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A Constant Longing: Memoirs of a Palestinian Woman

The book A Constant Longing: Memoirs of a Palestinian Woman is an autobiography by the Palestinian-German physician Halima Alaiyan.

Born just a few months before Al Nakba, Halima’s only memories of her birth place, the village of Ibdis in Palestine, are from the tales she heard from her beloved father. Like most Palestinians, in a few catastrophic days in 1948, Halima’s family lost their home, their land, a family member, & everything they owned when the Zionists attacked their village. Yet, they considered themselves lucky because they were able to reach Egypt safely. What they did not know at the time was that they had also lost their homeland.

As the days and years past by, the Alaiyans’ dream to return to their homeland has gradually faded, and they had to live with the feeling of always being, to borrow the title of Edward Said’s 1999 autobiography, “out of place”.

While growing up in Egypt, young Halima was teased by her school friends for coming from Palestine. At the young age of seventeen, Halima finds herself married to a distant cousin and once again relocated from Egypt to Saudi Arabia where her husband has found work. Her husband’s neglect and the foreign traditions of the small town in Arabia instilled in her the feeling of a stranger in a strange land. She never felt at home in Gaza when her husband left her and her children with his parents for a year. Even after joining her husband in Germany, and despite becoming a German citizen, Halima still felt out of place. The only time she thought to herself “I am at home here.” was in the few precious moments she sat under the ruins of a wall that used to be her family’s home in Palestine, before remembering that she is now a foreigner in her own land.

As I turned the pages of Halima’s life I realized that loosing her homeland and being separated from the love of her parents at a young age were not the only hardships Halima had to endure. In Germany, her marriage was slowly turning into a nightmare, she worked two jobs to support her family, she was separated from her two girls for years, and she single handedly cared for her son who was diagnosed with a rare and terminal disease.

Nonetheless, she was able to become fluent in German, recover from a devastating car accident, and successfully complete medical school to become a highly respected physician.

There are several incidents in the life of young Halima Alaiyan that are very telling of her character and are important to appreciate what she was later able to achieve despite unimaginable difficulties.

One of those incidents happened when her family visited to the home of Nadia, her elder brother’s fiancé. The young Halima fell asleep, and Nadia’s father suggested that they let her spend the night there because she was too heavy to carry home. When Halima woke up in the middle of the night and did not find her family, only Nadia and her family sleeping under mosquito nets on the roof of their home, she began crying and calling out to them. Nadia’s father asked her to calm down and to go back to sleep. She did neither, and instead went down the stairs saying she’s going home.

 
Nadia’s father called out to me, “Don’t go, it’s dangerous in the dark. There are evil spirits out there in the wind and hiding in the fields, just waiting for someone to come so they can throw them in the water or even kill them! Stay here!” 

But I didn’t listen to him and slammed the front door behind me. There I was in a completely empty street. It was very dark outside, with only the moonlight to guide me. I walked through the village, crossed the fields and passed the wells and canals. I could hear the rustling of sugarcane stalks swaying in time with the gentle gush of water. I started thinking about all the horrible tales I had heard from the farmer with the panpipes, and the warning words of Nadia’s father rang in my ears. Suddenly, I could see the dead rising to search for their children and the murdered coming out of their graves to punish their murderers. I saw spirits changing people’s souls into animals and leaving their drowned bodies on the banks of the ditches.”

 

At this point I expected young Halima to turn around and run back to Nadia’s home. I know if I was this little girl in this situation I would have defiantly done so, actually I would have returned as soon as I saw how dark and deserted the street was. But instead:

 
“I became terribly afraid. To give myself courage, I told myself, “Nothing will happen to you. You haven’t killed anyone, so the spirits won’t hurt you. You will get home safely.” I begged the moon and the stars to shine brighter to light my way. I sang loudly and told myself funny stories to distract myself from my fear. Mostly, I wished that my father would come to pick me up on his horse and gallop back home with me.”
 
 

Of course her father did not show up as she hoped but Halima did make it home safely. This scene not only demonstrates how determined Halima is in reaching her goals, but also how in her darkest moments she is able to acquire strength from the loving bond she had with her father and by applying anxiety management techniques that you would not expect a child growing up in the countryside to have especially at such a tender age.

A Constant Longing is an inspirational journey that could also be read as a microcosm of the determination & endurance of Palestinians in the diaspora.

Mornings In Jenin

Whether you’re already a strong supporter of the Palestinian issue, a distant sympathizer, a neutral by-stander who doesn’t care much for either sides, or even if you’re a hard core Zionist, I dare you to read this book.
 
Susan Abulhawa has skillfully weaved a tapestry of heritage, love, pain, injustice, hope, despair, violence, tenderness, cruelty, and sacrifice that will force you to re-examine all your comfort-zone ideas and beliefs.
 
We all know the recent history of the region, and most of us might not need or want to be reminded of it or of the major events that lead to and followed the creation of Israel, yet Abulhawa, ever so softly & skillfully, retells this history from an extremely humane perspective.
 
   
Mornings in Jenin
Through the lives of four generations of the AbulHeja family, we see how a typical farming family, defined by the abundance of love and the deep connection to the land, is suddenly and literally uprooted from the land and lifestyle it has know for forty generations, into a brutal and arid life of displacement and refugee camps.
 
And while it’s true that the men in subsequent generations of AbulHeja are the ones who disappear or are killed because they the main target of the Zionist military might, or because they are expected to carry arms in defense of the women, children and the elderly, yet the real suffering is experienced by the women who are repeatedly left alone to care for themselves and their children under the most brutal of conditions.
 
I must warn you though; this book will not only make you cry it will make you itsha7tef (an Egyptian word meaning not being able to stop crying for six months).

Alifa Rifaat

Neither her name (Alifa means tame), nor the title of her book (Distant View of a Minaret) betray any clues about the rebellious Egyptian women I so much enjoyed meeting on the pages of Distant View of a Minarate.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that an Egyptian woman who was not allowed to go to college, forced into an arranged marriage, and denied a literary career until the death of her husband, would not shy away from discussing issues as bold as women's emotional and sexual needs in a marriage.

While some themes in Ms Rifaat's writings are mirrored in the works of other Egyptian and Arab female writers, her uniqueness stems from the fact that her rebellion, no matter how fierce, stays within the boundaries of her Islamic faith. She does not blame Islam for the sad and unjust position so many Muslim women find themselves in, but instead blames the men for not following the true teachings of Islam, which demands that they treat women with respect and kindness. Her women use their instinct to understand and accept the indisputable teachings of Islam set by a Just and Merciful divinity, while the men focus on and prefer some twisted man-made interpretations that ensure their dominance and control of women.

While the writer gives her characters the full right to rebel against the reactionary husbands, she does not allow them to even consider adultery. How could they when the hours of their days are marked by nothing other than the calls for prayers? The azzan is the common sound track that is heard throughout the book. The azzan might even be the source of strength of these women. They long for it, anticipate it, and after hearing it, they are not only capable of facing men, they are also capable of looking death in the eye and deciding that it does not have to indicate the end, but that it could also be a beginning of a better life.

As I came to the end of each of the fifteen short stories, my only regret was that the story was not a few pages longer so I could spend more time with those courageous women.

Moorish Dreams

Laila Lalami, a Moroccan writer living in the US, has chosen illegal immigration as the subject of her first novel Hope and other dangerous pursuits.

The novel starts with a prologue detailing a desperate attempt by Moroccan men, women, and children, crowded in an inflatable boat, to cross the strait of Gibraltar and reach Spain in pursuit of happier lives. Most of those poor souls are lost at sea before ever setting foot on the hostile Spanish shore. Those who do make it are not better off.

Lalami introduces us to the lives of four of those dreamers before and after the crossing attempt. The stories of Faten, Aziz, Mourad & Halima are realistic and the images Laila paints will stay with you long after you finish reading her book.

I have no doubt that similar stories are being told by the families of the 200 Egyptians lost at sea as they attempted to pursue similar dreams in Italy or elsewhere.

p.s. Check Laila Lalami's (also known as Moorish Girl) blog at: http://www.lailalalami.com/blog/

The Shock Doctrine 

This blog is open to reviewing books by writers other than AWWs. This is a review of Niomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine.

I have to admit that when it comes to finance or economics, I am simply as ignorant as can be. And every time I tried to change that fact,  I just failed cause I could not understand anything of what the "experts" said or wrote. As a matter of fact, the harder I tried, the more confused I got. So, I just took it for granted that my brain was just not meant to understand money matters.

 Well, I am glad to announce that this has recently changed. I finally discovered that I was not getting what the (so called) "experts" said simply because it did not make any sense, and not because I was (God forbid) stupid.

   

The Shock Doctrine

So when I read the following news bulletin:      

 

Following their recent visit to Egypt, IMF staff issued this concluding statement:
 
"For the medium-term, reducing fiscal vulnerabilities is be a precondition for achieving Egypt’s growth potential. Sustained high fiscal deficits and public debt could undermine investors’ confidence and put upward pressure on the yield curve, with attendant risks to government financing costs, economic activity and the exchange rate. Government plans to resume medium-term fiscal consolidation as the global economy rebounds are well-placed. The authorities are aware that a credible fiscal consolidation strategy will be crucial to support investor confidence and foster private sector-led growth. This should be supported by policy actions to: strengthen revenues through introduction of a full-fledged VAT; and increase the efficiency and control of government spending with further rationalization of subsidies and decisive progress with financial management reforms. As plans for pension and health care reforms are finalized, it would be important to ensure that the potential fiscal impact is controlled."
 
instead of simply shrugging my shoulders and assuming that the IMF "experts" knew what they were talking about, I honestly panicked!!
 
Why? Because this recipe for "boosting" Egypt's economy is nothing but the same "Washington Consensus"; a term coined by John Williamson to describe a set of ten specific economic policy prescriptions that he considered should constitute the "standard" reform package promoted for crisis-wracked developing countries by Washington DC-based institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the US Treasury Department who mercilessly forced those polices on people of South Africa, and the Asian Tigers following the rumored crash of the nineties.
 

Those set of policies are in complete sync with the "Shock Therapy" policies pioneered by Milton Friedman and his "Chicago Boys" who applied those policies in Chile, Argentina, & China. The "Berkeley Mafia" did the same thing in Indonesia. And Jeffery Sachs applied more or less the same policies in Bolivia, Poland, and then in Russia.............. (well this is all I know for now).

 
The good news is that the "Disaster Capitalism" policies had extremely positive results to the multinational corporations, Wall Street, the richie-rich, and most of the time, the leaders of those countries. The bad news is that the same policies came at an extremely high cost to the majority of the people of those countries.

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