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Showing posts from September, 2006

Decisions in a closet

In a few days , I will be travelling to another Middle Eastern capital . Travelling is a pain - agreed.
But for an Arab woman , it is more than just a nuisance , it is torture .
Everytime , I am set to go to some Middle Eastern city , my mind gets into semi automatic gear and I am always amazed as to how I can process several thoughts simultaneously all at once .
One of my biggest obsessions when travelling to another Middle Eastern country is what shall I wear - I become totally fixated on this thought .
Some of you may think it is female vanity or simple coquetterie . I can assure none of that is true .
It goes beyond that . For a non veiled woman such as myself (rightly or wrongly) , what I decide to wear is of crucial importance these days . I say these days , because am old enough to know it was not that way before - before meaning in the early 80's and 90's .
Now , I have to be very very careful . My wardrobe has become a "lieu" for deep reflections .
Is this dress…

To Arab Americans in their Ghaflah

I dedicate this poem to you , Arab-Americans .

Ghaflah - The Sin of Forgetfulness

born by the mediterranean
our mothers bathe us in orange -blossom water
olive trees and cedars...
we come to america where they call our land
the East meaning different/dark/dirty
we soon forget....
we know that barbie
looks better than Scheherazade...
proud of our colonizers tongue
we forget the Qur'an sings in arabic...
we stared at pictures of our children
eye sockets carved out by rubber bullets
on the 10 o'clock news
our brothers and sisters spit up blood and teeth
and CBS declares them "terrorists"
now we turn away from bruises and broken bones
body counts and funerals
we know we cannot help anyway
we forget we once stood on the same ground
they die on ...
we look for the arabia packaged by the west
we eat pasty hummous at eight dollars a plate
and tell each other
how much we miss home .

( Extracts from the Poem by Dima Hilal , from the Poetry of Arab Women , ed.by N.Handal, 2001)

Enheduanna & Goethe - A poem

The following is an extract from Amal Al-Juburi poem . An Iraqi Poetess living in Germany.

Enheduanna & Goethe

We are both different :
you thought and spoke your verses,
I gave my poems birth,
then conceived my thoughts.
Why do you blame me when I gather
the tribes of lovers and the exiled
into the day's cemetery?
You have awakened women whom I imprisoned in the dungeons of hell.
O West, I am hurtful...
There is no piety in my heart
but I am the priestess of the great suffering,
I drag your land from the webs of words
while you drag me to your "West-East Divan"
We both balance on the same rope
though we part walking toward two abysses .


(Extracts from The Poetry of Arab Women, ed .by N,Handal, 2001)

*** Note to the reader : Enheduanna was a Sumerian Princess , daughter of King Sargon, and also a high Priestess of the moonGod of Ur and a poet for the Goddess Inanna .

La Gasolina Fever on a Saturday Night

Saturday night . Had not gone out socializing in ages . Tonight I made up my mind . Enough being cooped up in my apartment commiserating in total recluse .
I was going to join the rest of the human race in their mundane activities . Armed with the thought of being part of a group even for a few hours , filled me up with a burst of energy .
I joined a bunch of friends . We met up in an unassuming joint, simple people, unostentatious attire , good music . The night was young and welcoming .
Hits blasting on the speakers - hip hop, reggae,funk,techno,rap. latino - did not matter, I danced to all of them . I whirled , twirled, jumped, stomped , shook .... like some heretic exorcising himself about to be born again . The external world no longer existed , there was just me in this little universe .
Then something strange happened . The DJ decided to play a latin hit and the lyrics came closer and closer about to engulf me and the song went : " Me gusto la Gasolina, me gusto la Gasolina.…

A souk in Damascus

S. called , she said : "Let's go downtown" . Downtown usually means the heart of the City, and that means : souks , bazars , vendors, merchants, hustle bustle , cacophonous car horns , crowds , traffic jams ...you name it .
I have never felt comfortable in crowded places . I avoid shopping malls and souks like the plague especially during peak hours . But this was no peak hour .
A feeling of angst washed over me . I could not tell where it was exactly coming from, or why it had suddenly emerged leaving me so indecisive and so restless .

"So what do you say ? " S. retorted impatiently . "Some other day " I, sheepishly, replied.
I could tell S. was not pleased and I felt a little guilty . After all this was not our first time downtown , and in the past it had been a relatively hassle free outing - apart from some occasional lewd remark or an unwelcomed stare from some passer by - usually male .

I hung up the phone and was adamant about getting to the…

A Minaret in Switzerland .

My friend H who lives in Zurich sent me this piece of news today .
In Switzerland , a supposedly direct " grass root democracy," a "center" party is preparing a cantonal/federal bill opposing the construction of any minaret attached to a mosque.
The reasons forwarded by this " center party "are that the : " Islamic culture is totally incompatible with Western culture " and " Islam and muslims are an aggressive , expansionist force that have no place in our territory ".
Hence , the minaret a symbol of Islam's call to prayer is about to be banned in the future and the edifying of any mosque will have to be done without it.

Do you think this might be Anti-Semitic by any chance ? Let us go and ask Herr. Goldstein whom I believe is an active member there and hear what he has to tell us .

A cause for Rejoicing

A very short Poem by M.Jalal Al Din Al Rumi.

The Hiding Place

The most secure place to hide a treasure of gold
is in some desolate unnoticed place.
Why would anyone hide treasure
in plain sight ?
And so it is said ,
"Joy is hidden beneath Sorrow".

(Mathnawi III,1133-34)

Cairo and all that Jazz........

I had just finished a workshop in Cairo . I had one more night to kill before heading "home".
I browsed through the glossy "Cairo by night " for any interesting events .
To my surprise and joy , here it was . A fusion jazz night playing at the one and only famous jazz club in Cairo located in the proper middle class neighborhood of al Mohandeseen.

As an avid jazz lover , I was really looking forward to this fusion of East/West .
I called the number . Finally someone answered . A man .
"Cairo Jazz Club ".
"Hello , my name is Layla Anwar , am passing through and would really love to attend tonight's concert . I am calling to book a table ".
" Welcome to Cairo ya Set , how many will you be ? "
"Ermm...just me "
"What do you mean just you ?"
"I am passing through on a professional trip and I just ...."
"Sorry , we are fully booked ..."
"But , you just said ....."
"We are full . "
"…

Headless in Baghdad

I had just finished paying for my coffee when my eye caught sight of an old newspaper, left behind, resting on a chair waiting to be picked up . I felt maybe some omen from the Gods is in store for me . I took it , stuffed it in my handbag and left the place quickly like some thief running away with stolen goods .
Days passed and the newspaper sat there , staring at me . I finally acknowledged it .
I nonchalantly flicked through it . So far nothing special, same stuff you read daily ...
The repetitive news that no longer affect us - 35 dead in Iraq , 7 killed in Afghanistan , 10 shot in Gaza - you now the usual ....
But page 2 was different . Right at the bottom of the already yellowed paper was the long awaited sign from the Gods ....
It read : "One of the most important treasures stolen in the ransacking of Iraq's national museum three years ago has been recovered ..." .
The recovered piece was one of the oldest archeological pieces over 4'400 years old - a statue o…

The Corner/Al Zawiya - A poem

This poem was written on a table napkin in a small Iraqi restaurant called "Al Zawiya" in January 2005 .

The Corner/Al Zawiya

Stuck in a Corner
our backs to the Wall
fighting off
Memories and Ghosts
that erupt
to haunt us .

Barricaded in a Corner
of our minds
A battle is waged
armed with arrows
of pictures , snapshots
in black and white
scented with perfumes
of musk and amber
cardomom and honeyed tobacco.
Images swaying
to the sound of the Nay
dancing in ecstasy
to the beat of ancient drums .

Stuck in a Corner
our backs to the Wall
Spirits from Sumer and Babel
emerge from under
the smoky tables
tugging us
to the vivid blue
of the Euphrates .

Stuck in a Corner
our smoke unites
with the smoke
of my grandmother's wooden stove
mingled with the smell of fresh bread
and tea .

Stuck in a Corner
our backs to the Wall
sounds and visions
creep through the cracks
of our minds
oblivious to our shields
catching us by surprise
covering us
like the morning dew
that deflowers
the orange blossom trees
in the old aged garden
of Babyl…

In Memory of Nadem

It has been almost two years since you're gone .
It is ironic that even when people are gone we can't mention their names and we stick to the first letter of their name. Your family will be also be kept a secret because I do care about them and I want no harm to reach them.

You told me : " Baghdad, here I come " - I said : " Please don't ".
You insisted. I knew you had not visited in years, from fear of the old regime.
And I also knew that you were worried about your sick dad, whom you had not seen in ages.
You wanted to see him before he passed away as you never got the chance to see your mom.
I could hear the anticipation in your voice and I knew you heard the fear in mine .

You arrived with your bubbly self. Jovial, kind, full of love for people regardless of who they were.
You really believed in "radical change" and you dedicated your whole lifetime to its ideals.
You hated the American presence yet you came. Maybe you saw some hope deep…

The Ghetto story a la Samuel Beckett.

The word Ghetto was first used in Dante's language - Italian . The first ghetto recorded was in Venice and was populated by Jews. If my historical memory is correct ,that must have been around the 14th Century.
The second most famous Ghetto was the Warsaw ghetto and again it was populated by Jews and that was during the 2nd World War.
The third even bigger and most famous Ghetto is the West Bank and is now populated by Palestinians .
And then, there is another ghetto within a ghetto and it is called Gaza.
And within the Gaza ghetto every home is a ghetto , where none can leave .

So the ghetto and the ghetto within the ghetto and the home within the ghetto are now all sealed by a great Wall .
No , not the Berlin Wall - that one fell down. A new wall - higher, taller, thicker, stronger, sturdier.

So those inside the Ghetto can be : packaged, stamped, confined , constricted, squeezed, caged, restricted , limited , imprisoned.....in a piece of their own land.

So let us figure it out toget…