Monday, August 28, 2006

Where hearts can heal and souls can mend...

"...In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks,
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail..."
Stanley Kunitz - The Testing Tree

Sunday, August 27, 2006

...but not forgotten

Having to follow up closely with lebanon seemed to imply turning the pages over Iraq, and Palestine really quickly..
As if you can only handle one page at a time.
And maybe that's true. How much can a human heart or mind handle at once.
Sometimes i read the blogs or pieces of news and nodd slowly closing and opening my eyes emphetically; as if to say 'yes i know... i know this one..' becuase i have heard/read it so many times before. Sometimes it's difficult to remember the context, you scroll back to the top or flip the page to check with region you're reading again, and sometimes it doesn't really matter.

Helpless? la2, that's not what i'm feeling at all.
I personally felt a very positive movement towards lebanon on all our parts and also towards the political and not so political (but invaded by corrupted politics) events here in Egypt. Bas what triggers us everytime? Is it the pictures on the news? What if they just stop coming through? What if we get less inspiring emails by foreign MP speeches, or people in Lebanon who are able to send out their messages creatively? Not that we shouldn't make the best of such media, bas how do we keep ourselves stimulated to act, continuously...?

There are a few things in Riverbend's (Iraqi girl's blog below) that echoed very familiarly;

"I sometimes wonder if we’ll ever know just how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis left the country this bleak summer. I wonder how many of them will actually return. Where will they go? What will they do with themselves? Is it time to follow? Is it time to wash our hands of the country and try to find a stable life somewhere else?"

When does it feel right to stay behind and fight for it, and when does it feel necessary to find a 'stable life somehwere else' or at least one you can relate to... how many of us have asked ourselves that question :)

Another one was;
"I woke up this morning to scenes of carnage and destruction on the television and for the briefest of moments, I thought it was footage of Iraq. It took me a few seconds to realize it was actually Qana in Lebanon."

This was on the irony of how difficult it is to tell what's happening where anymore. it seems to be happening everywhere.

And finally;

"No matter the loss of hundreds of innocent lives. No matter the children who died last night- they’re only Arabs, after all, right?

I just watched Hotel Rwanda the other day and remembered how the UN forces were telling Paul, (Rwandan hotel owner) that the rescue they were all anticipating, was NOT coming.. why? Because you're african, and nobody cares about Africa.. This is not on a low note, khales, Quite the contrary.

The other day Heikal was talking to a Lebanese host on a program, reflecting on the events in the region, and lebanon in particular. And he was talking about observing change, or the events to note; and he said our problem is we see the '3awasef' (the Storms) very clearly, bas we never really notice the debris or particles that surround it or come with it..

I couldn't remember the exact phrase, bas the sense i got from it, was that it was not only the storms, the very big events, or very big changes that we should anticipate or account for, bas all that surrounds them; precedes them; preludes them in the air..

There is such a strong air of resistance that comes from lebanon, and i don't speak of Nasrallah,bas the youth and the artists and the general collective and individual movements that have risen up. THe same is to be said for Eygpt, even if the politically oriented movements seem to struggle, there is such hope in the cultural resurgence (or insurgance), the growing social responsibility, and the growing political movement. It's as if there is a growing sense of ownership, and a general sense of;
'if i cannot find that which i'm looking for; i build it..'
A surge of conscience and consciousness keda.

It's happening very slowly and the efforts may at times seem scattered, bas alot of networking and clustering and bonding is happening, alot is being written and alot is being built and alot is being DONE.. there is a movement. Even Egyptians abroad are generating energy and sending it back in.

And it's not only limited to Egypt.
I've a sense, (and i may not be able to back it up entirely empirically), bas whole socio-cultural-political centre of gravity seems to be shifting.. and whilst things 'are happening to us', and we are reacting to them, everytime we react we build, even if it is only a foundation we build, or solidarity, or more scope for stronger action, or production, bas we're really building.

Like a sort of system or systems, or a whole new life system is building up in parallel to that which we shun or are forced to live in. And i don't want to limit it to 'the government' or the political system, because it's not only that. El Share3, wel turath, wel tareekh, wel ard kolaha lenna.

We're retrieving it, getting it back one by one. It's happening very slowly, bas as we create our own grounds, our own havens where we do things as they should be done, see the things that we would like to see, and live in the world as we would have loved to find it; we are retrieving it.

Riverbend's blog;

Monday, August 14, 2006

On little revolutions

Revolution and youth are closely allied. What can a revolution promise to adults? To some it brings disgrace, to others favour. But even that favour is questionable, for it affects only the worse half of life, and in addition to advantages it also entails uncertainty, exhausting activity and upheaval of settled habits.

Youth is substantially better off: it is not burdened by guilt, and the revolution can accept young people in to. The uncertainty of revolutionary times is an advantage for youth, because it is the world of the fathers that is challenged. How exciting is the entry into the age of maturity over the shattered ramparts of the adult world!"

Milan Kundera, "Life is Elsewhere".

"The future is up in the air, better get on board!"
A worker on why he joined the protests leading up to the Iranian revolution in 1979.

"Once the train of change has left the platform , there realy is no turning back!"
Egyptian activist on why he joined the current movement.

"The youth...the students; they might not be capable of bringing about the change they demand.. but they can bring the issues to the surface. They face the world with them, and push it to deal with them"
Egyptian Student activist from the 60s

"I walked into university; and everywhere, all around me were the wall magazines (megalat 7a2et).They were on the walls, so that there was no space, and as i walked further in, i suddenly realized they were all over the floor too. Everywhere. Words of poetry, of holy scripts, of movement , glories, acheivements, anger, demands.. and soon in the courtyars i came to a point where ropes were stretched across from one end to the another, and the magazines hung across the pegs, swaying before us.. arguing with each other, complimenting each other; bringing us all together. The world was right there. It was happening all around me. I had stepped into the world!"
Egyptian student activist in the 70s, at that point completely de-politicized; at this point leader of a political party.

Most studies on social movements indicate that it takes some kind of contention, some kind of unrest, to spark even the youth or students into the movements.
In Egypt, particularly in the 70s and the late 40s; it seemed more like 'hope'..

Monday, August 07, 2006

It goes on..

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life — It goes on.
Robert Frost

I have always LOVED Robert Frost. His were the first poems I made an effort to learn by heart. I loved to reproduce them, in my mind, out loud, to friends, through play, living them through, or even to a mirror.

He seemed to also see ,that life; was all about metaphors.
He saw nature, the woods, the roads; travelled and less travelled by, loveliness; dark and deep, loneliness, promises to keep; they all meant something else, something more. But he communicated it all, all the deeper meanings, through everything that every eye could easily see.

And life IS all about metaphors. Physical pain for example; I think is something we experience , only to teach us to deal with the real, deep, scorching, internal and not so physical pain. We fall countless times when young, and we scrape our knees or maybe need a few stitches, but we watch and we see, everytime we painfully pull away the band-aid, that no matter how red, purple, green, the ta3weera gets; in time, sometimes long and sometimes short, they are nothing. And except for a scar; we heal.
And the scars…even those are reminders, that what was once painful no longer is.

During my time (splendidly confusing and should enriching years) with Fat'het kheyr, we would sit for hours with our 'loan groups' doing 'our part' to help, when in fact the lessons of humility and life, are ones that will never match up to anything we have given. We would listen to their stories, try to think of how we can work something out together, but at least a third of the time, feel powerfully helpless, slumped and at loss. In my own experience; they were those times that the women would ironically perk up, pat me on the back, wipe away their tears and say something like ' ya bent ya 3abeeta kolo bey3ady…'

Once at a particularly critical 'husband has prostate cancer' , ' no money for eid food' , 'son needs a shoe', 'daughter is seriously ill', time, awhen I could barely hide my distraught, Om Samar laughed and said..
'Mesh el shams 7atetla3 bokra?'
Slapping one hand over the other (though softly) on her lap, bending over with her head tilted towards me, and her face looked away from me, eyes wide, lips pursed, in a very small 'prelude to a wise smile' smile. Her face however, was already beginning to open up into one.
'aah'. I affirmed, my head tilted downwards - still at loss- and not knowing where this was going. Seeing little hope of going anywhere.
'khalas. Yeb2a yom gedid 7ayebtedy. 7a3mel eyh. We kol yom 7ayeb2a fee mashakel, we kol yom 7annam 3aleyha.
neegy el sob7… BARDO nela2ey el shams betetla3… Talama kol leyl beyekhlas, we ba3deeh, kol nehar yebetedy, yeb2a kol 7aga 7atekhlas, we kol 7aga 7atebtedy men gedid.. we aho, kol yom beforas Tanya…'

There was nothing cliché about Om Samar's little monologue. It wasn't a famous saying of hers, or part of her trademark optimism. I think it was something she learnt with time.

I don't know what exactly she meant, but a world of meaning revealed itself to me.
Not that every day brought a new chance. But that everyday was new. And every day was a metaphor. Because as 'lovely dark and deep' each night is, however sad, however content, the sun shines loud and bright every morning, making you squint, and shield your face from it, but also making you realize, the sometimes wonderful, the sometimes very harsh reality, that another day has come, and that life beckons you to pull it through.

And so the sun, in all it's yellowness and brightness, pulls us, pushes us, forces us if you will, to move. Mover for shelter, mover for food, mover for shade; just move.

Everything is alive. Everything seems wise, and so everything does indeed send beautiful messages. I have a powerful deep faith in God, and nothing rings closer , truer or warmer in my heart. But whether it is God that people believe in, or the life that throbs around them, everything is alive.
The wind does whisper, Leaves do wave at you, trees are good listeners, waves are playful, and mountains doo carry millions and ages of stories and wisdoms.. they do watch, they do listen, they do witness and they do preserve the wisdom of the ages.

If you are true to yourself to the world, and perhaps to God, then you cannot but feel it. You cannot but hear them. It is just sometimes that we choose not to.
Memories, thoughts, ideas; pain and joy do linger in the atmosphere around us. Every place has it's own feel, it's own memories. And once again if you let yourself go completely you can feel them. You can feel the tension, you can feel the trueness and purity, you can feel the pain.
I have felt them in the deserts of the oasis and the mountains of Sinai, in Gibran's house in the mountains, in the south of Lebanon, and the heart of Berlin . In the depths of the citadel's prisons, and on the banks of the rivers in Florence. But I am not special in that sense. And I'm sure everyone feels things differently…but we do feel it.

Given that; everything is alive and that we are surrounded by the energy of all that has happened before us, and all that has been thought and lived, so that even place breathes with life, then how can we not believe in signs.
They come in little events, and gestures, and whisps and drops; but they come. They carress, and they whisper and they touch; and sometimes they scratch; often deeply too. But they speak to us, in a language we have not been accustomed to use.

'It goes on'.

As silly as it felt when I first read it, and as little as I could grasp the wisdom, it was short, and it was witty, and I loved Robert Frost.

But life as you come to realize; idoes go on. And when your heart refuses to stop at the times when the pain makes it seem only natural that it should, and when your eyes continue to flutter open at the first chirp of the first ray, and when a word, a letter, a song, touches, inspires, caresses or enlightens you. When the world seems to fall apart around you , and you have little power to stop it, when your voice is not loud enough for you to dictate the way things should./could be. That's when you realize that as cruel as it might be, as a blessing; it continues. And what doesn't kill you? Yes; it makes you stronger. And until you are stronger you just live. And as long as you are 'living' it is only up to you and up to you only how you decide to live it.

And all those clichés and all those silly quotes and every day sayings; about life going on, about what doesn't kill you, about the sun coming up again?
Hold on to them tightly. Because at the times when things are loveliest, loneliest, darkest and deepest; it is their soft familiar ring; and only theirs, that pulls you through.

It goes on, and on, and on. Life's toughest lessons, seem to be its simplest. But no good lessons ever come easy.

And that;
is my take on,
and my peace with,
the world,
for today. :)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

On Zigzags and Surprises

The Optimism of Uncertainty by Howard Zinn
From an excerpt of Paul Rogat Loeb's book "The Impossible Will Takea Little While"

In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manageto stay involved and seemingly happy? I am totally confident notthat the world will get better, but that we should not give up thegame before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose anychance of winning.

To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing theworld. There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonishedby the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changesin people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion againsttyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible. What leaps out from the history of the past hundredyears is its utter unpredictability. This confounds us, because weare talking about exactly the period when human beings became soingenious technologically that they could plan and predict the exact time of someone landing on the moon, or walk down the streettalking to someone halfway around the earth.

Let's go back a hundred years. A revolution to overthrow the tsar ofRussia, in that most sluggish of semi-feudal empires, not only startled the most advanced imperial powers, but took Lenin himselfby surprise and sent him rushing by train to Petrograd. Given theRussian Revolution, who could have predicted Stalin's deformationof it, or Khrushchev's astounding exposure of Stalin, or Gorbachev's succession of surprises? Who would have predicted thebizarre shifts of World War II-the Nazi-Soviet pact (thoseembarrassing photos of von Ribbentrop and Molotov shaking hands),and the German army rolling through Russia, apparently invincible, causing colossal casualties, being turned back at the gates ofLeningrad, on the western edge of Moscow, in the streets ofStalingrad, followed by the defeat of the German army, with Hitlerhuddled in his Berlin bunker, waiting to die?

And then the post-war world, taking a shape no one could have drawnin advance: The Chinese Communist revolution, which Stalin himselfhad given little chance. And then the break with the Soviet Union,the tumultuous and violent Cultural Revolution, and then another turnabout, with post-Mao China renouncing its most fervently heldideas and institutions, making overtures to the West, cuddling upto capitalist enterprise, perplexing everyone. No one foresaw thedisintegration of the old Western empires happening so quickly after the war, or the odd array of societies that would be createdin the newly independent nations, from the benign village socialismof Nyerere's Tanzania to the madness of Idi Amin's adjacent Uganda.

Spain became an astonishment. A million died in the civil war, which ended in victory for the Fascist Franco, backed by Hitler andMussolini. I recall a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigadetelling me that he could not imagine Spanish Fascism beingoverthrown without another bloody war. But after Franco was gone, a parliamentary democracy came into being, open to Socialists,Communists, anarchists, everyone. In other places too, deeplyentrenched dictatorships seemed suddenly to disintegrate-inPortugal, Argentina, the Philippines, Iran.

The end of World War II left two superpowers with their respectivespheres of influence and control, vying for military and politicalpower. The United States and the Soviet Union soon each had enoughthermonuclear bombs to devastate the Earth several times over. The international scene was dominated by their rivalry, and it wassupposed that all affairs, in every nation, were affected by theirlooming presence. Yet the most striking fact about thesesuperpowers was that, despite their size, their wealth, their overwhelming accumulation of nuclear weapons, they were unable tocontrol events, even in those parts of the world considered to betheir respective spheres of influence. The failure of the SovietUnion to have its way in Afghanistan, its decision to withdraw after almost a decade of ugly intervention, was the most strikingevidence that even the possession of thermonuclear weapons does notguarantee domination over a determined population.

The United States has faced the same reality. It waged a full-scale war in lndochina, conducted the most brutal bombardment of a tinypeninsula in world history, and yet was forced to withdraw. InLatin America, after a long history of U.S. military interventionhaving its way again and again, this superpower, with all its wealth and weapons, found itself frustrated. It was unable toprevent a revolution in Cuba, and the Latin American dictatorshipsthat the United States supported from Chile to Argentina to ElSalvador have fallen. In the headlines every day we see other instances of the failure of the presumably powerful over thepresumably powerless, as in Brazil, where a grassroots movement ofworkers and the poor elected a new president pledged to fightdestructive corporate power.

Looking at this catalog of huge surprises, it's clear that thestruggle for justice should never be abandoned because of theapparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and themoney and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable tohuman qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moralfervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit,ingenuity, courage, patience-whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Vietnam, or workersand intellectuals in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union itself.

No cold calculation of the balance of power need deter people whoare persuaded that their cause is just. I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world (is it just myfriends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all theevidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope.Especially young people, in whom the future rests. Wherever I go, I find such people. And beyond the handful of activists there seem tobe hundreds, thousands more who are open to unorthodox ideas. Butthey tend not to know of each other's existence, and so, while theypersist, they do so with the desperate patience of Sisyphus endlessly pushing that boulder up the mountain.

I try to tell each group that it is not alone, and that the verypeople who are disheartened by the absence of a national movementare themselves proof of the potential for such a movement. It is this change in consciousness that encourages me. Granted, racialhatred and sex discrimination are still with us, war and violencestill poison our culture, we have a large underclass of poor,desperate people, and there is a hard core of the population content with the way things are, afraid of change. But if we seeonly that, we have lost historical perspective, and then it is asif we were born yesterday and we know only the depressing storiesin this morning's newspapers, this evening's television reports.

Consider the remarkable transformation, in just a few decades, inpeople's consciousness of racism, in the bold presence of womendemanding their rightful place, in a growing public awareness thatgays are not curiosities but sensate human beings, in the long-term growing skepticism about military intervention despite brief surgesof military madness. It is that long-term change that I think wemust see if we are not to lose hope. Pessimism becomes aself-fulfilling prophecy; it reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act. Revolutionary change does not come as onecataclysmic moment (beware of such moments!) but as an endlesssuccession of surprises, moving zigzag toward a more decentsociety.

We don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions ofpeople, can transform the world. Even when we don't "win," there isfun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, withother good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope. Anoptimist isn't necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in thedark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishlyromantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage,kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history willdetermine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys ourcapacity to do something. If we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, thisgives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sendingthis spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we doact, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents,and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defianceof all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Adapted from "The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear", edited by Paul Rogat Loeb.

Partsof this essay appeared in You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Trainand Howard Zinn on History.

Published on Monday, November 8, 2004 by