us more than the years

you’ve lived to end this occupation.

I wish I had given you an apology

every time you called me khalto 

on the ten-minute drive home

before I wrote you this euology.

 

 

 

 

“Forget where you want to live…”: A Conversation

“Forget where you want to live.” My advisor began our long overdue meeting that I have delayed constatnly out of fear of a conversation like this. Her piercing blue eyes make the firmest eye contact I have ever been exposed to.

“Forget that part. Tell me, where do you see yourself ten years from now?”

Well, somewhere good. Doing something good. I knew that question was going to be the premise of the meeting, hence the reason I have avoided meeting with my advisor to begin with.

It’s not like I have no clue what I want to do. However, I also know that things change. I know people grow from their shallow ideas of the world – or at least, I hope so. I also know that sometimes, plans, even those that seem to be made for something right around the corner, can (for one reason or the other) vanish. Therefore, I avoid such conversations. Outloud, anyways.

I started mumbling my way of what interests I have and how I’m still feeling my way around – having recently moved back (and experiencing a major culture shock, if I may add). She nodded and added a word or two of advice and encouragment, and I left the meeting with a good feeling.

But “forget where you want to live” walked out of the office with me. The conversation happened a few months ago, and here I am thinking of it now.

Before I graduated, the Dean of my faculty told me and a friend who was also moving half way across the world, “But you’re going to come back, right?” He grinned and looked at us from over the frame of his eyeglasses.

“Well, let us leave first,” I told him.

I wanted to go on a tangent and tell my advisor that “where I want to live” is a difficult choice, and unlike many people, I have the privilege to choose. I wanted to tell her that politics may also affect where I live. I wanted to tell her that I’m here to make another place she’s never been to a better place…in one aspect, at least.

Where I lived is in an unstable mess – always has been, I suppose – but for some reason, I feel what one of my dearest friend’s once told me on our way home from our university more than ever now that I am not there: “Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.”

I wonder, for how many generations have people said something along that line?

I also wonder, is there anyone out there who saw themselves ten years from where they were and actually ended up exactly according to their plan?

 

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?

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.