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"