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.

The Neapolitan Novels

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The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

Book Review 

Referred to as The ‘Neapolitan Novels’. Simply fascinating! A  4-part series written by Elena Ferrante – a pseudonymous Italian novelist, and translated from Italian to English by Anne Goldstein. Each book is a modern fiction masterpiece about the friendship of two seemingly ordinary yet extraordinary girls from Naples.

Without delving deeper into the theme of the novels just yet, let me share with you what had initially sparked my curiosity and eventually led me to buy the books. It was a combination of factors but it mainly had to do with my long-standing love for Italy and that the Neapolitan Novels could potentially bring me closer to it.  It was my intrigue with a city that grew on me over the years then one day gripped me –  the city of Napoli – historic, violent, crazy and misunderstood Napoli.  It was the fact that these books were recommended to me by an old and dear friend, who is an avid reader with trustworthy literary views. It was he, and because of the way he knows me deeply from a ‘soul’ perspective that ignited my interest in reading the novels. Then it was my mother who read them and fell in love and confidently knew I would also fall in love. Then came other recommendations by one or two other friends who are acquainted with my affinity with Italy, and who I believe value friendships as much as I do.

I completed reading all four novels under two weeks. They were real page turners. Set between this century and the last, the novels tell a beautiful story of intelligent Elena from Napoli, and her complex and often frustrating friendship with her best friend Lila. Ferrante paints a realistic picture of the protagonist’s love/hate relationship with her city Napoli – what her moody city has at times deprived her of, what it has generously given to her, and what it has brutally taken away from her.

With careful subtlety, Ferrante creatively shows the reader what it means to live through the ‘full circle’ and all stages of life.  She portrays the realities and hypocrisy of friendships; the bitterness of poverty, but also the downside of dressed-up wealth.  As a reader, I was cleverly guided through the waves and irony of life – the disguised grandiosity of being considered ‘important’ in your own circles but a disappointing ‘nothing’ outside it; how we are all little dots living inside a big tinted and dusty bubble; and how everything is relative.  The author shows us the strong and paralyzing hold that traditions – rigid and by now passé – have on some of us, and how self-reliance and determination can take us out of our dire circumstances and our once helpless selves, and eventually bring us right back inside ourselves (improved and hopeful versions of ourselves) and into self-acceptance.

Ferrante’s descriptions of human emotions and circumstantial behaviours are so powerful I felt I was Elena, living within her, and living with her in her harsh Neapolitan quarters; being part of her successes and failures; traveling with her and experiencing the unmatched yet fleeting ecstasy of recognition and success; and feeling the jabs she feels in her heart as she falls in and out of love and as she sometimes falls into the abyss of disappointment once lovers stand naked in their humanness.  Through Elena, the reader can discover the secret power that acquiring knowledge has on the soul and the beauty of self-learning which can only be revealed to those who experience it.

Ferrante’s writing flows beautifully and is easy to follow.  I love the way she speaks the truth and tells the untellable.  She reveals the messiness of our deepest thoughts and our irrational superstitions. She shows us self-destructive sentiments we do not dare to admit out loud, not even to ourselves like jealousy, envy, or like sometimes hating those we should be loving.  She has the ability to make a reader feel like she or he is normal (in fact, one hundred percent human) especially if you are a woman who has experienced the inevitable confusions of growing up. We are all still conflicted one way or another and yes, we may find an equilibrium as we get older and experience more, but that child in us lingers on and at times is fully awakened. I especially love how Ferrante is able to portray the excitement, the strong undying passion and naiveté of youth and how she then takes us with her on a journey which allows us to witness the marring effects of time and the decapitation of newness and eternal hope which were once the flagships of youth.

In those two weeks of reading bliss, I would go about completing my daily errands and ticking off to-do-lists – but I just couldn’t wait to be alone, to be seated on my couch, to feel the heaviness of Ferrante’s book on my palms, and turn its rough pages and live Elena’s volatile life through her intelligent eyes and incredible self-awareness. It has been ages since I felt that kind of excitement and anticipation for a book. So much so that when I finished reading the fourth and final book of the series – a melancholic cloud hovered for some time. I found myself wanting to read the books again so that I can relive Elena’s story, so I can be moved by her hopes and her dreams once again.  I missed her and I still miss her. We long for infinity but all stories are bound to end.

Effort in finding out more about the author has proved futile. Who Elena Ferrante is or what she represents is a mystery, making her Neapolitan Novels even more intriguing. “Books, once they are written, have no need of their authors” – claims the mysterious author. Doubtful. What I am sure of is this and in one word: BRILLIANT. Read the Neapolitan Novels ASAP.

I write for my sister

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She kept him in her heart
He was her best part.

He was the sun
in her morning sky.

She was the connecting thread
in the web
of his dignified life.

Then one day
Fate stepped in
Wanted to stay
She tried to undo
what was done
But the thread gave in
The sun was gone
Her torment
had begun.

In her blinding disbelief
Her deafening heave
Her inconsolable grief
Her pain-stricken face
The colour grey
In her voice of fear
‘No! No!’
All I could hear
‘Baba! Baba!’
Ringing in my ear
That was my sister’s way
Keeping death at bay
Needing him to stay.

Days passed
So fast
Weeks came
All the same
Months fled
She hardly slept
Swept
by a confusing pain
by a depressing defect
stabbing away at her heart
wrenching her insides apart
She wept
while she lay in bed
feeling empty and dead
In the darkness of her room
In her wakefulness and gloom
Yet the burning tears that came
were tame
They never cussed
nor fussed
Instead
They silently bled
Flooding the valley
of his old city
with water
that is salty.

(She said to me)
He never leaves my mind
Day and night
he is on my mind
I feel so much pain
How can I explain?
I am the lonely sky
crying inconsolable rain.
 
(She said to me)
How can I ever forget
His mark on me
Who he was for me
What he meant to me
What he instilled in me
What he represented for me
What he changed within me
What he sought in me
What he gave to me
What he took from me
What he brought out in me
What he taught me
What he selflessly gifted me
Love, love, and more love
What I was never deprived of
To make me see
The potential in me
How great I can be
And because of he
I am secure and free.

(She said to me)
How can I but surrender
to nostalgia and remember
His serenity
His humility
His completeness
His uniqueness
His infectious sweetness
His discreet importance
His strong presence
His grandness and essence
His intense life lessons
His strong impact
A known fact
on little me
on growing me
on older me
on mother me
He was my soul’s key
My soothing sea.

(She said to me)
Please write
and describe
the extent of my pride
How he was my most brilliant light
How he made darkness bright
How he was everything clear and white
How his laughter was my cure
How his heart was kind and pure
How he was my bravest knight
How he had so much fight
How he made everything right
Record and remember
How he was my center
My faithful encourager
A man without blunders
A man with beautiful gestures
Write and tell
Repeat and retell
Don’t let them wonder
Keep alive
His relentless strives
His innocent smiles
His effect on so many lives
So that the world can read
Every great deed
So that everyone can see
pages of his glory
of inspiring he
what he used to be
what he will always be
what he was to me
The man of my world
My mountain of love
My magnitude above
My triumph.

(She said to me)
With urgency
Or with something
resembling fright
Please write
What he signified to me
Leave not a shred
of doubt
About
How I wish I could talk to him
How much I miss him
Fussing over him
Caring for me
Sitting with him
Hugging him
Our special connection
My affection
My attention
His fatherly protection
Don’t forget to mention
My complete devotion
As wide as the ocean
to my remarkable father.

(She said to me)
Please write
and highlight
The depth we shared
How much I cared
Let them be aware
How I cannot bear
That he is not there
Write
With great care
what I cannot dare
on paper
You are much braver
with words.

(I write for my sister)

She was his fair middle-child
The mother of his first grandchild
With light eyes like his eyes
Smiles like his smiles
She was his heaven’s river
His happiest giver
His sweetest letter
His personal defender
His most loyal lawyer
And I clearly remember
How generous
How gentle
How selfless
How tender
She was
with my father
No one could be her.

I write
Memories of the past
Destined to last
That touched me greatly
Made me smile fondly
How countless times
in their lives
in her unwavering eyes
in her somewhat subjective belief system
Despite my sister’s bountiful wisdom
His wrongs were always rights
His faults were never faults
His fights her fights
Shortcomings?
She couldn’t find
She stubbornly denied
The way a child
is utterly blind
To the weakness
of humankind
In her mind
He was the best
And the rest
were just the rest
Anything he said
was great and wise
Everything he did
she idealized
He was the answer
to every why
To everyone she told
He was her Captain
He was gold.

Did I write
How sometimes
she tries to hide
Unaware of her self-comprise
In the name of motherly sacrifice
To find inside
Some secret place
or space
to deal with her grief
to contain her pain
Less frequently, selectively
she timidly confides
in those few
she considers kind
Perhaps to carry on
to walk on
to march on.

Other times she shies
from those stoic types
And pities the ones
who dehumanize
the old who die
The ones who know her
but continue to belittle
knowingly or unknowingly
the pain she feels
Or rudely ignore
her cheeks’ wet trickles
Or do not acknowledge
her unstable flowing tears
as they appear and disappear
In her quiet mind
they signify
with their mean features
Earth’s most egoistic creatures.

(I write to my sister)

My dearest sister
My heart’s listener
Despite the thread
that became undone
Despite the fact
that the light is gone
Despite the tears that
stung
and the sadness that clung
Despite their drunken stupor
and insensitive tongues
despite what you have endured
and how vulnerable you have become
You won!

My sweet strong sister
Stay strong.

Baba was, is
your morning sun.

By Razan Abdul Majeed

An Encounter

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I could never forget
That summer night
When we met
A chance meeting
With intellect
Sentiments
I couldn’t detect.

There we were
Him and me
Resembling
Jordan River, me
And the Dead Sea, he
Connecting
To some degree
Indifference sitting
In between
Ready to intervene.

He was the calmest wave
I’ve ever seen
Of all the seas
In the Middle East
An influential figure
Witty and clever
Handling it well
Holding it together.

Inside his soul
Stood marred walls
And avalanched falls
Bolted doors
And deserted shores
Washed-up cities
And blocked borders
Complicated countries
And denied entries.

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Shine

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My Father. The best human being I have ever known and will ever know.

I am Palestine
I wait in line
I yearn and pine
I seek a sign
I count on time
I leave behind
All that is mine
Except my dignity
Despite captivity
Except my pride
Despite your tyranny
Except my wealth
Which is my mind
I have my Self
A saviour in itself.

I am Palestine
I am fine
In time
I shall shine.

I am Palestine
I am stranded
A desolate island
Melancholic and silent
Stranger here
Stranger there
Everywhere
A burden
I am almost certain.

I am Palestine
I long for connection
Some human affection
No attention
Only detention
Sanction after sanction
No remorse
Only chores
And bolted doors
No harmony
Only fatality
No tranquility
Only hostility
No equality
Nor eligibility
Only agony
Where is sanity?
I am alchemy
The begetter of unity
I shall breed humanity.

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