Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Toqa, her hats, her dreams: Life of a 10 year old Syrian refugee in Zaatari camp

A camera at Zaatari camp in Jordan is not very welcome. Syrian refugees who fled the war in Syria and settled there are weary about revealing their identities fearing for family members who remained back home. But this little machine attracts little kids who rush to pose with a victory sign and insist you take their pictures. Toqa was different. She froze. Then she stared deep in the lens, half a tear shivering in the corner of her stunning eyes.

She stared deep in the lens, half a tear
 shivering in the corner of her eyes.
She had an aristocratic attitude about her posture. The red hat she had on only gave it a notch. I froze too and she walked away. Only then did I realize that I haven’t even asked what her name was but that infectious look haunted me for days after. Something about her was so inviting and I decided to look for her.

This is the story of Toqa, short for Toqa al-Qouloub, in Arabic purity of the hearts. She is ten.

The word Zaatari for Toqa had meant before the crisis the beach where her parents used to take her on holidays with her two sisters and brother. Now it is home. But Zaatari beach in Syria and Zaatari camp in Jordan have only the sand in common.

“When we crossed the border from Syria to Jordan on foot, I looked around and I mistakenly thought that we had reached Zaatari camp. Only hours later, when the buses came at dawn did I realize this is still the border,” she confessed to me. “I was very tired and thirsty.

Toqa had walked for almost two hours carrying a bag and holding the hand of her four-year old cousin.

“It was dark but there was moonlight. I wasn’t scared. I was only worried that my little cousin would fall. I had to slow down. His mother was holding his little brother and was already ahead of us,” she remembers. ”we reached a dirt road. He was still walking slowly and I was about to trip.” 

Back in Dar'a's Busra Al-Sham, known for its famous Roman archaeological sites, life had changed for Toqa. The sound of shelling and fighting was drawing closer. One day, at Toqa’s school, students were all dismissed.

“We heard that the school is no longer safe. All the kids started running. I was looking for my sisters and brother but they had headed to our aunt’s house near the school. I ran in another direction home.” That day, Toqa was terrified.

“For days my mother was trying to reach my dad who works in Algeria. But the lines would not go through. She had to go to the roof of the building to make the call but that was dangerous,” she told me remembering the day she left Syria, a day she remembers vividly.

Toqa’s mother asked the kids not to pack too much. “We will have to carry these bags on our backs,” she told them. Toqa only packed a few clothes and her hair clips. “And my hats,” she remembered with a smile.

“When we were in the car, I looked back at the house and cried.”

Two weeks later, the house was shelled; her mother later told me, regretting not bringing the photo albums and asking the kids to pack light.

But more than the house, Toqa misses her grandma and grandpa, who have a “beautiful garden with all kinds of fruits,” she says naming all the trees in the garden. She also misses Racha, her best friend, “with long dark hair, blue eyes, and white skin… I don’t know her whereabouts. I wish she comes to the camp, but I am sure, one day I will see her again,” she said biting her lower lip.

Toqa also goes to the camp's school where she receives a daily nutritious snack consisting of a fortified date bar. She has only one bite and packs the rest in her bag. “I give it to my mother when I go back to the tent. It is for the baby. My mother is pregnant.”

Toqa is not just a sensible kid. She has always been the brightest among her peers in school back in Syria. Here, in Zaatari, she works harder because the curriculum is different.

“I have to be the top of my class. I study a lot. I always study alone because I have to rely on myself. When I grow up, I can only depend on myself and I have to get used to that,” she explained with enthusiasm. Your dreams? I asked. “I want to become a surgeon to heal people and save their lives. If someone’s injuries are grave, I want to be able to save them."

When I posted her picture of Facebook, a Syrian friend commented "I hope the future of Syria will be as pretty as this face." So do I.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Amman: the city with too many faces

My stay in Amman comes to an end soon. The day that first seemed far away is near. Almost a year since I stepped into this country with two bags and one tear I refused to shed. And yet, now that the day has come, something is drawing me to stay... a bit longer. How can I suddenly get attached to the city that I hated at first sight? What made me say I leave next month when I had the choice to say now, tomorrow, or simply next week? When the words came out of my mouth, they just seemed the right thing to say, as if I needed time to bid this city farewell, the city where extreme seems to be the adjective to everything;

Where sweets are too sweet and summers too hot; where the sea is too salty and the waiters too rude; where restaurants are too smoky and women too fake; where alcohol is too expensive and excessively consumed; where deliveries take too long. The city where women wear too much makeup and men too much perfume; where houses are too white and bridges too gray; where everywhere looks exactly the same.

The city with no color has a street named 'Rainbow'.

The city where drivers respect circles but not fellow drivers; Where they drive too fast, talk too fast and think too slow; The city where the people take pride in their clean streets but turn a blind eye to the filth of their politicians, where the features of a king and a queen and a teenage boy seem more familiar than those of their own mothers, fathers, and children. This city where ugliness stares you in the face, yet beauty crawls from around hidden corners.

The city where all roads take you to the old town.

The city where people dance a little and talk too much, dress a little and dress too much, party a little and smoke too much; where someone opened a liquor store in front of a mosque; The city where sexy lesbian prostitutes with Arab looks dance to stoned men in a nightclub where cocktails are not served and where music sucks, where outside a beggar boy watches drunk teenagers make out in the trunk of a jeep, where the bouncer wouldn't let you in because he misspelled your name when you made the reservation, where you realize after a few weeks that your name is never on the list and that if you do not reserve and lie, there is high chance you will get in. The city where the currency is overvalued and life cheap. Where workers work too much and are paid a little, where the rich are too rich and the poor too poor. The city where there are too many bookstores and too few books; the city where the young generation thinks change is too early and the older too late.

The city where more than half the population has two identities.

The city that made me an extremist; turned me into a racist; the city where I had a fight with every waiter, every taxi driver, every driver, later, even before they did anything. The city that made me a workaholic; this is the city where I had the best burger in my life and the worst night in my life; where I woke up too early to watch the sunrise; where I hated too much and loved too much.

The city where I wanted to take self defense classes but instead learned to cook and play the guitar.

The city that has nothing to export but dust; the city with too many roundabouts and too few smiles.

The city I hated at first sight, and as I am about to leave it, I got used to it.

Friday, December 14, 2012


A teacher once stood in class and told his students with a firm and serious tone: I am throwing a party tonight, but tomorrow you might have an exam and you might not. Those of you who show up at the party tonight will fail the exam, if it takes place and those who don't will pass, again if it takes place. Remember there might be an exam and there might just be another normal day. It's your choice.
Next morning, all students showed up in class; those who were at the party were teasing the rest about how fun the party was, and those who weren't were saying: we will see who will laugh last. Some of those who studied all night were arguing that there would certainly be an exam for there is no meaning to the dilemma otherwise. Some of those who partied all  night argued that there certainly won't be an exam for why would the teacher throw the party himself. Some were in doubt, among them were those who went to the party with a high sense of guilt and those who missed it but wished they were there. The students argued for hours, they started fighting, blood was spilled.

The teacher never showed up.

Even if paradise and hell were a sure thing, I still wouldn't give up the sinful joys of life if only as a mere act of rebellion. Why would I want to spend the rest of my eternity with such a manipulative super being?

Imagine this alternate ending: Next morning, the teacher shows up. Silence. The teacher spoke: those who attended the party may leave the room. The rest of you here is your exam: Describe last night's party.

How it started

When I first started writing, it was on any piece of paper I come across, tissues sometimes. I would just write anything that comes to my mind. Just filling the whiteness of the paper. I do not wish to make it look very poetic because it wasn't. It was more like enjoying the exercise of emptying a pen on a piece of paper. Was it an urge to write? an impulse? maybe not. If I were talented at drawing, I would have preferred to draw. But I wasn't and I knew how to read and write, so I wrote. Mostly nonsense and nobody read it. I hated my writings, they were like my alter ego, everything I hate to be, but I knew that it was everything I was. When I later wrote stuff that I would not be ashamed of showing to others, they all turned out to have a very sarcastic voice. In between these two phases, I kept a teenage diary and wrote hundreds of love letters (to a real person). Years later, all my letters were sent back to me. I never sent his.
I still enjoy the same exercise but instead of emptying a pen on the whiteness of a paper, I play on the laptop keyboard  to make letters appear on the screen. What you read is the mere result of that. 


I was thinking the other day that there is no state of happiness, only a state of absence of unhappiness; In other words, you are happy if you are not unhappy. And then I realized that the overarching reason for unhappiness, besides the direct reasons, is Habit. Think of it: we are more unhappy when we are deprived of, or when we lose, something (or someone) than we are happy (read: not unhappy) when we have it. That's why they tell you you do not value what you have until you lose it. Because you are more unhappy when you lose it than you were happy when you had it. Take money for example: unhappiness without money is greater than happiness with money. Another example: we are much more unhappy when we lose someone we love (breakup for example or death) than we are happy when we have this person. why? Habit.

The only state of happiness I can think of -though very short-lived- is when there is what I would call "intervention" a sudden turn of event that for instance makes a very poor person rich overnight or a dying person heal from illness. But soon after habit sneaks in. So basically what brings unhappiness is developing a habit over a certain possession (people, health, whatever you can think of). So on the long run, what you develop a habit at having will eventually and gradually make you unhappy: it starts as mild (habit of having it eventually kills the thrill), then becomes moderate (fear of losing it), and ultimately, profound (losing it)... Some people like to explain this notion by saying that unhappiness comes from dependency on a certain need, in other words, if you do not develop or get attached to this need, you do not have to suffer when deprived of it, losing it or wanting to have it. Others tend to believe that is rather goals that make us unhappy, the striving for something that exists outside us rather than looking inward for that happiness that lies within... but that's taking it to a totally mystic level. But if it makes you feel good about yourself, don't get too used to it, habit, remember?

That's very Freudian. I know but it wasn't Freud who inspired me.

When we were kids, my sister used to say, mainly to tease me: don't do anything... nothing happens (nothing bad she meant). How I loved to argue and prove her wrong. With that motto in life, I used to say, you cannot be unhappy, true, but you cannot be happy either.. wait, that's the point, so she was right all along, though simple the words she used. Avoiding causes of unhappiness is also Freudian though I doubt she knew about Freud back then.

Freud believed that happiness was not in the plan of creation in the first place, even though that's what humans strive to achieve. But I like this idea better in the words of Woody Allen in Annie Hall: "I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That's the two categories. The horrible are like, I don't know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don't know how they get through life. It's amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you're miserable, because that's very lucky, to be miserable.” Got the idea?

That moment...

When someone explains to you, in a manner of educating you, and for free, out of love of spreading knowledge,  about the only subject you are an expert in, and breaking it to you with: you do not know that.. let me tell you.... You go: wallah? tell me more, please.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

That moment when...

I feel that even if the world's sole purpose was to make me laugh, I won't be able to even smile.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Peace or Justice

You always hear calls for peace and justice but in fact peace competes with justice. The reality is often peace or justice. Otherwise the world would be a much better place.

Angels or demons

When I was a kid, I was at war with my older sister most of the time, okay, all the time. That was my mother's worst nightmare. Now I understand that war better. I wasn't a child who liked to play, not with my sister anyway, I always preferred to be left alone, not to be bothered. For my sister, she must have been told, even before she got to understand the words: you will soon have a sister you can play with, maybe to prevent and counter the sisterly jealousy that is surely to come. Then I came, and to her surprise none of what they told her was true. Her sister doesn't want to play with her. She tried all sorts of tricks to entice me into playing. The more she tried, the more I resisted. I think that I felt the advantage I had over her early on. I wanted nothing from her in fact, I was fine being left alone and she needed me. But deep down, I wanted her to try hard so I can refuse. See? who is that stupid who said kids are angels? They are not. We weren't for sure. It wasn't always a carrot she used, sometimes, she'd use the stick. That was harder to resist and soon she discovered that using force and intimidation to force me to play with her was more successful than begging and making irresistible offers. So I started to play under duress. My sister also hated to lose. So did I: I hated her to lose because there was nothing I wanted more than avoid her fury when she lost. I would give up the thrill of winning for that. Such a competitive and rebellious child I was! But for some reason, luck was always on my side when I needed it the least. In these games, my purpose was to lose playing against both myself and my luck. My sister was not stupid though. She would discover that I am losing on purpose and would ask me to play fair, she wasn't satisfied with winning against a loser but she still wanted to win anyway. So I had another challenge, I had to force myself to lose without her noticing. So I'd make sure to win a few rounds only to lose more later and make it look very challenging to her. I also had to fake sadness and anger when I lost. I win if I lose, that was my secret game. Naturally, sometimes, I would lose without any effort but I became an expert in losing no matter what. I was also the master of deception. These were the peace times though. My mother would see us playing and would be very proud. But at times, war would be declared. This can happen for any reason or for no reason. As I said, that was my mother's nightmare. See? my mother lived in the denial that her kids are in fact angels. When war broke up between her angels, she knew one way to restore peace. My mother believed that love was the cure for everything. She would stop the war by asking us to kiss each other. I played my mother's game the same way I played my sister's. Whatever you say, but after that, just leave me alone. I would kiss my sister with the same indifference I played with her. That wasn't harder anyway. She would sometimes refuse, get harassed by my mom until she kisses me and in her heart vows revenge. The next war wouldn't take long to start.
My sister and I grew up to become very close but looking back I only regret one thing: She hated the chicken I was and her rebellious side was something to admire not to despise.

When life goes on

One bad aspect of war is that we get used to it. The worst is that we even adapt. But the problem is that it is not very natural not to. I remember this man who refused to leave his house during the 2006 war on Lebanon although his neighborhood was under constant Israeli shelling. After the war, he was found in his house, mentally deranged. Everyone said poor guy the war made him crazy judging by the laws of sanity. I thought he had the only normal reaction. Life goes on for the insane in fact.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Prayers are a time investment too, like almost everything in life, but this is either the worst or the best investment ever. This is more akin to gambling. My father would disagree. He would say this is the safest investment because there is nothing to lose but a whole lot to win if it turns out someone up there was counting. He would say there is no time to lose either, for you can always pray in your heart and that prayers are soothing, it's a win win situation. My father who I am sure will end up in paradise, if he had a winning bet, is my free ticket to paradise too, for it wouldn't be a paradise for him if he knew I am burning in hell. Right dad?

No I am not worried.

When I was a kid, I used to ask my father: what if, what if, just what if, there is no God. Compared to my questions that started with the "what if" back then, this was probably the easiest, though before I finished the first "what if", he would have said "here we go again". He said: I would then just wish there was a God. He was probably looking for a certain justice up there that he doesn't see around him down here. I am not even sure, that deep down, my father is a believer, I think he just wishes there would be some form of justice somewhere.

Another time, I asked him, what if God was evil? He said: you know what... I don't care if God was a TV (he was actually staring at the TV) then he moved his eyes, or a fridge. I think whatever he is, how could he have created such an annoying girl! Maybe he didn't say that, but, I imagine he thought of it. He must have borrowed something from Imam Ali that got me thinking for a while.

One day, I was maybe 10, I asked the nun at school: Why did God create us? She said: so that we worship him. I said something like: why does he need people to worship him, he has such a low self esteem! She said: there is hell for people like you, and kicked me out of class.

I went home and I said: dad, what if, what if... the nun was right...

Too tired to think of a title...

Can anyone tell me why all morning shows are dumb? Is this done on purpose? I mean is there a logic behind it? When I wake up, usually, I mean always, I am half stupid, it takes me hours before I get my brain powers back, and not fully back, the process is gradual and complicated. It depends really on the ratio of milk to coffee in my cup. If I am lucky and the ratio is correct and I don't go mad making another coffee, then the process can start. Otherwise my brain goes into a reboot mode that takes another hour, in the meantime, and if I don't find the remote control that is usually right under my nose, I end up staring at two pretty and dumb presenters, they are not even pretty to be honest, talking nonsense. With a half functioning brain, I don't need any more stupidity. That doesn't help. The story is that I couldn't sleep last night. I don't know the reason but I was awake most of the time trying to shut up my thoughts and telling myself that these thoughts can really wait till tomorrow, but they kept swirling in my head like a tornado. But it was one important night, because I left the bed at around 4:30 and that's a.m., very uncharacteristic of me, and I had taken a few serious decisions, and changed my mind over a few others. Besides those very decisive moments, I had a huge fight in  my head with a driver at work. This was maybe the main reason that kept me up all night. This driver has been lying to me over the past weeks, this I knew, but refused to deal with, until I heard how he was mistreating another driver at work. I went mad when I knew how this driver has been tricking the other driver and taking his overtime money. See? it is such small injustices that deprive me of sleep, big injustices, such as how the world is unfair and why babies die in wars don't. This I am somehow used to. So, I was sort of rehearsing a fight with this driver in  my head until I decided to leave the bed. I went to the balcony for some fresh air. It was freezing cold at this hour. The calm streets helped me restore some calm in my insomniac brain. I made coffee, luckily worked well from the first time, put the TV on, I watched a stupid movie for two hours. It was then, after the movie was over that I stumbled on the two dumb TV presenters. It was morning show time and it was a bad decision to watch, because then I got ready to go to work, remembered that I have to go fight with the driver, I put on my tennis shoes as one puts on combat costumes and head to the office so early, so furious, and so ready for the war. Then I see the driver approaching. What I said to him was a revenge for every time I had to say something and didn't. The calm tone I used made things even worse, the intimidation he felt was beyond anything I imagined doing in my imagined fight. I rub my hands as if moving the dust off in victory, leave the battle field and decide to call it a day.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


There are moments I think that if I can make some people disappear, I would cure most of my headaches and cut my Panadol costs!

I am not racist, check my Facebook!

There are poeple out there who think they aren't cool enough until they take a picture with a black African boy which they make sure to post on Facebook. Those are usually Lebanese. Go to their homes and you will find their maids, black too, sleeping on the kitchen floor.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Just wondering...

I see why men fast: they get each between 70 and 100 women, hour al -ayn, virgins, in Paradise. But what do women, straight women, get? (Homosexuals go straight to hell) I assume they get to drink from the rivers of wine. Fair enough. Or do they all go to hell too? So women fast, and go to Paradise to get drunk and watch an orgy of drunk men?  I don't want to imagine how paradise toilets smell like. Oh, maybe they get to clean the toilets! Such a promising afterlife, what better paradise can there be after hell of a life on earth!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

At the end of a long exhausting day...

If we could breath under the waters, we wouldn't bother to learn to swim.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Explain this to me

If you are fasting, what's so weird about you feeling hungry?

If Kafka was here...

Have you been to a police station in Lebanon? If you haven't, you should. You don't need to go steal or kill somebody to live the experience, it's enough to kiss your girlfriend or boyfriend in public, or just look gay. But you can also claim you lost your ID. I on the other hand did lose my ID, but you don't have to, because, as you will discover in a bit, you can just claim you did, and get as many IDs as you wish. You might say, why do I need more than one ID? sure, but you say this either because you don't lose your ID easily or as often as I do and you haven't yet felt the need for spare IDs or you just don't have a criminal mind. In either case, this post is for you: if you are a good citizen, find out the truth about what you proudly call the 'state' of Lebanon, and if you have a twisted mind, I am probably not breaking the secret here, so no need to arrest me.

My experience at the police station in Lebanon has always been enjoyable, not that it usually is. What you get there is more than "one cup of coffee going and one cup of tea coming" as we say in Arabic, you get to see for yourself why the hell nothing works in this so called 'state' and you wonder why you are still paying your bills. But make sure you free a whole day for the experience. Take a leave from work if you should. 

What is the occasion for this post? there is usually no occasion for anything I write on this blog, but this time there is. This month was declared "security month" in Lebanon. Ironically, or maybe not so much, two banks were robbed, maybe three, I stopped following, protests roamed all streets from north to south, east to west, you probably have heard of the new burning tires fashion, and a bull even raided a supermarket in the middle of the city (I am serious, check it here). 

So, I lost my wallet some time ago, outside the country (and this is no small detail as you will find out) and I had to issue a new ID (not that you really need it unless you lost your driving licence too!). I go to the police station, the guy there, makes me comfortable, brings a chair, some tea, some coffee, offers pepsi, takes out some blank papers, adjusts his seat, gives me a serious look and asks me: where are you from? You would be expecting something like: how can I help you. What does it matter, you think? but he probably needs it for his papers, you wonder (now this started to sound like Kafka's). Of course, he is interested to know my religion. As I was beginning to explain that I am here because I lost my ID, a woman comes in. She had just been robbed (a few meters near the police station). With the same calm he received me, he offers her a chair, some tea, some coffee, and asks her to relax. He explains to her that it is not the first time someone is robbed, and that she needs to file a lawsuit against an anonymous. The woman goes mad and starts shouting: so you are not going to do anything? the guy is probably still down, I know how he looks like, many people saw him take my bag and run away, I want to file a suit against the state not against an anonymous!!. Very composed, he answers not without sarcasm: do you see anyone else here? You expect me to leave this place and go after him? sit down. He starts with me, writing very slowly, manually of course, on his piece of paper, that I lost my ID, how, when, where, asking me from time to time, about some grammatical rules. He then asks me to take the paper and make copies of it outside the station. To make a long story short, and such stories are never short, I lost a whole day, from one official office to another, waiting in long queues, making fun of our so called state with other people waiting in queues and public officers joining us in mocking the 'state' from time to time, cursing their life. 

The guy at the police station had the solution to the problem though. He had this brilliant theory that goes as such: put those thieves under my control and I will see that theft never happens again, I can teach them a lesson, they go too soft on them, see in Saudi Arabia, no one dares to steal, why? because they know their hands will be cut off, we need to cut off their hands. Only if you let me run this country!! His pearls of wisdom go beyond his post modern human rights theories. He explains: see? the robber has an advantage over the police, we are in uniform, he can easily identify us, but he is like any other person in the street. This is a hard job.

It sure is.

At another office, I had to run from one guy to the other asking where I should go to get again one more stamp on that piece of paper. Now, don't ask me what all those stamps are for. The guy at the station did not even make sure I lost my ID, how could he anyway, he just wrote that I did, but all the guys who stamped the paper thereafter and none of whom read a word of it, had to certify that I had indeed lost my ID. They were told they need to put a stamp on my paper and that's what they did, sitting behind a table that had only a stamp device on it and holding that very serious look on their face. This is a government institution after all, and government officials have to look very serious. Ignore the woman plucking her eyebrows there or the man who comes out of nowhere to place your paper on top of a thousand others because I am a woman. I asked them why do I need all those stamps? but they too didn't know why. Now you have to respect the order of the stamps, you cannot just go to all the people who need to stamp your paper randomly. Of course there is a logic to that. Oh, and before you go, do not trust whoever tells you what other papers you need to bring with you, because it will always be missing something, so just get every official document you might think of before you go, and get them all stamped by the Mokhtar, otherwise you will have to come back the next day and the day after and in between go and find that you got the opening hours wrong. When you go to get all the official stamps, expect that the stamping people do not all sit in the same office or building. Do some stretching before you venture irresponsibly, because you will have to run from one building to the other. I did say to one of the guys there, I do understand that you all need to stamp my paper, but at least sit next to each other. He said: why?, with this philosophical look on his face. See this can never be short, but I will try. 

So, I get all the "necessary" stamps and a sense of victory overwhelms me, only I still don't have my ID!! 

There is one more building to go to and off I go. Last step, I tell myself. I enter this gloomy underground room and I find shelves full of IDs, Lebanese IDs with cedars all over. They were stuffed in old brown boxes. My mother's drawer of "things we don't know where to put or if we will ever gonna need" looks more organized. Cockroaches roaming among them, half of them eaten away by mice and termites. As the guy was about to take my fingerprints (fingerprints, ha ha ha ha), he asks me: where did you lose your ID. From there on, it is another Kafkaesque hell. Outside Lebanon, I say. Ohhhh... I can't issue you an ID, he breaks the good news; The police station paper is not enough, you need to get the stamp of the ambassador at the country where you lost it! Another stamp!! and how easy!! You can imagine the look on my face. But he had an alternative: This is what you should do, he says, go to the nearest police station and say you lost your ID today in Hamra street, this is lying, I know, I shouldn't be saying this, but this is the only way unless you want to travel again and get the ambassador's stamp, then get all the stamps again, and come back here. It won't show anywhere that you had filed a contradictory claim!!! This was supported by his supervisor and his supervisor's supervisor. There is no other way, he said, this is your state, what can we do, this is how things work here. So, out of all things going wrong, issuing my ID cannot go wrong, it should follow stamp rules. And to get it right, I should lie! I wasn't surprised to tell you the truth. Nothing surprises me anymore. 

But come to think of it, this is smart; what kind of criminal is willing to go through all those stamps to issue another ID or an ID with another name (a genuine one still)? in a way, this is a deterring technique. This is actually genius! Do not underestimate your state; it has your fingerprints too. How dare you commit any crime? The forensic experts of your state will bust you only they have never found any fingerprint in the history of the state. And if they ever did, can you imagine how the matching exercise would go? "We found the fingerprints!!! cheers!", "so who's the culprit?", "euhhhhhhhhhhh"....

P.S. On my way out of this last building, someone told me: don't worry, I know someone, he goes by the name of "el-X" he can get you a new ID in one phone call.

P.P.S I am told the Lebanese Forensic Team (LFT) was able to match the fingerprints at a crime scene once. They found 5 persons matching the same fingerprints. The forensic team knelt down for God is glorious.

Friday, July 20, 2012

All humans are animals but some humans are more animals than others

In the animal kingdom, there is nothing called 'stranger'. I have never thought of it before, but I doubt that if a frog comes across another frog, it hasn't met before, it will 'think' of it as a 'stranger'. They might even start jumping together (what frogs do, I think, not sure if they enjoy any other activities at first encounter) without introductions. What I am trying to say here is that, the concept of what we call a "stranger" exists only in the human kingdom. Now, the frog might not stop to introduce itself to the other frog (before they go jumping together), but we animals of the human kingdom, would have to (if we are to jump together that is). Frogs know frogs right away, the way we do too. But when we come across a stranger, we wonder, in fact, if he isn't actually an animal, an asshole, a dickhead, or a human. Many times we just assume, or have to assume, the stranger is actually the former rather than the latter, as a survival technique. Wait. Let me explain, if you have been working on growing your muscles, and you have trained your brain to become fearless of fellow men, strangers, good for you, you are not concerned with what comes next, this is for those who still haven't.

I have always admired Athens but was always jealous of Sparta.

It is said that humans are the only animals who have morality or can make a moral judgment. That is only partially true because only some humans can. It is more correct to say that humans are the only animals who can fear, and sometimes live in fear of, their own genre, or other humans. I haven't seen a cow look suspiciously at another cow, or a donkey, or a bee, or even a cockroach. Those are some of the animals I have seen with my bare eyes. Lest I sound like my father, let me explain to you that my knowledge about animals is, at best, poor, but my father made sure, against our obvious boredom, to lecture us about all sorts of facts and oddities from the animal kingdom, on one hand to show off his knowledge and on the other to explain to us that it is humans who are the animals not the other way around. This enlightened wisdom does not only come from having to grow up in a village but more from his passion for animal channels. He would watch any channel showing animals from animaux (his favorite) to the national geographic or chasse et peche, or any Arab TV channel in the wake of the death of an Arab leader. Of the 700 channels he could watch, from news to movies or music, he would stare for hours at a tiger lurking for a deer. One day, I watched with him. Usually, everyone would leave the room. But I stayed. So the tiger was waiting for the right moment to jump on the deer, or was it a zebra? This took more than I had planned. As usual, in the meantime, my dad would be the narrator -and from time to time even a translator probably assuming I am deaf- commenting on what is (not) happening on the screen. "Wild life teaches you a lot, he would say, see the patience?". A lot of time passes before anything happens, giving my father plenty of time to tell me about other episodes he had watched. Back to the tiger, who made a slight move, he would start telling me what will happen next, and next is not run, hit, catch, eat. You wish. He watches with such an anticipation for what he knows will come and surprisingly he is equally moved by the ending. Then I learn, this he had watched ten times already. My father went on telling stories from the book of animals of Al Jahiz; I was thinking: the deer ran as fast as it could but when it was caught fiercely by the tiger, it knew this was the end. It didn't fight back.

Athenians worried about the nature of things; Spartans knew better.

I heard this joke a while ago: what is the difference between a church and a casino? In the casino, you pray from the bottom of your heart. I remembered it recently, when I was in a taxi in Amman. The good thing about the Amman taxi system is that you have a counter, but the bad news is you cannot hop into one of those taxis that already have other female passengers, under an undeclared universal female taxi pact. If you want to bring someone, a woman, back to religion, send them to Amman without a car, and let them take a taxi. In a taxi too, you pray from the bottom of your heart.

Athenians pursued knowledge, Spartans were busy.

Some seek to understand, others take action. Both are guided by fear, baseless or not, it leads to the same conclusion. I was reading Amin Maalouf's "In the name of identity" recently, where he says "fear might make anyone take to crime". The book is very insightful and an easy read but if things go wrong in taxi -or anywhere else, I doubt I will recite excerpts from Maalouf's book. While Maalouf seeks to understand why the world is so violent, I have decided to take self defense classes. I am not a tiger, that's why, but I refuse to be a deer.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

had to tell you...

I don't miss many things about living with my parents but this feeling has been haunting me here in Amman, of all people there I miss, I have an overwhelming longing for being around my mom and dad and I realized that living with them was not as bad as I had always thought because I always took for granted the energy of love they had filled every room of the house with, every wall and everything their hands touched. But of all people I miss there, and maybe with a slight feeling of guilt I can say even a bit more than my dear 3 year old nephew, I miss them. I miss those Sunday mornings when I walk half asleep to the balcony where my dad, already dressed up and shaved although going nowhere, is helping my mother prepare lunch while having their first sips of coffee, I could see them stuffing zucchini, cabbages, vine leaves, chicken, or anything that can be pierced, with lots of rice and love. I would walk past them without any goodmornings, I would barely lift my hand in Salam and they would smile at my nonchalance before they would mess up their calm morning to serve me like a queen who must be attended to, and I would take advantage, sometimes ignoring and belittling their over care with that arrogant 'leave me alone' look. They would but I could feel their eyes roaming around me for the slightest sign of 'she might need something' and before I reached for my lighter they would bring me the ashtray. I don't tell them how much I love them as often as I want to and I probably won't so here: I love you maybe slightly more than you know.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


In cities suffering from acute chauvinism, tourists and foreigners feel such a compassion to every other stranger in the city. Locals kind of become the enemy who knows where everything is, where to go, which taxi not to take, and which to take, which coffee not to drink, and which places give you food poisoning, they know road shortcuts, when the sales season begins, cheap bookstores... and you miss that place you used to own like no one. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is talent overrated?

Which is worst: a wasted talent that you fail to nurture or a wasted effort on a talent that you don't even have? Here are some answers I got to this question. A "talented" Lebanese musician once told me: "there can't be a wasted talent for talent doesn't make you sleep at night until you do something about it".  But this seemingly famous violinist Pablo Sarasate had said "for 37 years I have practiced 14 hours a day and now they call me a genius?". Who do I believe?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The dust is in the system

I was asked today by the head of cleaners at the office where I work, to give my feedback about the cleaners, or the one cleaner to be  precise. To be honest, the cleaner is a nice guy who throws the same joke at me everyday that smoking is unhealthy. But objectively, he is the worst cleaner I have seen. Not that I care much, and I don't. My theory is that the more work you have, the cleaner your desk would be. It is the absence of work that would make it dusty. But then, you would have plenty of time to clean it yourself. Common sense. Other colleagues have been complaining a lot about the cleaner but I was to give the feedback because I am the only Arabic speaker. I thought about it for a moment, though lousy as he is, I don't want the guy to lose his job, the other colleagues won't understand Arabic so I can say whatever I want. I also thought that I would report bad managers who are not doing their job but why wouldn't I report a cleaner? Am I letting any sense of pity cloud my judgment? I hate that feeling. But wouldn't the bad boss deserve to be kicked out more because he makes much more undeserved money? Then the thought that the system has strong safeguards protecting lousy managers but loose ends at the bottom of the chain made me frown, give a serious look of anger, and say in Arabic: he is great. Everyone loves him here.

Amman: City of dust

(A Lebanese in Jordan) 
It has been almost a month since I arrived to Amman for my 6-month assignment. I haven't been out much, haven't been to the Dead Sea or Al-'aqaba or Jarash or Wadi Rum or Petra or any of the must-see places in Jordan. My movement was restricted to this cement city called Amman and my encounters did not go beyond Iraqi, Syrian, and Jordanian taxi drivers and Medhat, the Egyptian concierge. It is hard not to notice though the embryonic connection between cities and your mood, and Amman is a city without a soul. A city of dust. I did notice however the full moon projection on my balcony. I seldom look at the sky, I said, to myself, and I don't know if it was the loneliness inside or the ugliness outside that made me turn my head upward. But, I thought that a full moon is unnecessary in places where no full moon dance would follow. Yesterday was the first day I saw people smiling, and I smiled too. I have been to pubs and restaurants, and there too, smiles are a rare commodity. Though I have always despised the fake Lebanese so called "joie de vivre", I have looked around for some fake smiles. Faking a smile I believe can delude you into thinking you are happy. You could be but you fail to notice. The first lesson I learned here is not to mention that I am Lebanese. Now I am a Syrian here. Hell with those who would now accuse me of not having any sense of patriotism, because yes I don't; I don't feel any less Syrian than a Lebanese anyway. But to those same people, I say, that's what being a Lebanese here is like: a marriage proposal from a taxi driver (as a second younger, sexier, cuter wife, using the words of the taxi driver himself, and that was after he learned my nationality), a comment from another taxi driver that the Lebanese got the best accent because it is soft, sexy, and flirty (and yes, those were the exact words), and an offensive compliment that unlike the Lebanese, Jordanian women are fat and ugly. Of course, by no means I blame Lebanese women for this, and none of it justifies the comments of these men. But you would understand that saying that I am Syrian comes as a protection measure. Well my safety is my first concern here, and educating these men is my least. The word Lebanese seems to have become equivalent with prostitution here. But you Lebanese, are no better, come to think of it, you have the same connotation for Ukrainian, Russian, and Eastern European women. As for Medhat, he needs a post on its own.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

That's how I let go of my conscience

I issued my judicial record the other day and it had a stamp that said: no criminal charges. Requesting a criminal record is just a normal procedure that you do in Lebanon for every single official document you need to issue, including, a driving licence (so a former prisoner is not allowed to drive!) and now the genius Lebanese minister of information (a ministry that should not exist in the first place) also wants to ban ex-prisoners from blogging or owning websites.  I looked at my honorary document that certified that I am a good citizen and I suddenly envied every resident of Roumieh.

This piece of paper was a kind of wake up call. A good citizen in a perfectly corrupt state is rather a certificate of cowardliness, of surrender, of submission. More, it felt like the state is hereby pronouncing me officially stupid. Congratulations, you win the prize of the perfect stupid citizen, here's your paper, my criminal record said.

My friends say that my problem is that I have a conscience. Having a conscience can torment you at night and prevent you from sleep. That you know. But having a conscience can also sometimes leave you with a feeling of guilt, a feeling I have every time I look in the eyes of my sister for whom I was unable to make a Wasta that could have changed her life, and I could, but I didn't.

Then my clean record came and I suddenly understood what my friends meant to tell me. This conscience is something hereditary. I know where it comes from. My parents had it, this disease. So I realized, that's why my parents have been working for more than forty years and are still poor?. "We haven't been praying enough," I heard my dad say the other day as he contemplated his condition. Praying is letting go of the one bird in your hand for the sake of the 10 on the tree, I thought. It just hushes that call for justice and that burst of anger burning inside your chest. We need to stop putting down those volcanoes inside us. We need to ban all those stress management centers, close down those therapeutic clinics, and ban praying if we could. We need less sane individuals, less waiting, less patience, less praying. We need all our anger, all our madness, and all our fury. We need to awaken the beast inside us.

But I have a clean record. Who am I to judge my dad for praying? I am no different than him after all. He prays, I keep my conscience clean, and we both let go of the one bird in our hand: what's to be done here now. I have been a good citizen, what has that brought me? All is wrong around me and all I say: this is a product of others' ignorance. Only if people were wiser! But wisdom is a disease. It only weighs you down with that feeling called responsibility, and you feel you no longer can go on ignoring all the wrong around you. But instead all you do is put the blame on those others who are guided by their ignorance. Wisdom is a disease that is hardly contagious, so you end up quarantining yourself voluntarily for you no longer belong. You, the wise, cannot join them in their ignorance. Hold on, why not? I thought. Yes, I can.

Then this idea came to me. What if I join others in the festivities of ignorance. What if I I no longer wait in queues. What if I throw garbage out my my car window. What if I drive on green, yellow, and red lights. What if I honk my car horn every time another enlightened fellow tried to overpass me. What if I park on handicapped spots which I have not paid for. What if I cross speed limit and smile to speed monitoring cameras. What if I threaten to use my phone every time I am stopped by the police. But again, what if I do all that and nothing happens. What if the police is intimidated by my call and let me go. What if I say, arrest me, take me to prison, I broke the law, and he says he won't but that I shouldn't do it again. What if I begged him to take me to Roumieh where I am no longer pronounced the perfect stupid citizen.

Then I thought, what if those I call ignorant were just like me. What if they too used to have a conscience one day and I just happen to arrive late to the realm of real wisdom. What if I am the ignorant one here. My friends were right after all. They tried to warn me. I was sticking to my conscience like one sticks to virginity, keeping it for the right government, for the right time, for that day when... but I lost my virginity. I was raped by the system. I am a just another victim of the system. That's why my criminal record is clean.

Now I am stuck. I have to do something that stains my criminal record. I refuse to be the perfect stupid citizen, but the system fucks you even with that. It doesn't matter if you follow the law or if you don't. You could still have a clean record. Cleaning your record is easy anyway. The paper you have in your hand is an illusion of a paper and the system that fucks you everyday is an illusion of a system. So let go of your conscience. It is of no use to you. That's how I let go of mine.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Dear Mr. Daouk

If your draft law passes, and it won't, I will abide by it only after 1) you learn the alphabets, 2) you learn how to utter three full words in Arabic consecutively, 3) you make one full sentence that makes sense, and 4) stutter no more than once per word. When you manage to do that, maybe then we can start considering to discuss whether I want to provide my contact information, let alone, my name. Until then, I will do my best to violate every single article in your draft law especially article one. I will make it my purpose to look for your definition of what constitutes a breach of public morals and I will write about it. Do you know that Montaigne in the 16th century wrote in his book "Essais" that he had a small penis? did I already violate your law, Mr. Daouk? and do you know that Montaigne is considered to be the first blogger? If Montaigne lived among us today, he would be blogging, and you, Mr Daouk, would have banned him. I tell you what Mr Daouk, take this draft law, print some copies of it, squeeze them into a big paper ball, and go play with it in front of your house.

P.S. I forgot to tell you that after you finish making the ball, soak it in some water, then go play with it in front of your house.

P.P.S. Why do I feel I am still not done with you Mr Daouk? Have you ever thought how stupid you are, let's say on a scale of zero to 10, zero being legally stupid and 10 being Marwan Charbil stupid?


I like this blog. As if Beirut is not already ugly enough; It is littered by ugly sexist billboards. And, talk about creativity!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

For once...

Okay I have to say something on women's day. A lot has been written today about the fight for our rights, the patriarchal system, and the long road that still stretches ahead of us. That's all good. But I want to add this: in the meantime, and as you go back tomorrow to starving yourself, taking daily measurements of your curves, and enduring painful lazer sessions, why don't you start training your muscles, a little bit more everyday, and when the time comes strike back as hard as you can, literally.

Why buy when you can print

Get Fairuz out of the list. That's first. Then omit maybe one or two more names, print out the rest and use as a toilet paper roll.