Friday, November 30, 2012

My Palestine!

She lounged lazily under an olive tree one warm afternoon, digging her bare toes in the rich soil. Glorious vibrant hair danced in the light breeze, spreading her earthly scent in all directions. She threw back her head in rapturous song, a voice saturated with love as deep as the roots of the tree she sat under.

    Come. Share my happiness!

Attuned creatures gravitated to her side, drawn in by her magical pull. They kneeled in front of her, submitting to her heavenly power. Shoulder-to-shoulder, they courted.

    Give us a dance.

She yawned and pushed herself up. The colorful scarf draped on her shoulders slipped to her fingers. She wrapped it around her hips. She twirled and dipped to the beat of drums rhyming in her head. Hummingbirds, butterflies, even flamingoes became jealous.

    Give us a hug.

She stretched her arms wide, welcoming eager crowds. They flocked enthusiastically, pushing against each other, eventually toppling her down on her back and climbing over her. She giggled.

    Too much love!

Ants crept up her legs, across her fertile womb, over her innocent bosom and reached her lips.

    Give us a kiss.

Shaking her head, she tried to brush them off her face. They clung to her eyelashes. She tried to swat them away with her hands. They hid inside her nose.

    I can’t breathe!

Ravens, crows and grackles perched on the branches above her head watched.

    Help me!

They swooped down and tore at the ants. A shadow of a large creature loomed over them. He approached, placed a hoofed foot over each of her arms, pinning her. He swung something in the air and brought it down with brutal force. 

The winged creatures flew away. 

He swung again, and again, and again until nothing was left but her scarf-covered hip; one strip black, one white, one green, edges tucked under a red triangle.

My Palestine.

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

If I believed in Reincarnation …

What a great way to escape this world.

I am a hawk soaring high above, riding an airwave, spreading my wings wide and proud.

I am a butterfly sampling sweet nectar, drawing attention, living surrounded by beauty and color.

I am an earthworm digging beneath the surface, turning the soil, supporting life where there is no room for the sun’s bold rays.

I am an energetic rabbit, an angry lioness, an innocent lamb, an elegant giraffe, a boring cow, a careless flounder, a shy snail, a reckless deer . . .

Could I be a plant instead? I could be an olive tree, solid and giving for many, many years. Better yet, an orange tree, fragrant and alluring. Or a grape vine snaking my way to the east, inviting loved ones to hide from curious eyes.

I am any living thing that cannot think, cannot fear, cannot hope and cannot dare to dream. Anything but this useless human, boxed in by religion, ideals, politics, history, and other humans who wish me to be someone else.

I think I am a spider. I keep weaving my web, my transparent security, and watch it get ripped apart by a careless world time after time.

Am I a poisonous tarantula? I certainly can be. 

Keep pushing, cruel world, and we shall find out.

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


What do you do when your dream comes true? 

I know what not to do when a nightmare becomes a reality. I don’t go to sleep. At least until the panic wave passes, and my world turns, one hallucinatory sleep-deprived night after another, and I am delivered to a blissful state of acceptance.

But what do you do when the dream you have secretly nurtured for many years is finally materialized? Would you recognize it when it arrives at your doorstep? Would you embrace it with grace, with caution, with earthly humbleness and control? Or would you open your arms wide, immerse yourself in the contentment of satisfaction, abandoning your pre-dream self and become another person, dreaming a different dream?

Well, if it was one of my dreams manifesting its foundations in my world, I have probably chased after it and landed out-of-breath in the middle of its living room. I imagine I wouldn’t be surprised when I basked in the bright sun of its achievement, having worked hard to get there.

Boy, was I wrong!

Twenty years ago, my daughter came to me in a dream. She had pencils in her hair and wore newspapers for a gown. Her eyes wide, she floated toward me, her long braids writing words on the walls. The words disappeared as soon as they were inscribed, faster than I could read them. Her delicate fingers pointed to her news-adorned dress, a puzzled look on her innocent face. In that deviated world of sub-consciousness, my daughter was asking me questions. I had no idea what she inquired about. I awoke feeling helpless and confused. I failed to help her understand something. I had not yet birthed a child, either.

In the warmth and exclusivity of my small family, my husband and I celebrated our daughter’s nineteenth birthday a few days ago. I sat across from her during dinner at a Japanese restaurant and watched, bewildered, my dream play around me like a movie. A healthy vibrant young lady jotted down her order of sushi rolls with a pencil, then inserted it behind her ear while she waited for us to make our choices. She conversed, threw her head back in a genuine laugh and asked questions, some I had answers to, some I did not.

What wonder!

What great privilege!

My dream landed in my lap in the dining hall of a Japanese restaurant in a far away land where many forces worked against me getting there. I basked in the bright rays of my daughter’s smile and committed the memory to a special corner in my head.

I offer thanks to God, to the Universe, to unseen forces and to the great husband by my side. I remember what I was like before she was given to me. It is time to go to sleep and dream on.

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Domino Effect

Every now and then, I am asked by different organizations to give a talk about domestic abuse. And even though I quit the field about a year ago, I find it hard to refuse the chance to reach out to any group who is willing to listen. Just talking about a taboo issue like domestic violence prompts someone to take action. I like to think of the process as a domino effect. So I talk, and sometimes, thanks to the wonderful people who organize such sessions, I am allowed to yell and bang my fists on the table.

I conducted an information session lately to a group of women. The details will remain confidential, but there are a few things I can share.

I arrived a little early for my allocated time and slid discretely into a seat on the side. One of the organizers was prepping the audience, about thirty recent immigrant women, with the help of an interpreter. Often, I like to arrive ahead of time to study the group and challenge myself into believing that I could spot a possible victim by gauging the women’s reactions when the topic was announced. Most times, I find I lack that psychological radar. But occasionally, my suspicions get validated after the lecture, when a woman takes me aside and pours her heart to me. So I learned to leave enough time at the end of the session to basically hang around, allowing anyone who wishes to have a discreet talk the opportunity, hoping I could provide advice. I’m not a psychologist, and my compass that reads social clues is not totally effective, but experience has taught me it was easier for victims to talk in the third person, referring to a friend or a neighbor. It makes the words flow better, and the horror less embarrassing. I’m an engineer, and my approach to the issue has always been technical: Define the problem, determine the inputs and design an acceptable outcome.

A young woman, probably in her early twenties was among the crowd. The way her body shot up in her chair when the topic was announced, her back straightening, her head coming forward and her arms crossing together on her chest told me she became anxious. My heart sank. Not the young one, please. Not the young smiling one.

When it was my turn, I respectfully thanked the interpreter and excused her because I planned to talk to the women directly in their own language, removing one barrier between us. I talked about the different kinds of abuse, physical, emotional, sexual, and economical or a combination thereof. I brought examples of cases I worked on and offered possible solutions. I tried to explain that I was not there to disrupt anyone’s life, or accuse their husbands of mistreating them, but only to inform in the hope they would pass on the knowledge to someone they knew who might be suffering abuse. I explained legal procedures, women’s rights, their children’s rights, and what to expect from police officers when they get involved if a woman called for help. At the end, a few women opened up and became involved in the discussions, bringing in their own examples of “people they heard about.” Questions were answered, generalizations became more focused, and even jokes were made. I thanked everyone, and the usual commotion of acknowledgements took a few minutes. I stepped aside to gather my folders, stalling as usual.
A woman approached me, mid thirties, I guessed. Good, not the young one. Shy and hesitant, she smiled excessively and fidgeted in her place.

“It’s about my neighbor,” she started.

I took a few steps back, hung my head, lowered my voice so she would come closer to me, creating some distance between us and the rest of the crowd.

“Tell me about your neighbor,” I prompted.

What was revealed in the next fifteen minutes should not have been part of anyone’s life, be it this woman’s or her neighbor’s. I will stop at this point. All you need to know is that a very long and complicated process took place, bringing the woman some measure of help that I could only hope she would follow up on.

I was finally headed toward my car, counting steps to my mental and emotional freedom. A soft voice from behind called my name. I turned around. A young woman stood a couple of steps away, the same young woman I eyed before. Only, she was not smiling. I closed the distance between us.

Extending her hand, she introduced herself with impressive confidence: A graduate student about to choose a thesis topic for her Masters degree in social sciences. She knew exactly what she wanted to work on and needed references and some guidance about domestic violence issues pertaining to immigrant groups.

I breathed. Not a bit easier, but I realized I had been holding my breath. I gave her a hug, a bit longer than was respectable, I think. The discomfort showed on her face. I rushed into giving her my card, and listed a few destinations she could begin with.

During my drive home, I thought about the two ladies I had a private talk with. How one woman went out seeking knowledge, going into places looking for inspiration and had a plan for her future. The other lived in a bubble, in isolation, behind an invisible burqa, until a chance to speak up was presented to her. She knew nothing more, and did nothing less than survive.

While very different in spirit, I suspect there is at least one thing in common between these two women. Courage? I believe so.

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.