The heart is full of cracks and I don’t know how to fill them

My friend often says that she is ‘grumpy, politically so’, which has to be one of the most wonderful sentence I have ever heard, and one that conveys perfectly the type of political disappointment we often experience by simply looking around us and thinking ‘well, shit’.

I usually like to do the apology of joy in struggle. I speak enthusiastically about political love, the one you grow for your comrades, I want to highlight how, in a world and global political system that are designed to divide, fragment and crush us, we have found ways to resist in love and joy. Precisely because if and when divided, it is easier for capitalism to make us insensitive to its abuses, to turn us into consumers only, instead of being politically conscious and aware beings, beings that can spot the dire flaws in the system and revolt against it.  I want to show how capitalism has not managed to commodify of all our interactions, that we are still finding comfort and solace not only in each other as individuals, but also in each other as collectives, as mobilized groups, as a powerful force built to reverse and dismantle every systemic oppression we were born under. Solidarity finds its meaning in the collective, in this radical notion that the individual is not everything, and that personal freedoms mean nothing if they are granted to the detriment of others.

That’s what I love to do, because I truly believe that it is this love that we decide to create and sustain that hold our movements together. That it is this joy in togetherness that we find that helps ignite the sparks of revolution. That we can manage to turn our traumatic experiences of oppression and discrimination into something radically beautiful, for what feels more wonderful than the touch of another human being letting you know they’ve got you? There is a lot of frustration in political organizing, a lot toxic dynamics, a lot of egos to manage, so much so that we might forget the outbursts of joy we are still able to create while imagining what an alternative world could look like. A world that has not been conquered by racialized, patriarchal, heteronormative capitalist regimes.

I’m also a big proponent of anger, especially in women, for our anger has been silenced for too long, seen as ‘hysteria’ for too long, derided and undermined for too long, instead of seeing it for what it was: a legitimate rebellion against the centuries of oppression we have been forced to live under.

Joy, love, anger, all emotions I can deal with. All emotions I’ll happily defend, with the underlying assumption that political work is emotional work. It is patriarchy and capitalism that have decided a long time ago that being ‘emotional’ was a slur, that to be taken seriously you needed to appear ‘reasonable’ and ‘detached’. Guess which of these terms form an integral part of the socialization of cismen, and which have been attributed to women. But I maintain that political work is a labor of love, that without passion you can not move people, that without passion you can not even move yourself. It’s because women traditionally do all of the emotional work – in relationships, politically, at work- that this work has been historically invisibilized and undermined.

To do political work, social justice, economic justice, reproductive justice work, work that directly deals with people’s material conditions, with their lives, with their health, with everything that sustains them, is emotional: the moment we can watch people suffer and die and feel nothing is the moment we have to start worrying about why we’re doing this work in the first place.

There is however an emotion I don’t know what to make of, however ubiquitous, and this emotion is heartbreak. What do you do when a certain situation inspires you nothing but deep, infinite sadness? Joy and anger move you into action, love sustains you. But sadness? Sadness does nothing but weigh you down. Sadness makes you feel disempowered, it prevents you from moving forward, it is unable to propel you into building something.

Watching Lebanon over the past couple of weeks has brought me nothing but heartbreak and worry, an anxiety I had not felt for it in a long time, a sort of constant muted fear gnawing at my heart, a dull ache I didn’t want to look at for fear of it eating me whole. Looking at it didn’t help, it just brought on more hopelessness and heartbreak.

There’s actually no other word for it than this one: heartbreak. When you can feel the cracks all over your heart widen and lengthen, when your traditional defenses no longer work and when all that is left is an overflowing sorrow. To belong to the diaspora also means feeling this sadness laced with guilt and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Guilt has never helped anyone though, it’s probably a relic of one religion or the other, and you can happily do away with it.

What can I do? What is there to be done? You frantically look for things to keep yourself occupied  so you don’t have to feel. Doing is always a nice distraction from feeling.

That’s the thing about sadness though. It doesn’t dislodge from your throat until it has forced you down and made you feel it. Until you have properly sat down with it, pored over it and allowed it to fill you to the brim, until there is none left to feel anymore.

Sadness is humbling, it forces you to recognize that sometimes, there is quite literally nothing you can do, at that point of time, at that particular moment. The time for doing will come back, once you have allowed yourself to feel, once you have sat in the pure stillness and silence of heartbreak, only then will you be able to start doing again.

Until then, be the kind hand that rests on a tired shoulder. Offer love, and kindness, and compassion. Keep your anger folded and filed for later. It’ll be needed when you organize, in joy and in love, to burn down and uproot the causes for sadness.

Ruisseaux et Rivières 

  
Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières, qu’ils me disent.

Et les grandes rivières, celles faites de détritus amoncelés, aussi nauséabonds que leurs tas de mensonges, elles font quoi? 

Je vais vous le dire, moi ce qu’elles font.

Elles font des vagues, qui murmurent au début, et puis qui grondent, qui grondent, qui roulent sous le ciel de plomb pour venir s’échouer aux pieds des menteurs, des voleurs, des criminels, ceux en cols blancs bien amidonnés, ceux bien droits dans leurs bottes, ceux bien à l’abri dans leurs voitures blindées. Les menteurs, les voleurs, les criminels, ça n’a pas toujours la forme que l’on croit, il leur est très facile de se camoufler à coup de respectabilité, de mots creux, de repassage des consciences et d’endormissement des rumeurs. 

Les menteurs, les voleurs, les criminels, ce sont comme les poubelles qui s’amoncellent, ça pue et il faut s’en débarrasser. Les menteurs, les voleurs, les criminels, ça ne sert à rien, ça pollue, ça infecte. Allez hop, un grand coup de balai! 

Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières, qu’ils me disent, et de ces grandes rivières naissent des vagues, de gros remous qui font tanguer la barque de la corruption, qui chavirent l’esquif de la cupidité et qui ne laissent rien derrière eux qu’une plage dévastée à nettoyer, un horizon lavé de ses maux, prêt à renaître dans sa pureté retrouvée. 
Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières, qu’ils me disent.

Et les grandes rivières, maman, qu’est-ce qu’elles font? 

Les grandes rivières, ma chérie, elles font la révolution. 

Things I’d Like My Child to Know

Dear beloved daughter of mine,

Below you will find a couple of things I would like to pass on to you. Call it advice, call it pesky mother trying to smother you, call it what you want, for now you are almost nine months and I am your world, but when you’ll be old enough to read and understand what I’m trying to convey to you below you’ll probably want to rebel and do the exact opposite.

That is, if your dad and I did our job well.

So here goes

Friends

Have as many different friends as you possibly can. I mean it, have friends of every shape and size and colour and social class and sexual orientation and, to a certain extent, opinion. I say to a certain extent, because I arbitrarily draw the line at racist, classist, and homophobic friends. Yes, I’m your mother and I take arbitrary decisions and don’t you forget it (I think I’m getting a little high on Mother Power here) Expand and widen your horizon as much as you can, don’t get stuck in a certain milieu or a certain circle. Know that our home will be your friends’ home, that they will always be welcome, and that there will always be a plate for them on our table.

Girlfriends

Among your friends, have girlfriends. Take it from me, having girlfriends is not a cherry on the cake kind of thing, it’s a survival necessity. Have girlfriends to roll on the floor from laughter with, and when you’re older, to drink wine and talk about the world until the wee hours of the morning. They add sweetness to life, girlfriends, they are a balm to your wounds, a beam of sunshine in your life.

Listen

Be like a sponge. Listen to people, to their stories, to what they have to say. Everyone has something interesting to say, everyone is a walking story. Take your time to listen.

Love

And I’m not only talking here about romantic love. Love all kinds of people in all kinds of different loves, love with all your being, to the point of crying, let love fill and uplift you. There’s nothing greater and better than sheer love, nothing more glorious than to feel your heart swell and expand to make room for more and more people and places to love.

Be curious

Ask questions, challenge people and things and ideas, get to the bottom of things. Explore the world with your curiosity, don’t be afraid to dive into subjects you know nothing about but are interested in. Travelling is a great way to satisfy your curiosity, and if you are able, pack a bag and go (it’s taking me every ounce of self control and selfless love to write those words, as my natural inclination would be to add: travel, yes, but nowhere too dangerous, and be careful, and blablabla. Given the fact that your first travel was to Lebanon, I think the caution ship might have already sailed)

Dance

One of the greatest joys in life is to feel the music pound in your veins and move your body to the rhythm. Dance makes you feel more alive, you become aware of every part of your being, as the warmth of music and joy start to fill you. Also, there’s nothing more liberating that turning on the music really loud in the privacy of your room and dance until you’re out of breath.

Read

Read. Even if it’s the back of your cereal box, read. Anything and everything. There is magic in the written word.

Get angry

There’s nothing wrong in getting angry. Angry at the corrupt ways of the world, angry at oppression and injustice and violations. I strongly advise you to get angry at these things, and to channel your anger into changing them.

And finally, never be ashamed of who you are. Or of your body, your hair, your personality the life you decide to live. Rest confident in the knowledge that there are and always will be two people whose job description is basically to love and love and love unconditionally the extraordinary person you already are.

Safely tucked in that love, the world is yours.

Tales of the Phoenix City – 29

Gaby was watching the ever expanding frame of her friend, taking pictures of her as she moved bare foot on her tiled floor, draped in a large lacy poplin white nightshirt. Nina was looking tired in the Beirut sinking sun, the sweet autumn wind finding its way into the apartment through the half closed green shutters, gently caressing people and furniture, reminding them that there were good reasons to stay, too. In spite of everything. Nina was arranging on her tray the delicious looking fig jam and homemade sweet anise kaak Lily had brought back from the Bekaa valley, pondering if her hunger was greater than the nagging nausea that had plagued her throughout the 36 weeks of her pregnancy.

– Jesus Fucking Christ, for the love of all that is good and holy, how, just tell me how, does your body manage to accommodate that alien in your belly?
Nina smiled patiently. After all, this was a question she kept asking herself, about four hundred times a day.
– Well, I’m not even sure myself. Sometimes I stare at my body in utter wonder, thinking it’s the most perfect, clever thing in the world…
– Please spare us all the hippy talk I am begging you, interrupted Gabrielle, all this hoopla about your body and its abilities yawn yawn yawn
– Ma hek, if you left me finish. So I was saying, sometimes I am amazed by what I can do, and other times I just feel so, well, full, so heavy, and achy, and moody…
– Are you naming the seven dwarves?
– No seriously, that whole pregnancy thing is no walk in the park. I will never understand the women who claim to have never felt better than when they were pregnant. It’s a huge strain on yourself, on your body and emotions, it’s like this tidal wave of change, you don’t recognize yourself. Everything swells to accommodate a person you’re creating, a person you feel jab and poke at your insides and punch and kick you. Sometimes I’d be sitting down and it’s like my bump has already a life of its own, it goes crazy from one side to another. How odd is that? It’s happening to me yet I can’t wrap my head around it.
– Well, you’d better start wrapping your head around it, seeing as you’re giving birth in about four weeks.
– Yeah no, i’m not.
Gaby started and looked up from her objective, trying to assess her friend’s tone.
– You’re not?
– I’m not.
– Okay then. What do you propose will happen? Will you keep that child inside your womb for all eternity, kangaroo style?
– No no,they shall take that child out of me, but I do not plan on ‘giving birth’ and ‘laboring’ and participating or cooperating in any way to the delivery of that baby. I’ll just let modern medicine do what it does best: fix things.
– You scared?
– To fucking death. The pain, Gaby, how does one bear the pain? I hear all that talk by the midwives about how beautiful and manageable everything is through breathing but i’m like, ‘quit lying to me, if breathing magically made the pain go away, women would not beg for epidurals and oxygen and the shit loads of drugs they ask for, half crying’. I’m not gonna lie Gaby, i am seriously wondering about how people deal with the fucking pain. I demand to know.
– Wait, I’ll go back to my extensive experience in giving birth to 14 children. How the fuck do I know? The whole process seems so foreign and remote to me. A bit like China.
– Nina chuckled, trying to get comfortable in her vintage upholstered wicker chair, putting her swollen feet up. Gaby resumed her frantic picture taking.
– May I ask why you’re all over me with your camera? You look like a paparazzi chasing Kim Kardashian.
– Who?
– Never mind. Just stop taking pictures of the sorry mess that I have become. And since we’re on the subject, please stop likening my vagina and its upcoming torture to China.
– Oh for fuck’s sake, can we please stop with the whole pity party? I am told many, many women have done what you’re about to do before. Apparently it’s even very probable that your body will know what to do by itself. So breathe. Didn’t they teach you anything in that drab, God forsaken prenatal classes of yours? Grace came with you and she bored me into a proper stupor with talk of dilatation and effacement and perineum and pushing and ‘managing the pain’ by breathing and whatnots. Seriously, if you could handle the pain of the preparation to the whole ordeal, you’ll do just fine at the event itself. Oh and by the by, I take pictures because you’ve never been so beautiful and I want to frame a couple of those for your child to see how perfect her mother was while carrying her.
– I didn’t know you were such a thoughtful, kind poet.
– Well, there I fucking go, the sensitivity of Verlaine trapped in the body of Patti Smith
Nina planted her eyes in her friends’. The intense gaze rattled Gaby, who stopped being flippant and held Nina’s gaze with the same intensity and gravity. Now was not the time for jokes.
– Seriously, Gabrielle. What am I doing? Did you see the state of the country and the world I am bringing that child in? Am I doing the ultimate selfish thing? I don’t really care about my child not really having a ‘father’ figure…
– Yes she will, she’ll have me!
– Seriously, ‘father figure’ simply doesn’t mean anything anyway, except maybe patriarchal oppressor. But I feel like I am under so much pressure. My body is definitely not my own anymore, by nature’s design and by people’s will, by the constant stream of ‘well wishers’, telling me I should give birth without medication, telling me I should breastfeed because it’s better, and don’t even get me started on all the parenting advice perfect strangers are showering on me. Sometimes i just feel like escaping but It’s like I’m stuck. I just would like to be able to claim my life and body back, but people are trying to sell to me the sacrificing, long suffering mother stereotype as the ultimate and best mother figure that could ever exist and I just don’t want this for myself, and i don’t want my child growing up thinking it’s ok and normal to be a slave to motherhood.
– Your tangled web of questions has confused me,not the least because i think, of all your organs, the most fucked up as of now, is your brain. Since when did you start caring about what people say? Seriously, you’ve been renting your body for the past nine months, bloody do what you want to do with it when it’s over. You’ve always been your own person, I don’t see why that should change. Raise your child the way you want to, telling her what you think is right and then let her make her own experiences. The way I see it, just let people’s remarks and comments slide off your back and carry on.
– You know, you’re a good cheerleader…
Gabrielle saw where this was going.
– No, please, no
– And as a good cheerleader and my best friend, I’d like you to come with me the day I give birth
– OOooh for fuck’s sake, Jesus Fucking Christ, no, fuck, no, don’t do this to me, Jesus, no, can you imagine me with the blood and the cutting of things, and the whole butchering, no, I’ll probably be taking pictures for my gore collection instead of helping you anyway, seriously, take Grace, she’s strong and responsible and lovely and has been to the classes, or Lily, she’ll sing hippy welcoming songs to your child, don’t take me, please
– I want you. You won’t let them bullshit me when i’m vulnerable.
– But
– I want you. Gabrielle, will you be my ‘birthing partner’?
– Oh Jesus Fucking Christ, yes i will but don’t ever, ever refer to me again as birthing partner. Ever.
– Good, said Nina, closing her eyes and relaxing. You were not hard to convince after all.
– I feel like i’ve been manipulated in some way, mumbled Gabrielle, fixing her filter yet again. Fuck.

Living/Leaving here

This post was originally written as a submission for the Outpost, for their second number on the ‘possibility of living here’, so I wrote about my own experience living in Lebanon. The submission didn’t make the cut, so here it is!

You always want to come back.

No matter how comfortable you are in your life abroad, some part of you is always thinking about it. You think about it when you hear someone next to you on the bus speak Arabic and you feel your heart melt a little. You think about it when you close your eyes and can feel the Beiruti sea breeze on Rawche without having to do much else. You think about it every minute of every day, it’s like this nagging feeling that won’t ever go away, gnawing at your soul. I’ve always asked myself how can one could be nostalgic of things one barely knew. But you can. You can feel linked to where you come from by an invisible, tenuous yet incredibly strong thread, coming from your heart to that place.

I was born abroad, another statistics on the Diaspora never ending numbers, and for as long as I can remember we’ve always gone back and forth between abroad and Lebanon, for my parents didn’t, or rather, couldn’t bear exile too well.

Then one day, I decided to come back. I packed my bags and went, deciding somewhere along the way that I wanted to be part of the new Lebanon. I have two degrees in international law and human rights, work experience in that area, and I was a remote part of the booming Lebanese civil society that was trying to organize itself to bring social change to the country. I wrote articles for different Lebanese outlets and took part in any online campaigns I could get my hands on, but somehow at some point this did not seem enough. I needed to live it. I had the luxury to choose, and to be able to come back to Beirut to become an actual part of it. I thought I could bring my skills and experience to my country, I thought Lebanon would need me, and that I could give it my all. And in a way, Lebanon did need me. Just not in the way I thought.

Beirut had, and still have, this incredible attraction over me. Its bubbling creativity, exuberant force of life, its people, its smells, everything seemed to be calling my name. Needless to say, despite knowing Beirut quite well, distance and time had blurred its flaws, only leaving a frangipani flowers/diesel scented dream. I was in for a rude awakening.

Over the past couple of years, Beirut has earned in Western media the reputation of a lively, stylish city, a heaven for party goers and a cultural hub for arts, which in some part is true. However, this depiction is only one tiny aspect of Beirut, the one the most privileged only can enjoy. What I have discovered while living there is that the incredible weakness of the state is felt at all levels by people living in Lebanon. Basic infrastructure of making water and electricity available to all are not fully functional, thus once again creating inequalities between different regions of Lebanon and neighborhoods of Beirut. Political instability is clearly a drawback for anyone that is thinking of coming back to Lebanon, but I wouldn’t say that for me it was the biggest, for after a while you just learn to live with the risks. It’s the daily chaos, the constant need to have an alternative solution up your sleeve because the state simply isn’t there to fulfill its obligations and the constant violations of civil liberties and socio-economic rights that wear you off after a while. Workers do not have social security, social benefits, people’s rights are trampled on every day, human rights like the right to education and health are contingent to your financial means and this, in order to get Lebanon’s talented workforce back, needs to change. To me, the most insufferable part was the dire inequality. The wage and social gap between different strata of the population is disheartening. And can – and should- inspire revolt.

After a year in Beirut I received a job offer in Switzerland. I thought long and hard about going back to Geneva. Was I abandoning Lebanon to its inept government? I felt guilty, but here I was, having an opportunity to do a job I love, under normal working conditions, in a country that uses the taxes I pay to build proper roads and offer good public education. Something in my mind kept nagging me, telling me I had a right to a decent life after all. And so I left again. Looking back, I was too angry at Lebanon’s phenomenal potential being wasted by greed, sectarianism and corruption to stay and be useful. I was too angry at my own inadequacy to change turn things upside down. 

And so I left again.

However, i remain convinced that opportunities are there and lie in the resourcefulness of Lebanon’s inhabitants, in civil society that grows stronger and manages to get more people engaged, in the creativity of its talented people. The more we push for positive change, the more we’re likely to attract and bring change. The moment is now, when the whole region is pounding its fists for change, demanding that its potential is achieved. The moment is now to impact our region’s future and we should not let it pass. The moment is now. We have a whole new landscape to build. 

Disgust and Despair, or Yet Another Rant on Lebanon

I used to write I wanted to go back to Lebanon, live there permanently and all that. I used to be so blinded by love for that country that I romanticized it to death, brushing over the bad aspects as if they were nothing.

Then I came back, and the romantic dream died. I still loved Lebanon though. A more honest love, perhaps, but it still had a special place in my heart.

But now I am done. Don’t get me wrong, many things I still love, many things still make my heart beat. I’ll probably never be over Beirut. How can one be over Beirut? But I digress.

I am, however, over the Lebanese political elite. I am tired of screaming arraftouna. I am tired of sending letters and tweets and marching and yelling and advocating for change while it is very clear that the political class couldn’t give two fucks about what it is we’re asking for. I’m tired of being disgusted to the core by the aggressive corruption, I’m tired of begging for rights that are rightfully mine, I am tired of consultations, meetings, discussions, projects funded by organisations and countries with their own agendas and their own priorities, who really, actually, don’t really give two fucks either about what it is you’re asking for. I am tired of pretending something can be done in the current system we’re in.

I am tired of pretending we’re not at war when Tripoli is counting its dead, and has been for a while. I am tired of looking at discrimination in the face every day I spend in Lebanon and not knowing where to start to eradicate it. I am tired of being considered by law and by society as a second class citizen who should stay at home to raise children born within wedlock, a religious wedlock if you please. I am tired of the mind-numbing hypocrisy of the religious, the politician and business classes alike, all united to stomp on equality, justice and freedom.

The truth is my heart is aching with the mothers still looking for their children decades after they have been abducted or disappeared during the war, the truth is I can’t stand that my friends need two jobs just to barely make ends meet while they have degrees and experience whereas a family name can open the doors of heaven to others.

I’m tired of Lebanon. Because this is Lebanon, whether we like it or not. Today Lebanon is a country where abused women have no law protecting them, where women can’t pass on their citizenship to their family, where rape is legal if the rapist marries you, where maternity leave is so short and childcare so expensive you’re virtually left with no choice but to drop your kids at your mothers and take a job that finishes at 2. If you’re lucky. Today Lebanon is a Parliament giving itself the authority to extend its own mandate, today Lebanon is a country where political lines are drawn according to sectarian allegiances, where so called parties are nothing more than families repeating the same lies for decades. Today Lebanon is a country where you can’t even get a civil marriage, where modern slavery is seen as a normal part of every day life, as if there were nothing wrong in putting a human being under the authority and responsibility of another. Today Lebanon is a country where the vast majority of the workforce is unaccounted for, informal, where social security is a Graal only the lucky can get. Today Lebanon is a country where all woes are blamed on the Other, the refugee, the member of a different sect, the poor, without ever looking within to see the rot.

This is the Lebanon our political and administrative sectarian system gave us. Do you like it? Is there anything to be proud of?

Now is the time for radical action, for general strikes and paralyzing actions of the system. Now is the time to strike back, to name and shame, to stop voting, to stage constant protest.

The time for compromise and participation has gone, and we’re only left with confrontation. It is our only hope.

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 28

Lily loved the atmosphere at Em Nazih.
She’d come in the afternoons, when the hustle bustle of Beirut was kept to a minimum, shielded from the craziness by the small stone terrace tucked away in a tiny alley off Gemmayzeh.
She came to write in peace, the soft humming of the distant noise rocking her into concentration, her thoughts and agile fingers on her keyboard only interrupted by the sweet clinking of glasses and arguileh being cleaned. She felt at home, working away and taking her time to talk to Ali, one of the staff members, or with one of the daughters of the owners who taught Arabic to the plethora of alternative youth and possible secret services undercovers calling Beirut home for about three months. Rana, Nada and Nivine were all equally delightful and funny and Lily relished the moments she spent with them, all the while stuffing her face with the delicious batata harra made by their mother. The spices and coriander tickled her tongue while she laughed at Nivine’s latest tale of her pupils who often seemed puzzled to say the least by Lebanon in general and Beirut in particular. During these moments, she always felt incredibly lucky to live here, flaws and all. She had started to train herself in seeing beauty in the littlest things and it hit her hard just how much beauty there was going around.
Em Nazih’s tenants and patrons were a mix of Lebanese taking a breather from a city that could be overwhelming at the best of times and Western and Arab tourists and students learning Arabic and getting to know a country they only knew through the vilifying lens of their media back home. The bewildered looks on their face showed just how much they had trouble processing the clash between representation and reality. Em Nazih’s crowd was a melting pot of artists, secret agents, declared and underground revolutionaries, students, researchers, tourists, family and friends of the owners and staff. It was a place where good food met serious whispers, where laughter died in the fragrant smoke of the Arageel and where the cries of triumph of lucky backgammon players melted away in the frenetic honking that was Beirut’s regular soundtrack.

However, Lily had no time today to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Today, she was writing a piece on a new young woman author whom Gabrielle knew through her gazillion networks. The author had just launched her latest novel which dealt with two women in Aleppo trying to forget their damaged past and forge a future for themselves (these feminists, thought Lily, you can’t ask them the time of day without them writing a novel on women’s paths and oppression and stereotyping and whatnots). She had enjoyed the book nonetheless, and thought featuring the author in her column along with a photoshoot by Gabrielle could make a nice little piece.

And so there she was, taking notes for her article while Gaby’s voice in the back garden resonated against the stone walls. Grace was also there to assist Gabrielle, and perhaps, just perhaps, to soften the blow that could be Gabrielle’s personality. Poor little author.
Except the author seemed to be taking a great liking in Gaby, sharing the same vision as her friend and furthering her suggestions.

– Right, sit down in front of this door! Great, show me your hand with the rings! Grace, habibi, where is the cherry lip gloss? We could really work with some colors here!

Lily watched as the author put on more make up. Gabrielle really had a good eye: the author was wearing a deep mint green midi dress with matching green open toed ballet flats adorned with golden butterflies, topped with a lavender belt. The deep pink lipstick made her black eyes and hair stand out. Gaby had her pose in front of a pinkish door, her back to a weather beaten wall. The overall effect was urban, a tad melancholic and romantic with an edge, which suited the atmosphere of her book just fine.

– Tayb, now try and climb on this ledge.
The author’s eyebrows went up to her hairline.
– Listen Gaby, I do not climb ledges. As a matter of fact, I am not known for my climbing, or for my motor skills for that matters, so excuse me, but I think I will not go anywhere near that ledge.
Gabrielle looked a little discomfited while Lily and Grace stifled a laugh. Gaby didn’t seem to know what to do with this highly unusual opposition. A look to Grace who was busying herself with the make up bag to mask her hilarity had her frown, then laugh as well.

– Fine, no ledge. Jesus Fucking Christ, I hate divas. Yalla, sit down in front of this derelict door and turn your head this way!
– Much obliged, piped the author with a playful smile.

Lily was enjoying this column more than she had thought. The clicking of Gabrielle’s camera to her back, she started gathering the notes of her earlier interview with the author, making it into a coherent, witty and informative text. At some point, she had asked the author if she, like one of her characters, had a way too keep on fighting when life threw hardships at her. The author had this quirky response Lily had not paid attention to before.

Yes I do. It’s going to sound supremely stupid and cheesy, but it helps me nonetheless. When I feel like I can’t cope with life anymore, I shake myself and ask myself ‘what would Beyonce do?’. Seriously, can you imagine this woman being depressed or taking crap from anything or anyone? She’d sass them into oblivion. Now as a feminist, I see clearly how she participates to an industry that oppresses women in many ways but regardless of that. She exudes force and control and just sheer vibe of life. So I instantly picture myself like Beyonce in an impossible headdress, sky-scrapers heels clicking away as I pound the floor looking at life and shaking my head like ‘Oh no no no, this ain’t how it’s going to happen’. And yes I feel better’.

Writing this, Lily paused and took a sip of her Turkish coffee.

What would Beyonce do?
Huh.

How to live with a revolutionary without losing your head (or peace and lovin’ his)

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.
Comrade Che Guevara

The Rev is kind.
You are mean.
Do you kind of see where the problem is now?

The Rev, ever the humanist, sees the good in people, perceives judgment as the ultimate sin, and finds excuses to the wickedest behaviors through material reasons. ‘You have to try and UNDERSTAND why this person chose to behave that way! Stop judging! Who are we to judge? We’re all humans! Maybe their material circumstances do not permit them to behave in another way and in any case, this is all the faults of capitalism that has fucked up people’s lives and brains!”. The fact that the person whose attitude you’re judging has just performed some horrible act and behaved appallingly is irrelevant. The Rev uses kindness as the flag he will brandish when the revolution conquers.

In another life, the Rev was Jesus Christ. You tell him so repeatedly. That upsets him. His kindness doesn’t extend to questioning his atheism.
As previously said, you’re mean.

But beware! Being kind does not a hippie make, for the Rev is Not a Hippie. On the contrary, he doesn’t particularly likes hippies. Nothing major, his sweet, non judging, all accepting nature would never allow it, but in the privacy of his office, he will eventually mutter darkly at all that lovey-dovey, away with the fairies, let- us-braid-each-other’s-hair-with-wild-poppies hippie approach to collective action. Make no mistake: the Rev might be kind, but to be successful the revolution absolutely needs the hard core organized party preached by Comrade Trotsky. Minds can not be fogged by weed: you shall be alert at all times to fight the attacks of conservatism, patriarchy and neo-liberalism and to educate yourself and others on the politics of oppression.

The downside to the Rev’s kindness is that he kinds of expect people -you- to be as kind as him. And people-you- can not be arsed to do so. You just don’t have it in you, I mean, all this gentleness, Jesus Fucking CHRIST, it’s exhausting. You don’t know how he does it. He helps older people carrying heavy luggage at the airport. You curse them under your breath, wishing they would go AWAY so you can FINALLY advance in the line and go HOME. He plays with crying children on the train/plane/everywhere, cooing peekaboo like a soccer mom while you hide behind your book, cursing under your breath about over indulging parents and impolite children. He goes to every protests, nay, strike that, he organizes every protests known to mankind and arrives the first, lugs around props and materials for street actions, suffers never-ending, so-boring-you-want-to-slash-your-wrists-and-die-a-slow-painful-death conferences and still manages to come home with a smile. You go to work, you buy shoes, you’re exhausted, you make fun of him carrying his banner and still manage to go home with a frown.

In short, the Rev is impossible to live with. I mean, his saint-like behavior just reflects badly on you. You know you’re mean, you don’t need to look it in polite company while he’s saving a kitten or something and you’re yelling ‘To hell with the kitten! I’m cold!’.

You hate to say it, but sometimes you wonder if the Rev, with his positive outlook on life and expanding heart, isn’t your natural Prozac.
I mean, think of it this way: with him around, you don’t need a mood enhancer and think of the money you’ll save for shoes!

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 27

This isn’t over.
He said it with a definite air. His crestfallen face tugged at her heart yet she shook herself and stood firmly her ground.
– I believe it is.
– Why the fuck are you doing this?
She sighed. He was not going to make things easy.
– I am not trying to push you away or to try and make you disappear. I’m just telling you I am keeping this baby and if you want to be involved that’s great we’ll have to work it out but I will not, shall not, marry you.
– It’s the right thing to do.
– It’s precisely why I don’t want to do it.
He folded his arms in a self protective fashion, pushing her out in a defiant stance. Jesus, she should have done this in a public space. This way he couldn’t have made a scene.
– This isn’t over.
– You already said that.
– You’re not going to be able to smarten your way out of this one.
He Was starting to get on her nerve.
– I believe the bump you see where my stomach should be is the living proof that I’m not trying to get out of anything, apart maybe from a lifetime with an almost stranger that I would marry because it’s the right thing to do.
She stopped and gulped some water. God she felt like vomiting. This pregnancy business was no walk in the park.
She needed to calm down. After all, she had just dropped a huge bomb on him and he was only trying to do what he thought was the right thing. But somehow, her courage seemed to be growing alongside her baby.
– Listen, Shadi.
He raised his eyes at the mention of his name.
– I know this isn’t easy. I know you must feel trapped or lost or even angry right now.
She paused. They had only talked about her. It hadn’t really even occurred to her to ask him how he felt about all this, save for telling him she Was not to marry him.
– Now that you mention It, how are you feeling?
His raised eyebrows and the flicker of a smile That passed on his face made her exhale for the first Time in the last hour. Perhaps It would not have to Be this hard.
– Well, first of all, thanks for asking.
She couldn’t place the sarcasm for sure. Let It go let It go she urged herself. Soon it’ll all be over and you will return back to your life of creation, on your workshop, with your assistant teetering on her high heels, polishing her nails in neon pink while convincing an umpteenth magazine to cover your brand. Just bear with him for a bit.
– I’m pretty damn happy.
She chocked on the ginger tea she was sipping in a desperate attempt at quenching her nausea.
– excuse me?
– Well yeah, I’m obviously not happy at the stark rejection you’re offering me on a silver plate, but I am happy at the prospect of having a child. With you, he added as an afterthought. I like you Nina. There’s something about you that warms my insides, somewhere next to my heart.
God why weren’t pregnant women allowed cigarettes?
– You don’t have a heart. You try and buy up perfectly happy small businesses for a living remember? You’ve tried buying up mine.
– Then you had sex with me if my memory isn’t cheating me?
She sprung to her feet. She’d had enough of this.
– D’you know? I’m a tired pregnant girl who’s in a desperate need for a nap and less drama. So bump, meet father, father, meet bump, it’s all lovely and nice, now please exit my house. Chop chop, don’t drag your feet.
– But…but
– But.. But nothing, this conversation is over. You and I are not having a child together, I am having a child and if you want to be involved then all the better but don’t you are come to my house and spring this happy shit on me, we’re not a family in that little Kodak moment you seem to have built in your head. Now bye.

The sharp noise of the door slamming was still ringing in her ears when Yasmine came in with the latest coverage of Nina’s dresses. As usual, Yasmine was dressed to the nines: her YSL sandals high as ever clickety-clicking on the beautiful old-fashioned tiles of her home, her perfectly cut 7 for all mankind skinny jeans an exquisite shade of blue, a simple oversized white top topped with a chunky statement necklace completing her look, Nina told herself she could not have picked a better assistant/PR girl. Her appearance screamed ‘I’m a DIVA and if you don’t oblige me I shall whine you into oblivion’, which guaranteed good coverage, which kept sharks like Shadi at bay and ensured clients kept coming to have their wedding dresses designed by the new hot designer, aka Nina Haddah, as long as she was in the papers and that word of mouth worked in her favour.

Yasmine had gained some self-confidence in the past few weeks, trying to rebuild bridges with her family while working on her independence which proved to be difficult at times to say the very least, so it was with a bit of surprise that Nina to see Yasmine plump herself on her chintz couch, take off her eyeglasses to reveal dark circles and reddened eyes.

– It’s been a while since the last time I saw you look like a rabbit in a hole like that. What’s happened?
– Nothing.

The answer came sharply, knifing the peaceful afternoon with acrimonious dryness, Yasmine’s tone a shield to ward off any attempt at comforting. Nina knew better than to fight it, and simply grabbed a box of tissues and the last issue of Oriental Elle, where her Grecian one- shoulder tulle and silk crepe dress was being showcased. Absent-mindedly, she turned a page, while handing over the box of tissues to Yasmine, who was quietly crying on the sofa, her honeyed tone hair gracefully falling on her delicate tanned shoulders.

– Life is a cross to bear after the other, as my devout mother who doesn’t speak to me any more would say. What’s the new cross habibi?