Lola and Rita could make you think of Farha and Marha: always together, the one doesn’t go anywhere without the other. Don’t be fooled: unlike the proverbial pair, Lola and Rita are classic frenemies.
Frenemy: your worst enemy, decked out in her finest BFF attire.
Frenemies are not friends to each other: they only wear this label so they can tell you the worst things and possibly get away with it. Lola and Rita call each other lovely, syrupy nicknames like Hayete and Habibi while assessing the other with sideway glances which could rival with the ones given by some Victorian heroine to Heathcliff-like brooding men. As soon as they clasp eyes on each other, the competition game starts: what is she wearing today? Oh Jesus, she should NOT be wearing this! She’s gained weight? Oh No! the bitch looks like she’s lost some! Drowning in their internal bile and jealousy, snide comments will start fusing right, left and center: you really look pale and sick today, maybe you should start eating something, are you really going to eat that cupcake? Oh I was just asking, you know *meaningful stare at thighs*.
As much as Lola and Rita claim that they are friends, the fact is that they simply don’t seem to be genetically able to act the friend part: each of them keeps talking about herself without as much as pretending to care about what the other one has to say, Lola gets a kick out of bringing Rita down while Rita smiled and nodded and cheered with the rest of their friends when Lola got promoted, except that at the end of the evening she could not take it anymore and simply dropped – oh so innocently- that Lola’s lovely cleavage came as handy in the whole recruitment process, all said with a fake sickly sweet smile stapled upon her face, as if she hadn’t said anything hurtful or undermining.
It seems Lola and Rita simply can’t hack the fact that the other one, and more generally, that people, can be happy and will insist on try and ruin the all round happiness because apparently, well, if they’re insecure and miserable, everyone else has to be, and preferably immediately if not sooner.
The thing is, Lola and Rita are becoming more and more isolated, as most of their friends see them for what they are: a proper nuisance. ‘They’re just so tiring, they say, I’m so tired of having to justify myself all the time that last time I saw them, I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I exploded” were conversations often heard in their group of friends. ‘I am HAPPY! Stop BADGERING me with “Oh, you’ll see, you’ll change your mind and realize that what makes you happy actually sucks’ JUST shut up!” were words that the pair had started to hear more than they cared to mention. ”
Nevermind them, they think, as long as they have each other to bitch about, knife in the back and hurt, someone will be in their competitive race, and that’s all that matters. Lola carries on badmouthing Rita every chance she gets while Rita is currently perfecting her patronizing tone and attitude whenever she speaks to her frenemy.
Sadly for Lola, Rita seems to have lost interest recently, all because of different friends she made, and discovered the delights of proper friendship: no snide comments, honest conversations, sincere celebrations of each others’ successes, rows handled like normal human beings and people moving on from them, growing closer. At first she was keen on replicating the same type of relationship than she had with Lola. Then, when no one was interested, she discovered it was actually easier to be open and honest and caring, Then she shed her previous skin.
Lola had no one to play with anymore, she was like a drowning woman gasping for air, going as far as telling Rita when she got engaged that “she was really happy for her as she’d always put relationships before careers”, making her sound as a dumb half wit flashing guys at uni in order to get a husband.
That jealousy of yours, replied Rita with dignity, you really should get that checked. And with that she was gone, leaving Lola, the center of a void circle, eaten by her own unhappiness, deflated, and more green with jealousy than ever.
Ahem, have you gained weight? Is a question I’ve been hearing more than I care to mention since I’ve been back to Lebanon. Mind you, it’s the kind of question I hear EVERY time I come back to Lebanon, so much so that if it were actually true, if I HAD gained aforementioned weight, I wouldn’t be able to go through doors now. And last time I checked, I was well able to. Talking about weight is at the same time commonplace and taboo. I mean, look at the amount of ink and saliva spent on talking and writing about diets and whatnots, yet people give each other sideways glances to assess weights, gains or losses of it, and think twice before making any comments (that is, if they have an ounce of good manners, which sadly is becoming less of a norm lately).
Usually, when such comments are directed my way, I obsess for two days (I’m an elephant and I’m never, ever getting nowhere near chocolate again. Ever) then I happily bite my manoukche back. But not this year. This year, comments made me wonder about neurosis related to weight, body image hysteria, and the obsession of bodies so slim you’d mistake them for visa cards. You see, the fact is, I have actually lost weight, about 4 kilos of it (clearly people whining about kilos haven’t experience the “let’s organize a wedding with a Lebanese mother” diet) and while I have to admit I was happy with the news (yes, even I fall pray to the feeling of happiness whenever I lose weight, although I know it’s a constructed feeling, not a genuine one, it was given to me by the media and by the Lebanese mentality that a woman has to be slim, something I try to fight, but clearly, haven’t been able to cancel altogether as of yet), I’m being very, VERY, careful not to lose any more of it, because one I do like my curves, two, whenever I lose too much weight my spasmophilia goes haywire and no thank you, it’s bad enough as it is and three, I love food. I do, and I live in Lebanon, land of the delicious food, and Kate Moss can pout and tell me that nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels, I’m thinking, fuck that, clearly the woman has never tasted hot Knefeh in the morning.
The fact that these comments emanated from two über slim girls was not lost on me, and I started wondering if they considered themselves too slim, normal, or fat, and how distorted was their vision of their own body. I don’t think we ever see ourselves as we truly are: I have a friend who’s constantly on a diet, yet she’s one of the most beautiful girl I know and has a fine, healthy figure, while another one shocked me by telling me she was fat. I mean, you could fax the waist of this girl, and here she was, trying to convince me that she was, indeed, overweight.
I know everyone blames the media and people get tired of it, but the media IS to blame, so until they make an active step towards change, we’ll continue bashing them. However, I do think it would be wrong to think of the media as a separate entity hovering over women’s heads, dictating them what to do, what to eat, what to wear. We’re not victims, and difficult as it might be to disentangle ourselves from their messages, it’s an effort that is both worth it and needs to be done in order to reshape the media to a size that fits (yes, pun intended). Media productions are nothing but a reflection of the society they belong to: once society changes the way it thinks, the media, in order to sell, will simply have to follow. Especially if there is a boycott involved: perhaps one day the disappointing sales will prevail over the astronomical amounts paid by brands for advertising, and magazines will review their policies. The economic components and stakes of weight loss are huge: by showcasing unattainable standards of beauty (Perfect super big boobs, tiny waist, never ending legs) the media urges you to buy that cream that’ll make your cellulite go away, which you will do, because that’s the look you’re supposed to have Dahling if you want the perfect job, perfect man, perfect life. Lose 5 kilos and your life will be perfect, perfect, perfect. What no one tells you, however, is that you’ll feel hungry all the time, hence miserable and irritated, and that you’ll spend too much money on useless creams (I’ll say it once and for all: They.Don’t.Work). So let’s summarize: you’ll be grumpy, hungry and broke. Clearly, the recipe for happiness. Not to mention the constant guilt that will accompany each bite you’ll allow yourself to swallow: since when did food stop being enjoyable and NECESSARY TO THE MERE FUNCTIONING of your body to become this evil thing that is to be feared and loathed and agonized over?
In the Middle East, not only the pressure is to have a certain body shape, but cultural imperialism and integrated imperialism by local populations mean that dark skin, frizzy hair and every type of nose that is not tiny, straight and slightly going up are deemed unaesthetic and should be corrected with the help of creams (Fair and Fucking Lovely, I ask you, who wants to be stared at by some creep in a library?), serums and doctors (Come, said unethical doctor, let me make you look like everyone else (that’s if you’re lucky, otherwise you’ll just end up looking like late Michael Jackson)).
The thing with resistance, is that it works. Madrid has cancelled too thin models from its fashion week in 2006 and some magazines and brands have showcased non photoshoped and regular women. These trends, while despised by the cosmetic and fashion industries, are welcomed by the public, and are to be encouraged.
Until the media changes, maybe it’s time to make our own internal revolutions. So here’s the first five points of the manifesto:
- People come in all shapes and sizes: trying to look like someone you’re not is a mere waste of time that could be used for something else. Like living your life, for example.
- Food is necessary. Unless you have a special condition, bread won’t kill you. Not eating will, however.
- You were born with a specific set of genes and bones, and modifying them is like getting Katie Holmes to smile. Go on, try.
- Health is vital. Cosmetic surgery isn’t. Heard about breast implants preventing doctors to detect early tumors, post surgical complications, teeth being removed from your gums because of the vomiting, iron and vitamin and magnesium deficiencies?
- Last but not least: you’re precious. Take care of yourself, eat tasty, healthy food, go for a relaxing massage, do absolutely whatever you feel like, as long as you’re the one feeling like it and not your ugly, guilty, influenced-by-media-and-mentalities (or mother) conscience whispering that you’re dissatisfied with your life because of measurements. Honestly.
Gigi’s short for Ginette, the horrendous name her parents gave her, after her grandmother. Ginette, I ask you, her parents must have really hated her.
No, Gigi, was much better. It suited her long fake acrylic nails (Gigi had a very strict policy about her nails, as she repeatedly told her beautician, her cousin Roro (after Roro’s grandmother, Rindala): the longer, the better, with little studs design and flowers and butterflies to match), her wild hair dyed three and a half different colours, her fake eyebrows and tatooed lips.
Gigi’s an administrative officer in a medium size office and absolutely loves it. Hidden behind her computer, she can huff and puff and moan and complain that she’s too busy for words, overworked, that these people don’t know the extreme chance they have that she’s deigning to work for them.
Gigi’s an expert in looking busy, you see, there are some rules you’d have to follow. First of all, always come early: it’ll impress everyone and you can use this to leave the office even earlier. The fact that you have to get up for your kids anyway and that you take the time in the morning to drink coffee with the natour is completely irrelevant.
Secondly, keep sighing loudly and tapping on your computer while screaming Ya Allah! everytime anyone dares to make your phone ring and bark a grumpy eh? shou fi? as if the poor person on the line had interrupted you while you were negotiating peace in Kashmeer. It’ll put a deep impression on people who will susbequently avoid calling you. Or making eye contact, for that matters.
Thirdly, and that is the most important thing: keep telling people about how busy you are. It’ll make them think twice about giving you any more tasks, because you’re so busy you see, that you absolutely can’t be asked to do anymore things.
Then, when you’re absolutely sure no one will dare to come and ask you to actually work, you can chat on MSN and Skype with your friends and family.
Gigi loves her job, not only because she mastered the three aformentionned rules so well, but also because it is strategically positionned. When she started, they wanted to put her in that sad little corner, with the little intern who seemed so intent on doing well she’d do absolutely anything Gigi asked her to. Gigi almost threw a fit, and explained at great length to the manager that that chair didn’t suit her back problems, that the computer facing the wall would do nothing good to her claustrophobia, that sharing an office would cause germs to spread and did he know she had a particularly weak immune system? Did these people wanted her to die? The manager hence gave her the lovely desk just at the entrance of the office just to make her shut up (and also, because he was a little scared Gigi would actually fall ill just to prove a point)
From her privileged standpoint, Gigi can see the comings and goings of the office: there was this little young woman who seemed far too self assured for her own good, Estez Mostapha who comes to run her errands 20 times a day. There is also her pal Fifi, with whom she has great political conversations: “Now habibi, I’m not saying anything, we’ve always lived in harmony with them (them, referring to the other religious sect she’s currently criticising), mish ta3assob heyda, bas they’re everywhere and they’re not ashamed! Enno, I don’t get gasoline from my car from them, I go to the son of our neighbours, mish ta3assob I promise but they need to learn their place!”. Gigi also enjoys commenting on society’s declining moral standards: “That guy I interviewed! I’m sure he was gay! I mean, can you imagine a tobji working for us?”
Alas! Gigi spoke too loud one time, and came one day to find her desk cleaned, a proper dismissal note stuck slap bang in the middle of her now bare table: From your tobji boss, with love.
Sexual harassment in Lebanon is a reality. The fact is simply enunciated, yet I’ve heard the exasperated “oooohhh you’re exaggerating again!” more than I care to mention.
And yet it’s right there, looking at my breasts on a Gemmayzeh afternoon, going “smallah”, it’s right there, shouting “Shou hal 7elo!” on Hamra Street, it’s right there, staring sleazily at me while I’m walking, two greedy eyes that I still feel on my back as I walk by. It’s right there in the stories my friends tell me of breasts and bums brushed, squeezed, felt, it’s right there, invading our privacies and our bodies and our minds, and it’s intolerable.
The sick thing is that I’ve often heard women stating that at least, they feel beautiful in Lebanon because of the stares and of the comments they get as they walk by, by opposition to their lives in Europe where apparently no men ever looks at them. First of all, let us all inject ourselves with a healthy dose of self confidence: our sense of beauty isn’t and shouldn’t be defined by how a random man looks at us. It’s something that should come from within, an agreement we make between ourselves, between our minds and bodies. Secondly, there is a difference between an admirative glance, that lasts about a quarter of a second and an aggressive, invasive stare or offensive comment about any part of our bodies. While I wouldn’t consider the former harassment, I can’t help but consider the latter for what it is: an violation of my privacy, of my body.
And I simply won’t allow it.
The sicker thing is that I can’t help a feeling of shame when something like that happens: I feel uneasy, uncomfortable, like I shouldn’t be dressed like this, like I’d want to bring my breasts inwards or make my clothes looser or shield my face or SOMETHING. Now don’t get me wrong: I do not feel guilty, for I know, and by this I mean the rational part in me knows, that I haven’t done anything wrong, that rude comments and stares are the product of years of education and patriarchal values that state that a man is allowed to heckle a woman and that the woman should feel grateful for it. The emotional part of me, or the subconscient or whatever is nevertheless penetrated by the same patriarchal values that a woman should walk her head bowed and not look at anyone and not dressed in a certain way, hence the ever slightly present feeling of shame.
And I simply should suppress this feeling, for it’s the rational part of me that’s right: I am a human being, and as such, my privacy and body should be respected. It’s not a privilege that society grants me: it is my right.
And as such, I should reclaim it. So this is why I shall dress the way I want, walk my head high, answer the guy who thinks his comment is clever (although maybe in a language he understands, i.e. not French), and keep on denunciating the harassment cases and talk about it until my voice hoarse, so that mentalities start shifting and see clearly that: Sexual harassment Is. Not.Okay.
And my favourite people at Nasawiya have been tackling the issue for a while now with the adventures of Salwa: for more information, please visit www.qawemeharassment.com
For a brilliant literary illustration: Introductory scene of The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Safak
"Ceci est une histoire vraie et fausse à la fois. C’est Beyrouth qui brûle, mais pour une fois pas de la manière dont vous l’imaginez. Je vous parle de la Beyrouth qui brûle la vie par les deux bouts, qui se brûle les doigts sur les joints qu’elle allume et les désirs qu’elle suscite. Nous sommes aisés ou pauvres,torturés parfois, bouleversés, souvent, paumés, toujours. On nous a laissé un pays à reconstruire en héritage, alors qu’on a déjà pas la moindre idée de ce que l’on va faire de notre peau. Certains se réfugient dans la drogue, d’autres dans le mariage, d’autres encore trouvent en Dieu leur salut, moi je n’ai pour nom que révolution, mettre un grand coup de pied dans tout ce bordel et repartir de zéro. Pour le moment, je fume, et je me console dans les volutes de brouillard poudré de l’aube Beyrouthine."
C’est avec ces mots que le roman d’Amanda commence. C’est avec ces mots qu’elle extirpe un peu de sa peine en la couchant - cliché s’il en est- sur des cahiers Moleskine. Elle aimerait écrire un roman qui parlerait d’autres gens, d’autres vies, mais elle ne sait écrire que sur elle-même et sur des interprétations de sa propre vie, elle ne sait pas s’exprimer autrement qu’à travers le “je”, elle ne parvient pas à créer de toutes pièces des personnages imaginaires, embourbée qu’elle est dans une ville et une vie tellement fausses qu’elle en est venue à ne même plus supporter les écrans protecteurs et les faux-semblants de la fiction. Ce sera donc “je” et rien d’autre, quitte à parler d’elle autant le faire jusqu’au bout. Elle est tombée dans l’écriture comme on tombe amoureuse, en trébuchant par hasard sur quelque chose ou quelqu’un qui vous devient vite aussi nécessaire que l’air que vous respirez.
Lorsque l’air de Beyrouth lui est devenu irrespirable, Amanda a commencé à écrire pour enlever une à une les épines de souffrance qui lui piquaient corps et coeur, chaque lettre lui permettant de déloger petit à petit les aiguilles du souvenir, au prix d’innommables douleurs, certes, mais restons positifs, elle aurait pu, comme tant d’autres, noyer son blues Beyrouthin dans toutes sortes de drogues. A bien y réfléchir, se dit-elle souvent lorsqu’elle se trouve d’humeur contemplative (c’est-à-dire à peu près tout le temps), tous mes amis sont accros à quelque chose. Julie à Yasser, Rabih à la weed, Hakim à Léon Trotsky, Noor au shopping compulsif, et moi, à Ziad Rahbani et à Hakim, mais pas nécessairement dans cet ordre là.
Amanda allume une énième cigarette dans l’encre constellée de sa nuit Libanaise et contemple sa ville, chérie et honnie à parts égales. L’attrait de ces lumières sur son corps se mâtine d’une douce mélancolie, et à cette heure précise, lorsque l’atmosphère devenue calme et languide de matin de Beyrouth l’enveloppe de ses bras sucrés et la berce, elle pourrait rester des heures lovée dans le giron de sa ville qui connaît la souffrance, qui sait ce que c’est d’aimer et de perdre, et elle a le sentiment qu’elle seule peut la comprendre.
Abou Georges is a “Chauffeur Taxi”, and by this, please understand “Client’s Worst Nightmare Extraordinaire”.
You see, people need him and his brotherhood of drivers linked by their ever powerful radio, so they have to put up with whatever he decides.
And if that means making his (rusty old ‘72 Merc) engine roar at 120km/h on the Ashrafieh/Hazmieh autostrade while srcibbling down the phone number of his next patron and zigzaging in between cars, then so be it. And woe betides the fool who would timidly ask him to slow down a little! Ba3d na2ess heyde to come and teach him how to drive in this country! Leyke 3ayne, I’ve been driving for 40 years in this country, if you’re not happy, take the bus! Cue chuckles and mumbles under his chin.
You see, Abou Georges knows full well there are no buses to speak of in Beirut, no one really knows where they go, or how to take them, and the bus stops seem so elusive looking for them is like looking for a warlord money: invisible until it pops up in front of you, as if by magic. Not to mention the fact that very few women risk themselves on the buses, for fear of having their boob or butt felt up. Abou Georges tried once, and still remembers the allmighty slap in the face he got, assorted with copious insults and threats. Not worth it, wou ba3den he felt bad, I mean he does have the whole collection of saints of Lebanon (Mar Charbel. 2dissetna Rafqa. Mar Hardini. Our Lady of Lebanon. Jesus Christ King of Kings) stuck in front of him, as well as the Holy Cross wrapped around his rear-view mirror. I mean, they can’t have them be the witnesses of his weaknesses.
No, no he is safe in the haven of his Markazieh, the taxi central, and please do not mistake him for a vulgar service that roam the streets of Beirut, looking for clients as if they were beggars: he is a proud member of the Alonso Taxi fleet. Service! Pah! Can these people yell Markazieh, Markazieh! Tess3ira! Yalla Chabeb! Who can go from Verdun to Ashrafieh in under 2 mins? Yalla! Tayb Khod el tari2 3aks el serr Kheyye! Well can they? See, didn’t think so. The Markazieh makes all the difference.
Abou Georges likes having clients around, so he can share bits of his life with them, and occasionnally start the odd mashkal. I mean, one does get a tad bored driving up and down Beirut like that. This is why Abou Georges usually plays pro-Lebanese Forces radio shows very loudly in his car, in the hope that a Tayyar-supporting client will jump in, listen to an apology of Hakim Samir Geagea and start a heated conversation with him (also known as fight) until he drops the little traitor in Da7ieh where he belongs now. Sadly, this only rarely happens. So sometimes Abou Georges calls his brother in law to discuss the plans of their joint business together, where it’s question of obscure investments that will leave the client wondering if Abou Georges is not, in fact, some kind of pimp. “There is a lot of money to be made in that business, kheyye”, certainly does nothing to reassure the poor, already horrified, client.
No, Abou Georges definitely loves being a chauffeur taxi in Lebanon: the comradeship with his fellow taxi drivers remind him of the togetherness he felt with his fellow militia men during the war, even though those truly were the Halcyon Days of never being bored. Ah well, one does get old, and if he ever needs the adrenaline rush, he can always play with his life (and with whomever had the bad luck to be with him that day) on the Sanayeh roundabout.
Elle danse et ses pieds marquent la cadence du temps, de la fuite inébranlable d’un temps qui meurtrit.
Elle danse, Carole.
Elle danse pour un peuple que l’on oublie et que l’on égorge, elle tend sa main vers ceux qui tombent et elle s’étire, s’étire pour apporter un semblant de dernière grâce à ceux à qui l’on ferme les yeux.
Elle danse, Carole, elle danse et elle mime l’agonie pour faire comprendre l’horreur, elle danse et ses cheveux s’affolent à mesure qu’elle tourbillonne, à mesure qu’elle se perd dans les méandres de la souffrance.
Elle s’étend de tout son long pour bâtir un pont d’amour entre eux et nous, pour prendre un peu de leur douleur et envoyer de l’espoir, son corps vecteur de tendresse, raide comme la corde de l’arc, elle envoie ses flèches de solidarité aussi loin qu’elle le peut, par delà la barbarie et la honte, la portée de son archée plus grande et plus forte que les divisions factices.
Elle danse, Carole, et ses pas martèlent le sol pour faire écho aux marches de la liberté, ses hanches se meuvent et clament leur arabité, Arabe, tu m’entends, tous Arabes, tues-en un vois-nous tous surgir!
Elle danse, Carole, chaque filaments de nerfs et de coeur noués en une force souple et flexible, elle danse et chaque ondulation de son corps appelle au réveil des consciences, au lever de bouclier contre l’arrogance des tyrans et l’indifférence des hypocrites.
Elle danse, Carole, les hurlements de haine du dehors ne l’atteignent pas. Elle a une mission: danser pour un peuple, utiliser son corps pour en sauver d’autres.
Elle danse, Carole comme d’autres lèvent le poing, et avec un dernier rond de jambe elle quitte la scène, laissant chaque coeur vibrer au rythme du 3oud qui l’accompagne, chaque battement en parfaite harmonie, le concert de la liberté.
Sticky heat, heavy with the smells of frangipani tree flowers, jasmin, gardenia, diesel and something very akin to sulphur.
Hustle and Bustle of a city that knows no rest, of people dancing to political and pop songs with equal mirth, laughing and drinking in a hidden garden, sharing slivers of their lives between two mouthfuls of mezza.
Families living on their cramped balconies, arguing about politics, disagreeing with the TV commentator, with the neighbours, with each other, their voices covering the noises of the streets below, the cries of their children, the laughters of the women.
Crazy suicidal drivers, oblivious of any other car or human being for that matter, wriggling their way to nowhere in particular, making their engines roar just for the sake of it, risking their lives because it’s theirs to play.
Whispers of love and lust, hidden in between the sheets or behind shuttered windows, eternal words murmured one ephemeral night in a beloved one’s ears, lost in the vapours of liquor and sensuality and want, intertwined fingers leading to fleeting moments of happiness.
Twinkling candles of fishermen ashore melting in the myriad of sparkling fireworks, billboards, lights of the city, bringing the stars on their knees before the greatness of a town that never resigns.
Blocks of concrete pushing away remnants of beautiful old houses, Potemkin village masquerading as a City Center, cluster of luxury and high street shops hiding behind the overused term of Souk in a fit of Orientalism, scars of a war that is all but forgotten, divisions of a city that can’t realise that it’s gloriously One for all eternity.
Faded faces of dead leaders, fading faces of still alive ones plastering every inch of every corner of every street, almost looking like the Campbell’s Soup of politics, graffitis amisdt the chaos,
Sometimes, when John-Rabih looks at himself in the mirror, he can’t help but feel a twinge of pride. Such charisma! Such good looks! Such composure, posture, class!
John-Rabih is a “social-entrepreneur” you see, something very akin to a regular entrepreneur, except that a social twist gives it a revolutionary cachet that’s proving to be very trendy and marketable. John-Rabih never leaves his house before making sure he’s wearing his uniform (shabby chic, if you must know): frayed jeans that look old except they’ve cost an absolute bomb, slim fitted shirt and vintage sneakers. Fashionable yet approachable. All in all, quite a good look for a “social entrepreneur”.
John-Rabih has tried to be a little more discreet these days, as some people, no doubt ill-informed, have started talking about his possible affiliations with the CIA and the likes. Him! How dare they! Just because he’s received ALL his funding from USAID, and funding, really, it was merely 2 million USD, nothing to cry about, and then, pfffft, people start whispering behind his D-Squared back. I tell you, Beirut can be so hard sometimes.
No, of course not, John-Rabih isn’t an imperialist of any kind, he just wants to peacefully make a living while developing his beautiful country Lebanon, and that’s that.
Truth is, no one really knows where John-Rabih came from. What he says is that his Dad is American (hence the John) and his mother is Lebanese (hence the Rabih). No one knows him from before the day he decided he wanted to go and live in now trendy Lebanon (I mean, he couldn’t really come in the 90’s now could he? All this mess and this rumble and this stinking post-war stench, what good would have come out of it? Lebanon couldn’t be associated with at that time), and all of a sudden, there he comes, friends with everyone, heading a blossoming social business (whatever that means), acquainted with every grant officer this city has to offer.
While it might have been a tad suspicious, John-Rabih resents the accusations that are being held against him. I mean, what do people make of all these pseudo AUB summer students who cram the rooms of the Middle Eastern politics class, those Jurgen and Françoise and Sven and Chad? Uh? And the ones who suddenly became French or US citizens while doing their PhDs on Hezbollah? And those random foreign people navigating Hamra for months, without any real job or occupation in Lebanon?
What? People know they have ties with their home countries secret services and intelligence too? Really? And they laugh at them too?
John-Rabih should really tell the Agency to update those briefing notes.
Lebanese aren’t stupid after all.
For Abzzyy and Lebanonesia, with gratitude for the laughs
This is how I felt, drawing the lines of my lips a shocking red in Tara’s overflowing bathroom. The things that girl kept, I tell you: sparkling oil that made her legs shimmer in the already bling Beiruti nights, all shades of eyeshadows known to mankind, moisturizers of all shapes and sizes, the whole lot. A splendid collection of potions and ointments designed and used for the sole purpose of Tara’s biggest hobby: the pursuit of (suitable) men. Tara had her own definition of suitable: the ones that would fuck her without getting too attached and clingy and the ones that would make the hair of her mother’s forearms stand in horror; and if she could put the two together, all the better. She was in full rebellion mode against what she considered was our two-faced, hypocritical society, and seemed to consider each name added to her ever expanding list of conquests her very own personal revolutionary victory. She therefore routinely had sex at the back of fleeting men’s cars, in bar restrooms, in chalets by the sea, in Faraya, in emptied apartments, everywhere except in her lovers’ bed, or in her own for that matter, for it was simply unthinkable that she would just wake up and share the family’s breakfast after a night of ravenous carnal feast with the household son.
Her attitude towards sex was in many ways much more open than any of the girls we knew: with Tara, there was no fake blushes, no eyes lowered in a gesture of false modesty, no game playing and obscure manoeuvres aiming at ravishing a man’s heart to convince him we were “the good girls”, aka, the ones you marry. No ornaments required: she only needed to be, and in less than half an hour, she’d have half of the club longing for her, desperately wanting to pierce her aura of flawless self confidence. It’s all in the attitude baby, and she had plenty of that, plus a generous supply of reservoir condoms. “I can have the guy perform all he wants on me, as long as he’s wearing a condom. If he won’t wear it habibti, he can go fuck himself for all I care”. See what I mean? An iron wrought will in a velvet setting, impossible to resist to, and lethal for those who thought they could understand her.
Needless to say, I envied her to no end.
She was honest to her body and to who she was, and that, in our Lebanon, was a luxury, an act of bravery as well as pure foolishness.
Unlike me, the schizophrenic gal who couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be a rare item, one of the braves, a fool, or just a regular young woman torn between what she wanted to do and what people expected her (not) to do.
I grab one of Tara’s “Midnight Blue” sparkling eyeshadow and start applying it furiously, trying to conceal the last remnants of my earlier fight with my dearest mother. In her bedroom, Tara’s probably taking a snooze to help her face her endless night, her delicate purple chiffon dress lovingly spread next to her.
There is something I simply don’t get about Lebanese parents: they want you to get married, but wouldn’t want you to openly date men. My mother didn’t take it too well when I pointed out to her the sheer absurdity of that reasoning, which led to our fight, that more or less went along these lines:
Her: I don’t like you hanging out that much with that Tara friend of yours. She has a bad reputation and is always seen with different guys. You have to look after yourself and make sure your reputation is immaculate if you want to meet and marry a suitable man.
Me: One, I’m 24, you don’t get to decide who I can or can not see, and two, you’re always on about how I should start thinking about marriage. Tara is introducing me to many men, that should please you no? How can I get married if I’m not allowed to go and choose from a wide variety?
Cue apoplectic rage on my mother’s part, exchange of pleasantries along the lines of me being a whore, taking of some clothes and toiletries and slamming of door of paternal house, although my father is so seldom at home I should call it the No Man’s Land of my Mother’s Broken Heart. Talk about whores. My dad’s probably serenading one right now. I guess Tara is right after all: the hypocrisy is every where. Here I was, living in a house whose supposed master was a notorious womanizer, who had his entries in clubs even I didn’t know existed, and I was being given a hard time by my frustrated mother because of my alleged serial dating. And wrongly, to top it all.
For I longed to be a serial dater: I just didn’t have the guts to do it, not in Lebanon anyway. My mother’s sap digging had been fruitful.
Just thinking about it, my eyes start welling up, threatening to ruin my whole make up. So I just add on a bit more foundation, and another layer of blusher for good measure, before starting on my hair.
My poor face seems to be taking the full blow of my rage, a rage I wouldn’t know where to direct to except on myself. I therefore pluck and straighten and pull and cover as if my life depended on it. I know my social life certainly did, and in Lebanon, it’s never quite sure where one stops and the other one begins.
My problem, you see, is that I only ever wanted two strong arms to hold my body. That’s all I want, and I haven’t found it and will never do if I don’t start actively looking for it. For the moment, I am the Maid of Beirut, but can’t help to be on the look out for that pair of arms.
But please let us be clear: this isn’t hopeless romance. I’m just obsessed by an image that seems to be carved in my retina since the day I saw it. It’s a photograph from Rasha Kahil, the third of her Untitled Triptych. It figures a couple, the woman has a beautiful, full, healthy, alive body. I don’t know why my attention was attracted to the whole serie in the first place, but there you go, maybe seeing a normal, vibrant body represented a nice change from the stereotypical lancet-style shapes that I’m used to seeing, bodies so unreal you’d think they’ve been live photoshoped. Anyway, the woman in the picture is wrapping her legs around a man, whom we can’t see, except for his arms and legs. And since the day I saw that picture, I can’t get it out of my head: the way he holds that woman, with elegance and grace and strength and tenderness.
Just like I want to be held, for all eternity.
But as I said, as I’m clipping my too long for words hair, nothing seems to happen, because, although I would love to at least try to find the perfect pair of arms to clasp me around the waist, each time I’m close, I can’t bring myself to go through it.
It’s as if the murmurs of judgement of this city and of this society had woven an invisible web, an unyielding fence that keep electrocuting me each time I try to break free.
I have society’s rules and regulations tattooed in my psyche and programmed in my brain.
And I’m starting to hate myself for it.
Looking at myself in the mirror, finally ready, I hear Tara’s high heels clicking in the apartment, on their way to another night of ecstasy, and can’t help but wonder if we’re both prisoners of our internal judge and prejudices; for what is the difference between too much and not enough? In a city where finding a balance that would be in accordance with what we truly, really want, having fulfilling, safe, satisfying sex seems to be like looking for the Graal: a beautiful mirage.
No wonder we’re friends: looking at one another is like looking in a mirror. Me in reverse, and no amount of make up would change that.
Dara, Are you ready? She finally says, joyfully opening her bathroom door, revealing herself in all her deep purple glory.
I am, yes, thanks for letting me use your space for so long. You look lovely, by the way. Did you know purple was the colour of wisdom and episcopacy?
Oh habibti, don’t kid yourself. It’s also, and first and foremost, the colour of passion and poison.
And with that, Too Much and Not Enough were out on the town again, looking for their Graal.
Her name is May, and as she sat me down opposite her, all smiles, I could leisurely observe her cross neatly tied around her neck, her loose plait, her glasses.
May is from the Philippines, and has been working in Lebanon as a beautician for one year and four months.
Such a precise statement could only mean that she was counting down the days until she came home. I was eager to know more, and sure enough, it was not long before each of us were parting with bits and pieces about our respective lives.
May notices my wedding band and starts giggling: Oooh very nice! Then on to tease her colleague, who just arrived to Lebanon, fresh from the Philippines, and who has six children back home:”Yiiiih Sally, did you see, you need to go home and find another husband and have even more children!”, cue giggles, and me telling to said Sally that one husband was plenty, thank you very much, and that I was sure she’d agree with me.
May speaks about her colleagues, about how long they’ve been in the country, how long more they’ll be staying. Until I decided I wanted to know more about her.
May’s husband died a couple of years ago, and she found herself a single mother living with her son, working as a nail beautician in her homecountry. “Do you know, she said to me, that in the Philippines, a manicure-pedicure is 2 dollars? This is why we come here, this is why we leave home”. May’s son is called Sandrix, he’s now five years old and living with his grandmother. Beaming with pride, May tells me she sends them money every month: “Last time I spoke to them, my son asked me “Mama! Are you going to send money? Can I have some ice cream then?” so I told him “yes my love, yes, too much ice cream even”.
Then he asked her where she was.
When I heard this, I felt a little part of my heart wither and die. Me, who made a big song and dance about not seeing my niece for a couple of months, I was sitting opposite a woman who left behind her own child to make sure he had a future.
May wanted to know everything about my husband, my life, why my mother was not staying with me in Lebanon, all details I happily provided her with. When I said to her I’ll be sitting by the phone waiting for my sister to call, she looked at me and laughed “like me!”. Funny how sparks of understanding can fly between people who come from completely different walks of lives. Different situations, different circumstances, same, universal feelings stemming from the essence of being human. Loss, grief, want and need are undiscriminating weapons.
But don’t go for one second think that May was complaining or miserable. When I told her her parents must be really proud of her, she positively blossomed: “They are. My parents, my brother, my sister, they all said they were so proud of me, especially because I used to be so naughty with all of them! But now I’m very happy, they’re proud of me, and my son is going to school!”
While I couldn’t imagine her ever being naughty to anyone, it made not doubt to me her whole family was proud of her. May will be in Lebanon until 2013, then she’ll go home to her son and family. Until then, I intend to drop by and have a chat with her now and then, so we can have a coffee, and maybe some more laughs.
Note: May did say to me she was really happy working in a nail salon and practicing her trade and not in a house, even though she did not elaborate on why. Domestic workers and migrant workers in Lebanon suffer high levels of discrimination and sometimes, violence, leading the most desperate of them to commit suicide. Working conditions in private houses can be extremely harsh, with employees not allowed days off, getting locked up or beaten up. Migrant workers are not allowed to go into swimming pools at beaches and have to endure the rampant racism and lack of support from the authorities. To know more and get involved, please go to http://www.nasawiya.org/web/category/migrant-rights/
Saying good bye s a bitch. And I should know, I’ve been doing it for the last 20 years. You see, it all started when it became apparent that I were a Lebanese living abroad but regularly going back to Lebanon. That usually pretty much entails a lot of going back and forth, of hellos and good byes, of tears of joys and sadness and let me tell you something, learning heartache at such a young age just can’t be good for your soul. Growing up, things improved a little in the sense that I taught myself not to be In shambles each time I left Beirut ( and that was a good thing, I just couldn’t be looking like a panda twice a year, it was just not on), but I couldn’t prevent little cracks in my heart from happening nonetheless. At that time, I made a promise to myself: I will go and live in Lebanon one day.
Which brings me to now, as this is exactly what I’m doing. The only tiny, teeny, oh, barely apparent itch was that I had kind of overlooked the good bye component of relocating in Cedar Land. I was living the dream! Going back where I belonged! It was fantastic!
Until my niece came along and played with me and chased me yelling PatAAAAA at the top of her lungs, making me realise I wouldn’t be seeing her every week like I do now. Oh. Not to mention my sister looking at me, tear-stricken, as if I were going to live in Zimbabwe in a wild savannah full of lions and cheetahs, never to come back. We’ve always been something very akin to drama queens in the family.
So apparently, here comes the hello good bye ballet again. Now I know this is ridiculous, I know everyone nowadays have their hearts fragmented in all parts of the world, I know I have Skype and email and texting and phone calls. No, really, I know. I’m just a selfish cow, I like all the people I love right there in front of me, where I can see them.
So I’ll say good bye in 2 days, then they’ll come visit in a month or so, then I’ll go and visit them. In the meantime, I’ll build strong ties and bonds in Lebanon, and then will come the time to say good bye to them too.
AAaaaaaaaaaaRrrrrGggghhhhh. Now don’t ask why people’s heart fail sometimes.
I think it just needed to be said. You see, most people would think it’s not normal to be calling the French SAMU for an indigestion, but that’s the kind of thing me and my best friend Ludivine would do in a heart beat.
Now please don’t get me wrong: we really, truly, are lovely girls who’d give you the shirt off our backs and everything. It’s just that when we have a headache, we automatically think we have a brain tumour.
The worst part of it all is the amount of bad faith we can show. Let’s take situation one: I feel queasy, with a strong headache. I go and complain towards a normal person, who will tell me, naturally enough, that it’s probably something I’ve eaten and that it’ll pass. My answer to this perfectly sane and sound piece of advice? One, Cry: and what do you know? Are you a doctor? I don’t think so! Two, carve the worst possible scenario ever: I have meningitis and you just don’t care! Three, huff and puff and go on Google: “meningitis symptoms”, “Doctissimo” “Imayhavecanceranddie.com”.
Then, when it’s all over, when, after calling about 23 different doctors who repeatedly tell me it is NOT meningitis, that I should STOP going on Wikipedia to make my own diagnosis, that it IS something bad I’ve eaten, I’ll go back to the normal person, all smug and happy, and tell he or she: you see? There was absolutely no need to worry like you did. You can be so nervous for nothing sometimes. Which often times seems to spark murderous thoughts in the mind of my interlocutor. Funnily enough, even though the probability of dying at the hands of a friend or parent I’ve driven mad is probably much higher than me getting meningitis, I never worry about that. For those of you who like me are Big Bang Theory Sheldon Cooper worshippers, just picture a gassy Sheldon knocking on Leonard’s door, thinking he might have Ebola when really, he’s just eaten way too many Brussels sprouts. There, picture clear enough?
Us Hypochondriacs just love each other’s company. No, really, we relish it. Why, you ask? Well because we can ask and probe and reassure one another until blue in the face, and no one can tell us to stop and come back to the lovely fields of sanity, because, well, we’re all as bas as each other, like: “Do you feel the same lump I’m feeling here? Here, I’m telling you, you’re not touching properly!” or “I’ve been feeling tired. I might have lymphoma.” or the best of the worst “I’ve bumped my head. I have a brain haemorrhage now”.
The saddest part of it all is that, when we’re having a crisis, we truly, really believe that our fantasies are true and that we’re on our way to eternal sleep. Non hypochondriacs might think we’re just drama queens and kings, which I strongly resent. Hypochondria is like a compulsion, and no matter how many doctors you see or exams you take, you don’t feel reassured more than half a day. Then, you just go back to wanting to live in a hospital in case you might need a CAT scan.
But why are we wired this way, one might ask? Some people argue it’s because of a tough medical family history, some think it’s the fear of dying. Other simply think we’re Molière’s Imaginary Invalid.
I choose to blame the media, who tell us to worry about our health: we’re just over-achieving students.
Charbel. Charbel is a gentleman, no, really, he is and woe betides he who tries and say the contrary. All these nasty rumours, he’d crush them in a second if those were still the blessed times of the war.
Truth be told, Charbel was kind of involved in some militias or another during the Civil War (why do you think you’ve never seen his arms? Too many tatoos that’d make you cringe, that’s why) and he kind of enjoyed it. There was a little smuggling here, a little torturing there, some good old fighting, then everyone would make friends again in one of the many brothels the city hosted in these halcyon days. There he and his fellow militiamen would drink themselves into oblivion, one hand on Sameera’s boobs and the other trying to draft the next attack on some camps or another, drowning in the vapours and hallucinations of the many drugs they had access to. Charbel still thinks of these moment with misty eyes.
Then, just as business was flourishing, these fools had to to go and meet in Taef and ruin it. Ah, nevermind, he still managed to make a good bucketload of money over the course of the war, and thanks to that Amnesty, no one was ever going to ask him anything about all the times he had fun driving his car with one or two guys attached to it. Bliss.
But Charbel had to be cautious about all this and not start showering his money right, left and center. He needed a good cover, so he started opening shops. And restaurants. And shopping malls. Who said anything about money laundering? Ya3ni ma ma3oul, people have to make a living, it’s not a laundering of any kind, nothing’s dirty. Yalla, take that ridiculous amount and go, 7el 3anneh! Yes, Charbel had to bribe (what a strong word! Those were just gifts!) a fair amount of people to get away with it, but he managed, and if the money wasn’t sufficient, he would send over one or two of his best men for a little nightly visit.
Now Charbel is considered a prosperous business man, and loves showing off his external signs of wealth: (armoured, let’s not forget he might still have one or two enemies in the shadows) Hummer that his driver launches at full speed on the autostrade, honking like there’s not tomorrow as if to say “Make Way! VVVVVVIP Coming! Move, You Low Life Mollusc!, trophy wife, overweight children and platinum watch.
But as Charbel enters his 800 square meter residence over Kaslik, he can’t help but feel a little bored. He misses the days of militia camaraderie, the drunked nights, the sense of dangers. So he pours himself some Courvoisier, and dials the number of one of his many mistresses that his wife pretends she doesn’t know about.
With a sigh of pleasure, he’ll kick back and relax, waiting for Sandy to come over and entertain him. Ah, That life ain’t half bad after all.
Not bad, he’ll think, from militia vermin to business tycoon. He wonders who could play him in a movie.
Your hand was shaking a little this morning as you patiently drew the line of your lips. You tried to ignore the quiver of your mouth, the salty water that was ruining your make up, each drop taking bits of the pretence away. Your cursed yourself for being so weak, for being so petty. What’s more, you needed your make-up to stay on, to be the mask you needed to wear at that wedding.
You were happy for her. Really, you were.
It’s you you were sad for.
Composing yourself, you put your dress on, letting the lilac silk caress your body, soft as a feather, the garment shaping your shadow, fitting you like a glove. Not too bad, you will think, if I didn’t know better, I’d even let myself think a nice figure would still matter.
The nice figure, as the beautiful face, were of no use to you. No sharp cheekbones, full lips or hazel eyes made any difference: you still made all the wrong choices at all the wrong times, oblivious of your instinct, deaf to the warnings, blind to the dazzling truth. Hoodwinked, that’s what you were, and now that you’ve awoken to the hard cold reality, you seriously wonder if he didn’t bewitch you, if he didn’t use some of his many voodoo skills to make you lose all senses and throw yourself into something you knew deep down will only cause you harm.
You now put on your earrings, the salty tears have stopped, you’ve managed to recompose yourself, and you realise, that’s what people expect of you. Demure, classy, soft and tender, the ever present and understanding best friend, the doting aunt, the good daughter, the flawless sister. How odd, that no one ever seems to think that there might be the real you, buried somewhere deep under the layers of roles you force yourself to play.
Looking at yourself in that mirror, you wonder how come life always gave you the supporting roles, and never the leading ones.
I should have whined more, you think, I should have screamed more, demand more, cursed more. Lived more. Is there still time to do that?
No time to think any longer, you silently wrap your stole around your delicate shoulders, spritzing yourself with a perfume a fierce actress once made legendary, considering that It wouldn’t be too bad if you made the legend happen for yourself, for once.
Is there still time to do that?
The bride is now happily walking down the aisle, blooming and a little scared, going towards a future she has no guarantee would be brighter than yours. But she decided to take a shot, and to hell if the dream would turn into a nightmare, if perfection would not meet her. She was living.
Is there still time to do that?
And maybe it was the ecstatic mood, maybe the radiant bride cast towars you a bit of her magic, but it had been a long time since you thought: well, you bet there is.
Teta doesn’t really like that nickname, it reminds her of her own teta, an old lady, a lovely one, granted, but one who loved fitting into the teta cliche, with her cross around her neck and her labneh making and her kebeh labanieh and her sheesh barak, and her permanent black attire. She loved her, but she hated the teta concept: as soon as you become a grand mother you all of a sudden seem to have to make jars of jam and mouneh and be exclusively devoted to you children and grandchildren. Teta has always been an active woman who fought at great lengths to keep her job and her family, both of which she loved dearly and struggled dearly with, and all of a sudden, because she became a grandmother, she was supposed to act as if all those years never happened and start behaving as if nothing mattered more than the perfect baking of her home made bread.
It seems even her daughter frowns at her when she says she can’t look after her child, as if Teta’s sole purpose in life now was to be full time super nanny, because of course, what else should she be doing? She’s old! Teta mutters to herself, seated on her lovely balcony full of fresh flowers, and looks down at her wrinkled hands: when does it ever stop? I got judged when I was young for having my own mind and saying loud and clear what was on it, I got judged when I grew older for loving my ridiculously badly paid job instead of staying at home with my kids and now that I’m old, I’m getting judged for not acting the part. Teta doesn’t look the part: she loved her husband more than anything else in this world, but would never dress only in black ad vitam eternam, the az3ar would never stop laughing from above. She’s not been to a surgeon to keep her features from testifying her age and chose to grow old gracefully. She’s neither the self effacing older woman nor the grandmother who’d rather die than say she actually has four grandchildren. The other grandmother doesn’t help, either. This one, she’s like the walking cliche on the Teta with a capital T: ya 3omri, to2borneh teta ana, let me make you some impossibly complicated dish in my quaint old kitchen with special mouneh that I brought from the mountains! Yi 3aleynah heyde, she makes me feel so bad. Gloomily, Teta sips her delicious orange blossom flowers coffee, thinking of the so-strong-it-aches love she holds for her family, how crazy she’d go is something happened to them, how unfair society has always been, asking her to define herself only in relations to them, to choose, all the time, all these choices. Her own mother told her all these years ago it was every s woman’s lot, that suffering was something that came with the female condition. Teta never believed it and now she’s punishing herself, feeling bad when she should not. Today, Teta’s available to mind her grandchildren, and, while she starts tidying up her place, she immerses herself in her life, in her role. If a mother is a role model, then a grandmother should be an even bigger one. Role model. I like that. I like that my granddaughter will retain a sense of self until the day she dies, I can teach her that. I might not make sheesh barak, but I will develop her curiosity, read with her and always tell her to hold her ground, no matter the circumstances.
Now humming gaily, Teta puts the hot chocolate cup down and prepares the sahlab ice cream. The little devil will come home hungry from school, and she needs her energy for the women’s cooperative Teta’s taking her to today.
I’m OVER excited to introduce the Revolutionary Series on the Lebanese online newspaper iloubnan.info!!! Illustrator and designer Maya Zankoul is providing the illustrations, and they’re simply fabulous.
Meet us every friday for your weekly advice on how to live with a revolutionary without losing your head!
On the Dangers of Being a Writer in the Age of Technology
Writing comes more easily if you have something to say. ~Sholem Asch
Sits in front of computer, with notes and thoughts on progression of new novel.
Checks e-mail inboy n°1. Ooooohhh Goody! My ASOS parcel has been despatched! Now what about my Boohoo one? What? I have 25% off the new collection?
No. I shall be strong. Write.
5 notifications from Facebook. I have to check them, haven’t I? Not replying would be so rude. OOOOhhh Dina has tagged me! And Nadine has posted on Nasawiya!
Just lost 20 minutes writing utterly important comments on Facebook. This is just basic human decency.
Check e-mail inboy n°2. Maya has written to me! So what’s cooking Mayoush? Oh new illustration! I have to open it, save it, admire it, reply to Maya. After all, she’s gone through all the trouble of actually doing the illustration, and, as said before, I’m a decent person aren’t I?
Dina on GTalk!
Problem solving session with Dina, Best Friend. Couldn’t have possibly left her with her dilemna of glittery phone case VS vintage one. That would be absolutely against our very rigid and strong Friendship Code, and what’s more important, a novel or a friend? My point exactly.
I’m hungry, I wonder what’s for lunch…Oh what could I make for dinner tonight?
Marmiton.org, 750g.com and PtitChef really have the best recipes. I shall pick one, draft the grocery list, and then REALLY get into that novel. That Noha character really is lacking something. And I still need to deepen a bit Shirine’s past.
Grocery list done! NOW to business.
That really was a lovely lunch. My colleagues are so funny.And that salad!
Need to recheck emails. People should have replied to my Facebook posts by now. Oh I’ve been mentioned on Twitter!
Two replies. Right, to Business.
Those dresses really are lovely. And I do have 25% off them. Couldn’t hurt to have a closer look.
15:00 (Minus 60 Euros)
"Shirine était particulièrement songeuse…
What’s the word I’m looking for in French? Let’s go on wordreference.com for 2 seconds
Deeply entrenched in “10 Ways You’re Screwing Your Relationship”. Damn, I had no idea I was doing all that. In any case, these things are only designed to make 1) women buy more crappy books on the same subjects and 2) make us feel bad about ourselves
Browsing on Amazon.com. That reference to book reminded me, I want that book from Simone de Beauvoir, ohh look at that, they’re suggestion books I might like.
Well this one, and this one and this one.
Right, to business
" Shirine était particulièrement songeuse ce jour-là".
Oh my Phone!
By the lake, with friends, eating ice cream.
After all, all this computer can’t be good for me. And I’ve written like… one sentence.
- The short movie I wrote the short story-turned-script for! I’m incredibly lucky to have been working on this with amazing photographer Lara Zankoul, https://www.facebook.com/larazankoulphotography, who is our art director on this project, and director Naim Clement Jeanbart.
- My upcoming novel, many sneak peeks of you can find on this blog and on the FB page
- The Revolutionary Series, which will be featured very soon on the Lebanese website www.iloubnan.info with a very very special surprise for readers,
and much, much more! Hope to see you on Facebook, and why not, in Lebanon soon!
How to Live With a Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head (Or Committing His)
Chapter 11: On Ideology (Coming back to Bite The Rev in The Ass)
Essentialism, Definition: Essentialism is a generalization stating that certain properties possessed by a group (e.g. people, things, ideas) are universal, and not dependent on context. Needless to say, Comrade Said and the Revolutionary do not approve.
For those of you who follow the hectic life of the Revolutionary, you already know that it’s difficult keeping up with him. The risks of being contaminated are limitless, and soon enough, you will find yourself talking about essentialism, quoting Comrade Said and Comrade Trotsky right, left and center.
However, beware: this isn’t because you’ve actually cracked under the pressure and gave in and started reading the Bible (last time I explain: by Bible, we here mean the Permanent Revolution by Comrade Trotsky and NOT the religious book). This is merely because the Revolutionary repeats the same concepts and arguments so many times that your poor brain has now integrated them effortlessly, and you now dub anything essentialist, reactionary and/or counter-revolutionary 1) just to shut him up and 2) because now, you can.
The Revolutionary isn’t exactly happy about that.
While his mission is indeed to spread the Gospel of the Revolution (No! Not in a religious way! We are not proselytes! What we’re trying to do here is simply awakening and mobilising the masses!), the Revolutionary would like to see dedicated revolutionaries-to-be using these concepts and gathering people, not his entourage recuperating the much beloved revolutionary discourse to have a good laugh.
No no no, this is absolutely NOT going according to plan! This is simply too much to bear for the revolutionary: on the one hand he has his banker friends using the word “struggle” to explain everything and anything, and on the other hand he’s finding his (working in a bank, Great Apostle of Capitalism) sibling explaining his own version of essentialism. As in:
- Revolutionary: Banks are all looking for their own profits while not giving a damn about people! You can’t talk about ethics in the global financial system! The whole system is corrupt and needs change and reform! See where Money Men like you are driving us!
- Capitalist, remaining calm: Are you generalising on bankers? You can’t do that. This is essentialism.
To which the Revolutionary will choke and suffocate on: is the struggle against essentialism being recuperated and used against the noble quest of equality? But, but this is evil! Damn those reactionary counter-revoltuionary forces! They’ve already recycled the Che for mercantile purposes and now that! Such Utter Disgrace!
Once more, the Rev will find himself struggling.
And it’s not like his hardships and hurdles stop there.
Keen to prove he’s a revolutionary each and every steps of the way, there is no worse insult for the Rev than to imply he might not be. As a feminist, you might point out some patriarchal attitudes that remain in the Rev’s behaviour (after all, he IS a man, and society hasn’t left him out of its share of masculine privilege), to which he’ll object, all indignant: I’m a feminist! I’m a revolutionary! I support all oppressed people in the world! Men, Women, Animal! Gender is a social construct! What else can I say?
You might think that’s nice, but try and endure a whole movie in which the main actress fights against patriarchy with the Rev whispering next to you: See, I’m not like that, I’m there for you, I encourage you, I support you huh? huh? huh?
You however feel for the Revolutionary (well, most of the times): Can you imagine the stress and pressure he’s continuously under?
Meet Kristel. Yes, with a K, one L. The traditional french spelling is so common ya3ni, there’s not point in sticking to it.
And if there is something our Kristel isn’t, it’s common.
Kristel lives in Ashrafieh (where else?), but not in the little zawarib, no no, those are just too ghastly cha3bi for words, no, Kristel lives next to sa7et sassine, in front of the Byblos Bank SkyScrapper, where she can closely keep an eye on how those mhebil take care of papi’s money ( that she likes to think of as her own, but May God keep papi in good health for long years.)
Kristel is a proud Christian Maronite even though she nevers attends Church and seldom prays (one still has to send a little prayer to above to maximise one’s chances of getting a proper husband), but hey, this is Lebanon, where you’re no one and nothing if you don’t claim to who will listen which religious sect you belong to. I mean, God forbid, someone might actually mistake her for an Orthodox wou yiiiiiih 3aleyeh, it would be a proper catastrophe.
Kristel sometimes thinks these strict religious barriers are a shame, especially when it comes to that nice, good looking, sweet Sunni fella who attends university with her and who asked her out. Nice as he may, Kristel could not believe her ears and started laughing uncontrollably to his face. I mean, was he kidding? Did he not know she would NEVER EVER start something with him? I mean, to start with, she told him, I wouldn’t even know where you live, habibi, you live in Verdun! Verdun, she said, that’s like, the Other Side of Beirut. Kristel never goes there and has no intention of starting, what would be the point? It was enough of a cultural shock starting university at LAU, with suddenly meeting all these muslim Lebanese who fasted during Ramadan and things. Kristel’s highschool had barely no muslim student, so really, she had no idea. No, and besides, she could never date that guy, Mami and Papi would never approve, and there and then would go the superb wedding Papi said he would pay for with the 1200 guests, fireworks, Zuhair Mrad wedding gown with those lovely Swaroski sparkles and hairdo from Simon. The girls would absolutely DIE from envy, and Kristel has no intention of renouncing all of this, even though Sharif really is kind of cute and clever.
When Kristel says she “attends” university, it is to be understood that she goes, yes, all decked out in her finest clothes from Aishti, her gleaming Merc shining in the Beiruti sun, thanks to Gamal the Egyptian from the nearby gas station, but that there is not much studying involved. When she graduated from highschool, papi asked her what she wanted to do. What Kristel really wanted to do was lie on a beach and party hard all day every day (and night) but she figured that might not get her a husband, men you meet in clubs are soooo superficial. So she enrolled into graphic design at LAU, you know, to reveal her artistic side, hoping that would be an easy major. She got really surprised when a good majority of students (even girls, can you imagine!), were talented, hard working and creative people, actually looking forward to getting a degree.
So Krikoo (her super cute surname) kind of stopped going to class, and hangs out in the Cafeteria with her best friend Karla, where, nicely hidden behind their pairs of Marc Jacobs shades, they criticize everything and everyone, with a specific emphasis on the young women running to their class.
- Would you only look at this one? Wearing glasses, no proper hairdo or brushing, reading like some kind of nerd?
- And this one! Such a fat ass!
- D’you know? Mami always tells me the guy who would get me will be super lucky, ya3ni 3anjad i understand what she means, we’re the onyl girls here who take care of ourselves properly.
- We’re a dying breed, Kristel will say, replying to the BBM of the late thirties balding man currently living in the UAE whom she thinks will propose next time he comes to Lebanon. Yup, a dying breed,
Thanks be to God, will mutter Lara, the waitress/student at the cafe. Thanks be to God.
I’m proud of you. No, really, I am. And I don’t want to be that guy, you know, that guy who gets a twist, very much resembling jealousy, in his heart each time your success shines in front of me.
How many of us women have already heard these excuses, this praise we feel deep down is not a hundred per cent meant, this support that is given because this is the politically correct thing to do? How many times have our triumphs been spoiled and downgraded by this feeling, yeah you know the one I mean, let’s not be afraid and say it shall we, this feeling of guilt that we feel each time something good happens to us professionnally?
The number of women who actually feel guilty because of their success baffles me, and don’t go thinking now this was in the past, that it doesn’t happen to young women and men nowadays. It still does, and you will find many examples around you of women who tiptoe around their partners because they earn more than they do, because they’re more successful, or popular or what.
Go around your closest friends, and ask them, you’d be surprised by the results. Many men still think that it’s their social role to be the providers for their homes and family, and therefore find it just plain abnormal that their girlfriend/wife/partner earns more. Besides, it’s not just a question of money: having an intellectually challenging job is still regarded as the men’s right. Oh the woman can work all right, you know, she can have an admin job and be underenmployed, let’s have the men get the interesting substantial positions. However, when the man is bored at work while the woman is thriving, women often have to bear the brunt of a grumpy partner, who will say all the right things, with all the wrong tones of voice and attitude.
From my (limited, I must admit) experience and the conversations I had with many women, the man adopts different kinds of attitudes when it comes to his partner being more successful than he is, the most widespread being Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde. In public, he’s ecstatic about you and your success and will tell everyone how proud he is of you. That’s because he is, but also because this attitude makes him look good as a man of the world who’s modern and open minded and who doesn’t mind being overtaken by you. In private though, he will (subconsciously, he’s not a sadist) make you pay for every extra penny you earn more. The classic means are: turning into Grumpy Man the Great, being moody for no reason and taking it out on you, not helping more at home even though your accrued responsibilities call for an increased support, refusing gifts you want to give him because he can’t stand deep down your glorious economic independence and relative wealth, in a word he’ll say he’s proud but that’ll be about it.
All of which, for some reason, will drive you to minimize your success and make you walk on eggshells whenever anyone speaks up about how fabulous you are and how right your employers were to recognize all your hardwork. You figure, it’s either that, or bearing the brunt of having to deal with Stony Faced SweetHeart at home, and frankly, you just don’t have the energy (not with that new job you don’t).
Of course, society values a couple where the man earns more than his partner, everyone joyfully accepts this model and you’ve never seen a man feeling guilty or like an impostor because he’s the breadwinner of his family. Much to the same in that configuration, you’ve never seen a woman making the man pay for his success: on the contrary, she’ll be there for him, thinking Oh poor thing, he works so hard, I shall make him dinner so he doesn’t have to lift a finger when he’s home, I’m so proud of him (and truly mean it and act on it)blah blah blah.
So what’s wrong with this picture? The whole situation of course stems from how men are raised and the concept of masculinity in the world we live in. Perhaps if men were less defined by what they do and more by who they truly are, and if their parents told them from their childhood that women who work are to be equally praised as Stay at Home mothers, and their successes celebrated, there would be less Mr. Hydes in this world. Great, so let’s raise our children this way. However, in the meantime (that is, until we actually have children), it is the woman’s job to shed the guilt, put her foot down and just say:
"Listen my friend, I have worked my ass off, my work has FINALLY paid off, I earned every single little bit of that salary/praise/promotion, and if you have a problem with it, this is, well, YOUR problem. Deal with it, and if you can’t, well, find a way. I refuse to be punished for something I earned"
And gentlemen, be man enough to embrace your partners’ careers, give it a chance, you’ll see improvements in your lifestyles, improvements in your relationship, and you’ll see, improvements in your self esteem. It’s nice, to be your partner’s hero.
Reading past posts, especially as this blog is slowly turning one (or has already turned, I can’t keep track of time), I’ve come to realise I’ve written about Aleppo, Damascus, Cairo and of course my glorious Beirut, but have never even mentionned the city I live and work in, Geneva.
It feels only fair, now that the time of leaving the City of Calvin is drawing nearer, to make amends, and apologise to a city that has sheltered my (to date) most beautiful years, before I board that plane which will take me to new adventures in Beirut for the next year.
Some people love to bitch about Geneva: it is small, boring, the night life is absent, blah blah blah. It’s tiring, really, the way they’d tell you New York and London are ten times more exciting, and that they’re only here for the job and the money and will leave as soon as that investement banking job in Wall Street will happen (which, in the current climate, might never happen, but let’s not be cruel to the wanna be Batemans).
People, reality check: London and New York are roughly made of 8 million people each, while, Geneva, er, welcomes about 200 000 inhabitants.
Ahem, so small difference in sizes, so really, I wouldn’t compare.
The reason why people do fall into the trap of comparing Geneva to the big megalopolis of this world is because Geneva is a World City, to use a french expression “elle a tout d’une grande”. With its international organisations and banks, it attracts people from all over the world, making its population very diverse, creating a cultural melting pot, making you feel at home even if you’re so far away from it. It’s difficult to feel alien in Geneva, and it’s probably the reason why I like it so much. Talking to people, you’ll start being very surprised if somebody tells you they’re actually from Geneva. To the point where you’ll make, yes make, the people repeat their origins, and once the clearance received, you’ll be free to award them the “1st person truly from Geneva I ever met”.
I’m not going to bore you to death with touristy type of descriptions, you’ll just have to come and visit it, to take in a very particular atmosphere of openess, the serene presence of the lake, the discreet politeness of its people, the vivid cultural life. I may never feel the crazy love relationship I have with Beirut for Geneva, but I know that when my city of Sun will burn me, I’ll find a safe haven in my Protestant Rome, in its glorious parks, flawless order and broad tolerance. And that, my friends, is simply priceless.
Now, I’m not going to leave you high and dry without any tips or places to go in Geneva, so let me share with you the places I heart the most (which are most likely to be clothes and shoe shops, and yes, places for brunch):
Mamzelle Popeline www.mamzellepopeline.blogspot.com THE vintage shop in Old Carouge (in itself a fantastic neighbourhood with many local designer shops). Beware, Addictive. Where you might find me buried under a pile of 40’s shoes and fifities dresses.
Famous Ape http://famousape.net/ First Concept Store in Geneva, don’t hesitate to ask for Julien to tell you if that dress suits you or not. He has a passion for Maria Callas and will just KNOW how to make you look a million dollars if you feel so inclined
Brunches and Breakfasts Cottage Cafe Have a BircherMuesli under the trees, breathe and relax, all things are homemade and delicious http://www.cottagecafe.ch/ O Calme (Comme A La Maison) http://www.ocalme.com/ for the home made pancakes and delicious coffee, under the trees as well, very quiet and lovely The laughing teapot For the Scones and Clotted Cream! (yes, in Geneva, aren’t we entitled to miss London sometimes?) http://www.glocals.com/guides/biz/La-Theiere-qui-rit-(The-laughing-teapot)/ Le Figuier My Special Place in Geneva: Salam is the sweetest Lady in the world, and cooks heavenly. The place is tiny, located right under a huge fig tree, and Salam makes the most beautiful dishes with the fruits. I usually just go there, don’t look at the menu and ask her to make Muhammara, fig rolls, labneh and her divine Msakhan for me http://www.le-figuier.ch/ If she’s not spoiling her clients, you’ll find her smoking and welcoming people at the entrance of the restaurant, in deep conversation with the Arab Bookshop Owner ;-)
Madame est une dame respectable, Elle, pas comme ces jeunes filles modernes et devergondées, qui parlent de leurs droits comme si tout leur était dû.
Madame aime marmonner, elle bougonne dans son double menton de femme repue à longueur de journée: C’est Tout de meme un monde, qu’elle marmonne, c’est tout de même choquant, oui, choquant, elles n’ont qu’à prendre ce qu’on voudra bien leur donner, ces petites pimbêches.
Madame est une sett de bonne famille, les jeunes se doivent de l’appeler tante, de la regarder avec déférence, de l’honorer d’égards qui sont dus, oui dus, parfaitement, aux dames de son rang et de sa classe. Ces choses-là se perdent malheusement, même les enfants de sa soeur ont cessé de l’appeler tante et se contentent de son prénom, voir d’un dédaigneux auntie, assené à la vite. Dieu, que Madame abhorre les américains et leur culture. Et maintenant, voilà que celle-ci s’invite dans son foyer! Madame ne le permettrait pas, mais sa soeur a toujours été trop libérée et libérale pour inculquer une once de véritable savoir-vivre à sa progéniture.
Madame passe ses journées assise là à sa fenêtre, régnant sur son monde comme un tyran sur son pays, aboyant des ordres qu’elle souligne de gestes dédaigneux de sa main constellée de pierres précieuses plus ou moins honnêtement acquises par son défunt mari - que Dieu ait son âme- en Afrique. Elle ne sait plus où exactement, vous savez, l’Afrique, c’est du pareil au même non?
Madame n’est pas raciste, oh non! Bien sûr que non, qu’allez-vous chercher là? Mais il faut bien reconnaître que les gens de couleurs, n’est-ce pas, ne sont pas comme nous. Prenez par exemple ces filles qui travaillent chez moi, elles sont idiotes ya haram, il faut leur expliquer les choses 20 fois. Sans nous, elles seraient dans une misère noire, et voilà que celles-là aussi se mêlent de demander des droits par-ci et des jours de congés par là! Mais tout le monde veut des droits ma parole! Ba3d Na2ess!
Madame n’aime pas les droits, et encore moins quand ceux-ci sont donnés aux classes inférieures qui risqueraient de menacer son précieux ordre établi. Madame aime les devoirs, ça oui, et l’Ordre, surtout l’Ordre. Si tout le monde remplissaient ses devoirs et ne s’occupaient pas de demander des droits le monde serait bien plus vivable. C’est donc pour celà que Madame remplit son devoir de femme riche à ne plus savoir que faire de ses millions, et tend donc une main (diamantée) aux pauvres masses. Mais attention hein, pas n’importe lesquelles: les masses méritantes, pas ces dépravés révolutionnaires qui se sont trouvées un leader et clament à qui veut l’entendre que leur ère est venue. Quelle calamité!
Madame se targue donc de faire de la charité et préside une union religieuse feminine à la tête de laquelle elle est parvenue à rester des décennies entières à coup d’intimidation et de soudoiement des autres membres. Bien entendu, Madame n’a aucune idée des programmes que son union met en place, et entre nous soit dit, s’en fiche éperdument, l’important étant d’être présidente et de se trouver à la tête des grands déjeuners du Country Club.
Assise à sa fenêtre, sirotant une limonade que Melat, son Ethiopienne (comme elle aime ce possessif! Comme si c’était sa chose!) lui a préparé, Madame contemple ce monde qu’elle ne comprend plus, voit ces gens manifester et les toise du haut du piédestal qu’elle s’est créé pour elle-même. Elle ne se commettra certainement pas avec ces manants, et appelle son amie Hoda pour tenter d’arranger le mariage de sa nièce, une fieffée dévergondée, avec le fils de son amie.
Dans son salon, le calme est revenu, dérangé seulement par le murmure des conciliabules matrimoniales.
Dans la cuisine, Melat crache, comme tous les soirs, dans la nourriture de Madame.
How to Live With A Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head (or P-Diddying His)
Chapter #10: On the Revolutionary’s murky past
The revolutionary would love to believe that he was born with a copy of Das Kapital in the right hand and a copy of the Bible (aka the Permanent Revolution) in the left (what else?) one. Given the present situation of the revolutionary, as in, him living and breathing and talking the Revolution, you would tend to believe it too.
You just could not be more wrong. Being the thorough writer that I am (another myth, perhaps?), I did my very own little research and found out that some God-awful, truly counterrevolutionary actions lie in the realms of the revolutionary murky past. But I’m no one to kiss and tell now am I? Ooooooh right okay, then maybe I am. If he asks, you did not get this from me. I’d probably quite literally never ever hear the end of it. “How could you?!!!! I mean, this has ruined my Rev Cred for life! And by the way, you’re just misinformed, this did not happen this way, nothing is black and white and you can explain my actions through the power struggles over the means of production blah blah blah”.
Brother, you won’t ideologise yourself out of that one.
The revolutionary hasn’t always been a real one. Not if you count working for a bank as an utmost counter revolutionary act anyway. Now the revolutionary will most likely tell you he worked - oh ever so briefly- in a bank to study the evil capitalist system up close. See, to counter the awful oppressive system, you need to know it inside out, he’ll argue. Elaborate your strategy based on a thorough study of your enemy and all that. That what he’ll tell you anyway. Clearly explained as it may, you still have some strong doubts regarding the credibility of these assertions. You’re much more leaning towards a much simpler, much straightforward interpretation: He did it (Oh Forgive him, Comrade Trotsky, for he knew not what he did) for the money and the women. Which he’ll deny, naturally. Don’t be fooled, you’ll have the pictures to prove it anyway.
Wanna be banker is not the only suspicious label that revolutionary sported. Once upon a time, the Rev thought he was P-Diddy (or Puff Daddy, as he was called back in the days), the same way he now thinks he’s Comrade Trotsky. He used to sing along to “I need a girl”, dress in bizarre outfits (baggy sweat pants tucked - er, why?- in a sock, yes, just one, for asymmetry or something), make all sorts of weird hip gestures with his hands and refer to women using interesting slang words that my feminist conscience forbids me to use, overally thinking he was IT. Money and bling do occupy the Revolutionary’s past, much to his desolation and despair, and no matter how passionately he will try and make you think all these things never happened, that he’s a feminist and a humanist, do not believe him. Yes people, the Rev used to be a lost cause, but one day, his path crossed Comrade Said’s, and he was Born Again.
So what happened there? How does one turn from banker/lover to Revolutionary? Was the revolutionary struck by Trotsky lightning one night, making him realise J-Lo and P-Diddy bling was utterly oppressive to the people and he had to lose the gold jewellery, spiky hair and pseudo East Coast codes and replace them with the Bible and a Kuffiyeh? We might never know, but we can always thank Comrade Trotsky for making the revolutionary stop thinking he can rap, thus liberating the people from awful sound pollution. Now he just sings l’Internationale, all signs of complicated hands gestures vanished, his fist pointed to the sky, the sickle and hammer shining in his feverish eyes.
Working in a women’s organisation and being active in the women’s movement is most of the times an incredible journey where learning, sharing and fighting for your rights tend to unite you.
And then there are the times where you suddenly ask yourself if you belong at all. Times when what you hear is so at odds with what you stand for that you actually feel your blood boiling, all concepts of sisterhood immediately flying out of the window, all your senses geared up for a confrontation. Indignation and shame and anger usually are corrosive feelings, ones that seldom live little space for understanding. And hell, call me a sectarian if you want, but I firmly believe that there are times where understanding is not in order, and refusing and revoking and taking strong stands is our only way of creating positive change.
I hate these times, because they remind me, not of the diversity, that is to be celebrated, but of the huge amount of work that is still to be done, even within the women’s movement. I hate these times because they force me to take a closer look at what I consider to be my ideological home.
The women’s movement is not an abstract entity floating around asking for rights and equality: it is made of women who make the conscious choice to join it and declare themselves part of it, coming into it with their own sets of values and beliefs.
It seems to me, though, that the movement in itself should not forget what founded it, and is entitled to outline and define some red lines that should not be crossed over. Feminism, at least as i like to understand it, is a revolutionary current, aiming at abolishing not only gender, but also all kinds of barriers.You can’t ask for equality and justice for women and not ask for equality and justice for all.
So it is armed with these beliefs that I personnally entered feminism, along with many women’s gatherings and conferences. And in all fairness, I’ve met some pretty fantastic amazing, inspiring women when I did, people and ideas and actions that honestly make it all worthwhile, but I also had my share of disappointements. As an Arab woman, it’s easy to spot the imperialists disguised as feminists: they come to you with a look of utter pity on their faces, you know, because you’re not empowered enough, and bore you to death with talks of big corporations showering their organisation with money that they the used to “develop” countries like mine and “help” women like me. To which your only way out is to remain calm and launch into your little rant of I-don’t-believe-in-corporate-funding-or-in-any-earmarked-funding-for-that-matter-as I-advocate-for-independence-and-self-sufficiency-but-thank-you-for-the-empowering-session. They’ll look bewildered (after all, aren’t you supposed to receive their Gospel with a look of gratitude upon your face? Aren’t you glad they’re teaching you dignity? As if anyone could ever teach that! Note: dignity comes with humanity, each and every single human being knows what dignity is, and most importantly, what living in dignity means) but you trust they will get over it. Conservatism is a rife pandemic, and don’t you dare think for one second that North=Bad and South=Good. I’ve heard so many gems from women of all walks of life and regions and backgrounds that I stopped even acknowledging these factors anymore. Let me share with you some serious comments I’ve heard and overheard:
- If everyone lived according to Christian beliefs, there would be no HIV. (Where do I even begin to show her how wrong, just utterly and completely wrong, that statement is?)
- I believe in God’s justice for all. (Right, but I’m living here and now, so I’ll settle for human justice now if you don’t mind)
- I’m a women’s rights advocate, I don’t care about economic justice or environmental issues (yes, of course, because if a woman is unemployed, it’s not like she’d be more a risk of violence or more vulnerable to dependency, right what was I thinking? Sexual emancipation is the only factor of gender equality, the rest is unimportant)
- In Europe we don’t really have any problems as women. Our only big problem is the migrant women who need to be helped because of their backwards mentality. (No comment) (Actually, I usually respond to this by asking how much she earns as a “European woman”, and how much her husband does, and take it from there)
- The Scarf. THE pet peeve, THE Horror Movie Title. As in: “Poor her! She’s so submissive! She wears “The Scarf!”
I believe there should be debates and discussions around these issues, if only to help shifting mentalities within the women’s movement. I guess my issue was that I had other expectations from women calling themselves women’s rights activists and feminists.
Trust me, I’ve debated a lot with what I’m writing right now. Shouldn’t I be out there, fighting patriarchy and dealing with the ugly internal stuff, well, in an internal way, not publicizing this, not openly talking about it? But I realised it would make me like a Palestinian Authority representative who would turn a blind eye on the acts of some thugs in the party while telling people who stand up against it to go and demonstrate against Israel. I don’t want to be that person.
I want to be part of a movement I’m proud of, even if that means creating a movement within the movement, a movement that abides by some strong principles and raises awareness and mobilises women according to these principles.
Call me an idealist, a naive, or a self righteous bore if you want, but if I wanted corruption and absence of transparency and tokenism and judgement and patriarchy and inequality, I would have gone and worked in a bank.
How to Live With a Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head (Or Muting His)
Chapter #9: On Fashion and Entertainment
The revolutionary keeps saying it: you need to get to the people. The people! Ah, the revolutionary gets such a rush at this word! It’s almost as if Comrade Trotsky was rising up from his ashes. But not quite, let’s not get carried away.
In order to get to the people, you of course need to go where they are. That could be a mosque, a church, or any other public space where the people are many and, according to what the Revolutionary believes, impatiently waiting to be saved by the Gospel (By Gospel, we mean: The Communist Manifesto, the Permanent Revolution and he would even throw something from Nietzsche if you show enough aptitudes).
This is why, in order to expand his constituency - sorry, silly me, his membership of brave Comrades- the revolutionary will need to get out and visit people in their places of worships, mostly bars and clubs and pubs. The revolutionary would of course rather, in order of preference: 1) be held by secret services while trying to go through the Rafah crossing (Amazing! such close encounter with the conservative oppressive forces! Such proof that the revolution is what we need!), 2) Stand on a picket line with his Comrades by minus 14 in London, occupying some university or other and 3)Stay at home with Comrade Trotsky, Comrade Marx, Comrade Said and Comrade Achkar, a poster of El Hakim hanging in front of him.
In any case, if no police brutality or demonstration is in sight, the revolutionary will put on his best attire just up and get out in the glittery bourgeois wilderness. This is how it would usually go: by best attire, the revolutionary will mean his uniform. A pair of jeans and a t-shirt. The t-shirt can not be turquoise or mauve or green. Such bourgeois colors. Only utilitarian colors shall be admitted.: black, white. brown. Even gray is questionable. The revolutionary doesn’t care much about fashion, takes “fashion-impaired” (something you call him quite often) as a compliment, and thinks Anna Wintour is, well, he doesn’t give her much thought anyway, she hasn’t written anything worthy and was Rosa Luxembourg’s companion? No?.
So there he goes, all decked out in his finest stakhanovist clothes, oblivious of your pleading: Let me iron it! No! You don’t have to! I’m not a bourgeois chauvinist pig! Tayb iron it yourself! No! Waste of time! Fashion is the biggest form of oppression anyway! HUGE impacts on body image! Loads of work force that are exploited throughout the world! How can you sleep at night? No need to tell him you don’t really, you hit your head on the corner of the bloody Russian revolution last night and it nearly gave you a concussion.
The revolutionary therefore finds himself in a bar: scenario 1: he’s with Comrades. The evening flows on pleasantly, you know the usual, Trotsky is God, how can you say that, God is dead, Nietszche killed him, and don’t be a reactionary, and everything is imperialism and everyone is an essentialist anyway.
Scenario 2: The revolutionary is among regular people, for whom the Bible is thet history of that old bearded guy (NO! NOT HIM!) and for whom Trotsky is a not particularly liked old remnant of high school. The revolutionary therefore sees the opportunity for sharing the Gospel. He will approach, dancing in a way that resembles your father’s (you KNOW what I mean, arms astretch, hand in fists, pounding the air thinking he’s IT) (the revolutionary only dances well the Dabke, taught to him by Palestinian Comrades somewhere between a refugee camp in Nablus and Gaza). He’ll then start talking: slowly, people will turn green, then grey, then blue. Whispers of “make it stop” and “shut him up” might hit your ears. You think you’ve overheard a guy screaming: Aboussss allah wlak SKOT!!!!! (that might be one of his friend, a Rafeeq perhaps)
At the end of the evening, some might even mention razor blades, to kill themselves or him, you do not know.
The revolutionary will go home, happy to have shared yet a part of the progressive wisdom and imparted positive change on this world. He’ll turn on his music, not the savage music he’s just spent the evening enduring, but normal music, like Comrade Ziad and Comrade Marcel and the Jabha (cha3biyeh) finest.
You’ll just look at him, decked out in your finest late of fashion peg pants and 12 cm heels. Strangely proud of his integrity. Pathetic.
How to Live With A Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head (Or Kicking His)
Chapter 8: On Comrades, Concepts and Bad Days
The revolutionary tends to mostly be a happy go lucky kind of person. He has to, for the revolution couldn’t possibly be carried by negative, all-year-round miserable people: there needs to be enthusiasm in the struggle! Fiery passion when singing l’Internationale! Motivation in the picket lines! Not to mention the fact that you need quite the nervous system to bear all the (minor, he’ll tell you) setbacks the global, permanent revolution has had to endure since Comrade Marx published his Manifesto. No, the revolution is a positive person kind of job, no time for whiny bourgeois spoiled brats.
However, and despite contradicting evidence, the revolutionary is human and has sometimes some down days, or less chirpy moments. You see, it sometimes hits the revolutionary that some Great Comrades are no longer with us (please note: it is believed that revolutionaries never die, for their struggle survives them, so we’re only talking here about mere physical absence). The revolutionary will be happily reading the Bible (The Permanent Revolution, of course) or the Sequel to the Bible (The Russian Revolution, what else?) (I hope by now you do realise that both are from Comrade Trotsky), he’ll be nodding in approval of every word, muttering under his beard “See! When you read the Russian Revolution, you find all the features we’re encountering right now in the Arab Spring! This is why Comrade Trotsky is so relevant! This is why he’s so unbelievably great!” And then it hits him. Comrade Trotsky is long gone. The Revolutionary will never be able to shake his hand, talk with him about the permanent revolution, or even organise a little demo with him.
That saddens the revolutionary. Sighing, he’ll go back to his readings, a heaviness to his heart.
Of course, the revolutionary doesn’t only miss Comrade Trotsky. Comrade Habash for example is another much loved comrade, one that the revolutionary only thinks highly of. Oh! To have shared, if only briefly, an escape from a Syrian prison with al Hakim!
Alas, this will never be. *More sighing*
Thankfully, the revolutionary finds solace in toying with Concepts and badgering you all day long with them, waiting for you at the corner of politically and revolutionary correct, so much so that you’ll weigh every word carefully before you let them go out of your mouth (as if). For examples, you’re not allowed to generalise some people under “The Arabs blah blah blah”. That’s orientalism. Comrade Said said so. And you’re not allowed to compare people “The Arabs” vs “Westerners”. That’s orientalism in reverse. Comrade Said said so too. Even if it’s only to say “The Arabs put more spices in their dishes than Westerners”. How do you know? How can you generalise, stigmatise, reduce peoples like that? And then he starts its rant, where you’re usually featured as an evil product of bourgeois narrow-mindedness, when really you were just cooking, making your life a living hell.
You’re not living with a revolutionary for nothing. You do remember the slogan “one solution, revolution!”. You hence rebel. You’ll have to. Survival Skills. Just tell him he’s oppressing you by correcting every word you say, violating your basic rights, being uttely machist and conservative, all of which SUPREMELY COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY.
No bigger insult than being called counter-revolutionary. That ought to send him back to his readings, sulking, while you can go back to being your orientalist, reverse-orientalist, conservative self.
Now don’t tell me I ain’t doing anything to help you cope with living with a revolutionary!
My fist clenched around a rock, sweat dripping from my brow I know no foe. The only thing that matters is the rhythm of my heart slowly telling me I’m not dead yet, that I’m there, truly alive, each pulsation quietly reminding me that their time has not come yet, their time to play God with me and decide when I shall depart my sacred land.
At that very moment nothing exists except the pure trajectory of my arm slowly drawing arabesques above my head, of my whole being folding on itself, my hand alone stretched out, reaching out to the sun, to the glorious victory of freedom. I count seconds and release the rock, leaving it to deliver my message of despair and hope and as I do so, my shirt is lifted, revealing my thin frame, my ribs apparent, my rage, intact and corrosive.
For a split second, noises become liquid and I drown into them, plunging into my fate, happily. My rock still in the air, I fully stand up, releasing my body from years of tyranny, giving it back its long lost humanity, I want to stand up straight for once and see what I’ve hit, see the dent my small act has made on the concrete walls around me.
The feet of the seemingly unmovable iron idol with clay feet absorbs the tiny projectile but as I look up and emerge from within myself I see hundreds and thousands tiny rocks attacking it, relentlessly bringing it down. Thousands of hands outstretched, and screams and demands, our rights, we want nothing more than what is rightly ours, our rights, and we won’t be waiting in a corner until you decide to give us scraps of your feast, until you decide that we’d rather be fed than freed.
What you don’t give us we will take. When you silence us we will speak, kill one, see hundreds bloom, torture one, hear thousands scream.
And here I am, while some of us fall as I carry on, wearing my flag and clenching my fists, here I am shouting out to the sun that one day, yes one day, we will be enough, that one day, yes one day, I’ll throw flowers instead of rocks, waving my flag high in the sky instead of wrapping it so closely to my body, as if to protect it from all the insults it has already borne.
Curled up in your bed, silently crying tears no one will ever hear.
I know how you feel. Drowning in books and booze and work, sedating yourself with other stories, other lives and other dreams, you square your shoulders and tighten your jaw and carry on. Or pretend. Same thing really.
Oh how i know how you feel. Lying awake shaking in your bed, fantasizing on what it could have been, asking yourself where it all went wrong as if it was all your fault, as if it was only up to you. When did you play that wrong card, when did you lower your guard? BUt there was simply nothing left to say, you both ran your course.It’s admitting it that’s the bitch. You go out and lose yourself in fake smiles and glitter, making your heels click with each wannabe victorious step that you take, blowing kisses above polished heads, taking in the admiring glances, embracing the envious stares, sealing off the cracks in your self esteem with strength found in others’ eyes. Yet you get home dry from the pretence, tired from the act, eager to take the cloak of lies off, incongruous feelings of guilt and shame plaguing you, sticking to your damp sheets, unshakable. Sinking in your solitude, revelling in it, you shy away from the world, declaring yourself on strike against false complacency, fake sympathy, half baked empathy. Hear no evil, see no evil, your raw soul simply could not take it, disappearing is all that matters and to hell with the offended comments and judgmental stares that pierce your back every time you pluck up the courage to venture out. I know how you feel. If only I could take a break from myself you say, if only I could become this nameless faceless shadow over there, oh what I’d give to leave my own skin behind for only a second of blissful oblivion. I know how you feel. Blurred by the smoke of your endless cigarettes, exhaling sharply as if to cleanse yourself from the never ending pain and razor blades grazing your stomach, you’ll sign your ticket to freedom with a hollowness to your heart and an acid drill in your gut, feeling the bitter ferruginous taste of your bile get caught up with your tears in your throat, choking you, a wave of emotions overtaking you, compelling you to surrender by its mighty force. Separation. The word hits you like the blade of a sword, torturing you like the slit tongue of a snake licking your wound with unspeakable slowness. I know how you feel, I know, for I’ve been to these desolated realms and have emerged from them black and bruised but never broken. And I know you will too, you’ll slough your skin too. Just once the unbearable pain goes away.
How to Live With A Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head (Or Scrubbing His)
Chapter 7: On Housework
As most progressive people, the revolutionary is a firm believer in gender equality: abolition of all kinds of inequalities and all that, how could he not?
Therefore, the revolutionary will be committed to do his share of the Housework. After all, if you’re living together, it’s only fair right? Right.
To your utter dismay, you’ll soon realise the revolutionary has quite a different take on housework than yours (you personnally blame your mother, a woman for whom cleaning vegetables involved bleach:What? I don’t see the problem! What, it’s not good for your health? It’s really good! Kills all bacteria! All those doctors are just a bunch of liars! One drop I tell you, only one drop!).
You see, let us not forget the ULTIMATE aim of the revolutionary, which is, well, the Revolution. Everything is seen as the good old superstructure, some unnecessary decorative materials with no influence whatsoever on their surroundings.
Sadly for you, that includes housework. The revolutionary will therefore happily throw his clothes on the floor without further ado. Fold them? But why? Why would I fold things when I could use this precious time to re-read the Russian Revolution by Comrade Trotsky, my Beloved? (Trotsky, not you).
Making beds in every way possible except the most widely admitted way is a national sport for the revolutionary, who will tell you the bundle of sheets in the middle of the room is “contemporary art”. Until this day, you curse the hour you took him to that museum: he may have detested it (Such bourgeois concept! such uselessness”Art for art’s sake! what utter decadent bullshit!) but he sure remembered a thing or two. Thanks for nothing, Marcel Duchamp.
Same goes for cooking: do not, at any point, trust the Revolutionary when he tells you he cooks. To him, cooking is just plonking a chicken in a Teflon pan and putting it in the oven. Yes. The Teflon pan. With the plastic handles. Yes. Those which melt in the oven. Don’t even bother to start asking questions: I don’t get you! What’s wrong? Isn’t the chicken cooked? It is, isn’t it? Isn’t that the whole point?
Such desarming logic, you’ll be at a loss to find a proper answer to that.
The issue will become even greater as your home will grow into the HQ of the Global Revolution, filled with bearded, bespectacled Comrades eager to get food for the spirit discussing the United Front vs the Popular Front tactics, and food for their stomachs, which would not even go anywhere near Teflon Chicken.
You might not have read the whole Permanent Revolution, but Miss Beauvoir’s your pal and it will have to be stated quite clearly that male chauvinistic pig is not a good label for a revolutionary. People, pay attention, for this is important: when hitting a sticky patch with the revolutionary, resort to ideology, The power it’llgive you will be infinite, bless those oblivious righteous GodFathers Marx, Engels and Trotsky.
Armed with his good will (I am a Feminist! He’ll say proudly), he will go out of his way to make a point in doing his share, acknowledging you do more, pledging to increase the amount of tasks. Unfortunately, you’ve learnt the hard way good will, Teflon pans and Comrade Trotsky were not a good match. You will outline a to do list of manageable things that’ll prevent the house for burning down and, your mind rested, will settle yourself behind your own books and computer, blissfully oblivious of any weird noise, curses and swears emanating from the disaster area.
You sometimes wonder where would communism be if Karl had changed the diapers of the six children and Jenny had sat down and wrote Das Kapital.