A letter to Mashrou3 Leila

Ya habibi,

You rocked me to the sounds of your ballads.
You made my heart beat a little faster when your words seemed to speak and whisper to me only.
You danced with me, you got me drunk with joy and happiness while I was twirling to the sound of your voice and violin.
You asked me not to forget you: my heart skipped a beat. I smelt the Jasmin and heard the abuse 3al 7ajiz. Like so many Palestinians.
You were the musical arm of our voices, or at least I wanted you to be. We don’t always get what we want, no point in being a brat now.
You inspired me, you dared to utter words that proved your courage, the courage to challenge an obsolete establishment. You did so with humor and laughter and melancholy in your voice. It reflected my state of mind, I was grateful a public figure dared taking this step, I was grateful talent and opinions mixed.

Soon, You are scheduled to open for a well known band. I can understand your excitement and sense of achievement. It really is a seal of your success.
But habibi, this band will be going to entertain apartheid. It will make oppressors dance and jump, it will be oblivious of the People who could not get there to see them, because they’re Palestinians, and because Palestinians need papers and permits and procedures to circulate freely in their own country. In their own land. It will turn a blind eye on the daily human rights abuse and violations Palestinians have to endure. It will turn a blind eye on the occupation, in Lebanon and in Palestine, and on the sufferings of people who have to endure its consequences.

In your hands, you have tremendous power: the power to say no. No, we will not open for a band that prefers avoiding the truth. No, we refuse to be part of the normalization of atrocity.

In your hands you have the power to say yes. Yes, we will play and open to the Red Hot Chili Peppers if we manage to convince them to cancel their show in Israel. Yes, we have the power to enforce what we stand for, to remain politically aware of our actions.

Habibi, do you realize the amount of power you hold in your beautiful hands? Use it. Use it wisely.

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Letter to a Revolutionary

Ya Qalbi,

Yesterday I read a letter from Mashrou3 Leila:

“Today I found myself walking down Hamra Street, humming Abdul-Halim Hafez’s ‘Ana Leik Ala Tool’ to myself, and I could swear I heard you singing the harmony into my ear. It made me giggle a little burn into my chest. I worry you might get caught in a protest, imprisoned, kidnapped, missing, gone. But I know you need to do what you need to do; I wouldn’t ask you not to, but please be safe. Someday, I promise, worry will be a sentiment completely alien to us.”

These words spoke to me, they spoke to the little demon worrier that seems to have taken residence up in my head. The letter spoke of fears of loss, it spoke of courage and of strength. It spoke of accepting the evidence of the need to fight, despite the dangers and the intimidation, despite the worry and the dread. You know this is what I struggle with the most, you know I couldn’t bear to lose you to the claws of an absurd regime. You know me, inside and out.

Leila’s story is fictional but for us it is all too real, or maybe she’s just a projection of a million fears experienced by a million hearts, making her more real than we could ever be.

You and I my friend are the children of the demise and disappointment of all our comrades before us, and the parents of an angry movement of hope : we tried and are still trying to revive the spark of contestation and revolution , and we’ve managed to a certain extent, or so I would like to believe. We’re marching for our present, yes, for our future, certainly, but we are also marching for our fallen friends, the ones who got killed and crushed and harassed and silenced. The ones who are still alive, They’re older now, they’re bitter, too, they don’t seem like they still can find the strength in them to carry on, yet you can find them next to us, their eyes barely daring to believe again, carrying in their hearts the memory of all they have lost, just like we carry in ours the smiles of those of whom we’re separated from by the inexorability of death or by the atrocity of prison walls and tortures.

My love, it seems like we have lost the innocence of youth and with it the ability to enjoy things in their superficiality. We can not be fooled anymore, and perhaps some days this realization is too painful for us to bear. My love, we are too dangerous for them to avoid us, they will hunt us down, we shall be prepared.

I keep hearing people comfortably sitting on plush chairs pompously labeling what we do: the Iranian “Green Movement” or the “Twitter Revolution”, as if Evin had never existed, as if the Iranians had never risen before the invention of social media. “The Arab Spring” now being replaced by the “Arab Autumn” or even “Winter”, as if revolutions could ever be expressed in terms of fucking seasons, as if we were sleeping and awoke like some sort of natural process, what are we, fruits or something? Pardon my language my sweet friend, but condescension irks me and I’ve never been one to shut up.

It has been a long time since we’ve started my beloved, and we are tired, yet the road up ahead seems even more tortuous and long, paved with too many traps for us to comprehend. Some of us decide to retreat, others become suicidal, we lose a few along the way, the sufferings are too much for anyone to bear.

Yet there we still are, despite the tears and the frustration and the tension and the deaths and the threats. Yet we continue, doing what we can, each at its own level, because we owe it to ourselves, to those who died, to those who fight, to those who lost, to those who are too deprived of privilege to attract wide attention to their cases.

This isn’t a Winter, this isn’t a season, this isn’t a moment that shall pass. This is a Revolution, a process, and it shall take its own sweet time.

We’re ready for it.

Tales of the Phoenix City – 17

The creature looked pale and panicked.

She also looked like she had been through a war.

Wearing a wedding gown, that is.

– I left.
– I can see that. Good timing, Yasmine. Really, you couldn’t have done better. What did you do, jumped off the white Merc?
– Oh shut up, would you, and let me in.

For once, Nina was not offended by Yasmine’s peremptory tone. The little resident devil in her mind was doing a little victory dance, while the resident angel already felt guilty at the thought of having instilled doubt in her young client’s mind.

Yasmine past through the door, the ruffles of her dress enveloping her in a sea of caring, soft silk and lace. It seemed to Nina that the once dry, tense woman had a new suppleness about her that seemed to increase at every step she took, as if the shackles that had been binding her up until now were slowly unknotting themselves.

When she barged in, Nina had been sketching a new collection of dresses. They partly were inspired by the Palestinian embroidery and were all the shapes of caftans. She had added special details to the shape of the sleeves for the winter dresses, something akin to lady dresses in the European Middle Ages. The long sleeves matched the caftan shape: each detail completed one another perfectly, making the dresses well balanced, nicely fitting and very original, as they were going against the trend of strapless bodices everyone seemed to be producing right now. The summer dresses were all light as feathers, heavily inspired by Ancient Greece and Egypt, all draped gauze, their sexiness the result of their sheerness, revealing by hiding. Nina, as always when she was creating, had been utterly happy, immersed in her own world. She was supposed to draft business plans and loan applications, but somehow the figures had turned into shapes and drawings and three cups of tea later, she was already imagining how the models would look in her dusty-golden colored dresses.

Then Yasmine had knocked on her door and brought with her mayhem, as seemed to be her habit.

She was currently perched above Nina’s drawings, as if appraising them. Nina let her peer through her swollen, red eyes, thinking seeing some art and calming down her thoughts might help her. She busied herself making strong black coffee, and sat on the couch between the two fitting rooms she had. She spread toffees and macaroons before her, and patiently waited.

And waited.

Yasmine seemed to have gone mute.

– Feel like explaining why you’re here looking at my drawings, casually dressed in your wedding gown on what should have been your wedding day, instead of actually being at your wedding day?
– I told you, I left.
– Sweetheart, I’m going to need a tiny little more than that.
– Well, at first I had completely dismissed your advice and all your blabbing about not needing to get married and all.
– Why thank you, I love it when people drop by to insult my judgement.
– But then, Yasmine ploughed on, then, now and again I’d get an icy cold feeling of impeding doom. An anxiety I could not really define, a blurry, shadowy feeling that something was not quite right, a feeling that would jerk me awake at night, my heart racing and my temples pounding. I felt than my stomach was going through a washer and drier, I don’t know… So I kept smoking and not eating and my mother started noticing something was wrong. Not that she’s a good listener, my mother, but you know, between two important lunches she started noticing her daughter was wasting to nothing. So I took a leap of faith and tried explaining to her that I did not love my fiancé and was having second thoughts about the wedding. She looked at me as if I had hit her with a spade. She started off with a kind of contained rage, she said that often love harmed a marriage more than anything else and that I’d grow into loving my husband. She mentioned children and affection and all these concepts that meant I was signing up for a loveless life, being bored until I died. I must have looked what I thought, because Then she went ape-shit.
– Ape-shit?
– Kinda crazy.
– Thank You.
– She screamed, saying I simply could not humiliate her and my family this way by calling off the wedding at this stage, that I was being selfish and spoiled and a brat, after all the money she and my father had spent on me and on that wedding. I told her the money she had spent was more to make her look good in front of her friends than to really make me happy and that sometimes I looked at her and saw myself in a couple of years and that made me want to scream and kill myself.
– Ouch.
– Yeah, she did not take it well.
– Ya think?
– She had a kind of mirthless laughter And told me I was already like her, obsessed by spending and what people would say about me and my looks and that if anything, I’d be worse than her in a couple of years. Them she stormed out.
– I’m sorry. I feel if I hadn’t put these ideas into your head you wouldn’t have had to listen to these things.
– No it’s not your fault. It’s not even my mother’s. She was raised to be this way, just like I was. I think what she’s told me jolted me out of my apathy. On the day of my wedding, today, God, I feel like it was a million years ago, as they were dressing me in the hotel room, and joking and laughing, I felt very, very empty. I felt as if I were drained, emotionally and physically. I realized I wanted much more for myself than being married and spending money and having children and live vicariously through them. I discovered ambition. These ideas are still confused in my head, but I did know I did not want to go through the whole ordeal of the wedding. So I pretended I wanted to have a few moments to pray before going. They all looked at me a little oddly, but I think they thought I was being jittery because of the wedding night. They all think I’m still a virgin of course, the poor things. They re delusional. Anyway, I waited until everyone went out of my room. I called a taxi and told him to wait for me in front of Goodies in verdun. Then I grabbed whatever money I had, some clothes, and took the service elevator down, paying everyone on my way to shut up. And I took the cab.
– And you came here.
– And I came here. I did not know where else to go, and they won’t come straight to you looking for me.
– Ok. You do realize I can’t hide you here ad vitam eternam. You’re gonna have to deal with the family mayhem eventually, it s part of the process. However I can provide you with a safe bolt hole here until you decide what you want to do. And don’t forget, I have a business offer to take up with you once the craziness had calmed down.

Nina took in the sad little face, the anxiety and fears before her, and impulsively hugged her like a mother consoling her child. Yasmine gave out a wail under the tender touch of Nina, tears she felt she had repressed for a very, very long time.

– Jesus Fucking Christ, who’s the Weeping Widow here?

Gabi had come.

Hear us!

Hear us! Hear us! Hear the uproar of our silence, the 2000 banshee screams of our sealed mouths!
Feel us! Feel us! Feel the strength of our empty stomachs, the blade of our emaciated figures rip through the guilty bubble of your indifference, and neglect and ignorance.
If our destiny is submission, oppression, humiliation and injustice, then we choose death over that sliver of a life. We close our lips to liberate our souls, you can lock us up and bring us down but you can’t touch what is gloriously, utterly ours, our minds, our faith, our visceral attachment for our land, the vibes and acts of solidarity going above and beyond your crimes, the love of our families and friends.
You can lock us up and bring us down, yet we escape, we are everywhere, in the prayers in churches and mosques, in the raised fist of peoples throughout the world, in the existence and lives of our children, in the olive trees of Palestine.
You can lock us up and bring us down, yet we are everywhere, in your frantic attempts at covering up the horrors you perform, in all the sugar coating you need to do to at least try and appear human in your own eyes, yet we see clearly, yet we are not fooled, our starved bodies come knocking at your doors, you can lock us up and bring us down, yet each day that passes pushes you, not us, further down the hounds of hell.
Our silence speaks louder than your bullets, our dignity reaches higher than your violence, we may have an empty stomach but our heads are held high, your blows don’t make us bow.
Hear us! Hear us! Hear the uproar of our silence, the 2000 banshee screams of our sealed mouths!
Feel us! Feel us! Feel the strength of our empty stomachs, the blade of our emaciated figures rip through the guilty bubble of your indifference, and neglect and ignorance!

Portrait: Carole

Elle danse, Carole. 

Elle danse et ses pieds marquent la cadence du temps, de la fuite inébranlable d’un temps qui meurtrit. 

Elle danse, Carole. 

Elle danse pour un peuple que l’on oublie et que l’on égorge, elle tend sa main vers ceux qui tombent et elle s’étire, s’étire pour apporter un semblant de dernière grâce à ceux à qui l’on ferme les yeux. 

Elle danse, Carole, elle danse et elle mime l’agonie pour faire comprendre l’horreur, elle danse et ses cheveux s’affolent à mesure qu’elle tourbillonne, à mesure qu’elle se perd dans les méandres de la souffrance. 

Elle s’étend de tout son long pour bâtir un pont d’amour entre eux et nous, pour prendre un peu de leur douleur et envoyer de l’espoir, son corps vecteur de tendresse, raide comme la corde de l’arc, elle envoie ses flèches de solidarité aussi loin qu’elle le peut, par delà la barbarie et la honte, la portée de son archée plus grande et plus forte que les divisions factices. 

Elle danse, Carole, et ses pas martèlent le sol pour faire écho aux marches de la liberté, ses hanches se meuvent et clament leur arabité, Arabe, tu m’entends, tous Arabes, tues-en un vois-nous tous surgir! 

Elle danse, Carole, chaque filaments de nerfs et de coeur noués en une force souple et flexible, elle danse et chaque ondulation de son corps appelle au réveil des consciences, au lever de bouclier contre l’arrogance des tyrans et l’indifférence des hypocrites. 

Elle danse, Carole, les hurlements de haine du dehors ne l’atteignent pas. Elle a une mission: danser pour un peuple, utiliser son corps pour en sauver d’autres. 

Elle danse, Carole comme d’autres lèvent le poing, et avec un dernier rond de jambe elle quitte la scène, laissant chaque coeur vibrer au rythme du 3oud qui l’accompagne, chaque battement en parfaite harmonie, le concert de la liberté. 

Exile

You woke up as the sun was rising over your beloved city, tinting the sky a peachy pink, the smog blurrying the horizon, or was it your tears you couldn’t say. 

You didn’t know what to take, you didn’t know for how long you’d be gone, it all looked surreal to you, a big boys’ joke, really. 

Your mother was wearing her floaty 3abbeya, tears brimmed her eyes like diamonds surround sapphires. She was up before you, she made you coffee at starlight, no electricity again, you looked at her in silence.

Words were a luxury you could not afford. 

You draped your shawl tightly around your shoulders, tight, so tight it almost hurt. You carried your bags and your purse a thousand times, carrying them in a way that would never feel comfortable and putting them back on the floor with a definite thud that was here to stay.

You paced at the threshold of what you could once call home, lost in the no man’s land of your thoughts, drowning into space and time, the roars and chaos of the city spread ahead of you an already distant memory. 

You bid no one good bye for you did not have the time, you were pushed to leave and your numbness made you. So you stood in front of your family making decisions for you, trying to shelter you outside of a homeland that no longer felt safe, the smell of gardenia and bougainvillea intoxicating, making you sway in the scorching sun. 

You felt the nausea of leaving grip you while the taxi shook you to the airport, there were no tears in your eyes anymore, they were wide open trying to get as much of your eternal city as they could, taken in every crooked building, every coffee hawkers, every sound and every smell and every noise, trying to print all of it in your memory, the frustration of it all making your blood boil. 

You broke down when you saw the sea humming at your feet, bidding you goodbye, your salty tears rightly going back to her, you saw the sea try and lick your unspeakable pain away but it did no good. 

Your heart heavy with hollow sorrow, you picked your bags once again and started to walk, looking back all the time, pondering whether you should have just walked into the big blue haze, letting it put you to sleep. 

You left, and every miles that separated you from your land felt like a graze to your heart.