Category Archives: Palestine

Not Since 1948

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unknown

Super moon

Beavermoon

Tonight we meet again.

Not since 1948.

Is it mere coincidence?

68 years ago we gazed at the moonrise from verandas overloooking the sea

We sipped sweet mint tea and spoke in hushed tones as the sky darkened

perhaps even gasped at she climbed the horizon, illumating her glorious fullness.

What A marvel! I could hear my great grandfather say. How bright it must have appeared to them then in the cloudless Levant evening.

Was the moon whispering messages then, as she is today?

Or it enough to just shine her glow on all our dark spaces.

“I see you” she exclaims dryly.  Like a sibling’s weary game. “You can come out now.”

Be prepared

Come together

Build your dreams

There is no where left to hide.

 

 

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We Are Providence: Featured Essay!

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lonely1

Learn more about Devon, the “Lonely” tagger and support his campaign: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/lonely-as-i-have-ever-been-providence/x/12087612

One of my essays has recently been featured in Frequency Providence’s first ever anthology, Missing Providence.

Order the Missing Providence Anthology Here! It’s chock full of local talent and great writing:

http://frequencywriters.org/2015/09/09/order-frequencys-anthology/

 

art and the post-industrial city

art and the post-industrial city

“She came from Providence, the one in Rhode Island Where the old world shadows hang heavy in the air She packed her hopes and dreams like a refugee Just as her father came across the sea “

– The Eagles, “The Last Resort”

He lives downtown...

He lives downtown…

 

We Are Providence

Each section of the city of Providence holds magic for me. Mount Pleasant is home to some of the only old growth oaks in the city, Federal Hill’s original Narragansett name is Nocabulabet, which means place between the ancient waters, and Fox Point was a major international shipping center, with slave ships and all. While the sycamores, forgotten bridges, and the layers of history are fair game for any artist searching for inspiration, Providence has burrowed her way into my dislodged center, setting it right again. She has made me feel at home against all odds.

Growing up Palestinian in Rhode Island, my need for relevance and connection was fierce. While undoubtedly this is connected to Palestine’s longing for statehood and international recognition, its also because Rhode Island is not an easy place to immigrate to. Directions are impossible to deal with unless you happen to know “where the old Dunkin Donuts used to be.” Sometimes the same road has several different route numbers and locations are referred to by their “unofficial” name. No, South county is not an actual county. I never set foot in Palestine, but with my Teta’s grandmother stories I at least got to feel like I did. I know the fishermen and orange groves in Yaffa well enough to imagine the sights and sounds of our ancestral land. I remember her countless retellings of that ill fated spring in 1948, with it’s thunderous bombings and dismembered bodies vividly enough to feel as though I witnessed them myself. While my grandmother’s stories were already seeding my identity, my own experience with fleeing Kuwait as a six year old added to the entanglement of roots.

My mother and I fled Kuwait a few weeks after the Iraqi invasion in 1990. Despite the whirlwind of narrowly escaping plundering soldiers, intense dessert heat, and a custody battle that included a thumb-less kidnapper hired by my father’s family, (a story for another day), I was thrown into this new world without so much as a guidebook. In elementary school while my classmates ate peanut butter jelly sandwiches, I ate Zaet and Zaatar pita my mom packed. In second grade you could easily spot me in the school cafeteria. I was that girl with the frizzy braids and thick rimmed pink glasses, (before they were cool) patiently explaining in broken English that no, I wasn’t eating bird poop, just herbs mixed with olive oil. My mother, finally freed from stifling gender norms could raise me without fear. Since she was divorced, it was law that I would only be with her till age eleven, after which my father-a distant but not wholly unpleasant accountant, would have been my legal guardian. Had my mother remarried or was caught out on a date, she would be deemed an unfit mother, losing custody even sooner, perhaps even securing my fate as a math whiz instead of a writer.

       As the months grew into years, the novelty of Rhode Island faded. I hungered after stability in people and places. I envied my classmates for the simple routines that involved sport practices or family vacations. While they went along their seasonal routines, in my family there was still talk of moving away, of new schools, new relationships, and yet another world to get accustomed to. I ached for a predictable life. I still find myself in awe of people who have the notion that life will unfold in exactly the same way it had for generations. I knew the comfort was an illusion. I understood that friends had some flavor of childhood trauma or economic insecurity rippling beneath the placid surface of their day to day lives, but I envied the illusion. My experiences were too raw to be hidden. They had marked me with a discordant vibration; amplified by the cadence of my mispronounced name. I recognize this discordance is others, in fact, Providence is abuzz with it; all those layers of old world muck latticed through downtown’s polished center. You can see it in people and places like the half collapsed Moshassuck bridge; centuries old, dark in the shadow of newly constructed luxury condominiums. My insecurities mirrored by the city itself. I might not have fit in where I wanted to, but at least Providence understands.

I could never experience home in the same way my Teta did but I could lean on Providence for support. Like so many before me, I have been seduced by this haven for those “distressed for conscience” and I’ld like to think that it’t no mere coincidence. While researching the history of State Pier One’s role in immigration for a story idea, I came across some surprising information.

The Fabre Line, a fleet of steamships, supplied Providence with immigrants well into the twentieth century. Immigration quotas threatened to put the Fabre Line out of business, but they decided to redirect the routes and pick up immigrants and visitors from cities like Beirut, Alexandria and Yaffa. Yaffa! The same city my family was forced to flee in 1948. This steamship came from Providence and went to Yaffa as part of it’s journey, to pick up goods and people way back before my disoriented self ever stood on that Providence pier.

Fabre Line

      Could it be that after several years of defining myself as a misplaced and misunderstood outcast, that I actually been home in Providence after all? Do I have ancestors floating around having a good laugh; chuckling ‘oh silly girl! nothing is random.’ ? I remember downtown before the mall, before Water Place Park and well before those luxury towering condos. The tourism council will have you thinking that Providence always had a glowing face of fancy restaurants and Waterfire, but I knew her before the Botox injections. Before she tried to hide her puffy post-industrial eyes and walk in Boston’s high healed pumps. Maybe if we sit by the Providence River at dusk and look down toward the smoke stacks and consider the gentle lapping of its briny water we could hear the voices that came before us. If we hold still and listen closely we might even hear H. P. Lovecraft famously proclaim, I am Providence. To which we can now respond: “No Mr. Lovecraft. We are Providence”.

misty Providence River

misty Providence River

Fabre Steamship in Providence Hatbor

Fabre Steamship in Providence Hatbor

 

***PUT PROVIDENCE ON THE LITERARY MAP!!   Support Frequency, order the anthology, check out the featured workshops: http://frequencywriters.org

*** SUPPORT Devon and the pursuit of accessable art: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/lonely-as-i-have-ever-been-providence/x/12087612

 

WRITE OR BE WRITTEN

Sure I’ll Teach at an All-Boy-Catholic School. Im Muslim. That’s Close, Yea?

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Teaching at a private all boys catholic schools is surprisingly not a culture shock… “Remember that we are in the holy presence of God”  is on the speaker before annoucements.

kitten's feelin the holy presence...

kitten’s feelin the holy presence…

Kinda like my elementary school in Kuwait expect we sang the kuwait national anthem too…

so we wont give ya citizenship, but yall still gotta sing our anthem, k?

so we wont give ya citizenship, but yall still gotta sing our anthem, k?

Pali wha? no u cant have citizenship!

Pali wha? no u cant have citizenship!

either way its whatevs cause really folks:

a. RI has the highest unemployment rate and I need a consistant jobby job

im sayin though

im sayin though

b. i needz jobby job

unemployed-lol-cat4

c.  because jobs

AND

d.  When was the last time I was in a space where my nationality/religion/idently /gender was represented anyways? (Bah!)

Just call me the Undercover Muslim/Arab/Palestinian… I’ve gotten pretty used to it over the years.  I  went to school in Johnston Rhode Island which is the Jersey Shore’ revivals for most italian american’s per capita.

pauly D went to my school

pauly D went to my school

…I have big hair and brown eyes, I’m Italian. right!

So, I just rolled with it till I couldn’t anymore… which was approximately 11th grade when I spazed out at classmates via shared journal writing.  The 2nd intifada broke out and I needed an outlet.  Hearing homegirl complain about some chick stealing her BF  or something was my trigger.  I let loose. Found it necessary to detail all the ways in which my peers were losing their lives halfway across the world due to US government funded occupation.   There may have also been a bit of shallow suburbanite white picket fence bashing too… meh.  I was 16.  My love of spinach calzones aside, Im fairly sure that blew my italio-americano cover.    

  Opps.

yummmm

yummmm

I managed to fly under the radar as an undercover Muslim just up until 9-11 which was my senior year in high school.  When I found myself engaged in a heated discussions about biased and misinformed media depictions of the Middle East.

“How do you know?”  came up a lot.

“Cause I am Palestinian and that’s now how my family is.”

“Oh! I thought you were Pakistani or something…”

____________________________________________

The best real life thing that was said to me ( i swear im not making it up) during this time period was in senior math class when Miss Cheer Captain said to the entire class:

Daria pretty much sums it up...

Daria pretty much sums it up…

“Oh, I know its those Palestinians. [that blew up the twin towers] They are always blowing stuff up.”

To which I replied, “Um, I am Palestinian and you don’t see me blowing shit up right now, do you?”

“No your not! Your an A-rab.”

To which the sweet, well meaning little blond math teacher replied,

“We are not gonna talk about it girls, take out your math books.”

Cover blown.  Again.

It wasn’t like I actually wanted to stay under the radar on purpose or anything.  I was just trying to be a ‘normal’ young person.  One that could just be herself and chill and whatnot.  Expect when I realized that most other ‘normal’ young people got to be in spaces that also represented or at least acknowledged them.

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Now, as a grown-up, I recognize and respect that awkwardly sensitive time in young people  ( well, in all people) when they are trying to piece together their place in the world.  I recognize that it was those formative moments,- when I refused to keep my mouth shut- that inform my work as a teacher/mother/person in the world.

death_to_all_arabs

Check Out More A-rab comedy here!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0KAbBlzFbU

It’s a journey…

One that encourages an underemployed PalestinianAmericanMuslim to say “Sure.  I’ll Teach at an all-boy-Catholic School.

Alhamdulah!

The Poem that Made me Want to Write: On Inspiration

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I love reading and learning about those moments that inspired artists to commit to themselves and their art.

It reminds me to keep on, keeping on, that writing has been and will always be my path in the world

What sustains you?

What sustains you?

The following is an article that appears in The Atlantic titled “The Poem That Made Sherman Alexie Want to Drop Everything and Be a Poet” –

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/10/the-poem-that-made-sherman-alexie-want-to-drop-everything-and-be-a-poet/280586/

His words reminded me of those days in college when I was taking any non-western or post-colonial literature class I could.  This was a time I was grasping at straws, hoping desperately to see myself and my experiences reflected in works of literature.  More than that, I needed an affirmation that pursuing a career in writing was not a fantasy for an Arab American woman-That ( thankfully) seems so silly to me now- as evidenced by the ever growing literary presence of amazing Arab American writers, poets, film makers and artists of all stripes- but this was a time when it felt that the entire world, family included- thought I was better off waking up and smelling the teaching degree, aka: a ‘real’ job.

The art of writing sometimes means the art of taking your dreams seriously...

The art of writing sometimes means the art of taking your dreams seriously…

Most, if not all, writers can undoubtedly relate to some sort of economic strain, social acceptance, and lack of self confidence- and this is doubly true of women of color from refugee/immigrant families…

There were many authors/artists that helped spark that inspiration for me; Randa Jarrar, Suhair Hammad, and Joseph Geha to name a few.  But the poem below by Naomi Shihab Nye was undoubtedly that drop-everything-and-write- moment for me:

Making A Fist

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

‘How do you know if you are going to die?’
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
‘When you can no longer make a fist.’

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

Naomi Shihab Nye

nothing but road...

nothing but road…

Of course I related to this first and foremost for the ‘journey out’.  Having fled Kuwait during the Gulf War with my mom as a 6 year old that feeling of ‘traveling for days’ and  ‘watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass’ resonated with me.  As did the ill feeling due to a scarce supply of water and endless hours in the back of a car. I still joke that must be why I love tiny Rhode Island because I get car sick after less than an hour in a moving vehicle!

I write about our great escape here:

https://nowapproachingprovidence.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/just-stay-still/

But most importantly, it was that very specific stubborn tenacity that pushes us to ‘make a fist’ that hit closest to home.  This was how I had experienced being Palestinian in the world, spot on.

clenching

“clenching and opening one small hand”       YES.

So readers, drop me a line.  What inspires you? What reminds you of your purpose? Was it a single piece of art/writing/movie/conversation? Or a series of events?

How do you return to your source?

How do you return to your source?

The Power of Reading: My response to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming’

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Reading Rainbow was the bomb...

Reading Rainbow was the bomb…

As a teacher, (and a young one at that),  I often wonder what makes schooling today so much different than when I was in school. No matter where I’ ve taught ( charter or public school, Urban or Suburban…) , its all so very different than when I was in school, which was again, not that long ago ( graduated in ’07’) !      So, I was pretty moved after reading Neil Gaiman’s lecture in the Guardian
 ( http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming)  I think it touches on I i’ve  why the gap between educational experiences is ever widening.
One of the main differences I’ve seen is the school culture around reading and appreciating fiction has vastly changed… whether through the take over of standardized testing or the push for an English curriculum that values informational texts over creative texts; its impacts are far reaching and speak volumes about what how we see ourselves and connect to each other.   I remember reading endlessly and being read to from all teachers in all subjects, I remember being the audiance to several school sponsered puppet shows, storytellers, and fairytale events.   I remember library being an actual class where we learned to work the card cataloge and put together multistep projects and work as a team.
reading in the 90's was wicked awesome!

reading in the 90’s was wicked awesome!

What is interesting to me is that as a Palestinian woman  growing up in post 9/11 America, I didnt realize that is wasn’t my work as an undergrad antiwar activist or as a spokesperson for students for justice in Palestine that was going to spark a revolution, but my imaginiation that will. How empowering it is to be reminded that one of the most revolutionary things I could be doing right now is exactly what I’ve worked on and wanted to do all my life; “make stuff up and write it down”.
ok, so what this wasnt a book? still pretty great...

ok, so what this wasnt a book? still pretty great…

When Gaiman states, “We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy” I am reminded of how I was taught to teach- just hook kids into reading anyways, anyhow… ( so I had creative control and freedom of what I was teaching them)    It was life or death…  and for the group of students I primary taught it was.  It didnt matter if I got teens reading graphic novels, or those hood novels which some schools thought were too violent…just get them to read!  Now its about reading informational articles that are short and boring as hell… last year, the public school had me teaching a scripted cooperate program ( so much for creative freedom or even professional respect) about polar bear habitats to English language learners in the 7th grade.  This was supposed to be an English class… and yes getting poor students  of color in Providence reading is life or death:
                      “The prison industry needs to plan its future growth – how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners  are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldn’t read. And certainly couldn’t read for pleasure.”
The most important thing reading did for me anyways is to build empathy with others.  I didnt know a lick of English when I immigrated from Kuwait and didn’t understand a thing about American culture.  Needless to say there were times growing up I felt awkwardly lonely and very misunderstood. Gaiman says that [reading helps] “you get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well.”  That other world, for me, was America.
Alex Mack was the BEST

Alex Mack was the BEST

He goes to say, “you’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.”
I certainly was.
I learned about the Black struggle through fiction, about slavery and immigration and other wars and other times besides my own.  I wasn’t simply born political by way of nationality as others like to joke ( Ive known many a palestinian with sucky politics…) Reading helped me form my own thoughts and ideas about the way things could be.  Reading provided me with the background and the historical context I needed to build from, its not only personal experiences that shape one’s politics, its all these things and more.
 Reading fiction assured me I wasnt alone, that I had a place, that there were others out there like me who I could one day connect with, organize with, change the world with… This was revolutionary given how cut off my mom and I lived from any Arab or Muslim community, how sedated my suburban white environment actually was and how drowning that felt as a youth.  Reading was my savoir, the key that unlocked the wider world and my future possibilities.  More than anything reading fiction gave me hope, it taught me that “the world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.”
My son and his friend with Big Nazo puppets at PRONK festival, imagining a different world...

My son and his friend with Big Nazo puppets at PRONK festival, imagining a different world…

Gaiman goes on to talk about reading as a form of escapism, arguing that “escapist fiction opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.”  As a child witness to war and domestic violence and now as a teacher of students with varying levels of  trauma, Ild agree that reading is certainly a real way to cope with and in turn, change reality.
I wholeheartidly reccommend reading Gaiman’s lecture.  Here’s the link again: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming
                      “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all” and the truth is, all of us, whether or not we are teachers or writers, have the power to imagine and create a better world and the obligation to provide for others to do the same.
Sunset over Providence

Folks marching at Providence PRONK festival

Orientalist Travel Posters: Pretty Little Liars

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So what does my graduate seminar about Arab American literature have to do with some old-school travel posters?

Ha! “Imperial”

Well… My seminar discusses Arab American writers’  journey towards self-actualization and self-identification…this journey is made all the more challenging after generations of orientalist and imperialist thinking that attempted to boil our culture down to the bare minimum, creating stereotypes and feeding into racist hierarchical power structures…

All North African women collect water dressed like that, right?

I decided to include some travel posters  from back in the day in my presentation as evidence of orientalist thought and as an example of how the Middle East was defined and in many cases still is…

okay so I get the other images, after all, it was the early 20th century. But what’s THEIR excuse? Apparently Kerri never got the memo that the whole Lawrence in Arabia thing is no longer recommended for good Mideast relations…

“That’s right white folks, this is what we really do”

Orient: Any where east of here…it doesn’t matter, it’s all the same…

Hey! Where did his magic carpet go?

But other images showcase the complexity of oriental imagination existing alongside early Middle Eastern immigrants. Here is a record cover from the 1920’s:

saw an Oriental show and then decided she would go
to Mecca across the sea.…
She stayed there just two years, got full of new ideas,
And now she’s back home again.…
Oh! Oh! Ev’ry one worried so; they think she’s crazy in the dome;
She’s as bold as Theda Bara, Bara’s bare but Becky’s barer,
Since Rebecca came back home.
In Mecca where the nights are hot,
Rebecca got an awful lot of learning.…
Her mother feels so sad. Her brother Moe is mad,
And he keeps on complaining so;
To satisfy his whim, she keeps on calling him,
“Mohammed” instead of Moe.

Interested? Read more here:   cited: http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=35055

Not all travel posters depicted stereotypes:

But I think this gets the cake:

Leila Khaled: she’s a G.

I Heart Historical Cemeteries…

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Who doesn’t love historical cemeteries?  Now, now…I know what you must be thinking: “umm, are you feeling okay?”

But really, I think they’re great.

Growing up in Johnston RI, historical cemeteries were seemingly around every corner.  They are interesting, informative, thoughtfully arranged aaaand most of the time, these old school final resting places exist in some really scenic locations. As children, we rubbed the gravestones with tracing paper and crayons to make out the faded words to the dearly departed. We added up the years and marveled on how young people were when they passed.  I remember my shadow sweeping over the smaller headstones of young children tucked away between moss and tree roots.  We learned that only 100 years ago it was common for children to not make it passed their first birthday. Historical Cemeteries were peaceful places in the woods and I was always in awe of the passage of time in their presence.

Speaking of which, the photograph below is one I took of a historical cemetery up the hill from the wharf in Newport, Rhode Island in fall of 2008.

So quaint and well persevered! So of course this led me to think about Palestine…after all, it all comes back to Palestine (or land). Historical cemeteries are a reminder of what a society chooses to memorialize and what to forget.  Take this Israeli “park” for instance:

Over 2,800 Palestinians from the Hebron-area village of Bayt Jibrin were expelled during the 1948 Nakba. Today the area is an Israeli national park which erases the memory of its original inhabitants.  Which  is very similar to all the towns, cities, schools and strip malls that were built over Native American sacred spaces, burial grounds, and villages here in Rhode Island and all over the US.

Historical cemeteries remind me how quickly society and landscape can change; whether from genocide, urbanization, or environmental changes…places are always undergoing transition in various forms- through destruction, rebuilding…

I think one of the main reason I heart historical cemeteries so much is that- in a strange way- they are a physical examples of hope.  Hope of transformation and renewal.

…and there I am undergoing my own little transformation, pregnant with Ali in fall of 2008, posing in Newport:)