29 December 2011

Discovering Haifa (or: my adventure on bus number 5)

(c) photos by khulud kh, all rights reserved (2011)

I think this was the first time in my life that I take bus number 5 in Haifa. Starting point: Carmel Center (after swimming). Destination point: Downtown (office). But what I didn’t know was what a trip this bus had in for me. No mercy here. So we begin our journey – I sit comfortably at the back of the bus. First stop: Carmel Center. A number of people get on the bus, mainly older people with shopping bags. The doors close and we begin to descend – a winding road connecting between the mountain and the sea, not accidentally called Derech Hayam in Hebrew – the Sea Road. In Haifa, the higher up the mountain you go, the higher the socio-economic status of the residents. A historically known fact. Although today it doesn’t quite apply in such a general way. But still, this is reflected in the environment – the streets are much wider, cleaner. The houses – well, standing more erectly. Parks and playgrounds – perfectly maintained. But let’s get back to the bus.

So we go down the mountain, and at one point we reach a bus station with some seven or eight soldier-boys standing around it. The bus stopped for about a minute and a half – which seemed just too long, as I was sitting at the window with the boy-soldiers right in front of me, only glass separating between me and their machine guns. One was smoking, letting out failed rings of smoke out of his mouth. The other one stood talking to him, and at one point sent his hand down his pants to adjust his penis inside them – I guess – and then to scratch around it. Only two had weapons. But these were not the usual guns we see in the public spaces all the time. These were much heavier, thicker. I don’t know the names of machine guns, but the name is not relevant here. What is relevant that they scared me and I was suddenly very happy that none of these boy-soldiers with these weapons got on the bus. Only hours later, when I told someone at work about this incident and asked if there was a military base there, I was told that this is a medical military base. What do they need such heavy weapons for in a medical military base – I couldn’t understand. A soldier-girl came and sat next to me – no weapon. I scooted over, practically gluing my upper body to the steel of the bus. As far away from her as possible.

The bus continued, with three new passengers – the girl-soldier who sat next to me and two boy-soldiers who stood at the back door of the bus. We entered Kiryat Shprintsak – known to be a very socio-economically weakened neighborhood. The buildings – well, all dilapidated. While up on the top of the mountain every other building is being renovated, here it seems like no human hand has touched these buildings for decades. Some buildings actually have missing pieces – there are these metal on most of the buildings, I’ve never understood what their function is, but I think it has to do with wind. Anyway, some metal sheets are missing from some of the buildings. The paint – well, most have no discernible color. Everything seems crowded here. An older couple gets off the bus at one of the stations with a shopping cart. I see an old man walking by, his right hand holding a transistor radio to his ear, the antenna sticking out.

We continue. Now we cross a clear boundary, leaving Kiryat Shprintsak behind with its dilapidated, colorless houses, and entering Wadi El-Jmal. Ein Hayam in Hebrew. The Arabic name means the Valley of Camels, while the Hebrew means the Eye of the Sea. This is the place where my grandfather considered buying a house a lifetime ago, settling finally on Wadi E-Nisnas, as Wadi El-Jmal was very far (back then) to the center of the city. Here, at the first station, a young Arab woman gets on the bus with two small girls. Nobody gets off the bus. The architectural scenery is breathtaking. I concentrate on the old stone houses – the beauty of them. Greenery enveloping them in a wild manner. Other houses are newer, but built in a way that reminds the past.

And then we are out of all residential neighborhoods, on the main Sea road. We pass the Marine museum of Haifa – with two warships being exhibited in front of it, a necessary (un) reminder of wars. After that, the “business” sector of downtown – car agencies, falafel and shawarma places, different workshops of metalwork. All this, among some scattered unoccupied houses belonging to those who were forcefully expelled from their homes back in 1948. These houses are mostly in ruins – some have no windows, the open spaces closed off by blocks. Others were renovated.

I get off the bus one stop before Kiryat Ha-Memshala – the Government district, with its ugly glass buildings and lawyers’ offices. I have only one word to say about this district – ugly.

I cross Ha’atzmaut road and walk to Jaffa road, heading to my office for a day of work, never imagining that I could have such an enriching trip through my own city, traveling through all the complexities this city has to offer – architectural, social, economic, military, national. I went home, making a decision to take different buses and new walking routes whenever I have an opportunity. To discover Haifa and taste it all over again, every time from a new angle and through a new path.

Next destination – the Haifa stairs.

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh (2011)

25 December 2011

Madness - the Divinest Sense

(c) photo by khulud kh, all rights reserved

So there’s this writer, her name is Asmahan. She has these characters, who have taken off the page and become real. They go to the café with her and sit right next to her – too close at times, enveloping the space around her. They invade her private moments, even in her most sacred moments of solitude. Most often they don’t listen to her. They even have the audacity to argue with her. But what’s most outrageous is that they tempt her – until she can no longer resist and lets them occupy spaces of her brain – and of her reality. They gradually take over more and more, until she sees Shahd downstairs in the library, sitting there among a group of real-life women. The horror on Asmahan’s face! She looks exactly like Shahd – the hair, the eyes, the color of her skin. Even that mesmerizing movement of her eyelashes – like the flutter of a butterfly! Asmahan blinks once, twice. Moves her head to the left and then to the right to make sure she’s not imagining all of this. But it is her – Shahd from “life in fragments.” It can’t be any other woman. Not here, not like this. Fascinated, she listens to Shahd’s voice, and her words are the script she had written down for her the night before.

That same night, Asmahan steps into her own manuscript, and reality merges with imagination. They become inseparable even in her own mind.

Just the rumblings of a mind on the verge of madness… but then what is madness? Aren’t we all mad in our own ways? And isn’t madness a natural part of our lives? And who defines madness? The meaning is so slippery and elusive, that whenever I think of it, I always come up with Emily Dickinson’s poem “Much Madness is divinest Sense.” I find her words comforting at my most despairing moments, just when I am positive that I will soon cross that thin line separating rational thought from complete madness.

“Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –“

Poem by Emily Dickinson.

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh (2011)

13 December 2011

"What is feminism?" (or - I just want to scream)

(c) photo by khulud kh - all rights reserved

Just wanted to scream.
Ok so I’m sitting in this group. We’re all sitting in a circle. We start like in a feminist Collective with a round of names. Then there’s time and space for thoughts we had since our last meeting. The group is containing. Pleasant atmosphere. Some of the women are my friends. Others are new to me. Then we work in small groups, answering the following questions: “When did I discover I was a feminist? What was my first feminist act?” So I share my thoughts. My first feminist act – I don’t remember. But I do remember my most significant feminist act, which continues to accompany me. That of bringing my voice into the open. The transition from the private to the public sphere in my writing. And with this transition, the contents of my writing also changed from the personal to the political. And this is feminism all about – at least to me.

Then we went back to the group, and we were asked to share personal stories. I shared mine. Another woman shared hers. Her first feminist act was as a young teenager, when she took part in organizing and holding a demonstration. She stressed the collective power, the power to change, and the action in the public sphere. We were both talking about the same thing. From the private to the public – these are our first and most significant feminist actions.

Then, several other women talked, and as I was listening, trying to understand them and contain their different views of feminism, a silent scream began to form inside of me. While thinking of my feminist act, my independence or the fact that I am a single provider for my household, or the fact that I don’t cook – all these didn’t even cross my mind. But this was the main thing these women talked about. They talked about the importance of being an economically independent woman, but at the same time expressed clear antagonism towards feminism. One of them said that she took care of an old lady who never married and never had children, and that this old lady was very sad because she felt she had missed on life. What does this have to do with feminism? The focus of their talk was relationships, with cooking sneaking in every now and then. Oh, and burning bras.

So this is what feminism means to them? I thought and wanted to let that scream loose. None of them talked about social struggles, structural oppression, the rule of hegemony, acting in the public sphere.

This was yesterday. 24 hours have passed, and I am left with some thoughts. Yes, I am an economically independent woman. Yes, I am the single provider for my household. No, I don’t have a husband or a partner who lives with me. No, I don’t know how to cook. Now the question is – is this because I’m a feminist? I want to say no! These choices have nothing to do with feminism. But that would be not looking the truth in the eye. Feminism for me is a wide worldview and a way of life. So I guess the choices – personal or not – I make in my life are always connected this way or that – to the fact that I am a feminist.

But what I want to say is that this is not the essence of feminism, and never has been. Many feminists love to cook, many feminists are married and have children, and many feminists wear bras (YES).

So, what did I want to say? Oh yes, I just wanted to let that scream out and make clear the fact that my feminism is about the political. It’s not about cooking, not about bras, not about living (or not) with a partner. It’s about my right to be present and act in the public sphere. Mainly, for me, at this stage – it’s about my voice! About my voice having the legitimacy to be heard in the public sphere. There you go – I let my silent scream out.

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh (2011)

6 December 2011

I REFUSE (or: on unpaid, indefinite leave from the conflict)

I was told the other day I’m using the strategy of “escapism,” as I claimed that I don’t have time to read the news! Now, that’s interesting. There are more racist laws being put on the Knesset table, the democratic space is shrinking right before our eyes, the next war is being planned out in the open, and what do I do? I write love poems! I don’t write any posts condemning what is happening, I’m not commenting on the Iranian “threat,” nada! I even stopped following the news. I have crawled into my seashell and decided that all that matters now is to write that perfect love poem. To find those elusive words that express that which words cannot express. Like being “intoxicated by the letters of – your name in my blood.” There you go! Words expressing that which cannot be expressed. Conflict? Nuclear weapons? Democracy under threat? Racist legislation? Now really – it’s the same old same old. And anyway – how much of this shit can one mind contain?! And didn’t I already say that I have taken unpaid, indefinite leave from the conflict? So for a while now – all I will be posting is love poems and fragments of my novel-in-progress. You don’t like that? That’s your problem, and to be honest, deal with it. And if you don’t deal with it, see who cares! Like seriously now – am I expected to put my dreams hopes goals loves on pause until all this shit ends? Am I supposed to be immersed in it and stink from it 24/7? Well – I REFUSE!!! I want to love I want to write I want to dream I want to love I want to be left alone I want to be me!

(c) all rights reserved for khulud kh (2011)