23 November 2015

assisting a Palestinian trans woman

To my international friends. We, the Haifa feminists, are trying to help a young Palestinian trans woman start a new life in Haifa. She has no support from her family and has newly arrived in Haifa. We are assisting her with housing, search for work, learning Hebrew, etc. We're also trying to help her financially until she can stand on her own feet and become independent. If any of you can donate any amount of money through Paypal, please send me your email along with the amount you wish to donate, and I will send you a request for payment. My email is khulud.kh@gmail.com. If you can't donate, please at least share. Thank you on behalf of the woman.

6 November 2015

4 October 2003 - from "Taboos in Arabic"

Salma is panting, trying to keep up with her 52 year old father. It’s a sunny day, with swishes of wind. Saturdays are their together-running days at the beach. They’ve been doing this for as long as Salma can remember. Her father, a marathon runner.
They reach the end of their running trail, at the Maxim restaurant. Salma’s t-shirt is clinging to her body like second skin. She’s out of breath. Her father looks at his stop watch, then bends to do his stretching. “You know, Susu, you will need to start doing your warm up and cool down stretches if you ever want to do any marathons.”
Salma is already lying on her back on the asphalt, staring up at the sky. Bliss. “I prefer to cool down watching the sky and the clouds. So you going to tell me if we beat our record or are you just going to do your goofy yoga stretches?”
Her father slowly turns his head towards her as he stretches his neck sideways. A stupid grin appears on his face. “Please! Do not underestimate my animal poses. And yes, by a whole minute and a half, Susu.”
“Baba, I’m almost 24 years old! When will you stop calling me Susu? Can’t you just grow up?”
“Never!” He yelped and slowly sank into the camel position. “Almost 24, Susu. I can hardly believe it. It seems it was only yesterday that you were running behind me like a little puppy. Ha! And you still can’t catch up with me!”
Salma rolled on her side and sat up on her heels. “You just wait! One of these days. And sooner than later it’s you who’s going to be watching that sand kicking from under my feet.”
Joubran rose up, his muscular body showing through his tank-top, and held out a hand to his daughter to help her up. “Yalla, let’s go.” They walked into the Maxim restaurant, warmly greeting Mtanes, the 31 year old guard, and conscious of the looks they got. A middle-aged, good looking man, with his arm around a young woman’s waist, both of them red-faced, their clothes clinging to their bodies.
They sit at their usual spot, the closest table to the kitchen, so that their body odour mingles with the smells from the kitchen. They’ve been coming here for years, every Saturday, after their run. Hanna, the head waiter, winks at Salma and she grins at him, “Hey, you’re not supposed to wink at women now that you’re engaged to be married!”
“You don’t really count, kid. Who would be interested in someone who always stinks and has sweat running down her forehead, anyway?” The three of them laugh. Salma hears his booming voice in the kitchen, “same as always at this time of day on Saturday for our dear friend Abu Salma and his daughter.”
A few minutes later, Sharbel, the 23 year old waiter brings them two bottled waters and some freshly cut up vegetables. “Had a good run?” Mtanes has the bluest eyes Salma has ever seen, and an angelic smile. “She still can’t beat me.” Joubran boasts. “Give her a few more years, Abu Salma. I’m sure she will, one of these days.” He smiles at Salma, arranges their silverware and plates, and goes to take an order from a nearby table.
“Can you tell me again what’s wrong with him, Susu? He’s intelligent, saving money to continue his law studies, caring, responsible... should I go on?”
“Baba, would you just stop it, please? I promise I’ll let you know when I fall in love. Now, can we change the subject? What about my birthday present?”
“Oh yeah, coming up in two weeks. How about I take you shopping and you pick whatever it is you’re into now? Sounds good? Afterwards, I’ll treat you and your mama to a gourmet restaurant.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Salma nibbles on a cucumber. They continue chatting, savouring this special time together. Her father tells her about a case study he discussed at a psychology conference he recently attended in Spain. Salma was fascinated by her father’s analysis, interrupting him mid-sentences to ask questions.
Salma looks to the side and sees a young woman in hijab sitting with a man in silence. They’re just finishing their meal. The man looks nervous, the woman seems unnaturally calm. The woman turns her head and looks straight into Salma’s eyes. A shiver runs down Salma’s back at the blackness of the woman’s eyes. She lowers her eyes and stares at her vegetables. “So, my last year at university, baba. I think I’ll take some classes in Philosophy this year, what do you say?”
“My daughter, the philosophical psychologist. I think it suits you well.” He says and pops a piece of carrot into his mouth.
The nervous man and the unnaturally calm young woman are now sipping Arabic coffee, still in complete silence. The man’s eyes are darting in every direction. Salma watches the calmness of the woman. She’s been staring at her hands, now with a hollow look in her eyes. She is beautiful, Salma thinks. She tries to imagine her without the veil, her black hair flowing down her shoulders. A stray thought catches her breath. The veil. The look in the woman’s eyes. The unnatural calmness and the hollow eyes. The nervousness of the man. Their silence. She quickly takes a sip of her bottled water and starts getting up. Her body begins shivering, but she must control herself. “Yalla baba, let’s go. I can’t stand my own smell.” Her voice louder than usual, enough for the young woman to hear her Arabic clearly. “What’s the rush? A few more minutes won’t kill you. Hanna? Can we have that kahwa on the house, brother?” Salma sinks back into her chair, breathes deeply. It’s nothing, she tries to convince herself. They probably just had a fight. Couples fight all the time. Totally normal behaviour.

Hanadi Jaradat, a 29 year old lawyer from Jenin, blows herself up. The sea rises and falls.

(c) khulud khamis, 2015

16 October 2015

keep the children out of it

Nura is three years old. She’s from Beer El Sabea in the Naqab. At her age, I imagine she cannot grasp the fact that she has become one of the icons for fighting racism and hate. Her photo was published in print newspapers and been posted and reposted many times in the last few days on Facebook and other social media outlets.
Nura was the subject of a racist discussion on a Whatsapp group for parents at her kindergarten, where one parent demanded she should be expelled. “If there is an Arab kid in the kindergarten it’s time to expel him!” “She has no place in the Jewish State. She should study in her village. Go to Syria; they love you there, Assad is waiting.” 
This piece is not about the racism and hatred towards Palestinians inside Israel, in the West Bank, and Gaza. Plenty of posts and articles have been written about that.
I want to write about the effect this will have on Nura and other children who find themselves caught in this cycle, sometimes against their will, other times unknowingly. Nura’s photograph was released by her parents, and there may not be any legal issue here. However, there is an ethical issue. A three-year-old child cannot make an informed decision, and we should keep her psychological and emotional wellbeing in mind. I don’t want to get into speculations of what effects this may have on her, but the possibilities are there, and they are many. Nura may become the target of negative attention such as hatred and racism. We all know how children can be cruel to each other, and we all know about bullying.
I think it is time that we recognize the dangers in posting photographs on Facebook and other social media. We have seen all too many suicides, bullying, verbal violence, and other types of violence resulting from inappropriate use of social media. All I can hope for Nura that this will pass quickly and she will not be exposed to any kind of violence in her life, nor suffer any trauma or post-trauma resulting from her becoming an icon in the fight against racism and hate. Keep the children out if it!

4 October 2015

Bisan's first day in Haifa - from Taboos in Arabic, work-in-progress

Bisan's first day in Haifa:
"Bisan was dropped off at the Haifa university dorms in the late morning hours by her brother Mahmoud, accompanied by her mother and three younger sisters. She held her head high as they passed mostly Jewish students on campus, but kept her voice low. Pride, shame, apprehension, and excitement all intermingled in her heart, making a mess of her heartbeat. Pride because her mother and sisters made her feel loved and this day even more important by their presence. Shame because she didn’t see any other students being escorted by family members; it made her feel smaller. As far as she could see, she and her mother were the only ones in hijab. Apprehension and excitement because she knew this day marked an essential transition for her. From the village to the city, from her small known world to the big unknown city, from the tightly-knit circle of childhood friends to new possibilities and uncertain ground. Her mind was teeming with questions, crowding in there like ants in the belly of an anthill. Two utterly different worlds, separated by a 40-minute drive."
- fragment from "Taboos in Arabic," work-in-progress
(c) khulud khamis, 2015

18 July 2015

On Running, Writing, Smoking

Last night, I put on my Smile-Sweat-Repeat running T-shirt on, my black running leggings, ankle socks, and my Saucony running shoes. I put on “khulud’s summer running 2015” playlist on Soundcloud, and start the Runkeeper application. I got the seed on an idea in my mind to mull over while running. It’s about what I want to write for today in my documentation project, i.e. this very piece. The idea is to write about de-cluttering my physical space as part of the process of making spaces for new writing. (i.e. what happened after my two-week long couch-potatoing, if you’re following up.)

But that piece will have to wait to be written on another day, because my run took a different turn. For me, running and writing have many elements in common. I can sit down at my computer, or with my notebook, with an idea I want to write about, but end up writing something completely different, like just now. Setting out to write a piece on making spaces, ending up writing about running and writing. But there’s a jumble in my mind as I type these words. Because I want to write all about running and what it does to my writing – I want to write it all at one go. At the same time, I don’t want to write all about it in one go. Because running does so many different things to my body, mind, and soul.

But I also want to write about the cacti plants that have been waiting, patiently, for me to plant them. And the fact that yesterday I was supposed to do that, but didn’t feel like it. But then I looked at the cacti and saw that they are ready to be planted, and thought to myself ‘tomorrow is another day.’ Another day on this journey. I try to keep my schedule as free as possible, and tomorrow I have nothing whatsoever that I have to do. So I might as well plant the cacti. Maybe. We’ll see if I feel like it.

And then, while out on my run, I see three potted plants sitting on a low wall behind a garbage bin, clearly discarded. I run past them, already knowing that as soon as I come home I will go back out with Pascal (our dog) and a bag to pick up those dying plants. And that’s exactly what I did. A sign to that the time has come to plant the cacti? Coincidence? The world has its mysterious ways to tell us things.

But back to running. For me, running is meditation. I don’t claim to be a runner, but I run. I smoke almost two packs of cigarettes a day and I run (no, I’m not crazy. Yes, you can run and smoke. They’re not exclusive activities). Part of this journey I am on, as I mentioned in the first piece, is to make spaces for writing. And part of that includes running. Because running, for me, is an essential part of my writing (I’ll come back to this point in later pieces). And if I want to run, I need to quit smoking. My partner, N., says it’s all in the head. He’s right. Two steps are needed to quit smoking, and only two. It’s that simple. And that difficult.

(1) Make a firm decision
(2) Implement the decision

There’s nothing more to it, actually. It’s similar to the decision I made to take an unpaid leave. Make the decision: I made it two and a half years ago. I played around with the idea in my mind for over two years before I implemented it. And so with smoking. I made the decision, but it hasn’t been firm. I’m still playing around with the idea in my mind. But this is how decisions are made. First comes the idea, you play with it, mull over it, digest it. It grows on you, and you begin to imagine how it would be and feel if you actually did it. It continues to grow somewhere inside your body, but most of the time you’re not aware of its growth. Until, one day, its size can no longer be contained by you. It explodes. And that’s the precise moment when you cross over. Once you do, it is released from your body in a gush. And that’s it. You’re committed to it. Now there’s no turning back. So I’m waiting this out. I guess the idea of quitting smoking hasn’t reached yet that critical size, but I know it’s a process, and I’m waiting it out, running it out, writing it out.


Progress with “The Lynch” short story for today: yesterday, I wrote the 4 single-spaced pages (1,500 words), but like I said, not the best writing. Because I can’t wait for the Muse. So I write without it. I’m going now to finish the story, there’s only one scene left, the last one, and then I’ll have a complete first draft. Yes, I already know it’s going to be a crappy draft, but at least I got the story on paper. I have a mass of writing that I can now play with – edit, rewrite, revise, tighten up.

In between, I’m going to plant those cacti and the dying plants I found last night.

Until next time.

17 July 2015

Two: Respect your Art [Spaces of Artful Living]

The feeling of exhilaration was all-encompassing once the decision to take an unpaid leave was made. It was a breath I didn’t know I was holding for so long being released. No more deadlines, no more work-related stress of whether I’ll be able to raise all the funds we need to cover salaries, program activities, and overhead for the year. No more “urgent” requests from donors to fill out this or that document or revise some parts of a proposal or a narrative report. The circle has been broken and I have slipped out.

The first reaction was that of the mind. It immediately freed up millions – no, billions – of thinking cells. Within one week, I wrote some 25 single-spaced pages of the “Taboos in Arabic” manuscript. Which, for me, is a tremendous amount. And all 25 pages were real good writing. I was on a writing spree. And when I wasn’t writing, I was constantly being bombarded with new ideas for writing: complete outlines for short stories were formed in my mind. I wasn’t even making any effort. It just poured into my mind and out on the paper. I was doing all kinds of writing, journaling, writing about writing, writing up outlines for short stories, and making huge progress with Taboos in Arabic. I felt like all the brain cells that were tied up, busy being fully committed to my job, all of a sudden and with no prior notice, finding themselves unemployed, went berserk. They jumped on the creative writing project immediately in full force.

Two weeks later, utterly exhausted, the flow abruptly stopped. Just like that. The brain cells burned out. It’s like with running. If you plan to run a long distance, you can’t sprint into it and then expect to get to the finish line alive. You have to start by warming up, and building up slowly until you reach that speed that will get you through without getting out of breath. But these are not mistakes. No. These are processes that you might (or might not) go through, and learn from them. Take them as they come.

Become aware of the process, and listen to your characters or narrative as a runner must learn to listen to her body. So if you’re on a sprint-writing, keep going. My creativity flow stopped after two weeks. Abruptly and with no prior notice. Just like it burst like a dam, it dried up. It was telling me I should slow down, maybe even take a few steps back – let the creation breathe on its own for a while. Let it settle down like. Step away.

But instead of accepting this as part of the process, I resented it. I was furious with myself. More than that, I was furious with the characters, who refused to budge. Not only that, they even started to protest and resist the path I was leading them down. How dare they! How dare they interrupt my – MY – flow of writing? Who do they think they are? I am the writer, and they are just fictious, made up characters. I can kill them if I want to. I can bury them. Or better yet, I can just press the delete button on my computer. One press of a button, and poof, you’re gone.

But in fact, this is not the case. At one point, that being page 80 for this novel for me, the characters stop obeying. They actually come to life, demanding their right to freedom of choice. I am no longer their puppet-master. And that’s the point where the initial idea of the story all collapses, followed by the caving in of the whole narrative. And I go – within moments of realizing this fact – from intellectual ecstasy all the way down. Sometimes the fall would be to frustration, other times to anger, humility, mourning the loss of the initial idea. It’s a long process that may take up to weeks, ultimately ending with acceptance. For me, this time, the road to acceptance took about a month, and was strewn with some seemingly unconnected incidents which, at the end, when looked at from a wider perspective and from a distance, all make sense and lead to acceptance.

What followed after this initial fall was two weeks of couch-potatoing, literally. I opened the sofa in the living room, and moved my whole life onto it. At first, I thought I’d give myself a couple of days off from writing. And when I don’t write, I read. And I read. Ferociously. I think I went through more than ten books in those two weeks. I had contradictory feelings about it at the time: I’m not wasting my time, as I’m reading, and reading is productive. As a writer, I must read. Reading is just hiding from facing the collapsed manuscript. Running away, finding refuge in other writers’ worlds. So let me just finish this one novel and I’ll get back to work. Ok, maybe one more novel, please? I don’t have to go for a run. I’m on vacation! I should go running tonight. At least keep up my body in shape. Nah, this couch is too comfortable, I deserved this! I’ll go running tomorrow. I’m a good-for-nothing writer. I’m not even a writer, who am I kidding? When a friend calls to ask how I’m doing, I say “I had a great two weeks writing, I’ve got 80 pages written! Now I’m just taking a few days off to read. You know, that’s how it works.” At the end of the first week, I finally gave up struggling and gave in to the couch-potatoing (Word keeps indicating this isn’t a word, underlining it with red, but I insist). I knew it was worthless to keep up this internal struggle, so might as well give in and enjoy it. And I did. At the end of week two, I was exhausted – mentally and physically. My eyes were watering from reading so much, my body felt tired, and my legs ached for a run. So I listened to my body, folded back the sofa, cleaned up the living room, and went for a run. If you think the next day I sat at my computer to deal with the manuscript and the disobeying characters, well, it didn’t happen. It would take another month, as this was a major process. More about this in the next post.


Back to the present: I had a productive day of writing today. It’s a Friday and I woke at 10:00, eager to start my day, with renewed energies for writing, as I feel now committed to this documentation process. I decided that today was a good day to go down to the garden with my laptop. For the first time. I never bring any technological devices to the garden. For me, this garden is a sacred place for meditation, reading, and writing in my notebook. But rules, even those one sets for herself, are meant to be broken. And since I decided last night to move most of my writing from the notebook to typed Word documents, I didn’t really have a choice. Beethoven accompanies me with his music. I’m not much into classical music, but for writing, it’s perfect. This garden has its own story that longs to be written, but you’ll need to be patient, because that’s for another day. Meanwhile, you can enjoy reading the poem I wrote on the spot on my first writing day in this garden, Hidden Garden behind a Row of Haifa City Blocks.

I spent four hours down in this garden today, reading, writing, and meditating. I decided today that no decision was the best course in regards to what to tackle: the “Taboos in Arabic” manuscript, which has grown into a monster of 80 single spaces pages divided into 17 separate files, or the short story, tentatively titled “The Lynch,” or the short story titled “Meanwhile, on the train.” For the past several weeks I’ve changed my mind so often between choosing the novel or the collection of short stories, that I have become disabled. Today I decided it’s not an either-or choice. I settled down in the garden, took a few deep breaths, meditated, and then read for about fifteen minutes before starting up the computer. Put on Beethoven. My finger guided the mouse spontaneously, without much thought, to the file titled “Short Stories.” I opened “The Lynch” file, and wrote. I wasn’t visited by any Muse. I just wrote, knowing that even if the writing isn’t great, I can come back to it at a later stage to edit, tighten up, or delete.

I had written the first three pages of the story back in September 2012 (almost 3 years ago), and filed it in the “short stories in-progress” file. About a month ago, I went back to this story, and wrote two more pages of it. I have the whole story in my mind, had it in my mind since September 2012, all the way up to the end. All I need to do is write it. Sounds simple, yes? Not so in reality. Even with a short story, where you know exactly what’s supposed to happen and how the narrative ends, when you actually sit down and write, sometimes the narrative takes a detour on its own, and you need to submit and follow the lead of the characters. Trust me, they always know, so it’s no use to resist them.

And so I submitted to this detour from the original storyline today, and ended up writing three single-spaced pages (some 1,500 words), and the day isn’t over yet, so I might get some more writing done. I don’t need to reread what I wrote to know it’s not the great writing I aspire to. I know most of it will have to be edited. Tightened up. But that’s ok. That’s good. I have a draft, I made progress, and I have a place from where to pick it up the next time I sit down to write. I’m happy with the writing of the first part of the story, which was written back in 2012, and this is good news. That first part is final and doesn’t need any editing. You’re welcome to read that part, which I posted on my blog a while back. The parts I wrote today are hardly in shape for reading, so you’ll have to be patient to read the rest of the story. This documenting project is proving to be good so far. 1,500 words in a day and still going is a lot of writing for me for one day, and add to it this piece, which is just over 1,800 words.
Until tomorrow.

16 July 2015

One: On unpaid leave [Spaces of Artful Living]

So I’ve been on a sort of unpaid leave from work since the beginning of June. My initial plan was to take six months off work about two and a half years ago, and I almost succeeded. I quit my job, withdrew all my compensation money and some savings. I had finished writing my novel, Haifa Fragments, and was in the process of searching for a publishing house. I had worked for six years as a fundraiser and development coordinator at Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, and felt it was time to move on. Fundraising is a very demanding job, with tight deadlines to meet, and entails quite a lot of stress. I wanted something different. And I wanted time to focus on the publication of my novel and on my writing. I also felt I needed change in my life. But then, as soon as I quit my job, I was approached by another organization with a job offer. I accepted it for several reasons, but I think the main reason was that it was not the right time for me to take a break from life then. I just wasn’t ready.

Now, more than two years later, I have finally done it. The reasons now are completely different, but I feel that now is the right time. Meanwhile, my novel was published by the Australian-based feminism publisher Spinifex Press, with UK rights sold to New Internationalist, as well as translation rights to Italian and Turkish. The novel came out exactly on my 40th birthday, 8 March 2015. A month later, I made the decision. The beginning of 2015 brought with it not only the excitement of finally making my dream come true – becoming a published author, but also some personal crises. I was working a full-time position, taking care of my disabled mother three times a week, and basically leading a crazy schedule. In January and February, two health-related crises of two immediate family members put me completely off my track. (I won’t go into details, for the privacy of these family members). Both were unexpected, and both required from me immense energies. That’s when I finally realized that now was that time to take an unpaid leave. I needed to make space in my life to care for the two family members, to stop and breathe, and also to plunge into my writing on a much more intensive and deeper level.

So here I am, a month and a half later, with practically no income, and a mistress of my time. In May, for preparation, I made a list of things I would do while on this vacation. June came and went, and we are in mid-July, and I can’t remember where the list is, and can’t remember most of the items on it. What I do remember is on that list: finish the first draft of Taboos in Arabic, my second novel, by the end of December. And write one short story a month. And one non-fiction, political commentary a week to post on my blog. Write every single day. Spend at least 3-4 hours writing every day. Re-establish my running routine, start doing yoga. Quit smoking and stop drinking coffee and eat healthy. I was full of energies, ready to embark on this writing journey.

However, things didn’t follow according to my plan. Because when one makes such a drastic change in life, your mind, body, and soul will react. They need the time to process this new reality, and all kinds of processes are set in place. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I have. And quite a lot, but not every day, and not as much as I set out to write.

Today I decided to officially document the process I’m undergoing. What I mean by officially is to take this from a different angle; to see this writing as documentation, to make the documentation itself a writing project. I’ve been writing about what I’m going through on a regular basis in my notebook, the traditional way: pen on paper. This is the first time I’m actually typing up words that would usually go into my journal. And why this change? I’m almost going insane with my notebooks. I’ve got five (yes, five!) different kinds of notebooks for different writings.

- One large, A4 notebook for scenes of manuscript and ideas to develop (I always start first rough drafts on paper, and then type them op from notebook to computer).
- One small, spiral notebook that’s always with me when I leave the house.
- One notebook for “practice writing” (I hate practice writing, will come back to this later).
- One notebook that is my journal (by journal I mean a notebook where I document the processes I go through with my writing).
- At any given time I have at least one more notebook, usually a smaller one, for miscellaneous.

Neat categorization, right? And quite logical. This way, I know which notebook to refer to when I need to retrieve some idea or another. So why am I going insane? Because the mind doesn’t work in such neat categories. At least not mine. I find myself writing in my “practice writing” notebook just to warm up to getting some real writing done, and I find myself mulling over the process of writing, or, if I get lucky, I come up with an idea to develop in my novel. Then the problem arises: should I switch notebooks? It can also happen when I’m writing in my journal, thinking about the progress of the manuscript, trying to figure out why the characters aren’t moving in the direction I want them to. And then an idea strikes me and I find myself writing up possible scenes, or writing notes to myself. In short, this categorization – this artificial division – isn’t working anymore. It’s come to the point where it’s actually blocking my flow of creativity. So I said to myself screw the notebooks for now, and decided to try a different tactic, and type things up. Let’s see how it goes from here.

For now, I don’t know what shape this documentation will take. I have no plans for it beyond writing it through, hopefully on a daily basis, to accompany me through the writing of “Taboos in Arabic,” my second novel, my attempts at short stories, and my attempts at living a different life. I invite you into my journey of writing and living - on unpaid leave - with no guarantees except for uncertainty and processes. 

14 June 2015

Q&A about Haifa Fragments

Haifa Fragments, first published by Spinifex Press, is about to be published in the UK by New Internationalist. Read the Q&A, where I talk about why I write in English, the connections between the themes of the novel and my life, and about my activism in Isha L'Isha - Haifa Feminist Center.

24 May 2015

hidden garden behind a row of Haifa city blocks

this morning
discovering a garden
no - a haven
after ten years in this block
hidden behind a locked gate.
last week,
I received my own key.
a tree, yellow fruit. Lemons?
need to get closer - feel its yellowness.
behind a row of low Haifa city blocks -
a virgin garden
waiting -
to be meditated in
waiting -
to be written.
(c) khulud khamis, May 2015

22 May 2015

Borders of identity and language in Haifa

Borders of identity and language in Haifa are all delineated and defined by the compounded topography of this unique city. So – in theory, one out of every five people walking the streets is Arab (because we do constitute 20% of the population, according to official statistics). The way people perceive you on the street in fact depends on your exact location at that moment. Sometimes all the difference is one street corner. At other times, the transition is more fluid, with no clear boundaries.

When you’re up on the mountain, let’s say Carmel Center, and you say either your name or something in Arabic, there’s always that one person at least (usually a guy) who tilts his head slightly, gives you a conspicuous sideways glance. When you notice him, an awkward moment follows. The air between you is pulled tighter on its string. A few moments later, the string loosens up, but just so, followed by a silent, invisible bonding. It is not clear what the bonding is about – language, skin colour, roots? Such arbitrariness. He is startled to discover you there, in that public space that doesn’t wholly belong to you, but which essentially does. Because this part of Haifa has been long ago marked as the territory of the Jews. Your territory, where you can speak Arabic with abandon, is down there, below. Not up here, not on top of this occupied mountain. Down there, that’s where you officially belong. The encounter ends with a barely detectable nod, or a shadow of a smile – for a flicker of a moment, and then it’s gone.    
(c) khulud khamis, 2015

20 May 2015

village life. Fragment from "Taboos in Arabic" - scene six. Hadeel

The first day of the last year in high-school. Biology class. Bisan can’t keep her eyes off Hadeel. Something fundamentally essential changed about Hadeel over the summer holidays. Hadeel, the strangest girl in school. Hadeel, always with her purple Beats headphones on – Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Queen. Loose jeans, friendship bracelets in all colours on the left arm, black leather bracelets on the right. Red high All Star sneakers – one green, one blue shoelace. Born and raised in the United States of America – the country where one can reinvent herself, the country of the free, the country of Bob Dylan, Walt Whitman, Janis Joplin, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Where even a black man – even a black man! – can become president of the United States of America. Hadeel’s family came back to the village when she was fifteen, after they lost their son – Hadeel’s older brother – to the streets. He was caught at the wrong time in the wrong place – gangsters’ shootout.
Hadeel was an outsider. It’s not like they didn’t want her to enter their circle. She refused to step in. But it was maybe because she knew she’d be spit out even before making the first step towards. Nobody knew what her voice sounded like.
She spent her summers back in the country of the free, at her aunt’s. But this year, she became even weirder. First day of the last year of high-school, and Hadeel shows up minus her long brown hair. Instead, short blue-dyed bangs peep from under a black baseball cap. The dozens bracelets replaced by a single friendship bracelet in dark purple and white. But there was something else about her. Her walk has changed. It was as if she were walking in another dimension. If, until now, she looked with an empty gaze at her classmates, she now saw through them. She was no longer the invisible one. It was the other way around – everyone else became invisible to her.

Bisan’s been finally able to decipher Hadeel’s Facebook. She’d narrowed down the possibilities to two profiles that could belong to Hadeel, but the blue bangs now featured on the profile picture of one of them. They had no mutual friends, and Hadeel’s Facebook was, like Hadeel herself, mysterious.

(c) khulud khamis, 2015 

18 May 2015

Village life. Fragment from "Taboos in Arabic" - in progress. Scene four

Bisan is sixteen. History class. She’s doodling in the corner of her notebook. Her phone vibrates in her back pocket. She takes it out to find a Whatsapp message from Jumana, who’s sitting two rows behind her. ‘I’m so in love with Hamza, but my parents probably won’t let us marry, because he’s going to work in his father’s garage. Not a doctor or an engineer. Heart about to break.’ Bisan looks to her left, at Hamza. He’s lanky, his fingers too long for his hands. Pimpled forehead. Wears socks with sandals. ‘Ugh... Hamza? Yuck!’ She quickly checks her email before sliding her phone back into her pocket. To her right, Dalia is staring – no, glaring – at the teacher, head resting in her palm, a dreamy look on her face. Bisan counts the seconds between each eyelash bat. Thirty one, twenty seven, thirty four. She moves her gaze to Dalia’s arms, slick and bare – freshly waxed. Three new glittering gold bangles on her left wrist, a gift from her fiancé’s mother. Dalia got engaged two weeks earlier to a 28 year old lawyer from a village in the Triangle. They’re building a house; Bisan knows because her Facebook page is full of photos of the building site. Dalia stretches her sandaled legs – ten perfectly manicured rose-coloured toes. Twelve minutes till the end of class. Bisan is aware now of Dalia’s gaze on her. She looks up from the rose-coloured toes and meets her eyes. Dalia smiles. Bisan becomes all of a sudden aware of an unfamiliar tingling in her stomach. She quickly resumes her doodling, and realizes the source of the tingling was Dalia’s body. She throws a quick glance in Dalia’s direction – who’s now busy writing in her notebook – and is horrified to discover that the tingling only intensifies.
(c) khulud khamis, 2015

13 May 2015

Village life. Fragment from "Taboos in Arabic" (in progress)

Bisan flips through some youtube reggae songs, turning the volume up, but it doesn’t drown the loud voices coming from the room next door. ‘We can’t force her, Abu Mahmoud. She wants to make something of her life. Not like me.’ Bisan changes position, rolls on to her side on the mattress, rearranges the pillow under her head, and props up the Samsung tablet on her left hip. Turns the music down now. She wants to hear this. ‘What do you mean not like you? Have I not provided a comfortable life for you? This house, financial security, you have everything. Everyone in the village envies you, Nidal.’ The swish of small feet across the corridor, the door opening, Assia and Sham tumbling in, breathless. Bisan puts her finger on her mouth and smiles. In exaggerated slow-motion, silent giggles, the two sisters dive into Bisan’s body. She gathers their small bodies into hers, inhales their outside scent, plants kisses on their heads. ‘I can’t read or write, Abu Mahmoud! What are you talking about?’ The three sisters breathe silently. Assia and Sham understand that something important is happening. ‘They married me off to you at 16! By 24 I had four children. I don’t want this for Bisan. She doesn’t want this.’ Assia sits behind Bisan and starts braiding her older sister’s hair. ‘When we married Mina and Siwar you never said anything.’ Sham has now taken over the Samsung tablet and is looking at Bisan’s Facebook profile pictures. ‘Bisan is different, can’t you see it? There must be something more to this life other than being a housewife and bearing children.’ Assia wraps the thick snake of a braid at the back of Bisan’s head. ‘And what do you want me to do? Let her go to Haifa on her own? I’ve seen these city women. She’ll become like them. Loose. Modern. We’re not like that, Nidal. A husband will protect her. Provide for her.’ Sham points at a picture of the three of them in the back yard, mouths ‘we are beautiful’ and smiles at Bisan. ‘She wants to study, Abu Mahmoud. Get herself an education. Become somebody, min shan Allah!’ Silence now in the house. The door of their parents’ bedroom opening, someone comes out, door closing. Heavy footsteps down the corridor. Front door opening, banging shut. Moments later, a small figure appears in the girls’ room. Um Mahmoud doesn’t wear a headscarf at home. Her hair, night-black, in a thick braid. She stands in the doorframe, smiles at her girls. But her eyes are tired, sad. ‘We’re going to fight for this, Bisan. My father didn’t name me Nidal for nothing. How long do we have?’ Bisan looks at her mother, this small woman who is carrying so much on her shoulders. Did she also have dreams that were crushed? ‘Registration’s open for two more months, mama.’ Bisan gets up and walks to her mother. ‘I’m so sorry, mama, you have to go through this with him.’ Her mother’s slim body fits into her embrace. ‘Sorry for what, binti? This is your right! I was stupid enough to have others decide for me, but it will not happen to you. I won’t let it.’ Nidal saw too many young girls in her village squish their dreams and submit to the ancient ways. This was a fight for all of them. ‘Yalla, let’s get some cookies, girls.’ She wriggles out of Bisan’s body, and walks down the corridor, head held high. Bisan smiles. She is surprised at the sudden outburst of courage. This woman, her mama, who has always done what was expected of her. The obedient wife, a perfect mother. Devoted to her family is what all neighbours said about Um Mahmoud. But until now, she had nothing important to stand up to.
(c) khulud khamis, 2015

11 May 2015

Fragment from "Taboos in Arabic" in-progress

Fragment from "Taboos in Arabic." In-progress

The whole country is on fire. And not because of the Tammuz heat. Another military attack on Gaza, the world watching, but silently. Bisan is on a train heading to the Jaffa flea market, it’s a hot and humid Friday morning, the train is packed with soldiers. Everywhere she looks, she sees khakis and machine guns. She finds a spot near the doors and leans on the metal. Her camera is slung over her shoulder, turned on, lens cap off, just like Abu Maysara suggested. Always be ready.

The first thirty minutes – Bisan manages to shoot some random photos. At the Binyamina train station, several passengers get off, and Bisan finds a free space on the bottom stairs between the two train floors. She plays back the photos she shot. Boots, sandaled feet. The bottom half of a machine-gun. Two pairs of legs facing each other. The silhouette of one half of a person, leaning against the door. A splash of sunlight caught in motion. Moments of life frozen in a moving train.

The train pulls from the Binyamina station, people rearranging, empty seats fill up, new bodily odours add up to the air-conditioned space. Bisan notices some commotion mid-way down the wagon, gets up, camera waist-high, casually slung over her shoulder. She holds it at an angle directed straight in front of her. Forefinger ready to push the button.

- I’m not moving my bag for you.
- I would like to sit down. I have a ticket, and as I see it, this seat is not taken. Now, can you move your bag so I can sit?
- Hey! Soldier, come over here and check this out.

Bisan sees a soldier coming up to a woman in hijab. She comes closer. One shot. But she knows she didn’t get it right. She needs an angle that would show their faces.

- Can you show me your ID?
- What? You have no right! I am a passenger on this train, just like everybody else. What’s your reason for asking for my ID?
- Listen lady, just show me your ID and open your bag. Then you can sit down.
- Get off the train! You traitor!
- Dirty Arab! Go to Gaza!

Bisan shoots but more people are collecting around the woman and the soldier, it’s just a bunch of bodies. Quickly, she turns on the video function and puts the camera now to her eye. Nobody is paying her attention.

- Leave me alone. You have no right. What, because of my clothes? I’m a citizen like you, and entitled to public transportation without harassment.
- Death to Arabs!
- Ok, that’s enough. Leave her alone.
- Go to Gaza. There’s no place for traitors here. This is our country. There’s nothing for you here.
- I said that’s enough. Come, sit here.

Bisan’s hand is shaking. She makes a quick mental check to make sure she has no identifiers or any markers on her body that would betray her.

(c) khulud khamis, 2015. "Taboos in Arabic"

9 April 2015

Interviewer trying to impose a religion on me

A telephone survey on the theme of Haifa city:

Interviewer: Are you from a Jewish, Muslim, or Christian family?
Me: Atheist
Interviewer: You have to choose from the three categories: Jewish, Muslim, or Christian?
Me: I already answered you. I’m from an atheist family.
Interviewer: But I have to indicate... ok, what’s your ethnic group? (she uses the word eda in Hebrew, which can also connote religious affiliation).
Me: Palestinian.
Interviewer: And the family background? Muslim or Christian?
Me: You can’t force a religion on me. I already answered your question.
Interviewer: But I have to indicate one of the three options. Jewish, Muslim or Christian?
Me: Listen, lady. I already responded to your question several times.
Interviewer: Your family. What background? Muslim or Christian?

At this point I informed her I was not interested in continuing the survey. I totally understand the need for categorization, especially if the survey’s goal is, for example, about mapping the needs of different groups in Haifa. But religious categorization doesn’t add any value. Yes, I would like to see the results of a survey with division according to Jews and Palestinians, as the needs of the Jewish society would be different than those of the Palestinian society in Haifa. But to do the division according to religion doesn’t contribute anything. It is another attempt at dividing the Palestinian society, nothing more than that. A gender categorization, for example, would be much more important, as the needs of women are unique and different than those of men. And with the current categorization they are forgetting that Haifa has more groups than the three offered. Have they forgotten that Haifa has a not so insignificant number of Bahai? What about those belonging to the Druze religion? Would she also try to force a Muslim/Christian choice upon them?

29 March 2015

Haifa Fragments: The Politics of Literary Feminist Writing

Haifa Fragments: The Politics of Literary Feminist Writing Isha L’Isha - Haifa Feminist Center, my feminist home and community, are hosting a book launch of Haifa Fragments on 14 April 2015. We will engage in an an open discussion about Haifa, women breaking barriers and boundaries, love, writing and identity, belonging, and feminism Galia Aviani will facilitate the event, and Lilach Ben David will read from the book. A link to the event on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/1031851226828505/

17 March 2015

why I decided to vote for the Joint List

To vote or not to vote. That is not the question.

The Joint List has at first thrown me into confusion. I’ve always perceived voting as a personal responsibility as a citizen. But for the first time in my life, I had my doubts. I was confused. How can I vote for a list that has Islamists and nationalists and polygamists in it? So I decided I would not vote. But as the days passed, I realized that more than a responsibility, voting is my right. And it is a hard-earned right that women before me struggled for on my behalf. How can I not vote?
I started watching Ayman Odeh speak on TV. I read his statuses. Ayman, the shy kid who was my classmate in elementary school and then in high-school. Slowly, I began changing my mind. 

There is something I can’t quite put my finger on about Ayman. His discourse is at once fresh and nostalgic. He remains calm in every situation. He represents a new kind of leadership. Change. Something new.

I am voting for the Joint List because I’m sick of the old. With all its challenges and problematic aspects, I think it’s time to embrace change and uncertainty, because the old ways surely didn’t get us anywhere. So I am giving a chance, in the hopes that it will lead to change. Sometimes, we have to stride forward, change direction, and embrace uncertainty.

28 January 2015

The process of writing

Every writer has to deal with what we have come to call the "writer's block". I don't call it a writer's block. For me, it is a process. I just read a discussion on Goodreads about writer's block and how writers deal with it. It has some useful tips, and people are sharing their ideas of how they face this challenge. I also joined the discussion, and am sharing here with you some of the ways I found to work out for me when the characters of my novel are stubbornly refusing to move forward. I'll update this post once in a while as I come across new ideas. You're welcome to check out the tips on Goodreads and join the discussion there.

1. I go for a run. It helps me clear my mind, and just when I'm not thinking about my manuscript, the thoughts come on their own. Usually a new perspective is revealed to me.
2. I try to end each writing session in a middle of a scene or in a place where I have an idea where to pick up from the next time. Then, the next time, I can pick it up from there rather than having to face a completely blank page.
3. I pick a good novel and read, notebook and pencil close to me. I get lost in a different world, and forget about my characters. It's similar to when I run. Just when you've completely forgotten about it, the ideas come on their own.
4. I write about my writing process in my journal. I put in writing what I think isn't working and why. Then I try to come up with solutions. Putting my thoughts down on paper helps me sort through them and process the challenges.
5. I don't write chronologically. I can leave a scene that isn't working and go on to write another scene, and come back to the earlier scene at a later stage. I don't believe in linear writing at all. With my first novel, I had the end scene written quite early on. It's more challenging this way, because you have to keep track of the narrative as well as character development, but you can have a lot of fun with it this way.
6. Taking time off from writing gives me a wider perspective. The story needs its own time, and I appreciate the process and time needed. 

- khulud

19 January 2015

untitled - 2015

Three times
She has seen Death in her mother’s eyes.
The first – unexpected.
The other two times – invited.
Three times
She has heard Agony in her father’s voice.
The first time – raw fear.
The other two times – well, it doesn’t get any easier.
And she cannot afford to collapse.
Must be strong – ambulance bill, arrange shifts at hospital bed, talk to doctors, nurses, psychiatrist, social worker. Be nice, smile. Check on father, check on daughter, make sure they’re alright. Go home, sleep, charge phone, back to hospital. Be nice, smile. Must not collapse. Be strong. Be nice, smile.
(c) khulud, 2015