Karma, explained.


IMG_3040

Sitting in my room, my seven-year-old comes and sits next to me on my bed.  “Mom, do you realize that I have been behaving nicely?”

“Yes, you have been great. Hardly misbehaving. I’m proud of you.”

“Great, so that means you are getting me another petshop.”

“Um, no. There is no occasion to get you toys now. It’s not your birthday. We don’t get gifts in the middle of the year, just like that.”

“Oh really? What about when you got me petshops when you came back from New York?”

“That was different, I was travelling.”

“Still, it was in the middle of the year, and it wasn’t my birthday. Just like now. So that means you can get me petshops now.”

“Actually, no. I don’t think I have to.”

Under her breath, she said: “Karma is real, you know.”

“What was that?”

“Karma. Be careful what you do to your daughter. It comes back to you.”

“Where on earth did you hear about Karma?”

“I can google things you know.”

“Oh. And what did you learn about Karma then? What is it? Is it a thing you can see?”

“Actchully, it is for real. People who do bad things get Karma.You don’t buy your kids toys, you won’t get what you want either. You will be sad and angry and you can never tell why this is happening to you. Like in school, Malek told me to shut up, and then he fell in the playground. Karma.”

“We are still not getting any toys. And I would like you to know that I don’t believe in Karma.”

“You don’t need to believe in it. It is real anyway.” Shaking her head pitifully, “I think you should really think about this. It is only one petshop.”

Note to self: Ban her from the internet. Yesterday.

Posted in Family, Human Relationships, Kids, Reflections | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

You can’t afford to miss this movie


The prophet

Death most resembles a prophet who is without honor in his own land or a poet who is a stranger among his people.

Gibran Khalil Gibran

Friends who were visiting in November suggested I watch a movie called ‘Searching for Sugar Man’. I forgot about that until I had the chance to scan the movie choices on an Emirates flight to China yesterday. It was a particularly bumpy flight, so rather than worrying about wings and sturdy fuselage -as we do- I decided to see what the movie was about and pass a couple of hours of distraction to help me dose off. Or so I thought.

I was not prepared for what I witnessed.  There were scenes were I was at the edge of my seat, gasping with incredulity. Others had me bawling, making the Chinese man sitting next to me pass me a tissue from his meal tray. It was a roller coaster ride echoing the plane’s ups and downs and sideways lurches.  It was the movie that you don’t see every day, every year, every decade.  And it was a documentary.  Its truth and its subject matter, the story, the filming, the skillful portrayal of so bizarre a turn of events makes you wondered at first if any of it was true. Yet it is, and truth as we often hear, can be stranger than fiction.

What I loved about the movie that you as a reader simply have to go see and tell people you care about to go see, is the raw honesty with which the story was told.  The contrasts that were so beautifully highlighted. The likability of the characters of the real life protagonists. Most of all, the uniqueness of the film is the tide of emotions that it evokes in the audience.  A barrage of feelings was washing over me, like the varying intensity of spray hitting me in the face from being close to a rocky beach beaten by a rough sea.  A wave of happiness, followed closely by sadness, disappointment, hope, wonder, anger, joy again, then surprise, sadness one more time, peace, inspiration, faith, and the final state of being of philosophically resigning to this being ‘life’.

“Nobody is a prophet in his own land”. One hears this a lot. But one lives it while watching this amazing gem of a movie.

You really do have to watch it.

Posted in art, Human Relationships, love, movies, Philosophy, Poetry, Reflections, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My voice counts


Drafters including a Lebanese Arab, the Committee Rapporteur, Dr. Charles Malik

Drafters including a Lebanese Arab, the Committee Rapporteur, Dr. Charles Malik

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Today is Human Rights Day.

64 years ago, a drafting committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt finalized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that took two years to write and rewrite.

The drafting committee was chosen from eight countries representing the World body  including Committee Rapporteur, a Lebanese Arab scholar from my birth region of Al Koura in North Lebanon-Dr. Charles Malik.  Since the turbulent time following the destructive Second World War and the resolve of nations to protect human beings and their human dignity, an Arab was at the table taking part in crafting what was to become the most important universal declaration of our times.

The declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly who were meeting in Paris on December 10th 1948.

One of the drafting committee members, the Chilean Hernán Santa Cruz wrote:

“I perceived clearly that I was participating in a truly significant historic event in which a consensus had been reached as to the supreme value of the human person, a value that did not originate in the decision of a worldly power, but rather in the fact of existing—which gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality.  In the Great Hall…there was an atmosphere of genuine solidarity and brotherhood among men and women from all latitudes, the like of which I have not seen again in any international setting.”

(Source: http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/history.shtml)

If you don’t have time to read anything at all, at least read the text of the declaration. Once. It concerns you, it was written by these great thinkers more than six decades ago precisely for you, and I, and every human chancing to live on our planet. Each of us should read it, discuss it, reflect upon it, and aspire to live by it.  It is our charter, our very own road map to a dignified, free, full life where no one could rob us of our right to live, to think, to feel, to be safe, to reproduce and to be who we were meant to be to the best of our ability.

What you and I and people around the world need more than the oxygen we breathe is a recognition of our value as humans, and to be given a chance to hope, to dream, to be inspired, to create, to be productive, and to do all of that freely.

The link to the declaration is below. If you do nothing else today, just give it a glance. I bet you’re a bit curious about what all the fuss is about. All the fuss is about you and I.

Humans.

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml

Posted in Current affairs commentary, Human Relationships, Politics, United Nations | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Theology 101


Christmas and the girl

Christmas and the girl

As we were decorating the Christmas tree, my six-year-old and I, listening to Boney M’s ‘Little Drummer Boy’ on repeat with the call to prayer from a nearby Dubai mosque in the background, my kid thought it was a good time to ask about the Almighty.

“Is God a real person?”

“I think he is more of a force.”

“What does that mean?”

“I mean he is not a person you can see, just a power of good.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Tell me about it.”

“What’s God’s middle name?”

“I don’t really know. What do you think it should be?”

“I think God’s name should be God Christmas Snow.”

“Good name. I think he’ll like it.”

“What is God’s wife like?”

“I don’t think he has a wife.”

“What about his kids?”

“He doesn’t have kids.”

“Who will be God when he dies?”

“I don’t think God ever dies. He lives forever.”

“Is God a ghost?”

(I’m starting to pretend I have a headache) “I don’t believe he’s a ghost, he is just invisible.”

“He makes magic? Like Harry Potter?”

“Not magic like a magician, but he just chooses not to show himself to us.”

“But why do we all die and God doesn’t? Why do kids die?”

“I don’t know. We will google that one day. Can we finish decorating the tree now?”

As I waffled about with the ornaments, I realized that having an inquisitive child who was also smarter than average was going to be a rough ride. Should I just quote Napoleon to her when he said: “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich” and leave it at that? Should I watch ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ again to see from Woody Allen’s point of view which world religion makes most sense and explains God best?

On the bright side, the World might end this month according to a bunch of short Mayans, long dead, so I don’t have to deal with these big questions.

If not, you will still have to suffer a few more soul-searching and theology-exploring blog posts. But then again, I never forced you to subscribe to my blog. So suck it up.

Posted in Family, Human Relationships, Kids, love, music, Reflections, Religion | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The scorched mailbox


Pointless violence in Beirut

War does not determine who is right – only who is left. ~Bertrand Russell

When you live in a war zone, and by chance you survive, you are destined to hold a piece of that war in your soul for the rest of your life.  Ask anyone who has lived through a war, a devastating conflict where nothing is sacred, where shells fall like confetti over breathing shivering humans huddled together and praying for safety, where you learn to live with snipers using your body and that of your loved ones for target practice, where death becomes a daily occurrence you learn to live with and push worrying about it back to the dark damp corners of your mind where fear is scared to venture, where you master the art of maneuvering around angry yet trigger-happy young people with guns, where you become a daredevil if you engage in any outdoor activity deemed not absolutely necessary or life-saving.  And most tragically as people in urban warfare quickly find out,  you never ever learn to forget the car bombs.

You can hear the shelling and do your best to get to a safe place, sort of like in an earthquake or on hearing a rumbling volcano. You can do your best to avoid sniper areas after the first few victims fall.  You can pretend to be mute when faced with an angry fighter manning a checkpoint (it was tried and tested many times in Lebanon and it does work to make them feel pity and let you go). But when it comes to car bombs? Paranoia is the inevitable by product.  You never know where it might be, in which car, what time will it go off, who is targeted, why, you never know anything except after it goes off, tearing everything in its vicinity to shreds.  What many spectators watching the news safely from behind their screens don’t realize are the long-term effects that car bombs have on the population.  Any car that looks suspicious starts resembling a potential bomb.  I have seen people running like mad when a car would be parked, windows open, in Hamra street in Beirut during the war years.  Any car with the engine running and no one inside, or parked in the middle of the street, or parked in a skewed way, or in any way real or imagined looking suspicious could cause so much terror in the hearts that people would just act irrationally when faced with that trigger.

I lived in New York after the war ended, in New Zealand, in Geneva, and every time I saw a car parked with its windows open, or with the engine running, I felt my heart pounding, my pulse racing and my steps picking up speed.  It’s not something one can control, it comes naturally, I guess what kicks in is the strong survival instinct we humans have.

Now imagine if you will the people in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ireland, or any of the wretched countries where civilians had to endure the indescribable terror of car bombs for extended periods of time.  Just put yourself in their shoes and try to picture how your life would be affected.

I was thinking of that when I watched the devastation on the news as yet another terrorist car bomb ripped through Beirut.

A new political message aimed at us Lebanese and blasting through our civilian population.  We haplessly became a mailbox over the years for many a political message in our region.  Messages using our country people’s blood as plentiful ink.  We are done. We have had too many car bombs to count, we would like to hope that our mailbox function is ready to be put to rest by our folks back home.

May our killed innocent civilians rest in peace, with wishes for a fast recovery for the wounded survivors.

Posted in Current affairs commentary, Lebanon, Politics, Reflections | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conversation over pancakes


My six-year-old and I share a love of pancakes on weekends.  Some of our most giggly moments are spent in the kitchen mixing the batter and arguing about what shapes to make.  I can usually fool her into accepting simple shapes like ‘the moon’, ‘the sun’,  ‘flower’ or even ‘a crescent moon’. Today she asked for a mermaid!!

“A what?! I can’t even start to make that!”

“Just imagine the batter is a pen, mom.” She said calmly, looking at me as she would a confused puppy over the rims of her glasses.

“I don’t even know how to draw it WITH a pen.”

“Fine, then, an elephant.”

“NOOO, pick something simpler.”

“Shrek.”

“Ahhhh”.  I tried, conjuring up all my dexterity. I presented it proudly.

“This looks like an alien, not Shrek”, said the condescending kid. “It’s fine, I will eat it along with your planets that are really just round shapes. I’m hungry”.

Cut to…

Eating the pancakes at the table, she said: “You know, there is this girl in my school, and I don’t like her. She tries to play with my best friend all the time.”

“Who is she? Will she be at the birthday party you’re invited to this afternoon?”

“Yeah, she’ll be there”.

“How will I recognize her?”

“She’s the mean one.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“She has a mean name that makes her sound like a witch.”

“Why is her name weird?”

“It sound Turkish. Or maybe from Kazakhstan!!!”

“What? What’s wrong with Turkish names?”

Cut to…

“Will Max be there?” Max is the French boy she likes in her class.

“No, he is going to another party.” She paused, thinking. “I don’t think Max likes me anymore.  He said he likes the new girl with blonde hair.”

“I’m sure he likes you. Everyone likes you.”

“Mom.”

“Yeah?”

“Do you use crayons to make your hair change color? Or paint? Can you buy me some yellow spray paint?”

“Um, uh. Look, you finished your pancakes! Let’s go get ready for that party.”

Note to self: Hide ALL paint material in the house…

And just think, in a mere ten years, she’ll be a full blown ‘rational’ teenager like the other two.  Someone just shoot me.Image

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

La Dolce Vita



The Mediterranean basin dwellers always knew how to live.

From Greece to Spain, from France to Lebanon, from Italy to Cyprus, every country touched by the Mediterranean flair has that special temperament with the typical fun and impatience common to the people living on the lands bordering the body of water with so much history that shaped our World.

Nowhere is the spirit of the Mediterranean as obvious as it is in Italy. Creative, artistic, brilliant, flamboyant Italy. Fellini’s Roma. Michelangelo’s brilliance. Da Vinci’s genius. Every designer that managed to instill in us the love of fashion. Those artists that transformed the mundane act of dressing up every morning into an artistic transformation that transports us into the world of those lovers of design and color.

What strikes one upon arriving in Italy is the big canvas overhead. The sky is never dull, routine or predictable. I was flying over Rome one day, looking down over the city on approach to the airport I noticed that the sky with its disheveled scattered clouds looked like a teenager’s bedroom. Things casually strewn around reflecting the impatient, careless, impulsive temperament of the  young dweller.

Then there is the food.  The heavenly food with an essence that distills the centuries of Roman exploits elevating the act of eating into a gastronomic euphoric experience. The food here is not just for subsistence. It is FOOD, capitalized, with bursting flavor, color, texture, and dollops of love. You never like the food in Italy. You love it. If you don’t I will ask you to kindly stop reading this blog. Leave. Now. There is no freedom of expression in that department. I cannot accept that anyone does not like the Italian way of cooking, of the art of making dishes from the bountiful produce offered by the rich land and what’s on it. Italy might have dysfunctional politics, less that perfect services, slow mediterranean timing, confused organization that could benefit from a doze of German-ness perhaps. But then it won’t be Italy, and the food will suffer. (Do you like German cuisine? If you do, please also stop reading this blog).

I am loving every minute of my vacation in Tuscany. Taking in the beauty, the flair, the food, the aromas, the pace of life, the Mediterranean temperament, even the bad impatient driving of the Italians.

This is La Dolce Vita that we love to live.

 

Posted in art, love, Reflections, Trip blog, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The soda fountain of youth


In the desert

“Do we all have to die?” my six-year-old asked me as I was putting her pyjamas on last night.

Taken aback, I had to think fast and finally replied: “People usually die when they’re old. At the end of their lives, when they can’t do much anymore.”

“Well, I don’t want to die”, she said with determination.  “I will start drinking lots of pepsi and coke when I am a teenager. Diet ones too.”

“What? Why?” I was confused by her sudden announcement.

“You told my sisters that they won’t grow if they keep drinking the stuff.  I don’t want to grow old and die. I will just drink lots of it to stay small.”

You could have knocked me down with a feather…

If only things were so simple. If only…

Posted in Family, Human Relationships, Kids, Philosophy, Reflections | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Foggy sandstorm


Stay in the haze

A number of consecutive sandstorms has hit the UAE recently. Low-lying fog filled with suspended sand and dust everywhere you look. I was driving back from Abu Dhabi when it hit. It made the memories flood back.

The first time I was in a foggy sandstorm was while driving from Kuwait to Basrah in South Iraq in May 2003. It was an emotional time, going on mission with the United Nations to try and help the Iraqi population in the wake of the infamous ‘shock and awe’ boom boom raining from the sky. I had just had my security briefing in Kuwait. At the end of it we were told that we could proceed to Basrah, a city still reeling from a modern-day war fought as if by remote control. I was in the passenger seat of the blue GMC getting used to using my new VHF radio. I was charged with checking with base every thirty minutes during the journey. “This is Hotel Delta four six, over”. “This is Hotel Sierra Base, go ahead Hotel Delta four six.” “We just crossed the Abdeli border in the direction of Safwan, over”. “Roger that, next radio check in 30 minutes.” “Over and Out”. I looked up. We were all of a sudden driving in a yellow haze that abruptly engulfed the car, the road, the trucks coming from the opposite direction, whatever camels were wondering around, the sky, the world as we know it. The effect of experiencing a sandstorm for the first time is mesmerizing. A sudden quiet befalls you as you surrender to the yellow cloud that swallows you. It is as if driving into a dream. Objects lose their shape and opacity, everything in existence takes on an eerily translucent quality. You keep going, as if hypnotized and driven by the call of the mystical unknown that lies behind the hazy cloud. I blinked myself back to reality. I found myself very slowly driving with my flashers on while approaching Dubai yet an invisible remote control was zapping me back to an injured and weary South Iraq that marked my career and my life to date.

Emerging from the thick fog on arriving to Basrah for the first time, I glimpsed a wedding convoy. I wrongly interpreted it to be a good omen for the country. It wasn’t. Love just couldn’t wait and give in to war. People will fall in love no matter what. That’s how we are programmed. To love and live in an emotional sandstorm that takes hold of all that is real and paints it with the yellow mellow haziness of a dream.

Here’s to foggy, murky love. May you all get stuck in it. And if you do, take your time to find your way back out.

One of my favorite songs

Posted in art, Current affairs commentary, Human Relationships, love, Philosophy, Reflections, United Nations | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Happiness to go



What does it take to be happy?  A combination of peace of mind, stability, security, health, family, friends, comfort, helping others, fame, fortune, and a good prospect of a successful future would seem like a good formula.

This week I discovered that happiness can come from a sprinkler.

I was waiting on the side of the road in my air conditioned car in the afternoon for a real estate agent who was meant to show me a house for rent.  It was sweltering outside in the Dubai summer heat as the sun was setting.  I noticed a sprinkler up ahead not quite aimed right and was instead directing its water on the road.  I slowly inched my car forward to the direct line of water falling in a beautiful arc on my windshield.  I put the wipers on. Music in the car was soft and soothing. Grunt, eeeek, went the wipers repeatedly.  I closed my eyes.  It was raining in Dubai in July.  I was the only one enjoying it.  I opened my eyes and watched, as I did countless times as a kid growing up in Lebanon, the hapless drops of water racing down the windshield only to be shoved mercilessly by the wipers.  I rooted for the drops to get to the bottom part of the glass and out of harm’s way.  I always did.  It was like watching the same movie and wishing for a different ending.  Grunt, eeeek. Methodically. Melodiously. The familiar sound flashing me back to a childhood filled with the games I imagined being played with wipers in the rainy days of Lebanon. My dad would be driving. I would sit in the middle of the back seat hugging the two front seats to watch the rain drops being swept to oblivion while listening to the chatter of my parents. No seatbelts were necessary. People drove slowly back then, especially in the rain.

A sharp horn.  The agent pulled his car up beside me.  Are you ready to go?  “NO!” I thought. “Can’t you see I’m enjoying the rain?”  I had to pull myself away but must have smiled happily for the rest of the evening.

I need to mark my GPS with the coordinates of that blessed awry sprinkler. Before someone catches on and fixes it, that is.

 

This Adele video has not one drop of rain, but I love the song.

Posted in Family, Human Relationships, Kids, Lebanon, Philosophy, Reflections, Writing | Tagged , , | 3 Comments