Sunday, December 8, 2013

Your presence, Your serenity

There are moments when I fret myself to the point of insanity about sticky situations that pop up in life. I'm sure many of us do. Over-think until the decision tree we're drawing in our head grows enough branches to bring it all tumbling down. The broken branches stick around, rot in the corners of my brain, serve no purpose except stopping me from enjoying anything else.

But on other, wiser moments, all it takes is a whispered 'I trust in You' and the worries fade. My view clears. It is almost like, dare I say, God grants me a tiny percentage of His vision. The peephole I view the world through widens, just a weeny bit, and I see the universe in its enormity, the insignificance of all of our problems at work and home, the incredible abundance of talk, talk, empty talk. And I leave it to God. It always works out. In a way so beautiful and intricately-woven that caters to everyone that only the All-encompassing, Perfect One could have been behind it. I want to always be aware of it- Your serenity.

Oh God. Don't leave me in the hands of my own unreliable self. I am Yours. Don't give my self back to me.


God's existence is the most audible. I hear it from my bedroom window at the break of each dawn: here is another day brought to us- every piece and element that makes part of it sings His praises. I hear it in my cousin's four-year-old's laughs and clever questions, in my mother's concerned expressions. I heard it that day, loud and clear, in the way we huddled up in the cosy coffee-shop, energized and united by a single passion. Notice the glint in the eyes of a person doing great at what they love to do and you will know that at some point, everyone is a believer.

Rumi's father had an interesting conversation with Him. I read it in The Drowned Book and folded down the page's corner, just because I felt I had to give that particular beautiful excerpt some special attention. Bahauddin prayed that his search for God be made more energetic. The answer came: Your bones and skin, your organs, your whole body structure is alive with your presence. You, Bahauddin, are present in every extremity, in the throb of your heart, your brain, the chest wall. You continuously flood through each section. Those parts do not see you, yet you are as surely in those as I inhabit every component part of the world, the changes in temperature, every invigoration you feel, the slightest delight. Each comes directly from this presence.

I want to always be aware of it- Your presence; in every emotion I feel, every thought passing through me.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

When skies wept blood

Hussain. Fifty-four, curly-headed, light-skinned, medium-height Hussain. History tells us he had a face and smile like his grandfather- it washed away your worries. It's the year 680, and Hussain stands alone on the plains of a deserted land far away from his home. His refusal to pledge allegiance to a tyrannical ruler brought him here. He has just lost his loved ones- one by one. First his most faithful companions- loyal friends who stayed by his side knowing full well the end in sight. Then his family-he used a piece of cloth to gather pieces of Qasim, his teenaged nephew, trampled under the enemy's horses' hooves. He held on to the speared chest of his eighteen-year-old Akbar and asked to listen to his beautiful voice one last time. He wept over his brave brother Abbas- watched as the flag he carried with courage fell with his cut hands. He held his six-month-old baby in his arms, tiny neck pierced with an arrow.

Now- Hussain stands alone, throat dry, heart torn. In the distance, he can hear the whimpers of the women and children from their tents. He can make out the voices of Sakina, his daughter; Zainab, his sister; Rabab, his wife. He knows they are thirsty, heart-broken and will soon be in the hands of the most merciless of people. So far he has sacrificed some of the closest to his heart for the sake of goodness, and soon he will sacrifice himself too. But before he gives his own life, he has one last message to leave. Hussain cups his hands around his mouth, and calls out in a loud, clear voice:

Is there anyone who will come to assist us? Is there anyone who will respond to our call? 

He repeats this four times- facing all directions. Who is this call for?

It is for us. A call to be carried forward over the generations. A call to fight against injustice in every time and space. To make sure that love and humanity prevail, even if it means having to make a sacrifice.

The Tragedy of Karbala is not simply an unfortunate event in history. It is the most important revolution. It is the only entirely self-less sacrifice by ultimate love against ultimate hatred. It is the only event that has been remembered from the beginning of time, and will continue to be remembered to the end. It is the only event in history that the sky turned red for, stones bled, and the snakes and the fishes in the sea mourned.

Today, millions around the world will be mourning Hussain- remembering his story, re-telling it in poems and eulogies and plays, re-enforcing his message, keeping it alive for yet another year. Some will choose ways to mourn that you will not like- hitting themselves with chains or swords to feel Hussain's pain. Whether this is appropriate or not is another story. To ignore the brutal killing of Hussain and his followers, the meaning of his sacrifice, and to instead focus on criticizing the way he is remembered in some places is distasteful. To reduce Hussain's sacrifice to mundane discussions is disrespectful.

As long as there are hearts in this world that continue to be moved by the fate of his loving self at the hand of his hateful oppressors, goodness has prevailed and Hussain and his message live on forever.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Nature's Complaisance

It's not right what you say                            
Doing what you love isn't key                    
Clouds don't whine when it's time to go grey      
Nor the sand when it's whipped by the sea      

Doing what you love isn't key               
Planets throw no tantrums at routine       
Nor the sand when it's whipped by the sea       
We're the only ones making a scene       

Planets thrown no tantrums at routine       
Think they care about being 'truly content'?      
We're the only ones making a scene       
The only ones expressing dissent        

Think they care about being 'truly content'?        
It's not right what you say                             
Just love what you do; relent                    
Clouds don't whine when it's time to go grey    


The above is a (humble) attempt at a pantoum. It is also a note to myself, in case this comes off as hypocritical!  

In other news, one of the poems I wrote on this blog back in January- Tell Me- has been published in an anthology entitled 'Cover to Cover- A Collection of Poems' by Forward Poetry Publishers (ISBN: 9781844186518), a copy of which will be available at the British Library and other libraries across the UK. I want to thank everyone who read it here- a special thank you to Laila, Loverofwords and Talitha for their very encouraging comments on the poem, and to Susan Kane for hanging it on her mirror!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The last confirmation of love when everything else falls away

“People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two loves, but this, too, was great; sitting between his sister and his brother, saying nothing, eating. Before the world existed, before it was populated, and before there were wars and jobs and colleges and movies and clothes and opinions and foreign travel -- before all of these things there had been only one person, Zora, and only one place: a tent in the living room made from chairs and bed-sheets. After a few years, Levi arrived; space was made for him; it was as if he had always been. Looking at them both now, Jerome found himself in their finger joints and neat conch ears, in their long legs and wild curls. He heard himself in their partial lisps caused by puffy tongues vibrating against slightly noticeable buckteeth. He did not consider if or how or why he loved them. They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away.” 
― From a new addition to my all-time favourite novels: Zadie Smith's On Beauty

When Noddy arrived and we made space for her, she was the most beautiful baby ever. It's not like you have to take the sister's word for it. I have the testimony of every eye laid on her to back me up. She's beautiful, they all said, somewhat confusedly. New-born babies are meant to be monkeys to everyone other than family, but Noddy defied this with her arresting brown eyes, already thickly-lashed, the perfectly-shaped nose, a thin ruby-red line, matching red cheeks.

That August morning, Peach and I woke up early. 'Your new sister's born,' my aunt said, busying herself with picking lint off her clothes. She had that cheeky smile on, though, so we rushed to the kitchen for confirmation from my other aunt, the serious one. Before we went to the hospital, we went shopping with my aunts. I have no idea why. We walked unhurriedly along the shops in Brent Cross. Somehow, the incredibly exciting fact that a new baby sister awaited us didn't stop us enjoying the moment. I miss that ability. We were giddy- Peach and I, making funny faces at each other through the clothes-racks, taking full advantage of my mother's absence and unashamedly picking out long-wanted items for our aunts to buy for us. At some point, going up a floor, Peach tripped and my panicked aunt dragged her up, her knees painfully scabbing against the escalator stairs. This was exciting beyond imagination. We talked about it for the next hour, replaying the details again and again. Each retelling added greater drama, until it was dangerously hovering towards becoming a story of the escalator swallowing Peach up, and the Hercules of my aunt saving her life.

My mother let us put her to sleep that night. We stood for hours on either side of her bed, Peach and I, singing softly, her hands clutching on to our thumbs. Long after she had fallen asleep, cuddled cosily amongst heaps of pink and white sheets. It really was as if she had always been.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Peaceful Place

I want to be back there.

Breathing in air emptied of all resentment. Circling the Ka'aba, stupefied by her grandeur. Enveloped by a single mass of kings and slaves in white. Moving effortlessly. Forgetting how it feels to be annoyed, worried, heated. Serenity. And then taking my soul up high, just enough to see myself in perspective- a tiny dot moving, with the billions around her, with the planets in their orbits. Whispering, again and again, Labbayk, Here I am.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


The world is full of people---appallingly full; it has never been so full before, and they are all tumbling over each other. Most of these people one doesn't know and some of them one doesn't like; doesn't like the color of their skins, say, or the shape of their noses, or the way they blow them or don't blow them, or the way they talk, or their fondness of jazz or their dislike of jazz, and so on. Well, what is one to do? There are two solutions. One is the Nazi solution. If you don't like them, kill them, banish them, segregate them, and strut up an down proclaiming that you are the salt of the earth. The other way is less thrilling, but is on the whole the way of the democracies, and I prefer it. If you don't like people, put up with them as well as you can. Don't try to love them. You can't, and you'll only strain yourself. But try to tolerate them. On the basis of that tolerance a civilized future may be built. Certainly I see no other foundation for the postwar world.

- E. M. Forster.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bil 3arabi

I am reading Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake these days. I fell in love with this book from the first page- a pregnant Aashima struggling to adjust to her new foreign world. Ashoke's uncompromising elegant suits and polished shoes. And their son, Gogol, stuck with a name he despises. He tries to strip himself off it, stuck in between Bengaliness and Americanness- speaking this and that, forever conflicted with this identity crisis.

We had a rule at home when we were kids. No English at home. English is for school, only. At home, we speak Arabic. That is your language. A non-negotiable rule. Once a trip to the theme park that we'd been planning for days got cancelled. This is so fun! somebody had said. The No-English rule was like a soapy hand trying to grab on to our threatened Arab identity. It managed to hold on sometimes. But other times, it slipped. Uninvited English words made their way into our carefully constructed Arabic sentences. They invaded our thoughts, visited our dreams. They were the first to arrive when I put a pencil to a paper, the first to come in mind when I opened my mouth to speak.

At gatherings, my uncle tells us of the family history we never witnessed. Of my grandfather and his generation, and the lives they led, an ocean away from the kind I do. On their daily conversations strewn with couplets of poetry invented on the spot. On the recital contests between them that entertained them on lazy afternoons. On the letters they wrote each other- eloquent letters in complex Arabic, ones I'd need a Google translator to decode. On the odes written for the important marriages and births in the family. Personalized ones, with symbolic use of the names in question. They're called a taareekh because in the last couplet, the numbers corresponding to each alphabet that appears add up to the date of that event in the Islamic Calendar.

On my last trip to Baghdad, we stayed over my great-aunt's house- a home that housed the scholar of her husband. I was brushing my teeth at the sink when I noticed a part of the wall by the corridor protruding. It's a library, they said. We slid the wall and the smell of old books whipped me. Books filled shelves from floor to ceiling on all four sides and in the middle as well. I didn't go to sleep pleased with this sight but disturbed, because a thought kept nagging me: You'll never be able to read and appreciate the books that make up your family's libraries.

Maybe the No-English rule couldn't stop English becoming our first language, but I am grateful it existed. I may stumble upon some Arabic words, use them in the wrong places, but at least I speak it at home, talk to my parents in the language they gave me, recognize it as mine. I may not fully comprehend the works of Al-Mutannabi, but at least I can read them, grasp its feel, appreciate the beauty of its rhythm. Maybe I whizz through dozens of English novels, and snail-pace through a Naguib Mahfouz once a year, but at least I try to stay loyal to my language.

A couple of days ago, I was out for lunch with a friend. The waiter brought an English menu for her, an Arabic one for me. English menu too, please, I say. You'll pick quicker in English, Ghadeer. You know how awful it is trying to decipher transliterated dish names, I justify in my head. But as I look through the English menu, I can't help picturing this. My ancestors looking in at this scene. Being told, 'That's your daughter, there, pushing away the Arabic menu, looking through a foreign one and blabbering away in English.' It saddens me, that I am more comfortable in a tongue that's not mine.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Dear New-born Babies of the World

Welcome to our planet! Home of the egocentric, the presumptuous, the hateful, where the rich are bowed to, the ugly ignored, and not an era goes by when some country is not at war with another. The shape your life takes will vary, perhaps depending on where on the planet you were born, to whom, and how the genetic instructions in your deoxyribonucleic acid molecules are patterned. But typically, it will go something like the following.

A few years of laziness and zero responsibilities that will flash by in a wink, during which the systems you're subjected to kill any creativity you hold inside. Another few years that shake everything you thought was true about your identity, beliefs, and the infallibility of adults. Just when you are recovering from confusion you will have to decide what it is you want to do for the rest of your life. And you will have to make that decision quick. Once you, or more likely, other people, have made that decision for you, you will go through a brief period of solace where your only duty is to get educated. Most likely, you will come up with many ambitious plans during this time and aspire to do a great many things. If your life takes the typical path, though, you will get caught up in other things and achieve nothing of your dreams. Maybe you will even forget them. Or change your mind. Anyway, you will get up everyday, go to work, eat to carry on, sleep to recharge, and then get up the next day to do it all over again. You might get married and have children, and your spouse and kids might add colour to your life, or darken it, but in any case, you will often find yourself not having enough time to spend with them. Eventually, you will grow old, begin to forget things, and need help to walk and bathe. Maybe you will be lucky enough to have someone take care of you, maybe not. Your system will slowly shut down, and one day, you will leave this world. It doesn't matter how.

Wait! Stop crying. I have some good news too. Do I look that much of a sadist to you?

Some day everything that can possibly go wrong will, and you'll weep your heart out to your mother and spend the rest of the evening a spoiled prince/cess. And you will know there's a mother's love out there worth living to have. Some day you will fall sick and just when you're on the hospital bed feeling dejected, a bunch of friends come in, dripping wet from the storm they had to walk through, or stretching their limbs because of the hours of traffic they were stuck in. And you will know there are kind souls out that are worth living to meet. Some day your kid will run to you from school with a crayoned drawing of you. It'll look like a scribbled blob, but you'll stick the masterpiece to the fridge and know that your kids are worth living to watch grow. Some day, you'll have a really good laugh about something entirely silly. And then you'll realise how seriously you're taking life and spend the rest of the day feeling chilled and awesome.  Some day you will look back at something you wanted so bad at one point, and realise with a jolt how grateful you are that it didn't happen. Some day, when you least expect it, you will create something that changes lives without knowing it: maybe start a business, design a home, write a book, make a movie, click a photo, bake a cake or simply say a few words, and you will realise how much everyone has to contribute to this world. And how you will make a difference without trying too hard. Some day you will talk directly to God. It could be when you're on the prayer mat, on a bus ride, in an office meeting, having breakfast or during a walk on the beach. You will feel the response in your heart, and finally be One and in sync with the Universe and all of creation.

Life is beautiful, babies. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Brothers Karamazov

I took a good two weeks to stagger through this story that spreads in tiny font over 936 pages. Usually, this would annoy me, even affect my opinion of the book, unless the length is clearly excusable (like in Harry Potter!). You know the writing advice that goes, 'Every sentence should either advance the story or reveal the character'? So much of those pages were simply Dostoevsky's ramblings, really, repetitive details or lengthy character speeches that were just the author's own musings spoken through their mouths. But I loved every page. How could I not when it started off with an adorable introduction to the reader apologizing for his book's long length?

Dostoevsky's life was dark and dramatic. His outspoken writing led him to prison, where he was given insane silent treatment, the kind where even his guards wore velvet shoes. He suffered years of hard labour in Siberia strewn with epileptic attacks. The fact that he came out of these horrifying experiences with the strength and mental ability to pen down master-pieces drained in powerful thought makes me respect his work and appreciate it tenfold.

The Brothers Karamazov revolves around three brothers who come from a broken family and grow to be individuals tormented by questions that our universe has forever struggled with: about God, man, the truth and the mystery of existence. Unfortunate events happen, ones that the three brothers find themselves entangled in, and ones where their answers to these questions play important roles.

There is very much fuel for thought in almost every chapter, but there are two bits I came across that especially appealed to me.

One was a Russian fairy-tale one of the main characters- Grushenka- tells the story's hero Alyosha:

Once upon a time there lived a nasty, very horrible, old woman. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; ‘She once pulled up an onion in her garden,’ said he, ‘and gave it to a beggar woman.’ And God answered: ‘You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.’ The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. ‘Come,’ said he, ‘catch hold and I’ll pull you out.’ he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. ‘I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.’ As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.
The other was the dying speech of an elder from the monastery:
Much is hidden from us on earth but as compensation, we have been given a mysterious, sacred sense of a living bond with another world, with a lofty and superior world; and indeed, the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not in the earth but in other worlds. That is why philosophers say it is impossible for us on earth to grasp the essence of things. God took the seeds of other worlds and sowed them on this earth and they sprouted in His garden; everything that could grow, did. And all that has grown remains alive and lives by its awareness of its ties to other, mysterious worlds, and if that awareness weakens or dies in you, then all that has grown within you will also die. And you will become indifferent to life, will even come to hate it. 
Have you ever had anybody ask you to prove that God exists by asking you to show God to them?
How absurd is that.
Will the limitless power, the source of everything that is and can be, so immense and beyond our limited minds to comprehend, be a simple physical form, for your only human senses to see, touch and hear?

I am all for the questioning of beliefs and the freedom of thought, but nothing gets to me more than attempts to do away with the mystery of our universe and to reduce us spiritual beings to mere physical ones of skin, bones and nerves. In the words of Walter Miller Jr, 'I don't have a soul. I am a soul. I have a body.'


I am writing this book-review as part of my contribution to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse- a cyber book-club started by The Armchair Squid.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Words are energy
neither created nor destroyed
only recycled.
And the moment your squidish lips squirt their ink
there's no going back
the words are ever-immortalised.
You walk
and they walk with you
the air around your body
quivering under the weight
of everything you have ever spoken.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Instant clicking

I think I have come to terms with being an adult but there are still a few things that I need to digest.
Like how tremendously complicated it is to 'click' with people, and stay clicked. How infinite the factors to take into account are.

Do you remember how easy it was as a kid to click with other kids?

Once my mother took my sister and I to visit my aunt, who was living in the same city and who we visited regularly. Usually we spent our visits with her, telling her stories from school while she made jars of pickles in the kitchen for us to take home. But this time, there was a lady we'd never met before already sitting in the living-room, with a daughter a year younger than me. So as customs dictated, it was my responsibility to entertain the girl.

'Go and play' everyone urged, and so I led her to my aunt's room (which was the only other room) and we connected by turning her bed into a trampoline. That's all we did- we just jumped on the bed. I don't remember us asking each other what our names were, what kind of games we liked to play, what our favourite colour was. Jumping on the bed was enough of a strong introduction that I whined when they had to leave, and thought it was the most miraculous, divine miracle when we spotted each other the next day at school. It was enough for me to count it in one of my earliest real human connections and I don't even know what that girl's name was. 

This other time, I had one of the best summer vacations the year a cousin came from Kuwait with her two girls that were around my age. We clicked so quickly and deeply that I even started talking in a Kuwaiti dialect at home (much to my mother's annoyance). They had rented a house for their two-weeks stay that belonged to a family we knew- an Afghan family who were in the carpet-making business- so you can imagine how beautiful this home was. It stood alone on a road that steeped upward- a large, three-storeyed home with wooden floors. This became my second-home for those two weeks: we spent hour after hour having the time of our lives- but now when I try to think of it, we never actually had to talk or 'get to know each other' to connect. It was enough that we had cheerio-gulping competitions, sessions where we dressed up as ghosts and scared their little sister, and adventurous sneaks into the basement where we each had the privilege of ironing clothes (and burning them).

At one sleep-over that I'll always remember, we abandoned our beds and sprawled our blankets on the floor in the middle of the room, camping on them. We went out into the pitch-black garden at some point on tip-toes, rushing back after mistaking an upside broom for a human. When we finally decided to give in to sleep, we each held out a clothes hanger in the air to protect ourselves from the robber outside. I remember feeling so incredibly happy with my new friends as we closed our eyes and held out our clothes-hanger weapons before us. Simple, real connections.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


You will never find a more empathetic friend than the Universe
It weighs your heart,
awaiting the instant
 it goes heavy.

An ever-ready reflector of spirit.

skies wrap on their mourning veils,
the sun dims,
winds haste
to suck out the remains of hope and meaning from the air,
and the breathing of all life on earth
to a single all-embracing, everlasting

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Speak to us of religion

      And an old priest said, "Speak to us of Religion." 

      And he said: 
      Have I spoken this day of aught else? 
      Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, 
      And that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom? 

      Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations? 

      Who can spread his hours before him, saying, "This for God and this for myself; 
      This for my soul, and this other for my body?"

      All your hours are wings that beat through space from self to self. 
      He who wears his morality but as his best garment were better naked. 
      The wind and the sun will tear no holes in his skin. 
      And he who defines his conduct by ethics imprisons his song-bird in a cage. 
      The freest song comes not through bars and wires. 

      And he to whom worshipping is a window, to open but also to shut, has not yet visited the house of his soul whose windows are from dawn to dawn. 

      Your daily life is your temple and your religion. 
      Whenever you enter into it take with you your all. 

      Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute, 
      The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight. 
      For in revery you cannot rise above your achievements nor fall lower than your failures. 
      And take with you all men: 
      For in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble yourself lower than their despair. 

      And if you would know God be not therefore a solver of riddles. 
      Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children. 

      And look into space; you shall see Him walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms in the lightning and descending in rain. 
      You shall see Him smiling in flowers, then rising and waving His hands in trees. 

~ Extract from Khalil Gibran's 'The Prophet'
Just another of the countless passages I come across and fall in love with.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Can ignorance be bliss?

"Ignorance is bliss" some people say. Not always, but I can definitely defend this expression using life as a kid. Kids are ignorant, and they're happy, and alot of this happiness wouldn't amount to the same if they were looking at their life through educated, adult eyes.

When I was a kid, we moved from London to Dubai and life flipped a one-eighty degrees. Everything was new: from the yellow sky to the multitude of fast-food that was suddenly permissible, from small colourful classrooms to huge confusing ones, from silent house-lined roads to high-rise buildings on streets that never shut up. 

As we slowly started to settle into our new city, the friends and acquaintances that I expected would quickly replace the many we had had in London weren't coming. "We don't know them yet- how can I send you to a house I know nothing about?"- explained my mom every time I huffed away after a rejected birthday party invite. 

One very ordinary morning brought a knock on the door. A wobbly woman stood there, dressed in an over-sized shirt, trousers that did nothing to complement her figure, and a hijab shabbily tied around her head in haste. A boy my age and a girl two years younger cluttered around her legs. "Ah! You have a new friend now!" she bellowed, eyeing me top to bottom, before shoving them to me with a laugh. "Yalla, go play! Leave me alone with khala our neighbour!' She stepped in uninvited and unnoticed by my mother, who was busy staring at my new friends' bare and dirty feet in horror. Little did she know how accustomed my mother's sparking-clean floor would soon become to their rough feet. 

Our visitor came from a flat two floors beneath us: Palestinian, and one of two wives to a man, from an Iraqi village we had never heard of, whose face hadn't learnt how to smile. Their two-roomed apartment was cramped with two families and a zillion of objects, boxes and equipment in no discernible pattern. Zaid and Israa spoke a coarse hybrid of Palestinian-Iraqi dialect and had a wide vocabulary of words that even the walls of our own house would shrink away from. They rang the bell two or three times at uncustomary times of the day to play with us, always with an update on the status back home before letting themselves in. 
"We're bored."
"Mama said to get out off her sight"
"The television is broken."
"They're having a fight." 
Zaid would occasionally grab the garbage bin mid-conversation to spit in. He and his sister were more comfortable walking around our house than we ourselves were. They'd barge into the kitchen for a snack and peek into rooms to see what everyone else was up to. In our family, my father's afternoon nap-time was holy and had to be respected with utmost silence, but any attempts at hushing them up would be met with "Okay, don't worry, I'll go listen at his door to make sure he's asleep first."

My mother, courteous as she is, allowed the kids inside everyday, and from time to time, their mother herself, who like her children thought it perfectly normal to invite herself into my parents' bedroom and spread the collection of latest clothes she'd brought on their bed for display. But her pursed lips and tight smile spoke volumes of the inner debate inside her- between being the polite, good neighbour and between not allowing this clearly un-cultured family from getting too close. This worry intensified after we went to a clothes store once (they had spotted us climbing into the car and hurried over to join us) and I ended up running between clothing racks playing hide and seek, avoiding my mother's glares.

I remember the day they moved out. Zaid and Israa came over to say their goodbyes. They were exceptionally quiet. My sister and I tried to soften up the atmosphere by cracking a few jokes. They laughed but I noticed their eyes shined with tears. All I could see then was that these kids didn't follow the same rules we did. That hadn't come in the way of our play-time. I was blind to all the socio-economic differences between us- to the completely different background their family came from and the strikingly mismatched way we had been reared. 

And that is why I say sometimes ignorance can be bliss. Because if it was not for the blind innocence of kids, Zaid and Israa would never have been able to play with us. They wouldn't have had an escape from the awful environment they faced at home, and they wouldn't have been able to witness a stable family. When they cross my mind, I wonder where they are, what they're doing, and hope they're okay, but deep down, I know if I ever did meet them, the adult me wouldn't be able to ignore the gulf of differences between us. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Awaited

Even the night celebrates, carries a bright full moon by the hand
And I wonder, when, and if, you watch this view, where it is you stand
And how much of the moonlight shining our world is just your own reflected
And how much heavier your heart weighs since the last year
And how much more disconnected

I send my love and greetings everyday
Dispatch them sans address, hoping they find their way
I wish I could be more selective in what exactly it is you receive
I just really want you to think that I'm all set and ready
But in vain does my ugliness try to stay up my sleeve

To see you, I'll only pray for under one condition
That I have the privilege of your admission
Do you hear the desperation in my hearts' beats?
The promise of you that makes all worthy
The seemingly endless cycle of defeat?

Listen- to the sound of hope in every breath of air
This is my only gift to you- for your patience that never wears
An inexhaustible fuel to run it. Tiny amends for my behaviour
Anything to keep me alive for
My awaited saviour.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Graduate :)

My schooling began unceremoniously. I remember my first official day. It wasn't exactly my first day. My mother worked in that school, so I ended up doing my kindergarten year twice before I was eligible to start. It didn't feel like my first day of school because I'd been going to school unofficially for ages.

That class-room had hexagonal tables, mini-chairs and colourful walls. The windows were large and let in the little sun-light that was available. By the class-room door were hangers on the walls supporting kid-sized rain-coats, and a shelf with extra sets of neatly-folded uniform. I secretly dreamed of the day I'd get to wear one of them, but that day never came. There was a corner with a sink, and a stool to help us reach the tap. I was always looking for excuses to wash my hands ("Oh, I had to use my rubber, Miss", "I sharpened a pencil", "I touched the carpet strings") because for some reason it was so exciting stepping on to that stool and using the pink liquid soap. Then there was the Reading Corner- a cosy, carpeted area surrounded by low book-shelves, where I spent many hours of my un-official school years napping and flipping through picture-books.

The day I started my "real" kindergarten year, I strolled around the class, feeling in control while kids poured in wailing and clutching their mothers. I finally chose to sit at a table opposite a chocolate-skinned girl with big cheeks and shoulder-length straight hair. She interested me because she was weeping silently like adults do, and she had her hands covering her eyes but I could notice her peeking at me through the fingers. I remember staring at her unashamedly for the rest of the day until we talked. Her name was Ada, and she's a mother to a two-year-old son now, which is both awesome and daunting.


Now I'm done with my university years and it feels like my schooling has ended as unceremoniously as it began. I've spent enough time lamenting the fact that time passes and people have no choice but to grow up. A part of me will always continue to yearn the past. I can't help that.

But I'm looking forward to what's next. I don't have a plan and I don't know exactly what it is I want or where I'd like to land. I do know that the schooling I've spent my whole life at has left me with a load of facts, feelings and precious lessons, and armed with that, whatever I do, I will do it as best as I can. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around me. Cherish my friends, stay true to my principles, live passionately and fully and well. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

For the Love of Words

I recently read a work of pure genius recommended by somebody from my book club.

Ella Minnow Pea (if you didn't catch that: L-M-N-O-P!) is set on an island called Nollop, named after the supposed creator of the famous sentence that uses all the letters of the language:
"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog"

This sentence is preserved on an important memorial in the island, and throughout the novel, the letters begin to mysteriously drop one by one. The government takes this as a sign that the letters that have dropped must be eliminated from the English language, and bans the use of those letters.

Here's the amazing bit:
As each letters falls and becomes prohibited from use, so do they disappear from the novel.

If you're not shaking your head in amazement at that, I don't know what it takes to impress you.

There are several themes brought up in the novel: free speech, totalitarianism, the sanctification of things. But what got me thinking most was the degree to which letters getting banned affected their expressiveness- their connectivity to each other- eventually, their life. It reminded me of 1984 and the "Newspeak" that the government enforced to take away expression from people.

It shows that words are everything.

What's a life worth when you can't give voice to your thoughts? When you can't connect with the world around you? Sure, there are examples, like Hellen Keller who was able to shake the world being deaf, dumb and blind. But she only started to make a difference when she began reaching out and making herself heard.


But that's not entirely true.

Some people are all talk. ALL talk. Literally.
There are others who do. Have you ever heard the saying, "What you do is so loud that I can't hear what you say."? I love that line.

Also, sometimes you don't need words. Remember that summer in Lebanon when you and I were official vacation buddies? We left everyone with their afternoon tea-cups and water-melon plates sitting under the grapevine, and we climbed up to where there was that cushioned-swing facing Amu's orchard. We spent two hours just sitting there on a swing in a mountain, with orange and apple trees spread like a carpet before us, watching a breath-taking sun set over tens of villages looking like dots from so far away.

When we went back to everyone else, we laughed like crazy because we realised we spent two hours together not saying anything. Weirdly, it felt like we'd had the longest conversation ever.

It shows that words are nothing.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Weep the World

When life catches you cry
Tell your tears, as they pour
How noble it is to do so for much more

Like, you could cry
On behalf of every boy brought up thinking it isn't man to
For every face and body scrutinized to be "approved"
For every slashed wrist,
forced puke
and pill misused
For the tonnes of powder and pencil helping to disguise
tired and insecure skin and eyes

for the kid whose mother's too busy to raise
and the parents on their child's life missing out
for hearts of house-maids far away from home
and the scarce notes they can't do without
for ignored questions
untold bed-time tales
and drawing-less fridges
for couples biting their nails in fertility centres
and for babies left under bridges

for all the unnoticed flairs and potentials not harnessed
for every time a human heart was demeaned
and every time an ego-injury wasn't spared
for miscalculated rejections
and unprecedented afflictions dealt
for every swear word told
and every insult felt

for a disease with no cure
and the time-tickers over homes looming
for all the beautiful minds
that are destined for grooming
for emptying bank accounts
and bills demanding to be paid
for skills on stand-by
and economies swayed

Dali's "Pool of Tears"
for bullets in innocent heads
and buildings in shreds
for homelands destroyed
and the high price of diesel
for rivers turned to mud
and the cheapness of blood

for every lie conveyed
and every dark game well-played

No misery weighs more than the other
Everybody has their own story to tell
So weep for yourself
But while you do,
Weep for the world as well

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Day Z: Znood-il-sit, Zalabya, and see you next April

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

Zalabya- Source

Zalabya- a heavenly sweet- is a fried dough, rolled into a circular shape and filled with sugary syrup
that gives it a chewy feel. 

Znood-il-sit- Source

Znood-il-sit- Lady's arms (!)- is a popular sweet in Iraq. Another fried dough, rolled into a cylindrical shell stuffed with cream and sprinkled with pistachio.

Today marks the end of the Blogging Challenge. I hope you've enjoyed learning about Iraqi Culture as much as I have had sharing it with you. Thank you for all your kind comments- I may not reply to each of them here, but I read and appreciate every one of them as well as enjoy reading your blogs in return.

As glad as I am that I participated, I just can't wait till I can go back to blogging at my own pace about whatever comes to my mind!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Day Y: Yezidis- one of many diverse groups

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

The borderlines of Iraq have gathered within them a range of people from diverse ethnicity and religions, all with one common identity of being Iraqi. There are Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians and Turkmen, and there are Muslims, Christians, Jews, and many other minority religions, one of which is the Yezidi faith.

The Yezidis are Kurdish-speaking people found around Europe, in countries such as Russia, Germany and the Ukraine, but the largest population is in Iraq, amounting to around five hundred thousand. The term has been derived from Yezdan- God. Their belief is in One God who has entrusted the world into the care of seven Holy Beings, the most important being the Melek Taus- the Peacock Angel. 

Their annual pilgrimage is to the tomb of Ibn Musafir, located in the city of Mosul. Every Spring, music, dance, lights, food and egg-decorating in Yezidi-concentrated regions signify the start of their new year.

Yezidi New Year Celebration

There was a time when the diversity of the people in Iraq was peaceful to the point of striking amazement in outsiders. An American journalist writes in a National Geographic issue of December, 1914:
"For a year I lived there, the sole specimen of my kind. Yet the 180,000 inhabitants show a striking variety, almost justifying the tradition which locates the "Tower of Babel" near Bagdad. Certainly the mixed races in Bagdad produce even now a striking "confusion of tongues". The mixture preserves a peace balance, undoubtedly, and saves Bagdad from the race wars and massacres common in Asia Minor"
Unfortunately, our beautiful diverse community has lived days of civil strife and sectarianism in recent times. I pray for the day to come soon where we go back to celebrating our differences.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Day X: Algebra's father

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Centuries ago, Baghdad housed a building- the House of Wisdom- a library that sheltered all those thirsty for knowledge. It wasn't just a library but a research centre, a translation institute, and an inter-faith, inter-cultural discussion platform.

Depiction of the House of Wisdom by Yahya ibn Wasiti

Imagine all the great minds coming in from all around the world, to this place that provides them with all the resources they need, and thinking together. The result is most of the concepts that our modern world operates on.

Muhammad ibn Musa al Khawarizmi had already introduced the Indian decimal system to the rest of the world, presented co-ordinates of many areas on our map, wrote a plan on how to make a world map, worked on the sundial and the astrolabe, when one day...he came up with the beginnings and the source of a many 'Find X' on examinations around the world: Algebra.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Day W: Women of Iraq

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Ivory and gold statue of Queen Shu-bad of Sumeria

Women have been an influential part of society since the days the three-starred-crowned queen ruled these lands.

The pages of Iraqi history will always cite several names that contributed to this country: Nazik Al Malaika- the poet, Zaha Hadid- the architect, Amal Al Khedairy- the academic, Salima Murad- the singer, Atwar Bahjat- the journalist. There are women who belong to every profession: from physicists and university lecturers to the police and corporate world.

Women have traditionally featured in countless paintings by Iraqi artists:

Painting by Buthaina Abdul Raheem
Painting by Sattar Kawoosh

Painting by Naseer Thamir
Painting by Asma Al Agha

Painting by Ali Al Tajir
Painting by Nazeeha Saleem   

Another one by Naseer Thamir

And another by Wasmaa Al Agha

Iraq was the first Arab country to elect a woman to a parliamentary position. Today, twenty-five percent of the parliament constitutes of women. The typical Iraqi woman is strong, capable of doing things independently, and very opiniated!

However, there is much room for improvement. The American Invasion left two and a half million women widowed. Twenty-six percent of Iraqi women are illiterate, although this is decreasing with the newer generations. Hopefully, with the right directions, the great potential in young Iraqi women can be unleashed to further show the world how valuable a woman's contribution is to her country.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Day V: Venice of the Middle-East

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Today's letter was difficult, mainly because the letter 'V' does not exist in the Arabic language, and I couldn't think of anything Iraqi starting with that letter.

Until I remembered the Venice of the Middle-East: the city of Basra.


The city of Ancient Sumer, birthplace of Sindbad the Sailor and possibly, quite possibly, the Garden of Eden.


Day U: Umm al Liban- the Yogurt Lady

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


In Iraq, it is very common to associate people with a distinct feature by referring to them as the Mother/ Father of that feature. Just like the 'Drum Guy' in Day I is referred to as Abu- al Tabul, which literally means 'Father of the Drum', one of the important elements on the Iraqi streets is Umm al Liban- the Yogurt Lady, or the 'Mother of Yogurt' if you want to literally translate that (Trust me, it doesn't sound as strange in Arabic!)

This is a painting (actually, a picture of a painting hanging in our living-room) of Umm-al-Laban by the artist Khalid Jabar. You can see the distinct house-doors of Baghdad in the background, as well as the head-abaya that women in Iraq wear. In my opinion, the artist has captured very well the average face of an Iraqi woman: typically olive-skinned, big dark-eyed and prominent eyebrows.

A wonderful tribute to the lady who sells refreshing, salty and sour fresh yogurt to the people of her country.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Day T: The tannoor: where the best bread is born

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.

 The traditional clay oven- the tannoor-  is still used in Iraq, by bakeries...and in peoples' homes. What comes out from those ovens is the crispiest and freshest bread ever.

Here's a lucky little boy enjoying some bread fresh from the oven

Monday, April 22, 2013

Day S: Shako Mako! And warmth-spreaders.

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Shako Mako: the exclusive Iraqi way of saying 'What's up?'


This is what Iraqis call Sopa- a reliable device that warms up rooms when winter gets cruel. Not only does it spread warmth, but it's useful to place a tea kettle on top of the Sopa to keep your tea hot. It is also not uncommon for Iraqis to use the Sopa to dry their wet clothes when the electricity's out and there's no other quick alternative!

Most importantly, huddling around a hot Sopa can make even the coldest gatherings warm and cosy.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Day R: Rasheed Street

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Coffee shops, restaurants, buildings, shops, pharmacies, clinics, studios, laboratories, government buildings and thousands of strollers keep this important street in Baghdad buzzing with life all day.

Home to famous mosques such as the Haider Khana built in 1819 and ancient markets such as the Haraj, most of the buildings on this street date back to the twenties. Officially opened in 1916, Al Rasheed Street has always been a symbol of Iraq's thriving culture.

It is here in those coffee shops where some of Iraq's most prominent intellectuals found their source of inspiration, and it is here where many important discussions and debates take place between members from all classes of society.

Old pictures of Al-Rasheed Street

Policeman helping a kid cross the road
School-children protesting against the British Occupation

Al- Rasheed Street today


Friday, April 19, 2013

Day Q: Qand

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Here's a picture of two pieces of bride-purpose qand (literal meaning: sugar block)- a tradition that has found its way across the Iranian-Iraqi borders.

A marriage in Iraq typically goes through several events: from the formal proposal and engagement, the religious event, also called the Aqd (or the Contract) to the Henna Night before the wedding and then the actual wedding. Sometimes it doesn't stop at the wedding and there's still another function to celebrate a week's passing!

Each of these events have a set of customs and protocol to follow (as mentioned earlier, Iraqis live for customs), but perhaps the most traditional of these is the Aqd, where the bride and groom are officially asked for permission to marry each other by a religious scholar/ cleric.

The cleric begins by talking about marriage before he goes on to ask the bride for her permission. While he gives his speech, the bride is sitting down, and two young girls (usually the bride's sisters, cousins or close friends) hold a white piece of cloth over her head. A third woman, who must be happily married, rubs the two pieces of qand together over the cloth throughout the ceremony.

It is supposed to signify the happily married woman raining sugar over the bride for a sweet marriage.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Day P: Pomegranates

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Iraqis have another name for those crimson red jewels hidden inside a pomegranate. "Habat al janna"- seeds of paradise

They wait fervently for the period they spot the red amongst the pomegranate trees along the road, looking abit like Chinese decorations.

Then they rip them apart and devour the paradise seeds inside.

Or use them to make Shorbat Roumman- pomegranate juice, spiced up with mint and ground beef.

An ample number will be stored to make Rub Rumman out of- pomegranate sauce- a sticky, sweet and sour thing that's an essential ingredient in most stews.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Day O: Owls and their undeserving unpopularity

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Booma- a word in Iraqi dialect meaning owl

Also a word that Iraqi mothers use to cuss their kids whenever they are doing something stupid, silly, unintelligent, inappropriate, or any other behaviour that calls for criticism.

Boomas are very cute, wise, harmless birds that command respect with their glory and prestige. I don't understand at what point and under what basis they became an offense. This is a fragment of my culture that will always be beyond me.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Day N: Naranj, and the palm-tree climbers

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Drop by at any Iraqi home for an afternoon visit and you will most likely be served one of the freshest and most refreshing juices you have had the pleasure to taste, squeezed from narenj- a cross between an orange and a lemon that is plentiful in Iraq.


Palm trees in Iraq are sacred. The nakhla has been around since forever. The Iraqi palm trees stand tall, slim and proud, towering over their subjects who have been attending to them with sincere dedication. They know how much their people care for them, and every Autumn, the generous nakhlas compete with each other on the amount of dates they can reward their care-givers with.

Every once in a while, the front yards of homes witness a gathering of overly-excited children, observing in awe the palm-tree climber, saa'ood al nakhal.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Day M: Masgoof- barbequed fish

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


Iraqis really like their fish, and lucky for them, they have two important rivers that are happy to keep a constant supply to see their peoples' bellies filled and paint a smile on their faces.

The best fish you can feed an Iraqi is Masgoof- seasoned and grilled freshwater fish- a Mesopotamian dish that has been since forever and is important enough to be considered Iraq's national dish.

To cook Masgoof, the fish is scaled and cut in halves, leaving the back, so that the fish is opened in a large, symmetrical circle. After marinating it in olive oil, salt, tamarind and turmeric,  it is placed in an iron grill (or traditionally impaled on two wood pieces) and placed near the fire of an altar- an open-air area centered by a sandbox, in the middle of which is a bonfire.

It takes two or three hours to get the Masgoof cooked and crispy, and when that's done, it's typically laid on a layer of limes and pickles and slices of onion. Yum!


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Day L: Lablabi

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


The bell rings, echoing along all the corridors, signalling the end of schools. Out run all the kids, guided by the distant familiar drawl they can hear from so far away:

Salty and good! Get your chick-peas! Fill your pockets!

They come to a halt at the source of the sound, holding out their coins by a carriage on wheels carrying a huge pot of chick-peas. They huddle around it, the steam of the pot a relief against the winter cold.

A street lablabi stand in Iraq

It is not surprising that lablabi is such a popular street-side snack in Iraq. It was in this same land, between the two rivers, that the first chickpeas were farmed. The people of Mesopotamia know that nothing could be more suitable in cold weather than a hot bowl of drained chick-peas boiled with salt, lemon and turmeric.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Day K: Kahramana and Shehrazad

This April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, writing about the A to Z of Iraqi Culture. Do give in your own two cents in the comments below and let me know if you have anything to add or something similar to share from your own culture.


In a drive through the city of Baghdad, the statue of a young girl pouring water into a jar surrounded by forty jars around her will greet you. She is Kahramana, the Baghdadi girl who rescued her father from theft by pouring oil into the jars where she discovered thieves were hiding.

The statue was designed by the artist Mohammed Ghani in the sixties. Another statue designed by the same artist that you will pass by in Baghdad is that of the King Shahryar and his wife, Shehrazad, inspired by a tale from One Thousand and One Nights. Shehrazad cleverly avoids being killed by her husband at night by telling him an exciting story before he sleeps but leaving out the ending for the next morning.

These statues serve as symbols to Iraqi women that they are an important element to the fabric of society.


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