Sunday, 17 October 2010

Kifak inta?

The hot Iberian sun shines directly in my face, and I walk around squinting my eyes. I look at my phone to check the's only 11am. I take it as a "welcome back" and I do nothing to stop the change in my facial expressions from extreme fatigue and squinting into happiness. I'm not a dreamer but when I dream, I dream of living in Spain.
The Basque
This trip would mark my third to the Iberian Peninsula. The first time, my family and I walked around Madrid, a visit I only remember through photographs of me running around chasing pigeons, throwing my arms up in the air or clutched in my father's arms with a large Rain Man poster above us or an El Corte Inglés sign in the background. More than twenty years later, I find myself scrambling to find the meeting place and stop in front of the exact same El Corte Inglés sign and attempt to recreate the photograph I remember vividly.

Replace the "Sex and the City 2" poster with "Rain Man" circa 1988 - Madrid

El Corte Inglés - Madrid

The second trip was, and will always be, the only family trip I have ever enjoyed. With my father acting as a historical tour guide, we exhausted our feet touring all of Andalusia. If there's something you need to do before you die, it is visiting Andalusia.

The Basque

My most recent trip included stops in Madrid, the Basque, and Barcelona. Offering independence to the latter two? Not on the agenda. But attempting to learn about their struggle/ideals definitely was.

The Basque

I arrive on July 11th, the date of the World Cup final (Spain vs Netherlands). I am set to go to the Basque country on the same day and understand how disrespectful a celebration of a Spanish victory would be to my hosts. A quiet celebration takes place, despite the Netherlands always being my number one team (Italy #2 - no one looks that good not scoring goals, Spain #3), when in Spain, cheer for the Spaniards!

Surprisingly, the Basque was filled with sameness. The men and women had similar hair cuts, piercings and style. Even the children had pseudo mullets. The biggest difficulty, alongside the enormous amount of rainy days, was language. No one spoke English, or French, and they had a certain dégoût for speaking Spanish (the ones I met anyway). I do not speak Spanish, but if spoken to, I can understand most of what is being said. The Basque people speak euskara, and unfortunately, it is difficult attempting to make up anything they said - especially in a small town. It's even more surprising that I managed to have an hour long conversation with a 70-year old coffee shop owner about the history of the town and about Moshe Dayan. Luckily, he had visual aids to help present his point, including putting his palm over his eye.

Donostia-San Sebastián

The Basque country is a beautiful place: the greenery that spread all over the mountains overlooking the beach in Donostia-San Sebastián, the hospitality of the people, and the fact that they are a wonderfully united community. Stylish teenagers, the ones you categorize into people who only seem to care about popularity, clothes, and "existentialism" were very aware of the Basque struggle and, better yet, active within community events. This was a shock, especially after coming from such a politicized place like the West Bank where many teenagers and twenty something steered away from politics and focused mostly on friends and music.


Once my time in the Basque is over, I take a trip to Barcelona for a few days before having to take my flight to Jordania from Madrid. Unfortunately, I only managed to enjoy being care free in Barcelona for a few hours because as we sat listening to Fairuz at the Arc de Triomphe, my bag, containing too many passports and id cards, got stolen. The moment I felt Palestinian (stateless) was when I had to walk into the Canadian consulate without a single piece of identification proving my citizenship and figure out how I can convince them I am Canadian in order for me to get a passport. Luckily, I found a scanned copy of my passport in my google docs (saviour) and I had my application sped up from 24-48 hours to 6 hours due to the urgent nature of the request. I managed to enjoy the rest of the day in Barcelona on foot checking out Gaudí's architecture and getting lost with my two [fantastic] companions.

I have never lost my wallet, credit card, money, or even a metro pass, or gotten anything stolen except a bag in Montreal that contained only my ipod which was taken when our rental car was broken into by some separatists (note: do not drive an Ontario license plate car in some areas of Montreal). It was not only shocking and upsetting to have all these belongings stolen and be left with nothing in a foreign country.
On my flight to Jordania the idea of this adventure coming to a close began to hit me, although I had almost a month and a half left. My plan A (what I would upon my return) failed and I had no plan B or C, but I did not regret a minute of this trip. I had met too many wonderful people, experienced a multitude of cultures, had a fatwa issued against me (Nablus), got held up for too many hours at checkpoints, and dipped my feet in many parts of the Mediterranean sea, amongst other things. But the idea or guilt of uncertainty starts to consume you, especially when you're asked in emails from friends "when are you coming back? and what's your plan?" After 1 year or so of not planning, it's biting me in the ass, I guess.

Sunday, 3 October 2010


Being a last minute person is organizing a trip to Lebanon the night before boarding a flight to Beirut. But I wasn't the person who organized this trip. I had to fly out to Spain from Jordan so the last minute planning of the Lebanon trip meant it was going to be a short stay and I was determined to make the most out of it.
Our flight was shorter than the drive to the airport and upon arrival, we are greeted by a Lebanese woman who defines the sentence "your typical idea of..." She comes bearing 8 inch stilettos (it's 11am), a pearl tie (yes, pearl), long, straight, jet black hair, and, wait for it...a diamond in her tooth. Mish Mish, our driver, is a young woman from Jounieh who greeted us with "hi, keefkom, ca va?" but spoke no French, and no English. I'm in love with the city and I just arrived!
On the road, billboards and posters commemorating Ayatollah Fadlallah lined the streets. Mish Mish drives us to our hotel, which, unknown to us, is in the Rawsheh area (right on the beach). We were ecstatic, until the receptionist tells us that it's actually the one in Al-Hamra (downtown, and equally as fantastic). Our driver becomes enraged and begins to curse and yell in the car. She hates driving in Al-Hamra's traffic. As we drive, I spot a friend I met in Cairo who lives in the US walking down the streets. She squeezes into the car with us and states the obvious: our driver is lost, and has been for over an hour. We finally get to the hotel and get rid of our ill mouthed driver, who expects us to use her services again.
Al-Hamra is bursting with energy, and Beirut's streets are filled with scars of the war and renovated Ottoman buildings. The food is fantastic, the people are lively, and the place is flooded with contradictions. I could walk on the beautiful streets and the corniche for hours, hours I unfortunately, did not have.
For years I've been looking forward to pay Beirut a visit, and I vowed I would not leave before I visited the Shatila camp. My friend provided us with a contact who was able to take us in the camp. I've had the opportunity to visit a number of refugee camps, but Shatila was one of the saddest ones I've been too. The electrical wires dangerously hang from the homes and destroyed buildings (such as the old PLO offices) are a constant reminder of the war.
Shatila camp
The mass graves of the victims of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre (only photo I could get)

At night, we head to rue Solidaire and watch Spain beat Germany to clinch a spot in the World Cup finals and realize, we'll be in Spain for that game.

The next day we jump into a cab with a driver we met the night before. He offered to accommodate our brief schedule and take us to Jeita, Jbeil (Byblos) and Harissa for $150USD, after bargaining. Our first stop is the Jeita grotto, the magnificent crystallized limestone caves. Photography was prohibited because it supposedly damages the caves, although the entire park is sponsored by Kodak. Ironic? The Arab world is filled with irony. And contradictions. If you're ever in Lebanon, Jeita is a must-see.
View from the top of Harissa
The second stop was Harissa, home to the enormous status of the virgin Mary on the very top of the mountain. The cold breeze was a nice change to the humidity that filled the Beirut air. It's crazy how much Harissa resembles Haifa, and the journey to the top of the mountain via téléphérique only brought back memories of climbing Haifa's many stairs during shabbatt.


Our third and final stop was in Byblos, a city I've wanted to visit for a long time. I felt like I was teleported back to the old city of Akka as the two looked very much alike. After eating fish and buying a few old postcards (exactly as I did in Akka), we returned to Beirut.

I am an energetic person, be it on vacation or during regular days of life. I attempt to cover as much as possible in the short periods of time I have. My brief stay in Lebanon could not be fulfilled without a stop to the ocean where we found ourselves the only women sans boob jobs or nose jobs. I almost wanted to buy those Vicks strips to put on top of my nose and pretend I had one (kidding!). After gaining a few more freckles, I squeezed in a visit to one of Beirut's many bookshops where I had to remember that I was only allocated 23kg.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Guide to being [really] Arab: Kasak Ya Watan, Duraid Lahham

I thought I'd share with you one of my favourite videos, an absolutely fantastic satire on the state of the Arab world. The character Ghawar is speaking to his father, a martyr, updating him on the Arab world. At first, Ghawar tells his father what he wants to hear (the region has become one country). He tells him that he had breakfast in Baghdad, dinner in Khartoum and is speaking to him from Abu Dhabi). He continues, sarcastically, with the PanArab idea, and finally, admits to the realities of the situation.
*The clip is in Arabic