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Jun 8, 2012 - travelogue    2 Comments

A long time ago, in a place far away

My favoritist spot on earth (next to in front of the Kabah :))

Allahumma ansarhum an adh-dhalameen.

Salawat… please say Fatiha for all the Shuhada.

Jumah Mubarak
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Damascus, What Are You Doing to Me?
1
My voice rings out, this time, from Damascus
It rings out from the house of my mother and father
In Sham. The geography of my body changes.
The cells of my blood become green.
My alphabet is green.
In Sham. A new mouth emerges for my mouth
A new voice emerges for my voice
And my fingers
Become a tribe

2
I return to Damascus
Riding on the backs of clouds
Riding the two most beautiful horses in the world
The horse of passion.
The horse of poetry.
I return after sixty years
To search for my umbilical cord,
For the Damascene barber who circumcised me,
For the midwife who tossed me in the basin under the bed
And received a gold lira from my father,
She left our house
On that day in March of 1923
Her hands stained with the blood of the poem…

3
I return to the womb in which I was formed . . .
To the first book I read in it . . .
To the first woman who taught me
The geography of love . . .
And the geography of women . . .

4
I return
After my limbs have been strewn across all the continents
And my cough has been scattered in all the hotels
After my mother’s sheets scented with laurel soap
I have found no other bed to sleep on . . .
And after the “bride” of oil and thyme
That she would roll up for me
No longer does any other “bride” in the world please me
And after the quince jam she would make with her own hands
I am no longer enthusiastic about breakfast in the morning
And after the blackberry drink that she would make
No other wine intoxicates me . . .

5
I enter the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque
And greet everyone in it
Corner to . . . corner
Tile to . . . tile
Dove to . . . dove
I wander in the gardens of Kufi script
And pluck beautiful flowers of God’s words
And hear with my eye the voice of the mosaics
And the music of agate prayer beads
A state of revelation and rapture overtakes me,
So I climb the steps of the first minaret that encounters me
Calling:
“Come to the jasmine”
“Come to the jasmine”

6
Returning to you
Stained by the rains of my longing
Returning to fill my pockets
With nuts, green plums, and green almonds
Returning to my oyster shell
Returning to my birth bed
For the fountains of Versailles
Are no compensation for the Fountain Café
And Les Halles in Paris
Is no compensation for the Friday market
And Buckingham Palace in London
Is no compensation for Azem Palace
And the pigeons of San Marco in Venice
Are no more blessed than the doves in the Umayyad Mosque
And Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalides
Is no more glorious than the tomb of Salah al-Din Al-Ayyubi…

7
I wander in the narrow alleys of Damascus.
Behind the windows, honeyed eyes awake
And greet me . . .
The stars wear their gold bracelets
And greet me
And the pigeons alight from their towers
And greet me
And the clean Shami cats come out
Who were born with us . . .
Grew up with us . . .
And married with us . . .
To greet me . . .

8
I immerse myself in the Buzurriya Souq
Set a sail in a cloud of spices
Clouds of cloves
And cinnamon . . .
And camomile . . .
I perform ablutions in rose water once.
And in the water of passion many times . . .
And I forget—while in the Souq al-‘Attarine—
All the concoctions of Nina Ricci . . .
And Coco Chanel . . .
What are you doing to me Damascus?
How have you changed my culture? My aesthetic taste?
For I have been made to forget the ringing of cups of licorice
The piano concerto of Rachmaninoff . . .
How do the gardens of Sham transform me?
For I have become the first conductor in the world
That leads an orchestra from a willow tree!!

9
I have come to you . . .
From the history of the Damascene rose
That condenses the history of perfume . . .
From the memory of al-Mutanabbi
That condenses the history of poetry . . .
I have come to you . . .
From the blossoms of bitter orange . . .
And the dahlia . . .
And the narcissus . . .
And the “nice boy” . . .
That first taught me drawing . . .
I have come to you . . .
From the laughter of Shami women
That first taught me music . . .
And the beginning of adolesence
From the spouts of our alley
That first taught me crying
And from my mother’s prayer rug
That first taught me
The path to God . . .

10
I open the drawers of memory
One . . . then another
I remember my father . . .
Coming out of his workshop on Mu’awiya Alley
I remember the horse-drawn carts . . .
And the sellers of prickly pears . . .
And the cafés of al-Rubwa
That nearly—after five flasks of ‘araq—
Fall into the river
I remember the colored towels
As they dance on the door of Hammam al-Khayyatin
As if they were celebrating their national holiday.
I remember the Damascene houses
With their copper doorknobs
And their ceilings decorated with glazed tiles
And their interior courtyards
That remind you of descriptions of heaven . . .

11
The Damascene House
Is beyond the architectural text
The design of our homes . . .
Is based on an emotional foundation
For every house leans . . . on the hip of another
And every balcony . . .
Extends its hand to another facing it
Damascene houses are loving houses . . .
They greet one another in the morning . . .
And exchange visits . . .
Secretly—at night . . .

12
When I was a diplomat in Britain
Thirty years ago
My mother would send letters at the beginning of Spring
Inside each letter . . .
A bundle of tarragon . . .
And when the English suspected my letters
They took them to the laboratory
And turned them over to Scotland Yard
And explosives experts.
And when they grew weary of me . . . and my tarragon
They would ask: Tell us, by god . . .
What is the name of this magical herb that has made us dizzy?
Is it a talisman?
Medicine?
A secret code?
What is it called in English?
I said to them: It’s difficult for me to explain…
For tarragon is a language that only the gardens of Sham speak
It is our sacred herb . . .
Our perfumed eloquence
And if your great poet Shakespeare had known of tarragon
His plays would have been better . . .
In brief . . .
My mother is a wonderful woman . . . she loves me greatly . . .
And whenever she missed me
She would send me a bunch of tarragon . . .
Because for her, tarragon is the emotional equivalent
To the words: my darling . . .
And when the English didn’t understand one word of my poetic argument . . .
They gave me back my tarragon and closed the investigation . . .

13
From Khan Asad Basha
Abu Khalil al-Qabbani emerges . . .
In his damask robe . . .
And his brocaded turban . . .
And his eyes haunted with questions . . .
Like Hamlet’s
He attempts to present an avant-garde play
But they demand Karagoz’s tent . . .
He tries to present a text from Shakespeare
They ask him about the news of al-Zir . . .
He tries to find a single female voice
To sing with him . . .
“Oh That of Sham”
They load up their Ottoman rifles,
And fire into every rose tree
That sings professionally . . .
He tries to find a single woman
To repeat after him:
“Oh bird of birds, oh dove”
They unsheathe their knives
And slaughter all the descendents of doves . . .
And all the descendents of women . . .
After a hundred years . . .
Damascus apologized to Abu Khalil al-Qabbani
And they erected a magnificent theater in his name.

14
I put on the jubbah of Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-Arabi
I descend from the peak of Mt. Qassiun
Carrying for the children of the city . . .
Peaches
Pomegranates
And sesame halawa . . .
And for its women . . .
Necklaces of turquoise . . .
And poems of love . . .
I enter . . .
A long tunnel of sparrows
Gillyflowers . . .
Hibiscus . . .
Clustered jasmine . . .
And I enter the questions of perfume . . .
And my schoolbag is lost from me
And the copper lunch case . . .
In which I used to carry my food . . .
And the blue beads
That my mother used to hang on my chest
So People of Sham
He among you who finds me . . .
let him return me to Umm Mu’ataz
And God’s reward will be his
I am your green sparrow . . . People of Sham
So he among you who finds me . . .
let him feed me a grain of wheat . . .
I am your Damascene rose . . . People of Sham
So he among you who finds me . . .
let him place me in the first vase . . .
I am your mad poet . . . People of Sham
So he among you who sees me . . .
let him take a souvenir photograph of me
Before I recover from my enchanting insanity . . .
I am your fugitive moon . . . People of Sham
So he among you who sees me . . .
Let him donate to me a bed . . . and a wool blanket . . .
Because I haven’t slept for centuries

– Nizar Qabbani

Sep 8, 2011 - travelogue    3 Comments

DC

Salams,

So you guys remember that blog post talking about the best place for Muslims to live in the US? I think I found it!! It’s the DC area. I just visited this past weekend. I thought it was Muslim friendly in that so many Muslims live there and there were so many amenities. We went to the mall and saw at least a dozen Hijabi sisters, no joke! It was like Eid or something ;) There are quite a few Halal restaurants to choose from and there are so many Mosques and Muslim organizations. They have many Islamic programs going on for kids, students, sisters, adults. Plus being the DC area I’d assume there are a lot of gov’t related jobs. They weather is pretty moderate, they have seasons but not as bad snowstorms as us.

A lot of ppl who used to live up here have moved down to that area. I know personally at least 7 or 8 couples and 3 or 4 families just from up here! There seem to be a lot of young Muslim professionals, and young couples just starting families. Another thing is that ppl are used to Muslims around and don’t stare. A friend said their county is the most educated in the nation with the average education being a Masters degree! Where I was seemed mostly suburban, but the whole area is quite big and includes cities like Baltimore and Washington DC and cities in VA. It wasn’t as diverse as I thought it would be where I was but seemed diverse enough.

One problem is that they said it was expensive to live there. Rent is almost double what it is here. I also didn’t see a “Muslim area” where there were stores that sold food, clothes, books and things like there are in NYC and Chicago. There were a few that were very spread out. Traffic apparently is horrible and the average commute is pretty long because no one lives in the cities itself. I also didn’t like how focused on politics everyone was, but its probably part and parcel of living in the Capitol!!

I’ve been to other parts of the DC area over the years. I remember some MYNA conventions down there, I remember going down during the 90s for various protests in front of the white house. I went down with my family when I was like 14 and we saw the white house for the first time and various museums. I also went to one ISNA somewhere near the Baltimore harbor where we went out to dinner a few times which was really nice. I also went into downtown DC with a Malaysian sister once and we stayed at the Malaysian embassy which was a lot of fun! And I did go down there for a work trip one year.

I had a nice time though all in all and hope to visit again sometime!

Apr 14, 2011 - travelogue    8 Comments

Life in Texas

Life in rural Texas has been interesting so far. In front of our house there are some shady trees and a long driveway that fronts a main Texas highway route. Sometimes I sit on the porch while the kids play on their bikes and watch the cars drive by. I guess that is a really Texan thing to do :) There are mostly older people that live around here and have done so for generations. Not much seems to change. It’s really a very peaceful existence.

Everything here is rather spread out though so there is no shortage of SUVs. We’ve driven to a few places so far, including the local Wal-mart at least 3 times a week!

There’s a Mosque very close to us but we’ve been so busy with the kids and the house that we haven’t had time to go for more than Jumah and a few classes. Sad, cuz I always thought I’d try to go to every prayer including Fajr since the weather is so nice and it’s only a hop, skip and a jump away!

I thought the Mosque would be more active but there’s not much going on in terms of social activities or programs. No one wants to help out or get involved too much. Most people seem to be here only on a temporary basis until they can move to Dallas or some other big city.  Some marry non-Muslims and are busy and not so involved with the Muslim community. Some of their kids come to the Mosque but they are pretty obviously lost. Alhamdulillah there is a little Islamic school here but most parents take their kids out after kindergarten looking for ‘more rigorous academics’ for their children. I guess that’s the story of Muslims in small town America.

At night the parking lot’s huge stadium lights get turned on and local Muslim kids show up to play cricket until 3am. Sometimes they bring their hookahs or try to do donuts or drag race in the parking lot. Guess there’s not much else to do and at least they’re doing something “wholesome” instead of going to clubs!

Nature here is really nice. Not quite tropical, but dry and has a beauty of its own. Especially the wide open land everywhere. So many beautiful different kinds of birds too that even start warbling at 2am. The weather is dry and warm. Hot in the middle of the day but so very nice in the evenings and mornings. We also experienced our first Texan rainstorm which was very scary, especially when hail started coming down! Sometimes there’s a nice breeze during the day. I kind of like life here except that I miss people. Like having friends, going out to restaurants, shopping (besides walmart!) or the movies. And the open hostility from strangers is kind of scary. We went with the kids to an arts and crafts fair in town and as soon as we got out of the car we got stares and glaring. I doubt they have ever seen a Muslim in their life except for on TV with those scenes of terrorism or Afghanistan etc. But instead of curiosity or friendliness there’s a lot of hatred. Guess we really are in Bush country. :(

Allrightey, so there’s a Texan update from me y’all! c u soon
ws

 

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