Little Mandelas

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. — Nelson Mandela

We live in an age marked by contradictions. We preach love when we easily hate; we preach education and swiftly succumb to ignorance; we preach tolerance when we exercise bigotry; and we project to the world an image of perfection when — under the mask of anonymity — we expose our rancid self.

The relevance of the quote today is no less significant than it has ever been in human history, or will be in the future. We have as a species for long been assigning labels to possessions and concepts — and while the human mind has evolved to compartmentalise the world around us, it has become fodder for assigning people to “us” or “them” for any number of criteria. Criteria we have been formulating over time, but have been significantly taught while being young.

For a time in my childhood years, it has been repeated to me in school or observed through social behaviour in others that everyone who is not a Muslim is evil and going to hell, and that a certain group of people called Jews and others called Americans are the cancer of society. This perplexed my mind; why would someone who believes in something different than I be called evil? And why would someone who comes from a different country be considered cancer? I was young, of course, and couldn’t comprehend the political or religious complexities when I was exposed to these topics, creating a stereotype in my head for a long time that I have struggled with because I knew that it was wrong, but I did not know any better.

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What helped me, though, is my mixed-religion background. It helped me see how the Christian side of the family were wonderful people, and that I felt more connected to them than my Muslim side of the family. It also showed me that religion does not make anyone better or worse than the other; people showed various shades of kindness and malice, and more often than not, these acts were not based on religious tensions.

Visiting the States in 1997 has also changed my views of the world. I was in the “heart of cancer”, and every church I have seen has caused me unexplainable rage. I even remember telling my younger cousin there to always cuss at churches, because I have been told that it and their followers are evil and will be banished to hell. Thankfully, she didn’t listen — and while I have forgiven myself for having those beliefs as a kid (and growing out of them), I would have had a difficult time forgiving myself had my words affected my cousin.

I am happy because I have seen what Mandela has said as I grew up: I have been taught to hate. Taught by zealots and bitter people who hated the world and hated others. I was taught by people who told me everyone else goes to hell but have not told me that God is forgiving and looks into the hearts of people and that is what really matters. I have been taught to hate by people who have anger in them — and I do not blame them for their anger — because of geopolitics that have been shaping this region for over 60 years and continues to be so.

Yet thankfully, I had the heart and compassion to see through all of that, and that my mind always questioning beliefs and society has led me out of what I once was. I still struggle in many things, and like many of us who have had a similar upbringing here or abroad, it takes herculean effort to unlearn what has been learned.

My life is richer now because of the different people from different cultures and faiths in my life. It is, in fact, much easier to love now than before; with globalisation and the internet, the “others” in our brain are so overwhelming that the “us” are but a mere spec of mankind. In the end we are all the same. We want to be happy; we want to fall in love; we want to cherish that first kiss; we want to eat and drink and enjoy the flavours and the fruits; we want to feel safe and have a place we call home. We want to know there will be a better tomorrow and live (or wish we could) today to the fullest. We all have our fears and our sorrows, and we all have our laughs and our songs and our music.

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We as people really are not different. And those differences are what makes us amazing and exotic. Love is much more rewarding than hate. Each one of us is a little Mandela, with our struggles and our strife to make life better for ourselves and for others around us.

Rest in peace, Madiba.

Why Are You *YOU*

And why is me … me?

I lay on the bed in the afternoon. Even through the full blast of the air-con, the heat and humidity of a Friday afternoon in Saudi crept through the crevices of the walls. A whiff of mlookhiyyeh being prepared flitted through the corridors; my mother was downstairs making lunch. My sister was in her bedroom. I was in mine. Dad was having coffee in the living room.

It was maybe 20 years ago when I pondered that question.

I kept cogitating, back then, on why would I exist as Kinan, and not Mohammed or Ramzi or Dania or a mattress or a table or a pebble; why did my soul, conscious, or whatever people label it, look through the eyes of *this* body and not *that* body. When I laugh, would other people find what I laughed at funny, sad — and in what intensity?

Why would my feelings differ from someone else’s? Who is this “character” called Kinan — the random(?) combination of this body with that soul?

More troubling has been determining what my conscious was. Why was that conscious “aware” — powered on — and exists? Where was it before? Where will it go?

I am 28 now, and I still don’t even know how to formulate the question beyond “why is me … me?” — but I will know the answer when I see it.

And probably only then will I have the full understanding to ask the question.

Chasing Dreams

I flew.

My feet dangled in the air. A patchwork of farms and trees spread below me, carpeting the mountains and hills from the snowy Annapurna range in the north to Phewa Tal lake in the south. The sun was high in the sky at noon; the lake glistened, bathed in the warmth of the light. Up where I was, the air was chilly; the cold winds enveloped me and I was an eagle, high above the noise of the lands.

Back on the earth, I missed home.

My home, praised and sung to since time immemorial. A place I never lived in for too long, but always called it home. Where my grandmother wakes up in the morning and, despite her age, goes to the local markets to pick the fresh crops of the day to cook me my favourite meals. Where I would go every two days to the dairy shop with an empty, white plastic bucket and return with one filled with yoghurt. Often, it would be a blue bucket: that is for when I get goat’s yoghurt. The milk bucket was white, but large; the metal handle always strained my flimsy hands.

I remember my mother — beautiful and wearing a purple and white dress — on the balcony watching me cross the street on my own. I felt powerful and confident; a whole new world was out there for me to explore, beyond the confines of the street. I ventured into the wilderness behind the grocery store. Back then, it was a long stretch of meadow and patches of barren sand; now it is a sports complex. I had on me a water pistol to defend me from evil foes I would encounter. All I had encountered on my adventure was a tomato plant; it had sprung from the earth defiant yet lonely. My neighbour kept it.

Two decades later, I was walking through meadows in Pokhara, Nepal, with a backpack filled with crackers, cheese, a water bottle, a jacket, and two flashlights in case it got dark while I was still out. Bugs found their home on my legs (and a spider on my scalp); I carried them with me on my new adventure to find pieces of my soul I have been chasing. Dreams I have longed to be fulfilled. I found myself at sunset by the lake; the air was crisp and cold and the afternoon sun was breaking behind the mountains. I breathed in the realisation of a dream. For so long have I seen photos of lakes and mountains and longed to be there on sunsets or sunrises. And here I was, enjoying the scenery, bugs and all.

Shifting Paradigms

It’s almost 1 AM, and I sit at my desk at loss of words for what I want to write. A maelstrom of thoughts storm in my mind, leaving me confused and battered as the ebbs of the day sail me to long hours of introspection. This is not a post for me to talk about these political movements that are shaping our world. Nor am I going to talk about how, every day, I feel there is something bigger out there for me to do, to discover, and to shed light on. This time, there will be no rants about nonsense that bothers me every day. And there will be no talk on the meaning of life or uncovering The Truth.

And I won’t sit here and talk about how terribly hypocritical I feel about going to eat sushi in Dubai when my own parents in Syria probably have little to go by on (and they’d never say). I won’t talk about how many times I’ve cried reading the news and how many texts and phone calls are beings written and made to make sure my friends and family are OK. There is really little point in expressing how difficult it is to go to work every day, to study, to go to gym, to do some photography work, and pretend and live life as though nothing is going on, because life is going on for me as it is for everyone in Syria and Palestine and every place in the world where a rocket falls.

Complaining about how little time there is to get anything done and have time for myself is something I’ve discussed many times and still fail to grow the balls to say “no” to things and pay attention to myself. And talking about all the “inconveniences” of life is really just arrogance because there are a billion things I forget to be thankful for and all these “inconveniences” are imposed or self-imposed perceptions.

Saying “sick and tired” and being sick and tired of being sick and tired really will not solve anything.

That Loss of Personal Touch

Last Christmas, I put myself up for a challenge to write out and custom-make all the Christmas greeting cards I’d be sending out. I had a good idea on what to do: for every person I would be sending out a card to, I would draw, using graphite, on the card and handwrite a message on the back and/or handwrite a letter along with it.

What I learned from the experience — other than the letters occupied wider space and have become more ornate since I stopped writing in my journal — is that not only is it rewarding (oh, the joys of handwriting a long essay!) but it is more personal, genuine, and full of soul. But more importantly, it gave me the time to think.

With a computer and a keyboard, and like the millions worldwide, I have become quite adept at typing fast. I won’t go into the whole identity dissociation with the fonts — that’s another topic; however, it gave me the chance to slow down my thoughts and communicate them more effectively.

In typing, I can type just as I would think out loud; indeed, some of my posts here or in my “digital journal” have been just that: an ad verbatim written version of my thoughts, unadulterated and often nonsensical. It makes sense then that, when writing an essay in college, I have been told to always “sleep on it” and re-read the text at a later time.

While writing, however, my hand cannot keep up with my thoughts so my only option is to slow my thoughts down. By the time I finish writing the current sentence, my brain has already given the next four or five sentences another thought and has reworked them; in fact, often by the time I am done writing a single thought, I no longer feel the need to write the other ones as my brain has found no relevancy to the current subject or has resolved the conflict by the time I finished the manual work.

  

The digital age has created a generation of professional ranters — and I am one of the biggest, to be honest with myself — and I keep wondering how different and more insightful would we be had we given ourselves the chance to count to ten before writing something. Very often, this works wonders. I have had the urge to write something — be it a thought or a rant — and, instead of doing so, I have given myself a couple or so minutes to think it through before I post anything online. In particular, if I was on twitter I would write a lengthy tweet which, by the time I manage to paraphrase into 140 characters, ends up being scrapped because my brain has had the time to process the logic and the emotions, not just the latter.

And probably that’s the greatest learning from writing, and certainly from almost everything “old school”: patience. The patience to give ourselves and the people around us a second chance. The patience to ponder how things came to be and how the universe works. To enjoy a slow conversation that does not have to cover a hundred different subjects. The patience to spell out “fourteen” instead of writing the digits in a sentence. The patience to craft someone a gift instead of purchasing a mass-produced, soulless item. The patience to add a personal touch to our writing, our loved ones, our work, our hobbies, and whatever we produce, be it physical or an act of kindness or expression of the self.