28 May 2010

Language-less (or more)

I am. I am a woman who dreams in an unknown language. Who counts “one-two-three” in one language, and “four-five-six” in another. My thoughts come in fragments of four languages.

My language of love is the poetic song of this ancient land – Arabic. My language of politics is a language I have no connection with – Hebrew. My language of creative writing is yet a third language – language foreign to me and my land – English. And my language of family – well, that’s the simple language of my early childhood – Slovak.

Four languages, one brain. Most of the time there is chaos in my brain – I feel the words of these four languages racing, competing for my tongue. Fighting to escape.

Ideas I write in English I struggle with in Arabic and Hebrew when speaking. The things I write in one language I cannot express in writing in the other one. The words I speak in Arabic cannot be pinned down on paper. The intimate discussions with my family in Slovak cannot be rendered into another language. The heated political discussions with my friends in Hebrew become a struggle when I repeatedly attempt to document them in English. The words of passion in Arabic – well, I can never imagine myself speaking these words in any other language.

Each language leaves an imprint on my identity, as words shape our realities. Each language carries within itself a complete world – of traditions, cultures, symbols, jokes, street-language, and more. Descriptions of feelings and emotions can extremely vary across these languages. The same words – when translated – carry completely different connotations, denotations and meanings. Sometimes they carry history itself within their very letters.

I use all four languages on a daily basis, in different settings and in various contexts. I try to negotiate my identity between and within those four languages and the spaces left by the gaps. It is no easy task. The instant switch between languages feels a burden at times, while at other times I take it up as an intellectual challenge. One thing is sure: life is so much more interesting when experienced in four languages.

25 May 2010

Waqfet Banat - Personal Narrative

Cover Image of Waqfet Banat (taken from Aswat's website)

There was a lot of commotion and excitement today at Aswat - Palestinian Gay Women's office. "Waqfet Banat - Personal Narrative" has just arrived from the printing house. A small book, with a colorful cover picture, inviting the reader to the personal, often guarded, private spaces of Palestinian lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex women (LBTQI).

The stories are corageuos narratives of individual women who have had to deal not only with the rejection of their families and communities, but with the very journey of self-discovery. While some celebrate their very identities, others describe the all-too-painful rejections they have had to encounter time and again. Some have emerged stronger and are able to live their lives being openly themselves, while others have been broken and have to lead a double life. A few were not strong enough (how strong can one be?!) and succumbed under the weight of patriarchal, religious, or societal oppression.

I want to personally thank the women of Aswat who worked so hard on collecting, translating, editing and making available this important book. I also want to thank the women who contributed the narratives: your strength and courage are an inspiration to me and I feel privileged to be part of your world. Thank you for opening your hearts and sharing with me your most personal experiences, thoughts, pains, losses and loves.

"Waqfet Banat" is an important contribution to Palestinian literature on sexual identity, and I believe it has the potential of changing perceptions among the public. But most importantly, I hope it reaches the hands of parents of young women on their journey of self-discovery, as family acceptance is a major thread running through almost all the narratives.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in a closer glimpse and a deeper understanding of sexual identity and its intricate interrelation to patriarchal oppression and societal norms.

The book is available in Arabic and English. To order a copy, please visit Aswat's website at www.aswatgroup.org.

Cover Image from Waqfet Banat (taken from Aswat's website)

19 May 2010

Love Cannot be Defined

I was once given a book called “Conditions of Love,” written by some Armstrong (don’t remember his first name). I try hard to remember anything from the book, but in vain. Today I realize the reasons.

Love cannot be “conditioned.” Love cannot be defined by a single individual who has only experienced one kind of love, in one type of cultural and historical context.

Because love is a slippery word. It is a word meaning cannot be attached to. It doesn't conform to the rules of the Oxford Dictionary.

Love can be gentle, it can be ferocious, it can be calm and it can be raging. It can take you up beyond the tip of the edge, and it can take you down into the bottomless well of grief. It can be happiness, but it can also live in anger. Love can be ..... fill in whatever emotion and love can be that. And it can be all these combined together and much more.

Whenever I think of the love I have, one word instantly forms in my mind: “intense.” That is the kind of love I am experiencing in this stage of my life. But of course it is accompanied by other emotions as well. Ours is a love riding a wild rollercoaster. It is at the same time thrilling, breathtaking but also scary. It is painful fear mingled with exhilaration. It is like lovemaking – with an amalgamation of feelings beyond pain and joy.

Reading “Mornings in Jenin” by Susan Abulhawa, I came across a paragraph that will remain with me always. Reading her definition of love, I was magically drawn to the concept. I felt, yes, this is my kind of love. Not the philosophical notions of love fed to us. Her kind of love touched me in a deep place of my very existence. Here is the paragraph:

“Amal, I believe that most Americans do not love as we do. It is not for any inherent deficiency or superiority in them. They live in the safe, shallow parts that rarely push human emotions into the depths where we dwell. I see your confusion. Consider fear. For us, fear comes where terror comes to others because we are anesthetized to the guns constantly pointed at us. And the terror we have known is something few Westerners ever will. Israeli occupation exposes us very young to the extremes of our own emotions, until we cannot feel except in the extreme.

“The roots of our grief coil so deeply into loss that death has come to live with us like a family member who makes you happy by avoiding you, but who is still one of the family. Our anger is a rage that westerners cannot understand. Our sadness can make the stones weep. And the way we love is no exception, Amal.

It is the kind of love you can know only if you have felt the intense hunger that makes your body eat itself at night. The kind you know only after life shields you from falling bombs, or bullets passing through your body. It is the love that dives naked toward infinity’s reach. It think it is where God lives.”

“Mornings in Jenin” is one of those few books that have made a deep impression on me. Its scents, colors, grief, pain, and hopes will remain with me always. I urgently recommend this book. But my recommendation comes with a warning: at the beginning of the book, a small ball of joy makes its home in the readers stomach, but suddenly, and very violently, this tiny ball betrays you and transforms itself into a knot of grief that keep growing and pushing itself upward, until it settles into your throat, making you unable to breath. This knot will accompany the reader to the very last lines of the book.

14 May 2010


"she opened her post box and was taken aback. first, by the quantity of the mail. But something was not right. Reaching in, she drew a heavy bulk of letters. All were torn open, their contents scattered. some of them were torn to pieces, others just crumpled. Love letters, bills, notifications of a big package waiting at the post office. She didn't understand. she could tell by the dates on the stamps that this was at least three months worth of mail. who did this? and why was she all of a sudden targeted? or was it not all of a sudden? she felt they were closing in on her."

6 May 2010

Imagine You're on a Military Training

Walking my two dogs in my neighborhood, I saw a mother with her 7 year old boy. The boy was carrying a cage with hamsters in it, and I heard him complaining to his mom how heavy the cage is and how difficult it is so him to carry it.

My first thought was that the mother would find words of motivation, telling him that he's doing great, or that they're almost home or some such words.
Instead, she tells him: "Stop being such a brat. Just pretend you're on a military training."

MILITARY TRAINING???? A seven year old boy????

I don't think I need to add any commentary here...

4 May 2010

Sarkuzi will liberate the Muslim woman – part two

Reading my last post, my dear friend Talma brought to my attention the fact that again this is an attack directed at a certain group – the Muslims. What about other groups, such as nuns or Jewish women in traditional dress? So clearly this is yet another campaign to demonize Islam.

And if we take up Sarkuzi’s claim that the Burka defiles women’s honor, then why not outlaw pornography, sexist advertisements and magazines that show all-too-often almost naked women? And what about advertisements using young girls in seductive positions? There is no end to the list of things that portray women as mere sex objects. It’s a whole industry. But of course this is allowed in the name of terms as “freedom of expression” and other such noble terms.