Tell me a Story

As much as I love watching nature and wildlife documentaries I’ve recently developed a tendency to get drifted in thought while watching them and consoling myself by thinking “at least I’m enjoying the beautiful, relaxing scenes”. But you know, the real consolation is that sometimes these ideas turn out productive, at least on a personal level, just like the thought that led to writing this post.

It goes like this; I was watching the 1984 series The Living Planet by the legend that is David Attenborough. As he went on with his soothing voice and his British accent, talking about distant islands and curious creatures as if it was something he did everyday (which indeed he did), my distraction of choice was a pipe dream I’d like so much to happen that I almost believed it would in someway. I though, “If I’m to win a date with a celebrity, I want it to be with David Attenborough.” I imagined  We’d watch some of his documentaries together while he tells me inside stories about them. Or maybe we’d just go for a walk and he would keep talking and talking while I’m listening intently unable to stop smiling, which is usually the case when anyone is telling me a fun story about something as ridiculous as swallowing a fly by mistake so imagine how much more I would look like a complete goof if David Attenborough was telling me about how he felt standing by a herd of hungry komodo dragons devouring a carcass.

Anyway, not to drag you into that fantasy world, one thought led to another and now I was thinking how much I love to hear stories. In fact one of my regrets in life is not having listened to more stories from my grandfather before he passed away. Some of my fondest memories too are those where my father used to tell us stories about his childhood in Palestine or my mother’s stories about her mischievous childhood in Jabal Et-Taj. I tried to write down some of these stories because I believe this is where stories should go, they have to be written so that they hopefully won’t vanish into thin air with time.

Another reason I have this passion for documenting those stories is that I’m better at writing a story than telling it. Sometimes I’d get so excited while telling a story that I’ll be at loss for words and people would give me the look that of “it’s okay, relax, take a breath” not to mention that I’m a fast talker. Thankfully though, a couple of months ago I had the great and genuine pleasure of meeting Nesma, the Egyptian young woman who made me understand perhaps for the first time what it means to be a natural story teller. In fact it wasn’t very surprising –in retrospect- to learn that the nature of her job was to tell stories, as she works with less fortunate children in refugee camps and in the slums to help them tell their own stories. And it wasn’t only for the amazing stories she told about these children or the stories from Tahrir Square as she was there day in day out, bearing witness to history in the making. No, the stories were breath-taking but it wasn’t only that. Nesma has this air of tranquility about her, and a face so peaceful that you can’t get tired of smiling at. She told her stories in vivid details, with a calm yet clear voice that is sure to captivate anyone. Nesma made me realize that telling stories is an art in itself.

And that makes me think again of the need to master that art. In fact I’ve always thought of bed time stories I would tell my children. I remember when we were kids a certain story that my father used to tell us at bedtime. Only when I grew up I realized he was making it up as he goes. It was a series, each night he would tell us a part of it but it was never completed for some reason. He called it مدينة الأحلام  “The city of dreams” and I remember the last part he told us, which ended with the boy and the girl walking through the city of dreams and the dolphins jumping in and out of water. Believe it or not, I’m approaching 28 and I still would like to hear the end of this story, which I don’t think my father even remembers now. Actually as I write this I’m tempted to write it all over again myself! Anyway, back to my hypothetical children I think I might be telling them real stories they probably won’t hear at school or anywhere else, mostly real stories like that of the Dodo: “The Dodo was an extremely tame bird that European sailors were able to kill it with bats and it was exterminated 200 thousand years after it had been discovered. Moral of the story: Don’t be naïve.” I know what you might be thinking; maybe it’s not such a bad thing if I never have children as to spare them this agony!

I wish bedtime stories were a tradition for adults too, that’s a thought to entertain, but for now I have enough David Attenborough documentaries stacked on my nightstand, and he has many stories to tell…

My 2011 in Pictures

All in all, 2011 was an unpredictable year on different levels. On a personal level, I have never been a big traveler, so it wasn’t among my rational expectations that during this year I’d visit 3 different countries in 3 different continents, 2 of them for the first time, one of them being Tunisia,

which as it turned out was the country to light the match that will set the Arab World on fire. Even though the events had already started in December I guess nobody saw all what followed coming.

2011 was also a year of firsts. I have done many things for the first time and it made me learn firsthand how much you may regret it if you shied away from trying new things.

I’ve been thinking of a career shift for a long time, didn’t know that by the end of this year I would take a step towards that. Maybe not a career shift but a change in the nature of my work, which turned out to be a change in my life in general. I have been discouraged, but I’m thankful that I went ahead and did it.

I remember starting 2011 with some expectations that didn’t come true, but instead other things I didn’t even expect happened and it made me realize again and again that God always chooses what’s best for us, even if we couldn’t see it at the time. Therefore I’m starting 2012 with even bigger expectations, and I’m not afraid of being disappointed because I know that if they don’t materialize, then it’s for the best, and I’ll keep on expecting pleasant surprises.

Have an eventful 2012, in a good way

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Despicable me

“Starting the day with parking in the handicapped space” He thought to himself as he parked the car. “Let’s see how lower I can get”

He got off sluggishly, kicked the door shut with the heel of his foot, and walked into the building. He had no idea why he chose this building in particular; he didn’t give it much thought. He was following some vague impulse, something he often did, more than he was willing to admit.

As he waited for the elevator, he contemplated the height of the building from inside. It looked like an endless spiral, which gave him the chills. He jumped into the elevator as soon as the door opened, but just as he was pressing the button to that certain floor, a voice that sounded like a blend of femininity and authority crashed down on him, demanding that he stop the elevator.

He took a step back away from the button pad. She hopped in swiftly and pressed the button to the third floor. It couldn’t take him more than a glance to notice that she was a beautiful, elegant lady with an air of confidence. She also looked like a successful business woman with the brief case she was holding and the busy look on her face. In short, he could tell with one look that she was out of his league. But who cares anyway? He thought. After all she’s just a woman he will share an elevator with probably for less than a minute without uttering a single word and then they will go their separate ways and most probably they’ll never see each other again or learn each other’s names.

But few seconds after the elevator started to lift; it jolted violently and came to a complete halt. They looked at each other perplexed. They waited for a few seconds then she said: “I hope this is a joke!”

A bad joke, he thought, but it wasn’t anyway. The elevator had stopped and even when he tried to insert his hand into the slit between the two sides of the sliding door there was no point in opening it because the elevator had stopped between two floors. Here, without turning to look at her he just said: “Well, it seems like we’re stuck”.

“Whoa… I can’t be stuck!” the woman said with a pitch that sounded as if she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She fished a cell phone out of her briefcase and dialed a number.

“What? 20 minutes? No, you don’t understand, I have a meeting in 5 minutes, I can’t wait 20 minutes!”

She ended the call with a polite swearword, which made her look all the more feminine and made him think it maybe his lucky day, not hers however. He shook the thought off and busied himself with his keychain.

“A Toyota?” She said out of the blue. “So you’re the jerk parked in the handicapped space!”

He smirked.

“I’m wearing 10 centimeter heels and yet I don’t give myself permission to take up a handicapped space.”

He smirked again. She rolled her eyes in disbelief. “I mean, what is so important that you couldn’t wait to find another legitimate parking space?”

“Nothing.” He answered with utter indifference. “I’m just a jerk like that”

She wasn’t convinced. She kept looking at him as if waiting for an answer.

“I mean it.” He insisted. “I wasn’t going anywhere” He thought she didn’t have the right to know. “Lying and then rationalizing to feel good about lying, that’s a new low I’ve hit today” He thought to himself.

“Then why did you take the elevator?’ She challenged.

“No reason, I just let my feet take me wherever they pleased”

“Well, unless your brain is in your feet, which doesn’t sound very far-fetched in your case, then your feet can’t take you anywhere.” She shook her head in dismay. “That’s the problem with most people, you don’t know where you’re going and when your life comes down crumbling you start whining unable to take responsibility for your actions, or lack thereof.”

“What can I say? Some people were just born to be losers” He said with no sarcasm in his voice

“Nobody is born to be a loser!” She fired back with full authority. “Look at yourself. What are you, 30? 40?  You look healthy, and you certainly have some thinking abilities, whether you choose to capitalize on them or not is another issue, but tell me: How do you even have the nerve to call yourself a loser?”

 

“I don’t know” He replied carelessly. “Perhaps the fact that I have no problem being stuck in an elevator because there’s no place I need to be at and nothing I need to do and nobody waiting for me outside these walls. Believe me, even if I died here I doubt that anyone would notice my absence”

 

“That’s just so screwed up!” She said with a hint of compassion this time. “I mean, it’s too bad to be true. There must be someone out there, what about your parents? Family? A wife, maybe?”

 

“I have been nothing of series of disappointments to my parents.” He answered as if talking to himself, his voice almost void of emotion. “And no wife, because what woman in her right mind would take this kind of risk?” He paused for a moment. “Actually there was this one woman who liked me, but I had no interest in her, maybe just because I knew that she liked me. I had to be cold and indifferent towards her so she could get the message, and that hurt her. It hurt her bad. But it’s the only way I know. And I’m such a jerk that I don’t even feel guilty about it”

 

“You don’t have to feel guilty about it” She almost interrupted him. “Just like you might like a woman and she won’t like you back another woman will like you and you won’t think that she’s the one for you. It happens with everyone and there’s no reason to feel guilty about it.” She paused for a moment then said on what seemed like a second thought, “Of course you could always feel stupid because you pushed away someone who could’ve made your life a whole lot less miserable, but not guilty, no”

“You mean this happened to you?” He asked with fake curiosity as to pull her leg.

“It happens to everyone” She answered as briefly and vaguely as possible, trying to drop the question.

“But…” He hesitated for a moment. “You don’t seem like someone anyone wouldn’t be interested in”

“Well” She answered with a slight cockiness. “People like, or don’t like, other people for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes they are the stupidest of reasons but reasons nonetheless. Or sometimes because you’re so stupid as to like the wrong person. But anyway, I’m not looking for anyone to make my life better.”

“Neither do I.” He said confidently. “Simply because I don’t think anyone can make my life less miserable” He said with a dramatic turn.

“That’s the spirit!” She yelled. “Of course not! You can’t wait for someone to make your life better, you just have to take matters into your own hands”

“This is not what I meant. You don’t know the first thing about me, I’m a bad person”

“No you’re not!” She laughed. “No bad person would admit they are bad. They would rationalize everything they do and give themselves excuses. Admitting you’re bad means you’re actually trying to be good but perhaps need a little guidance”

“You may be right, but it’s too late for me”

She looked him square in the face, he could see her thoughts spiraling like a swirl of dust that would soon turn into a tornado that would take him by surprise at any moment, and they did as she opened her mouth to speak.

“Do you know where I was going? I bet you thought I was some business woman who had a big meeting to close a six-figure deal. Well, if that’s what you thought then you’re sadly mistaken. I have an appointment with a realtor. I’m selling my house, my share of my father’s inheritance. You know why? Because I started a project and it failed miserably and I’m up to my ears in debt.”

He didn’t say anything, he just listened with shock.

“You know why I did that? That project I mean.” She asked without waiting for an answer. “Because all my life I wanted everything I do to be meaningful. I wanted to set an example for people, to teach them a lesson! You know, people with little to zero ambition, or those people who would invent obstacles to convince themselves they can’t do any better in life. People like you! People who tell me all the time that I’m being rash or silly or delusional. I’ve lost some rounds but I’ve won many rounds too. This one was a biggie, though. I ended up flat broke! But you know what the crazy thing is? I don’t regret it, and I still want to do it my way!”

He smiled as he noticed how her face brightened up. He realized he hadn’t smiled like this in years.

“Look at me, I’m a 35 year-old single bankrupt woman with people watching my every move waiting for me to fail and I still believe I can do something will teach the world a lesson! Heck, I defy the basic theories of human psychology!”

He looked at her with admiration as silence prevailed for a moment until he broke it in a most unexpected way.

“I lied. I knew where I was going. I was going to the roof. I wanted to jump off it and kill myself.”

Her eyes widened. She waited for him to break into laughter or anything that indicates it was a joke, but he didn’t. The question then flowed out effortlessly: “And now what?”

But he didn’t have the time to answer. The elevator jolted again and started to move, then the door was opened to reveal apologetic maintenance workers. The elevator was on the first floor now, so they asked her where she wanted to go as to press the right buttons. She said she was going to the third floor. Then they asked him where he was going. They exchanged a weird inquisitive look, and just before the door closed again he said with his eyes fixed on hers:

“I was going down to the ground floor”

 

To Invent a Catastrophe

With everything going on in the Arab World lately and with news coming from every direction and traveling around with the speed of light, the Palestinian Cause somehow seemed to take a back seat in the media scene, but during the past few days two tragedies brought Palestine back to the front row, at least in the social media scene. The first tragedy was of course the murder of 27 year-old Palestinian activist Mustafa Al-Tamimi by Israeli soldiers using an American-made tear gas canister. The whole thing was caught on tape in a graphic video that shocked the world. Honoring Mustafa, a trend was started on Twitter under the hashtag #IsraelKills  where Twitter users shared some of the atrocities perpetrated by the Zionist entity against Palestinians and Arabs, lest we forget.

The other tragedy that put Palestine back in the limelight is of a less bloody nature. Actually that tragedy was proving yet again that human stupidity knows no limits – no limits we can invent, that is. American Potential Republican Presidential candidate and crackpot theorist Newt Gignrich, in one of his moments of glory apparently, solved the biggest issue in the Middle East, as he pronounced Palestinians as “invented people”, not even humanoids, no! Figments of imagination, one big collective imagination.

Be that as it may, I’m guessing Mr. Gingrich either skipped one too many history classes or attended one too many, depending on one kind of history they were teaching in his school. I mean, never mind that the Canaanites, who were Arabs and a Semites for that matter, lived in Jerusalem since 4000 B.C, which is many centuries before the Jews came to the city, way more than they like to admit. That might be ancient history, I understand if he dropped the ball there, but what do we do with all massacres, displaced people, refugee camps and all the eye-witness testimonies we have heard for years from our grandmothers?  Well, never mind that too. In fact this is quite the breakthrough, best thing since hypnotism. You see, by this logic I can think of a couple of things that could also be invented, and just because you say it’s invented then it must be. Say, for example: Cancer, the stock market,  Nuclear reactors (except the one in Iraq of course, that’s real), Africa and the sun. Yes, they are all in your head! Not sure what that would achieve though but someone must be happy to see Africa disappear off the map and the sun, well, that’s just to see what could happen.

I have to admit though, what really gets under my skin is that it’s coming from a pro-Zionist. Kind of pot calling the kettle black, don’t you think? I mean, what haven’t Zionists invented? Talking about inventing a people while they invented a race. Yes, you know how they claim that the Jews belong to a pure race and how they consider Judaism an identity more than a religion, even if someone defected and converted to another religion they still consider the Jewish, there’s no way out! But if they were really a pure race, which descends from the Children of Israel, where did all these Chinese, African and East European Jews came from? And then, living up to their innovative skills they decided to create  a land for this invented people, then they took it a step further to convince Jews in all corners of the world to leave their respective countries and come scrambling to Palestine (before they renamed it and created a new ugly flag for it) and this gave birth to the concept of the Promised Land. Of course, what’s better than inventing a set of beliefs to make lure people in? They even went on to say that whoever dies and is not buried in the Promised Land, their soul will just roam the world desperately until the end of days. So you see it’s like: Look who’s talking! We’re not the ones digging tunnels looking for an invented relic! But this only goes to prove Gingrich’s point: You can actually invent a people, he just got the wrong people.

So, this brings me back to Mustafa. I guess by now you all saw the graphic images with his face all covered in blood. You might also have seen pictures of him with his family and imagined how they must have felt when they saw their own son killed with such brutality. Correct me if I was wrong but I don’t know too many imaginary characters that bleed when gas canisters blow in their faces and who actually can feel the pain and bitterness of having a child killed. This, Mr. Gingrich, is something you can’t invent, although for a moment there I wished it was all invented, for then no one has to go through this pain, and Mustafa would still be alive, not only Mustafa but dozens of people since 1948 and before. If that was true then I wouldn’t have to live with the tormenting thought that my family once owned a land near  Jerusalem that I might live and die without seeing it, and that my father’s stories about that magical place he grew up in are all the product of an exceptionally fertile imagination. That would mean that there would be no refugees, no homes demolished, no children buried under rubble, it all would be fine and so perfectly ordinary.

So believe me, Mr. Gingrich or whatever your name is, we would love to believe that we are invented; we just can’t, because we exist, and our catastrophe is real, and we’re reminded of it every day, and we insist on existing, because it might be easy for your friends to invent a people, but it’s hard, really hard, to dream another one  away.

Drama’s Most Consumed Opening Lines

Disclaimer: the author of this post does not by any means exclude herself from having fallen into the trap of using one or more of the below rhetorics at some point of her life. The author also has no idea why she’s speaking in third person.

We all had that particular skeleton in our closet. We’ve all at some point felt victimized by society. It’s pretty normal to feel that way, but while some people may shake the idea off and actually resort to logic and reason to solve their problems, others may find it the ideal chance to indulge in self-pity. But don’t feel bad for it, I mean it’s okay as long as you only do it from times to time, you know reach the bottom to get up again and stuff, preferably locking yourself up at home as not to take it out on poor innocent people, but I think we all agree that some of us just blow it out of proportion.

Usually there are common signs for Dramatic Indulgence, so to speak, among which are those lines that have a natural ability of brining your blood to a boiling temperature. Those lines include but are not exclusive to:

1-  “Nobody understands me”. Well, in all fairness many of us find ourselves sometimes in an environment where we are the square peg in the round hole. You might even be born in that kind of environment where you’re the different one or even the black sheep, and it’s quite natural to feel that nobody understands you, in certain circles that is, but to say that nobody in the whole wide world understands you? Well, get a life. There’s a thin line between not being understood and shutting people out. Actually it’s not a thin line, it’s a whole universe.

 

2- “Nobody loves me”. Oh, aren’t you the cutest miserable thing? Give it a rest. I’m sure someone somewhere is crazy enough to love such a wet blanket like yourself.  I mean, even Charlie Sheen had someone to love him as he was blowing his life away on national TV. How bad could it be?

3-  “I’m lonely/ I have no one”. Well, there are 6 billion people in the world, sort yourself out. Not working? Then learn how to be happy alone, loneliness is grossly underrated.

4-  “Nobody cares about me”. Try turning your cell phone off for a day or two. Somebody always cares, even if for the wrong reasons!

5-   “I will never find my other half”. Newsflash: you are not a half, you’re a whole person. Nobody complements you, they just add to your life, or eat away at it for that matter. It’s a matter of the right person in the right time, which might take some time according to probability laws (Right person, right time/ Right person, wrong time/ Wrong person, right time/ Wrong person, wrong time) See? It’s a 25% chance so chill.

6-  “My life sucks”. Maybe because you suck?

7-   “I wish I’d die”. Yes because you’re going straight to heaven, no? Enjoy it while it lasts.

8-   “It’s just my bad luck”. Seriously, don’t even get me started! The best excuse for failure.

9-   “Why does this happen to me?”.  Well, why not? Good things, bad things, good people, bad people, it doesn’t matter. THINGS HAPPEN, deal with it.

Be positive, and grain of salt isn’t such a bad thing too!