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.

A Depiction

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A Palestine-inspired painting that I painted and gifted to my father.

News channels, newspapers, Twitter and other social media platforms have been busy. Nothing unusual. Media is always busy with the usual stuff – feeds of similar story lines and repetitive political gossip, or an overload of one specific story over another – depending on what draws the most human attention (or hopefully conscience) and ignites the curiosity of certain media-addicted sedentary masses. Some is undoubtedly interesting, some heartbreaking, and others sheer comedy. Most of it is (controversially-speaking) clever and entertaining, not necessarily worth following.

However, a particular media feed this week caught my attention. It is of great importance to me – firstly as a human being, and secondly as an Arab.  As most of you are aware, this week – 2nd of November to be exact – marks 100 years since The Balfour Declaration in 1917. The Declaration that had impacted millions of Palestinian lives, determining the destiny of my father’s generation, my generation, and my nieces’ generation and probably the unborn generations yet to come.

A few years after The Balfour Declaration, my father was born. Not long after that, Palestinian families were forced to leave Palestine and live in exile (most left by force and others by choice – justified by fear, by desperation and in pursuit of life preservation). They left not knowing it would be their last sacred glimpse of their holy land – the land which generously gave to their ancestors. Not knowing it would be their last traditional meal together around their generous Palestinian table in their Palestinian home, where their childhood spirit came into being, and (I guarantee) still lurks, undefeated. Not knowing their house key would never again find its keyhole. Not knowing they would be robbed of their lawful right ‘The Right of Return’. And somewhere in the midst of the ‘Not Knowing’, Palestinian homes were destroyed. Lives were stolen.  Thousands became refugees, the thousands doubled and tripled until millions became displaced. All in a span of 100 years.

I painted this simple yet special painting eight years ago and gifted it to my father. It depicts the hardship of Palestinian life through the eyes of an old worn-out Palestinian man, broken by tragedies yet strong and living. His white and black كوفية (a traditional gender-neutral scarf pronounced Koofiyyeh) represents his Palestinian pride. The Palestinian flag colours in the background including the Koofiyyeh’s white (which also happen to be the UAE’s flag colours) represent his determination and hope. I hung the painting on my father’s office wall in his Dubai home (he had no choice in the matter!) and said to him, ‘I painted this for you baba so you will always remember Palestine, and me’. The look he returned with his eyes revealed all.

My First

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Freedom in Sri Lanka!

My travel itch is about to get scratched! But for now, I am satisfied with beautiful travel reminiscences so here is to my very first solo trip back in 2011. Destination: Sri Lanka. Cities: Colombo, Galle, Kandy, Sabaragamuwa, Sigiriya and other little towns with complicated names I cannot recall. Researched then booked my flight and hotels, found a kind-looking driver / tour guide and took off to the land of Green.

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The Buddhist Monk who blessed me!

From Buddhism and one monk’s blessing (he is the gowned man standing next to me who apparently saw ‘goodness’ in my eyes); to climbing Sigiriya with a 70 year old local man – thin and slouching, yet more resilient than most men (see that mountainous rock behind me – that’s the first rock I ever conquered); to my cockroach and lizard phobia – found under my bed in an eco-lodge where anything moving or remotely breathing cannot be killed (phobia had to be managed); to crocodile river-safari and scores of curious crocodiles surrounding my little boat; to elephant safari and riding; to fun elephant-bathing and an orphanage visit; to horse-riding (with fear) in some jungle in Candy accompanied by two local men and an energetic and dancing horse; to checking out coral reeves in Galle but hardly seeing anything beneath the murky water (due to the aftermath of the tragic 2004 Tsunami); to Sri Lankan traditional music and happy dancing; to my interaction with cheeky and daring monkeys; to jungle trekking with one local guide who (after I summoned up the courage to ask about snakes while trekking) told me in broken and heavily accented English “Snakes? Oh yes…there are many many MANY snakes! There are hundreds of venomous snakes but don’t worry, they usually come out at night”. What animals come out during the day I asked? Bores he said. And what if they attack us I asked? He said: “We run”!  I will never forget him – that funny-looking enthusiastic little man with crooked teeth and a heavy accent. Nor will I ever forget this sensational trip that introduced me to the wondrous gifts of solo traveling!

I Empty Myself

 

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I empty myself
Of all my fears
The paralysis of all my years
The reasons for all my tears.

I empty myself
Of inner chaos
and self-doubt
I empty myself
Of secrets that I kept
Of decades that I spent
waiting like a weakling
for cowardice
to clear.

I empty myself
Of all the ‘shoulds’
and all the patronizing ‘musts’
Of all my useless ‘buts’
Their lessons about what is best
How I should dress
What I should say less
and not confess.

I empty myself of their obsession with success
The anxiety about a future they hardly possess
The superficiality they wear as garments
The very things I detest
I empty myself of all kinds of stress
I no longer want to impress
It is time I rest.

I empty myself of reoccurring thoughts
of words resembling everyone’s words
I empty myself of anything remotely absurd
Of conformity and social acceptance
Of ridiculous moral lessons
Of conventionality or unoriginality
Of grand plans
Of overrated choices
Of preaching voices
in my head
Of contradictory things
they have said
that could have easily been misread
That sometimes robbed me of my dreams
and made me doubt myself instead.

I empty myself
Of the art of wowing creation
I am so bored and tired
of constantly seeking inspiration
Enough tantalizing temptation
There is an overload of sensation
We are overly stimulated
and easily deflated
All in the name of proof
to show we exist
to flatter
and prove we matter.

I empty myself
Of networking
and connections
Of fake ties
Of meaningless attachments
that weigh me down.

I empty myself
Of self-inflicted crimes
Of self-compromise
or any kind of sacrifice
I want to live again.

Oh how I regret
Wasting my time
Living in fear
Waiting for it to disappear

I empty myself
I empty myself
Courage is finally here!

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.

Solitude

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The greatest sensation
absences can give
is a mind
sculpted with lucidity
Able to shift
back and forth
between reality and dreams
And an imagination that dances
between oceans
free to drift.

Solitude is a gift.

According to the whim
of each living moment
I stray from banality
With every pore of my body
I dream and travel
through my mind
With eyes closed
I sleep
I unwind
I doze
The outside world
in an indefinite pause
I make room for silence.

I am alone
Inside the labyrinth of my mind
Amid the known and unknown
Barricaded by rugged rawness
In a swarm of wilderness
Wherein I turn all my sterile hours
into pure consciousness.

I wear the crown of bliss
On some exotic land
I am a happy captive
Soothed by a foreign hand
Empty of a future plan
Empty of noise
Abundant in poise
Separated from man
Consciously I stand
Tall
Whole.

Overlooking infinity
A horizon of divinity
Beneath emerging stars
Beyond the shadows
of the sky’s intimacy
I dream up dreams
of dramatic scenes
Of long journeys
to unimaginable
and impossible countries.

In that deep place
of untouched landscape
Men are scarce
One man less, less complexity
Two men less, less flagrant envy
Three men, less vulgar vanity
In general,
Less men, less vengeance
Less abominable lack of elegance
There is just the earth
And the colourful universe
Amused me
and my silent mindful mirth.

In my most heightened absence
and my imaginative fancy
I dream
I sleep and I dream
I dream and I dream
I even dream about dreams
And I am spared
from the myth of familiarity
from the sharp razor of reality.

It is exactly there
In my wide and vast dominion
That I am the world’s wealthiest recipient
of an everlasting income
without wants and needs
It is there that I found
my serenity
And became the ruler
of my mind’s territory
It is there that I diminished
The tortures of anxiety
that I divorced worry
It is there
that I proudly want to be
the woman I recognize as me.

Through the scattered rays of my imagination
The haven of my existence
Wearing my garment of relief
In my brilliant feeling of ownership
I fend off thieves
I fence off danger
No one can dare
step on my vibrant grass
nor trespass
my land of aloneness
my ground of deliverance.

It is only when
Reality can no longer be avoided
And my empire is invaded
When my implicit dreams are captured
and silence is ruptured
It is only then
That I,
With great reluctance
return home
with nothing to atone
And with much resistance
I leave behind
my solitude
I reenter
the unwholesomeness of normal life.

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

Hysteria

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EMBRACE YOUR AGE. ACCEPT THE INEVITABLE.

Bee-stung lips
Legs like twigs
A butchered nose
with a pointed tip
firm like brick
Protruding ribs
thin as sticks
Facelifts
and painful pricks.

Confusingly ageless
External sameness
Addicted to excessiveness
A game of competitiveness
Under the spell
of impressiveness
While this is madness
Her aim is happiness.

She pretends normality
Exaggerates reality
Changes her features
For vanity
or maybe sanity
Sometimes temporarily
other times permanently
I should mention:
This has nothing to do
with aesthetic correction
Nor is it about
improving a disfigurement
Because that my friend
is certainly different.

An unusual mix
of big and small
Tennis balls
ping-pong balls
all kinds of balls
Whatever is in fashion
a new dimension
to increase attention
for example: two balls
against the walls
of her poor little cheeks
Stretched and besieged
cocooned and ballooned
That only last
some measly weeks
(minus the ongoing tweaks)

All shapes and sizes
A disfiguring crisis
Expressionless eyes
shocked and surprised
An effort to fix
her thousand ‘ifs’
An attempt to clip
her droops and falls
her deflated holes
her skin and moles
To regain control
of her wobbles
her dribbles
her bodily scribbles
her less than graceful wiggles
To vanish
her growing worries
her insecurities
her inner villains
To drown out
her nervous giggles.

She is so obsessed
with all the plastic tricks
all the latest beauty tips:
‘Brightening’
‘Lightening’
‘Plumping’
‘Tightening’
How frightening!
She is so transfixed
on all the objects
the varying facets
and different gadgets
she can use and install
on her fatigued face
The needles, the pair of scissors
The driller, the filler
The nerve killer
The ‘no expression’ thriller
on her forehead
on every possible area
But that’s not it!
There is no limit
to her fanatical hysteria!

This is not some complicated case
nor a biological womanly phase
This is vainly adorning
Foolishly succumbing
Naively conforming
to a manipulating
Culture of Erase:
‘Elongate the waist’
‘Change your taste’
‘Improve your ways’
‘Start now don’t waste’
‘Spend now incase’
‘Avoid numbers hide age’
‘Old age is a disgrace’
In short,
Just erase your face.

Instead of this disarray
How about we disobey
Speak up and say:
Embrace today!

Yet with all her misguided faith
with her delusion and haste
she eliminates every facial line
every wrinkle that is divine
every beautiful story, her history
everything of hers, yours and mine
every imperfect detail that is sublime
the very things that makes her shine
She spends all her time
trying to redefine
To confine
any sign of time
Losing her mind
Hiding her age
Poisoning her grace
Trying to chase
with jealousy and rage
what life left behind:
her lost youth.

She knows nothing of the truth
not her nor any woman in her shoes
Can’t she see?
How everything is romanticized
How we have been fed a thousand lies
every single time
Can’t she see?
How oblivious can she be?
Sadly, she remains convinced
that wrinkle-free
is being free
and youth is the key
to a life that is happy.

Instead of this disarray
How about we disobey
Speak up and say:
Embrace today
Find your way
Use your head
Ignore what is said
This vulture-culture
might as well be dead
Be wise
Don’t fantasise
Enough disguise
Time to say goodbye
Remember, don’t sigh:  
Every age has its prize
and every age has its vice.

Yet drowning with self-pity
she continues to copy
this and that personality
with what’s left of her femininity
with her worn-out body
that is now shaky and sloppy
She imitates
She waits
for what she considers a trophy:
a hint of human attraction
a few seconds of false admiration.

She wants to be somebody
Worth it and perfect
The best she can be
Only because they told her
then she told herself:
Unless young and pretty
I am nobody.

Everyman

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A Book Review

I recommend Everyman to every man and every woman going through a mid-life crisis.  Or to those who are helplessly confused because their immoral actions these days do not reflect who they thought they were: people with unshifting morals.

This short yet thought-provoking book cleverly demonstrates how certain choices driven either by: sheer boredom; the craving for newness; the thrill of the moment; a desperate act to relive youth; an aversion from monotony; an untamed impulse or an indescribable need for instant gratification – will eventually lead men and women astray, dropping them casually into a bottomless hole. And only as these men and women experience the alienating effects of aging (though it could happen much earlier), will they fully comprehend the monstrosity of their past actions, and how much pain they have inflicted on their loved ones along the way. Even more so on themselves.

Unfortunately, there is such a thing as an irreversible mistake and it is usually born out of recklessness.   

If you’re someone who often thinks about all of the above, you will enjoy reading Everyman by the American author Philip Roth. If you are someone who is on the other side of the spectrum (living in la-la land and thinking you are immune to life’s adversaries) then this book may not be the right one for you.

Everyman is a novel – raw and uncomfortably real. It is about one man’s intimate story through the different stages of his life.  It is a fictional memoir dealing with one man’s realisations, limitations, losses and regrets. It is about a man journeying through life and standing on the edge of the abyss. It reflects on the anticipation and inevitability of death, and if you dig deeper – it is a study of complex human relationships.  Its style is simple yet profound. It is bound to leave a deep imprint.

The protagonist says and I quote: ‘Old age isn’t a battle. Old age is a massacre’. The older you get the more tolerant you will be of Everyman and the more you surround yourself and spend time with old people, the more it will make sense to you. Read it – it will gift you more awareness.

Suicide

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Let us all try to eliminate the stigma around mental health conditions. Remember, it could happen to you or me. No one is immune to depression.

Silence is living
Within the walls of my being
A spirit of stillness
Flickering its shadow
In my room
Against the darkness
Of the midnight moon.

My face is a silhouette
An ugly drawing
Of useless contours
A portrait of disquiet
On a canvas of riots
Cleverly disguised
By my outward indifference
By my charm and allure.

I am in a state of numbness
A hopeless case
I am
Indeed I am
A bland taste
A disappointing waste
Of living space.

I am a stranger
In the strangeness of my mind
A trespasser
In my own garden
Where every living thing
Is eventually doomed
Where even wild flowers
Cannot bloom.

I am a hidden cemetery
Where bored ghosts
Wonder about in a swoon
Over my decorated tomb
Where oblivion
is my only cocoon. Continue Reading

As a Man Thinketh

James Allen

A Book Review

Not so long ago, I stumbled upon this gem of a book over 100 hundred years old. Brilliantly written and still remarkably in tune with our time, as strange and complicated as it is (our time that is). The coincidental stumble was a lucky one and I found myself effortlessly immersed in its powerful message and intrigued by its simplicity and relevance. It was one of those enlightening books far from the mainstream types. The types that convince you that ‘you are not your thoughts’ in fifty different ways and have somehow managed to sit under the throne of bestsellers. I am skeptical of these books and I’ve read many (despite some of the authentic research invested in them and sweat spilt over them). Why? Because I have a problem with the common and repetitive statement claiming to be a universal truth: ‘our thoughts are not us’. How can that be if our thoughts were created by our very own minds? Maybe a simplistic view to some but I trust what my own experiences have taught me, what my reflections have shown me and I even trust what my logic has proven to me – and that’s what I will go with. Do not misunderstand me. I am not claiming we do not have the power or the tools to reinvent our thoughts or change our perspectives. Nor do I believe that our thoughts do not affect the way we live. I am simply against the notion that we are not our thoughts. We are our thoughts AND we have the power to change them. That’s what I believe. And that’s what James Allen affirms.

 James Allen is the Englishman who wrote the 100+ year-old book: As A Man Thinketh (published in 1903). In his book, Allen manages to cleverly dismantle and explain where my belief stems from so that it makes sense to the deep and the not-so-deep – using a few convincing arguments based on his own experiences and reflections. This little book is delightful and delightfully easy to follow.

 I consider it a handbook and a practical guide to the power of thinking. It does not boast itself as the ‘truth’. What it does though is make you (the reader) understand that our mind is the ‘master power’ that ‘shapes our lives for good or ill’. And it does this by inspiring you to open up your mind rather than overwhelming you with burdensome studies and steps to follow. If we believe that our mind is the master power and we are the masters of this power – then we are ultimately the ‘authors of our own characters and thus the makers of our own destinies’. In his view, our characters are actually ‘the sum total of our thoughts over time’. He makes a lot of sense.

I love how he touches on some important themes that orchestrate the way we live or lead our lives. He covers themes such as how thoughts shape our circumstances; how circumstances do not shape us, they reveal us; the power of the mind and its tools; how health and appearance are shaped by our thoughts; the power of having a purpose; how good thinking equals success; how to cherish our visions and ideals; and the importance of achieving serenity.

I am not going to elaborate further because I am hoping you would just pick up the book and read it. All you need is two hours, even less but I am playing it safe! I promise you that once you’re done reading As a Man Thinketh you will feel as good as new! In the meantime, enjoy this quote I love by James Allen: ‘Cherish the music that moves your heart.  For out of your love will flow your purpose’.

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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

The End

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My last Camino shot on my last day in Spain

August 11, 2017 marked the end of my Camino Del Norte journey in Spain. I covered nearly 400km on foot in 14 days. Not a day’s rest. I walked on despite persisting aches and pains; despite tiredness and sometimes sheer exhaustion. I walked on despite volatile weather conditions and very tough terrains. I walked on despite certain personal fears and apprehensions. It was hard and challenging and it took a lot out of me but it was also very fulfilling. I would do it all over again.

When I reached Comillas (my final destination), I felt such an amazing sense of accomplishment equalled to none. I haven’t lost that feeling yet and I will try to hold on to it for as long as I can.  It is a feeling that gives me so much peace and serenity, and power. Yes power. I feel very strong, very empowered! Physically and mentally. Anything is possible if your heart is in it! Yet it’s not just the end result (the accomplishment) that matters – it is do with the journey as a whole. Its ups and downs. Its peculiar moments. Its depth. Its poetry. Its annoyances. Its momentum that is sometimes therapeutic and sometimes frustrating. Its dark side and bright side. It is everything to do with giving all of ‘you’ to something that is very important to you. When that something becomes yours because YOU made it yours –  you are King! In a few words, I would describe my journey – or rather my adventure – as the sea of dramatic experiences.  You are the fish. You migrate as nature would have you do. You make it, you multiply (in inner strength and self-trust), you don’t you die.

Whenever I think of all the wonderful people and pilgrims I met along the way, the kindness I received from locals who crossed my path and my own determination – I am humbled all over again. What a blessing. Kindness is something I cannot live without, and determination is something I need as a person. It is the magical fuel to my inner strength and the engine that renews my hopes. It is a gift from God not to be squandered.

Walking, moving forward (literally), exploring and discovering are a big part of who I am. I am filled with a ton of gratitude for being able to do all of that on the Camino. Thank you God. And thank you family and friends for all your support. It made a huge difference and kept me going and smiling!

Last but not least –

To all the pilgrims I met along the way who are probably still at it – Buen Camino!  

Altamira Love

August 10, 2017 (Santillana del Mar, Spain)

Where I stayed in Santillana Del Mar – Altamira hotel. One of tradition and history. The one with the tiny room and window and slanted ceiling yet it warmed my heart. Small but spacious. Simple but stylish. Cosy not showy. Spanish and serene. Satisfied.

A Posada in Noja

August 7, 2019

I finally get to experience a bit of hotel character and some tradition (merged with modernity)! This is a posada – a type of accommodation in Spain. Posadas tend to be located along old routes across Spain. Or in small towns. In a way, a posada is equivalent of an old English country inn.

 

Day 7 – Joie de Vivre

August 4, 2017, At a local Café in San Vicente de Baracaldo

Interacting with locals at a local café/bar. Fell in love with this man’s beautiful spirit and joie de vivre. He shook hands with me before he left and wished me well with a sincerity that touched me, and only as he walked away did I realize he was blind. I didn’t notice it when we we chatting. The men there told me he became blind late in life. And when I said he is so full of life, they all nodded and said there’s no one like him. He embraces happiness with his whole heart. Encounters such as these make me love life, and reaffirm my faith in human resilience and one’s state of mind. We are the ones who can orchestrate the way we want to live, no matter the circumstance.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

August 3, 2017 – Bilbao, Spain 

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Inside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Some words for the astonishing Guggenheim Museum Bilbao: the genius Frank Gehry. Swirls and audacious curves. Seamless. Inspired by childhood memories of fish. A masterpiece of contemporary architecture. The building that changed the world. Pushing boundaries. Bourgeois’ spider ‘Maman’, an ode to her mother. A work of art. Titanium, limestone and glass. A building resembling a boat, evoking the past industrial life of the port of Bilbao. Simply magnificent.

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Magnificent Architecture

 

Epa Bilbao

August 3, 2017 – Bilbao, Spain

Epa (hello in Basque) from buzzing Bilbao! Northern Spain’s industrial port city. Its buildings are taller than the norm in Basque standards and it is a city famed for the Frank Gehry–designed Guggenheim Museum (1997). Its opening paved way for a New Bilbao and that’s exactly where I’m heading to next! Can’t wait!

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Beautiful Buildings of Bilbao

Camino Pilgrims

August 3, 2017 – Bilbao, Spain 

Hard-core Camino Pilgrims!! See that white shell hanging from his backpack? That’s the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Most pilgrims carry one – to symbolize their Camino pilgrimage. See that stick? This natural wooden stick was used traditionally by catholic pilgrims who walked St James’ Way (aka Camino de Santiago). Now most of us use a modernized version: Nordic sticks. His backpack is another story!

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Typical Pilgrims in full Camino attire!

Guernica belongs to Guernica

A tiled wall in Guernica claiming Picasso’s Guernica painting to Guernica – August 1, 2017 (Guernica, Spain)

I’m in Guernica! And behind me is the famous replica of Pablo Picasso’s masterpiece! A grand confirmation that Picasso’s original was directly inspired by the city and its eventful history and nothing else. I’m truly honored to be here and to be standing in front of this incredible masterpiece. The painting shows the suffering and tragedy that Guernica endured in 1937. That year, German and Italian air forces bombed Guernica, destroying everything but a few buildings. But here it is, rebuilt and standing! There’s a lot of controversy on why Picasso painted Guernica as he never elaborated enough on its symbolism. And interestingly his painting wasn’t always considered a masterpiece. Do read about it. It’s a story filled with mystery, significance and profoundness. How lucky I am to be here, in this resilient city that endured the unimaginable.

Day 1 and Life Thoughts on the Camino

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A Typical Yellow Camino Sign to Guide Pilgrims (My Map), Camino de Santiago, Spain, July 2017

That’s right – I am doing the Camino de Santiago! It became a tradition of mine over the years. I think I know what you may be thinking and the answer is ‘No’. It never gets too old or too boring because every time is like the first time if you love walking in nature – also I’ve never once taken the same route (and last but not least – I’ve evolved since I last walked the Camino so that changes everything including my outlook on life while walking). You can start from Spain, France, Portugal, Italy or even Palestine! This time I am doing the Camino del Norte in Spain and I am walking it solo. I would have loved to complete the whole route but my time in Europe is limited so I’ll be covering two stages out of four in 2 weeks. 300 plus kilometres. By foot and no cheating.

Camino del Norte

The Camino del Norte or the Northern Way is the Camino route of the Northern Coast of Spain from San Sebastián to Bilbao and on to Santiago de Compostela. It’s one of the most challenging routes on the Camino. It follows the coast line most of the way and as I have discovered today, you will pass through the most charming fishing villages, sandy beaches and green hills. Side tracking a bit but one of my favourite things about Northern Spain (besides its beautiful picturesque scenery) is the food! I’m obsessed with the Grilled Octopus dish which is basically Octopus and Potatoes drenched in olive oil and flavoured with paprika. It’s delicious! I normally have it daily (unfailingly) when I’m in Northern Spain. Back to Camino del Norte. Here’s a map so you can see the route I will be covering. My last destination is somewhere between Santander and Gijón. The village’s name is not shown on the map.

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Map of Camino del Norte, Spain

Today

Day 1 – I left my San Sebastián hotel and reached Getaria. I walked 27 kilometres for 6 hours and 30 minutes. My legs and feet killed me and are still killing me as I haven’t done long distance walking in a while. The route was quite hilly and had some steep slopes. If you have knee issues I wouldn’t recommend it.

Thoughts

Instead of describing how beautiful the scenery was, let me use this space to tell you what went through my head while walking alone for almost seven hours. I thought about water. I thought about my feet. I thought about how hot it was under the sun and about the cool breeze under the trees. I thought about my father. I thought about what martial arts move would be effective if some crazy person decides to bother me. I thought about my next snack-break, and the next, and the next. I thought about blisters and how to avoid them. I thought about the people I love in different places on earth. I thought about what it would be like to have thick skin. I thought about my mother worrying about me. I thought about a friend of mine in Egypt who’s going through hell but keeps going. I thought about how lucky I am to be able to do the things I love independently.  I thought about my sisters, about their thoughts, worries and courage. I thought about how thankful I am for my life. I thought about ‘courage’ and ‘confidence’ a lot.  I thought about ‘ways’ to overcome grief and whether time is truly my friend. I thought about how Spanish people know how to live life and enjoy the simple things we humans take for granted like good friends, a loving family and togetherness. I thought about what a nuisance this flu of mine is. I thought about my close friend’s 40th in Zanzibar and what special gift I should get or even create for him. I thought about the months I spent in Italy over the last two and half years and the wonderful people I met there and love. I thought about thinking and how to stop thinking and after sometime I actually stopped thinking. I was totally in the moment. Until my feet started acting up and then it was all about my feet and when am I going to reach Getaria.

Did I meet new people along the way? Yes. My favourite people though are the old Spanish people from these parts who stop pilgrims and ask them where they’re from and where they’re heading. I had that today and explained where I was from and where I was heading in broken Spanish mixed with Italian. One old Spanish woman hugged me when she found out I was walking it solo and told me I was very brave. She made my day because it cemented some of my ‘courage’ thoughts about leaving fear behind.  Somehow I always connect with the old irrespective of what country I am in. Old people remind me of my father. Their curiosity and innocence touch me.

Did I listen to music while walking? No.

Did I enjoy my aloneness? Yes.

Did I walk for hours with no one in sight? Yes.

Did I get scared at any point while walking? No. But I was a bit apprehensive when I took my first few steps into the woods.

Am I exhausted? Yes.

Am I happy? Yes, and fulfilled. Completing 27 kilometres on the first day is an accomplishment.

I’ll tell you more tomorrow but I promised in my previous post that I will tell you more about San Sebastián! So here goes.

San Sebastián 

Or Donostia to the Basques. San Sebastián  is located on Spain’s north coast in the Basque Country.  It is well known for its excellent cuisine and is home to countless Michelin-starred restaurants.  It is known for Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta – beautiful beaches with bayfront promenades. I am amazed at how the Spanish (like the Italians) love the sun! San Sebastián is also known for hosting events such as the San Sebastián International Film Festival. If you’re a museum lover, you would love it. If you’re a foodie, you would definitely love it. If you’re a beach lover, you would love it. If you’re into history and culture, you would love it. If you love holidaying in a place with lots of people, music and life, you would love it. If you love cobbled streets and historic buildings, you would love it. If you generally love enjoying life and aren’t bothered about crunching numbers 24/7 and getting cross-eyed, you would love it!

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Playa de la Concha, San Sebastián, Spain, July 2017
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San Sebastián, Spain, July 2017

Mañana Awaits 

San Sebastián Sunset, July 2017

If I begin to tell you how my day has been in detail my story would just never find an appropriate ending. So I’ll try to keep it short and to the point – plus I’m exhausted and I need to get enough sleep in preparation for tomorrow!

Left the South Ken flat at 4.30am with an encroaching flu (which is an official one now) and a very soar throat and headed to London Heathrow to catch my flight to San Sebastián (Spain) via Madrid. Made it to Madrid but missed my flight to San Sebastián – the first flight I’ve ever missed in my entire traveling life. 

In Madrid, I had an argument with a very rude Iberia representative who accused me of purposely missing my flight and wanted to charge me for the new ticket which won’t actually take me to San Sebastián! (Let me give you some advice – if you ever travel via Madrid do not trust Expedia with one-hour connecting flights). It took me an hour and a half to get to my gate after going through passport control and security check all over again. There’s no concept of ‘Express’ track for connecting flights in Madrid. The ‘Express’ voucher wasn’t an express one at all. I waited a good 30 minutes in line and it took me another 45 minutes to reach the terminal after security check and a tram ride and another 15 minutes to get to the actual gate. Was huffing and puffing by the time I reached the gate. 

Anyway, as you know I missed my flight to San Sebastián and got a ticket to Bilbao instead. My Bilbao flight was scheduled for 15.45. That didn’t happen. There was a mechanical problem with the plane and after a long delay we were redirected to the other end of the terminal to catch another plane. Finally made it to the new and ‘functioning’ plane. I’m generally a nervous flier and the uneasy turbulent flight made me more nervous. Reached Bilbao. Took the bus from Bilbao to San Sebastián city centre. One and a half hour bus ride. When I reached San Sebastián I took a taxi from San Sebastián station to San Sebastián airport. Another half an hour. Why the airport? Because my suitcase took the initial flight to San Sebastián – the flight I missed. Reached San Sebastián airport at 8pm. No one in sight. The airport was deserted and baggage claim was closed. The only human movement was found at the Hertz Car company kiosk. I needed my bag. I had to find my bag. Went to the security office then back to Hertz then back to security. Knocked on doors. Found Iberia security eventually after panicking and telling myself not to panic because nothing really bad has happened. Worst things can happen I told myself. The security person was a woman. She unlocked some door and there was my bag! I hugged the poor woman! Couldn’t contain my excitement and relief. Took a taxi back to San Sebastián city centre and checked into my hotel at 9pm. A matchbox awaited me with no windows.

A room without a view, San Sebastián, July 2017

But I’m happy. Why? Because along the way I met two lovely American women who joined my fight against Iberia. I met another sweet Spanish woman who advised me on the best route to San Sebastián. She was beyond helpful. I met a guy from Costa Rica who told me about the ‘Express’ voucher. The guy sitting next to me on the flight to Bilbao was a nervous flier just like me yet helped me inhale and exhale away my fear! The security woman at San Sebastián made my day (she had my precious suitcase)! God is everywhere. He really is. 

Atari Tapas Bar, San Sebastián, July 2017

Now you might be wondering why I even bothered taking a super early flight to San Sebastián? I could have avoided all of that, right? So I can enjoy more of the city and experience one of its many Michelin star restaurants before tomorrow happens. Naturally, I missed that. Instead, I had lovely tapas at one of its many tapas bars. And what about my obsession with my suitcase and why am I here in the first place and what’s with ‘tomorrow’? I am here to do my fourth Camino de Santiago trek and everything to do with that is inside my suitcase! That starts tomorrow! But more on that tomorrow! And more on beautiful San Sebastián manãna! For now, goodnight everyone! I’m dead tired. Tomorrow will come, and will be told. 

Women in Love

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Me facing Monte Amaro’s Clouds, Maiella (a massif in the Central Apennines), Abruzzo, Italy, 2015

I’ve been thinking about the women I know in my life. There are some who seem to know exactly what they want and others who are at the edge of a cliff somewhere, contemplating their next move – fearful of the gaping abyss which they call ‘my life’. I made a point of seeing some of these women. So I did. I sat with them and listened intently to their stories, with the best part of my heart as company. That’s when it dawned on me how truly incredible these women are, yet how little they know that about themselves.

They are incredible in the way they endure difficulties. The way they approach impossible situations and dare to confront them. There is never flight, only fight. And the fighting they do is almost always in the name of love. They wait faithfully for the unknown, and they wait not knowing if the end of the ‘unknown’ is worth waiting for – yet they wait patiently and make hope their ally. These patient women remind me of the main character Florentino in Gabriel Márquez’s ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’. He waits and waits for Fermina (the love of his life) and endures numerous rejections, and survives the bitterness of distance and heartache. Not once does he lose hope, because what’s in his heart is love and love is never without hope. Most women are like the loyal Florentino. When love is in their hearts, anything is possible. If you see a woman forsaking that ‘anything’ – then know that love was never in her heart, or that love for whatever reason had transformed into something not resembling love.

A woman gives with her heart when she loves – and she has so much of it to give that her deep well of love never dries up. She is strong enough to hold back when pride is threatened, but lets go willingly when love is returned. She tries very hard when something means something to her, and she never tries less even when ‘less’ is safer. There is insanity in the way she loves. Most of the tears she sheds are tears related to love. She cries when she loves with passion and cannot contain its eruptive force; and she cries when love is questioned and cannot control its downfall. Crying is the most beautiful expression of her soul. Her love’s purity is revealed when she cries.

Think about some of the women you know. The hopelessly in love. The ones who love with all their being even when love isn’t reciprocated or when love is there but has reached a dead-end. Don’t judge them. I for one admittedly regret the way my less-knowing younger self judged these women. I thought they were weak and that their paralysis was their doing. And I used to think it with a deep and serious disappointment in womanhood (as if I was immune to the frivolity of a woman in love – which I certainly wasn’t). I thought they were weak because I equated strength with pride and being realistic (the anti-dweller type: tomorrow is another day), and anything outside of that realm I considered weakness. How wrong I was to judge. How insensitive of me. And how much I’ve learnt since then.

So did Fermina.

At the end, Fermina recognises the rarity of Florentino’s strong feelings towards her. She acknowledges his wisdom, and appreciates his patience and persevering hope. So much so that their love is finally able to blossom freely during their old age. Love happens because Fermina finds love in her heart again and frees it. She allows love to guide her.

A woman might be at the edge of a cliff somewhere, contemplating her next move and dreading what lies ahead- but if love is in her heart, love will guide her. She will survive. She will figure it out. And her incredibleness will shine through.

I know you all have love in your hearts. Love will guide you. You will survive. You will figure it out. And your incredibleness will shine through.

Where I Found Fernando

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Here’s Portugal’s main man! The one who once wrote ‘What is merges with what, I sleep and am. And I’m, Not feeling; sad I’m not. But a sad thing I am.’ From I’m Scanning Things I Can’t see, Portugal, 1933

My most cherished buy and souvenir of Lisbon was my Fernando Pessoa ‘Selected Poems’. Not only because I love buying and collecting books; not only because it is great Pessoa and my strange connection to his work; and not only because English translations are hard to find. It’s all of the above plus this important fact: I bought this poetry book from Bertrand Chiado!

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My FP Book – Stamped by Bertrand Chiado Bookstore, Lisbon, May, 2017

Bertrand is the oldest bookstore in the world. The one which has been in operation since 1732. The one which is beautiful with all its antiqued bookshelves and arches. The one which smells of old books, tradition and history. The one which made me think of intellectuals and friendly ghosts lurking in corners. The one which reaffirmed my need and passion for books and reading. The one which made me think what a dream it would be to work in a bookstore like this one in a city like Lisbon and be surrounded (on a daily basis) by endless greatness and giants stacked on old wooden shelves. Anything which has history has a right to be romanticised – a simplistic view leaning on idealism but worth every thinking cell in me!

All the more reason for falling in love with Lisbon. Lisbon – the city of FP. The one which screams history in every corner; Fado music echoing in little streets; romantic benches; purple trees; sunny sun; cotton-candy clouds; and hidden treasures if you look closely and if you just make a point of searching for these treasures with an open heart, renewed eyes and a pinch of human curiosity!

Inside of Bertrand Chiado – the oldest bookstore in the world, Lisbon, May, 2017

 

 

Love and Loss

Selfless Love, My Father and Me, 2017

I wrote a book review on ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ by Sogyal Rinpoche at the beginning of 2017. To be exact – I wrote it days before I experienced the greatest loss of my existence. It helped me at the time – the book I mean. And I still think it is somewhat helpful in dealing with loss and the aftermath of loss, in understanding yourself better under the stinging slap of tragedy. But now – after some time had passed – I sadly realise there is no actual formula or remedy or step or even multiple steps one can consciously take to lessen grief. The moment loss knocks on your door, whatever enlightenment you’ve attained before – disappears in an instant.

Grief is very personal and grief comes in different stages, forms and extremes. Some laugh through grief. Some smile away their sadness. Some cry away their tears. Some cry choking tears from inside – burning away their energy and leaving them drained and emotionally paralysed. Some get angry and bitter and lash out their pain in a desperate attempt to make sense of it – to find answers that cannot possibly be found. How can the unknown ever be known? Some help others before helping themselves so they can stay distracted – in order to delay confronting their own unbearable pain or maybe to find solace in other people’s pain. Pain shared is sometimes pain consoled. Some make impulsive decisions, hoping change would act as their painkiller. Some procrastinate because their comfort zone is their only safety net, the only stability they can have amidst the instability of loss. Some become compulsive and lean on their vices and drink through their pain or do physically destructive things to try and numb the pain. But the pain is only heightened. Some lose their spark – so much so that their eyes don’t shine anymore. Have you every looked at a person who recently lost someone they love? Look at them, and notice their eyes. You will know what I mean. Their eyes are their faces, not their actual faces or deceiving expressions.

Some get delayed reactions. Some run as fast as they can. Some hide. Some give in and accept and live with subdued sadness that follows them wherever they go. Some may even forget for a while that it ever happened and just go on doing what they’ve always done: they get up, go to work, meet friends, eat, and sleep – like a record on loop. They never forget (it is there festering in their subconscious) but they live like they have because sometimes denial brings momentarily relief. Some lean on faith, and some even lose faith. We all do it differently, and there isn’t a form of grief that is better than the other; or more appropriately timed; or less destructive; or more constructive; or more socially accepted (that’s the least of your worry). No one really understands the extent of the pain you feel inside until they go through it themselves. And I say this with absolute confidence.

Loss felt in death is not like breaking up with a partner, or failing at your job, or losing this or that opportunity. Loss – true loss – is when you lose someone you love more than yourself (truly love them more than yourself – a selfless love) and you lose them to death – knowing you can never see them again, or laugh with them, or hold their hand, or depend on them for your happiness, security and sanity. Because that’s the kind of loss that you don’t have a choice in. You cannot try again, you cannot call him or her up – it’s just gone. It’s one love and one loss and nothing after that. You might ask – but who do I love more than myself (other than my children)? Besides loving the person who shares your blood or who has all the basic traits of a lovable person – you love the person who lets you in on their secrets, on their quirky habits and imperfections – the secrets, habits and imperfections that only you know and no one else knows because you’re the special one. When you remember that person you don’t remember big bang moments you had together – instead – you remember those secrets, habits and imperfections you shared. What I call the triggers of your grief.

My childhood friend – someone I respect – put it so eloquently when she said: ‘Such a big painful loss which the pain of will never fully subside, but you will just learn to live with it and eventually pull positives from it’. And here I am, still learning. We all are.

Book Review (written on February 22, 2017): On the ‘Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’

This is the book recommended to me by a woman I briefly met during my Camino de Santiago journey in 2015. It caught my attention as I was intrigued by the title, and I am not sure what attracted me to the non-artistic cover but something of magnets did. I took a photo of the book (amnesia is my second name) and told myself I will read it when I am back home. Fast-forward in time amid the chaos of our bella vita, I had forgotten all about it. This is until two months ago when Buddhism found its way back to me. It has been a trying time – it still is, and I guess I found solace in Buddhism. Thoughts of dying and death; living well; living in the ‘now’; living more; living with little; living with awareness; living happily; purpose/art of living; and all the ‘living’ stuff we all read about created a revolution in my mind. A mind that has been in shambles because of a situation. I was never one to be inspired (and fooled) by all these self-help books about living and happiness. I always found them to be quite superficial – for who made these people such experts when they’re just as humanly confused, weak (precisely because they are human) and clueless as all of us? Anyway. The book somehow made a reappearance in my mind despite my amnesiac state. So I read it. And what a book! Light and heavy. Inspiring and depressing. Far from superficial. Sogyal Rinpoche is an absolute genius! This Tibetan, highly educated, wise, traditional and worldly man has managed to masterfully convey his message on how to live well so you can die well. Knowing the nature of your mind and mastering it is the golden key to contentment. All of that is explained in the book so I will stop here. However, let me say this: If you are going through a tough time; if you’re grieving; if you have questions about death; if you’re terminally ill; or you are dealing with a loved one’s terminal illness and need some fresh perspective to give you hope – this is the book for you. I will leave you with this powerful yet simple quote of a dying person: ‘The point is trust, which is faith. The point is devotion, which is surrender.’ Let’s just be with what is happening. By accepting.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche

The Hug

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Inspired by my stay at the Sha Wellness Clinic, Spain. A new page was turned that year. Alicante,  2014

I repeat, it was not lust,

nor a tragic futility of love

it was not an aftermath of despair

nor a fleeting love affair

it was what it was.

 

It was shyness of the unknown

of silently screaming feelings

of trembling hands and vulnerabilities shown

of language barriers, paralysis and fences

of echoing caves and sacred hidings

I repeat, it was not lust,

nor a drunken state of momentarily love

it was not a frivolous consequence of ecstasy

nor uncalculated courage and misguided trust

it was nothing resembling the above

it was what it was.

 

Confined inside of me

he marked his territory

a stranger even to himself

in this darkness and absurdity

fragmented awakenings I foresaw

of roses, redness and flamenco

and all that belonged to yesterday

was on death row

I repeat, it was not lust,

nor my soul’s solitude if you must

it was not a prize to take pride in

nor loneliness in me festering like dust

nor profound nights in high mountains

it was what it was.

 

Perhaps I cannot dwell

on the complexity that drew him to me

an enchantress casting her spell?

no one can tell

it was what it was.

 

Stranger I said:

procrastinate here with me

envelop me

burden all my senses

and if I may

let my cheek rest on your shoulder

let me let go

of all my defenses

I repeat, it was not lust,

it was what it was.

 

By Razan Abdul Majeed, 2017      

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 Journey That Changed Everything

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Captured during one of my short breaks (on an unbearably hot Spanish summer day) with one of my Italian pilgrim friends whom I’ve met on the way. All those who walk the Camino are referred to as ‘Pilgrims’. A bunch of funny and cheerful South Koreans joined us for some much-needed R&R. That’s how it is on the Camino. You meet like-minded people everyday from different parts of the world, and some even become life-long friends. Camino Frances, Spain, 2015

The Camino de Santiago has many walking routes or what they call ‘Ways’. You can start anywhere on the Camino and by anywhere I mean anywhere if your number one goal is to WALK. That was my goal. But if you want to be a certified Camino Pilgrim you’ve got to complete at least 100 kilometres and reach Santiago de Compostela. Have you watched Emelio Estevez’s movie The Way? Watch it. It’s a great movie. The Camino route Martin Sheen took is the same route I chose to take that year. It also happens to be the same route that Paulo Coelho took at the age of 38 – the route that brought on a spiritual awakening and inspired him to write his first novel The Pilgrimage

I walked from St Jean Pied de Port, France (via the Pyrenees, a range of mountains) to the sacred city of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I trekked through the major cities of Pamplona, Logroño, Burgos and León in Spain. I covered approximately 800 kilometres in 35 days. 3 days rest.

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A map of Spain and my journey’s route from St. Jean Pied of Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain

I walked through the scorching summer heat of Spain; through unexpected rain; through the sunniest of all suns; green raw mountains; wide roads and small winding ones too; through silent dark woods with the occasional rustle of falling leaves; tiny villages with no one in sight but grumpy dogs and a few curious-serious old people who seem to be waiting for something to happen; through the endless, dry, flat and intimidating Meseta – which many of my Pilgrim friends opted to skip; through rocky climbs; small stones that danced under my feet and huge ones that refused to budge; through small hidden rivers and streams; beautiful cities and less beautiful ones; through cold temperatures when the climb got even higher and the sun was shadowed by humungous clouds; through fields of happy sunflowers; fields and fields of hay and empty spaces; and through never-ending horizons or big old trees that cover the sun’s rays and create an eerie-scary atmosphere even for the bravest of all solo travellers. I walked with the knowledge that there’s an American woman missing somewhere on the same Camino route I was taking, whom more or less shared a similar story to mine. I walked through the fear of knowing there might be a kidnapper somewhere or a lurking murderer hiding behind one of the many bushy bushes I passed.  I walked through sleepless nights thinking about that missing woman; and through a Queen Bee attack on my very first day in the Pyrenees – a funny story (in retrospect) yet not-so-funny (in reality). I walked on despite all of that. And that single act of perseverance with a ‘no matter what’ attitude changed my whole outlook on life. It confirmed to me that we as human beings are capable of great things when we have a purpose in life, and all that is required of us is to keep going no matter what, and never give in to fear and pain. No greatness without suffering. And no suffering ends in suffering, only in greatness.    

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Enjoying a beautiful view of greenery that I came across during a challenging trek. Camino Frances, Spain, 2015

Recently I came across this wonderful travel passage written by Bill Bryson – a best-selling author and travel writer. It cleverly describes some of the thoughts and sentiments I had while walking. It describes what really matters to you when you walk tough walks and long challenging distances. When you’re totally alone in the woods with not a soul in sight for hours on end. When your tired legs and blistered feet cannot carry you anymore and your back is broken in two. When hovering insects are suddenly your best friends and the trail never seems to end. When all you think about is ‘how much water do I have left?’ or ‘how many kilometres do I have left?’ or ‘should I have my trail nuts and dried fruits now or keep some for later just in case? or ‘should I trust him?’ or ‘how am I ever going to get there in one piece?’.  Ultimately though it describes happiness. Because happiness is when you have a purpose, and you journey with it.   

Bryson wrote: “Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret. Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really. You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudgeThere is no point in hurrying because you are not actually going anywhere. However far or long you plod, you are always in the same place: in the woods. It’s where you were yesterday, where you will be tomorrow. The woods is one boundless singularity. Every bend in the path presents a prospect indistinguishable from every other, every glimpse into the trees the same tangled mass. For all you know, your route could describe a very large, pointless circle. In a way, it would hardly matter. At times, you become almost certain that you slabbed this hillside three days ago, crossed this stream yesterday, clambered over this fallen tree at least twice today already. But most of the time you don’t think. No point. Instead, you exist in a kind of mobile Zen mode, your brain like a balloon tethered with string, accompanying but not actually part of the body below. Walking for hours and miles becomes as automatic, as unremarkable, as breathing. At the end of the day you don’t think, “Hey, I did sixteen miles today,” any more than you think, “Hey, I took eight-thousand breaths today.” It’s just what you do.”

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On the last day and final destination of my epical journey. That’s when I also became an officially certified Camino Pilgrim. I walked on, and I made it! Santiago de Compostela, Spain, 2015

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!