Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lebnaneyyat - Children of Hreik

We were supposed to work with water bottles today. Empty plastic water bottles.
I'd collected some over the week and they came in with a few (few awey) themselves.
the deal was that we would work with around 20 kids, 8-12 years of age; that way it would be most effective.. i could work with up to 25 and if they were more we would divide them in groups and give them different activities.
so we had around 30 bottles between us, and around 40 kids. Aged 6-15. yup, a little off the mark after all.
We ended up buying more water bottles (as the situation got a little dangerous with the bottle-less kids), and seeing that i could not speak of recycling and using resources that surrounded us, and empty the bottles to the ground, i walked around the area, demonstrating how you watered trees. We watered the trees in haret hreik.

A few hours into the mayham, i found a few of the more difficult guys gathered in a corner, lying on their stomachs, or crouched on their knees, scribbling on pieces of paper and looking at each other's frantically as if they were in some competition. I worry about competitions, and so jogged over.. where were their bottles anyway?

I inquired to the bottles and they pointed to them by tossing their chins towards them or shouting over their shoulders and returned to their scribbling. They had , quite naturally, made bombs and rockets. Some of the water botles were in pieces. THe rockets were in shards once they landed you see. They could even tell you where each of the rockets had landed. But their sentences came in short bursts, or ended abruptly midway.. you were a nuisance. what in god's name where they doing..

i walked up closer trying to read over their shoulders.. i was impressed they could write.. the pages they leaned over were drenched in words. I just couldn't manage to read them. and then when i could, i still couldn't understand.. what was this?
then i came across one word, ' el bawarej..' and it dawned on me..
they were writing bits and pieces of Nasrallah's speeches, racing over who could remember the larger chunks.

Shocked at first, i calmed myself with the memory of the kid on the plane who sang nancy 3agram songs between intervals of 'twinkle twinkle little starts' and 'fre're-o jack-o' on the plane. If they could remember the song, why would they not remember the speeches their lives depended on?

-------------------------------------------------------------- X ------------------------------------------------------------------

she asked, her friend standing next to her watching me closely, both of them looking very suspicious..
'aywaaa..' i answered feigning skepticism and curiosity myself at the drawl with which my name was pronounced..
'Betsumey ya Alia..?'
I smiled. Definitely more cunning than Lebanon had me used to. 'Aywa basume' i said after much thought.
I asked them if it made a difference to our friendship. They stayed quiet and could not answer. I talked for a while of something i knew would make no difference , was not in place, and that i probably knew very little of anyway, so i just trailed off, and got busy tying a knot for someone. They skipped off.

THey were back. This time giggling and pinching each other, pushing each other to ask the question.
'Beteftarey 3ala adhan sunney wala adhan shee3ey..'
not so smart. all they had to do was wait. The shi3ey and sunney adhan were fifteen minutes apart.. in a restaurant, a playground or on the street, i was taught you could tell them apart that way. i responded, and the shock on their faces was indescribable.
A few stories by one of the girls gave away the strength of their political orientations and loyalties at home; and thus quite obviously, which adhan they ate to. The area we were in easily dictated the question of whether or not fasting availed here.
The thing that came to my mind on reading the shock on their faces was that they looked as a man who i would have tricked as to my religion or marriage status would have seemed. That is what IMMEDIATELY came to my mind. The giggles suddenly stopped, one girls gasped so quickly and spontaneously she almost choked on it. They looked at each other, tried to regain their composure, mumbled something inaudible and tripped as they walked away. Would it affect our friendship; i wanted to ask again..
but the answer was clear. And for a second i felt as uncomfortable as i would have felt had i been a child and told i could not play because i was Egyptian.
What it is about the way they did it that pronounced such final rejection i do not know...perhaps it was the uncertainty, no , the sort of 'obligation' with which they did it..
it was not that they didn't want to be friends with me, it was the realization that they 'couldn't' be. True, we later overcame it, and things were fine when we played (they were after all 9 and 10), but still there was that moment of realization, almost revealing a kind of treachery they could not reconcile themselves to.. or a million questions and phrases that repeated themselves in their minds, so that such YOUNG faces were immediately creased with concerns, and a burden, i would not have imagined possible at that age. and the contrast of such a concern or burden to the giggles that preluded them was profound.

It's a different experience for us altogether. H, who was lebanese later told me.
When the kids found out Mark 'doesn't fast', and told him he couldn't play, when they teased him, and even though it was short-lived, it echoed and rippled alot deeper with all of us. Everything they said and did brought back painful memories for all of us.. we all had some of these experiences when we were young.. and we lost so much more than a game or two on account of it.
When they teased him, it put us all at great unease, but more importantly it hurt like hell..
it wasn't that they were kids and we were adults, it was that we were catapulted into the world of insecurity, distrust, fear, bombs, separation , we had hoped to have climbed out of. All our childhood fears and experiences threatened to return.
it's a constant reminder of how fragile the situation is... of how much work there is to be done.
it's very different for us ya Alia.. it's not just about working with kids..


This time we made worry dolls. In Guatemala it is said that, the Mayans believe that if you tell a worry doll ur worries, and place it under ur pillow the worry people come at night and take them away. The day before, we gathered 'round, i told the story, and explained how we would make the dolls using match-sticks.
'You talk to dolls?' One girl asked me with an expression of exaggerated skepticism and disbelief..
'yup' i admitted -- looks were exchanged , eye-balls rolled, lips curled, and laps slapped as some boys cracked up.
'Do you pray to the dolls?!' one little wrapped girl asked -- her expression was less skeptical and more hopeful - more like - 'please don't tell me we can't work together..'
'No , i talk, i don't' pray..'
i tried in a futile attempt to explain how sometimes talking about a problem makes it go away in here -- gesturing towards my chest, where problems at times, pile up.
On the other hand, i pulled out my trusty worry note book, where my little worry dolls were pasted.. i explained you could also 'write' ur worries.. There was less skepticism, more interest at the prospect of writing the worries -- good,i thought.. maybe i'll still have some of them tom.
Still however, there were no signs of appreciation towards my worry dolls.

The next day, almost all of them showed up; more notably, was a significant level of excitement towards the making of the dolls.
Perhaps it seemed fun.
As tedious as the whole process was however (imagine breaking matchsticks into arms and leggs, wrapping them in thread and yarn to make clothes, and cutting pieces of cloth to clothe them) a strange silence reigned over the playground as the kids were immersed in a (short lived) deep concentration as they perfected their worry dolls. The experience was very similar with the notorious all boy cast (so named 'kata2eb el 3azab) that i worked with the next week.

Jad, ( a five year old) was even making several worry dolls and hiding them - at the end of the day we found he had glued them to a piece of paper and then many others producing a replica of my notebook.. not only on his own, but in secret. He would write his bedtime stories for the worry dolls to come to life to.

We did not only have worry dolls; the Guatemalan ones had painted sand on their matchstick heads as hair. We had long blond haired ones, long black braided locks on others; we had a king with a crown, a clown, some wore scarves, others waistcoats, some held umbrellas, and some held truce flags.. the creativity with such tiny structures was incredible..
Then was time to pack and leave..

The questions.
How do you speak to them.. what time exactly .. was their a way you asked for things.. would they not break under the pillow? was it a pinnochio sort of phenomena? Do they need to be warm in the winter; can i name them?

And then she came through. Older than most of the others, Hajjar always seemed a little shy at showing too much excitement at what she should have outgrown.
Tightly wrapped, Hajjar approached amongst the crowd.. the crowd needed knots, more glue the scissors, a name, an answer...
she stood in the middle of all of them and asked a question in her normal tone of voice.. not bothering to raise it over the din. Particularly interested in what she had to say, and fearing she might change her mind, i reached for her hand, and tried to pull her closely.. she resisted, and kept asking the same question over and over.. head tilted slightly downwards, eyes looking up, and speaking softly.
At this i tried to come closer myself..
(Are they solved)
She looked up at me which such concentration keda.. i can't say 3asham, because it was just too intense a look, as if she not only wanted to hear the answer, bas see it in my face. She squinted, her look challenging, shy, and yet there was something almost desperate about it.
But what was i to say..
There was little scope to explain anything in such a din, and i had already learnt better than to sugar cream or magic wand anything..
I once again brought my hand to my upper chest and gestured there..
The gestures i made as if to say that the vanished in here.. where the burden accumulates the most..
She nodded the disappointment clear and unmistakable. She attempted a meek smile at me, but could not even keep it for as long as it took her to turn her head and walk away, her neck craned, shoulders slumped, and her face clad with a disappointment i would have never wished to have seen; nor brought about.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Gaana El Eid...

I seem to forever have memories of ayam el eid, or at least awel yom el eid, being as sunny as it was today. Sunny, with fluffy white clouds, an unarguably bright day - as if the day is a product of collective whims and expectations. It carries the promise, or perhaps the fulfillment of a promise, that no matter what, el eid eid..

You wake up; Ramadan's just packed and left, taking most of the golden sticky, and the next morning with all that is ka7k and crumbly, gaanna el eid e we ganna el eid..
With it, the bright mornings, the masses of prim and crisply dressed children, the carefully combed hair, and the general bahga.
Perhaps it is the bahga of a holiday, or one of days of preparations , buying 'new' clothes, 'new' shoes.. even those that suffer to make ends meet, seem to insist on making something meet somewhere.. something must be new.

And so today was bright.. breakfast with Nanna and cousins was cheery, lunch with the uncles and aunts, was bubbly..
'El eid 7elw ya lulu!' was how my aunt launched the day with her phone call. Much in line with her announcement, people were in a good mood, the air was light, and i continued to shout 'wenta(y) tayeb(ba)' at strangers all day long :)

Where is the phenomena? This one that changes the weather, lifts the mood, and makes people so kind?
It is no where but inside our heads and hearts; a collective decision that it is a special day, and is to be celebrated...

At night, i went to a wust el balad concert with friends. It is not their music that i enjoy as it is the atmosphere they create. The open air river hall at Sawi was as full as it ever could be. Or at least, that's what i told myself every other minute, and as the minutes progressed, people would pile up in the ares you would least expect to see them. Literaly over you and under you, beside you and all around you, and as far , high and low as your eye could see. People people people. And yes, there seemed to be the crispness of the new clothes. Or at least i wished to see it as such. The ripples of excitement were so powerful this time you could barely tell if they were rippling from the audience to the stage or vice verca.. everyone was jumping up and down and screaming at the top of their lungs, that if it wasn't exhilarating; it was actually alarming.

My favorite eid experience however, was when i found 'el welad'.
You know, the ones of 'aho geyh ya welad' and '2olu ma3aya 2olu... 2OLU', Yes, the 'heyyh heyyyh heyyyyyh' ones..
I very gleefully came across them.

I went for a stroll down el sayedda zeinab with amito, in search of maragee7 el eid. Or 'el eid' as my dad refers to them. For my parents the maragee7 more than anything represented the 'phenomena', so much so that for dad, this was ' el eid'; thus perhaps kanu beyru7u el eid, rather than wake up and 'find it' or 'not find it' as i have had experienced.

So yes, i went in search of more eids.
Through zawareeb we el zawa2ee2 we strolled, and it was as romantic as any nostalgic memory of Egypt could be..
the weather was slightly breezy; the music came loud and alive from some shops, and trickled through the unshankled sheeshs of the balconys of other houses...
the roads were uneven, wet, dark, and radiated a strange sense of security and warmth. The shops displayed a wide range of toys, all hanging off laundry ropes that stretched from one side of the kiosk to the other..
Eshey 3arayes, we eshey cars...20 years older than the last time these objects held my undivided attention and affection, i still yearned for the funny assortments with wide eyes, and itching palms.

And then they appeared..
The sound of wooden wheels stumbling over the uneven cement, and through the narrow alleys, echoed by the sound of giggles, shrieks, shouts and the collective colorful sounds of excited children. A rickety old cart, pulled by a donkey; it's driver sitting, one leg lifted so that it supported one elbow, and the other dangling from the cart. The cart was PACKED with kids. Packed. There were tens of them, on a space that could have possibly adequately been filled by ten kids. I have no idea how they fit on it, but you were at once struck by their multitude;

3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal 3eyal..

It seemed as if they were piled untop of each other, and miraculously bound together so that they remained ON the cart (rather than under it) by some invisible rope.The driver whipped the donkey rhythmically with his reigns; a kind plump face framed with a dark heavy beard, that seemed to encompass his head fully; clad in a brownish galabeyya.

With every little whip he would shout over the tiny shrieks with;
and the children would instantly (attempts at simultaneity) shreik 'HEYYYYYYYYYYHHHHH'

the fact that they didn't all hear him at the same time, made some heyyh's longer than others, but all shrieked with equal excitement and tickled pleasure; a chaotic, frantic, colorful expression of glee; HEYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYH!

And so the rickety thing trudged through the alleys and puddles, the driver quite neutrally pulling it through with the periodic '2olu heyyh'
and the children all over each other, the cart and the place, mouths wide open (missing the occasional tooth), hands full with coloful objects, in colorful little dresses and shiny black 2ossas,and properly dressed hair we bey2olu 'heyyyyyyyh'..

An image i am unlikely to let fade anytime soon. We adi el eid :) Huwwa gey shwaya wana ro7tellu shwaya.
All came to life as even Hambolla downtown, we drinkies in Zamalek are back in action with their array of trickily drinks back in their vatrinas, and empty cartons piled untop of each other indicating a busy day after some hibernation..
The adjacent toy stores seem to enjoy an equal burst of action as they are frequented by the young and toothless which as much fervor and perhaps even more purchase power.

Doors open with smiling faces, people are uncharacteristically patient, the day is alive, the weather is warm, the food was plentiful (perhaps even a little more), and very tasty, the ka7k abundant, the swings in full action and the festivities running..

You will tell me i romanticize.
I will tell you, Akh..
i am home.

Eid Saeed..

Saturday, October 07, 2006

رحنا وجينا

كلمات بديع خيرى ; ألحان سيد درويش

ســــالمة يا ســـلامة رحنا وجينا بالسلامة
صفر يا وابور واربط عندك نزلنــــى فى البــــــلد دى
بلا أمـــــيركا بلا أوربـــــــا مافى شئ أحسن من بلدى
دى المركب اللى بتجيــــــب احســن من اللى بتــــودى

يا اسطى بشندى
سـالمة يا سلامة

سـلطة ما سلطة كله مكسب حوشــــنا مــال وجيــــــنا
شفنا الحرب وشفتا الضرب وشــــفنا الديناميت بعنــينا
ربك واحـــد عمرك واحــد ادى احنا رحـــنا وجيــــنا

ايه خس عليــنا
سالمة يا سلامة

صلاة النيى ع الشخص منا فرصـــة ميه بلا قافيــــــة
اللى ف جـــيبه يفنجــــر به والبركة فى العين والعافية
ح تـــاخد ايه م الدنيــا غيـر الستر يا شيخ خليها ماشـية

دنيـــا فانيــــــة
سالمة يا سلامة

دى الغربـــــــة ياما بتــــــــــورى بتخــــــلى الصــــنايعى بيـــرطن
مطـــــرح ما يـــروح المصــــرى برضــه طـــول عمــره ذو تفنــن
وحيـــــــاة ربنـــــــــا المعبـــــــود وى آر فرى جود ياسطى محمود

قــدها وقــدود
سالمة ياسلامة