To My Friend

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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.

Clouds on a Canvas

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I captured this beautiful image early morning, standing behind the glass window of my hotel room at the Eolo (a Relais & Chateaux hotel) in Patagonia, Argentina. The poem I wrote below is inspired by the marvelous clouds I witnessed in Patagonia and by an Artist friend.

I love clouds.

I like their whiteness
Their vastness
Their freedom in the sky.

I like how they appear
and disappear
How fragile they seem
How big they dream.

I like how they can hide the sun
How they are above everyone
I like how they dance to nature’s song
How they sway all night long.

I like how they transform themselves
into a labyrinth of shapes and forms
into a myriad of shades and hues
How they are the sky’s white canvas
and the earth’s eternal muse.

I like how they float through the air
I like how they swim everywhere
I like how freely they roam the sky
and how very high they fly.

I love clouds.

I like their bubbliness and puffiness
Their unthreatening candidness
Their charming abstractedness.

I like how they remind me
Of purity
Of white cotton candy
Of a baby’s chubby cheeks
Of snowy mountain peaks
Of children running free
Of my artist friend Nelle
She paints clouds you see
As brilliantly as can be.

They make me happy.

Guanacos of Patagonia

‘He who does not know the Chilean forests, does not know the planet.’ – Pablo Neruda. 

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Guanacos freely roaming the land of Patagonia.

I captured the above poetic image while exploring the wilderness of Torres Del Paine – Chilean Patagonia. These beautiful animals are Guanacos. A Guanaco is a camelid native to South America. It roams its land freely. Guanacos are related to Ilamas but are considered wild species whereas Ilamas can be domesticated. It is very common to see Guanacos in scores and in togetherness.

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Guanacos grazing and resting.

These images are a few among many. The surreality of this memory makes me look forward to my next South American adventure!

My Life is Real

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A Taste of Gaucho Culture, Estancia Los Patos, Argentina

My life is real.
Its essence I feel
I travel a great deal.

I seek and heal
Experience and reveal
All that is surreal
I have nothing to conceal
Not my curiosity
Nor my zeal
No apology
For my independence
For my candidness
Only to God, I kneel.

In every foreign place
I find novelty and grace
In every little street
Despite my tired feet
I walk and greet
Locals I meet.

During such encounters
And racing hours
I receive
An introduction
To tradition
I merge with culture
Demand disclosure
And embrace exposure.

In far away lands
Under moonlit skies
Despite my sleepy eyes
I see shimmering stars
Written memoirs
Of beautiful spirits.

When mornings come
And birds hum
I walk in nature
No longer a stranger
Acre after acre
Of exquisiteness
I thank my Creator
I bow to my Maker
For this magnificence.

My life is real
Its essence I feel
I travel a great deal.

What vileness he thinks
And ill she speaks
Of my travels and bills
Of my passions and thrills
Brush the top of these hideous hills
In whose valleys everyone sleeps
Where no one wills
And stillness kills.

I’m onto something
In my wandering and writing
Despite the foulness
That sometimes reeks
And the belittling
That oftentimes squeaks
Envy that peaks
And judgment that leaks
Your vulgar style
So bile and juvenile.

I’m onto something
Despite lonely elves
Stuck at the bottom of wells
Living in hell
Hiding it well
And foolish freaks
With spiteful tongues
And ugly beaks.

Despite this ordeal
I reiterate
My life is real.

By Razan Abdul Majeed

Uruguay’s Big Man

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M.B. 

This image is of a Uruguayan man who – in the non-Spanish speaking world is not very well known or not as well-known as he should be but who – in the Spanish-speaking world – is considered one of Latin America’s important writers.

Uruguay is the smallest Spanish-speaking country in South America, but it has always been well-populated with poets and the poetry scene there has always been hyperactive (my idea of paradise). I didn’t know that until I stumbled upon this man’s poetry years ago and dug deeper – only to find out (to my dismay), the availability of English translations for Uruguayan poetry is quite limited.

Who is this kind-looking man?

His name is Mario Benedetti. He was born in 1920. In his 88 years, he lived as fully as many of us now could only dream of living. He had an eventful life, an important one. One of art; travel; politics; and exile. He was a journalist, novelist and a poet. In the 1960s, Uruguay saw itself as the cradle of revolution in Latin America. Che Guevara was welcomed there as a hero during a brief visit and that was the period many writers in Uruguay were writing in magazines and providing theories to back up revolutionary practice. Mario Benedetti was the poet of that moment! He became famous throughout the continent for the direct style in his verses of anger, resistance and love.

Mario Benedetti published 80 books and won international awards. Some of you may even know ‘La Tregua’ which inspired the movie The Truce in the 1970s. He was married for 66 years to the same woman and his death followed hers 3 years later. I found his last poem before dying to be quite melancholic. The first line goes like this: ‘my life has been like a fraud’.

Mario Benedetti wrote beautiful poems. Many about love. I personally like ‘Little stones at my window’. But what made me enter his world was another one. It was this one: Táctica y estrategia. For the Romantics, here it is.

My tactic is
to look at you
to learn how you are
to love you as you are
my tactic is
to talk to you
and to listen to you
to build with words
an indestructible bridge
my tactic is
to remain in your memories
I don’t know how
nor
with what pretext
but to remain with you
my tactic is
to be frank
and to know that you’re frank
and not to sell to ourselves
simulations
so that between us
there is no curtain
nor abyss
my strategy is
in contrast
deeper and
more simple
my strategy is
that one of these days
I don’t know how
nor
with what pretext
you finally
need me.

The Drink of Gods

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Me drinking Mate, Patagonia (Torres del Paine), Chile, 2014

See that cup I’m holding? 

Inside is what indigenous South Americans call the drink of gods! 
A few sips and you will experience the stimulus of coffee and the euphoria of chocolate (with tea health benefits!). I remember it had a strange bitter taste but for some reason I kept wanting more. Maybe it was the sacred tradition behind it. Maybe it was the way it was served, and the way it was shared between friends. I remember humility surrounding us. Or maybe it was that particular day in that particular photo when Patagonia’s trademark wind (the strongest you’ll every experience) was dancing around us, romanticising my very first tasting experience. 
AAnyway, I fell in love.


It’s a traditional drink in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil and it is quite common in parts of Chile and Bolivia. What I didn’t know but do now is that it can also be found in this part of the world – Lebanon and Syria! In abundance too! MATE.

Contents:Mateine (an analog of caffeine), made by an infusion of dried leaves of yerba mate.

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Patagonia’s very common, moody and crazy wind. Adds to its charm and beauty. See that photo? A windy moment while we were all trying to find our balance for that photo! Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile, 2014

Chile’s Passion: Palestine and her Pablo

A poster displaying comical scenes of Neruda and his mistress, and depicting Neruda’s playfulness and joie de vivre. It caught my eye when I was visiting his home in Santiago, Chile, 2014

Chile impressed me. For numerous reasons (you can Google them), and for very personal ones. Did you know that the Palestinian community in Chile is the largest outside of the Arab world? Up to half a million. How about this – did you know Chilean Palestinians have a professional football club in Santiago founded almost a 100 years ago? Some of you do: the ‘great’ Club Deportivo Palestino! I bet not many of you know this: go to Chile, speak to a Chilean, say you are a Palestinian / Emarati living in Dubai and just watch his or her expression, followed by a pleasant reaction and warm words. I felt incredibly welcomed.

Without exaggeration, almost every person I met there proudly told me he or she knew a Chilean whose parents/grandparents are from Palestine. And most of them continued with this theme: they’re are as Chilean as can be, but with a passion, a subdued nostalgia – that of a Palestinian in exile.

But I am not just writing about Chile and Palestinians. What prompted this introduction is my love for the devoted ‘son’ of Chile. You must all know him. He is an artist whose heart was always consumed by passion. He is a poet of love whose soul was always with the people. He was a lover of everything Chilean from its land, its people, its flora and fauna. He was born in 1904 and died at the age of 69, making him a witness of the most decisive events of his century. He shared the World Peace Prize with Paul Robeson and Pablo Picasso, 1950. He received a Nobel prize in literature, 1971. He wrote volumes and volumes of poetry (naturally leaving us with some not-so-good poetry) but also leaving us with 100s of unforgettable ones.

I found many Art expressions and this one was on one of Pablo’s outside walls at his home in Santiago. Chile, 2017

I visited his home in Santiago. And there I felt his aura and found him everywhere and in everything. He was in all his peculiar furniture (arranged cleverly to entertain many friends), in all his ornaments, his paintings, his books – and of course in his writing sanctuary. All testaments for his love of Chile. Read beyond ‘Tonight I can write’ and ‘I like for you to be still’. Get to know the man behind the poet. You will find a man whose abiding devotion to Chile is fathomless.
Pablo Neruda.