Tuesday, June 23, 2015

in isolation

Ramadan Mubarak InshAllah.
I read what I wrote last year, and the year before and I couldn’t help but note a sense of melancholy and sadness that can only be explained by the general status of it all. Loss of homes, politicised social structures, temporality in one’s home, loss of meaning and worst of them all, loneliness.
This Ramadan I am still blessed with the above except that I now share this loss with another soul. A lost one I met coincidentally the last days of Ramadan 2014, and together we waged a war against ourselves until we both surrendered to the beautiful truth of ‘us’.
I still write in fragments as I mirror the mosaic of my thoughts, and I admit I have no desire in curating my piece like I do with art exhibitions; Find a common thread! Perhaps what is plaguing us to begin with as a collective is this obsessive need for everything to make sense together, when things can make most sense in isolation.
so here are my isolated thoughts as they appear in my head and in no particular order:
ISIS is evil, but what is the solution. Give up maryam give up mosul, give up Iraq its done.
Love is not overwhelming nor dramatic, its calm, its settled, its strange. I am not used to this feeling, what happened to all the old stories that destroyed my heart and broke me into pieces.
Home, home home home home home home home home
London, i miss London tonight, and yesterday, I missed it even this morning. Its always on my mind. Russell Square, I miss my walks there, I want to live in Angel again, I want that fake sense of belonging I had as a student resident there again.
Maryam or Mariam? make up your mind already.
immigration? Canada is too cold, and with their new laws, I am disappointed! second class citizens, really Canada? Really? I don’t want to leave the UAE, but it wants to leave me. I want to stay.  Please God let us stay.
Lebanon is now the country my children will carry in their passports, and Iraq is the one they will carry in their tongues.
Beirut and Baghdad, what is the link, what is the relationship? Think Maryam , think of something poetic to write on your wedding cards. Al Jawahiri and Jibran!
Rent, next year, Dubai or Abu Dhabi? I wish I could move back to Sharjah. Sharjah is simple, Sharjah is good, Sharjah is real.
Research, PhD, accomplishment, dreams, SOAS, SOAS, I miss academia, potentials, wasted talents.. Maryam write again
Wedding shoes: Check!
I refuse to wear diamonds, I am the bride without a diamond ring or anything. I am morally and ethically against diamonds; society thinks I am weird. My husband will get heat for not ‘valuing’ me with diamonds. What happened to respecting values? Is this now my societal fight against norms? Have you been reduced to diamonds vs. no diamonds Maryam? ugh
Hungry people everywhere, hungry sad souls everywhere. displacement, dislocation, diaspora. My version of d3.
Art, exhibitions, the meaning of it all? expensive paintings, hungry artists, auction houses..
Pray, Fast, Read Quran.. Feel something Maryam feel.
and will my wedding look ok? Will people like the food? I don’t want to hire a DJ, I want my nephew to play the music? What will people say about that? Again, another futile fight against nothing. Mundane
I will miss my parents warmth and home. I don’t want to leave home
He loves me, especially different. tatata lalala * enter Jill scott song*
smile again at Dubai. Thank you for the breeze.

My annual excuse to write again to the public, away from hidden beautiful journals I buy from cities I inhabit or visit. Ramadan offers me the chance to indulge in the self, contrary to what the holy month encourages worshippers to do, I chose to indulge in the self sometimes.I sit on my balcony tonight enjoying a sudden surprising breeze Dubai is offering me, in an attempt perhaps to reconcile with me after a long dispute over passports, residencies and rights to belong. I took her breeze and gave her a smile in return.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Boxes underneath the sky

She wondered as she typed away letters on a grey screen what was the reasoning behind all the angst she felt. She wondered about the boxes she kept drawing around her; every time she would exit one, she draws another to step into.

She eventually learnt to draw doors and little windows, then by time she learnt to draw knobs and handles to open her boxes for little air. Continuing to live in them she found comfort with the contours that protected her from the ugly. She found solace in her convictions and comfort with one white pillow she kept from her childhood.

One day as she prepared to put her head on her pillow the lines started to disappear, and the wind blowing in her hair. She did not know how to react this sensation of the gushes of air playing with her well-protected pillowed hair, she did not know why her body, once contoured and protected was now exposed and unsheltered. She also did not understand why her reactions were not violent but serene.. calm and collected she was.
She looked at the white lines leaving her, as her hair enjoyed a dance with the little wind that started to bother her. She did not know how to dance, but also knew that dancing was not another form of knowledge she needed to learn. She also knew it would rain soon, and the wind with the water will perform an orchestra that she only hoped she could enjoy.

Those lines that left her were no longer visible, breaking into several pieces and flying away with the wind; they no longer mattered. She looked for twigs, leaves and rocks to draw another box, to draw herself somewhere to belong. Instead she was left looking at an endless horizon of everything else.

She stood up and walked, holding her pillow in one hand and containing her hair in another. She walked towards nowhere. She loved those destination-free walks; but also smiled at her inability to reconcile her free-walks with her coveted squares.

She stumbled upon some sticks on the floor, and knew they resembled her long-lost lines. She looked at them and knew that for her to build that box again, she would need two hands, and will have to let go of her pillow and put it on the side.

She walked away, holding still to her white pillow in one hand, and her dancing hair with another. She left her boxes underneath the sky...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

I left my Mask back in Venice ..

Masks... This idea of double realities has been on my mind all throughout this weekend, and I remember clearly that it was also on mind all throughout last year when I lived in Venice; a city known for its two-faceted beauty. A city of masks..
I thought of masks this weekend and lingered at the thought of performances. I was reminded of the saying of how the world was indeed a stage, and we are merely actors in it.

A pleasant conversation, that is how it started. A wooden floor where my feet touched every now and then in an awkward attempt to stay grounded. I lifted my feet eventually and crawled up on a dark grey couch.  A pleasant conversation that ended up with a flattering accusation. You know those? The compliments that could easily be twisted in the heart of your mind to accusations. I was told I was a good story-teller; you know the ones you encounter in parties and gather around. The ones that steal all the stars at night and become the centre of light. I was told I was 'always' a story-teller, never the occasional bystander, or the one with feet on the ground. I then lowered my red-manicured feet to touch the wooden floor, only to lift them up again.

I was also told that I was a dreamer, and that the mask I was wearing, was wearing off. I was told all of these and more in one sentence, maybe they were two. I teared a little at the fear of being the party entertainer, and laughed more at the audacity of it all.

How can one not see the great big eyes? How can one miss the huzun that is in my trembling thin lips when I speak of life, home, love and God? How can mistake my laughter with jokes, and miss all the the efforts of reconciliation? How can one not love the contradictions of attempted veils and chocolate-covered almonds next to my training gloves? How can one not understand the complexities behind a gentle smile hiding behind it stories of stolen homes and broken hearts?

And all those implications behind those kind little gestures, how does one mistake them for performances? When has it become that kindness and tenderness are difficult to fathom, and cold shoulders are the norm? What happened to all the lovely cushions that cover our insecurities?
Where is that fascination of her husky voice at night? The night that sees the end of all alleged performances, and signals the beginning of her surrender.

Masks are beautiful, and to pretend that we don't all wear different ones everyday is exhausting. We all perfected wearing our masks, that we hardly notice them anymore. We are the polite, we are the courteous, we are the brave, and we are the happy. Masks! They are all masks.
I left my mask along with a hundred others in Venice long before we had this conversation. I no longer perform any roles but mine, and I lost the script of my life that night in London, when I whispered Hamdula and ran away from my solace and the bench that witnessed the end of who I used to be.

Scene II ends.//

At first, there was one.. Then there were too many. Reconcile my love, there will be only one at the end.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


She didn't live with him, she never did. He knew that she could easily be a segment of his imagination. NO: she is just an imagined temporary homeland, a mirage of a woman that only exists within the binaries of his own mind, and self.
She never lived with him, in fact, he hardly felt her presence, he only knew her voice and her laughter which he became so accustomed to. Her image, pixelated through a screen on an old machine that he still claimed his.
The same image, saved, and rehashed in so many different ways on his devices. Her with an orange shirt, her smiling, swimming, laughing, kissing the screen, driving, eating, frowning, and that one with her innocent eyes looking at him, staring back at his hunger.
She doesn't live with him, yet she manages to take over everything. She takes over his sofa, where he sat for hours speaking to her wired image, and voice. His bed smells of her. How? he keeps asking himself, that smell he knows so little off. The bed that longed for her, but never touched her, smells of her.
His knife, that he proudly used once trying to master a dish she knew how to make , is now tempted to call her, and ask her for guidance. His blue shirt, that she once loved, is now hers. Everytime he wears it, he remembers her exaggerated flattery. He will not wear that shirt anymore.
He speaks to himself, the self that he often ignores, and tells him that he tried, and she didn't. He wanted, but she left. He tries to convince him, debates him, angry at him he sometimes screams. But the self just keeps quite, he knows that his attempts are futile, that his scenarios are lies, that his self knows that he gave her no choice, he knows it, but fights him with all the strength he knows he has.
He fights for his own as her memory slowly becomes his life.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Last 12 hours in Mosul: Conflicting Narratives

Mosul Yesterday, Captured by Ahmed Al Omary, close to the Military Airport 

In the last 24 hours, Iraq has witnessed a major development in its politics. Headlines in Arabic media was quick to frame this as suqoot سقوط Mosul city, which roughly translates to the Fall of Mosul city allegedly in the arms of ISIS or ISIL, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a globally-recognised insurgent active group with ties to Al Qaeda. This terminology is very reminiscent of the framing of the news on Baghdad on the 9th April 2003, when Baghdad was officially captured by American troops.

Images circulating on the web shows  burnt Iraqi Army vehicles and army clothes on the streets of the city in a sign of the defeat of the Army after almost 4 days of clashes with the armed groups. Two Iraqi army officers said security forces had received orders to leave the city after militants managed to capture the Ghizlani army base in southern Mosul and set more than 1000 prisoners from different high-security prisons around the city.

On Monday, the governor of Mosul Atheel Al Nujaifi made a public plea to the people of the city to fight militants, before he escaped the provincial headquarters in Mosul.
Almost all media narratives both global and local have called for international action against what could be a catastrophic regression in the current affairs of Iraq. After All, Mosul is not only the largest city in Iraq, but it is also in close proximity to Irbil and the Kurdish borders, which in result risks the spill of violence to the relatively-peaceful Kurdish region in Iraq.

With the escalating headlines and developments in Iraq, one is faced with conflicting stories and on-ground testimonials from Iraqis in the city that stayed behind and could not flee the city.  Reasons for that are many including the closure of the Kurdish borders for some time which forced families to go back to their homes. Upon their return, and according to several Iraqis I spoke to who prefer to remain un-named, they were welcomed by the militants who assured them that the city was accessible and safe, with a sense of ownership to the place: “ Of course you can come back, please feel free to go wherever you want, no one will stop you.”

Many facebook statuses and tweets then started documenting Mosul post-capture, in a surprising twist to usual media narratives on ISIS’s politics in sieged cities. Reports that only army vehicles and headquarters were burnt and destroyed, but barricades that once adorned every street were removed, and for the first time as one facebook user claims “ I managed to drive freely in my city”. Other residents also claimed that the armed groups were helping young men patrol and protect their neighbourhoods from any possible looting, and were active in protecting banks, abandoned homes and roads.
Interesting testimonials from several residents in Mosul which clash with the main narrative circulated in Media that the city is in fact in more danger than it used to be. Several political analysts on Iraqi non-governmental TV channels claimed that this ‘dignified treatment of civilians’ is something they are pleasantly surprised with and also prefer to what they described as a continuous dehumanisation and humiliation of the Iraqi Army in checkpoints around the city. This could be very much understood as sectarian bias against the army,  but it also serves as an indication that the armed-groups are indeed not targeting civilians in the city (yet).

Many other ‘rumours’ are also circulating on social media platforms, some argue that the armed groups are in fact a group of revolutionary iraqis led by members of the old Iraqi Army, and is in process to ‘free’ the country from the current regime and the control of the Iran-backed government. Several ISIS twitter accounts proclaiming the end of Sykes-Picot in an alarming signal that this could indeed mean - if not immediate - the redrawing of the region map.

Now Al Maliki urged the Parliament to consider this an emergency state, and the Iraqi Parliament in an act of “urgency” decided to meet on Thursday to discuss the much-needed solutions for this catastrophic development in Iraq. With the speed of events in the country, and the clear inability of the army and the police to protect civilians and the city; the next couple of days could see the seizure of other smaller but crucial cities in Iraq, such as Salahudeen, Samara and perhaps even reaching the borders of the capital Baghdad.

The expected reactions from the central government could very well mirror the assaults on Fallujah and other cities in Iraq that have been under siege and attack for more than 6 months. Especially now that Al Maliki has asked for international support from the UN and the EU and Arab League in an attempt to ‘cleanse’ the cities from the insurgents. The government will probably use all kinds of weapons and means without counting for civilian casualties, like the cases in Fallujah and other cities in Iraq.

In an undeniable timely-events, with the results of the Iraqi elections, this could very well mean the ‘need’ to assert Maliki’s position as Prime Minister for the next 4 years; to rid the country from terrorism. It could also possibly mean the eradication of the second-largest city in Iraq and the eruption of sectarian violence and war. The next couple of days and arguably hours are quite critical and detrimental in the current power-play in the region. Narratives are indeed changing.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Il libro bianco

If you have spoken to me several times, and if we had happened to discuss writing, drawing, painting and art you would have heard me speak about the fear of the white canvas, and the white paper. I take pride in taking ownership of that fear, of perhaps mastering it so much that it has become one of my powers. 
My fear of white canvases and empty screens is now my power. I have mastered it. 

You enter my room, it is all white. White curtains, and white sheets signal new beginnings every day, and emptiness the nights that follow. My relationship to white has always been troubled. 

If you have known me, and had the chance to see one of my journals you will also realise that none of them are white. I always write on beige paper avoiding the perpetual whiteness that is there. The lines have to always be there, they ground me.

Let there always be lines. 

I have journals filled with writings and notes from the early age of 10. In Sharjah, Dubai, London, Venice and Rome. I have journal entries with coffee stains in Paris, and one I remember writing on a pavement in brussels. 

I have scribbled a lot but on lined papers hidden together in secret journals that I take everywhere with me only to keep under my pillow at night.

I write in my journals and look at the white screen everyday. 

I counted the words I have written in my journal so far, ( 1, 2, 3, 10, 100, 5040), and appreciated every letter I had to count with my pencil and my mouth, oh the pleasure and the plight of the ol' fashioned ways. 

I decided I will publish some of my writings in Italy, and some others about my time in Iraq. Perhaps also write a little about my natural move back to the capital of the only home I have known. I decided I will spend the next months or so, resisting my fear rather than combating it once and for all. 

resist temptation mari(y)am, don't kill it. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

That Wooden Bench

After the last two years, I really did not think I would be spending this Ramadan outside of the comfort of the Adhaan ( Call for prayers), the family gatherings, and the fuss over what to cook for Iftar. I remember distinctively writing about Ramadan in London last year for the Art Dubai blog, thinking to myself, next time, I will have nothing to write about, my experience will be just like everybody else’s in Dubai.

Fast-forward a year later and here I am in a city I never imagined I’d ever reside in, a city of narrow canals, and foot traffic that is in its essence, a city that struggles to survive.  Ramadan this year came with an official warning from the Italian media of the impending heat wave that will hit the country; a heat wave that media claim has no parallels in the last 10 years.  It is not a pretty weather, with structures too old to handle Air Conditioning, and alleys so narrow for ventilation, Venice in the summer is a difficult city.

Venice in Ramadan, is almost impossible.

With 50,000 residents give or take, I did not really expect to fast with fellow Muslims from the community here, neither did I anticipate paper crescents adorning the lamp posts, but I expected that the spiritual fasting would be the most difficult given that I am now living in Italy, a country that aims to satisfy quite literally all of your senses. But no, I actually was challenged physically to the point that I did not even imagine I could fast; the heat, humidity, long hours of the day and the walking everywhere were not easy; never in my life did I feel that Ramadan was exhausting physically until I moved to Venice.

I spent a couple of days fussing over my body, and when I took control of it, I took a glance at my heart and smiled at my foolishness in focusing on the ritual rather than the worship. I walked every morning trying to find ways in which I can be spiritual; I thought of sitting on a bench in Giardini facing the Grand Canale and mediating a little; but mosquitoes found their way to my legs, arms and face and it did not feel spiritual at all.
I tried to sit on my couch and read Quran or watch Moez Masood [1]speak of faith and God but these setting were interrupted by the most-needed showers during the day to cool off. What I believed would be tears this year over my beautiful Quran pages, were actually drops of sweat that just made the whole experience simply uncomfortable.
I really was not feeling the spirituality. I even fetched dates from Dubai with me to feel closer to home, made some lentil soup which Mom always makes sure is on our Iftaar table, but nothing worked.  Until that morning I left Arsenale where I work and went to buy some stationary for the office only to be stopped by the crowds of people weeping standing in front of the church in Via Garibaldi, saying goodbye to a wooden coffin carried by sad strong men. I couldn’t believe it at first, it felt like a scene off a movie; the sounds of people crying was too loud, and the silence of the street was too quite. I stood there and stared at that coffin for as long as I could, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I wondered who was in it, and what has happened, and what life did he/she lead. I kept staring until I felt my tears cooling off my burnt cheeks. I looked around me fearing for a second that they will figure out that I was an imposter, but my tears were too real.

The crowds of mourners started going inside the church and I couldn’t help but follow. I sat there with them along with my tears, they prayed together, I prayed alone but all under one roof. At that moment, I forgot that I had a scarf on my head, and a Quran application on my phone, I only thought of God, and His glory, and this short-lived, almost trivial life.

I stayed for a while inside on the wooden bench, with closed eyes I tried to find that spirituality again. Yes, there are no mosques in Venice, but there are houses of God, and at that point I knew I was the closest to Him.

I left the church and the mourners alone, and walked slowly back to work thinking of the next Ramadan, praying I would live to witness it. Ramadan is somehow a harsh reminder of Death; there is that sense of relief at the end of it that I had lived through it all, and a genuine fear that I will not live to witness the next one. That wooden coffin accelerated all of these feelings usually stretched out over a month in few minutes. That wooden coffin was my reminder of what Ramadan really meant.

I am not sure what I will write for Art Dubai next year on Ramadan, somehow I wish that I will be in Dubai with family, but I also have a feeling that I might be somewhere else. It doesn’t matter really where I am, as long as I am somewhere to witness it again. And pray for Him in all his glory.

[1] Egyptian television and radio presenter, religious leader and activist who focuses on the fields of spirituality, inter-faith dialogue, and Islam in the modern world.

* Originally Posted on Art Dubai Blog: http://www.artdubai.ae/blog/that-wooden-bench/