Buffers, Les élus

A new (good) blog is born

Glad to announce that Don Young quoted in my blog post Young Reflections has been convinced by someone (couldn’t resist bragging really) to create a blog and share his thoughts with the world. I personally became his first follower, and I love his words. Take a look:  http://sleeplessdisorder.wordpress.com/ It’s a new born but it’s worth watching!

Let me take this chance and recommend a few more blogs that I check every morning:

That’s all for now.

Over and out!

Listening to: still stuck on Abbady Al Johar. Follow me on twitter @pakinamamer for updates
Mood: lazy, thankful, calm  (Life is good in this late hour for some reason)

Advertisements
Books That Inspire, Les élus

Decoding suffering

If you suffer, and you will (because who doesn’t?), then do it successfully, according to both Marcel Proust and Alain de Botton. It’s not the easiest thing in the world. Drenched in sorrows, it’s easier of course to stay in bed, jump off a bridge than write a philosophy book. If you plan on ending your suffering once and for all (through say, setting yourself on fire, or drowning yourself in the bath tub), then fine, don’t try and get creative with how to ache. But if you’re not, you might as well use suffering to your benefit, either by creating a blog to tell about your experience, writing songs that breaks people’s hearts as yours have once been broken, becoming a motivational speaker, researching your pain and what it means, being inquisitive about life and the ‘big questions,’ whatever, the choices are endless. Proust chose to write books.

Proust was often sick, was unlucky in love and romantically pessimistic, un-comprehended by friends, over-protected by his mother, ignored by his father, had a failed career in theatre, but all this, if anything, has made him sensitive to the pains of others, and most importantly creative. He wrote: “A little insomnia is not without its value in making us appreciate sleep, in throwing a ray of light upon that darkness. An unfailing memory is not a very powerful incentive to study the phenomenon of memory.” According to de Botton, “Proust’s suggestion is that we become properly inquisitive only when distressed. We suffer therefore we think, and we do so because thinking helps us to place pain in context. It helps us to understand its origins, plot its dimensions, and reconcile ourselves to its presence. It follows that ideas that have arisen without pain lack an important source of motivation.”

Proust says, “Happiness is good for the body, but it is grief which develops the strengths of the mind.” He adds: “A woman whom we need and who makes us suffer elicits from us a whole gamut of feelings far more profound and more vital than does a man of genius who interests us.”

I know what he means. During a bout of depression, I wrote a short screenplay that I still think could be developed and could perhaps stand a chance on screen in one of those days. When I’m grieving, my head is usually full of ideas that wouldn’t have otherwise crossed my mind. I can guarantee that most stories, poetry and songs that touched us hide wells of pain.

But what a price!

And this comes to mind when I remember tales of genius marred by conflict, manic-depression, drug use, unhealthy obsessions, suicide, heart-break and chronic grief. Virginia Woolfe, Antoine de Saint-Exupery (without his explosive on-again-off-again relationship with Consuelo, world war, loneliness, perhaps the Little Prince would not have come out), Hemingway, Picasso, Mozart, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and if you will, Kurt Cobain and Eminem (sorry, but his songs get to me).

This leads me to a question that I have asked many times before: do we have to suffer in order to rise? Is it the old story of dying on the cross in order to transcend our ego and flesh, and become gods?

But that’s not what de Botton means of course. I’ve strayed a bit here. I believe his argument is, if you’re suffering anyway, you might as well learn, grow and create as you do. He says, “The moral? To recognize that our best chance of contentment lies in taking up the wisdom offered to us in coded form through coughs, allergies, social gaffes, and emotional betrayals.”

In addition, now in the words of Proust himself, “Griefs, at the moment when they change into ideas, lose some of their power to injure our heart.”

Listening to Abbady Al Johar here (not for the broken-hearted or the distraught, lyrics beautiful tho) there, there, and there. This too (lyrics here) and finally this very heartfelt song (and words).
Mood: sombre

Recommended:
Alain de Botton’s On Love/Essays In Love
Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life

Buffers, Les élus, Travel Writing

Loving all that lives …

… in nature. And it even has a scientific name: the “biophilia hypothesis” which says that there is an “an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems,” between man and nature. According to wikipedia, it’s Edward O. Wilson who introduced and popularized the hypothesis in his book entitled Biophilia – meaning “love of life” or “love of living system” and it’s Erich Fromm who first used it to describe the psychological orientation towards all that is alive and vital.

And the ‘philia’ is not only towards nature, as in forests, the desert, or parks or but also towards the weather, wind and rain, and animals (I’m thinking that means all animals so I imagine the philia cannot to be properly adopted by people who like “dogs but not cats” or “cats. I hate dogs”, or “red squirrels not grey because grey eats whatever and disturbs this or that food cycle” to the end of those silly arguments).

I was thinking that’s a good explanation for why some of us long to the desert, or develop this urgency or need to climb a mountain and stand on top, or feel called to go to a forest and hide beneath its thick, winding trees or get momentarily lost in snow. And no wonder why people who respond to those calls from the stars, the desert or the raw Earth feel different, energized, empowered and special – as if they were chosen to go there, as a fellow traveller has eloquently put it during a recent hiking trip in Sinai. But it looks like everyone is called, through this invisible umbilical cord that ties us to Mother Earth, but few respond.

Tree hugger talk, I know. But the question that comes to mind is why many of us fail to recognize this tie with nature and the animal world, a tie that seems to be born with us. What blinds us? What distracts us, and then what calls us back? Why have we lost the ability to connect on that level? To stand in the Sahara and breathe in the silence, instead of being intimidated by it, instead of standing on a mountain and shouting “Is there any body out there?” Is it a coincidence that the Little Prince has found his salvation, the clarity to recognize his destiny, in the desert, all alone with the emptiness, a fox and snake to guide him, and the promise of a well -water- nearby? I’ve asked that question before in my post Man, the friend of Silence but so far I have not found an answer.

Is it only in nature that we can find ourselves, the Truth? Or is it when we’re alone in nature? Is connecting to the Earth and being alone, perhaps even lonely, conditions for appreciation of life, of others, for recognition of our fault, failures and shortcomings, and for recognition of what is important and what is really of consequence?

Why is it painful to be alone and away then sometimes?
Why does silence intimidate?
Why does the desert at night, the endless dunes of sand, or the tall-as-sky mountains scare and awe us?
Why does the sea inspire fear and mistrust, why does it hold a type of treacherous beauty and uncertainty?
Why does the Sahara, instead of opening our eyes to the beauty of our inner space, stir up memories of things that never will be?
Why does the rain make us sad, and the snow makes us lonely?
Is it city life that corrupted us as such?
Have we moved so far from the sea that we don’t recognize it any more?
That we don’t know how to love it?

Listening to Une Chanson Pour Tout Dire, Eli et Papillon
and Maybe Findland, Snow and Voices
Mood: Grateful, Calm, and longing for the desert during wintertime

Buffers, Les élus

Young Reflections

A friend of a friend called Don Young wrote the following words and I found them to be an immaculate rendition of thoughts that haunt most of us, they touched me …

Young says, “We come up with rules, regulations and social norms for everything. We create these imagined realities for ourselves and then we read and write volumes upon volumes on topics such as how to find love, the rules of dating, the guide to successful marriages and so on so that we can learn how to do these things within the guidelines we have set out within our own imagined world …

The thing is though that shouldn’t these things be easy? Does any of it really mean anything when you really think about it? I mean, isn’t it all just really kind of silly, or is it just me?

Is it just me, or is everything and everyone just way too over complicated?

It seems to me that we need to eat, sleep and love … That’s it, that’s all. The rest is just a bunch of imagined nonsense that we create in order to give ourselves some sort of purpose or importance or justify our own greed.

If you really stop and think about it, does any of it matter? Is anything other than sustaining life and finding happiness simply in that, really anything other than nonsense? Ridiculous notions that we dream up as ways to separate ourselves from one another and waste our lives hoarding and hating and hurting each other; and for what? So at the end of our short little lives we can say we have won some sort of imaginary competition? So we can be dead and somehow feel better that our group has gained more ground over another?”

Listening to Brick City Love Song, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles
Mood: Thoughtful

Buffers, Les élus

Protected: Dark as Watchmaker

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Buffers, Les élus

Enduring love, at least for now

It’s like discovering a new toy, this love business.

For most of the 29 years I’ve lived on this Earth, save a year in college and two in high school, I really was never sentimental, in the romantic sense. No one impressed me, dramatic displays of love made me feel like puking and I poked fun in every chance I got at the hopeless romantics who I encountered along the way. This began to change in London when, as it seems, I was thunder-struck with the idea that I don’t want to end up alone. That gained momentum when I was back in Cairo.

Now, I’m different.

At least in my head, I began making mental checklists of Mr. Right (I’d like to call him X, sounds much cooler), crossing out traits here and there, then putting some of them back on again, as I go. Only to end up wanting the universe to choose for me or surprise me. And I started developing this fantasy of running into my “dream guy” and not having to settle for an arranged marriage — Sorry, girls, tried to wrap my head around it, almost did, but my head is too big for that 🙂 at least so far.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still loyal to some of my old beliefs.

I still find cheesiness hard to swallow, it gets lodged in my throat almost every time but now I’m obsessively curious about ‘L’amour’ and all it entails. Even heartbreak sounds intriguingly albeit melancholically beautiful in a way. And believe it or not, some love songs do make more sense now. I have much more patience for my friends’ romance-related anecdotes — and to my delight I have been told I’m now “more human” and “softer”. (And love is all what I want to blog about these days).

But I have to say the discoveries made are not only linked to stretches of emotion, actually they’re more linked to how we’re psychologically affected by the experience, like this blogpost suggests, and in turn physically, like this and this articles show. How are people affected by their upbringing, and how that plays out in their current relationships? The meeting of two, the merge of ideas and of pasts, the latter more significant than the former. What happens when we fall in love? Why do we prefer some people to others? What governs this process? Biology, culture, evolution? All of that? What makes one factor stronger than the other? What happens when we fall out of love? What happens when we move on? When we’re jealous? or cold? When we communicate successfully or surrender to conflict? Head and body. Male brain and female brain.

Boring?

Could be for some people. However, there’s always the joy of exploring the philosophical part, which is more poetic, heart-wrenching at times, and it touches us deeply, mainly because it tells us about ourselves in the most beautiful of words. It’s also as eyeopening as it is sad, because we learn about cycles of thought, inhibitions, patterns of behavior that define the human condition. And it makes you wonder what traps us, whether it’s all fated, or all inherent in the collective consciousness. Deep stuff, I tell ya. And, for those who are like the past-me, most of it is not even romantic.

Listening to the buzz from Algeria-Slovenia football match
+ Noise from the oscillating fan in the office
Mood: Playful, Inquisitive

Buffers, Les élus

Brooding Sentimentalities

This morning, I found a grape in my shoes.

It was a red grape. And I had a suspect in mind: my youngest cat. He likes to play with our food.

It made me smile, because it was one of those small things that reminds me I’m not alone. I remember when I lived on my own in London several months earlier, everything would remain untouched in my room until I got back. There’s bliss in that. But it also confirmed every night that I had no one to talk to, except my neighbors at halls, who just like myself were not always around.

But now, my mom moves stuff around to “tidy up the room” (despite my repeated objections) and my cats love to ruin them for sport. They kick books off the shelves, show special interest in some of my belongings by scratching them to death or hide grapes in my shoes (for safe-keeping, I’m sure there’s a good reason). And when confronted, they always look up at me with those big round eyes as I tower above them, their stares carrying a mix of surprise and disappointment at being so gravely misunderstood.

And all these are little reminders that I’m cared for, that I matter, even though those closest to me never fail to irritate me. But these irritations, and even criticism and mockery, again confirm that I’m not alone. During an interview for an acting workshop, the trainer asked me if I had any friends, I said, “not really.” A day later, I recounted details of the interview to guess who? yup, my friends, and I received a deluge of jeering and scoffing, and of course the question that reared its head was “Then who are we?”

Cornered, I responded: “You’re not my friends. You’re my best friends. Different!” And all jokes aside, part of me was very honest about this. Those friends who have known me for years and years, sometimes since childhood, are not “friends” per se, they’re more like family, and with that comes the eternal commitment to being with them, around them, even if we’ve lost common grounds and even if we’ve got nothing more to talk about. The years bind you together. Being comfortable in their company is granted, but like with family, you can easily slip into that cursed feeling of loneliness even when among them.

When I tried to explain this, one of them suggested, “sometimes I think you’re lonely because you take your problems too seriously. You think too much about them. Other people may have the same problems but then their approach is different, so they become less sad, less involved in their own worries.” She may be right.

An article by Robert Rowland Smith on being lonely said that this feeling is actually healthy because it means there’s a need for people, it means we appreciate people and that “shares a root with compassion.” Sure, it’s all beautiful.

But then what? That’s not a cure for the chronic loneliness, that might or might not go away when you’re with friends, a romantic partner, a sibling, sitting, sleeping, partying, travelling. And I’m not the only one who’s complained. People, successful, with jobs and wives or husbands, always busy, have also complained of the same problem; it almost seems like a new universal malaise (at least for those like myself, who’re living in big noisy cities, struggling for privacy and space, but also for people to *see* them). Everyone is not happy, and everyone feels alone even among people.

Do we – the lonely- hold any solutions to this? Do we even want solutions? Or is it the new “artistically romantic” thing to be lonely? The lonely successful man or woman? A notion like the “misunderstood artist”, or the “sad clown”? Are we deliberately holding on to solitude and the emptiness that accompanies it to satisfy a certain image that has been associated with being sophisticated or independent in this modern age? Is it some kind of an escape? Or perhaps a motivator for escape? May be an adaptation problem? A good excuse for withdrawing and refusing to bond with others?

At this point, I should suggest an answer or say something wise but nothing comes to mind. So I’ll stop writing

Listening to: the news on (or more likely the buzz coming from the) TV
… and this is not a song. We got a new TV in our office
Mood: wavering between bored and brooding

Books That Inspire, Les élus

Of finger-placing & the consolation of words

“I never expressed a desire to break up with her except when I was unable to do without her,” Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time.

I came across this quote in Alain de Botton‘s book How Proust Can Change You Life which I’d just begun reading. In the second chapter, titled How to Read for Yourself, the author talks about how literature can make us feel at home everywhere, and cure us from loneliness if we find shades of ourselves and those we know in the characters we read about. His argument is, it expresses our deepest desires and our feelings far better than we would have, and it makes our antics and suppressed thoughts and unmentioned emotions more human. It teaches us we’re not alone in feeling or thinking this or that.

I related, finishing On Love only a couple of days earlier, I knew exactly what both Proust and de Botton meant.

Immediately, it brought to my memory a scene from the British play turned film The History Boys, when one of the professors explains to his student the value in reading about a similar experience:

The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.

Going back to the friends who’re here to stay, which are my books, I’ve felt exactly that at times, that a hand was taking mine and squeezing it tightly, telling me I’m after all normal.

Listening to A Mansion Has Many Rooms, by Grail
and Bright, Bright, Bright by Dark, Dark, Dark
Mood: Pensive

Into the Trenches, Les élus

Ask me questions …

… I find it a good exercise, and I think it could help me recognize areas of thought I haven’t explored before. Plunging into uncharted territory and all that. If the question is too challenging though, there’s a good chance I may ignore it (my small brain can work out only so much). And if it’s too personal or rude, I may show claws.

But don’t let that hold you back, really, I mean ask me anything here.

*wide grin* —>> meant to give you a false sense of safety.

Warning: It’s sort of an experiment, so if it gets tiring, I may decide to disappear

Listening to: Where is my mind, Maxence Cyrin
Mood: Happy-Go-Lucky (surprisingly so)

Into the Trenches, Les élus

I wrote this for him

I was sitting at this concert at Darb 1718 watching ‘El Dor El Awal’ whisk people away with their tunes to a far away world, when I remembered him.

His name was Khaled Mohamed Sai’d and he was beaten to death by two police officers. The reasons why are not important and, at least to me, irrelevant.

I had read the news this morning, and saw the pictures, they have shaken and disturbed me. But here I was on the same night, lying on the grass, listening to good music, laughing with my friends, playing with my hair and clapping and cheering for the band, as if no great injustice has befallen an innocent man. And it’s natural, I never knew him. And I won’t pretend that the news had affected me or stayed on my mind beyond a mere two or three hours after reading about it. Next week, I’ll probably forget him completely and the week after perhaps the name won’t even ring a bell — and mind you I’m a journalist so it’s not like my work doesn’t involve following up on these cases. However, there’s a big chance everything will be forgotten anyway and so it follows that his story might not be “sexy” enough (in journo lingo) to follow up on in a week or two.

But for a moment, I thought: What if I really cared? What if we all did?

What if the band, instead of playing, had come to the microphone to announce that Khaled had died brutally and so they will withhold their music until justice has been brought to his family, and to us?

What if we had decided to strike, not to go to work, not to buy or sell, or visit friends or watch TV or go to the movies until an investigation is held into his murder?

What if tomorrow no one showed up for Friday prayers and sheikhs gave angry sermons against our rulers to empty mosques in protest of this inhumane killing?

What if we all decided to wear black in mourning?

What if we brought everything to a standstill until we’re told why a young man’s bones were broken, face battered until every last breath left him and why on Earth is his assaulter running free?

But of course we wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t. Who does that anyway? And if we did that for every injustice that has befallen man, maybe life would have stopped … or maybe it would have been perfect. But we won’t know really.

And perhaps if I didn’t work in news, I’d forget about him tomorrow.

Heartbreaking, isn’t it?

Buffers

Passion for my blender

Amid the smothering busyness, glaring screens, the monotony of noise, the persistence of chaos … despite cold shoulders, blatant profanity, heartbreak, even with financial worries, and the woe that accompanies obsessive thinking, flawed perceptions, misunderstandings, and feeling lost …

… always, always, always ….

… make time for freshly-squeezed juice.

Buffers, Les élus

High Heals

This was my first acting workshop. During the interview, I bluntly explained to the trainer that I have no acting experience, no interest in the art beyond observation and that I do not intend to become an actor. When he asked me, why I was there, I simply answered, “as a confidence exercise” and that was that.

I was on time for the first class, so were a few other participants. As we waited for others to arrive, a conversation with another participant, a psychologist called Maram began. She was there for “boosting confidence” as well, besides vocal training and blocking exercises, and I was re-assured I wasn’t the only one seeking this fleeting, almost abstract notion.

Maram said she specialized in psychosis but she’s also a relationship therapist; I’m not sure if that has a clientèle here in Egypt. I’d imagine that couples having relationship problems would opt for consulting friends, family members, websites and people like Marwa Rakha, experts only by trial-and-error and not by scholarship. But her clinic seems to be thriving, at least according to her.

She started telling me about how this was not her first stab at acting, that she began “drama” exercises first with a psychoanalyst called Dr. Sherif Fadel, who uses psychodrama as a way of therapy. She explained that a psychologist named Jacob Moreno had invented this method, using theatre for mental and psychological healing. I’d never heard of the method before, as she told me and the few others who were listening how people can overcome painful experiences through re-playing them on stage. “It helps you look at a situation differently. Some people have a breakthrough in the way they think as a result.” The situations and role playing are often based on true events, but they don’t have to be necessarily factual, there’s space for improvisation and interpretation. To be honest, I thought the idea was brilliant and I made a mental note to try and interview Fadel for a story. Another psychotherapist walked in, but this girl was younger, perhaps 24 or 25. I began to think about the people that this art attracts. I couldn’t make generalizations on the spot, and I’m glad I haven’t. In addition to the young psychologists, there was a model present (she chatted a bit about modelling in Egypt and how she eats all she wants but still manages to stay thin). As more people walked in and introduced themselves, it was clear that the group of ten, despite being all young, were more diverse  that I had initially thought.

The hall where we began the workshop was dark, as classic music wavering from thundering to soft and meditative, played in the background. The first section of the workshop was like a Yoga class. Actually, I felt more like I was in a Buddhist retreat, as everyone stood there in the darkness, in a circle, focusing on balancing their energies through breathing, humming and NOT thinking. Eyes closed, I could feel something flowing through me. In a long time, I hadn’t felt my body as such. It was a silent meditation on the inner space, a journey within, as you tried to feel your body, limb by limb, bit by bit, fingers, shoulders, hands, backbone, feet, legs, toes.

It felt like my body was asleep for so long, and that then it was awaken. I enterprised and imagined the energy as light moving through me, healing as it flows, shinning through my skin and that suddenly I was overflowing as others were with this light. My feet held me strongly, I felt my weight, but I also felt light (and light-headed). As if my head was up there in the sky (longing for it), and my feet were deeply rooted in the Earth. And I became unaware of space or time anymore, only of being. It was strange. And all my worries seemed to be in a past that I was disconnected from,  a past that might have well happened a hundred years before I was born. I was not there. I was here. Christian, Muslim Sufi and Buddhist-like chants reverberated across the room, and vibrated through my body as I took part in them. The sounds were coming from deep within me, and through me and around me. I wondered if you have to be a believer to feel this effect. And I questioned why I hadn’t meditated for long. When it was time to be “awakened,” I decided I’m absorbing this light back into my body, into this small bundle that I’m keeping within me, as a source of protection. I remembered a recent trip to Sinai, where at many points butterflies were fluttering around me (well, and probably others, but I chose to ignore that) and decided to believe the myth that butterflies come to healers, and so it follows that I was one.

Second exercise was about movement: how to awaken the body from this trance and control it. “If you can’t move slowly, if you can’t walk slowly, if you’re unable to slow down at will, then you’re not in control,” bellowed the trainer. I tried to keep the motion slow, but my knees started becoming wobbly and my body was not responding as I’d wanted to. It was indeed about control and at this point I realized that it was my head and body that were leading me, not I them. And it does look like I’ll need some training before I can be in control.

Next were eye contact exercises. Keeping eye contact. Locking eyes with the person for the purpose of knowing them, without body-language, without frowning or laughing, or moving a lot. Being comfortable with looking in the eye, in addition to watching the face, communicating without talking, which was also the next exercise; “send the person a message with your eyes. Speak. tell a story. Repeat the message.” I played with that for a bit. But for me, it was as much about communication as it was about observation. I barely remembered people’s names but watching them, I felt a little bit connected to them, and above all I appreciated them.

At that moment, I remembered my trip back from London, three weeks back, when I decided to switch between on-flight movies, watching the actors faces instead of the stories. I tweeted about it a day after I got back. And this is what I said back then:

“I relaxed, watched bits and pieces of different movies, watching the movement of actors, their faces, without really concentrating on story, thinking there’s something graceful about humans when they speak, cry, scream, smile. It’s beautiful to feel you can pay attention to this, and really take everything in, absorb people’s movement, watch it as if in itself it’s art. A touch of hand, a twitch in the face, and suddenly I felt I can relate to people.”

(The rest of my thoughts are here)

I felt something similar during the exercise. Suddenly, every single person that I gazed upon looked much more beautiful than when I’d seen them less than an hour earlier. Some’s personalities – or at least vibes- seeped through their eyes. Some looked away, couldn’t keep the eye contact, some were more daring. Some looked intimidated, some intimidating, some pained and some reluctant and hesitant. But it was all beautiful. It was like looking at a deep well, a store of secrets and non-secrets … or perhaps a painting, trying to understand what the painter is trying to say but also projecting your own understandings, insecurities, fears, likes, dislikes and questions.

Next was role playing, “proper acting”, all improvised. You had to go in minutes from pretending you’re doing final touches to your ‘best friend’s’  hair on her wedding day, to relaying bad news to a colleague, to trying  to act all girlish and soft while making up with your ‘boyfriend’ (always difficult when you barely know the guy :D) to consoling your daughter who just broke up with her fiancé and is crying her eyes off (I have to say the girl doing the daughter opposite me was very good) — all the while while trying not to give your back to the camera. It all went from difficult, to boring to hilarious, especially as people either laughed or took themselves too seriously. At points, my voice was obviously (and embarrassingly so) shaking. And at a certain point, I had to stop and tell the guy who was doing one of those two-minutes scenes with me to head this way so we won’t give our backs to the camera. And he did so, without getting out of character. By the way, I also failed to mention I was the least experienced, but this might be clear by now, and in some instances, I was ostensibly (and unashamedly) scared.

The class went on from one exercise to another, ending with the most difficult of all: recounting a painful experience, “something so painful that the memory could make you cry” in front of the group as they were instructed to cut you off, make fun of you, ridicule you and try to drown your words. “It’s all about concentration. No matter what your colleagues do, you have to tell your story, with the same intensity, till the very end,” explained the trainer. I decided to talk about body issues, the most personal of issues for me, and about how I struggled with my body image -and still do. It was liberating to shut off the noise. The participants apologized to each other after this exercise.

“Were we too hard on you?” asked one of them laughingly. Well, I didn’t even hear anything they said. “Would you believe me if I said I heard nothing of what you said?” Another one agreed saying that he too had to stop listening to concentrate.

The biggest struggle for me was not to shut off the sound, that bit was easy, but to go on telling my story as the noise continued. Because even if you don’t hear what people are saying sometimes, even if you shut them out, it’s still a struggle not to be forced into silence.

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me, so the saying goes. The last was an exercise on precisely this.

To be honest, I can’t wait till next week.

Buffers, Les élus

In 140 characters or less

This train of thoughts formed a series of tweets, that I felt I’d like to preserve here, for how special the feelings this quiet and small experience evoked in me:

So I tried to tweet from the plane yesterday, but for some reason the tweets weren’t sent in SMSes through mobile
But our plane stood in the airport for an hour, while we’re on board, as it was being fixed. And they kept turning the engine on and off…
It was scary cos I thought there must be a reason why my flight was cancelled, [why] I rebooked in BMI, [that the] strike [was] called off, [for me to] return to BA [in the end] …
And my conclusion was, this plane is gonna crash (probably during take-off) and that I was meant to be on it, that was my death …
Quite dramatic, I know, but in some instances your mind sells you all kind of ideas, and depending on your belief system, you buy or not…
But nothing bad happened, and since there were only 18 people on the whole plane (after flight was reinstated), it was v. comfortable…
And I have to say I prefer night flights to morning ones. There’s something serene about flying high, and being embraced in darkness …
I enjoyed being alone for a first in a long time, away from all, stranded between earth & sky. I didn’t even feel like thinking …
I relaxed, watched bits and pieces of different movies, watching the movement of actors, their faces, without really concentrating on story …
Thinking there’s something graceful about humans when they speak, cry, scream, smile…
It’s beautiful to feel you can pay attention to this …
… and really take everything in, absorb people’s movement, watch it as if in itself it’s art.
A touch of hand, a twitch in the face …
and suddenly I felt I can relate to people. I’m not repulsed by others, I enjoyed their presence while enjoying being alone, simultaneously
At a certain point I switched off the main screen, and enjoyed the silence. I could see stars & the moon from my window cos plane was dark …
And I remember thinking that I haven’t seen the moon and stars above the clouds before. They must have been hidden to those on Earth …
and this realization (that they’re there even if we don’t see them) was comforting. I felt like a child again …
… My mind was clear for a while, which felt surreal and I wanted the flight to last longer and longer. I didn’t want to go back to Earth. I felt I belonged there …
The only other place that I felt might be a sanctuary (as I read Robert Twigger’s Lost Oasis) was the desert … and suddenly I didn’t feel like I missed London or wanted to escape back to it, but I looked forward to being lost in new places …
… to explore, to be with myself, to sit alone, to learn to look at the sky or at people and see, and I mean really see
Inspired by Rob, I made the decision to turn this into an adventure (or a dream to keep me going) & plan for a big break from my small world.
… Perhaps I’m meant to find this lost oasis, which many have failed to. I’m sure they all thought they’re the “chosen ones” …
… but I’m also sure, that despite not finding it, they found something else, perhaps just as enigmatic, & mysterious & precious.

Buffers, Les élus

On loneliness and writing

It turns out I have been feeling this “loneliness” for far longer than I thought I did. I found some writings from a few years back, I don’t even remember writing them or the occasion, and I cringe a bit at the amount of melodrama seeping from every word. Here’s an abstract:

“Perception is a curse. Seeing through, having a breakthrough changed my life, changed me more than I can say. Words fail when I attempt to describe how alone I am, in this wretched world where my enemies are not black anymore, neither are my people all white and good. There are not many people where I am to testify to my loneliness or sing the praises of the no-knowledge land. But believe me –believe the sound of reason etching in my voice, ripping at my heart- it’s a deserted place where I am, where happiness is a thing of the past, and where peace never comes without a price.”

“Home becomes a relative thing, anyway. So perhaps it does not matter. Or does it matter? Because home becomes something abstract, something that could only be attained in struggle. Something that people dream of when they sleep; like freedom, love, right … all those beautiful, beautiful words. I guess I will be a traveler for long; me and them who see.”

I think these words were written in 2006 or 2007. However, I relate to my younger self on the subject of “home” and not finding it. And let this be a short note back to her, to the 25-year-old me: “You won’t find this ‘home’ for a long time, and yes you will be a traveller and you will cross paths with ‘those who see.’ And it’s not always good. But it’s never bad.”

Like Stephen Fry once did, I should do too: write a long letter to my younger self. Perhaps not at 25. But to the one stuck at crossroads at 19, to warn and comfort her.

Les élus

They dance on my paper …

One of my drawings, this one didn't dance though. She flew!

I’m holding a shiny sword
I’m talking to three people
One of them I haven’t met since college
And two others who change faces
All of which I thought I forgot
I’m drawing figures but they’re already there
On paper
Already there
Dancing on paper
Dancing for me
Challenging me to pin them down and draw them again
I see them, I see them
And that’s why I think I can draw them with perfection

My mind tells me to write
Write what’s already there
On the paper with the drawings, dancing for me
And I see them, I see the words
And they’re already written
And that’s what my mind tells me
It tells me not to invent
But to copy the form
And to follow the form
And to forget that there is pen, that there’s paper
Only what’s already there for me to pencil and write

It’s a trick, my mind taught me a trick
And it was during sleep
Oh, it was in a dream

Now I remember the figures with hoods
And the robes
And the staffs
Dancing for me
Daring me to put my pen down
And find them
Daring me to change them
Daring me to think for my own
And I put my pen down to follow the lines
And they dance
And they dance
But I follow the lines

The voice in my head tells me to ignore it
Ignore the inventor
And become a god of lines
A god who follows the lines
As they twitch
As they switch
As they run from each other
As they rage
As they change
As they dance
Yes, they dance
On my paper

(I wrote it in 2009, after several attempts at trying to draw several comic book characters, as I saw them in my head, and failing. One night after giving up on the pen, I dreamt that someone was telling me -perhaps it was my Voice- to just follow the lines that are already there, to follow the form, to imagine that my characters were already there on paper and that I was just tracing them like kids do to learn drawing. I decided to try this the next morning. It didn’t work, but it produced this silly poem, which I like.)

Books That Inspire, Les élus, Travel Writing

From Robert Twigger’s Lost Oasis

I typed up here the bits that touched or inspired me when I read them. I have only just started the book, so I suspect I’ll be updating this post as I read more.

“The desert was about the void, the zero point, shrinking yourself and your concerns in the immensity and emptiness of it all. The desert was about a definite psychological need for vastness in the face of human confusion, brain fatigue. Mind-bothered Western man can take drugs, alter his lifestyle, turn off the television, pierce his body or run a marathon, it all amounts to just so much therapy to keep him loping along the same track towards the inevitable finishing post. I saw the desert as a huge right turn, a different path, another way out of what everyone was into, the money, goods and attention conflicts of the current century. The desert cured the malaise, not just the symptoms. Somehow the vastness of the desert signalled the infinite present, nowness, headspace, instant immortality.”

“When the wind is low the desert is especially quiet. Noise, especially when you live somewhere constantly noisy like Cairo (it’s a gripe of filmmakers that Cairo is bad for filming because of the constant hum, whatever time of early morning you try to film you can never be rid of that deep city resonance, sixteen million people, the biggest city in Africa, just humming, humans making a noise like a giant hive; it was the reason I heard the English Patient wasn’t filmed in Egypt, the Cairo hum, always there, ruining any direct sound recording) you get so used to noise that when it’s not there you feel your body starting to expand, as if gravity is weaker, as if the lack of noise is causing your body parts, no, your very cells, to fly apart. It’s almost unbearable, just for a moment, before you get a grip and relabel it ‘relaxing’ or ‘absence of tension’, but the first few minutes when it hits you it’s terrifying, you begin to doubt that you’ll hold together. If feels as if without noise we will perish and expand, with the pressure off we’ll be like astronauts in punctured suits.”

“Now I was safe I could reflect on the intense burst of loneliness I’d felt, like the distilled essence of loneliness … Did I want to continue with this game? People who hate the desert – and there are plenty – must intuit this feeling before even visiting the place and, knowing it, leave well alone. But I was glad. It meant the desert, however man tamed it with cars and cool-boxes and GPS machines, still had teeth, was still a wild place where man went at his peril, had to have his wits about him. Man’s instinct is to diminish the desert, reduce its dangers, build a town at the oasis and connect it by phone, rail, air and truck to the next oasis. I wanted to reduce its dangers too, but only so far. In the past you’d be limited by what was available — camels and leaky water skins. Desert dwellers, the tebu, Bedouin and Tuareg, had all learnt to live with this fear. You would be judged irresponsible, by modern standards, if you wanted to recreate that danger, that balance of fear and possibility.”

The book itself can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Oasis-Adventures-Egyptian-Desert/dp/0753824051/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274553100&sr=8-1

And this is Twigger’s Explorer’s School: http://www.theexplorerschool.com/

Les élus, Travel Writing

Near Southern Borders

The Halayeb triangle, Shalateen and Elba soon turned into a dream destination for me and my travel partner Amr El Beleidy for the sole reason that they seemed to be untouched spots on Egypt’s map.

Because of border disputes with Sudan, the area was closed off to many “intruders” and was off-limit to foreigners who had no business being there. Perhaps only environment-related research, and a combination of nepotism and haggling can get you near that strip of land. We were lucky to be allowed into Shalateen and into the mountains to its West – both full of stories, difficulties and a different kind of magic. Badriya, the feisty 4X4 Land Rover discovery we both love, happily took us there. The 1000-km drive south was well worth it — despite losing our way, our car lights failing us in dark winding roads and in spite of getting behind on schedule a few times. And we tweeted, using Badriya’s Twitter account, about all that and more.

But in retrospect, it was all so much fun. We tried to out-smart a high-ranking army official to our failure and embarrassment, we made friends with local police officers, two of them over-concerned with “marriage and dating”, we learned about making henna and dancing with swords. We attended a tribal wedding, walked through Roman temples and past ancient water wells tucked away in the mountains of Wadi el-Gemal, home to the largest population of gazelles in Egypt, and we hunted –with our cameras– a few of those.

The daily camel market was no less remarkable, with the massive camel traffic coming all the way from southern Sudan on foot and further north into Egypt on trucks.

And perhaps the most worthwhile part of the trip was speaking with the locals, whose lives are caught in the middle of a border dispute between Egypt and Sudan.

Our trip was worth documenting, in our humble opinion, and we decided it was even worth a travel series. You can read our stories on Al-Masry Al-Youm English website. You need only to click on the Shalateen and Back Again banner to access the latest instalment of the southern adventure.

These are the stories published so far:

  • A hunt for adventure, fun and facts in the southern mountains: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/26118 (A short introduction to the series)
  • Married to Tradition: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/26323 (the product of an exciting conversations with young locals on issues of the heart; love, dating and marriage)
  • Shalateen: Growing up between a rock and a hard placehttp://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/36282 (a meditation on the past, present and future of this unblemished town)
  • The Long Drive Down: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/37588 (The roadtrip begins here, how we went from picking a spot on the map  to actually making the 1200-kilometers drive to the deep south happen)
  • The Hunt for Truths in a Far-off Town: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/39212 (We finally arrive at Shalateen. Read about how we tried to play “good cop, bad cop” with the military and how it backfired, how our first (forced) friendships were with undercover policeman and security officials. We share our first impressions and show how the presence of two strangers disturbed the peace in the small town)
  • Swords, Shields and A Whip: A Beja Wedding Night: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/40980 (This is where we recount our search for gold, and our memories of a very special Bedouin wedding in the mountains)
  • Saying Farewell to the South: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/42541 (We explore ancient Roman lodgings and temples, we hunt deer with our cameras, sleep under the stars only to wake up to find ourselves surrounded by border guards)

Companion pieces
Skills learned from Bedouin men and women:

In Pictures:

Video:

  • Wedding Dance of the Beja Tribe: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/40195 In the heart of the mountains south of Egypt, we attended a “Beja” tribe wedding. Here we record one of the Bedouin ceremonial dances we witnessed and share our impressions.

We were also inspired to write blogs posts, jotting down our own impressions of the area, its people and the common issues we both face:

Follow the travellers on Twitter:

Amr – @beleidy

Pakinam – @pakinamamer

Badriya – @Badriya4X4

Buffers, Les élus

Everything is Illuminated

Yes, I borrow from movies a lot. But it’s not this Elijah Wood drama that I want to talk about here, but about Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind … which is not exactly his although he appeared in it, since Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet were the poster stars. But I just wanted to force a link since the blog title fits my current mood, but the post is about something else.

It’s about a simple and a very complicated thing. Moving on, the good way.

These days, I often find myself recalling one of the most moving scenes in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which touched me deeply on second viewing a few weeks ago … it’s story is complicated, check synopsis on imdb if you haven’t seen it).

After Joel struggles frantically to keep his memories of Clementine as they were being forcefully erased by Relationship-torment-reliever Lacuna, Inc, he realizes he can’t fight it any longer. It’s inevitable. He has to forget her even if now he doesn’t want to anymore.

Inside his own head, in his mind’s eye, as he sits with Clementine enjoying the first memory they have of each other -where they first met- and the last memory to be erased, she tells him, “This is it Joel, It’s going to be gone soon.”

“I know,” he answers.

“What do we do?” she asks

“Enjoy it.”

It’s a lesson in letting go of the things you love. Separateness doesn’t have to be sad, at least not all the time.

Les élus, Travel Writing

Reflections on a Southern Marriage

By Amr El Beleidy
‘Along The Watchtower’ Guest Writer

People tend to think that their way of life is the best way to live, until they see a different way that impresses them. And sometimes we fall into the trap of being so self centered and closed minded that our baseline for what’s right and wrong, what’s good and bad is whether it’s the way we do it or not. If it’s different it’s wrong. And people who fall into this trap never learn, because they are never open to anything new.

When we (I and Pakinam Amer, owner of this blog, follow her on twitter @pakinamamer) travelled to Shalateen on a travel writing assignment, we attended a wedding 180Km away from the town and into the mountains by pure chance. Naturally we started flooding our guide with questions about traditions and how things get done there. We were later invited by a group of young men to have some coffee with them on the beach, and the same topic came up again. The funny thing is that the topic of marriage kept coming up with everyone we met, including the plain-clothed policeman who stopped us in the market.

Then naturally me and Pakinam started discussing our findings. I think we already have different views on a lot of issues back here in Cairo (although to be fair, we do agree on a lot as well), which we are meant to understand best. But these differences and the differences in perception of what the locals where trying to say caused us to see things in differnet ways as well.

A lot of people will be tempted to think about which style of marriage is better, the ‘Open-minded’ Cairo style or the traditional tribal customs ‘Shalateen’ style. But define better. What makes a successful marriage? Is it the number of babies, I think most people would agree that the world has moved past this point. So is it happiness? Well, how do you measure that? And so the engineer in me thinks, that failing to define a concrete measurable value (or set of values) that indicate the quality of marriage, the question of which style is better will never be answered.

But there are advantages and disadvantages to all systems, and there are ‘myths’ that I would like to dispel about the Shalateen style of marriage. Naturally I will be speaking here from a man’s point of view.

1. It’s easier to find a partner

It definitely is. You have a limited choice of women, who a lot of them are very good looking, and so picking one does not take ages. If she refuses, then just pick another one. And if you don’t want to pick one, just talk about marriage in front of your parents and they will pick one for you, without you even asking.

2. Money is not an issue

As long as you are a good man, you pray and you fast, they don’t care what your financial situation is. Then the dowry depends on what you can afford, normally between 1000 & 3000 LE. When we wanted to tell them about the dowry’s in Cairo, we asked, how much is the most expensive dowry you can imagine, the answer was 5000 LE! And when told some moderate numbers, one of them exclaimed “Are you buying a car or getting married?” showing that for them buying a car is seen as the more expensive financial burden of the two things.

And buying the house is not a problem, get a piece of cloth, a number of sticks and you have your new tent. Are you getting richer, buy a shack down in the town and she will happily follow. No need for electricity, furniture and all that stuff. Maybe just a carpet not to sit on the sand.

3. The lack of strict commitments

It is definitely easier to commit to something knowing that you can get out of it. If you have a safety net in case you are wrong, then you will be more willing to take risks, and those who take risks sometimes achieve great things.

In Cairo, you have to pick the ‘right’ person, who ideally you will make a one time investment with, emotional investment, financial investment, time and health investment, and closing the door of marrying others. Divorce is a big deal as well, and naturally it should be, given the massive investment.

And thus, in Cairo we take forever to chose, but there, where class, age and looks don’t matter (they all follow the same religion, so that doesn’t matter as well), finding someone is far easier. When you may marry once more (without divorcing your current wife if you are a man), and divorce if either party is not happy without making anyone ‘used goods’ or having lower status then the decision to marry becomes easier. And so things move, people get married, divorced and married again. And if you are happy and satisfied with your marriage, even if everything says it should go wrong according to the ‘Cairo’ style then you just stay married and enjoy life together.

Cairo’s society putting strict rules on what will and what will not succeed is a self-fulfilling prophecy that many times have ruined what could have been happy lives.

The myth that women are oppressed:

If you ask me it seems like the men have a tough time there. People think the women are oppressed because they are forced into marriage, are not the first wife (while he is still marrying others), not allowed to go out of the house, etc..

The fact of the matter is they are not complaining.

Women in the mountains get very good treatment. One of the lads by the beach asked us a question, “Is it true what I heard that sometimes men in Cairo, insult and even hit their wives?” Another one answered with extreme conviction before I could even speak “No, no. There is no way it can reach hitting the women” and this answer came with a cringe of the face, this cringe you have when you think of something so disgusting.

And women in Cairo do get insulted, and do get beaten. Sure not all of them (that would be a bit crazy) but it happens, and it probably happens more than you think, because people will not go around saying their stories of hitting/being hit. So who is really oppressed?

The men there where complaining that the women were too shy, that it was difficult to talk to them, that if you were not from the close family circles they would never talk to you. The women are the ones who want it this way it seems.

At the wedding, the women did not want to get photographed, until the men told them off, for being rude to the guests who came all the way to attend the wedding.

It’s the women who want to stay in hiding, and not have foreign eyes look at them, and it’s a choice that we should respect and not demean in any way.

Women might be forced into marriage, but not to a particular man, and the men get forced too. Young people everywhere know of the pressures that parents put on them to partner up. It’s the same thing there, the whole you have to get married pressure. It just starts at a different age.

Many wives to one husband, no one is complaining. Just because women in some parts of the world do not like to share, doesn’t mean they all don’t. Given the circumstances there and the way of life, the women seemed at least not unhappy to share. It’s a different concept, and that’s all it is. Not oppression, not demeaning, just different.

Reminds me a bit of the Native Americans, how white Europeans could not understand how they did not have the concept of private property. How can you share your land with everyone else? Just a different way of living, if you don’t like it, don’t live there.

So if there is a lesson to learn from the tribal marriage traditions, it’s that putting too many restrictions on ourselves as a society ultimately makes our lives more difficult. The next time you hear of a partner combination you don’t like, stop, and let your prejudices go. You will make life easier for others, and for yourself as well.

——————-

Related Links:

Married to Tradition: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/married-tradition-shalateen

A Hunt for Adventure, Fun, and Facts in the Southern Mountains: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/hunt-adventure-fun-and-facts-southern-mountains

Pakinam’s take on marriage and relations in Shalateen and Cairo: https://pakinamamer.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/difficult-difficult-lemon-difficult/

Related Twitter Accounts:

@beleidy: Traveller and writer, author of this blog post

@pakinamamer: Traveller and writer, owner of this blog

@Badriya4X4: The Landy who tweeted about the 1200-km deep south

@touringa: a free travel communities and tour hosting website that connects locals, travellers and adventurers. “Travel with the Tribe”

Les élus, Travel Writing

Difficult, Difficult, Lemon Difficult

Relationships, that is.

The title of the blogpost is a quote from In the Loop, a Brit-American political comedy about the lead up to the Iraq war. It’s uttered by a hapless British minister lost at finding a way to remain neutral in the face of belligerent US politicians and military men divided over preventing or launching a war. The minister’s aide tells him that sitting on the fence is going to be “easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy” to which he responds, stumbling for words, that “No, it’s going to be difficult, difficult, lemon difficult” — which I find to be one of the most absurd and brilliant comedic lines I’ve heard in movies.

It’s also true of relationships. They’re DDLD — whether in Cairo, by the sea, in the mountains, at one end of Egypt or another.

A conversation that I and a travel partner (@beleidy on Twitter) had with young Bedouins during an assignment last month in Shalateen made me meditate on this more. After a stroll on the beach and a chit-chat with four young residents, we found ourselves giving “dating” advise to inquisitive strangers and sharing our insights into the differences between marriage in Cairo and Shalateen, almost 1000 km south and so practically at the other end of the country. It was an interesting conversation, which (at least for me) was steeped in innocence, simplicity, curiosity but also carried signs of confusion and a sense of entrapment. I may very well be projecting my own feelings of how complicated I find the workings of relationships between the opposite sexes in this city ‘that conquers’ – Al-Qahera- to be. But this is exactly the vibe I received.

The conversation inspired a whole article, which we decided should be the teaser piece for our travel package and which can be found here:http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/married-tradition-shalateen(“Married to Tradition”, published by Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition). And it often made me laugh when I remember it, and occasionally think, well think seriously I mean.

I’m not sure about my colleague, but I’m such a loser at relationships myself, I don’t know how they start or end, I don’t know anything about how to make them work and like in journalism, I’m often an observer not an actor. Because of this, I waver between many mixed feelings. I feel this aloneness, and I forget it. I let go then I worry. It gives me space, it suffocates me. It frustrates me sometimes. I’m not bothered by it at other times.  But it always makes me think, when I see others forging what seems to be eternal ties with loved ones, “What am I doing wrong?”

And so on that beach of Shalateen, when these young men seemed trapped in their own traditions of marrying cousins and marrying inside the tribe, I thought it was amusing that they were seeking answers from us.

We kept prodding ourselves. What if you decide to marry from Cairo? What if you like a girl from outside the tribe? What if this? What if that? And they indulged us as much as we did them.

And following a long conversation, there was a pause.

Despite how simple and cheap it was to get married, they were held back by ancient costumes — having your life partner chosen by parents and pre-decided for you.

But we are, it seems, held back by even greater forces, which are rooted in the idea of picking and choosing — finding the right girl or guy amid a myriad of choices that are not really choices when you think of them (everyone is “too” something for the other, too educated, too ignorant, too rich, too poor, too old, too young, too aggressive, too laid-back, too fat, too thin, too short, etc, etc). And of course by greater complications, which include family status, money or the lack thereof.

As I said, there was a pause. They weren’t impressed by the complexities that dating, relationships, “love” entitle for Cairiens despite all the apparent “freedom” we have. We, or at least I wasn’t happy with the sense of helplessness they seemed to have in choosing who to spend the rest of their lives with. They seemed to compensate for that by having the ability to marry more than one. It’s very easy (and in upcoming instalments of the Shalateen travel package, we will write elaborately on marriage and divorce in the tribe. The stories come out every Wednesday).

But it didn’t seem that our part of the deal had that appeal. Divorce and re-marriage is a big deal here, and for girls it’s still a small catastrophe to be divorced “or ditched” by the man across classes. It’s still a big deal if you choose out of the “mainstream”, like choosing someone of a noticeably different social background, from outside of the capital or someone who is several years younger, something that writer and relationship advisor Marwa Rakha writes about here: http://www.marwarakha.com/index.php?categoryid=25&p2_articleid=1021

Marwa, like many among us, screams at the small world we all float within, complaining of double-standards, of extreme lack of respect for privacy, of gossip and back-stabbing, and most of all of those who limit your choices by asking you to conform to a standard. As if you choose, borrowing from Neil Gaiman’s words, who “the stupid person” who stumbles into your stupid life and steals your heart will be.

In short, in the north, it seems a much more complicated affair than in the south, despite what it seems. We are similarly trapped, actually we’re in a worse situation.

At the end of our conversation on the beach, it seems that the Shalateen boys had secretly decided that relationship and marriage traditions in Cairo, the glittering capital reeking of  signs of ‘civilization’ and full of ‘free-spirited’ men and women, wonders, money, opportunity and choice, simply SUCK. And that perhaps in the mountains, it’s pre-ordained, but possible, as easy to get out of as it is to get into, simple, and unspoiled by material demands and needless pretences. And that perhaps we should chill a bit and enjoy what life has to offer instead of warping every good thing that comes our way.

Despite our levels of education, and if you’re so inclined, sophistication, we’re miserably looking for the other-half while being held down by our own lore and traditions, by our insecurities, doubts, loss of innocence, lack of faith and mistrust and while sifting through many distracting choices (so many that we don’t know what we want anymore).

We’re tired of convention too, but like the Shalateen guys, we’re too afraid to break ranks with the overwhelming mainstream. That’s why someone like Marwa Rakha who is past her 30, according to our lore, can’t fall in love with a man nine years her junior, and that’s why the AUC boy, according to golden rules, cannot marry a girl from Al-Azhar University, and that’s why the overweight geek can’t get the blond everyone wants, and that’s why this 29-year-old girl (who just realized that after working for a few years and completing her masters degree she wants to fall in love) should settle for an arranged marriage, “or we’ll all miss the train,” as the Egyptian saying goes.

That’s why it’s difficult, like lemons.

But Focket!

(like our lifestyle editor would say)

Screw those Egyptian-made rules. I’m not playing this game any more.

I want out!

—–

Related Links:

Hunt for Adventure, Fun and Facts in the southern mountains: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/hunt-adventure-fun-and-facts-southern-mountains

Married to Tradition: http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/married-tradition-shalateen

Amr El Beleidy blogs about marriage, dating and relationships in Shalateen and Cairo:  https://pakinamamer.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/guest-post-reflections-on-a-southern-marriage/

Related Twitter accounts:

@pakinamamer: Traveller and writer, and owner of this blog.

@beleidy: Traveller and writer.

@Badriya4X4: a Landy who tweeted about the 1200-km journey deep south.

Les élus

Overhaulin’

Will be back soon …

Note: Some of the posts, such as the two posts on veiling published in 2008 and 2009, are now private and viewable only through registration, so are some of the posts I have yet to publish, so please send me your name and email address if you’re a friend and want to view the blog spot in full. Cheers!

Into the Trenches, Les élus

There’s probably no God. Or is there?

It’s quite acceptable in some countries for sellers hawking goods to approach you on the street, and in others it’s laughable when people come up to you, as if out of no where, asking if you’d like to know about Jesus or the miracle of the Quran. And it’s annoying when they come and knock on your door … But lately in London, as it seems, a movement of what I choose to call a “religion” have upped the ante and decided it’s okay for them to scream their message at me and others in big font every time I leave the house. “There’s probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life!” is a new campaign manifested in hundreds of posters plastered across British buses and tubes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way offended. I don’t care. People’s beliefs are their own.

But why shove it down my throat mate?

What always distinguished many atheists in my head, including the man behind this ad campaign Richard Dawkins (of The God Delusion fame), is that they did not comprise a movement, and don’t usually interact like an organised religion — but the recent ad campaign had made re-think what now could be a misconception. But if it proves anything, it proves that men tend to unite religiously over their beliefs. And it doesn’t matter if it’s around God or the lack of him, but they almost always evolve into a movement … and perhaps in a while a religion with a hierarchy and a “holy book” and all. It looks like even some atheists cannot escape the clutch of organised religion, as ironic as this is. And they too could be made to feel insecure … so insecure perhaps that they have to hold up ads to propagate their beliefs, and thus become no different that some outspoken adherents to religions centered around gods, astronomical deities and supernatural entities.

Back to the ad. My initial reaction to it was amusement. Britons and their humor, I said to myself. But then every time I saw the ad, a different feeling of discomfort with the underlying concept would rear its head. Minoring in psychology back in school, I remembered that one of the deterrents of suicide and also one of the support systems against mental malaise like depression and the likes of it was a strong belief system … in addition to other things of course, including family. So in a way, more religious people were less likely to commit suicide for instance or to get clinically depressed. So in a way, and in some cases, a belief in God (or gods) stimulate a person’s mental defenses, and even biological (people’s beliefs in many things, from God to alternative medicines, have cured them from a host of diseases). Therefore denouncing a spiritual or a religious state-of-mind is not always a solution for people, is not always a source of comfort and peace and will not always open the doors to a worry-less life as the ad claims. In a whole lot of cases, it can do the opposite.

A different discomfort today. Again, I was on the tube, reading The Secret History of the World, a book filled with ideas and crackpot pseudoscience but also inspiration and food for thought (it’s a mixed bag, really!) only to notice one of those ads — again. This time the main slogan was accompanied by a quote from Douglas Adams that goes, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” Well, for me it’s not. Coming from the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the phrase -to me- seemed like it was manipulated (by being taken out of context) to be used as a blatant statement against imagination and meditation. Taking the garden, the world, at face value and seeing only what the eye sees -the physical- is nothing short of lame. God bless Antoine de St. Exupery and his little prince. Sometimes, people need to know how nature works, how beyond the flowers and trees, there is a flawless system that makes this all work in order to appreciate the beauty of the garden even more (science!). For others, fairies are an important part of the equation (fantasy!). The hidden and the esoteric. For someone like me, who reads Harry Potter and secretly believes Hogwarts exists somewhere in a parallel universe but who also reads The New Scientist religiously, it’s sometimes both — depending on the mood.

None of us has seen God, despite some witnessing his presence in their lives. So it doesn’t matter if the atheists believe he exists or not. And I don’t think we’re settling the God argument anytime soon. So why not act like adults and stop rubbing each others’ beliefs in each others’ faces, tastelessly and needlessly. To me the atheist ads are as uncreative and perhaps as naive as the people who come up to me and ask me if I wanna hear about Krishna. Give me something to stimulate my thought and I will heartily respond. But don’t give me a phrase that even if I support I can refute in different ways every time I go to work.

Man, now I remember what the ads remind me of!
Images are coming into my head as I write this.

Egypt’s underground.
Da’wa!
The Muslim Brotherhood.
Of course!
“Islam is the Solution.”

Who thought that Richard Dawkins and Hassan al-Banna would have anything in common? God does work in mysterious ways.

Into the Trenches, Les élus

What we hold dear …

“But it’s too easy to take sides in the Middle East conflict. Few other parts of the world inspire such passion or leave such little room for doubt. For many, choosing sides is just an afterthought to their birthright: If you’re an Arab, go join the Free Palestine demonstrations; and if you’re Jewish, go join the Save Israel marches.

Don’t forget, you can always throw God into the mix. Lay claim to your holy sites and you’ll have religiously sanctioned wrath to fuel your rage.” – Mona El-Tahawy.

I remember recalling this bit of Mona El-Tahawy’s recent piece while I was taking a tour of some 16th century artwork in London’s Royal National Gallery a few days ago. Heavily exhibiting Christian themes, several of the masterpieces naturally featured Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – just a passing mention or vision of the city was like a cue for my mind to dwell, yet again, on the Gaza carnage – dragging on for 20 days now- and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general, the loss of land and the humiliation of a people.

The trail of thoughts took me back to the horrors of the Holocaust, and I quickly questioned whether it provided enough justification for what is happening now. But I couldn’t even stay there for long. I could never stomach the reason why an oppressed or victimized group of people would almost always go on to inflict pain and misery on others, perhaps in the same way they were affected. I remembered studying something of the sort in school, in a psychology class, but the details escaped me. I concluded that it’s a vicious cycle, and didn’t elaborate on it in my head. Another thought left undeveloped.

And releasing it, I jumped to another: why is what’s happening in Palestine all so important – more important, more significant than other (war) crimes happening across the world? My mind has brought me full circle to Mona and another of her articles which bore the same question.

Perhaps because it was ongoing for 60 years? Or perhaps because the Israeli government has stripped the Palestinians of even the privilege of being pitied and has painted even their children as potential terrorists and their elderly as barbaric and inhuman. Perhaps, because it was so close to home and unfair and ugly and all too familiar. The reasons why -which formed the core of my disagreement with Mona about how this is not just another tragedy- went on. Because it is a just cause that the Palestinians are fighting and like Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto -a comparison that British MP George Galloway struck in a recent protest- they only had either choice: to die on their knees or to live forever.

Perhaps because it was the Holy Land they’re fighting over. Stop. Now, this was interesting. When I came to that, I looked back at the artwork, marvelled at how men could rise, fall and die bitterly for what they consider sacred … I instantly remembered Orlando Bloom in Ridley Scott’s flawed Kingdom of Heaven portraying a Crusader knight vowing to burn every church, mosque and synagogue before surrendering Jerusalem to Salaheddin so that people would stop fighting over them. I wondered if this would really be the solution; to just burn everything to the ground, so that the dust of the Holy Land, becomes that, dust — and not a cause to live and die for. But we all know, this is not going to happen. And it shouldn’t. And despite myself, I felt a longing for Jerusalem, to walk through its cobbled roads, to smell its air and finally pray in al-Aqsa — which I can’t help but feel eternal love for even though I’ve only seen it in pictures. I guess it’s another dream that I inherited and not developed, but refuse to let go of. It’s mysterious really how certain things can transcend their own natures and become powerful and moving symbols of identity, piety, resilience and courage. It reassures me on some level to find this love and respect inside of me for such symbols. But on another, and to be honest, it scares me.

Les élus

But what is worship?

The Holy Quran says that we -men and Jinn- are created to worship God; “Ma Khalaqna al Jin wal Ins illa le ya3bodoun.” I wonder what worship or “3ebada” means in context of this verse. Is it servitude or is it the kind of worship that we refer to in our desire to describe unconditional, devoted, complete, ego-less love?

It’s  not the same.

But if it’s love, is it the love for God only that we’re supposed to be directing our passion towards? Do we have to love everything through God, in God, for God? Is it possible to do it otherwise anyway if we believe that God is all-encompassing?

What about hatred in the name of God? How does this come into the equation? Are we here to hate for God as well? Is this “3ebaba” too? And if it’s not, is it possible to hate outside of God?

Some say that we are created so that we can live and choose to return to God, by will, and so glorify him as such and bask in his glory too. Perhaps.

If only I could remember the exact deal that I struck in “3alam al-thar,” it would have been much easier. Sometimes, I grasp the feeling of how it was like to be there but the memory quickly escapes me. I’m trying hard to squeeze my mind, my “fitra,” delve into the pool of our collective unconscious and remember. But most times, memory fails me.

My only solace is that I’m on a journey to rememberance.

And when I remember (and I will), I’ll try to contain my excitement and rush back here as quickly as I can and tell you what happened there years, and years, and years ago before time was created, or perhaps shortly after that.

Les élus

Laugh like an infidel

For a while, I’d taken the idea of “al-Tashabuh bel Kufar” for granted; something that the good, sweet, pious Muslims should not be doing. “Kokha,” as a traditional Egyptian would simply say.

Well, not until everything that most people did had been branded as “tashabuh” did I start to question the whole concept. This was back in college. But the memory haunts me.

For some people, the line to where a normal, accepted, and a needed conduct of behavior, speech patterns or dress code ends and where “tashabuh” begins is disturbingly blured.

Same as with “Tashabuh bel Regal/Rijal.” But this is a different story.

Revision with a capital R is a word I should write on my forehead as I walk the streets of Cairo, and perhaps the Arab World, in protest.

I end this undeveloped, incomplete note with a loud -almost spooky- laugh that is not unlike that of villians’ in 40’s and 50’s movies – a laugh void of “7ayaa,” just like the infidels’ except that it’s the only laugh that I have, and so I claim it as my own.

Les élus

Blog, blog, blog

An acquaintance had once told me that he believed that a blog should have a statement, should be political and should not be about personal feelings, cats and dogs, and what a person has done today.

Who is to say that one’s pets and complaining about a crappy mood is a non-statement? Who has an authority to judge anyway? A personal space is just that. And it should not be undermined in the name of politics, big words and “important” statements?

Let this be a call for all to stop acting like adults or at least leave the ones who are still children, free and open, to blog whichever way they choose.

I choose to write about non-sense and God be my witness. If it offends anyone, or sickens the open-minded intellectuals and free-thinkers, then I beseech them to simply click the virtual button marked “x”at the far right corner of their screens and let the argument rest there.

Cheers!

Les élus

Hello world!

Hello, Hello world! Can you hear me? Hellooo. Wait. One minute please. Well, can you hear me now? Perfect. Get ready for some of the worst babbling to be broadcast into the universe. Nothing fresh, all old blah-blah copied from my journal, the one and ever “The Journey’s Journal.” Feelings. Censored. Exaggerated. Right from my heart to yours.