To My Friend

IMG_8273
My friend Shehab and me as children. This photo was captured around 25 years ago in Egypt.

A wise person once said, ‘a poem is the expression of ideas and feelings in a language no one uses, because no one talks in verse’. Explains why I chose poetry   to share my learnings and lessons of the last decade with my dear friend Shehab. As for the actual content, the worth of words solely depends on their interpretation. 

My soul-friend
Special without end
Asked that I share
from my heart
in any form or art
the lessons of my last decade.

I only hope
my moody memory
will cope
and retrieve
and not disappoint.

He suggested I capture
in my own words
my most pivotal moments
(anonymously if I prefer)
And speak of teachers
whose great impact
and profound tact
gifted me back
a wiser version
of this person
I call me.

Where should I begin?
What should I write?
I wish I had an inkling
What if I miss something?
There is so much inside
Does it even matter
I imagine he would ask,
The point is to start
Set fear aside.

Shall I mention
For example –
My first painful lesson
with lying and liars
How I was warned
they existed
but was never convinced
what was said was true
Who knew, that one day
I would be misled
and that sick fabrications
and shaky exaggerations
could reach me, then cheat me
Only to find out
after multiple breakages
in my heart
With child-like disappointment
and inward torment
There is no doubt –
Lying and liars are real
Like thieves
they steal
They rob us of
our basic right
to choose and appeal
Being lied to is a huge deal.

I learnt –
From my teacher, Liar
To forgive
To empathize
with the fragile and suicidal
the victimized son of a miser
With the pathological denier
The solitary crier
With the lonely
and mentally ill
The man with a swaying will
With vices that kill
I now realize
that each lie
was a desperate cry
to disguise
To distract my eyes
from his real life
his shame and blame
In the end
I forgave
his lying disgrace
But in the process
I purposely erased
his cowardly face.

Shall I mention
For example –
Aspects of my life I wish were omitted
The life-altering mistakes I committed
driven by excitement and allure
in the name of forbidden love,
complex but pure
Or to top it all off
the exact opposite of the above –
In the name of safe conventionality
and a so-called love that is secure
Knowing deep down
that in both scenarios I chose wrong
but taking so damn long
to stand up
wanting to test my limit
or maybe push theirs to the summit
To my dismay
I lost my way
But I must admit
I never lost my wit.

I learnt –
From my teacher, Regret
Some love stories have to end
I am just sorry I caused some pain
Something I did not intend
I learnt to accept the blame
How about my pain?
I learnt not to complain
Love is anything
but a winning or losing game
I learnt from Regret –
Impossible love (wrong or right)
seems like everything
but everything it is not
Neither is love in checklists
of those insecure (expensive suit) types
who seem like classy princes
In real life, total misfits.

Shall I mention
For example –
How learning Italian
introduced me to the best of love
To another world from above
How Italy became my vitality
How one Italian
gave me the most special gift
the one on my Enlightenment List
the one I saved myself for
Carved out of verses
of passionate poetry
with a musical flow and more
Pieces of Salento
inscribed intimately
with the sweetest words
with the most tender urge
(No wonder they say love hurts)
A relationship built on trust
immune to rust, and dust
An original, one thousand percent
Except –
trust alone was not enough
to maintain and sustain
a love from afar
I longed for a deeper sensation
A solid plan not a vacation
but it never came
Maybe I am to blame
for my indecision
Maybe he didn’t know
how to really listen
I waited for a stronger connection
but I waited in vain
Even his gentle words
seemed almost gruff
or crumbled
hardly mattered
when life got tough.

I learnt –
From my teacher, Love
How to recognize my own clarity
The importance of considering practicality
That love has to be shown actively
almost frantically
How not to settle
and become fickle
How I must, hush
that disturbing noise
How to listen and trust
that soothing voice
inside of me
To bring it out
and strangle self-doubt
I learnt –
Even if love has been tested
and proven to be trusted
If love doesn’t feel right
and doesn’t grip me tight
or keep me safe at night
It is perhaps wise
to say goodbye
before romance withers and dies
Lest our hearts go dry.
 
Shall I mention
For example –
How I befriended walking
and along the way
I stumbled upon running
even sprinting
A bit of martial arts
and serious muscle-building
How I discovered the secrets
of health and fitness
How no one saw it coming
Shall I mention –
How through running
and long-distance walking
I was brought closer to heaven
How – through the magic of them
I discovered and uncovered
The strength of my mind
The resilience of my body
How – through the power of my mind
I thrived
and felt high
How – through my energized body
I met my will
and had my fill
of success and confidence
How I made a pact
to push through
to never give up
to mindfully act
with knowledge
with courage
with discipline
and relentless endurance.

I learnt –  
From my teachers, Mind and Body
From my Hiking expeditions
From my (two! Yes two) Marathon achievements
One fact:
My mind is my God
and my body is its messenger.

Shall I mention
For example –
How traveling solo
inspired me, to let go
and outgrow
certain sensitivities
How it pushed me to forgo
pains that drain
From traveling I gained
a new perspective
I became reflective
More humanely attentive
I made life-long friends
even pen-pals (yes! Pen-pals)
from here, from there
and everywhere
I reconnected with nature
Questioned the danger
of the word ‘danger’
I became braver
Shall I also mention –
How I fell in love with new cultures
With rugged mountains, wild flowers
and free horses
that perfectly decorated Spain and Iceland
How I roamed the streets of Palestine
and for the first time
saw the child residing in my father
How I retraced his footsteps
and how now, I walk mine
How I discovered South America
How I was reborn in Patagonia
How I traveled all over Scandinavia
But found my Self in Roma’s Italia
How within months in New York
I did all the things I loved
I crossed over to 2013
Hand-in-hand
With a life-long friend of my teens
We talked endlessly
of prolonged silences and amends
It was more powerful than a thousand dreams
I danced my favourite dance Salsa
Pursued my childhood love for drama
I walked and I walked
through autumn and winter
I walked and I sought
till I finally found
my happy ground.

I learnt –
From my teacher, Travel
Not to wait
or procrastinate
How to read hidden signs
How to ignore the pounding of time
How to appreciate
the taste of red wine
and the sweetness and intrigue
of my own company
How to be free
Not to judge ‘me’
nor she or he
How to see
with newer eyes
How to be
without a disguise
How to be a gentler self-critic
but also, less and less egoistic
How to truly listen
to the rhythmic rustling
of every important tree
I learnt –
How through defining encounters
with unforgettable strangers
I was revealed to myself
and made an effort to know
the beautiful woman within me
The friend minus foe
with real potential to grow
I even learnt to respect
my dislikes and weaknesses
I learnt self-forgiveness
I emptied myself
of inherently damaging stuff.

Shall I mention
For example –
How quitting a high-flying job
among shrewd men and snobs
was something I couldn’t stop
or top!
For the first time
I saved some money
and rationally aligned
my heart with my mind
I trusted my vision
and made the finest decision
It couldn’t have been
more perfectly timed
It would have been a sin
to entertain procrastination
to float aimlessly in evasion
I left corporate familiarity
to unravel my creativity
I rolled up my sleeves
and darted towards
my dreams
I pursued
the very things
that fueled
my soul
I grasped my passions
(held on to them tightly)
of traveling
of writing
of dreaming
Yes, dreaming!

I learnt –
From my teacher, Passion
How to dream again
and keep dreaming
How to travel
and be a free spirit
how not to over-think it
How to prioritize self-awareness
and make room for wellness
How to be writer and a poet
A woman who can be inspired
How to make my passion
a craft
How to crown it
and own it
How to keep going
despite not knowing
what lies ahead
I learnt –
Self-trust
is a must.

Shall I mention
For example –
The seventeen deaths
I learned about
and yes, I counted
Seventeen within two years
the most heartbreaking I’ve ever seen
Seventeen before my father’s
of family friends
of my dear cousin
of my memorable aunt
of my childhood friend’s father
who couldn’t have been kinder
as yet another agonizing example
Not to mention –
a year and a half of hospital odours
of the distinctive smell of the bed-ridden Dying
What suffering!
And the sight of families breaking down
and eventually collapsing
Of helpless mothers and fathers crying
Shall I mention –  
Without discussing further
my own death?
Excuse me, I mean the painful passing
of my father.

I learnt –
From my teachers, Death and Dying
What true loss means
I lost many things in life
small, and many a time big
But nothing ever prepared me
for that one loss of all my years
at the forefront of all my fears
the unbearable sadness of all my griefs
I learnt –
What it really means
to feel the weight of grief
to ignore the stench it reeks
to lie in its darkness trying hard to breathe
To know that it can suddenly appear and disappear
To accept what I lose from it, and leave
To appreciate what I gain from it, and receive
I learnt –
To acknowledge what it actually did to me
when I stood close to the sick and dying
hearing them mumbling
lying in bed and sighing
To see their dwindling hope
in a hurry to elope
To be a witness of death
and see my biggest part
My One
take his last breath
To learn the art of prayer
and pray that my father
would miraculously recover
I learnt –
To reminisce
To truly miss
What it means to be paranoid, afraid, and anxious
What it feels like to be under extreme stress
To be in unfathomable sadness and distress
How to handle (the Death and Dying) memory flashes
To step away from fallen ashes
How to be strong and patient
To fight the demons of depression
To sit alone and smile at anguish
in a cunning attempt to conquer it
To be comfortable with silence
To recognize my real friends
The ‘through thick and thin’ ones
To ask when I need more affection
To find some kind of outlet
to ignite my drive to live
and somehow arrive at peace
You see –
Life is the way it is
We just have to let it be
We have to respect our destiny
and accept that we cannot flee
We lack the power to delay
or to even say:
Death and Dying, stay away.
 
As I near the end
of my last decade’s lessons
It is time I speak
of my unique
eternal friend.

Shall I mention –
How he is my friend
and has always been my friend
How I am sure he will always be
to the very end
How he was my childhood
and everything good
My first secret and fun times
My first memorable crush and listening ears
My first tingles and butterflies
My first fights and tears
My second decade’s temporary goodbye
which was stupid of us, and juvenile
Shall I mention –
How my beautiful friend
is a friend to all friends
The greatest of all friends
A soul-friend
in the truest sense
The purest of all men
Whose quietness
is unspoken wisdom
Whose calmness
is a Yoga kingdom
Whose qualities
are Zen
Whose strength
I commend
Whose curiosity
simply put – is so him
Whose kindness
is a Godsend
Whose high intelligence
never offends
Whose humility
never says ‘I’
Whose sincerity
is one of a kind
Whose happiness
is divine
Whose open smile
makes me want to fly
Whose decency
I swear by
On his loving friendship,
I depend.

I learnt –
From my teacher, Friend
How spirituality is inspirational
How paying attention is essential
How reading is sensational
How talking (without inhibitions) is transformational
How happiness is attainable
How celebrations are fundamental
How learning is beautiful
How a curious mind is unbeatable
How dreams are indispensable
How love is gentle
How when life is temperamental
the Self can be a friend
How death is not the end
How grief
no matter how deep
in time will surely mend
How authentic friendships will last
How trust is made out of glass
How true loyalty is steadfast.

This is to you, my friend
With heavenly love and the sun’s light
With everything that is bright and right.

This is to you, my friend
In celebration of a new start
In appreciation of poetry and art.

This is to you, my friend
In remembrance of our past.
In honour of our beating hearts.

On Loving

 

Icelandic Love
I captured this beautiful image of two gentle Icelandic horses at a horse field / stable in Iceland, 2017

There is nothing in the world that I want

but you and your love,

all other things seem small in comparison.

 

I want to keep your heart my own,

so much that I would rather love you first

and live incidentally.

 

My happiness is now in your hands,

because loving you means you can carry me.

 

Wherever and whenever you please,

in whatever shape or form you choose.

 

I have never felt my mind breathe with undistracted enjoyment,

as it does when I am with you.

 

You occupy all my senses.

 

What if you love me less one day?

It is done now and I have to admit this dependence,

I admit it willingly, wholeheartedly,

since I love you so much.

 

Since there’s no other way.

 

By Razan Abdul Majeed

My Summer in Scandinavia: Must-See’s and Must-Do’s

Me (left) trail-riding on an Icelandic Horse, Golden Circle, June 2017

 I am not a tour agent so I won’t even attempt to be one. But what I would like to do is give you some very USEFUL TIPS on WHAT TO SEE and WHAT TO DO when you’re IN SCANDINAVIA. The info is based on what I saw and did, and most importantly on what I enjoyed seeing and doing while there. I obviously won’t be able to cover every single detail of my trip but what I will do is share things that really stood out for me and things that we all simply must-see and must-do as curious individuals and learning tourists!

Countries Visited: Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland

Cities: Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Flåm (village), Bergen, Reykjavík, Gríndavik (blue lagoon), Golden Circle (southern iceland)

Uspenski Cathedra, Helsinki, June 2017

FINLAND, Helsinki

You can spend your time exploring this mysterious city by foot and enjoying its grand boulevards and colourful Russian-influenced architecture. Go see the Senate Square, where its surroundings make up the oldest part of Helsinki. Closeby you’ll find Helsinki Cathedral, the National Library, the Palace of the Council of State, and the University of Helsinki. Near there you will stumble upon Esplanadi Park and the Market Square. Don’t miss the impressive Temppeliaukio Church which is now used for musical events, and the Upenski Cathedral (see above photo) which is considered to be the largest Orthodox Church in Scandinavia. It reminded me of Saint Basil’s Cathedral at the Red Square in Moscow. I later found out that the Uspenski Cathedral is considered to be the symbol of the Russian influence on Finnish culture during the Russian occupation of Finland until 1919.

SWEDEN, Stockholm

Stockholm’s beauty is simply surreal. Maybe too surreal but surreal nonetheless. It is home to the World’s longest art exhibit: the 110km of subway tunnels under Stockholm. Make sure to check some of them out. Stockholm is considered to be the ‘sophisticated’ city of Scandinavia and you’ll understand why simply by walking around and taking in its sleek designs, classic architecture, and royal heritage. While there do check out Gamla Stan which is the Old Town, The Royal Palace, the City Hall (go in, take the guided tour and learn about the man behind the building, the iconic ballroom that hosts the Nobel Banquet, and about Alfred Nobel). I also took a boat that sailed around the Royal National City Park of Djurgården (gorgeous) and the closest inner archipelago islands which Sweden is famous for. A must-do!

DENMARK, Copenhagen

You all know Disney’s ‘Little Mermaid’ or even ‘Frozen’, right? Well, Denmark is home to the beloved Danish author who wrote these fairy tales: Hans Christian Anderson. So when you’re in Copenhagen next, make sure you go on a boat ride and see the Little Mermaid Statue which depicts the title character of his fairly tale. You’ll also pass through beautiful canals and super low bridges!

Copenhagen’s famed Little Mermaid, June 2017

I loved the city’s vibe so walking or even cycling (big bicycle culture) is the best way to explore this quaint and colour city: The Paris of the North as it is often referred to. Be sure not to miss my favourite spot which is Nyhavn, referred to as the street of the World’s Longest Bar. The cafes there overlook a beautiful and long canal and the buildings are cheerful, colourful and pretty cool! Don’t miss the Amalienborg Palace, Strøget (its largest shopping area and among the world’s longest pedestrian streets. True – I thought it would never end!), Tivoli Gardens, and the National Museum if you’re a lover of archeological artifacts. I personally didn’t go inside the museum but I was told it’s worth it! If you follow Royalty news and love palaces, go to the square where the Royal Palace is and where the National guards do the noon switch – quite interesting to watch. Also, do ask a Dane about Queen Margrethe II of Denmark! She’s an interesting character and everyone’s love.

Behind me is the ‘World’s Longest Bar’, Nyhaven, June 2017

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Where to Stay When in Scandinavia: Hotels & Hotel Reviews

The Thief Hotel, Oslo, Norway

If you ever find yourself planning a trip to Scandinavia and you begin your hotel search then this post might just be the right one for you!  Below I included all the hotels I stayed in, and against each hotel is the city/town and country. You will find a short hotel review on each hotel based on my personal experience during my stay.

I put a star rating against each hotel. Three*** stars is excellent, Two stars** average, and One star* less than average.

1. NORTHERN LIGHT INN **, Grindavík, Iceland

mid-range hotel, spacious rooms, overlooking the Blue Lagoon power plant, a lot of big windows so a lot of light and heat inside, super close to the Blue Lagoon with a shuttle service to/from the hotel, nothing special but great if you want to experience the Blue Lagoon, scenery different than what we’re used to but nothing spectacular, food is ok, friendly receptiontists but waiters need some guidance!

2. ALDA***, Reykjavík, Iceland

boutique-style, art-deco, very hip, young and trendy, comfortable rooms, in the heart of Reykjavík, loved its vibe and style, great bakery around the corner (a 5-minute walk. I think it’s called Brōd though not a 100% sure! Ask! It’s the best one and everyone knows it).

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The Woman I Met on the Express Train

View Outside My Window, Express Train to Oslo, June 2017

After a long and meaningful trip, my days at home were split between hours of quiet reflection and hours of retelling and recounting memorable stories of my Scandinavian adventure to family and friends.  Somewhere between this and that I found  myself going back to a particular encounter and only then did I realise what it had truly meant, and how it had altered something in me.  Sometimes random encounters do that. Sometimes they impact us in such a profound way that they create little waves of change in our lives – redirecting our sails to untraveled places within ourselves. And sometimes, its ripple effect is only felt much later – when everything outside of us is subdued, and everything within us isn’t.

The Encounter-: On the 27th of June, which marked the end of my Scandinavian odyssey – I took the Express Train from Bergen to Oslo.

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Loud Norwegians

Bergen. Very different to Oslo. Its (275,000) Norwegian people are also different. No one’s reserved and everyone’s loud! In a good way! Maybe it has to do with Bergen’s history. In the Middle Ages, Bergen was a major European trading and seafaring port. These still play an important part in Bergen’s economy as well other sectors like tourism, fisheries and other industries. It is home to the famous composer Edvard Grieg, and to thousands of university students. There’s cheerful Bryggen which is a World Heritage Site. See the photo with colourful buildings lined up perfectly?

Bryggen

That’s Bryggen.  It consists of old Hanseatic wharf and buildings and they are all unchanged and built on foundations that had been there since the 12th century (despite the great fire of 1702 which reduced the city to ashes).

Hanseatic Wharf

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The Flat Village-Valley

Flåm, a flat village in a heavenly valley surrounded by spectacular mountains peaks, in Flåmsdalen, Norway. Not more than 400 people live here permanently. Here you will find the Fläm river, tiny farm houses, hiking and cycling trails, 2 hotels – the one I’m staying in is the charming Flaamsbrygga hotel with its own famous brewery! I just finished exploring the place and walked 4km to the other side of the valley and 4km back. Every 100 steps or so the stunning panorama changes! There are numerous little streams of crystal clear water gushing out of the mountains – quite surreal. What I found so unique about the place is that it drizzles every half an hour or so and a rainbow just appears, creating myriads of happy hopeful colours all around! It’s so picturesque, and it’s just astounding how the mountains change into light and dark brilliant green when the sun appears and disappears and how the clarity of the Fläm river creates a mirror image of its surroundings! In a few hours I will take an express boat for a 5-hour cruise through the fjords of Norway. My next destination is Bergen! Another jewel of a place apparently. Will keep you posted!