I was waiting for the bus one day when a flock of pigeons flew over a boy's head as he rode his bike. He bent down. I smiled. We made eye contact. He smiled back at me. Simple things such as that moment make me feel content.
Here's to contentment.
Women grow out of their insecurities and imperfections, no matter what the conditions.
Women will bloom and flourish with the support of their own roots first, then with the support of each other.
ART: ECLECTIC YEMENI
I only started growing a beard because my face was thinning. My friends, uncles and aunts, and most incessantly, my mother, had been worrying about me. You look so thin, habeebi, they would say. Have you been dieting? Are you in love? Well, I might be, I would answer. But it’s none of your business. What they didn’t know, those fools, my mother (bless her) being the greatest of them, was that I had started smoking again.
On the night of my departure, I packed my 12-pack Marlboro Reds into my suitcase, tickled my mother’s cheek with my beard as I kissed her goodbye, and left to Queen Alia’s International Airport. She told me not to worry, that she’ll always love me, that she’ll wail for the first two months, and that she’ll eventually get over it. I told her I’d appreciate it if she reduced the wailing period to thirty days. She nodded and kissed me back.
Over there, I was greeted by the smiles of fellow Jordanians who wished nothing more for me than the best of luck, and to return with a heart for change. I got on the plane, which, although was playing a crackling instrumental of our national anthem, looked cozy. The woman I sat next to, a middle aged American or European, smiled at me and nodded, and I smiled back and nodded too. Her eyes burned a hole into my beard— so big a hole I could smell my hair burning. But I didn’t really mind. It was a big, brown bush of hair. I would’ve stared at it too, if I were seated next to me.
I had never understood why airplanes, which supposedly fly at a cruising speed of about 900 kilometers per hour, took so long. Twelve hours. Twelve, long, nauseating hours, it took me to finally reach American land. By then, my beard was a clump of ashes, all thanks to Mrs. Fugard, who turned out to be South African, after all. I nodded a goodbye to her as I approached gate 62, she pretended not to see. I didn’t mind that either.
It took me around two or three minutes to reach security. Thankfully, the line was short, and I only had to wait around thirty minutes to reach the round, freckled man who, in his POLICE attire, looked like a badass santa. I appreciated the way he smiled at everyone, possibly stood there analyzing every one of his smiles (the way the left side of his mouth poked when it was a woman he was talking to or the way his eyes wrinkled when he was talking with a child) until my phone buzzed in my pocket and I got distracted by it. Another three minutes passed, and as I was flicking through the photos my mother had sent me of the dinner she’d cooked, I heard the man say, “Next.”
“Hi,” I said and smiled.
He didn’t smile back. “Where are you coming from?”
“I just got off a 12 hour flight from Amman. Tired as hell!” I laughed.
He eyed the security guard who was situated in the glass box right next to us.
I, all of a sudden, was in horror up to my elbows.
“What is the nature of your visit?” He asked.
“I am enrolled—I go to school here.”
“Ah, yes. Yes, right here,” I almost dropped everything as I rummaged through my backpack in search for my passport. I could feel my cheeks burning, the very tips of my fingers lubricating. A whiff of my own sweat seared the inside of my nostrils (which I assumed was the result of the twelve hour flight), and I knew that everyone was watching me. What truly petrified me was when I saw three security guards approaching our glass box. A few seconds before they arrived, I finally snatched my passport out and placed it on the counter in front of me. They didn’t stop.
“Step aside please. Put your bag down,” one of them, the taller one, said.
My eyes stung with tears. This really was happening.
“We need you to come with us.”
I couldn’t find my words.
“Sir, drop your bag, and come with us.” His voice was louder.
I was shaken, my feet glued in place. “Okay,” I squeaked, and what an ugly thing that was for a man to do, my grandfather would’ve probably said if he were there.
One of the men grabbed my arm, and twisted it behind my back. I knew he wasn’t trying to hurt me, only to get me to walk with him, but he was hard-muscled and I wasn’t.
It was when I started walking with them, as the eyes of every man and woman and child I passed ate at my flesh, that I lost all control. I was crying like a mourner, cursing myself for not replying to what my mother had sent me and worrying that I would not get the chance to after this. I knew, also, that if I were to move an inch of my body, I would be pinned to the ground in less than a second and throttled to death by the chunky knee of that security guard. So I just walked, floated even—behaved so that Mr. Bearded-So-Automatically-Terrorist would come out of this alive.
TEXT: NATASCHA TAHABSEM
ART: HUSSEIN HISHAM ALJABI
After seven years, Ghada’s bird hatched three eggs in a cone-shaped nest. The cage was purposefully never locked so the bird could fly around the garden and neighborhood, and it would always return. Ghada kept her bird in an enormous rounded cage by the living room window. She fed it fresh fruit from her trees, and sometimes cockroaches from her bathroom. She offered her cupped hand full of fruit by the cage so its long leaning beak could reach through the metal rungs. She involved herself in feeding the bird, it put her at ease. The bird prefered green grapes above everything. Her neighbors questioned her when she first brought the bird in, but it began to add to the apartment’s personality over the years as guests helped feed the bird as well.
Ghada was pleased to find the eggs. It made the bird enthusiastic. Her morning routine was sacred, and she shared it with her bird. Ghada would cook herself scrambled eggs and sing her favorite Asmahan song after feeding the crow. After she cleaned her kitchen, she fetched her book to read on the plump, crayon-red armchair next to the cage. The chair was an antique from her mother’s old apartment, and the only thing she took when Mama died. Ghada was convinced she could still feel the depression in the chair where Mama used to sit slightly slanted. The two of them spent many mornings like this, exchanging songs and whistles.
Two weeks after the eggs, the crow’s feathers began to wilt. Almost overnight the shiny feathers morphed into a muddied fabric. She asked her few friends for advice, but they blamed her for keeping the bird imprisoned for so long. They didn’t understand. Her bird was freer than her. It was the warmth in Ghada’s home and her singing that kept her and the bird lovingly bound. Maybe the bird had fallen into a murky puddle outside, and the dirt crystallized on its feathers. She took the bird into her bathtub and cleaned it gently, over and over. As gentle as she was, this only loosened its feathers and some fell out. She was devastated. She thought her bird was nearing death. How strange, considering it had only recently laid eggs. Ghada called a local doctor. She was well known in the area for her herbal medicines that could ease any sickness. She assured Ghada the bird was still healthy. It had likely been violent with a group of birds outside.
Ghada was convinced for a few days, until her bird only ate half the food offered. It was strange because her own appetite was also beginning to waver. Instead of her usual two eggs every morning, she could barely stomach one. She once liked to slice halloumi on bread an hour or so after breakfast, but she would no longer head to the fridge for snacks. Before cleaning up, she and her bird would sit in silence. Neither of them sang anymore. Ghada’s voice felt heavy in her throat. The bird no longer left the cage, despite the square door remaining unlocked and wide open. It spent its days perched completely still, peering into nothing in particular with wide empty eyes that no longer flickered in the light. Ghada couldn’t bring herself to leave the house except for groceries. Like a shock patient, the bird scarcely moved its neck except to pick at food to scrape by. She felt like her bird on most days. Her human condition forced her to do more than the crow each day, so she pushed through the cloudy fatigue. The whole house felt smothering. She called the doctor again.
Ghada’s body felt like it was falling apart. Her hair used to hold heavy curls well into her thirties. She ate balanced meals and never restricted herself from simple joys. It kept her young. She had a few shallow wrinkles above her nose and at the corner of her eyes, it was natural for a life well lived. Over the course of those days, her hair began to thin and separate. She wore a loose veil whenever she left the house to buy the few groceries she could manage to carry. Her eyes sank sorrily into her cheeks and all her joints clenched together.
On a sunny cloudless Saturday, she dropped the groceries before she had a chance to close the front door. Her palms fell into the heap of food and she began to shake violently. Her finger landed on a can of beans and she tried to shout. Furious, she pulled herself up using the wall with her uninjured hand. The door was still hinged open. She marched to the crow’s cage in a haze and began to shake it and scream. Her voice was still unable to find its way out, but the long croak she managed caused the bird to panic. It became militant and hissed at her. It stretched its wings wide to protect the eggs. Ghada stopped shaking the cage and fell to her knees in heaving tears, still clinging to the metal. As if feeling her grief, the bird immediately calmed down. She fell into a hush and looked up at the bird from the floor. They remained like this for some time, the bird tilting its head back and forth, and Ghada holding a slight smile. The bird broke the spell first. It let out a tired shriek and nudged one of its eggs forward.
Ghada propped herself up on the armchair and opened the cage door. She poked at the egg twice then rolled it into her palm. It was half hatched, but there was no movement inside. She peeled away the loose shell and found the wound-up hatchling dead. She reached inside the cage again and checked the other two eggs. One was unhatched and intact, the other was dead. They grieved together for a moment. The room was deathly still. She buried the hatchlings side-by-side under a small olive tree in her garden and prayed in a hurry. She went back inside and pulled the remaining egg out of the cage with care to examine it. The bird didn’t stop her.
The burden of sickness had continued to poison the house since the bird laid its eggs. Ghada owed it to the bird to make sure one survived. She could not put the egg down for the hours to come that passed like seconds. She cradled it on the floor, the sofa, the bed. She only put it down to tear one of her pillows apart and collect the white feathers that had found their place everywhere. Ghada fisted the feathers into a plastic bowl until it was safe for the egg to rest on top. She could no longer feel her injured finger. She went back to the cage and returned the egg in its new nest. She ripped all her idle blankets from the cupboards and arranged them around the egg. She sat cross-legged across from the bird in its cage, her toes pressed to the cold metal.
For a day she sat fixed in her spot on the floor. They could both sense the egg would soon hatch. She only moved to drink a glass of water once. She didn’t sleep. Her head kept rocking forward, and she would fight to stay awake watching the egg. She must have slept for a minute because she was brought back to life by her bird’s cry. She swung backwards, alarmed, then lifted herself towards the cage. The shell cracked and collapsed inwards. Ghada’s throat and nostrils were on fire. Her bird flew into the cage rungs, missing the door and losing more feathers. The chick was making its way out of the egg, and it was surrounded by something ghastly. The smell of absolute misfortune and sickness came out from inside the shell and choked the room. Her bird found the cage door at last and escaped the murderous stench to the freedom outside the house. The chick collapsed in its own waste. Ghada’s eyes were burning from the roots in the back of her head.
Without any shoes, she ran outside, chasing her bird’s caws. She could never catch up. She kept running to leave behind the stench of death in a place that was no longer her home. She dropped to her knees on the asphalt in a neighborhood she did not know. She ran her fingers through her hair when she caught her breath. She would miss her bird.
Europeans, the children
of the forthcoming future,
find themselves in
as green-red as the
idea of hope is.
I, none of them, watch
them go to soccer games,
drink their beers and
upon their politicians
with friends and family.
Arabs believe in
eternal love, the
lifetimes spent in
dark cells, blood
running down their hands.
I, none of them, an
will be pleased when
the two worlds will
collide one day;
like Lego toys
in a toddler’s hand.
They are dangerous,
unfit for a toddler.
That’s why it is a
perfect task for me.
Finally my life
My Sweet Girl,
I woke up yesterday not sure if I wanted to go to the Women’s March or not. It wasn’t that I didn’t support the movement and the different women who were making a commitment to go. I think it might have just been complacency, you know? Just the apathy that so overwhelms me as a privileged person--that gives me the luxury to think I can stay home. The only reason I wanted to go in the beginning, I’ll be honest, sweet pea, was for you. I thought, how could I ever face my daughter if she read about the women’s march in a history book and when she asked me what I was doing then all I could say was, “well, it was a Saturday, and I had stuff to do.” I didn’t have stuff to do, though. So, I went, all the while reminding myself that this was me fulfilling that tradition of the messenger, alayhi alsalatu walsalam, to speak truth to power, that I was fulfilling the requirement of a higher level of faith he was talking about when he said
من رأى منكم منكرا فليغيره بيده ، فإن لم يستطع فبلسانه ، فإن لم يستطع فبقلبه ، وذلك أضعف الإيمان
This wasn’t even a high level of faith; I was really being pretty basic in my standing up to injustice. I was challenging injustice with my voice, but I’m thinking now, as I write this to you, that my heart doesn’t even truly hate this injustice, if I did, I wouldn’t have had to question whether or not I wanted to go. Apathy is killing me, my darling, and I am not quite sure what to do about that. the other day, when the young women I lead a halaqa for asked me what they could do about the apathy in their own hearts, I didn’t know what to tell them.
I don’t know what to do about the apathy in my own heart. Are you going through this or are you too young still? I want my heart to break, my love, but I have felt nothing like heart break in so long. These odd waves of sadness overcome me once every month, every two months, but they aren’t heart break. No, heart break, and a true violent explosion of emotions that shake me to my core and make me feel human again—I haven’t felt that since jiddo passed away. At least, that’s what I can remember. And that was a little over two years ago.
One of the scholars says that a heart that is incapable of feeling sadness is like an abandoned home. I cannot feel my heart, and I want to cry at the loss of it.
I remember reading a sign at the march that said “the price of apathy is to be ruled by evil men.” It is slightly altered version of something that the philosopher Plato said and it is very true.
I think it is my apathy that has kept me from sending out the essays I have written about trump and islamophobia and all of these emotions and things I don’t like to talk about. I’m not quite sure why, since white women talk about these issues all the time—and I think I have a little more to talk about. But I don’t know, if it’s me being disillusioned or if it’s me being apathetic—that I don’t have the strength of emotion that they do. I remember the day after he won, I went to class, and all of my colleagues were upset, I mean some of them had bags under their eyes and they were telling me about how they were crying when they were watching the news on the night he won. I went to sleep when they were still counting the votes, I didn’t even think twice about the fact that he might win. I didn’t think America would be that honest with itself, or that stupid. I was a mixture of emotions—I was both so aware of the wretchedness that is the heart of America, and the systematic injustice against people of color, and against our people in other parts of the world. But I figured Americans would just vote to keep the status quo, would just vote for Hillary. The status quo with another x chromosome. But that was a fail. And when they told me they were crying, I didn’t really know how to react. I felt bad, and I felt a part of their shock. And I felt a little scared too, because it was a fact now, that many more people in my country hated me than I was willing to believe. I knew the majority hated a lot of us, that the majority were ignorant, that the majority had a specific idea of what a “good” Muslim was; I knew the majority subscribed to the “War on Terror”. But I didn’t think this many people hated even the idea of me.
I wonder if this is the same America that you know. I wonder where we live, if you live here, or if you just came here to study—if America has just gotten worse, if you’re not even allowed in here. I don’t know. But, let me tell you about the women’s march yesterday.
Donald trump was inaugurated on the 20th, and yesterday, the 21st, there were over 67 marches worldwide protesting hiss inauguration and a whole host of other issues. According to estimates, there were over 2 million people protesting across the united states.
It was the largest march in American history—if you consider the numbers in all of the major cities that held marches. I went alone, because I had only decided last minute that I was going, I didn’t have a sign or anything made. (here is suggestion number one for truly living the moment, sweetie, decide early, and surround yourself with people to get excited with.) I went to a sister march in New York—if you were born, we would have totally made this a family affair and gone together to DC. I saw maybe three identifiably Muslim women, and many other women of color, but the majority I paid attention to were young and white. I don’t know if this is just a function of the group I had caught up with, or that many women of color were working at the time I went or that I am remembering incorrectly.
Everyone was smiling at me, very sincerely and very kindly, but I felt strange. I felt like they were smiling at me because I was wearing a hijab, because I was their token Muslim, their token woman of color, their “hey I was nice to a Muslim today” story. I swear, my dear, I do not doubt their hearts, but I was never smiled at so many times in the streets that I felt a little out of place, a little confused, and a little disheartened. I felt like they were smiling at the idea of me, and not me. that if my Muslimness posed a threat to their privilege they wouldn’t smile. That if they knew I was an Islamist they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew I wanted the capitalist system to deteriorate, they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew I was not “with her” they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew I did not subscribe to the “war on terror”, they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew how I felt about Palestine and Israel they wouldn’t smile. I felt they were all Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—feminists until they withdrew their support of the black cause to secure the white woman’s vote.
Hasaythum ma bihibuni la-thati, bas bihibu fikrit inhum mutaqadimeen wu munfatiheen.
Darling girl, I don’t want to be a receptacle for smiles and a way for people to pat themselves on the back for being open and liberal and whatever they think they are.
I’m not that. I’m not a “good” “moderate” Muslim—whatever the hell that means. I’m not okay with the status quo, and I never was “with her.”
Hillary Clinton tweeted a thank you to the marchers yesterday. I cannot tell you how much that annoyed me. the women who founded the march were not all supporters of Hillary Clinton. And yet, she thanked us, as if we—as if I, marched in support of her. as if my feminism necessarily included support of her. Even if she is a qualified candidate, it does not. Because I’m not okay with her or with a lot of what she represents.
I heard three chants yesterday:
My body my choice! /Her body her choice!
Show me what democracy looks like! /This is what democracy looks like!
We are the popular vote!
I heard a few protestors shouting “black lives matter” for a total of thirty seconds. I heard one woman and her two friends on the side of a road chanting something about Muslims. that was it. there was nothing about our Hispanic brothers and sisters, nothing that fueled anything but rainbows inside of me.
There were no arrests or any real police interference at these marches. That should make me feel good. But I know America, my love, and I know the arrests and the tear gas and the injustice that the marchers faced in black lives matter protests or those protests that our indigenous brothers and sisters faced as they were protesting the building of the Dakota access pipeline on their sacred lands. I know that if the majority of these protestors weren’t white women, protesting probably mostly because the now president is so overtly a misogynist... that there would have been arrests and there would have been problems and there would have been less pink and less smiles, and less support all around for the likes of us, and those far less privileged than we are.
But these are things I say to seem aware and “woke,” these aren’t things that even trouble my heart seriously. thinking about all of this isn’t even something that I do anymore. I cannot even feel anger properly. I can’t feel anything besides temporary pleasure.
I am all apathy. I am apathetic and disillusioned and privileged and I don’t know what to do about it, my dear.
This is the deep and dark underbelly of the American dream.
This apathy is what it survives on, this apathy and blindness is what fuels it, and what brings people like trump into power, and keeps other dictators in it.
Fight that apathy, sweetie, stay above it, and if you are drowning in it, like I am now, pray. Pray really hard, and surround yourself with people who hate injustice and who see it for what it is and who are not afraid to fight it.
I love you,
January 22, 2017