Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Where to?

I have changed so much from the person I used to be, something I had always known and felt for the past few years. What has changed is that I have nothing to say, not in writing and not in verbal address. It is almost as if I am empty on the inside, like I have lost who I was, and like I have no memory of things I love and hate, things that make me the person I am.

I remember I began to realize this in late 2011. I had an awfully difficult time remembering books I had read, and if I did remember the titles perhaps, it was impossible to remember the details. And I had spent a lot of my time reading, and still do. This kept getting worse and worse, until I once got into a cab in London at 9 pm in the evening and he asked me "where to?" Of course, I wanted to go home but where was home, I wondered. Not in the metaphorical sense. For the life of me, I could not remember my address, not the street name, not the area, not the nearest tube station. I sat there dumbfounded for 5 minutes, squeezing hard at my brain tassels, until my great release came and I finally remembered. But that was my moment of reckoning. I even wrote about it in this blog post titled Lest I Forget One Day.

From that moment onwards, I became more convinced that something was wrong with me. Did I do anything about it? No. For the most part, I kept doing what I always did, speaking less and less. I still socialized, heavily, and was loved by my peers and people around me, and they always wanted me around, but goodness I cannot understand why. I do not say much, sometimes I do, but I am mostly quiet. And it is not a social anxiety thing, nor is it a lack of confidence or low self-esteem. I know that because I am proud of myself, and my achievements, and who I am (from what I remember), and I feel lucky to have been endowed with good looks, and I walk head up high, and I seem to be the center of attention. Not that I care, but I say all this to express my fear that maybe there is an underlying physiological issue. Maybe I have lyme disease and I don't know it. Maybe there is something wrong with my nervous system or my cognitive abilities and I need to get myself checked out. I cannot count the many times I have googled my symptoms: how to be a conversationalist, how to talk more, I have nothing to say, and the list goes on. Every now and then, the hypochondriac in me starts thinking it's some dire medical issue, but then the complacent individual I have become reminds me that it is what it is. Why do I care if I have nothing to say?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

A few months ago someone sat across the table from me. He asked me a silly question, like what was my favorite book or something. I squinched trying to remember, and I did. It was a book I had read many, many summers ago lying between the light blue sheets in my bed in Africa. I realized how much of what I am today is the product of who I used to be when I lived in Africa. A lot of my favorite things belong there...

How I wish I could go back in time. Maybe just fifteen or ten years. Or even two years. Or even two weeks. I am afraid of what awaits. Only because what used to be was much sweeter. It also seemed like we all had more time ahead of us. While I may still be able to boast about my youth, many people around me that I love have grown much older. With age comes grace, but also the imminence of death... and this is one of my greatest fears. The perpetual departure of these people...

Another favorite song (Fi yom we leila by Warda) my mother used to play on the cassette player in the sitting room of our first home in Africa...

و القدر الحلو أهو جابني.. الحلو الحلو جابني.. و جابك علشان تقابلني

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dear Texas,

I would like to visit you one day...

Meanwhile, I continue to listen to this beautiful song.

Yours truly,

Friday, November 09, 2012

When I attempted to study English Literature many many years ago, it was mainly driven by my love for poetry... But, the exaggerated study of stanzas and hidden meanings and different interpretations became uninspiring. I did not like how something so beautiful and romantic had become such an ordinary affair. It was not for me and so, I dropped it. I always felt that poetry is like a piece of art at a museum that cannot be touched. I observe it from a distance, lost in its beauty, close enough to discern all the details - and then I go away... I go away long enough to never take it for granted, to never lose my desire for it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I've been wanting to write something here. I have so much on my mind, and too many conflicted emotions that wish to be spilled... But dare I say I haven't had the time? I really haven't. I've either been out and about or working on my thesis at a café.

This is the first time I spend the whole entire day at home - without stepping out. I feel a little down, a little sad or melancholic, but also thankful to be alive and well, to have a home, and a large wide window that invites sunlight... I think of all those who are less fortunate, and those who have very little left, those who have lost loved ones, especially at the hands of ruthless regimes and brutal killing machines. What has the world come to? It is a world gone mad these days, and amidst all the noise, I struggle to find myself. I try to validate my right to happiness over and over again when every day the happiness of many people is being taken away by force...

Anyways, enough rambling. Here is a song I've been listening to the whole day today.

Friday, June 29, 2012

one top especially for you

When I was in Istanbul, I saw these little boys and older men selling the most beautiful tops in different colors and sometimes designs. One day as I alighted from the boat, one of these boys approached me at the dock. I looked into the boy's dark eyes and then stole a view of the Bosphorous behind him, as the yellow of the sun danced on its undulating surface.

There was something romantic about the whole setting. He started to show me how I could twist and spin the top. These tops were everywhere in Istanbul, boys and men selling them in every street, piled up in cartons at bazaars, and even sold at slightly higher prices at little souvenir shops in the modern parts of the city. This was Istanbul, in its tops, and I had to take back home with me a bit of Istanbul. I went back to my hotel room and I carefully hid them in the drawer.

And in that drawer, there was one top especially for you... I wanted you to have something from me, but more than that, something that carried all my little memories of when I was in that city. And that you were there with me. If only for a very few moments.

This is what my cheap one pound top means. That when I walked in Taksim, that when I traveled on the Bosphorus, that when I was at the top of Camlica Hill, that when I marveled at the magnificence of the Dolmabahce, that when I sat in the front garden at Beylerbeyi Palace, that when I watched the city beneath from the balcony of my hotel room, that when I saw mother of pearl inlays in furniture, that when I sat on the carpeted floor and tried to pray (only tried) at Fatih Camii, I thought of you. And I even wondered what you would have thought of such beauty.

In my dream....

You take me to some romantic place.
Where they play songs like BeeGee's How Deep Is Your Love,
Where people slow dance under faint disco lights,
Where it feels like it's back to the 70s,
Just like how you and I love it,
And you look at me with those eyes,
And dance with me,
All night long...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

lest I forget one day

Sitting on the black leather sofa and staring at the television, I was feeling a little harrowed by one thought. I could not remember what happened in the film, although I had seen it many times before. It was as if I were watching Pretty Woman for the very first time.

I have noticed my memory slowly weaken over the past year. Sometimes I cannot remember what my favorite songs are or what books I have read. And I have read many books and listened to many songs.

There was once a few months ago when I got into a black cab and the driver asked me where I wanted to go. But I couldn’t remember my home address. I had to stop for a long moment and think hard before I finally could recall the first line of my address in north central London. I sat there for the rest of the journey in total disbelief...

When I was a little girl, somewhere before my adolescent years, I spent long afternoons copying words from the dictionary. It was my way of making sure the words would be seared into my mind for good. When I read stories, I would go back to my notebook and write a summary. Some years later, I would start to keep diaries and I grew a fascination for the past. I kept a written record of mine - lest I forget one day. I thought I would always know who I am if I were able to remember who I was, to revisit my past in every step that I took.

Then I discovered my memory, that it was the best thing about me. So I started writing less and less. Instead, I would make mental notes of all that mattered to me.

But, suddenly, the light that fed my memories began to slowly fade. Darkness settled inside my head and my memories started to stagger. They have now become somewhat quite distant, sometimes unreachable. And what if, one day, I might not be able to remember any of my memories (and past)? And if this day were to ever come, does this mean that I might not remember who I am anymore?

Roxette and It Must Have Been Love from the Pretty Woman soundtrack...

Friday, June 15, 2012

on Sayed Darwish

For the past few months, I have been listening more often to the music of Sayed Darwish in the voice of Fairuz. The more I listened to his compositions, the more I realized how beautiful they are and how unknown Darwish remains to the general public.

He died of a cocaine overdose at the very young age of 31. However, he left behind a wondrous legacy during such a very short life. Some of these songs are still with us until this day and have become part of our collective memories and culture. Songs such as el-Helwa Di (الحلوة دي), Salma Ya Salama (سلمى يا سلامة), Bassareh Barrajeh (بصاره براجه), Ana Haweit (انا هويت), Tel'it Ya Mahla Nourha (طلعت يا محلا نورها), Mahsoubkom Indas (محسوبكم إنداس), and so forth. I sometimes wonder, had he lived any longer, what more greatness would he have bestowed upon us?

Sayed Darwish grew up in an Egypt that was under British colonial rule and laden with unrest, uprisings and struggles. The ethos of that time in Egypt is reflected in the work of Darwish who expressed the wants, needs, and fears of Egyptians and at the grassroots level. His compositions were serious, lively, honest, and simple – what we would call in Arabic السهل الممتنع al-sahl al-momtanaa or deceptively simple. This is how Darwish distinguished himself: not by singing for the ruling class, but by singing for the masses, for everyone.

Much of his work was dedicated for the nationalist struggle and I share below one of my favorite songs, Aho Dalli Sar (اهو داللي صار), which was composed in the events of the 1919 revolution. The more famous one would be the Egyptian national anthem, Bilady, Bilady, Bilady, (بلادي بلادي بلادي) which was inspired from a speech by Mustafa Kamil, an Egyptian nationalist and activist who passed away in 1908.

But, being the hopeless romantic that I am, I want to talk about love. There is one particular song that I reckon many are unaware was composed (and written?) by Sayed Darwish. Zuruni Kulli Sana Marra, (زوروني كل سنة مرة) widely known in the voice of Fairuz, is a song about love. I read a story that this was one of his first songs and he wrote it after a lady, by whom he was enamored, said to him: Visit us oh Sheikh Sayed even once a year. I cannot corroborate this story but it sure does appeal to the romantic in me.


These are the words to the version which Fairuz performs, and I find it to be one of the most beautiful songs ever.

 زوروني كل سنة مرة    Visit me once every year
حرام تنسوني بالمرة    What a shame if you forget me altogether
 يا خوفي و الهوى نظرة    I fear that love is but a glimpse
 تجي و تروح بالمرة    That would come and go altogether
 حبيبي فرقتك مرة    My love your absence is painful
 حرام تنسوني بالمرة    What a shame if you forget me altogether


I conclude with a song dear to my heart and tonight I think of Egypt.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Favorite Passage...

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room.  

"Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"  

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse.  

"It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.  

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 

 "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."  

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"  

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse.  

"You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." 

"I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit.

And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said.  

 "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

-- The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

I have recently been reviewing the first chapter in my thesis and in this chapter I discuss my fieldwork. It was three years ago, when I'd gone back home (as opposed to going "out there") for my fieldwork, and I was privileged to meet the persons I had met. They were from the much older generation and had many stories to share with me - stories that hadn't made it into the books of history. 

I remember one night in March. I drove through the unfamiliar winding mountainous roads back to the city... I felt heavy in my heart, like I could never be the same again. I had just met a man who was in his nineties and spent only a few hours with him, yet I felt moved forever. Before I left his home, he made me promise to accept his invitation for lunch. He said he was a great chef and my wish was his command. I promised but I broke it. Then he died...

I was at the dentist when I found out. I always thought I'd cry when I find out about his death - for one my tears come easy. But I smiled - because life is all about those little moments, those words, sometimes unspoken, that never cease to leave us. And how could this night ever leave me? Its large evergreens that skirted the dark roads, the serenity of being in my skin, and the man I'd just left behind. 

He was charming with impeccable English. And he'd lived all around the world, even black Africa and had a fondness for Nelson Mandela. "You don't need books to learn about history; all you need is travel," he advised me as he looked at me through his glasses.

He was an atheist. I found this particularly strange for a man nearing the end of his journey. They all usually turn to religion when what is left is very little... But, he seemed to be at peace.

He had a Kamal Salibi book on the table next to him - Secrets of the Bible People. I suggested he read The Bible Came from Arabia and Who Was Jesus. We agreed that Kamal Salibi is brave for undertaking such research and for arriving at such conclusions. That he may be completely mistaken, "a big old nutter" in the words of my professor in England, or completey spot on. Or that, maybe, there may be some truth in Salibi's postulations. With these things, nothing is definite. It's all probabilities.

He got up and walked to the shelf and pulled out an album, white underneath all the dust. We went through the album and all were old pictures from his past. The album was almost falling into pieces and the pictures were scattered and unorderly. He was a very handsome man in his earlier years. He showed me pictures of his Irish girlfriend back in the 1950s. She, too, was a beauty. Then other pictures followed from his travels and stays in India, Pakistan, Afghanistation, Iran, the Gulf, Ghana, Europe and England. He looked at me and said: "the Britishers are grand. I admire them the most."

He showed me pictures of his daughters and his Australian divorcee, then came a picture of his late wife. "She left 6 years ago..." And he suddenly picked the album and returned it to the dusty shelf where it belonged. "I don't like going through old pictures... I begin to feel sad. I am a man. You know what that means," he said in his husky voice. I didn't and still don't know...

At the end of my visit, he kissed my hand and said "you are wonderful; it was a pleasure". I blushed then nervously said "I am grateful for your kindness and for the kiss too." 

I had no idea that it would be the last time I see him...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Algerian Rose

It was in the 90's. Back in Africa. That was when I was a little girl sitting in the backseat of my father's car as he drove us around in the evenings after work. He would play Warda on cassette and we would listen to Batwannis Bik. "Dad, could you play that again?" I would rest my head on the window, little as I was but my dreams larger than me, and I would watch the trees, the little houses, and the street vendors...

But for me, Warda's most beautiful piece was Fi Yom W Leila - one that evokes in me the deepest kind of feelings, emotions of love lost and found, and hope.

The first time I heard it I was still in Africa, and still a little girl. I was at a house party with my parents - back then, the community of expats was small and their only means of entertainment was limited to either dinners at the same Chinese restaurant or house parties on the weekends. These house parties, or gatherings, included hors d'oeuvres and drinks, a buffet style dinner and then some tarab towards the end of the night. This particular party I remember very well. I was cuddled up to my mother when the host, a blonde with the bluest eyes I'd ever seen, began to sing Fi Yom W Leila accompanied by her husband on the oud. I was smitten and I never forgot that song when we got back home...

It feels like a long time since that night, and it has been indeed: some twenty years maybe. And I went through those years listening to Warda, listening to music of such magnificence, music heartrendingly beautiful, and divine, and magical - remedying an empty, sometimes lonely, heart inside my chest. In some way, I also felt closer to my father, like he wasn't far from us, like he was right there.

Yesterday, I was on the bus somewhere near Marble Arch when I read the news of her passing. The tears began to run down my cheeks and I couldn't help that I was surrounded by strangers. I was overwhelmed... Those of you who grew up listening to ballads by Warda, like me, probably feel her loss the most. That is another great voice gone...

I rested my head on the window and I watched London, the lights, the traffic, and the red double-decker buses... But all I could think of was Beirut, a beautiful evening in early September, when the breeze was light and the night sky was clear, and Warda was there to sing. That was the night I saw Warda for the first (and last) time in person. I close my eyes and I can see my sister and mother to my left and they are smiling as Warda walks out on stage. She is waving and I think she is waving to me. Wahashtiny ya Warda...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

There was this little girl trying to get mommy's attention.

She tugged at mommy's skirt, but mommy didn't look.

She tapped mommy on her leg, but mommy didn't respond.

She cried and cried and cried, but mommy didn't hear.

She sat in a corner and sulked, but mommy wasn't troubled.

She did it all over again, but mommy still didn't move.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Just a thought before I sleep

There is this (famous) black and white footage of Marylin Monroe arriving late to sing for President Kennedy at his birthday gala. Marylin was known to be late almost all the time. She was wearing this shimmering silk dress that fell freely over her slender body. She trotted hurriedly in these fine heels along the stage. The gentleman who presented her helped her out of her fur wrap and left her alone. She tapped the microphone and then adjusted it towards her.

There was a sudden moment of silence. It was Marylin standing there: a goddess from another world, her hair like carved marble, looking like a doll. She had everything a woman could possibly dream of. And then music started playing in the background as Marylin stunned the crowd with her singing, it was like a whisper, trembling, almost breathless. And all that time, she wore that smile of hers. She seemed happy. Only, she was far from it...

I had just happened on this footage of Marylin and her smile confused me. It seemed like she was the happiest woman on earth, but the truth almost always lies beneath the surface. We are all not very different from Marylin. We wear a smile only to hide so much sorrow. Marylin was indeed very unhappy. At least in all that I have read about her. I think it must have been easier for her to be unhappy. If only she had allowed herself to be happier.

This seems all too idealistic, the notion that we could will ourselves to be happier versions of ourselves. To learn to be happy. Or even to unlearn to be unhappy. To a certain level, yes we can. We find livelihood from the beauty that is around us, from the natural world, from a tender touch, from the love of our friends, from the arts, from reading, from music, from solitude, from late afternoon walks, from the mundane.

Such is happiness.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

I felt a Cleaving in my Mind -
As if my Brain had split -
I tried to match it - Seam by Seam -
But could not make them fit.

The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before -
But Sequence ravelled out of Sound
Like Balls - upon a Floor.  

Emily Dickinson (poem 937, 1864)

Monday, April 23, 2012


I was having dinner tonight at one of the restaurants in the trending Zaitunay Bay. The music in the background was at a comfortable volume - low and just how I like it. This song came up and I remembered one of my favorite sounds ever. There are some things that we love but for some reason they slip into the back of our minds...

There is something about this song (and the video) that arouses this need in me to love, and to love more, the land of my fathers - a little country amongst several countries that form the Levantine region. I love the dabke but there was a time many long years ago when I was more westernized and thought of our culture and traditions as unsophisticated and unrefined. I remember my father would explain to me the beauty of the dabke: this noble act of holding hands together and feet stomping the ground in accord as the ultimate expression of unity and harmony. I never understood what my father was trying to tell me. I continued to listen to rock music.

But then, living as an expatriate in London made all the difference. I studied at a school that encouraged all things Arabic and I saw our world from the perspective of an outside observer. And then I went deeper into the study of our history and that's when the search for my identity took a different turn. Arabic is a beautiful language, Umm Kulthum is a great singer, and the dabke is a magnificent dance...

They say time changes us - sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. I still listen to rock. But I am not that person anymore who thought that I was above the dabke (or what it represented)...