Satisfaction

My life forked at some point. I had everything – or the prospect of everything – and then somehow lost it in a matter of months. My life was full of exciting questions, all of which have now been answered. The answers, as you can imagine, were nos.

It’s painful to think that I’ve ended up here on my own accord, that I’m where I am now not because of circumstance, but because of conscious choices that I have made, choices that I believed to be wise at the time. They might still be wise; the consequences of my decisions are still unraveling, I think.

I know in the logical part of me that dwelling over what was and what could have been will get me nowhere, and yet I still flick through my memories every night. At times like these, us Muslims are meant to give up our overthinking and simply say ‘Alhamdulilah’, and I do – but in the silence that follows my mind tends to wander.

It’s tough to say where I’ll be in a few months time. All I hope is that I find the will to accept how things unfold, and to have the strength to allow myself to be satisfied.

See you soon.

A Cold Drink of Water

It’s always political 
I can’t get around it 
I have a cold drink of water, I find it 
return to the warm indent in my bed, I find it 
hover my fingers over the keys, I find it 
think of that awesome, twisting tree, I find it 
I often wish I could go back, to blindness 
but you cannot unlearn, and anyway, it’s inside me
though I feel I’m a stranger, I’m native to this sadness 
war is my history, it’s my neighbor
it’s me, in the most honest mirror 
it’s me, before I was a concept 
conceived at the end of trail of blood
brown blots leading up to 
a new hope
an unlikely weapon 
a change, on the brink. 

Letting Go of Looks

I had always been someone who was fixated on the way people looked. I believed that the way someone dressed, carried themselves, even something as uncontrollable as their facial expressions, may be windows through which I could peer into and understand a person’s character. Even as a writer, I would go into incredible detail of how my characters looked, down to the texture of their skin and the placement of their freckles. Oftentimes, this technique lead me to a great deal of stress. Whenever the image of the character changed in my head, as it is bound to do, I would lose grip on the character’s personality. It wasn’t until I reconnected to their physicality that I was able to ‘understand’ them again.

What I noticed later on is that I used this very unreliable technique even on myself. I thought my physical appearance — my clothes, my hair, my makeup — all had to be representative of who I was on the inside, and so I became hyper-fixated on translating who I felt I was into a physical image that others could see and interpret on my terms. This way of thinking even lead me to taking off my hijab, something that had been causing me intense anxiety because I felt that it was inharmonious with the person I was trying to portray.

But the thing is, I realize now that I could never control people’s interpretations of me — I couldn’t even control my interpretation of me. Much like my characters, my understanding of myself changes everyday. I grow, I become more mature, I make mistakes that teach me things, I decide who I want and don’t want to be.

These things are far too complicated to be expressed in an article of clothing or particular hairstyle. What if all my hair burned off in a terrible accident one day? What if I lost all my money and could no longer buy the clothes that I felt expressed my personality? What if I simply went blind? Would I suddenly stop being me just because I couldn’t see myself? Of course not. It seems simple, but it has taken me years to get to this point.

It’s not all wrong. Yes, the way a person presents themselves may be able to tell me a little something about who they are, but only fleeting – even unimportant – details, let alone their entire personality.

Realizing this flaw in my thinking has made me more accepting of my hijab, which I am wearing again, and has allowed me to stop focusing so much on how I look. Identity is fluid and changeable, and you cannot anchor it in physical, materialistic things. Who I am is something I feel inside of me, and people will get to know me not by looking at me, but by listening to me speak, by learning the things that make me cry, that make me angry, that make me laugh. Those are the things that will define me, and, in all honestly, it’s a lot more liberating that way.

Teaching Diaries (2)

Things have been rocky since my last post. I’ve been going through a stubborn phase of self-doubt. Before applying for this teaching position, I was a photographer at a local creative consultancy, a job that turned my hobby into a real job, and brought to surface an interest in branding that I never really knew I had. However, for a number of reasons, I couldn’t stay. The abruptness of my resignation sent me down a spiral of regret; I felt like I’d missed out on a great opportunity, I felt like I’d messed up.

And I think I’m going through the exact same cycle with teaching: joining, feeling enthusiastic for a little while, and then, when things get serious, crippling under the weight.

I think maybe this feeling has less to do with the jobs I’m choosing and more to do with my reaction to commitment. When I feel myself becoming a part of something – becoming obligated to one position, one job – I start to itch. I don’t want to be tied down or defined – I don’t want to be stuck.

And the shift in my thought process is so quick, too. As soon as I get an uneasy gut feeling or see just the shadow of something I don’t like, I hit the ground running. But I’m trying to remind myself that early impressions can often be wrong, and that something one doesn’t like may simply be something one doesn’t understand, and thus fears.

It’s important to listen to instinct, but it’s also important to remember that instinct is something conditioned. It’s an internal mechanism built based on past experiences, culture, and character – all moldable and changeable things.

I am in no way telling myself to stay in a place that makes me feel uncomfortable – I would never allow it for anyone else I loved – but I do think it may be too soon for a decision. I think the healthiest thing to do is to wait and gather concrete evidence to support my hunches. That way, if I do decide to leave, I’ll know exactly why. And I’ll also be giving myself a chance to disprove my theories. Maybe I’ll like it. Or love it. Maybe, like my dad says, it’ll give me enough pocket money to support myself while I explore other career paths, like photography.

I think what I’m discovering now is that I really don’t know much about anything, and that if I keep jumping ship because of storms I’m not even sure are coming, then I’ll never learn.

See you soon.

Wind Chimes

I am thinking of the porch of my uncle’s house
of the rough cement
the chairs – I can’t remember
I remember the wind chimes
gently colliding through the seasons
the seasons showed so clearly in that street
green, orange, white – grass lush, leaves crackling, ice expanding
the hush of snow
the muted hops of the rabbits
the collage of autumn beyond the kitchen window
all antlers and branches
the heat
the smell of the sun
the jagged scratch of chalk on the asphalt
the click-click-click of the bike chains
the big, white rock, crawling with ants
and the wind that blew right through me
that made me feel otherworldly
I am thinking of that now –
I honestly couldn’t tell you why.

Teaching Diaries (1)

A couple of weeks ago, I began working as a primary school teaching assistant in a private school in Amman. It’s early August, so as of now, I haven’t actually assisted in any teaching. However, the school carries out a month-long orientation before every semester. They go over just about everything an employee needs to know; how our contracts work, how many minutes we’re allowed to be late in the morning, how to dress appropriately for our respective positions (no denim unless you’re an art teacher, no sweats unless you teach P.E). Those sessions are more mechanical and procedural.

And then there are sessions about teaching – these are given by the actual educators in the school, the middle-aged women who pass around faqqous in the teacher’s lounge and call me ‘mama’ out of habit, for they almost all have children my age. I’ll admit, in the first few days, I felt lost.

And the feeling is only intensifying.

Teaching, apparently, is hard. It’s not about delivering a piece of information; the principal of the school gave a long speech on the first day of orientation, saying how teachers are not sources of information – especially not in 2020. Teachers are facilitators. They ‘show you where to look without telling you what to see’. On a more personal level, teachers build personalities and plant healthy habits and ways of thinking in those squishy, malleable minds of kids.

I sat in a session about classroom management with a primary school teacher who had such professionalism that it was palpable in the air. She asked each of us – the other teachers attending the session – to each say an attribute that we felt exemplified a teacher. We went around the room, one by one. Kind. Encouraging. Calm. ‘Energetic,’ I said, for my favorite teachers were always the ones who had me sitting up a little straighter in my seat. But the last person in the group said something that kind of summarized all of those terms. She said, ‘Mother.’

‘Or father,’ the teacher giving the session added.

And though I had some sort of idea about the degree of a teacher’s role before that session, I realized then how delicate of a procedure it really is – we are co-parenting these kids. The experiences they have now, in school, will affect them for the rest of their lives, whether they are aware of it or not. This is when they build their conceptions about others and, more importantly, about themselves, conceptions that will take a lifetime to unravel and replace should they turn out to be harmful.

The teacher said, ‘Tell a child they will grow up to an artist or a pilot or a prime minister, and they grow up believing they can.’ I began recalling all the times my own teachers’ words affected me. I remember my English teacher in 8th grade praising a poem I wrote about the plight of Palestinian children. She submitted it to the school newspaper, I’ll never forget that. Similarly, I remember how an art teacher in 9th grade wrinkled her nose at the way I was drawing a cat. She didn’t think it was right – she didn’t like it. It’s a moment that lasted just a second but still sticks in my mind to this day.

Clearly, I underestimated this job. Every day I go to work, the intellectual gap between me and the experienced teachers grows, and I realize with every orientation session that in the months to come, I will be doing far more learning than teaching.

I plan to keep documenting the experience, so stay tuned.

See you soon.

Shoulder

This city is too big when I can’t place you on its map
you’re everywhere but here
how hard it is to cross paths with someone accidentally
how simple it is when it is planned
how true it is that we make our own way in this world
and I would make mine towards you, if only I knew how

I have my camera with me today
I normally tell you when I have my camera with me
but not this time
regardless, though, your chin will be resting gently on my shoulder
as always
and always.

A Small Reminder

I fear you are forgetting me
and so I write this small reminder
that I am still sat in that garden
which is no longer riddled with petals
but could still somehow be kinder.

I watch the sprouts we planted
they’re peeking through the soil
their small green heads are hesitant
they remember February’s toil

They know that once they come up
they will face the sun’s sustaining light
they will feel its warmth encompassing
its touch, its prospect, its bright

So, yes, the sprouts are wary
for they know of the sun’s rays
and how although they come out reaching
they always recede at the end of the day

And so they quiver in ground, a meadow of disheartened seedlings
for its painful to grow accustomed to something
that is so often prone to leaving.

The Awkwardness of Luxury in a Region of Tragedy

My family and I have just gotten back from a few days in a resort in the sea-side city of Aqaba in Jordan. We swam, we sat on the beach, we ate good food, we slept on clean, white sheets. It was lovely. it was luxury – and it was a little awkward.

To be able to travel even outside of one’s own city is a blessing, but being able to do so with peace of mind and security is just an added layer of fortune. Often, when I travel to these somewhat luxurious places, where staff tend to me while all I have to do is sit and enjoy myself, I feel a sense of underlying discomfort. I start to think…why is it I get to be here, on this beach, complaining about the speed of the hotel breakfast service, while others in Yemen eat paste made of grass just to survive? Why do I get to leave home and go back whenever I please, while Palestinians have been clutching their house keys for decades, waiting to return?

I won’t lie to you and say that these thoughts stop me from enjoying myself. I indulge in the luxury when I’m in it. Of course I do. But I try to keep in mind just how fortunate I really am. On this particular trip, I tried to maintain a healthy level of discomfort by watching a four-part documentary about the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. It was one of the first times I’d ever watched anything about the conflict happening in my region. This fact alone is pretty concerning. I’ve watched a bunch of documentaries before, but only ever about Western history. It made me realize how deeply I’ve internalized the idea that Western history is the only history, and how out of touch I really am.

As was intended, the documentary made me very uncomfortable – probably the most uncomfortable a documentary has ever made me feel, perhaps because I was learning about the tragedy endured in my own bloodline. Watching it only highlighted how strange and awkward it felt to see these establishments of luxury erected in the center of our war-torn region. I sat on the beach of the Red Sea and to my right could see Israel shimmering in the distance, beautiful and terrifying. It looked so real…like it had been there all along.

To sit and simply stare at it can make one feel pretty helpless, not to mention passive and useless. There is little the average person can do to change the circumstances of war, but we can at least educate ourselves, so that if we do indulge in these perhaps ill-timed luxuries, if we do lounge on a beach and happen to stare our ancestors’ oppressors in the face, we can at least see what stands before us with a little more insight.

See you soon.

Before Sleep

Here is your bed
which smells of you
you wouldn’t know it
but the people who love you do

Here is the curve your body made over time
here are two rows of lashes
meeting in a single dark line

Here is the quiet
the hush
the hum
here are all the thoughts you try to run from

Here passes the face of the person you miss
here comes the sudden phantom of that kiss

Here is the wondering what it means to be you
the answer changes nightly
but every answer is true

And here comes the stillness
may in it peace you find
look, there goes your soul – upwards
and your heart 
mingling with your mind.