Red Lips & Battlefields

Archive for the category “Battlefields”

Letter to Damascus


The irony of human suffering is that it embeds a zest for life in its victims that cannot be bought, borrowed, nor sold by those who are graciously blessed. As I listen to stories of Damascus, a city I never knew nor had the fortune to love, I marvel at the ability of even its most neglected citizens to raise it up again by conjuring memories of sunny horizons, promising youth, Arabic music, and a love of freedom. The dark and brooding street corners are brought back to life by the scent of fresh bread and hummus, as children dream lost treasures found again.

Today, O sorrowful Damascus, your open wounds are written into news clippings of obituaries mourning your lost and missing children. Vibrantly coloured glass lanterns are shattered, and the merciless bombs triumph over the cheerful derbekkeh. Yet, within a heartbroken conversation between two exhausted refugees sharing a stale loaf of bread, you are brought back to life in all your glory. Neither a sip of mint tea sipped nor a puff of argileh smoked is orphaned of its love for you.

As for us, who never knew you nor reaped the suffering of love for you: we too will remember. For every breath of fresh air that you crave, we will breathe Damascus; and every prayer stolen from the lips of your ancient Churches and Mosques will be pronounced until you are returned.

If only our naïve promises meant much.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Psalm 1:4

MD 7/01/2015


The fireplace flickers with the last oak ember, and all would seem peaceful to the silent onlooker who cannot hear the roar of a wounded Jerusalem in my soul. The light is dim and the only sound is the weak hum of the refrigerator, but the bright skyline of a busy Dubai midnight resolutely conjures itself against my drooping eyelids. I cannot hope for sleep, with so many airplanes zooming through the avenues of my memories of the Arabian Peninsula.

Soft pillows are never soft enough and so softer ones are bought until pillows pile up across the surface of the entire bed. As I sink into them, I cannot help but remember how much softer it was to rest against the dunes of the Sahara in the evening desert breeze.

The Montreal snow plays a rap-tap-tap against the windowpanes and I am suddenly brought back to Abu-Dhabi rains that flooded the city and forced me to swim through a pond to get to my second grade classroom. I giggle; what fun!

There would be greater floods after that, cyclones that sweep through the nation that most vibrantly colored my youth and leave it a skeleton of what it once was: my precious Muscat. She would soon rise again.

And as I rise with the first glimpse of the morning sun and yawn through the frustration of yet another sleepless evening, I take a mental stroll through an autumnal summer snow and smile at passing ducks, squirrels, and camels. I tend to rest under palm trees, but sometimes choose a pine. My favorite is the weeping willow, but I hardly ever find one amongst the miles of olive groves. For every tree uprooted in Ramallah, I have planted one within myself, and so conditioned spring to visit me as often as Doha’s visionaries raise cities from dust.

Scorching desert temperatures are woven into the fabric of my mind alongside freezing North American wonderlands and their sleepy winter suns. I turn the coffee brewer on and patiently wait for my dose of fair trade caffeine. The only sound is the light rapping of the elixir of life against a porcelain cup, and the thundering thoughts of a third culture woman.

MD 6/01/2015

An Indulgence of Thought

Most Christmas Eve soliloquys dance through memories of lost loves along the rhythm of falling snow, likely with the writer cushioned on a comfortable couch beside a roaring fireplace. Mine is hardly that. I am happily enjoying a nice Christmas in a warm country that offers no promises of rain, and spending my day by the poolside is hardly unfortunate. Lost loves definitely still surface here, but the memory is hardly pressing, especially as I am currently very happily in love.

It is an odd phenomenon that holidays are expected to bring back hard feelings. In reality, it is all just a matter of choice. Perhaps we enjoy dwelling on past memories and find the practice more comfortable than enjoying the moment. This holiday season, although I am conditioned to reflect upon my past, I am reluctant to dwell on its misfortunes as I see the people around me struggling so much to make ends meet, to support their families, and to survive. Very few have the privilege of peacefully typing away at a MacBook after spending the evening with a wonderful family. I do recognize, however, with guilt, that I tend to reflect on past memories too often and too much although I am aware of my blessings. I wonder if this warrants an apology.

As I spent the day tanning by the poolside, I noticed how quickly I was flooded by “what ifs,” “buts,” and “maybes”. I now carry the Western tradition of waltzing with Scrooge, even as I take my moment to be grateful; there is incredible joy and debilitating sorrow in Christmas. What for? I’ve tried so hard, for so long, to avoid absorbing the negative culture of complaint, excessive desire and abundant consumerism; but the effort has been to no great avail. I realize now that there is no real way of avoiding the waltz, as I will dig into the past whether I want to or not. Maybe it’s worth the indulgence.

I used to think that I owed my visits to the past to my desire for reminiscence; however, I have come to the realization that, on a slightly significant level, I may enjoy reliving the pain. Perhaps we all do. In our crystallized, politically friendly, organized, sanitized, and neat lives, that may simply be a result of our need to feel something powerful on this day. Perhaps it makes us feel more human.

Achieving that sense of humanity, especially when you are not facing any serious adversities, is often dependent on a self-prescribed bombardment of thought. This is a necessary but dangerous activity. On some level, we all know that, but we indulge in it anyway with the conviction that a lack of deep reflection is even more dangerous. So, instead of spending some time in Christmas present, we call eagerly upon ghosts of Christmases past. It is such an odd, and very human, phenomenon. We search so fervently for all the knots to be neatly tied, so that we can organize our lives into a chain of events in a perfectly seamless choreography.

Letting go of that ideal is probably the most difficult step to take. When we have been taught, since childhood, that every story has a very specific and all-encompassing ending, how are we to accept that our lives cannot suddenly “make sense” one day?

Most of my readers probably can’t even accept that this particular post doesn’t have a specific point. We are obsessed with thesis statements and conclusions.

Today, I don’t have either. All I have is a series of disrupted and unorganized thoughts, and questions with no particular answers. I am happy and fulfilled, and I am also heartbroken. It doesn’t have to make sense.

What a revelation.

MD 25/12/2014


Politically Correct Palestinian

  “But, why don’t you speak Hebrew?”

I smile,
“I don’t know what to tell you.”

   *Confused silence*

I was born under exploding skies
And soil thick with children’s blood,
The sound of bullets lulled me to sleep
As old men sang ice-cream truck tunes
In the streets
To sell their bread
                 “KAEEEEEEEKK Come get some Kaek!” (Sesame buns)

I am from a place where
Students are greeted by snipers
On their way to school
             Where they share bread,
             And express their dreams,
             And make jokes about
             Whose father was abducted last week
             By Israeli soldiers

My people laugh,
With the hope that the sound of laughter
Will surmount their sorrow;

            Misplaced, horrifying laughter.

I am of the land of aching olive trees
Which lean over, exposing their broken flesh
When farmers leave their homes for an hour
            And never return.

Outside, the tourists roam,
Singing hymns and carrying crosses,
Paying cold cash to partake in the “pilgrimage experience”
                                                       Of the “Holy land”

                                                Created by an apartheid state.    

They don’t know what goes on
            Behind closed doors.

 Our houses are made of brick
And streets are lined with cobblestone
That date back to the time Jesus walked
The Via Dolorosa.
               If you are silent enough,
              You can still hear His wail as He falls to the ground
                       Three times, and then again.
                       Still, the street soaks up His blood,
                       The blood of Palestinian children.

What should I tell you?

My ethnic identity is denied
            By the “civilized”

 My history is painted in the light of


I am of a forgotten people,
Massacred like sheep
           Their stories cremated and sprinkled
            On the outskirts of
            The collective human memory


My friends
Have the audacity to tell me
            That my people
                        Do not exist

I am your imaginary, exotic,
            Dark eyed, long-lashed brunette,
            Past-less, soulless “friend”
            With fictional Bedouin beauty.

               You don’t even know me.

So, what do you want me to tell you?

Should I tell you I am from Jerusalem,
Then sit here and smile at you,
            As you ignorantly tell me a colourful story
            About some fabricated “birthright” experience
            Your friend had last summer?

Should I plaster a crisp, clear, North-American definition
On my forehead
For your convenience?

                        “ Alien”                       

Should I purse my lips together
            When you tell me that all is fair in love and war
            As long as I support “God’s people”?

            You have seen nothing of love, nor war,
            And certainly nothing of God,
                         If you think it is “fair”
                         For children to be killed
                         Then be deemed “non-existent”. 

I am of Oud music pounding against the human heart
            I am of Argeeleh scent floating up to the heavens
I am of children striving against bat and bullet for their education
            I am of fathers giving blood
                        Mothers giving blood
                        Children giving blood

                        Christ giving blood.

 I am of Palestine

And I speak the language of my ancestors.

Not Hebrew. 

“I guess I just never learned it,” I respond.

“That’s too bad”

“ Right.”


MD 22/07/2014







I believe
That before grandeur there must be ruin;
My soul must stray
Along broken pavements,
And must reach the top of the tallest
And fall, like a pebble, or a feather,
Or a boulder
From the breadth of the strongest foundations
Before it can
Finally be whole.

I believe
That salvation is unattainable
Until I have plunged into the depths of my heart;
Yearned and loved,
Lost and grieved,
Left no corner undisturbed
In the prism of my mind;
Broken through it all,
Rebuilt it all,
And made a mess of the rhyme.

My mess is
My treasure.

I believe
That promises upon stars
Lack value until they are
Once broken,
And that the soil of the earth
Is death, and that life grows from death,
And that life and death are only brief
Moments in the human state of mind.
And lust, fear, envy, and hatred are, too,
States of mind.

But, not love.
Love is a state of

I believe that children know better;
That their bright eyes pity adults for
Their blindness;
And of either adult,
Woman stands stronger,
Because in the battles of love and war,
Her heart is the anchor
Of life.

I believe
In chaos, and the lack
Of pattern,
And the raw beauty of art
For art’s sake,
Or for the artist’s sake,
Or for the sake of nothing.
Craft has no guidelines,
Passion is not built upon an outline;
And the creative spirit rises
Not from linear time,
Nor from consistent truth,
But from ashes.

I believe that faith is weak
When preached by men who
Uphold it only in word,
But not in doing;
And that it will only spark
The human heart once again
After it has been completely forgotten
And sought, and found again,

And perhaps
Once more.

MD 13/04/2014

City of Jasmine

Dear Damascus,

I’ve been meaning to write to you for a while, but I don’t know what to say.
It’s been so long since I walked in your streets,
seen your aging structures,
inhaled the sweet smell of jasmine that fills your air.

I am, not only, deprived of going home,
I am also deprived of seeing home.

I look at your pictures on the news;
I don’t recognize you.
I don’t know a Damascus torn apart;
I only know the one that exists in my memories.

My favorite part of Damascus is the old city,
A 15 minute walk south from my home in mazra3a,
Past the once great castle of Damascus.
I would enter the old city through Sou2 El Hamadiyeh,

A 300 meter long stone bazar.
For thousands of years, people would buy and sell goods here.
I would shop around for Shishas, perfumes and Jewellery.
After walking through the Sou2 I would reach the Ummayed Mosque:

A momument to the, once great, Ummayed Khalifa.
The entire Muslim world was ruled by this quarter in Damascus for 100’s of years.
Now, the muslim world has forgotten our influence and abandoned our people.
After starring in utter aw at this magnificent structure, I continue east to Bab Toma.

Bab Toma is a predominantly Christian area north of the Jewish Quarter,
A maze of narrow 7arat and Arabic style homes,
Filled with Christians and Muslims who have been neighbours for generations.
Getting lost in Bab Toma was a wonderful experience.

It was 3 am, I was walking through the 7arat with my sister and her fiancé.
As we passed the closed shops of the silent streets,
We talked, laughed and lost track of all time and direction.
I was taking in all the history I could,

Touching the old stone walls and wooden doors.
I broke off a small piece of stone and put it in my pocket.

Hours later, still lost, we turned a corner and saw an open door.
Peaking inside we saw a man watching TV,
He spotted us and quickly approached.
We apologized for intruding but he insisted we come in for tea and ka3ik.

After reluctantly stepping into this strangers home
We saw a tree in the middle of the living room, extending through the ceiling.
Only the trunk of this thick, aging tree was visible from the ground floor.
The man said this is a lemon tree that crowns in him bedroom.

We asked why he keeps his house door open at 4am;
“Why close my door?
I grew up with everyone who lives here; if any Shami wants to come in
we will be more than happy to greet them” he replied.

Although i didn’t realize it at the time,
This is the moment I learned the true Arabic social fabric:
Having so much trust in the people around you
That you leave your door open at night without a worry.

I don’t remember the man’s name.
I didn’t ask him about his religion, he didn’t ask me.
Through his generous Arabic spirt I realized,
He is more brother to me than stranger.

Oh Damascus,
I long to walk your streets again.
Oh Damascus,
I long for your jasmine scented air.

However much I want to visit Damascus,
I dread the day I will arrive.
When I see the destruction that has fallen on you,
The images in my head will immediately become distorted.

This letter I am writing
Doesn’t have a recipient
Because the Damascus I know
Doesn’t exist anymore.

– Anonymous
March 20, 2014.

The Battlefield

An undercurrent of solitude breeds miracles of thought. There is something about quiet, dark rooms that allows me to extend so deeply into myself that I am often afraid to fall off some unknown metaphorical edge of consciousness. Deprived of the hustle-bustle of my often alarmingly loud life, I begin to recognize a bizarre layering in my mind that is often inaccessible to me: sandwiched memories, forgotten havens, pleasures and sorrows. In silence, I am finally able to glimpse the sharp corners, the crossroads, and the invisible road bumps that tend to throw me into cyclones of undecipherable emotion. There is a woman struggling with an identity battle in here. A woman without home or land, searching for a hint of who and what she is. It takes an immense amount of courage not to leap away from her. It would be easier to turn my head and walk away. It would be easier to fill the room with sound and light: distractions at the very least, and at the very most accomplices to my conscious neglect of the storm inside me.

In solitude, I finally allow myself to remember that I am not an ordinary woman. There is no such thing as an ordinary woman, yet the idea of her is always present and so easy to conjure and believe in. A dab of lipstick here, a shade of eyeliner, a wisp of ordinary laughter are all it takes to become this imaginary and incomplete rendition of whoever she is. Who I really am is much more difficult to deal with.

In solitude, I am able to hold my breath and absorb the intricate details of my internal phenomenon. Even in complete silence, it is never quiet in my mind. Even as the city ices over, the fire in my heart spits and rages. It does not rage with anger, but with love. It is a fire that is kindled by memories of Jerusalem, by the smell of fresh kaek bread drifting through my window on warm summer mornings. A wild fire: one that is given new life when the Church bells ring, when fresh olive oil and thyme touch the lips, and when a droplet of Arak intoxicates the senses. It is the kind of fire that is a curse upon those who house it, and a lost miracle for those who lack it. A fire of chocolate eyes, olive skin, and curly hair.

In solitude, the parting of seas and skies is inevitable. There is no capsule, no vacuum  that can suppress the noise that thunders over the silence like the sounds of bullets echoing in the Palestinian night. There is no vehicle, no body that can contain the infinite grains of sand that travel with the wind across the desert and land between the olive trees in my mind. In the darkness: wholeness and emptiness co-exist. There is war here, and promise of peace. There is pain here, as bottomless as the old well that yields fresh water but never quenches the generations of thirst. Yet there is love here: boundless, and searching for home.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; Seek, and you will find; Knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). So I will ask until my breath runs out; I will seek until I am sitting at the very edge of the earth; and I will knock. I will knock until my hands bleed. And I will find myself.

MD 10/02/2014

Four Years Old – A Memory


The brick beneath my foot
Is grey with memory.

I inspect it.

The left corner must have cracked
By virtue of a very big man
With much bigger feet than mine.

He must have been running.

Yes. He was.

My left ear buzzes.
The kind of buzzing that comes from
Being stared at,
Or being surrounded by flies.

I look up,

The eye of a gun;
It must have stared at me too long.

That’s what caused the buzzing.

I return my gaze to the broken brick.
Yes, he was running.

But, perhaps, he was not so big.
Perhaps, only four years too old.
Perhaps, he had a sister.


I do not raise my voice,
Or raise an unruly finger.
I know daddy will ask:
“Who taught you that?”


I close my eyes;
Imagine the finger pull.
Imagine the fire backfire.

Imagine an unlikely form
Of justice.

I giggle.
(MD 2013)

Bread and Circuses

Distraction and complacence draw the bottom line of the North American lifestyle. In the words of the satirist, Juvenal: “Everything now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.” Give the people something to eat and a form of entertainment, and you can almost guarantee the eternal silence of their thinking. Juvenal used this metaphor to describe his people’s lack of political charge, and their inability to rise as critical thinkers. While this still applies today, as thousands of youth would sooner watch an action film than engage with information about the dozens of real-life wars, it also applies to our day-to-day struggle in forming connections with one another. Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are.

We sit among groups of people for hours at a time: socializing, associating, entertaining. This often involves some sort of intoxication, be it alcoholic or, more simply, an intoxication with simplicity: basic, superficial conversation. We do not think of those moments as character building. We do not consider that, as an hour in a university classroom could effectively influence our behavior for the rest of our lives, so can an hour among our chosen acquaintances. We waste time, hinder and tally until our most significant human interactions begin amounting to mindless activities. We contend with the forces of habit, drive ourselves deeper into surface relationships, and learn nothing about each other. As we choose to be blind to universal truths, political sciences, and human affairs, we also choose to be blind to individual truths, internal conflicts, and human natures. We are satisfied only by bread and circuses.

As a woman, I often reflect on this and sense, with rising panic, a longing for a more intricate connection with my surroundings. What is a city so full of people, yet so bereft of togetherness? What is a group of human beings, sitting so closely together, yet attuned to their Iphones, Ipads, and Macbooks? What do I really know about you, person who sits beside me every day in a crowded classroom, person who walks with me to the bus stop, person who complains incessantly about the weather? What interests you, truly, more than the weather? Where is your soul, your humanity?

In search for answers to such questions, I often find myself positioned at the center of the table: ready for dissection. I seem to think that an unreserved portrayal of myself might distract from the core distractions: it might remind people to speak to one another, to delve into one another, to dig a little. Dig a little deeper. Unfortunately, a phone may ring, a text may arrive, or a song may play that drives attention away from the girl experiencing dissection. The result is an endless sum of dismantled parts, unable to lift itself off the table, and unable to entirely sink into it. Who does she become, this dismembered woman, this art project? Who is she, missing pieces, emptied out and refilled with promises of more bread and more circuses? Distracted, bewildered, complacent.

Juvenal’s frustration with the keen human ability to turn a cold shoulder was woven into a system that encouraged sustainable silence, much like the system we live with today. His intention was to remind his audience of the details that they often miss: the truths that they bypass because they seem too complex for the average layman; too difficult to think about. Here, I break this grand frustration into a much smaller part: how can I ask my fellow citizens to raise their eyes, today, towards a broken Syria, an occupied Palestine, a forgotten Armenia, when they do not raise their eyes high enough even to look, for one moment, at each other? How should I expect of you, my friend, to carry the burden of another nation, when you do not even attempt to carry your own burden, but rather fill your life with distractions to protect yourself from reality? I cannot. I can only ask you to recognize the effects of this circus: see that you do not see, and only then will you be able to open, ponder, grow, and connect. Connect with yourself, connect with me, connect with them.


MD 11.09.2013


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