memory text

GENERATION SPACETOON

Spacetoon was a huge part of my life. As a kid, I wasn’t really interested in outdoor activities, sports or anything that remotely required physical energy. Since I liked staying indoors, I developed an obsession with this magnificent black box, the television. Everything about it fascinated me, the colors, the stories, the people; the fact that those people could exist in more than one channel was so trippy to me. I used to think there was more than one set and they’d run around trying to keep up with our nonchalant channel changing.

I remember my sister and I spent a lot of time begging our parents to buy one of those fancy receivers, that had English cartoon channels such as Disney, cartoon network etc. We lived in an apartment, so it was a bit of a hassle and I don’t think my parents’ were able to afford subscriptions back then. I remember a couple of days before the channel officially launched, they had the logo on standby and we were curious about it and if it was going to be exclusive to cartoons or not. Note that, this was before computers and knowing that we can watch things online instead of waiting to watch them on TV.

The channel officially launched and I was the happiest kid on the planet. They had so many Arabic cartoons, categorized them based on planets, there was almost no commercial breaks, cartoons had specific timings and reruns (back then we used to change channels till we found cartoons). It was cartoons heaven. Back then, I used to take pride in “Arabic cartoons”, but in high school I found out that they’re all dubbed Japanese anime. Yes, it hurt, but when I tried watching them in Japanese, it didn’t feel as special. I had just learned about online streaming websites and torrents, illegal but the only resort to watching whatever we wanted at any time. Internet wasn’t as fast as it is in 2016, I’d go make tea or instant noodles and come back just to make the video load midway. Buffering was one of the most hated words back then. There were ‘western’ cartoons around in several channels, but most of them –I realize now- were focused on extreme happiness and keeping kids in a safe bubble of bright colors, cute voices, baby suns and “funny” slapstick comedy. It seems to me that they just existed to waste time or give kids something to watch after school, or as a reward for good grades and eating vegetables or simply to stay indoors in the weekend. However, in anime, the topics were overwhelmingly heavy and often bittersweet. We learned how to accept that not everything ends up on a cheerful note like most Disney cartoons and films. Every single dubbed anime contained adult messages that we may have not completely comprehended but somewhat understood. Over the years when I re-watched most of these cartoons, I started noticing how they low-key influenced me, as a person. I started noticing it in my choice of colors, art, the way I carry myself as a 25 year old Arab woman. As an adult, re-watching most of these cartoons would emotionally wreck me, but at the same time, heal me. There’s no escape from sadness, inhumanity, or even death, but I realize that being exposed to these cartoons made it less shocking and more predictable. I’m not saying it made me a pessimist, but I consider myself emotionally ready to feel everything at once.

As a student in a school that focused on English, learning Arabic was an absolute pain. No matter how much my mother worked on making it fun, we just had no interest in it. Spacetoon’s dubbed cartoons made us enjoy Arabic as a language, it made us want to somehow talk like the characters even if we sounded slightly ridiculous. "كيف حالك يا أمي" was greeted with “بخير، الحمد لله”, and that alone would make us feel like absolute badasses. Moreover, the music production of these cartoons still give me chills from how powerful the lyrics are, and how intense the singers made sure they were; softly engraving them in our memories. Anyone who used to watch Spacetoon regularly will sing almost all the intros if given the time, and the right crowd. Most of the highlights of my friendships involved listening to old Arabic cartoons’ intros and singing our lungs out. I personally feel that Spacetoon was one of those rare things that can easily unite us as kids from MENA, instead of focusing on how much we differ in dialects, culture, and traditions; we all watched dubbed anime and enjoyed every bit of it.

It has been a really long time since I sat down in front of the TV, I don’t have anything against it, but the convenience of the laptop and streaming online will always prevail. However, I have come across dubbed cartoons (not necessarily anime) in MBC 3, another popular kids channel in MENA that didn’t require special receivers, and the cartoons seemed very bland; the same bright colors, loud techno intros with messy and sometimes problematic lyrics. Nothing appealed to me. Even good English cartoons dubbed into Arabic lost a lot of their appeal because the stories make zero sense with the heavy conservative-we-don't-want-arab-kids-exposed-to-western-ideologies editing. Nonetheless, if it’s something this generation likes, sure. I do remember when my kid cousins were over, I’d play Hikayat Alamiya on youtube, and they were so confused that something with non-HD resolution; can be so enjoyable and informative. They asked so many questions, it wasn’t just another thing they were watching, it was something that was slowly making it’s way into their life’s timeline and I thought that was beautiful.

I’m forever thankful that Spacetoon was a huge part of my life, and that my parents never listened to us when we kept begging for fancy channels because it wouldn’t have been a huge part of my childhood. Spacetoon made us laugh, cry, understand emotions, the value of friendship, the importance of family and most of all, the importance of sadness. A lot of the animes that used to play back then were more on the sad side. I say sad, but as a grown up, I think most of them were slightly traumatic for our age. Needless to say, we understood sadness and how to be ok with it. We understood how cruel the world could be and the importance of kindness when Sally was treated like shit in the boarding school she couldn’t afford anymore. We understood determination when Reemy would never give up on people or finding her birth mother. When Alfredo died in Romeo’s arms, we understood how important friendships can be, and how they make us stronger and better people. We understood how the people we love might never always be there. We wanted to be like Sindbad, travel the world, conquer monsters and meet new people. We wanted to be as smart as Detective Conan, low-key analyzing our surroundings and trying to figure out this life and what it means at a very young age. For some ridiculous reason, we wished animals would talk to us, and be our friends. We didn’t care if it was highly unlikely, because everything was possible back then.

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TEXT: SARAH AHMED
ART: MOHAMMAD OSAMA

ASAB

 

 

DO NOT DRINK
STRICTLY FOR
SUGARCANE

 

juice stands on every corner
i walk up to the stand
the juicer behind him is covered in
asab
a cup is tethered to the bowl
in it goes and juice flows out
he hands the cup to me
the juice is murky white
like linen  

i sip
tomorrow i will get mango 

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TEXT: ALLIE ELKHADEM
ART: SANDRA

SUBURBIA: CINEMATICALLY CAPTURED MEMORIES

Suburban movies capture dull mundane scenes, intertwined with the unexplained paranoia and angst that is not pictured, but rather felt. The evocative, raw expression of human behavior we watch and harmoniously experience watching suburban films is an un-debatable proof of the cinematic brilliance of the simplistic, humane aspects of suburbia.

Watching suburbia, we often encounter feelings of sentimentality, which are not feelings of sentimentality but rather recognition. Because suburbia is the dullest street in the neighborhood, and the most iconic one on a screen. When you look at a still and realize how yellow the trash can is, or when you notice the non-Wes Anderson-esque color scheme of the pink tinted sky and the brilliant green grass, and of course, the yellow trash can. You notice all the corners of the still, the schemes, the aesthetics. Then, you recognize that it's similar to what you cross by everyday. You haven't recognized it before because it's too dull and ordinary. But now it's the background of a tense scene where a wine bottle was smashed and the brilliant green grass is filled with shattered glass. Then it's the background of two middle schoolers drawing out their post-school lives, eating an entire box of Roll-ups. The question then lies in how can a scene so mundane be artistic? At that, we are hit by the epiphany that founded Suburbia, the perceptive revolution that recognized Suburbia as a form of art and appreciated the transparency and rawness of daily life over films made with the help of Christopher Nolan and the special effects department.

Then you wonder again, why haven't we appreciated the still before? Why haven't we appreciated the yellow trash can, the pointless conversations, the flickering drive-thru red neon sign, the fading sound of music, and the echo green color of traffic lights if we pass by them everyday? It's because we're in a rush. We're always in a rush.

 

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TEXT:
GHADA SHAINAN
SAUDI ARABIA

PHOTOGRAPHY:
SARAH AHMED
YEMEN/UAE

SKELETONS

 

The memory of my bones itching
To poke holes through my skin
Eats away at the inside of my lungs
And carves the outside of my skull
Till it becomes paper thin
And my mind explodes into
A supernova of memories
The memory of your skin
Meeting mine with the pull of a black hole
The memory of my past self
Walking on clouds
And shining with the warmth of the sun
And the memory of unknown happiness
Breaking through every layer of insanity

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TEXT: HANAA AL MANSOORI
ART: ANGIE ABBAS

 

RADIOACTIVE

It’s a room. One, in a series of many. No one knows all of the rooms or how to get to them. There are endless nooks and evermore hallways. Everything is bare. Concrete floors and walls resemble a house of mirrors. Walking around is like living on Escher’s staircase. Your sanity swirls down the drain as sweat from your forehead floats up to the floor. There is a spark. Something glints in the distance and catches your eye. You see it more clearly as you round the corner. You step into a new room, one that you have been in many times before. The walls are plastered with thousands of little mementos, evenly shaped pieces of paper partially stuck to the wall. They move in the nonexistent breeze. Flowing, like a shooting star under a carpet. One near you seems to be glowing. It peels off. Its relationship with the wall is annulled. The yellow leaf is set ablaze as it floats into the sky and disappears. Most of these tiny fragments are yellow, faded with time. The rest are color-coded by year, with two digits inscribed on the back to mark the date. They have no other form of identity. No pattern. No reference. Whether a letter, a word, or even a sketch, all these defaced notes adhere to a wall. They are scattered to and fro, a mosaic portraying your life. There might be enough room for them all, and perhaps not. Everything is encoded and stored, but you cannot retrieve them. These memories have all been gathered up and shoved into a closet. The landslide as you open the door is large enough to kill you, or at least drive you mad. The door is opened. A gun materializes and rests against a stranger’s temple. This stranger is praying to a god. The walls around you suddenly burst into flames. Everything is ravaged and burned. Nothing survives, save for a small slab of stone that marks where he now rests. The last memory of a forgotten world.

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TEXT: MUGREN ALOHALY
ART: LAYLA MOHAMED

MEMORY

It's a derelict space; a land of bygone wealth and broken stones. You meander along the laid path, letting the rain pelt you as the clouds pass by.

It's peaceful. Even magical, maybe. Just a little bit. And as the pitter patter of the waterdrops speed up on your umbrella, you close your eyes and see it as it once was, bustling with people and furs and nobility, with children and coal and bales of hay. With injustice and slavery and prejudice. You see a prince pass by, and a maid sweap the hearth. You watch as a mother quietly nurses her babe. You breathe in the wonderfully cold air, and add a fairy or two to the scene in front of you. Goblins underneath the grate. Ghouls in the highest tower. Gryphons descending from the skies to feast on the grazing sheep below.

And you smile. Because you can still see that world, the past one and the magical one. It's still in your brain, in the deep recesses of your mind. Age has not taken it away from you. Yet.

You sidestep a sprite that's sticking its tongue out at you. Step carefully over a toadstool house. And then your brother calls you from the bottom of the hill and you accidentally leave the place you were just in. But he's calling you to a perch on the cliff with a view that takes your breath away.

And as you stand there, with your brother, with your family, in a fog that the worlds would envy, you remember, again, that sometimes the real world is even better.

Sometimes.

(Quick! Look! That dragon is waving hello!)

 

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TEXT: JOHARA ALMOGBEL
ART: AZIZ

NOISE FROM THE RADIO

As a nocturnal poet, most of the lines I’ve penned stems from memories— and they usually follow the same range; painful, joyous, hurtful and ones that causes particular annoyance. It’s the fuel behind what I write. What my words thrive on. Most often, these memories are tied to how I view myself as an individual, which, if you read my work, can sometimes be pretty dark or self-deprecating.

Once I’m in that zone I built for myself, it can be hard to get out of it. To believe in myself, or to shrug off the dark thoughts I shroud myself in.

It occurred to me recently how these memories we collect as adults aren’t the only ones that should be counted.

On one of the gloriously clouded days that we’ve been having lately, I was stuck in traffic. The radio was turned up, and I tuned it from one channel to the next, shuffling from some boring radio commercials, to mediocre mainstream music, to a station that completely lost its signal. Suddenly one of the channels blasted an old song—and it’s always songs that snags at the memory.

Flashbacks may be a narrative device, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experience them in real life.

Back in my nerd teen phase, on pre-dating the marvelous invention of iPods, I had on my desk this old stereo I’d “borrowed” from my father (and I never gave it back). It was the typical long stereo, and took a fair bit of space on my desk, but I wouldn’t move it anywhere.

During homework or just on my free time, the earphones were plugged into my ears as I switched between radio stations. Whenever a song I liked came up, I scrambled fast—empty tape on the right side, and record.

I depended on that one tape, gathering music, a song recorded more than once, one on each side of the tape, and re-recorded when I got bored of the older ones.

I didn’t know that what I was doing at the time was making mixtapes (ah, what a thing of the 90s!).

This memory, when it came to me, reminded me of what I was at that age—not built on other people’s expectations. I was just doing what I could to listen to good music. I was doing what I liked because I liked it, and I didn’t care what anybody thought.

Why couldn’t I remember that girl anymore? 

Why is it so hard to be that girl anymore? 

 

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TEXT: ASMA A. J
AUDIO: SFX-LAB

هوية الذكرى

 
لا ينتمي إلى هذا الفوج المكون من عدد لانهائي من البشر، ولكن ينتهي به الأمر كل صباح ومساء في وسطه. توقف يوماً لوهلة، ورأى كل الأجساد التي كانت تتحرك لوجهة معينة كأنه يراها للمرة الأولى، تأمل الملامح التي أبدتها الوجوه، وأدرك أخيراً أن لا أحد منهم كان هناك بالفعل. كان كل شيء يدل أن كل واحداً منهم كان محلقاً في عالم آخر، يشكل حاجزاً بينه وبين كل ما يحيط به من ضوضاء. لم يدرك وجود الذكريات وماهيتها حتى ذلك اليوم؛ فهي العالم التي كان كل شخص من ذلك المشهد غارقاً فيه، دون أي مقاومة أو وعي. "قد يكون ما يشغل بالهم ويمنعهم من إدراك ما يحصل حولهم هو تفكيرهم بما سيحدث بعد لحظات، أو بأمر مستقبلي يبعد عشرات السنين" همس لنفسه، ثم ارتفع صوته قليلاً "لكن لا وجود للمستقبل إلا إذا وجد الماضي، كلاهما مرتبطان ببعضهم البعض. لا أعرف ما هي الذكريات، لا أعرف شكلها، ولا مخبأها الذي تنطلق منه فجأة على شكل دغدة في المعدة، وتجعلني أبتسم لنفسي لدقائق عدة. أو اختناق يجعل الوجود ثقيلاً، بطيئاً.

هي أحرف، هي كلمات، هي أشخاص، هي أماكن، هي أحداث تبنى عليها حياة كاملة..."

بدأ صوته يعلو، لكنه لم يشكل عائقاً لهذا الفوج الذي لم يكترث لكلامه، أو حتى ينتبه لوجوده. "هي البريق الباهر الذي يمر أمام عيني، ثم يترك من خلفه السراب المتلألئ، ويضيء العتمة، ويبهج قلبي قبل نومي، أو يكدره؛ فلا أنام، ولا أصحو، بل أبقى بينهما في غيبوبة. هذه الذكريات التي لا يحددها زمان؛ فما إن يحدث شيء فهو ذكرى، وإن لم يمضي على حدوثها إلا أجزاءً من الثانية. هي ما يجعلني ما أنا عليه الآن، وما سأكونه بعد أيام."

نظر شخص إلى عينيه، انتبه إليه؛ فضرخ مباشرة:"النسيان وهم لا وجود له. النسيان هو وسيلتنا لإقناع أنفسنا بأننا قادرين على إكمال الطريق. يجب علي وعليك، وعلينا جميعا أن نتقبلها مهما كانت مرَّة، وأن لا تجعلنا نتجاهل كل شيء مهما كانت جميلة ولا تُنسى." ما إن انتهى لم يجد من كان واقفاً، لم يدري أنه هرب ما إن بدأ بالصراخ.

هدأ قليلاً، ثم أكمل قائلاً:"لا أريد أن أنسى شيئاً. لا أريد أن أنسى شيئاً." نظر إلى الوجوه التي تغيرت مراراً منذ وقوفه، ابتسم لهم، ولنفسه. ثم عاد ليكون جزءاً من ذلك الفوج، المتوجه إلى بداية يوم جديد، والذي سيكون ذكرى أخرى إلى الملايين السابقة.
 

FIRST FAST

July 1948, Beirut. The State of Israel is created. Britain withdraws from Palestine, formerly their territorial mandate. Fighting breaks out. Palestinians flee into Lebanon and Jordan. 

The ninth day of the ninth month finally arrives. My mother tells me we are at war, but I have seen only stars lining the night sky, heard only the tree frog sing outside my window.

Perhaps it is best we not contemplate what is happening at Beirut’s threshold because Ramadan calls us to refrain from talking gossip or even thinking anything negative about others. I try to stamp it from my mind.   

This is the first year that I am to fast, which I am of two minds about. I am flushed with pride to be mature enough to pay proper homage to Allah, but I am worried my stomach will get the best of me. It is strange to eat my breakfast before getting dressed, but I consent.

It being a Friday, I spend most of the day lying on the cool tile of the kitchen floor under the table, reading. My brothers are outside in the courtyard by the fig tree, but my mother’s declaration makes me uneasy. The thoughts of guns return. I continue to trudge to the courtyard and gaze up into the sky, yet my searching reveals only white puffy clouds. A dragon. A triangle. A lion. I wonder what a real lion would look like.

Zap! My brother’s football hits me in the temple, almost knocking me to my feet. I retreat before he can cuff me. I seem always to be in his way.

I prefer the kitchen with its stowed herbs, its promise of ashaa, dinner, with my mother already lining the dates on plates. I prefer my books. My father taught me how to multiply large figures in my head. He went to his office today in spite of our Holy Day, in spite of Friday. He is always at work. Yet I find I can do it by myself now. It comes easily to me, like a game. In fact, it is a game. The numbers curl in black lines across my mind’s eye, as though they were lining a page, literal and solid. Two times two will always equal four, no matter what Palestine is called.

My stomach growls and echoes. I am unfamiliar with this sensation. Each growl reminds me of the chopped vegetables on ice, but also of my pledge to Allah to keep the fast. I dowse the fantasy of a slice of cold cucumber, and I gulp down a full pitcher of water my mother offers instead.

“It is fine for a child of your age,” she informs me, but I raise one eyebrow in doubt. Even so, it is abominably hot for May. The tiles warm my toes as the sun pulls itself ever higher. I hear the strains of my brothers’ laughter and whoops, and wonder how they can be so active in this heat. How they can forget about Ramadan. How they can ignore the war. I wish I could take my vest off, but that is not an option in this home.

My thoughts drift toward the salty, cool bite of the sea when my mother calls me for midday prayers. I stand with pride next to my father and brothers as we face Mecca. My father guides me as I kneel and rise, kneel and rise. The sun will soon yield to the moon. Soon we will be breaking our fast. We will start with water and a few dates, and then we shall have a small feast.

“Are you certain you can make it through the afternoon?” my mother asks after we finish prayers. “Observing Ramadan in the seasons with longer, hotter days is more difficult, and you are young yet.”

“No, Mama, I can make it,” I assure her. I click my tongue against the roof of my mouth so it will not feel so dry. She ruffles my hair again and pats me roughly on the back. “My youngest, my baby, is almost a man,” she grins.

I grin back at her. She is my nine-year-old world. I want to make her proud. I want to make Allah, may His Name be praised, proud. I climb the fig tree, full of sweet-smelling fruit, to the roof to await sunset. I hold my belly in anticipation. The sky is blue and clear and hot. I must descend.

We study the Quran as the day grows old. I fidget in spite of myself when the longer Qur’an passages are recited. I usually love the lilt of words mixed with the space of breath in between. This Book is like music to me. Yet today the words about peace confound me, and my thoughts drift once again to what will happen to our country tomorrow.

Twilight finally avails herself to us. I am thankful as we pray. We are blessed. I jump up as the neighbors flood in for the evening meal. I scamper away from their greetings of Ma’brouk, their kisses of greeting. I can only run toward nourishment. I barely taste the food as it goes down.     

After the dates, bananas, olives, tabouleh, grape leaves, and a platter of cold meats await me. Food has never tasted so delicious, and it never will again. I know this to be so because today marks many more fasts, and I shall be stronger the more I practice Allah’s will.

That night, after prayers, I stare up at the new moon. Still no sign of bombers. Each year, at the end of Ramadan, we donate five gifts to the needy. It helps us remember the poor, just as fasting helps us remember the less fortunate. Perhaps we will take our traditional Ramadan gifts to the Palestinians this year. I wonder if there are any yet in Beirut. If not, where are they? I wonder how my mother will react to my idea of bringing the refugees gifts.

I hear her murmur to my father, and I sense the worry in her tone. I hear the tears in her voice. Is she weeping over the war? Surely not, our region is always at war. We were at war the year before I was born. Is she weeping over the people coming to stay in our country? It is clear to me that she has sympathy for them, but it is also clear that she does not want them here, with us. If we offer them gifts, they may want to stay. I wonder if Palestine is as beautiful as Lebanon. I wonder if the people crossing our borders miss their homes.

I think not. No land exists as beautiful as our country, full of mountains of cedar, aquamarine waters teeming with fish, clear, clean springs, its souqs overflowing with the scent of spice, its boulevards lined with red-roofed cafes. And my home that the breeze whips through even on hot days like this one, full of tile, bookshelves, rugs of every design—and love.

I creep to the door. I hear the words blight on the land from my mother and temporary from my father. What does blight mean? What does temporary mean? A day, a month, a year? Where are these Palestinians? I have yet to see them.

I continue to wonder if the Zionists will invade our country. Perhaps they are angry at the Palestinians and will come after them. A breeze flows though my open shutters, and I shiver in anticipation. I hope not. It is strange to me that my first Ramadan fast should occur at such a time of violence, that while we are feasting, people are crossing over with all their belongings on their backs. Perhaps with no food at all. Perhaps with no water.

What were they trying to escape? What could have possibly been happening to them for them to leave their houses? I cannot imagine having to leave mine—ever. If Islam means “peace,” I think, why must we fight at Ramadan? Why must we fight at all?

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TEXT: KATHRYN BROWN RAMSPERGER
ART: HANNAH KIRMES-DALY / BRUSH & BOW

THE PHANTOM MENACE

Now, I don't remember much
about the movie itself but I can still picture
his excitement as the opening crawl came up
and how focused he was on not missing a word
that he didn't care about the popcorn being spilled
or the mess he made because in that moment
he was nine years old too.

I wonder where all that excitement went.
I wonder when was the last time he was in complete awe of something.

Yet, there are days where I can still see flashes
of the person he used to be.

Days when he used to carry us over his shoulders
not letting us down till laughter escaped our throats

Does he remember any of that?
Does the cinema closing down where he took
us to watch all those movies means something?
Does the accident and the new car mean something?

I've spent years trying to make sense of this

and I think I know now
I think it was her
I think she wrecked him
and I have never been more ashamed of my name

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TEXT: NOURA ALZUBI
ART: SARAH FARHOUD