The eternity of forms

Battling intense mood swings and depressive episodes is not easy — and it’s harder when we forget the little things that made us dream and look forward to a better tomorrow. Even worse, we tend to discard and leave behind the small habits that keep us connected to the “now” — which is the more important between the past and the future.

One of my small creations

Recently, I bought a new journal — engraved with a drawing of the Little Prince (my best friend) hanging by small ropes to a flock of birds, taking flight off his tiny planet and into the unknown. A line underneath the drawing reads, “L’essential est invisible pour les yeax.” The essential is invisible to the eyes.

It’s true. Once I started writing in that journal — after months and months of leaving this habit– I realized that I had the answer all along: I shouldn’t look outside of myself to battle my demons. But perhaps I should look inside, to the things that I already have and thought  I lost, and instead of battling demons, perhaps I should befriend them, even love them. They’ve lived with me for so long, I’m probably their only home. I wouldn’t throw them away.

I’m loyal to strange things.

Writing, and sketching — creating form, ink on paper. Therein lies the magic that perhaps will free me one day. In my first entry, I wrote, “When writing, a person is in the moment, like right now. If you’re focused on getting ink on paper, nothing becomes more important than ink on paper. And within the ink and the words, there’s a certain magic, an incantation and a spell. Am I going crazy? Or is this me finally becoming sane? Finding beauty in the mundane. Or more correctly finding miracles in small things.

Words have a god. And whoever masters words becomes close to this God. If you become a word, the word, you become god. This is the essence of spirituality: becoming infinite inside something. Consigning your soul — this limitless presence– to a single point in space. Points are timeless, or rather not bound by time.”

Self portrait

So are words. And so will you, if you focus so much on the task of producing a word on paper that you disappear in it. Watch the pen move, the ink dispensed, sink into the pores of the paper, grow and stem out into a form that gives meaning, makes sense. Suddenly, the ink takes on new meanings. It becomes alive in the shape that it has created. Iqraa, read it back, breathe in, breathe out, in, out and everything changes. This is the present. Welcome to it.

Words can change the world.

How can this idea not be healing?

Similarly, I tried to re-explore sketching. A beautifully talented Tweep gave me a drawing book, as gift, a week earlier, and I haven’t stopped drawing ever since. And last night, I wasn’t too afraid — as I always were before– to share that bit of myself. So I posted some of these online, and I even changed my Twitter avatar to a self-portrait that I have drawn myself.

Will all this cure my dark episodes? It might. And if not, then it will remain there as testimony to how I tried.

“Nous écrivons des choses eternelles.”

Listening to: Nothing
Mood: Indescribable, hovering in a grey area between happiness and sadness.
Wants from the Universe: Love, love, love and more love. For people, and for things. Mostly, for myself. Because I need that.

Apologies …

… for falling off the grid recently. I have no excuse. But I must confess I have been turning more to writing letters to beings above and on the Earth, some of them dear friends, others are gods, and this has distracted me from the Watchtower (i.e. this blog). I promise to be less sporadic and more prolific. And in the course of the next few days, I will collect some material from personal emails, and anecdotes from trips to the desert, and turn them into proper posts that I can share.

Thank you for reading, and happy 2011. Two-thousand-and-Ten was nothing short of dreamy and beautiful, despite loss, deep pains and a set of troubles. It has taught me much. I have learned that the desert casts enchanting spells on gullible travelers, that words can break your bones if you let them, people can move on but sometimes they don’t, love is just around the corner but only if you’re ready, personalities (and body weight) are not set in stone and both can be lost for the good, friendships can be resurrected, fears squished and buried deep, that some bridges need to be burned to the ground, a listening ear is precious, that the past no matter how pretty can get boring, karma works, some hurts persist, the Universe listens, authority figures are always flawed, the essential is invisible to the eye and that you become responsible forever for what you tame. And oh, fennec foxes can get too friendly — but that was just plain fun to learn.

For 2011, I have decided that this Calvin Coolidge quote is my new year’s resolution: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Listening to: Songs from a time well past and gone
Mood: Hopeful
Wants from the Universe: Strength. And the courage to feel and act upon intuition and feeling. Love. Light. To hear the voice of God. The door that opens when others are closed. Peace of mind. More helpful hands for my projects. More luck. Also, and while we’re at it, an iPad and a Kindle.

I turn my hourglass …

… and lose myself in thought about the journeys we make.

Journeys. Such a loaded word.

As I read Eat, Pray, Love –a book which I was fiercely cynical of until I started leafing through and relating to the author Elizabeth Gilbert– I wondered about my own personal journey.

During a ride back from a festival in Wadi El Gemal, down south, I began a brief conversation (more like a monologue where I was reciting the lines) with a travel companion, one which later continued on in my head, about the nature of travel, and the kind of people it attracts. I came later to the loose conclusion that the people who travel cannot be classified, simply because everyone does — in one way or another. Gilbert traveled to forget a man, to connect with God, to eat and to find love. Others do it to escape war, death or poverty. Some do it to bring those three on others.

We travel, therefore we are.

I thought of my own journeys in the now aged 2010. The Cairo-to-Shalateen trip was about the conflict near the borders with Sudan, the mystery of tribes I have not met and the companionship on that trip — I was curious, not about destination per se, but the prospect of discovering myself in the process of talking to people and seeing a place that, as me and my co-writer have put it, is stuck “between a rock and a hard place.” Perhaps, on some level, I related to Shalateen’s demise and innocence. On another I related to the journey — to the idea of crossing points on a map but not stopping on each for too long; the “not belonging” feel of a roadtrip was part of its magic. All the better, I didn’t feel the need to belong anywhere.

On my return to this spot earlier this month where the tribes of Beja (now more familiar to me) lived, I confess, part of it was about tasting again that bitter sweet Jabana coffee made with ginger, seated on the ground, in wadis between the mountains. It was also an exercise in familiarity, or rather the flaunting of it. The pride of feeling or saying that “yes, yes, I’ve been here before. I know the laws, and the dances, and the coffee — I even have my own Jabana set.”

Bedu men making Jabana, the Wadi, November 2010

Recently, a friend talked about a “treasure hunt” he had done with the Bedouins using a metal detector in the Sinai desert. The prospect immediately fired me up, and suddenly Sinai was not just a place to observe the mountains as they hug the sea, but a place perhaps to explore and search for hidden things. If he keeps his promise and takes me with him to hunt for shiny metals, it won’t be for destination –like always– but the very, very small and rare possibility of finding something precious beneath the sands. And it’s more about the process of finding, the hunt if you will, than the object sought.

Same with the desire to explore the Gilf, that stretch of remote land elevated over a plateau whose name means “The Great Barrier” and who’s been enchanting travelers like Lazlo Almasy and Mohammed Hassanein with tales of lost armies and a dried oasis hidden from our eyes. For me, it’s about the caves that have yet to be discovered, not the ones that already are. It’s also about the silence — another reason I go to places. I search for it in the hope that the silence without will create a silence within, that the gibbering voices in my head will finally decide to let go and move out.

Am I the kind of traveler who wants to stumble into places, get to know the culture and people, eat local food and take pictures of temples and revered walls? No. At least not at this stage.

A new travel idea I’m developing — a rather personal and private one which, surprisingly, I’m willing to share — is to go to Munich, where my father lived for six years as a young man. There, he knew a woman, who I believe was his first love (a very unfounded conclusion reached after listening to accounts and snippets of stories from aunts and uncles who recite them like family lore and profess knowledge that I think is beyond them, but nevertheless find entertaining).

My father (on the right, black shirt) in 70's Munich

I heard of letters (whose fate is unknown), and the investigator inside of me wants to find those letters, track down the woman in Munich and meet her — it’s a small journey inside the mind of my own father, as it is inside the city which shaped a lot of his beliefs and world-views. Needless to say, my father doesn’t get personal with me, and he would probably go berserk if he knew I’d want to go on such a privacy-inflitrating personal assignment (especially that I ritualistically lecture my parents on respect for privacy and the need for space even within a small, tight family).

It’s such an offensive on privacy, I know, to sift through someone else’s decades-old secrets.

But my nose-poking and shameless prodding is justified by one thing; I feel that my father’s history is also a part of mine. In a way, it’s part of my heritage. And yes, that includes his secrets. Even the ones that he doesn’t care about anymore. And perhaps his own father’s secrets, if I knew of a way where I could ever come to those.

It’s a flimsy argument, very shaky. And I might not even find those letters with the 35-plus-year-old-address of a woman, who might have moved out of the country, changed her name or gender, or died. It also carries the prospect of not hearing anything from anyone, having a door slammed violently in my face or ending up meeting an over-weight, foul-mouthed German who doesn’t speak English or doesn’t recognize my father’s name. The city itself has been reshaped over the years — perhaps it gained weight too, or lost it, in a manner of speaking. The Munich that my father loved is no more, and that “thing”, that needle in a haystack, which has made up a part of his inner him, may be lost even on a passion-filled, genuinely enthused, ever-optimistic seeker like myself.

My father as a young man, with his camera. He wrote letters too.

But this remains a small travel fantasy, that has nothing to do with “discovering a new place” or “flying by the seat of my pants.” Perhaps the fact that I blow its cover here, and talk about something personal to me and my father, has more to do with wanting something about my father to be exposed to the world — something that may stay on after the two of us are gone, and would keep us both alive. Perhaps it’s for my future kids, or his grandchildren. Here is something about your grand-dad, his story. The storyteller in me wanted something about him to be out there, something personal, a testimony to his presence.

“Here’s a man who loved and lived” kind of thing. “And this man is my father.”

In Wadi El Gemal, I listened to this astronomy session beneath the stars (one which helped me know where the direction of Mecca is at night for the following two days, and which works well when you want to boast about basic knowledge of star alignment to strangers). I looked up at the stars, and I wondered whether I travel because I can’t commit. My temperament is ever changing — this has been my constant– and so are my ideas. I wonder if the idea of “home” is one of them. I wonder if curiosity about new places, is actually a search for something else entirely, perhaps for a certain brand of commitment.

The journeys are personal — that much I know.

But I don’t know yet what makes them so.

Hmm, these two sentences rhyme.

Some time has passed since I began my musings. I turn the hourglass.

Listening to: Girl, the Beatles
Favorite bit: “Is there anybody going to listen to my story … All about the girl who came to stay? … She’s the kind of girl you want so much it makes you sorry. Still you don’t regret a single day.”
Mood: Happy and hopeful, perhaps without reason.
Wants from the Universe: Travel with purpose, with love.

Do girls forget love easily?

At least three people I know got married or got into committed relationships less than six months of their break-up with ex-boyfriends. A friend seemed to find this surprising. I, on the other hand, think it’s natural since time in some relationships and their aftermath is an irrelevant element.

A girl just wants to feel loved

Do girls forget easy? Do they move on faster than their male counterparts? I don’t think that’s the right question to ask. The right one is: How much time and emotions did the girl invest before realizing she’s hit a brick wall and that she has to turn back? The answer is crucial. Because once that brick wall, that barrier against passion and emotions, is reached, there’s no point in remembering or forgetting. It just is and the girl accepts and turns her back to the one she loves.

A person close to me told me of an old love story. Of an ex-fiance’. For two years, she held on, fighting for him inside her heart despite flaws, enduring blow after blow to the extent that the man thought she’d never leave, no matter what he’d do. He can get away with anything, he thought. He even tried to make her jealous by flirting heavily with other women, or flaunting his female friendships in front of her. And she’d still accepted him. Until one day, she sent a long letter saying she’s leaving the relationship, sending her engagement band in the same envelope as the letter (that was around 40 years ago, mind you!). He laughed, and called it a bluff. It turns out it wasn’t. More than thirty years later, he confessed to close ones he always regretted taking her for granted, that he never forgot her and that she’d stayed in his heart ever since. He even said he often dreamt about her. Back then, numerous attempts to make her take him back failed — she didn’t even read the tens of letters he sent. They were thrown away unread. She had sworn to herself that he’d never see her face again, and he didn’t for many years.

So why does this happen?

Simply because a girl gives her all before she decides to give up. I’ve read that women are often reluctant to end a relationship even if they’re more miserable than their men. So they try to fix it. Once. Twice. Numerous times. But at a certain moment it reveals itself as “un-fixable” and there’s no way but out.

And “feelings” are also irrelevant in this affair.

It’s a Eureka moment; a sudden discovery that you’ve done your part, compromised, explained, left no path untaken, cried your eyes off, pleaded and implored, swallowed the pain, and there’s nothing else to be done. There’s no energy for more, even if you want to give more. Your resources are depleted, and you’re filled with peace — this peace that comes with letting go.

So the girl lets go, walks back slowly and smiles to herself because she’s at least tried. There are no regrets, just a calm serenity.

And moving on, a day later or 6 months on (it’s all the same), and accepting love from someone else becomes easy (and much needed), since at this stage, the girl is hungry for love and affection. And part of the beauty of love is having it returned — by both words and action.

It’s a simple fact, but men seem to ignore it: Many a girl loves a guy because he’s nice to her, not because he’s drop-dead gorgeous, a rock star or a rocket scientist (it’s about her, partly, not just him). She loves him because he makes her feel beautiful, without make up, on a bad hair day, even when her nose is red and her eyes are full of tears, even when she’s weary and tired and not in the mood, even when she’s gained a few pounds for whatever reasons, even when she’s stopped feeling it herself. And it has nothing to do with empty compliments, but very, very small things that make a huge difference.

Fights, even small ones, let-downs and bickering, and accumulations of “the small stuff,” can bring one down, and eventually take the relationship south, no matter how big the love is.

Here’s another fact: Love is not enough. We stay with others, because they have a capacity to always make us feel good about ourselves. When this stops happening, more often than not, we ride into the sunset. Without looking back.

Listening to: beautiful silence
Mood: contemplative
Wants from the Universe:  A man who treats me well, and makes me feel loved … who will also make me laugh and bring a smile to my face when I’m down. One who tells me I’m beautiful. One who says he’ll be there and keeps the promise.

On Love — and not just in Saudi Arabia

This is a blogpost I began in July, did not publish and never revisited until this moment. Back then I was reading this Arabic book called Love in Saudi — a text that is both sexual and daring from Page 1.

The cover of "Love in Saudi" by Ibrahim Badi

The most creative bit in the storytelling, for me, was how both the author and the protagonist seemed to be racing to tell the same story. They were competing, but although the author –by virtue of inhabiting the ‘real world’, holding the pen, and writing the narrative– seemed infinitely more superior than the persona he created, he still felt threatened.

It was a parallel narrative. The character, unaware of the presence of the author, told his story in the first person. The author, the creator if you will, told it in the third person, obsessively insisting that his side of the story was the truth, and that he will finish his account first. The character wins in the end, and we hear him till the end, as he spoke of a failed marriage, multiple relationships and a girl who thoroughly broke his heart.

The whole affair (since it meditated on the place of physical intimacy in a pre-marital albeit committed relationship in our conservative part of the world) reminded me of a short conversation I had with writer and relationship expert Marwa Rakha. I had just begun reading her book and I questioned her list of 10 things girls should be wary of in relationships with Egyptian men, mainly the issue of being perceived as “easy” or “depraved.”

It seems that many Egyptian men, or at least this is how the stereotype goes, cannot draw a line between romance and sexuality, between “using” a girl and reciprocating pure emotions, emotions that could be manifested in a touch, a hug or a kiss — for even those (from a girl’s perspective) can be platonic and pure, neither sexual nor libertine.

Of course, this perception is dependent on many factors; time invested, depth of feelings and context being a few examples. But truth be told, no matter how uptight, if you do like someone, all inhibitions may be put on hold and one may discover a new way of communicating feelings, without tripping over in speech or getting clumsy with words. And if it doesn’t contradict your personal understanding of religion, then it becomes natural, and right in every way.

But even if one believes so, you read something like what Marwa has written (and God knows she’s experienced), and the “conservatism” streak kicks in. Who wants to be thought of as ‘easy’? The word has such a stigma. And personally I hate to be misunderstood.

So I asked Marwa: “What do you think should be done then? Should a girl censor her feelings (and their physical manifestations) and put a cork on her personal beliefs so that she wouldn’t be thought ‘easy’ or ‘desperate’ or ‘confused’ or what have you?”

The doubts were magnified and a stream of questions led to more questions: “What about the girls who refuse any form of intimacy with a guy out of the context of engagement or marriage? Why do they do it? Because they firmly believe in it because it’s ‘haram‘ or ‘inappropriate’? (Then again I would understand if the reasons are religion-related) … Or are they disciplined/conservative and shy and timid just to keep appearances?”

Courtesy of Marwa Rakha's official website. The cartoon is a depiction of Rakha.

Think about it. It all could be a farce. The “conservative” leaning (“It’s not right to hold hands, or kiss a guy until they’re married” thing) could be there because of the inherent fear that the man –even if he pretends to be open-minded or understanding– might be traditional and judgmental.

In this case, it becomes not discipline per se but a very deep (perhaps subconscious) form of manipulation and deceit aimed at keeping the man close until marriage.

It makes me think. Is the shy/conservative/disciplined girl an illusion? Would she be as emotionally and physically disciplined, or “conservative”, if she was given a guarantee that the man won’t judge her or walk away if she’s not? May be. May be not. Only God knows.

And I think it’s impossible to know. Manipulation can run deep on both sides and many Egyptian men, save a good uncorrupted few, have not given women enough reason to trust them, to open up, and express themselves without reservations.

Without feeling the risk of being labelled depraved, or excuse me, a “whore”, many women are being over-cautious with simple physical expressions such as lying in the man’s arms or holding his hand.

And for many the reasoning is unflawed, then again, one could think, “what’s the use of being as honest and as free as you want, or what’s the use of doing what you feel is right, if it carries the risk of ending up alone?”

A few weeks later after reading both books, Love in Saudi and Rakha’s, I stood watching one of “Bussy’s” shows. The staged plays were about relationships in part between Egyptians, between friends, girls and cat-calling pedestrians, riders of the same bus, between classes, and many more. In one sketch, not a comedic one, a young man was complaining to his friend about “social inhibitions” and how they affected the most natural relationships.

He said that he didn’t want to have to be married to a girl to know her well and be able to spend time with her, without being labeled negatively. Along those lines, he said he wasn’t even seeking anything sexual but the natural progression of a relationship between two human beings who become close and intimate by sharing their lives and spending enough time alone together …

“I want to be able to invite her to my house, cook together, sit and listen to music and talk until the break of dawn, travel alone with her, etc, etc.”

I knew what he meant — I, too, wanted to share little pieces of myself with the one I choose. No hidden sexual motives. No stolen kisses. Instead, emotional nudity (which psychologist Rollo May argues opens us up and makes us more vulnerable than real nudity).

Precious moments. Simple requests. Simple pleasures. Complicated society.

Needless to say, when I asked Marwa, she briefly explained she was referring to “sex” in her book not hugging and holding hands. But sex, to be frank, has no place in my reflections, mainly because … well, admittedly I’m too conservative myself on this subject to be able to discuss it objectively.

And that’s that.

Listening to: nothing, the room is quiet
Mood: slightly dreamy, edging on contemplative
Wants from the Universe: Love

وظيفة خالية: محترف تحرش

“Overheard on the Radio” — Check this out: Amr El Beleidy (@beleidy) and I (@pakinamamer) came across this one. Amr, of course (THE GUY!) thought that every girl is finding it more and more difficult to get married these days, “and for a good reason” so this makes sense (the audacity). He said, and yes I’m quoting: “Times are getting tougher. The demands on the current social situation are very difficult to satisfy, and a decent guy is not exactly round every corner. And sometimes people need to find something here are there that makes it easier to stand the difficult times, and this person – whether they’re joking or not- is trying to give people that.”

Personally …

I think this is mad! It’s either unmarried Egyptian girls are getting too desperate, or unemployment makes people truly creative.

Now listen …

I will reveal the channel later.

© 2010 Along The Watchtower