Lack of Arabic Sarcasm

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I remember walking into my grandma’s, in the hot summers of Lebanon and find her sitting on her grey couch that resembles her grey outlook on her grey life, courtesy of a deceased husband leaving her in poverty, with 9 kids. Her nightgown would be drenched with sweat, uncomfortably stuck to her back, for lack of electricity. It has been out for a few hours and will not return for a more. She would spend the good part of the morning cleaning, cooking, complaining, cursing.

When I would visit I would find her seated in such a way indicating that she was about to get up, her limbs furthest apart from each other to minimize skin contact. She would be waiting for the noon call to prayer, sweat beads on her brow, rosary beads in her hand; mentioning God giving her patience.

As I walk in and kiss her forehead, I would ask how she is, and before the words would part my lips, almost expectedly and she would sharply reply “mkayfe!” – entertained Read the rest of this entry

The Last of The Grandparents (Part I)

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The Day My Palestine Died

My grandparents were born in Palestine. All four of them. They lived there, got married there and had children there. They lived through the British Mandate of the region, revolted on it, got beaten down, witnessed the migration of Jews, saw the Jews revolt on the British Mandate, saw the British Mandate allowing it to happen and then withdrawing from Palestine. It was too theatrical to be considered a coincidence.

They never ceased talking about it though. Throughout their lives, Palestine was always on their minds. They would talk like they left yesterday, and that they will return tomorrow. I would hear them always say “May God return us to our homeland in peace.” Read the rest of this entry

Nanny Nation

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In Mecca, around the days when the Prophet Mohammad was born, it was common for newborns to be sent to the desert away from their parents, each with a hired wet nurse, only to return to their families after the age of 2. The reason for this practice was because Mecca’s air was contaminated due to the large number of people who come for the annual pilgrimage (it still is), making children more susceptible to illnesses. Additionally, there were many accents and dialects intertwined with the local Arabic language due to the large number of merchants, traders and pilgrims in the area. Therefore families sent their newborns to live in a place of cleaner air, where they can learn a strong uninfluenced base of the Arabic language.

The practice of hiring help with the rearing of children is not new. Princes, nobility, the rich, and so forth, all hire trained professionals to help them raise their children, sometimes more than one. One would teach etiquette, another equestrianism, maybe fencing, and the likes.

Nowadays, all of a sudden, subconsciously at least, everybody thinks that their children are royalty, and the nannies are professionals, set to help their children adapt to the noble stature Read the rest of this entry

My Burier

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The Sudanese head dress called an imma, is of the exact dimension and material used for a kafan, the piece of cloth used to wrap a dead body (in the Islamic culture, a dead body is not placed in a tomb, instead it is wrapped in a kafan, laid directly in a grave and buried). Every morning, a Sudanese man leaving his house for the day, dressed in his national clothing, would wrap on his head his tomb (so to speak). In the olden days, African men would leave their houses for weeks on end seeking their livelihood, and the guarantees of safety at that time were minimal. In order not to owe anybody anything when they die, they wrap their resting place enshroud upon their head. Nowadays though, I’ve been told, that the significance of the head dress has been diminished to cultural attire.

The Sudanese however, are not the only people who have memento moris. Arabs in general seem to have a fixation towards death (not only human waste), especially when it comes to extreme emotions; yet another characteristic of pessimism that lingers in our culture.

An extremely loving and tender term of endearment, one that is used between a mother and her son, or a wife and her husband, happens to also be an order or request. See in the Arabic language you can know what is happening to whom and from whom, from the form of the word. The forms of words are standard in most cases, and a single word is sufficient to understand the gender, number of people involved, the tense of it, and whether it was an order or an action.

The loving, tender term of endearment I am talking about is to bury me Read the rest of this entry