Mariam

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My grandmother and grandfather were half paternal cousins. On the day of my grandmother’s birth, her father sent a letter to my grandfather, Ismael, his half nephew informing him that he has been blessed with the birth of a baby girl whom he named Mariam. Ismael responded saying that he is to marry her when she comes of age and 14 years later they wed.

On the wedding day, Mariam was raised on a horse as was accustomed in 1930s Palestine, to be taken to the house of her husband. That tradition of a new bride riding a horse came with a certain condition – if any of her male cousins, upon seeing their cousin all adorned to be taken to her groom, decided in that instant that he wants her for himself, he can claim her and she would be taken off the horse; Read the rest of this entry

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