23 December 2012

Shai at the checkpoint: My burnt arm

For those of you who are following my experiments with new characters in my new novel, "Shai at the Checkpoint" - here's more of Suhad. Again, only raw writing, incomplete scenes that need to be developed more... needless to say, your feedback is valuable! again, not on the structure-level, but on how the characters make you feel, and whether they're credible enough, and can you relate to them emotionally? So, here we go:


There you are again. With that self-centered, self-assured walk. Like the world belongs to you. That jumpiness when you walk tells it all. The way you carry the kanun – bare, without a cover to protect it. But I can tell you have great respect for it, though you try to be casual about it. Again, you’re unshaven today. The same jeans, with that imprint of a thick wallet on the left back pocket. And you’re always either rolling a cigarette or smoking one. You must smell like an ashtray. But I see you take care of your body. In that white tank top o can clearly see the well-defined muscles of your dark shoulders and arms. Full of contradictions, aren’t you?

Oh yes, I see the way you look at me, like a hungry animal lurking for prey. And I don’t like it. you want to devour me in one piece.
At the same time, you probably think I’m too much of an intellectual for you. Or too proud to even talk to someone like you. Or too sophisticated with my leather briefcase.

Mother always told me I need to marry someone who would challenge me intellectually and let me grow. And I listened to her. Married a real intellectual. Dr. of Political Science, no less. Head of the department. And oh did he challenge me. Heated discussions into the night about the nature of the nation-state, the political identity of a people, what defines a nation, why democracy has failed, and what not.
I don’t deny it, they were indeed very challenging discussions. Intriguing even. I learned from him, and he even enriched my thought. Often, I found his ideas spilling into the lectures I was preparing, reflected in a different way in class discussions with my students.

Sometimes I miss these talks of ours. He was a good friend. A close one, even. There was mutual respect between us. We cared for each other deeply. When my migraines would completely disable me for several days, he always made sure the blinds were drawn all day long, and even kept my father away with his loud chatter. He made me shai three times a day and brought me my favorite fruit in the summer – khokh abu wabar.

Yes, we lived like good friends. We shared household chores, spent relaxed evenings in the garden reading through each other’s notes for the upcoming lectures, giving feedback and constructive comments.
I could tell from the way he was settling comfortably into this life that he was happy. Content that he reached his destination – the final end point.
But not me. I wanted more. Looking back, I sometimes wonder if I weren’t selfish for wanting more than that for myself – for us.

But still, I wanted more. Oh yes, much more. My insides were burning, my throat dry, thirsty. I was yearning for something greater. But I didn’t know yet what it was I was in search of.
I wanted the ground to be swept from underneath me. I wanted to experience something so intense it would leave me filled with so much energy enough to set me on fire. Leave an eternal mark on me like a hot iron sizzling on the skin.
I wanted to be set on fire and burn like the phoenix. To die an intense death and be reborn all fresh and new all over.
I thought at first there must be something wrong with me for wanting this fire intensity.
But there was something in me craving to experience the utter opposite of intellectuality. Raw, unhinged savageness.
At that time, I was immersed in teaching a course on the erotic works of D. H. Lawrence.

***

And just when I made the decision to break free, all hell came undone. Well, not exactly, but it sure did feel like it when I hit the ground. I don’t remember much of that day, only fragments. I remember walking to Um Tayseer’s house. I remember the ground shaking under my feet. And something burning my flesh. Then, just half a second before everything turned into blackness, the smell of the earth.

I woke up in a hospital bed. Baba was sitting next to my bed in a black vinyl reclining chair, snoring softly. In the white light of the hospital room, I remember thinking that he somehow aged overnight. He was unshaven, the short bristles snow white. He slept with his mouth slightly open, Darweesh’s Diwan open on his lap. I studied him, moving through all his body with my eyes. I needed to concentrate hard, because I didn’t want yet to move my attention to the burning pain in my right shoulder, going all the way to the tips of my fingers. His right leg jerked and the book fell off his lap. He opened his eyes wide and was surprised to see me glaring at him, with a screwed up smile.

“Susu… you’re awake, habibti.”
I opened my mouth to say something, but only a croak came out, which at first I didn’t recognize as my own voice.
I saw he was struggling not to let the tears out, but his lips were quivering.
“Ba… baba, ween… Hi… sham…?” I looked around the room in search of white roses, for he always brought me only white roses.
Baba’s face wrinkled up in anger. “You just had to wake up on my shift. Couldn’t you wake up two hours ago when mama was still here?”
My mind started racing. Something bad happened to Hisham. I squeezed my brain, but couldn’t remember where he was when the ground shook. Was he hurt really bad? I looked at baba with pleading eyes, my mouth dry, “Hisham?” Baba realized what I must have been thinking, and he put his hand on my good arm. “He’s fine, Susu. It’s just that… he left. This morning. For London.”
Wonderful. The ground shakes under his wife’s feet, and he flies to London!

***
Three weeks later, he came back to an empty house. I had baba pack my library and move the eight boxes of books back into my old room. Mama packed my clothes and my art pieces. Nothing else was mine in that house. Hisham didn’t even call. Our marriage dissolved without words.

It’s been four years now, and I can still feel the dead flesh on my arm burning every now and then.
I’ve seen his since – in the souk, meticulously picking his fruits. Parking his can close to the bakery on Khoury street, while I waited for the bus. I had made up my mind to see right through him. Nevertheless, every time I glimpse him, I get all worked up and become all self-conscious about my disfigured arm. It starts burning all over again, and all I want to do is run. Run away from this burnt flesh. So I focus really hard on the soles of my feet, planting them more solidly on the ground, so that they don’t take off. And I wince from the pain.

Neighbors tell me he’s always and obsessively asking about me. Even now – four years later. He holds on to every piece of information. When he sees me, I feel his eyes piercing my body. He watches every movement I make, until I’m out of his sight. Yet he never makes a move in my direction. He knows he’s made his choices and now has to live with them. There is no forgiving his abandonment.
Teta made me the most beautiful glove to wear on my disfigured arm in the summer. People who don’t know I’ve been burnt think it’s a weird way to make a political statement. The colors of our heritage – black with the small hand-stitched designs that adorn traditional Palestinian dress. Yahud think it’s a fashion statement. One glove, all the way up to my shoulder, in the smoldering hear of Haifa’s Tammuz. I smile for their stupidity.

***
So, ultimately, in some distorted way, it was Hisham who made it possible for our marriage to end. Or maybe it was my burnt arm. Or the University of London for inviting him to give a course on geopolitical changes in the Middle East over the last decade. It’s not important. What is important is that I was weak and didn’t dare leave the prison of that marriage when it became suffocating.

My students think I’m a hero. For learning to write with my left hand. For being too proud to ask for any help. For struggling with the coffee machine with my one good arm. Every simple task has become a challenge during that first year, but I refused to give up.

Mama thinks I’m stupid. For refusing compensation money for “victims of terrorism.” But I could never compromise my values. How can I be categorized as victim of terrorism when I can’t accept the mere fact my arm was burnt by terrorists? It doesn’t make any logical sense. Therefore, I simply cannot accept the money. Medical care – yes. But nothing beyond that.

Um Maysara doesn’t think I’m a hero. Nor does she think I’m stupid. These superficialities don’t concern her. she is concerned only about me continuing with my life “after” in the same way as “before.”
“Society needs to acknowledge that people come in different colors and shapes.” At first, I didn’t quite understand her obsessiveness about this notion. But she opened up when I asked her about it straight out. It had been a slow day.

(c) all rights reserved to khulud kh, 2012.


27 November 2012

untitled 27/11/2012


These words of yours
Belonging
Culture
Language
Make me want…
To feel them
Deep into my bones
Their meanings
Which I have –
Never
Understood
To the core of their depths

But
It may be
That I am
The lucky one
For not knowing
Them.

19 November 2012

non-words on the pain of wars - the war on Gaza, November 2012


Words of despair…
What are they?
Where are they…
Stuck between the pages of my thesaurus…

Words of pain…
Refuse to be pulled out from the dictionary of synonyms and antonyms…

Words of agony…
Non-existent in the whole of the Oxford dictionary.

Non-words
No words

Only something stuck inside my throat

(c) khulud kh, 2012

6 November 2012

meanings of home


(c) photos by khulud kh, 2012

Home. What is the meaning of home? How can we define it? Or, rather, can we collapse the meaning of home into one coherent concept? But why should we? It is much more captivating to de-construct its meaning and to discover a plethora of layers, dimensions and meanings to this one seemingly simple concept. 

During the past year, I’ve been engaged in thinking and re-thinking the meaning of home in different settings. These have been separate processes that are tied together in unexpected modes. And, as befitting, they all finally collapse into words on paper, ink by word, for this is the one medium in which – intriguingly enough – I feel most at HOME.

more to come soon... follow up

3 November 2012

rain - my muse, my lover

(c) painting by khulud kh, 1993


Rain – i pray you into my bones
into my mind
to create
from the sound of you
rain – don't let me become cracked dry
like the brown earth of a Tammuz
sun-crunched day

you have come so close
touched my bare bones with your rain
now they are soaked...
cracked

you have reached those geographies of me –
that naked – Madness

when you come – I become
in you
without you
you are that which soaks the dryness – all the cracks

when many run away
it is I who come to you
for life
for breath
for the wetness in you

and for –
that quality in you
the smell of the earth
when you’re gone – is the memory of you

waiting for a night
when you will come – my lover
to listen to your splashing on the asphalt
to smell your brown earth-soaked wet
and to create in your life

thank you rain – for
that sense of ALIVEness
only you – my lover

(c) khulud kh, 2012



28 October 2012

Coming soon - conversations with Zeina

(c) painting by khulud kh, 1993

Since I completed my novel, I'm all over with my writing. Experimenting with disabled characters, erotic writing, and now, Zeina. I think soon my writing will find its own way and some round characters will emerge. For now, I am having fun with experimenting. At the moment, I have some three or four different directions, with different characters. Maybe they'll cross ways and merge into one story, or they may diverge into separate novels. I'll let them decide. At the moment, I am deep in conversation with Zeina, a professor of Arabic language, who found her way - intriguingly enough - into the underworld of selling her body for money. Right now, I am very careful of not labeling it "prostitution," because Zeina herself has somehow convinced me that there's so much more to it. In her own words, "it all depends on how you define it." Which is in itself worthy of analysis. But let's wait and hear the analysis from Zeina herself. Hopefully I will have something within the next few weeks to post. Follow up.

29 September 2012

Narjis and Omar at the checkpoint - erotic writing

here's another new character popping up at the checkpoint: young Narjis. So far, we've had Um Maysara, Maria, Omar and Suhad. To read previous parts, go to the label "Shai at the checkpoint - novel in progress".

Again, this is still only raw writing, and I'm just playing around with some new characters, experimenting to see where they lead me to.


It’s him! From the chat! La hawl wala quwata… what a small world. Ya’ani…
She panics, glances at her father in the driver seat, shifts in her chair, adjusting her head cover. Narjis felt her cheeks redden and something lightly tickling her inner thighs as she remembered the video chat with this Zuzu. Zuheir Zidan, Zahi, Zeid, Zakariya, Ziyad, Zaki. She let the names roam in her mind while she shifted in her chair again. She felt her cheeks now like two burning balls set on fire as their car moved forward. Closer to him. No, he can’t recognize me. Not with the hijab. He was standing at the side of the dirt road, sipping steaming shai from a tin cup, eyes glazed over, fixed on some point in mid-distance. Their car came to a stop right beside him. Narjis couldn’t face the temptation and she looked straight at him, studying his now-clothed body. In her mind, she saw his tight abdomen with its curly black hairs. Then further down. As she played the video back in her mind, the fire in her cheeks spread, moving down, down and into between her legs. It was warm and wet now down there, with a tingle. Narjis knew now she was housing a terrible secret inside her body, which flowered and burnt and made her whole body turn into embers.

Omar sipped his shai as he listened to Um Maysara telling him about this young girl, Maria. From Haifa, too. Maybe he knew her? He’d been with many girls her age, but couldn’t remember all their names. Now what is that one with the hijab staring at?! When their eyes met, he thought he recognized something familiar in them. Huge, round eyes like the eyes of a reem. Thick, long eyelashes and a very thin line of kohol. He’d seen these eyes somewhere. Only recently. With all the women he’s been with in the past year, he couldn’t put a name to the eyes. She held his gaze, her eyes frozen. When she saw recognition on his face, she withdrew from the window, plastering her back to the vinyl of the seat, looking away.

When they reached the checkpoint, it was the usual. Ahmad, her father, a hajj, was always suspect. They had to get out of the car and let the soldiers to a thorough search. Ahmad’s wife, Hiyam, would joke and say that he could be a model for a terrorist commercial. Ahmad was a big man with strong arms. Before becoming the Imam of their small village Salem, he had been an arms trader. As such, and since he dealt with the Triangle’s under-world, he took great care of his body. He ran ten kilometers every day –  religiously. Even during Ramadan. He lifted weights every other day. Twice a week, he did fifty four laps in Um El-Fahem swimming pool. Then, one early morning during the last days of Ramadan six years ago, he turned away from his life. One small praying mat and one single prayer – it’s all it took.  

12 September 2012

On the deletion of the Arabic language

(c) photo by khulud kh, Haifa (2012)

It seems that I’ve been out of touch with the politics of television for quite some time, since I don’t own a television and only get to watch it sporadically when I’m at my parents’. I remember when I was young, there were always subtitles in Arabic on the Israeli channels. Or am I imagining things? I’m quite sure there were. In my memory, they ran in two black lines on a yellowish background – one line in Hebrew and the other in Arabic.

In recent years, I’ve noticed the Arabic disappeared, to be replaced by Russian. I think it’s very important to add Russian subtitles, as there are is a large Russian-speaking immigrant community here, and many of this community’s members do not speak or understand Hebrew. Making television programs accessible to this community is of course of great significance to facilitate their integration and their sense of belonging.

But why replace? Why not add? Why delete the Arabic? Replacing it by the Russian is an extremely strong political statement. Our language is being deleted. Television programs are not accessible anymore to many Palestinians who do not speak or understand the Hebrew language. It’s yet another step in making us feel unwanted here. Another step in this systematic deletion of our language. And language is one component of history and culture.

One wouldn’t even pay attention to such a “trivial” issue as replacing one language by another in the subtitles. Not if you understand the language being spoken. But in some cases, it gets really ridiculous – ironically sad I would even say. I noticed this on a cooking program, where the hosting woman is a Palestinian, and she was hosting a Palestinian chef, Haitham from Taybeh. They are both Arabic speakers, yet the program was in Hebrew, so they spoke in Hebrew. They cooked in Hebrew and they laughed in Hebrew. The subtitles ran in Hebrew and Russian.

The Arabic language, an official language in Israel – was completely absent.

On the same issue of deleting languages, I remember an incident several years ago, which also made an unforgettable impression on me. I had been waiting with my mom for an X-Ray examination. Forgetting to bring a book along, I studied the walls. There was quite a big sign with a cigarette in a red crossed circle, and below it written in both Arabic and Hebrew that smoking is prohibited in this building. A few meters away, a sign in Hebrew for pregnant mothers. It said that if you’re pregnant, you should inform the technician before having the examination. Realization was slow to come. How come the sign was only in Hebrew? What about the Ethiopian, Russian and Arab women who can’t read Hebrew?! Is the protection of their unborn babies less important than that of Jewish women’s?! The very least one could expect is that the sign be written in at least the official state languages, since the hospital is a state institution.

The sign prohibiting smoking struck me as ironic. That this sign, which clearly doesn’t need any words to accompany the image of the cigarette, was in both languages. It is also ironic that this is something prohibited by the hospital, so they want to make sure everybody understands it, whereas the sign about pregnant women is there to protect the women, so it’s perceived as less important.

These are but two very insignificant examples. But this is done systematically and strategically. The most prominent and known example is probably the deletion of the Arabic from signs of city names. The deletion of language is symbolic. It is not something solid like the deletion and destruction of whole villages. But it is fundamental in its symbolism. Language roots us and binds us, makes us feel we belong. It is the means for human communication. Deletion of a language is an undoable act.

10 September 2012

another lynch in Jerusalem

Yet another lynch of a young Palestinian man in Jerusalem. Only about three weeks ago, in the impossible heat of mid-August in this forsaken place, three young Palestinians were brutally attacked. And now, another young man. In both instances, the attackers were young Jewish boys. Very young. In both instances, they were attacked because they are Palestinian. The media jumped on the hot news like vultures on prey and screamed “Lynch.” Actually almost everyone did: politicians, the president, educators, parents. They all rushed to criticize, to emphasize and to remove themselves from this raw hatred. They were surprised.

I am not surprised at all. A society that breeds blind hatred towards a whole people is bound to such extreme actions. But I am not here to write any “op-ed” article. As a writer of political fiction, among other genres, I had a strong sense of responsibility in writing down another story. Not the story of the attack. Not the story of the attackers, and not that of a society that has lost its way. No.

When I read about the lynch of Ibraheem AbuTa’ah on the night of September 5th, I felt an urge to write his story. Of before the lynch. Of a young man finishing his morning shift at the hotel, going home, taking a nap, preparing for the party. Was he going alone to the party or was he taking a partner? What were his hopes? What was going on through his mind when his friend told him she wasn’t feeling well and if he could help her get home? Was he disappointed to leave the party early? Did the lynch that occurred there three weeks earlier pass through his mind at all? Did he walk with full confidence or did he feel insecure? And then – and then, when she called his name, disclosing his nationality, and he saw the pure hatred in his attackers’ eyes? Yes, this is the story I feel the urge to write. Gone writing.

7 September 2012

احترق بنار طائر النار اليرموكي واعيش بنار طائر النار اليرموكي

it seems that – after all

the impossible is real.

to miss you before I even met you.

for you – also – to miss me before meeting me.

to hold long conversations with you in my head before seeing you.

to feel the explosion of energies when my fingers touched yours for the first time.


But how can it be possible to miss you before meeting you?

Even when I’m with you – I already miss you.

My phoenix –

That’s what you are.

and I will burn in your fire

and live in your fire

shhhh – no need to say it –

I know exactly what.

Because –

we both already know

that what you feel is exactly what I feel.

and we both have no – explanation

no need for words.


By the end of nine minutes – which haven’t started yet,

you will have a truckload of sand.

It was the first time for you in 45 years

the sound of the waves, the carpet that waited just for us

the stars – the wine.

all this, after the car sunk down – took us almost two hours

(and we forgot the jack, which remained there

and we picked it up – two nights later, at the same spot)


you, me – drunk not from wine.

there were stars in the sky – I didn’t see any


and yes – I have to admit: it is the first time for me in 37 years.

Because I am reborn in your fire – my phoenix.

And all of this – is forbidden

Not to me – but to you.


At the end of these – nine minutes

(which haven’t started yet, just to remind you)

I will burn – for the last time

and turn into the ashes of the khulud (no, not the name – the eternal)

but I knew this from the moment I heard the words “I miss you” from you

before you met me.

and I am ready to burn that last time.

Why? Why chose death by burning?

Because – I want to live within your fire.

21 August 2012

an incident in the life of a woman with disabilities

experimental writing for my novel:

We walk into a shoe store. Although I am her daughter, she insists on calling me "Mama." People look surprised, as she pronounces "Mama" in a loud yet childish voice. She drags her right foot. Her right arm is bent at an angle, fingers curled into a soft half a fist. She sees a shoe and points to it - "tis, tis." I take it in my hands and show it to her. She studies it, especially the front part, to see if it's broad enough for her tightly-curled toes on her right foot. "Ne, ne, ne." I put the shoe back. Using her body, she tries to explain something to me. She points at another shoe and starts talking in a language no one can understand. Loudly. I get some words, "good, pain, three hundred, pretty, give me." I try to make structured sentences from the words and her body. These might be good. If they're not good, they will cause pain to my foot. They cost three hundred. They are pretty. Let me try them on. But then, I don't always succeed in building logical sentences of her fragmented speech. When I fail, she gets upset. Loses patience. Her voice becomes louder, and she reprimands me, saying "Mama" in an even louder voice. People look now again - we've become a freak show.

Finally, after about fifteen minutes, we find a shoe that may be suitable. I look around for the saleswoman. She stands with her back to us. "Excuse me, can we have this one in size 37 please?" She looks at my mother with a frown. We're really annoying and making the place less pleasant for the other customers. She tells me with her eyes that we are not really wanted here. That we better hurry up and get out of the store.

While she goes to the back room to get the shoes, my mom sits down and I bend over to help her take off her shoes. She squirms as I take off the right shoe and try to straighten her toes. "Ouch! Mama! Pain! Ne ne ne!" I tell her I'm sorry and massage her toes while we wait for the saleswoman. When she comes with the shoes in the box, she takes out the left shoe. I ask for the right one, explaining to her that my mom needs to try on the right one. She frowns, but hands me the other shoe. I unlace the shoelaces, and the struggle starts. I try to push mom's foot into the shoe. It's not easy with the way her toes curls downwards. "Ouch!! Ne, ne, ne. Pain. Wait!" I wait until the pain passes and try again. The shoe isn't cooperating, and the saleswoman is standing over me; she doesn't like the way I'm handling the shoe. Another attempt. "Ne ne ne!!! Mama!!! Pain!" It's not working. I can't get the foot into the shoe. I feel beads of sweat tickling my back. I sit on the floor and look at mom. "No?" I ask in a resigned tone. She has tears in her eyes, but she doesn't look at me. She looks down and to the side. Disappointed. I give the shoe back to the saleswoman and thank her. Then the struggle to put mom's shoe back on.

As we walk out of the store, I see the saleswoman letting out a breath. “The freaks are out of here.” She sees me look at her, and she gives me a look that is liquid with pity.

We walk out of the store, silently. She has tears in her eyes and her lips quiver. I feel sadness.

Yes, it is always like this. Instead of treating us with patience for being a bit different, we are treated like freaks.

12 August 2012

Writing women with disabilities into literature – the absence of literary characters with disabilities

As I wrote recently in two of my posts, Women with Disabilities – Thoughts, and Women with Disabilities – more Thoughts, I’ve been pondering about writing on this issue. And now, with my second novel being in its initial stages, this has trickled into my fiction.

But what bothers me is the fact that I only now realized that throughout my years of reading and studying literature, I cannot remember one character with any kind of physical disability. Mental, yes. One character stands out: Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, with Lionel who suffers from Tourrette Syndrome. Other than that, of course we have all the mad women in the attic during the nineteenth century, but these are by no means disabled women, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper being the most prominent of these. So, essentially, having a Master’s degree in literature, I’m quite familiar with classical, modern and contemporary literature. But try as I might, I cannot remember any other disabled characters.

Throughout my literature studies, we touched upon different issues – race, identity, sexuality, gender roles, economy, politics, geography, slavery, madness, religion, wars, mythology, technology, industrialization, culture, social issues, health, and what not. But again, I cannot remember any lecture or any discussion on disabilities. Women’s mental instability? Sure. Lots of that. But where are all the women and men with disabilities? How come there are no deaf main characters? No main characters on wheelchairs? No main characters with aphasia (impairment of language ability)?

I think this is really outrageous! Not only do we as society not include individuals with disability in the public spaces, we deliberately exclude them from literature as well. And doesn’t literature in fact reflect reality? We exclude them from literature because they are not perfect. They are the “other.” They taint our “beautiful” art. They pose challenges to the narrative. Everything is slower because of them, and we need to go out of our way because of their disability. The artist has to make extra effort to make room for these characters in her/his writing.

To me, literature is not merely a form of the “higher arts.” It is, in addition, a vessel for political and social massages; a means – if used correctly and consciously – to initiate public discourse, to criticize, and to bring public attention to crucial issues society should engage in. All this, of course, through providing deep analysis and a critical perspective. No, I’m not talking about academic articles. I am talking about quality literary fiction.

And so the absence of round characters with disabilities is all the more striking, taken into consideration the role of literature. The degree to which characters with disabilities can enrich and inform literature is invaluable. It has the potential to enrich multiple layers: on the literary side, it has the potential to enrich the complexity of narrative, depth of characters, the range of issues the novel deals with, and the style of writing and structure, among others. Alongside this, it has the power to effect change among readers, thus impacting society. It has the power to bring the social, political and economic participation of people with disabilities in public life to the forefront of public discourse. It has the power to bring the voices and needs of individuals with disabilities from the margins to the center, thereby, contributing to making them equal partners and participants in society.

Dealing with disabilities in writing for me is a conscious effort. A direct result of coming face to face with my own prejudices and preconceptions. But I have admitted my ignorance and am moving forward with processing and learning. I am making a space for characters with disabilities to enter my writing – consciously. Yes, it is challenging both intellectually as well as creatively. The narrative isn’t flowing as with a character without a disability. But this doesn’t pose a barrier. It is a challenge I am working through.

7 August 2012

Suhad at the checkpoint

still exploring my new characters. only raw writing for now. no criticism at this stage please. If you wish to comment, I'd rather want to know how the text made you FEEL. Not your opinion or intellectualization, only how it made you FEEL. EMOTIONS.

There you are again. With that self-centered, self-assured walk. Like the world belongs to you. That jumpiness when you walk tells it all. The way you carry the kanun – bare, without a cover to protect it. But I can tell you have great respect for it, though you try to be casual about it. Again, you’re unshaven today. The same jeans, with that imprint of a thick wallet on the left back pocket. And you’re always either rolling a cigarette or smoking one. You must smell like an ashtray. But I see you take care of your body. In that white tank top o can clearly see the well-defined muscles of your dark shoulders and arms. Full of contradictions, aren’t you?

Oh yes, I see the way you look at me, like a hungry animal lurking for prey. And I don’t like it. you want to devour me in one piece.

At the same time, you probably think I’m too much of an intellectual for you. Or too proud to even talk to someone like you. Or too sophisticated with my leather briefcase.

Mother always told me I need to marry someone who would challenge me intellectually and let me grow. And I listened to her. Married a real intellectual. Dr. of Political Science, no less. Head of the department. And oh did he challenge me. Heated discussions into the night about the nature of the nation-state, the political identity of a people, what defines a nation, why democracy has failed, and what not.

I don’t deny it, they were indeed very challenging discussions. Intriguing even. I learned from him, and he even enriched my thought. Often, I found his ideas spilling into the lectures I was preparing, reflected in a different way in class discussions with my students.

Sometimes I miss these talks of ours. He was a good friend. A close one, even. There was mutual respect between us. We cared for each other deeply. When my migraines would completely disable me for several days, he always made sure the blinds were drawn all day long, and even kept my father away with his loud chatter. He made me shai three times a day and brought me my favorite fruit in the summer – khokh abu wabar.

Yes, we lived like good friends. We shared household chores, spent relaxed evenings in the garden reading through each other’s notes for the upcoming lectures, giving feedback and constructive comments.

I could tell from the way he was settling comfortably into this life that he was happy. Content that he reached his destination – the final end point.

But not me. I wanted more. Looking back, I sometimes wonder if I weren’t selfish for wanting more than that for myself – for us.

But still, I wanted more. Oh yes, much more. My insides were burning, my throat dry, thirsty. I was yearning for something greater. But I didn’t know yet what it was I was in search of.

I wanted the ground to be swept from underneath me. I wanted to experience something so intense it would leave me filled with so much energy enough to set me on fire. Leave an eternal mark on me like a hot iron sizzling on the skin.

I wanted to be set on fire and burn like the phoenix. To die an intense death and be reborn all fresh and new all over.

I thought at first there must be something wrong with me for wanting this fire intensity.

But there was something in me craving to experience the utter opposite of intellectuality. Raw, unhinged savageness.

At that time, I was immersed in teaching a course on the erotic works of D. H. Lawrence.

to be continued...

4 August 2012

Shai at the Checkpoint - what is it about her

Don’t know your name yet, but it doesn’t matter. We’re not close friends yet. Your name will reveal itself to me in due time.

You’re a vague image. Tall, lean, nicely built. But you carry your body bent forward in an arch, like a stooped tree. Maybe it’s because you’re so tall, and you try to diminish your appearance. But don’t you know it has the opposite effect?

You’re wearing faded jeans. Too long for your legs. They’re fraying at the bottom. The back pocket has an imprint of your wallet on it, and a small hole in the bottom left corner.

You have a jumpy walk. It’s the left foot that kind of skips and bounces – first the toes, then the heel touching the ground. The right foot drags behind, surrendering to the beat.

It’s a walk you’ve mastered – maybe unconsciously – during the years of making music. It’s that complete detachment of the left foot from the rest of your body when music is played.

Yes, you’re edgy when you know you will move from one world to another. In this world, you’re doped on hasheesh more hours than there are in a day.

Your bed is occupied by two women on alternate days. And then there are those who find their way into your bed after a performance and are gone the next morning, never to be seen again. Shamed.

But the one your soul yearns for is unattainable for you. Out of reach. Not from your social standing. A real intellectual. It’s not her beauty that draws you to her. There’s nothing unique about that. The usual stuff – dark olive skin, dark brown eyes, hair black as the night. In nice long and think curls down her back. No. it’s something else you can’t describe in any essential way.

It’s in the way she sits on the ground, like she becomes part of the earth. It’s in the way she sips her shai – as if it were the single most important task in front of her. It’s in the way she cocks her head to the left when Um Maysara speaks. It’s in her smile – her body takes on a different form when a smile touches her lips. It’s in the way she smoothes away the curls blown by the naseem into her face. It’s in the way she holds her body relaxed when faced with armed kids at the checkpoint. It’s in the way she walks into that other world – full of confidence and freshness.

And it’s in the way she acknowledges your presence with the softest of smiles and a barely visible nod of the head. And with that smile, you cringe and almost stumble backwards. You, with your bouncy left foot full of self-confidence, lose it all.

Now can you put in words what it is about her that draws you like a mad animal that just smelled the fresh blood of prey?

22 July 2012

Shai at the Checkpoint - Um Maysara

I wake up just before dawn breaks over the hills to pray. After so many years, it has become part of me. My body betrays me and I find myself dozing off after the prayer for a few moments. Then I collect my wrinkled body and start the day – slowly so that I don’t forget anything. The cloth bag – as I walk through the deserted streets – feels heavy on my back, pulling my body down to the ancient ground. My footsteps barely make a sound, but the contents of the bag jingle with a life of their own. The portable gas, the old brass tea-kettle, the tin box of tea-leaves and, most importantly, the fresh na’ana leaves Salwa makes sure I have. I head towards the hills, leaving the camp abandoned behind me.

The checkpoint is on the main road leading to the camp. It takes me about half an hour to get there, sometimes more, sometimes less – depending on how cooperative my legs are. I always get there before the soldiers. I can’t give them the pleasure of arriving before me and claiming this land as their own. No. I am a reminder to them – every morning – that I was here before them and I am part of this land.

***

Abu Hasan is approaching the checkpoint with slow, tired strides. His body is bent on itself, as if trying to make himself less noticeable. Abu Hasan is a big man. Before the second Intifada, he used to work in Haifa in construction. I know this because he was one of the men that my Maysara used to work with. They made a good team together. Maysara, young, full of energy and strong, and Abu Hasan, with a solemn face that made it clear he knew his profession. But now it is almost impossible to get work permits. He walks past me, his eyes empty – his Assalamu Alaikum is empty of warmth, an absent-minded greeting said to a stranger. Yasmin told me they live on charity nowadays. Abu Hasan is too proud to go stand in line and wait for the rice and flour to be handed out, so he sends his young daughter. He has four sons and three daughters, all sharing a two-room crumpled old apartment. “Wa’alaiukum E’salam,” he turns his head towards me, a glimpse of recognition passes through his face, but only for a moment. I’m not sure, but I think I see an echo of a smile brushing his lips. He reaches the checkpoint and stands at the end of a long line to wait his turn.

The shai is getting cold. I get up, stretch my old body towards Allah, and dump the remaining shai into the bushes on the side of the road. I make a fresh pot of shai with na’ana and settle on my rug, waiting. I look towards the checkpoint. The line isn’t getting any shorter. It never does. Mostly I see men, young and strong, some older. There are also women, young, most veiled. There is no work at the camp, so beyond the border is their only chance. We don’t want to live on charity. We want to live dignified lives. We want to give our children hope of something better. That’s why Abu Hasan is here today. He has been crushed and reduced to less than human when he couldn’t work beyond the border anymore. But things are changing now. At first, only a few men were able to get temporary work permits. At first there were rumors that they are collaborators. But then more permits came through. This was about six months ago, and since then, most of the men from the camp have tried to get work permits. But it’s not easy to get one. Maysara came home the first day with his head down, humiliated. He was denied a work permit because our family name is the same as that young man’s who blew himself up on the bus in Haifa some years back, killing more than ten people. But he didn’t give up. Ever since then, he’s been running around from one authority to the next, filing all sorts of paperwork, his file getting buried with thousands of other applications. He’s still waiting, hoping that maybe, one day soon.

I sell three cups of shai before I see Abu Hasan emerging from the small building next to the checkpoint and heading back, his body even more crumpled than before. This time he stops at my stall, hands in his pockets. “I don’t have any money on me, hajji, but if you would be so kind as to give a tired man a drink of shai, Allah will reward you, and I will send my daughter tomorrow with some fresh na’ana for you.”

“Abu Hasan, do you not recognize your neighbor? I used to pack you bread and za’atar for lunch and send it with my Maysara when you worked together.”

Ya a’mmi, Um Maysara! Allah be blessed to have put you in my path this morning. Alhamdulillah for kind people like you.”

He sat next to me and sipped his shai while I told him about Maysara and Yasmin, the other children and the grandchildren. He told me about his own family, and how difficult it was these days to get cooking gas, and how his wife has been trying to set up a small family business at home, sewing clothes. But even thread was difficult to obtain these days. Not being able to stand it any longer that his family lives off charity, he decided to try his luck at the checkpoint. Although he is no longer young, his body is still strong and he has years of experience in overseeing construction teams, identifying problems and coming up with creative solutions. “The soldier sent me to the general. I don’t know why he chose me over all the other men standing there in line.”

13 July 2012

Closing the last page

(c) photo by khulud kh. Jaffa, 2012

Time to say goodbye. Time to close the last page of this book. To reclaim my freedom – for now at least. Yes, it’s exciting to complete a book. But more than that, it’s sad. For two and a half years, Maisoon, Ziyad, Majid and Asmahan lived with me. They would wake up in the morning and sit with me at the kitchen table for a morning coffee and cigarette. Sometimes they would talk to me, other times they’d remain silent.

They walked inside my body. I was never alone. Never lived in one world – always the other parallel world would creep up on me – a shadow that followed me everywhere.

And now – it is time to release. I closed the last page of the manuscript, and with it I said goodbye to Maisoon, Ziyad, Majid and Asmahan. The door to this specific parallel world has been closed – for now. The feeling is a one of a newly regained freedom and aloneness. I can again breathe on my own.

But with this door closing – I am left stranded in a long, narrow, dark corridor. At the moment, I’m still adjusting to the darkness around, feeling my way around, getting ready to walk – towards what – towards another parallel world.

Two years ago, in Andalucía, four characters made a sudden appearance in my mind. They wrote the beginning of their history in some ten pages. That was all they needed at that time. Just to make me know they exist and are waiting for me patiently. Maybe now is the time to go back to them, see what world they will reveal to me, and invite them for a morning coffee and cigarette.

29 June 2012

Identity in Crisis

“Crisis of Identity” – we Palestinian citizens of Israel supposedly suffer from this disease. I’ve heard this term hurled at me in accusing anger, in psychological diagnosis, in pity, in sarcasm. It’s always been a statement – nobody ever bothered even to ask my opinion or if I feel I suffer from this disease. We Palestinian citizens of Israel suffer from an extremely severe and incurable “Crisis of Identity.” We are split between “loyalty” to the state of Israel and belonging to our people.

Well, dear accusers:

I’ve got some news for you. I DO NOT – repeat: I DO NOT – suffer from any crisis of identity. I know who I am, and I surely know where my loyalties are. My loyalties are first and foremost to my values and to justice.

And if you think you will read here any “justifications” – you can stop reading right now. I don’t need to justify myself or my values to anybody.

Some facts:

I am a Palestinian. I live in my own homeland, which happens to be under the official name of Israel in the present. I carry an Israeli citizenship and an Israeli passport. I am institutionally discriminated against as part of a national minority. I stand up for my rights. I fight for my rights. I have no inferiority complex. I have no identity crisis.

Some thoughts on identity:

My own identity is made up of a plethora of aspects. To constrict me to my national identity is not only not right, but it is untrue. I am made of a multitude of identities, which are liquid, flowing and flexible. And never fixed. They are all temporary. How boring it must be to get stuck in one identity your whole life!

(c) khulud kh, June 2012

24 June 2012

Women with Disabilities - more thoughts

What is disability? Let me start with this question. Is it only something physical and visible to the eye? And do you have to have some kind of an official document confirming your disability? Can you be disabled without being diagnosed as such by a medical body? What about the non-visible disabilities? How much do they count? And where do we draw the line between what is perceived to be a “normal” state and a “disabled” state of being?

I am starting off tabula rasa. Except for the one process-oriented group of women with and without disabilities, and the fact that my own mother has been disabled for the past three and a half years, I haven’t dipped into this area. Before reading any articles, I want to explore this on my own first. To get down my thoughts and form them into some coherent sentences. I’m well aware of the fact that I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, but still – there is something about the raw and intuitive writing before rushing to drink up already confirmed knowledge or reading about what feminists in other parts of the world are doing on this issue.

So here we go: intuitively, and from my experience with my mom and the group, women with disabilities are treated differently. Their disability serves as a marker of their “otherness,” situating them outside of the “normal us.” The disability is also a clear mark of inferiority – intellectual, emotional, and physical.

In the public sphere, we become intolerable to any inconveniences caused by the disability of a woman (or a man for that matter). We prefer to exclude her from any kind of action/activity if her inclusion means we have to compromise or adapt to her needs. Their disability slows us down, diverts us from our real purpose; in short, it gets in our way in a most annoying and inconvenient way. Why can’t they just stay home and remain invisible?!

Why, indeed? Because they are us and we are them. They are not inferior to us and we are not superior to them – in any way! They are us and the we (them and us) have equal rights. To be, to live, to act in the public sphere. And if that means we have to adapt ourselves, our architecture, our fast pace, our language, our mode of existence – then that’s the way it will be. Just as we adapt and change to make room in the public sphere to other “others,” so it should be with women with disabilities – be they confirmed by an official body or not.

But what am I talking about? Our society is a very long way from recognizing the legitimacy of any “others” in the public sphere. Any “other” who inconveniences us is shunned to the margins.

In some more traditional communities, women with disabilities are shoved away, hidden in a dark corner of the house. Some, who are young and have a “light” disability, become the servants of the family.

Enough writing for one day. It is not an easy subject to write about. More later. Still don’t know what form this is taking. For now, I am posting as I write – unedited.


(c) khulud kh, June 2012

22 June 2012

Women with disabilities – thoughts

Emilia, my mother in an improvisation workshop. May 2012. photo by khulud kh (c)

I recently participated in a group of women with and without disabilities. It’s funny that I have a disabled mother – three and a half years passed since her CVA, yet until I participated in this group, I never made any connections.

The feminist movement I am familiar with has not made any major steps to include women with disabilities in its activities or even in its discourse. Only recently we initiated some discourse in Isha L’Isha about it, and held the first group of women with and without disabilities.

It’s strange, since in feminism, we advocate for the full and equal rights of marginalized and invisible groups. Women with disabilities have never taken any space in my life. Not until my mother suffered her CVA. But even then, it was something very personal. I had to deal with a completely new reality all of a sudden, in addition to reversal of roles in the family. I guess I was so busy in daily coping with this that I didn’t have time to connect it to something broader.

But now I’m glad I’m beginning to make the connections. The group process is now over, but the themes brought up, and the women who until then were invisible even to me – are taking up space in my thinking process.

It’s clear to me that this is only the beginning. Recently I’ve taken interest in photography, and since it coincided with the disabilities issue, it’s naturally pulling me in that direction. I volunteered to help in the PhotoVoice part of the research that Isha L’Isha is planning with group participants, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m also thinking of doing some small project with my mom with PhotoVoice. So far, disabilities have not appeared in my writing, but I know they will. It’s a process – I can’t rush it and can’t force myself to it. There’s no need. There is a time for it to happen naturally. And I know it will. In what form – fiction, poetry, or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. It will come out in its own form.

And finally, I hope that the action initiated by Isha L’Isha will bear fruit and that through our awareness-raising activities, more feminist and other social change organizations will start working on issues of women with disabilities.

(c) khulud kh, June 2012

15 June 2012

My Topographies of un-deletion

(The beginning of a new writing piece, exploring the connections between topographies, belonging, and fears):

“It’s the TOPOGRAPHY” my brain screamed down my stomach, the word punching me hard right downhill, more precisely on the right-winding curb between Golomb and Arlozorov, on my monthly way to the local Haifa story writers’ group meeting.

This urgent need for belonging to a physical place – all these years – it’s all been nothing more than an artificial illusion.

In the middle of it – I dream of Andalucía.

In the beginning of it – the feelings of the extinction danger – the deletion.

But in the end – it all collapsed downhill, on that hot-morning Huzairan on that curb where Golomb stops being and Arlozorov appears, peaking at me from the right.

It all collapsed into Haifa’s topography.

(more to come soon)

(c) khulud kh, June 2012

28 April 2012

Excluded from Women's World Boxing Championship



This is the kind of news that makes me angry. The cover news of the local Friday paper features a picture of a young woman boxer, with the headline “7,000 shekel, baby.” It caught my attention, partly because of the all too common chauvinistic culture-made connection between the words and the image of the woman. If it were a man boxer, the word “baby” would never have been used. But this is just an aside comment.

The young woman is Yelena Shelkovin (ילנה שלקובין), three times Israel champion in boxing (in three different weights). She’s been qualified to participate in the 2012 Women’s World Boxing Championship in Qinhuangdao, China, to take place in May. However, Yelena will probably not make it. Why? She can’t afford to pay the 7,000 NIS (about $1,900 or 1,400 EUR) for the round-trip ticket and accommodation. In her interview, Yelena says that Sports Associations around the world usually fund participations of athletes in world championships. Of course, she received a letter from the Israeli Boxing Association that she will participate in the world championship, but that she has to fund her own ticket and accommodation. The interviewer quotes the response of William Shehada, chair and general director of the Israeli Boxing Association: “No need to make a big tragedy. This is a very expensive championship and the Association cannot fund it. She’s not someone who’s going to take the world championship, she’s not ready for it and she’s not worth the money, so she’s not going. She’s only Israel champion.”

I was quite surprised to read his response. She’s been Israel champion three years in a row. How can he say that she’s not ready? And what’s this “she’s not worth the money?”

I think there is exclusion and marginalization here on several layers: first, she’s a woman. So of course “she’s not worth the money.” Then, she’s a Russian immigrant, and she comes from a low socio-economic background. Yelena has made it on hew own. She immigrated to Israel all by herself at the age of 19, leaving her family behind. During the day, she cleans hotel rooms. She practices boxing after work.

I bet that if she were a man, there would be no funding issues. I bet that if she were born in Israel to Ashkenazi parents, there would be no funding issues. This is just another “small” example of the inequalities in Israel, and the rift between the different groups – women and men, ethnic groups, national groups, immigrants and those who were born here, different socio-economic backgrounds, etc.

No. There are no equal opportunities in Israel. Not if you don’t belong to the elite hegemony.

25 April 2012

reason, will and desire














This is not a "serious" blog-post. Just playing around tonight.
Can't really do any "serious" writing with all the noise outside. Anyway...

According to Plato, the human mind is composed of REASON, WILL, and DESIRE.
This sentence caught me by surprise. Surprise about how simple and logical this is.
Although I do think there are other components to the human mind, like memories and madness, but that's another point.

Anyhow. Since I decided to study jewelry designing, I really can't wait to start, so I've been playing around with the primitive materials we have at home, and this ring is what I came up with. I think I like it - it's quite rough, asymmetrical, but still. I made it, using those parts of the mind labelled by Plato as "will" and "desire."

Yes, I believe that if you have the WILL and the DESIRE to achieve something, I mean if you TRULY desire it, there's nothing that can stop you from achieving it.

15 April 2012

the memory of you






The connection to the body.

Writing a script onto the body.

Although in pencil, it will not be erased.

To remember always… all that was.

The pain, the grief, the agony of you.

I feel you walking inside my body, just right here, underneath the skin.

Slowly.

Mocking me.

And I demand my memories back.

To reverse the flow of my blood.

To retrace my steps to before…

Before the pain, the grief, the agony.

To a time when sunflowers made me shiver.

To a time when butterflies landed in my palms.

And you were there to cup them in your hands.

If I try hard enough, I can still remember

The gentle brush of the butterfly’s wings on my arms.

And that’s the memory of you –

I am taking

To the grave.


(c) khulud kh (2012)

12 April 2012

Give a Stranger a Smile – Small Acts of Kindness (or: on becoming a runner)


She didn’t really mean to do it. All she was after was some paper for the printer. She had to buy some today because she needed to print the manuscript and otherwise she’d be stuck without paper for the whole weekend. So after she got her paper (just the regular kind, as the small store didn’t have any recycled paper), she wandered to the newly opened bookstore nearby. Instinctively she walked over to the English fiction section, her eyes swiftly sweeping the titles, all the way to the letter M. She didn’t anticipate it. She’s been waiting for this book for over a year, searching for it on every occasion. But some books just don’t make it here that fast. She’d all but forgotten about it. And now, on this day, there it was. And in hardcover! Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. All three books. Almost a thousand pages of magic realism. Her favorite author and her favorite genre. Ecstatic, elated, she immediately picked it up, and as an afterthought grabbed also the very thin paperback What I Talk about when I Talk about Running, a Memoir, also by Murakami.

At the counter, one of the young saleswomen exclaimed: “What beautiful earring you have!” Without thinking, her left hand went up to her left ear to feel the earring. She remembered vaguely slipping it on in the morning. Her very first wire-wrapped earring she made, just two days before. Right after arranging a little mini-studio for jewelry designing in one corner of her apartment. After she decided to study jewelry designing. It was a primitively made earring, with no skill whatsoever. She just wanted to see if she has any potential. If she had any creativity potential, that is. And also to explore if the process of working with her hands gave her any delight. It did. The feeling after completing that one, single earring was similar to the feeling she got after completing a good session of writing. In a much smaller intensity, but it was there. She could sense its essence.

As she felt the earring at the bookstore, her fingers – on their own – took the earring off her ear, a shy smile slipped on and, handing the earring to the young woman, she said: “Do you like it? Here, it’s yours. Sorry I only have one.”

The Young woman was speechless. She held the earring in her open palm, looked at her disbelievingly, then at the saleswoman standing next to her, and said: “She gave me an earring!” There was great happiness in that small sentence. A gratitude.

She said, “Enjoy the earring,” smiled, and walked out of the bookstore with her 1Q84 and What I Talk about when I Talk about Running. Yes, got potential there. Very first earring and already given away, a small act of kindness.

That evening, after reading the first two chapters of What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, she decided to become a runner too. An extremely good day it was. The small act of kindness did her good. She made a stranger smile. For free. She got stronger motivation about her choice to study jewelry design, and decided to become a runner. All in one day. A good day, indeed.

10 April 2012

new beginnings

Meet Maria, a spicy and fresh new character of my new novel in progress. Just a short fragment, the very beginning of the unraveling of her identity:

“Maria,” I pronounce my name in a casual way, having the privilege for a moment there to play with my identity. I never carry my I.D card with me on these trips. Because it gives me away. Only my driving license. My fair looks don’t betray it either. Only the accent. So I try to keep my mouth shut as much as I can – sometimes. When the soldier begins suspecting, he asks me what holidays we celebrate at home. But I got that down too. We don’t. I like playing these games with them. Today the checkpoint is quite crowded, and there’s a long line. I look at the side of the road and see the old woman at her usual spot with her shai. I throw a glance around – the soldiers are all out of earshot. I walk in her direction, she is bent down, her head low, stirring the na’ana into the shai. “Marhaba sitti,” she looks up, no surprise in her eyes. “Ahlan wasahlan, binti,” her voice is scratchy but clear. She smiles at me and pours some shai into a metal cup and hands it to me.

Layal’s family moved to Ramallah last year. It took baba a whole month before he allowed me to go and visit. I refused to do my homework, I refused to eat, I threatened to drop out of school. Until he gave in. He’s such a coward. Listens to the news and shakes his head. Ammo Hilal had to come all the way from Ramallah to pick me up. Baba didn’t even let me ride the bus to Jerusalem. “Too dangerous for a 19 year old girl.”

The language here is so different. No hybrid sentences. I have to watch myself when I’m out with Layal. My sentences get always mixed up with Hebrew. It’s a constant effort to search the brain for the right words in Arabic. And they always come out awkward. Like foreign words. Hasub instead of computer. I wonder how Layal changed her dictionary so fast.

At the checkpoint, it’s the other way around. I try to hide my language. In Ramallah, I try too hard to make it clear.

(c) khulud kh (2012)



10 March 2012

Decluttering (reclaiming 730 hours a year)




Wake up in the morning, put water to boil. Meanwhile, turn on the computer. Pour a cup of coffee. Take it to the computer. Open the inbox. You do vaguely remember cleaning out your inbox before going to bed last night, but while you slept, it filled up again. Best case, twenty emails. On an average morning, thirty emails. Your brain still clogged up, you begin browsing through them – first, deleting all the newsletters you didn’t even know you subscribed to. Then, you skim to see if there’s any urgent matters that need to be taken care of. After that, you start going through emails from friends – photos, funny videos, links to important news. Demands for help. Calls for demonstrations. Important petitions to sign. Another cup of coffee. Waiting for the water heater can take an hour on a winter’s morning. And thus, you begin the day with one hour less.

An hour spent passively responding, reacting.

While showering, you try to remember what in the world you did during this one hour only five, six years ago. When you were lucky to get one email a week. On a good week, maybe two. Aaah, yes, you would wake up, make a cup of coffee, and grab the novel from your bedside table and read another chapter. Or a book of poetry. Or, take your notebook and write.

An hour spent actively feeding your mind. An hour spent creating. You begin your day with one hour gained.

Nostalgia? No, it doesn’t have to be. You decide you want to reclaim that one hour in the morning, and another one in the evening. So much can be achieved in 730 hours a year, which amount to one whole month of reclaimed time!

(c) khulud kh, 2012

4 March 2012

Security measures: guns vs. locks (contemplation about Oslo, part 1)

We get out of the airport and into the biting cold of Oslo. It’s almost midnight but I feel fresh. People with suitcases, business men, tourists with backpacks. Norwegians. Bus drivers. Several buses are lined up and people find their way to the bus that will take them to their destination. Some walk in confidence towards this or that bus. Others ask around about a destination. We walk towards a bus randomly, and it happens to be the Airport Express Bus that we need to take to get to the center. 350 meters from our hotel. The bus ride takes about 45 minutes, and when we get off, the bus driver gets off the bus with us, helps us with our suitcases, and even walks with us to the corner of the street to show us a shortcut to the hotel. We are amazed at his kindness and helpfulness. It could never happen in Israel – I can’t imagine a bus driver actually leaving the bus and walking with us to show us directions.

I slept good the first night. There was some kind of a calmness accompanying me all the way from the airport to the hotel, which I was able to pinpoint on the following day. There were no weapons anywhere to be seen! No 18-year old kids walking around with sub-machine guns! No armed security guards to the entrance of hotels, public places, not even to the entrance of the Parliament! Guns have, unfortunately, become a “natural” part of our public sphere in Israel. Such a “natural” part, that most people have become blind to them. And it does strike you odd when you travel abroad to see gun-free public spaces.

However, it doesn’t mean that Oslo public spaces are “open.” Pretty fast, I realized that security measures are taken to such degrees so as to lock people out of their own offices, with no way in, and no way out.

We were accompanied by an organization representative to a meeting in their offices. She unlocked the front door with the help of an electronic card attached to her clothes. We walked up a flight of stairs and she used the same electronic card to open the door to the offices. But the card didn’t work. She tried several times. Giving up, she had to bang on the door, looking through the glass window. From the inside of the offices, a man approached and tried to open the door with his electronic card, also attached to his clothes. He, too, failed. So we were locked out, he was trapped in. Embarrassed smiles passed between the two. So we walked up another flight of stairs, and entered through the door – needless to say, with the help of the magic electronic card. We entered the offices and walked down from some internal flight of stairs to the floor below. We were inside.

After a briefing meeting, we were interviewed for the organization’s website, and then asked to walk outside to the roof to be photographed in daylight. Again, we had to go through several locked doors. When the photographer finished, I wanted to stay on the roof for several more minutes to smoke a cigarette, but was told that I couldn’t, as I don’t have an electronic key, and you need this key to open the door of the roof to get inside!

The next day, the same offices, between two meetings: I ask where the toilet is, but am told that I can’t go by myself, as there are several locked doors on the way, and obviously, being a visitor, I didn’t own any electronic key attached to my clothes! The representative had to accompany me and wait for me on the inside door to the toilet, as that was locked too – from both sides! This is when I began to feel like a prisoner. When I asked about these security measures – I didn’t get any clear answer. After all, the front door is locked. The locks are on all doors – whether it makes sense or not.

This seems to be the norm in

Oslo – at the hotel, you need your hotel key card to be able to use the elevator, and to open the door to the stairway.

Yes, extreme security measures are taken in Oslo. The only difference between Oslo’s security and ours is the fact that in Oslo technological means are being used, while here in Israel military means – weapons. The security in Oslo can – in the worst case – lock you out on the balcony or lock you in the toilet, while in Israel it threatens our very lives, and can often end in firing a gun at an innocent person, ending her life.

(c) khulud kh

photo: inside of the Opera House. Surprisingly, it was wide open. photo by Hannah Safran.