Thursday, August 9, 2012

Googling Ramadan

Edgware Road, London

It was warm, the kind of warm you'd appreciate after living in London for a while, a warm long july day in 2011, which was also the first day of Ramadan, and my first ramadan away from the east.

I remember all the conversations that led to that day about what seemed to be the impossibility of fasting the long hours of the day; not accustomed to the European summer, I found it difficult at first to grasp the idea that fasting 17 hours a day would be possible.

I didn't think of the fact that life during Ramadan in London would resume as normal, and how the smell of coffee, cigarettes and bread would be hovering in the air I breath. I forgot that in London, unlike other cities I've witnessed Ramadan in, the majority would not be fasting, I forgot.

I also did not think that when it was time to break the fast, I wouldn't have my TV turned on Sharjah TV channel with their famous iftar ritual every year, in fact, I forgot I didn't own a TV and that my fasting would break with me googling the time of Maghrib and comparing and contrasting the different timings between the different time-zones of the city.

It did not feel special at first.

I remember situating myself in front of my laptop with some strawberries and water since I had no dates and yogurt, and searching on youtube for the Adhan that most resembles home. The moment I'd break my fast, I'd pray and then call my friends and socialise a little with them before it was time to catch the last tube back to my apartment.

It was difficult the first couple of days, until I decided that googling Ramadan in London, was probably not the best way to spend the holy month in a city that was slowly becoming home. And so began my journey in trying to ease the binaries that rested within me about the East and the West, slowly by taking short walks around my neighborhood and trying to spy with my little eye fellow muslims. As soon as I reached the bus stop in my beautiful islington neighborhood, a woman too busy reading her novel and twirling her hair smiled at me, and said Ramadan Mubarak. At that moment, I couldn't tell if she fasted as well, or if she was indeed a  'fellow Muslim', in fact, I ridiculed my very attempt of trying to 'type' her as any kind but a fellow human being. And there it was, the bus journey that took me to the centre of what was then my universe showed me a sense of collectivity in a society that is often dubbed as individualistic. I found myself seeking that sense of closeness that I often reject priding myself that I belong to the 'I' alone, and nothing else. I found myself walking to Edgware road, the famous Arab street that always offers the best and the worst of what it means to be an Arab. I actually found myself looking for the commonalities rather than the differences I usually feed on, That Ramadan,  I became very collective.

It was difficult at times to feel the spirituality of fasting, when the coffee smell from the neighboring cafe is almost blinding to all my senses, or when the parade of the teenage drunks starts marching on my street on friday night, indeed it was very difficult to the point that I wanted badly to go back to Dubai for just a while, just to feel the presence of God again. But then I found my solace in the words written by Him that tell us, and told me that day that "To GOD belongs the east and the west; wherever you go there will be the presence of GOD. GOD is Omnipresent, Omniscient. (2:115)"

Ramadan is beautiful in London this year as well, and though I stopped looking for commonalities between me and this city, I find solace in knowing that He is here, like He is there, without the need to keep googling Him.

This post was written for Art Dubai's Blog, as part of their "Posting Ramadan" Series. Original Post can be found here:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Say Hello and Wave Goodbye

The death of the heart is the saddest thing that can happen to you. -Chinese Proverb

I have a certain fascination with suspended spaces and time(s), such as airports, train stations and in some instances hotel rooms. There is a lure to the revisited places that often witness pleasures, pains and heightened potentials, well at least for me there is. 

I have always been attracted to such spaces, every time I travel, and God knows I've had my share in the last two years ( I've traveled through airports more than 40 times), and yet every time I do, I make sure I go at least 4 hours before my flight departs so that I'd spend some time in a terminal filled with people either welcoming new stories, or ending long ones. I'd always sit on a chair either with a book that often masks my curious looks, or a notebook where I jolt down stories i'd imagine happening in the wandering minds of fellow travelers. 

Yes, I often also spend some time imagining or at times pushing visual images away in hotel rooms the moment I start occupying them, trying to understand what stories the walls have to tell, and what shames or pleasures the white clean sheets had to witness. 

Train stations however remained foreign to me because of the nature of transportation in the city I lived in most of my life, that was until I moved to London, and they became central to my life. My last recollected memory of a train station was in Baghdad, I don't remember the name of the station, but I was probably 7 years old, excited about having our private cabin with bunk-beds to share with my siblings on our trip to Kirkuk where my Aunt ( may she rest in peace) once lived. Was there a big clock in the station? That's how I remember it, but also that's how they are portrayed in hollywood films, so perhaps my memory is tainted with western stereotypes, and romantic associations with the industrial revolution as it is portrayed in books and films I read and watched growing up. 

Until I started traveling outside what was once the locus of my universe, I began observing train stations and my fascination with them grew even more. 

I've spent some ample time in stations during my time in London, sometimes in passing as means of commuting, and others saying my hello's and goodbyes. I always looked for the odd couple that fought before one of them boarded a train away, or the ones that did not cry but laughed trying to ease the separation. I was in love with my selections, and often imagined that I would also reclaim the space when the time came to say my goodbyes, and create a counter-argument to the usual tears shed while departing. 

But that never happened, instead I saw myself narrating in my head instances when I had to say goodbye to loved ones while it was happening! It was too intense, I'd hear a voice-over in my head describing the teary eyes, the shaking hands, and the embrace that truly suspends time. My mind also directs the whole scene where people move in time-lapse, while I am standing still feeling with every passing second, a life-time slipping away. My narrative in fact, became the most dramatic of them all. 

A week ago, I revisited a station that I hate and love by chance, not intended, I found myself somehow forced to take it to reach a hotel-room I then called home. I walked in with so much caution, pretending I was a horse, that I only saw what was in front of me, and that my human eyes could not comprehend the sideways. I wanted to avoid that seat outside the station where I sat not so long ago crying because I had to live that un-coveted goodbye. I avoided the gateway which saw both the arrival of my solace, and the farewell to the arms. I tried to avoid looking at the station I was now walking through so much, that I actually missed both my gate and the train. 

And then I looked behind, and saw that clock I have always imagined in the train station in Baghdad, and saw my little self crying because her daddy then could not travel with her to Kirkuk. I also saw that with every goodbye I said in the train stations of my life, I always shed rivers of tears because in their essence, farewells are hated by me. I stopped blaming myself for my overt sense of sensitivity, and accepted that my vulnerability to separation is rooted deep in losses I've lived through in my childhood and adult-life. I accepted then only that my sadness and fascination with train stations, airports and hotel rooms, comes from my continuous struggle with the temporality of it all: of life, moments, happiness and love. 

I waited for the next train on a bench close to the one that I avoided, and I saw me sitting there crying genuinely as I said goodbye there once, and It did not bother me, in fact, I smiled at me and prayed that I will never stop crying for those who matter, but then leave. I also closed my eyes a little and prayed that the next time I am here, I am saying hello not waving goodbye.

*Title of this post is a the title of David Gray's Song found here: 
* Photographs are part of my collection of captured memories.