Terrorism by Gabrielle Spear

“isn’t all of this ugly though?” i say to the young israeli vet || i know he has risked nearly everything to break silences || but i’m skeptical he will ever stop occupying || he speaks of settlers as if he not one himself || of the military as if they have not been carving green lines through palestinians all along || we are looking down upon the nets over the marketplace in hebron || where jewish settlers throw trash and rocks and their own shit || onto the heads of palestinians || and besides the voice of our tour guide || the only noise to be heard across the village || are jewish cars moving down shuhada street || the only bodies free || are stray dogs

words i must tell you || do not have the same meanings here || al-khalil is hebron || shubbaak is a prison || sayyaara is a vehicle for apartheid || kalb is an animal with more freedom than palestinians || shaari’ is a walk of shame || souk is a dump for your enemy’s shit || and out the mouth of a palestinian with a thick accent || the english word “tourist” || sounds like the word “terrorist” || and “terrorist” like the word || “tourist”

“don’t the settlers want to live in a beautiful place? || why live here at all || if it’s not beautiful?” i ask || i can see our tour guide is confused || my questions come out stupid, obvious || “the security makes the settlers feel protected,” he says || maybe for the tenth time || and gestures to the windows that palestinians || must live inside to make their colonizers || feel comfortable on a car ride down shuhada street || but —that’s not what i’m asking

i want to understand how can you can live so incubated || you don’t even see the walls || and barbed wire || and shit in your line of vision || at what point do the walls fold back || melt into your landscape || your own geography || that your body itself || becomes a wall too

 

at the end of the tour || the former soldiers take us to meet issa amro || how gracious and kind of them || finally letting a palestinian speak for himself || issa shows us the only weapon he has ever owned || language || i have already told you || words are different here || from the ears of a settler || issa’s weapon is more violent than a bomb || he believes in a different world || and when this one passes || as he assures us it eventually will || words will be restored to their rightful meanings:

al-khalil will be a thriving city that once survived the worst of apartheid

         shubbaak will be a portal to palestine

                        sayyaara will take its owner on road trips through freedom

                                     kalb will be a dog, just a dog, and not a name for an arab

                                             shaari’ will breathe the memories of martyrs long gone

                                                           souk will smell like home again

we board the tour bus out of hebron || and i leave feeling self-righteous || my weapon of choice is poetry after all || i will never search for words through the barrel of a gun

yet || how quickly i forget that || on this land || poetry makes a terrorist out of me too

 

Sukoon Interviews Lilas Taha author of Bitter Almonds

Rewa Zeinati: Lilas Taha, congratulations on winning the 2017 International Book Awards for your book entitled Bitter Almonds, published by Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press. Tell us a little about the process of starting the idea for this book, up until the moment it was published and then nominated for an award.

Lilas Taha: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my book and writing journey.

As a child of a Palestinian refugee father, I always wanted to tell the story of what happened to his generation—scream it out loud, if I could. Anger and frustration at the injustice of it all accompanied me through the years, much like most Palestinians who grew up watching their parent(s) try to move forward, while clinging to a land—a world—often described as perfect or magical, yet unreachable. Living in exile, my father carried his Palestine in his heart and managed to plant its seeds in mine and my brother’s. Hope flourished, and I arrived to adulthood determined to do the same for my children.

On my father’s last visit to me in the US, however, I saw something different in his eyes, a lack of luster, something was missing. After being displaced three times in his life, hope deserted him. That realization hit me very hard, and I struggled to engage him, to bring him back from the brink of despair. It pained me to see him that way; knowing he would not return to his beloved Palestine. So I started writing about his familiar world, involving him in discussions and challenging him to express more, talk more, remember more. Our daily sessions, when I read to him what I’ve written the night before, became our time together. We argued a lot, stepped into dangerous emotional zones often, and sometimes, we sailed into happy places. I wanted to create characters he could connect to and care about, and describe events as he and others in his generation experienced them, not as history books recorded them. That was my goal, and that’s how Bitter Almonds was born.

It took me a year to write the story and I was on my final edits when a lady, who had read my first book Shadows of Damascus, attended a writer’s event in Kuwait and mentioned my work to one of the editors present. At the time, Hamad Bin Khalifa University Press was under the umbrella of Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishers. The editor got in touch with me, and I sent her my manuscript for Bitter Almonds. A publication contract followed. The book was released world-wide, translated into the Norwegian language, and will come out in Arabic translation January, 2018.

Being nominated for, and winning, the 2017 International Book Awards in the Multicultural Fiction category provides wonderful exposure and is definitely the icing on the cake.

RZ: Your novel is thematically, among other things, about displacement and exile. How do these themes tie into your own life and experiences?

LT: I grew up in Kuwait among a mix of Arab nationalities. I spent most summer vacations in Syria with my mother’s family and my father’s relatives who settled there after their removal from Palestine in 1948. I was fortunate to absorb all cultures, but there was always a sense of being in transition, functioning in temporary mode: living in one place where my parents worked (Kuwait), visiting another where most members of my family lived (Syria), and yearning for a land I never experienced (Palestine).

With the Gulf War, I lost the patch of stability I was floating on. Through difficult circumstances, I ended up in a new land (US) speaking a different language. I pursued my studies, married a wonderful man—a Palestinian—and tried to build a secure future and a family. Eventually, my parents joined me, but by then, they had to resettle again (Jordan). And after the war in Syria erupted, some members of my mother’s family also became refugees. So displacement and exile were persistent companions in my life.

RZ: You are an electrical engineer by training and you mention that creative writing is your passion. Why didn’t you pursue this passion earlier on?

LT: Ever since I was a child, I’ve written short stories and personal reflections, but always in Arabic, and I never really entertained the idea of publication. I kept it as a hobby as I earned my engineering degrees and raised a family. Writing took me to my comfort zone, a respite from the stresses of life, and it stayed as a personal escape tool.

When the sad events started unraveling in Syria in 2011, the uncertainty and worry about my relatives frustrated me to the point that I started writing a story to reflect my emotional upheaval, but I used the English language for the first time. With persistent support from my husband and friends, I joined a writer’s guild and read parts of the story to the mix of writers. Their feedback was surprisingly positive, which encouraged me to keep writing in English and, a year later, I had a published novel. Bitter Almonds came next accompanied by my desire to join writers who shine a light on the Palestinian struggle and other issues pertaining to the Middle East for readers in the west.

I can’t see myself not writing. In an irrational way, I think of myself a girl hugging her security blanket. I hope to be able to stay on this writing track, perhaps publishing original works in Arabic, too.

RZ: What was/is the most terrifying part about your writing journey? Its beginning, or now? Or both?

LT: I don’t think it is the beginning. When I started this journey, I really had no clue what the writing and publishing worlds are like. Don’t they say ignorance is a bliss? I can relate to that. I just pushed forward, learning as I go, and the more information I gathered, the more aware I became of how rocky this path is. After all the hard work I pour into a book—my baby—I let go of it for readers to judge and criticize. There are no training wheels to gradually lift from its bike, no kindergarten to slowly remove it from my care. Once my book is released, the baby suddenly becomes an adult.

Therefore, I’m in constant learning mode. I want to produce a better product, a higher quality book, a more expressive novel. I don’t believe there’s an end of a road for a writer. There’s no ultimate goal to reach. That in itself brings me to the terrified state.

RZ: Your book is dedicated to the loving memory of your father. Tell us a little more about that.

LT: I’ve explained how I started writing Bitter Almonds to engage my father. Sadly, he passed away about three weeks before I signed the publishing contract, so he never really knew I got the story out. But I believe he is smiling at me from his special place up above, perhaps with a new twinkle in his eye.

RZ: You’ve moved around a lot while growing up. What or where is ‘home’ to you?

LT: Although I have many places where I feel at home, in my mind and heart, the absolute definition of home has always been Palestine, a place I had only heard and read about growing up, but didn’t have the chance to see until fairly recently as an adult. Palestine holds a powerful grip on my emotions and imagination.

My Arabic dialect is colored by my mother’s Syrian accent, and sometimes I surprise people when I passionately talk Palestinian, even have my sincerity brushed aside because of it. That infuriates me. The feeling of being Palestinian has been talked about in so many ways, and written in plenty of poetry, wonderful books and articles. Yet, I think it’s an indescribable state of existence. All we can do is hold on to it, try to creatively express it, and pass it on to the next generation.

Just as my mother instilled in me her fabulous culture and values, of which I am very proud, my father did the same, and the both of them together created a special environment independent of the geographical location where we actually lived. My husband and I tried to do the same for our children living in the US.

Spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually speaking, Palestine was always, still is, and will forever be my true home.

RZ: Would you describe Bitter Almonds as more of a political story or more of a love story? Or maybe love is political anyway?

LT: I would describe it as a human story at the center of a political pie with a slice of love, a dose of culture, a pinch of history, and a dash of hope. I don’t believe that romantic love solely transcends borders and politics, for I see love of country and homeland is just as enchanting.

RZ: Are any of the characters in your novel based on, or inspired by, people you’ve met or know personally?

LT: The simple and straight forward answer is no. There isn’t a specific character based on someone I know or met. But I used my experiences with the people in my life to see my characters with clarity and shape them to the way they turned out. My father’s personality was very complex, and I borrowed some of his traits to create both Omar and Marwan in Bitter Almonds, so in a way, their combined personalities were inspired by some of my father’s attributes.

Additionally, I’ve always admired the sincerity of my teachers, and the ingenuity and strength of the women in my family, starting with my mother’s ability to always see the big picture. I drew on all of that to develop the different female characters in the book.

RZ: You were born in Kuwait to a Syrian mother and a Palestinian father, and you left for the United States after the Gulf War. Tell us a little about your experience living in the US, in terms of identity, exile, “otherness” and/or belonging.

LT: Although I was exposed to the western world as a child through trips to Europe that my parents took us on, I experienced cultural shock just like every immigrant who arrived to the New World. At first, everything was difficult. I missed moving within a big homogeneous community. The little things I took for granted became very important and even essential. I longed for the smells, sounds, and tastes of the Middle East. I remember I had a panic attack the first time I talked one-on-one with my professor when I was studying for my master’s degree.

As time went on, I eased into American life, graduated, married, and moved to another state to start a family. My husband and I made the effort to keep our children within a sphere that combined mainstream America and the Arab American community around us. Furthermore, living in the big mix of ethnicities and backgrounds of the US helped me to assimilate while proudly maintaining my cultural heritage.

The sense of being an outsider diminished, but it didn’t completely disappear. I’m thankful for that. I know where I belong, but of all the places I lived in, I’m not sure where I don’t belong.

RZ: What advise would you give budding writers who might be afraid of pursuing this path?

LT: Don’t write as if someone is looking over your shoulder. Write what you want, more so if it is difficult and thorny. Write what is begging to be released, and be patient, for a writer’s vehicle moves slowly. Don’t let your ego stand in the way of improvement, and always, always, seek honest feedback.

RZ: Which writers were you influenced by while growing up? Which writers are you drawn to now?

LT: Growing up, I read most books by the known Arab geniuses, namely Naguib Mahfouz, Ghassan Kanafani, Taha Hussein, Gibran Khalil Gibran, Anis Mansour and many more. I also read a good number of the translated literary classics for western writers like Earnest Hemingway, Agatha Christie, Jane Austin, the Brontë sisters, and Leo Tolstoy to name a few. As I gained more command of the English language, I re-read those classics in English, which provided me with additional levels of enjoyment and different angles of understanding for the same books.

Currently, I’m drawn to Arab writers such as Susan Abulhawa and Saud Alsanousi. Other writers I like are Khaled Hosseini, and Jodi Picoult.

RZ: What are you working on right now?

LT: I’m working on two novels in parallel. Something I haven’t attempted before. One is a sequel to my third novel, which will hopefully come out next year. The plot is current in time and it deals with American Palestinians connecting with their roots and themes relating to resistance.

The other novel I’m working on explores a rarely touched topic of Palestinian life, and is entirely set in the Middle East.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Palestine to Ferguson

By Layla A. Goushey

Rumi’s broken mirror.
Shards of truth flying into throats.

Is it police militarization or only the media?
Is it racism or self-defense?
Is it death or only a segment before a commercial break?
Does immaturity deserve the death penalty?

Facebook bubble of privilege.
Unfollow reality and follow Grumpy Cat.
Pledge allegiance to the blissful bubble.

Black child bullied out of the White elementary school.
Palestinian store owner killed on a North City street.
Transnational allegiance to blood on street and sand.

From Ferguson to Palestine,
the anvil was poverty and the hammer was privilege.
Social justice education in a White liberal enclave
with espresso macchiatos and critical theory PhDs.
Doing the hard work
to organize divergent activists
toward converging realities.

Come to the rogue committee now
with charter-school plans for an
Afro-Arab-centric curriculum.
The brother said,
Birth, Poverty, Disease, Death
in JeffVanderLou – St. Louis.
Birth, Poverty, Disease, Death
in Gaza – Palestine.
Birth, Poverty, Disease, Death
From Palestine to Ferguson.

Mind the tear gas.

photographs not taken*

after Marwa Helal and Safia Elhillo
By George Abraham

the scalpel that removed a country
from my teta’s chest, rusting in the hands
of a surgeon who was, perhaps, a zionist;
my mother’s face crossing the finish line
of a marathon for breast cancer research, her
cousin’s name scrawled across the damp running bib;
Palestinian Olympic swimmer takes gold,
rewriting the ocean of her history; the ghosts
of refugee children making a choir of his weeping;

***

family portrait in post-racial society with
filter equating my olive skin to
my brother’s smoldering earth;
my cousin shouting allahou akbar out of irony
after passing through TSA without
being quarantined for the first time;
my father, before the toupee settled on his
head, mid-laugh & the country escaping
from the gap in his front teeth;

***

my head, freshly shaven, for a melanoma
biopsy catching the Florida sunset:
swim practice;
the benign sunspot they removed
from my scalp – brown flesh patch
floating in saline;
screenshot of Google Maps before the West Bank
& Gaza were 2 patches of nameless
flesh outlined in black dots;

***

my Teta, age 2, after being
baptized in the Dead Sea, holds a
seashell to her ear: a history lesson;
my great aunt’s obituary reading “place of birth:
Jerusalem” & the israeli flag waving
over her open casket;
family portrait in Ramallah,
full-toothed smiles at sunset:
past or present;
an olive tree & magnolia tree, planted
side-by-side, overlooking a cemetery,
mixing displaced soils;
the Haifa skyline every time
so where’s home for you?
falls out of a stranger’s mouth;

***

a lifeguard pulls my 4-year not-corpse from
the pool floor at my first swim lesson:
second baptism;
white man turns his back to drowning
daughter at my community pool: a brief
history of Israel/Palestine;
a cell frozen, mid-mitosis, houses conflicting
entities in a single membrane:
two state solution paradox;
my zionist biology teacher lectures
on respiration
& i drown –

*the poem was selected as a runner up for Emerge Literary Journal’s Civil Disobedience Poetry Contest, and will be published by Emerge Literary Journal

In the painting on the wall

By Chaun Ballard

Handala,
the young refugee boy, stands
at the broken wall
and concentrates his gaze
in the direction of Jerusalem,
and he knows he will pass through
this stone that has opened—
and when he does,
he will venture to the other side
alone.
Though he knows
when he departs this land
he might never return,
he does not turn around. He never waves
farewell to the people gathered.
He knows his pause is enough.

Handala,
the young refugee boy, stands
gazing from the broken wall—
fathers, mothers, children,
and liberators have come
to wave flags, some wave hands,
and they know
he must cross into this freedom
alone. For they know his will—
they have all seen his face.

For more poems by Chaun Ballard, check the full issue: Vol. 4, Issue 1

Two poems by Layla Ghoushey

Refuge

Soon after my uncle’s family knocked on the
door of America, he stood on his new home’s
porch with a television in his arms. They were
migrating from the transitory flat to the house,
where Siti would enter paradise years later.
But that time had not yet arrived and, when
he knocked,

no one came.

Perhaps the women were swabbing the floor of the
kitchen, or rinsing the bathtub with bleach. Maybe his
children were disrespecting him. They knew that he
would never find a steady business in this country.

He would get a job at a grocery, but
throw down his apron when asked
to bag at the checkout line like a
half grown kid, not like a man with a
wife, three kids, and a mother
at home.

Perhaps he already knew my
aunt would be the breadwinner
and that he would lose himself
in Palestinian tragedies
broadcast to his living room as
he sipped his mother’s tea.

He threw the idiot box onto the porch, and
the screen shattered into a million pieces.
My aunt opened the door and found him,
lost in America: broken, scattered,
sheltered-in- place.

Public Bath

Bright, white light on Independence Day.
Hot July 4th at the pool. Solitude in a
crowd. Water drips. Fountains burst and
bubble from a hole in the ground, and I
remember Aya Baradiya, a Palestinian
woman, buried by her uncle to cover her
shame.

I dodge the selfie-sticks of adolescent Roman
conquerors. Their DNA bequeathed from
middle-aged Dads via Paul’s journey to Rome.
Their little chromosomes once voyaged
between Rome and Jerusalem along the Way
of the Soul.

In the drowning Mediterranean,
little refugee boats are baby-filled
with desperation, while in Saint Louis,
a woman in a burqini floats
with her kids at the pool.

Brown bodies, white bodies
meander on the lazy river. Pudgy
curves and love handles spill out
of bikinis.

Sun-starved skin and varicose veins are revealed.
Hats: white, green, blue, with wide brims, conceal
a child’s urine in the pool.

I emerge from the depths, and a breeze
evaporates water from my skin.

A cooling liberty repels the sun’s tyrannical heat.
I am cleansed with the Enlightenment, with
individualism, with secularism, with female
brazen dignity.

I glide on supple little waves.
It is my independence day.

I wash the shame from my skin,
but the filth of privilege remains.

Three poems by Frank Dullaghan

A Liberation

“This shell, it turned out, landed smack in the middle of the Jabaliya cemetery”
Josh Glancy reporting on Gaza in The Sunday Times, (UK) 27.07.14

I don’t suppose it was any trouble
to them, leaping into the air like that,
smithereened, baring their bits
to the blasted air. Of course, they came

crashing back to earth, scattered, mixed-
up, not knowing who was who.
But for that while, they were high.
It must have felt like the End of Days,

the Assentation, come upon them,
dancing together, all tooth and grin,
their bones blown towards heaven,
the first to be liberated from Gaza.

But just as quickly as they were lifted,
they were let down – isn’t that
how it always is? – their internment
heaped upon them again.


The Children Are Silent

The children have learned to be silent.
They look through you,
their eyes older than their faces.
They carry their small bodies like suitcases
that they can pick up or put down.

They think their mothers are great engines
that can go on and on,
mile after mile, as if each day
is just another road, as if insanity
can be out-walked.

Their fathers follow like blown sand,
collars flapped up against history,
their cupped hands reddening
as they pull the small hope
of cigarette smoke into their lungs.

The children may never speak again.
They have gone beyond words,
grown beyond hope. They know that
all the leaders just sit at the same dark tables
and look at each other.

Hamdan Street

You will find him in one of the small alleys
behind Hamdan Street, a narrow shop,
the pavement broken outside.
Inside it is bare, a blank counter, a door
into the back. His day starts at 6am.
There is nothing electric
about his iron. It is traditional,
heavy, charcoal filled. Another man
wouldn’t last an hour. But he drives it
all day, nosing it down the pleat
of a dishdash, smoothing the wrinkled age
out of a sheet. He lives in the heat
and the steam. At 8pm he stops, eats
rice and vegetables, sometimes goat.
He sleeps under the counter. He is proud.
He is the Iron Man of Abu Dhabi.

Man of the Orchard by Zahra Hankir

I first met jeddo (grandpa) in August 1987. I was just three years old, but I have this distinct memory of him hurriedly running down the driveway of his humble orchard-home in Zahrani, barefoot, in the pouring rain, to embrace my mother. He hadn’t seen her since just before the Israeli invasion of South Lebanon in 1982; they’d barely communicated in the interim. Tears were streaming down his face as he held her.

Osman “Abu Nasser” Antar was born to Zahra and Mahmoud in Sidon in 1929. He was the fifth of eight other siblings — one sister, and seven brothers. His father was a trader and a landowner who worked between Palestine and South Lebanon; he managed his finances poorly.

When jeddo was barely 11, my great-grandfather unexpectedly passed away, leaving the family of ten with very little to survive on. My grandpa was consequently forced to leave school to provide for himself, his younger siblings, and his mother.

When I think of jeddo, it’s almost always of him sitting on the ground, in front of a pile of ripe oranges that he’d picked from the bustan (orchard) he tended to, with a kuffiyeh wrapped around his head, dressed in his khaki work clothes.

He’d often have Fairouz, Umm Kulthoum or Mohammad Abdul Wahab playing from a little radio in the background as he carefully arranged the oranges into crates to be taken to the market.

Sometimes, when he was in a particularly good mood, he’d have classical Arabic ballads blasting from my uncle’s parked car as he worked, or he’d hum their tunes whilst feeding the chickens in the coop.

Jeddo was, to my mind, a man of the land. To him, the land of the orchard was life, and he was rarely away from it.

Jeddo started picking fruit and crops as a young boy. When it was blossoming season, he’d wake up at the crack of dawn to head to the orchards with his brothers, where they’d stay for days until they finished their jobs, before returning to the city. For hours on end, they’d toil away at the land, guarding the crops and irrigating and picking the oranges and lemons.

When jeddo’s father passed away, working at the orchards to the south of Sidon would become his primary source of income, and ultimately, his profession. He quickly took on a reputation of being one of the finest men of the orchards in his area. He upheld that reputation for more than six decades, working the land with a sense of pride and ownership that left almost everyone he came into contact with in awe.

Jeddo would eventually join the city’s trade union, hosting meetings for the tens of men of Sidon who, like himself, worked in the orchards. Once a week, grandpa would line up the chairs in the garden of the orchard he tended to and along the private road that led to it. The workers would congregate to discuss the affairs of the union.

Grandpa would eventually become treasurer of the union, a role which would see him travel between Sidon and Damascus and which would earn him a mention in a historical book on the southern port city. Those meetings at his boss’s bustan and the crowd they attracted became so notorious, that political figures from Maarouf Saad to Nazih Bizri would compete for jeddo’s support; the meetings often involved political discussions that would translate into votes.

My mother’s childhood home in the south of Lebanon was simple. In the middle of a beautiful, modest-sized orchard, it seemed cut off from the rest of the world. The walls were worn and cracked, and the beds, which I’d share with my aunts, were stiff. In the summers, it was unbearably hot, and in the winter, unbearably cold.

But in between trips to Lebanon from the U.K., I thought of that small home as a vast palace full of treasures, and of my grandfather, as the king of that palace.

Every Sunday after we moved back to Lebanon in the mid-nineties, we’d congregate at the bustan in Zahrani for extended family lunches. They almost always consisted of kousa mehshi (stuffed zucchini) — my grandparents’ favourite — or dishes that my brothers and I would request, such as grandma’s homemade pizza or wara’ 3enab (stuffed vine leaves). Grapes dangling from the vine leaves that jeddo had grown himself were picked for dessert.

Before and after my rebellious years at college (sorry mama), I cherished those Sundays. Specifically the moments following lunch, when my grandparents would move to the living room to watch the news on a tiny black-and-white TV set. Teta (grandma) would lie down, weary after cooking a feast for at least 10 people, and jeddo would sit upright in his chair, with his rosary beads in one hand.

On his other palm, he’d almost always rest his head before dozing off, drifting in and out of sleep. Sometimes he’d briefly wake up to smack a mosquito on his arm or leg. It always made us laugh, how he’d fall back to sleep instantaneously.

Like clockwork, Jeddo would then head back to the bustan, where he’d work until the sun went down. Before we’d leave to Sidon, he would load up the trunk of the car with oranges, lemons, bananas and assorted vegetables that he’d grown and picked himself. The scent of orange blossoms at the bustan was so dense, it stayed with us for hours after leaving.

Growing up, we’d heard multiple legendary stories about jeddo. Some of them, he told us with a chuckle. Others, we heard from teta or mama or our uncles. We learned to suspend rational judgment on the veracity of the stories.

A donkey once kicked jeddo in the face, breaking his nose instantaneously, he told us. Despite the pain it caused him, he almost immediately repositioned his nose, straightening the broken bone, he said. It’s a story he’d share repeatedly over the years, explaining to my brothers that they should be abadayat (good and strong men).

Jeddo’s surname, Antar (the name of a legendary Arab poet and warrior), sometimes seemed poetic, like he’d strived, throughout his long life, to live up to it.

In another one of those stories, jeddo had apparently killed a poisonous snake with a shotgun — despite being paralysed with fear — at the age of 13.

The snake’s skin was so tough, the bullet wouldn’t go through it with the first shot. He was said to have killed the snake with the second and last bullet: by shooting it straight into its mouth.

Jeddo was notoriously handsome, even as an elderly man. As a teenager, he was acutely aware of this, constantly using his looks and charm to flirt with girls.

But grandpa was also a poor man, who spent most of his days working for very little. In his downtime, he’d loiter the streets with his older brother and best friend, Saleh, who worked in the orchards with him. Realising they couldn’t capture the attention of girls in their shabby work clothes, they once decided to save up some money to buy a nice shirt, to impress them. They’d take turns wearing it.

One of those ladies was Souad Yemen, my grandma. Jeddo first caught a glimpse of her in town, while he was still in his khaki work clothes. She was taking a stroll with grandpa’s aunts — the wives of her uncles — and her great beauty struck him, he’d tell us. Instead of saying hello right away, though, he ran home, showered, put on the smart shirt and trousers, and hurried back to town to join them. This was a lady jeddo wanted to impress.

A proud woman, teta ignored him all evening.

Teta was extremely rigid with jeddo at first. She did not like men who flirted so ostentatiously with her, and she would never, ever flirt back. My grandma was, my mother says, “brought up like a princess,” having been extremely spoiled by her father. But jeddo wouldn’t give up on her. He befriended her father, despite the fact that he was scared of him, and eventually secured a job at his bustan.

Teta would warm up to jeddo eventually. One summer’s afternoon, when the akadinia (loquats) were in season, she invited her friends over for lunch.

Jeddo, at the time, was working in the bustan — picking the loquats — when teta’s friend brought a tray over to him, with a message from Souad: she wanted some of the fruit. He arranged them for her in an intricate pyramid, before sending the tray back. They married shortly afterwards.

Teta’s mother, dismayed by the match, said her daughter would spend the rest of her life washing grandpa’s work clothes.

Years earlier — when my grandmother was still a teenager and my grandfather a lad — teta and her girlfriends would frequently meet up to catch up and gossip. During one of those meet-ups, grandma’s friend said in passing that if a girl recited a certain prayer, she’d see her future husband in her dreams.

Shortly after their discussion, teta did indeed dream of jeddo, whom she had hardly noticed at the time. In the dream, he was leading a donkey with saddles on both of its sides. One of the two saddles was heavier than the other, and jeddo spent the entire journey trying to balance the two. A fitting premonition, if there ever was one.

Jeddo and teta had a wonderfully complex relationship that continually teetered on the edge of complete collapse. Despite living humbly, they struggled financially during the first fifteen years or so of their marriage. Having already left school against my great-grandma’s wishes, teta provoked the ire of her mother when she married jeddo.

But in between the stresses that weighed them down — they had two very ill daughters — they also shared some private, playful moments, away from their six children. They had a secret little cupboard at their orchard home that they’d constantly replenish with treats, including the finest nuts, snacks and drinks.

When my mother, Mariam, was born, she contracted typhoid fever. Frantic, grandpa took his ill child to the only doctor in the city, quickly burning through the little money he had. He needed 5 liras, the doctor told him, to purchase medicine urgently needed to treat my mother.

At first, jeddo sought an advance from his employer, but the man refused. He’d loaned his brother money to buy a cow, and requested repayment, but he said he was unable to hand over the funds.

Off jeddo went to a café in the old city, where he ordered tea, and sat in stubborn, sombre silence for hours. The owner of the café approached grandpa, asking him what was wrong, and jeddo — proud man that he was — couldn’t bring himself to speak the entire truth.

“I’ve forgotten my money in another pair of trousers at home,” he told the shop owner. “I need 5 liras to buy medicine for my sick daughter.”

The shopkeeper, who knew of jeddo’s plight, handed over his day’s earnings, which added up to 17 liras — all the money he had in his apron. When grandpa refused to accept the money, claiming it was far more than he needed, the man insisted he take it all.

My mother maintains, till today, that it’s the combination of the shop keeper’s kindness and jeddo’s determination that saved her life.

As the problems mounted, teta and jeddo decided it would be best to go their separate ways. Though the divorce wouldn’t last for long, it was something of a small disaster for the family, the effects of which would linger for years.

Grandpa, stubborn as he was, would claim he was saamed (steadfast) when people would say he should take teta back, as they were clearly still in love with one another.

Teta would eventually return from Damascus, where she stayed with her family during the divorce, and jeddo couldn’t help but soften up.

The divorce lasted less than a year, but it’s a period of time that jeddo would look back on with great regret and remorse, until the day he died.

During the Israeli invasion of 1982, the IDF would infiltrate the South, eventually reaching Zahrani, where my grandpa and his family lived. Stories circulated that the army was patrolling the surrounding areas, so jeddo had instructed the family on how to behave should the inevitable happen, to ensure their safety: He would act cordially, and the children and teta would remain quiet, indoors.

An Israeli army contingent did indeed reach the bustan, as they neared Sidon. Upon encountering jeddo, who was terrified but composed, they asked for water. The senior officer, who knew Arabic, got to talking to my grandpa about his family, and jeddo told them that he had a daughter who was married and who lived with her husband in Ireland.

Jeddo continued conversing, attempting to conceal his fear, unsure what else he could do. He said he hadn’t been in touch with my mother for months, and that she’d surely be worried about the family’s safety. The Israeli officer asked for a contact number, and promised he would soon call my parents to convey to them that jeddo and the family were indeed safe.

Weeks later, my father, then a doctor at a hospital in the U.K., was told, while he was at work, that he had received an international phone call. A man claiming to be an Israeli officer told my dad that his wife’s family was safe. Shocked, my father reasoned that it was a prank call, and hung up on the man.

It wasn’t until 1987, when my mother first saw jeddo on a trip back to Lebanon after the invasion, that she and my father came to realise it was indeed a true, and somewhat remarkable story.

Among jeddo’s most endearing qualities was his sense of humour. When I was about 15 or 16, and still a tomboy, he told me I should “wear high heels every now and then,” because I’d started looking “more like my four brothers” than a young lady.

In his final years of life, he’d occasionally ask someone to bring him a pocket mirror. He’d then peer into it seriously, before saying, “TOZZZ” (fart), and handing it back over with a chuckle. He’d do the same when he’d see photos of himself as a younger, handsome man.

But jeddo’s most captivating quality was his sensitivity. I’d seen him cry multiple times. While he did indeed live up to his surname, he found no shame in exposing his weaknesses.

Every time I’d leave Lebanon after visiting, when I’d say goodbye to him, he would break down into tears, saying he was frightened it would be the last time he would see me.

Each time, he would ask me to take care of my mama once he’d pass, because he could see mama in me, and mama was special.

After my teta passed away in 2010, jeddo would constantly speak of her, how they met, and the love they’d shared, tearing up each time. Occasionally, he would say, endearingly and with a chuckle, that being with her was a lot like the “taming of the shrew.”

When jeddo was bedridden, toward the end, he had a picture of teta taped up next to where he rested his head, on the wall. We’d often catch him looking at it with a sense of guilt and longing.

Osman Abu Nasser Antar passed away at the age of 87, on February 4, the same date as teta’s birthday.

In Her Dream I Spoke Arabic: In a college composition class a few years ago, many worlds came together.

By Jesse Millner

A student from Palestine writes “theological” instead of “theoretical.” I help her understand the difference. She has no thesis. She arrived in America three years ago having learned to write essays that reference poems and the Koran. She loves her family, misses raising tomatoes outside of the village she grew up in. Her main point is the compassion with which she writes about the world, how the very first creature she wrote about was a rabbit, which she drew a picture of in the top right corner of the page in her notebook. Rabbit, she says, in Arabic, contains the first letter of that alphabet. So it’s logical to associate learning alphabets with drawing rabbits. She comes to see me in my office with her work and I tell her how good it is, how her voice is strong and beautiful, how she paints the world with strokes of kindness, how she’s almost making me believe in God again.

Is that the main point of teaching, of writing? To learn about others, to hear their voices, to see the wonder with which they still view our world? A student from Lebanon writes about living in an apartment building where, after the 1988 civil war, they had to use black garbage bags to replace whole sections of the outer walls of the building. During one attack after air raid sirens went off, her grandmother had to be left under a table in their apartment because she couldn’t walk and she was too heavy to carry to the shelter.

Sitting next to the woman from Lebanon is a former American soldier who had served in Iraq. His first essay is about beauty, and he says beauty for him is being allowed to leave his running shoes on the floor in the middle of his apartment, and to throw his clothes on his bed when he gets home. He writes, “For me, chaos is beauty.”

For me, my students are beauty. My writing classes are filled with a chorus of young voices straining against the walls of the five-paragraph essay. They are amazed that they are allowed to write in first person. They are astounded that they can write about issues that are important to them: My Palestinian student’s fifteen-year-old cousin was beaten by Israeli soldiers because he ran from them. His leg was broken. One soldier picked a fresh lemon from her grandfather’s orchard, cut it in half, and then rubbed the bitter fruit into her cousin’s eyes.

On her way to school each day, she had to pass three IDF checkpoints. She writes that the soldiers were young and afraid, that they asked her about her major in college, what she liked to do in her free time. She feels sorry for them. She wishes, as the young men do themselves, that they could go home.

Her name is Enas. My spellchecker underlines her name in bold red, and I think of the blood spilled in Palestine. Enas writes about the smell of her grandmother’s bread. Enas writes about the beautiful red cheeks of her ripe tomatoes. Enas writes about teaching second grade when she was in college because an Israeli curfew prevented the regular teachers from traveling.

Yesterday after class Enas showed me pictures of her friends and family in Palestine. They lived on a mountain covered with olive trees. Some of the photographs show children playing in snow. Enas tells me she has forty-five cousins. I’m drawn to a particular photograph that shows Enas with her family just before she moved to America. Enas, her aunt, and her mom are all wearing white hijabs. She flips the album and on the next page Enas is wearing a sombrero in Disneyland. I tell her I’m delighted by the juxtaposition. She types “juxtaposition” into her hand-held translating device and I watch the word I know flow into Arabic.

I ask my class to write down their dreams. I tell them not to have coffee or tea when they woke up. I said it was ok to go to the bathroom. Enas writes about a dream where I came to class drinking a beer. Since I’m a recovering alcoholic and haven’t had a drink in twenty-eight years, I was a little bit taken aback. Then she talks about how, in her dream, outside the classroom door she could see images of Palestine: a rope swing that her grandfather had hung from an olive tree branch for her when she was little, a car carrying a bride to her new husband’s home. She could also smell burning wood from an oven where her grandmother baked fresh bread. At the end of the piece she listened to me speaking Arabic. And when she read aloud my words in that other tongue, when I listened to myself speak through her, I heard myself in a different way.

It didn’t matter that I only said, “Enas, pay attention instead of looking out that door.” The words were magic and they still linger like foreign ghosts on my tongue.

Ali Shawwa

Ali Shawwa is a Palestinian-Kuwaiti artist who’s lived in the Middle East, Europe and the US. Using a range of mediums from pencil to acrylic, Ali relates his experiences, memories, culture, and emotions through his artwork. His art is one of his most cherished creative outlets and after years spent observing, experimenting and evolving, Ali has developed his own unique style that led to a series of widely successful paintings. His latest series, Œiconic, focuses mainly on pop culture. With a degree in Environmental Design, he is currently the creative director for a niche book publishing company, Rimal Publications. Ali’s artwork has been acquired internationally by art enthusiasts in sixteen different cities. He lives and works in Dubai.