Mother of Arabs
At night I dream of children throwing stones, defeated tanks moving back into an inky black abyss. I hold my baby mightily as we cower underground. She struggles against my offerings of comfort: a milk-filled breast, soothing words, whispered prayers. In my chest rage and rebellion twist my stomach, blur my vision, clear my mind. The whispered prayers for salvation become tearful pleas for forgiveness before our end, then exasperated cries to God to save us from this hell, then prayers for the moqawama and a powerful wake up call to those who support our tormentors.
I awake thinking of Sukayna and her daughters and their beautiful eyes, blue and green like the Mediterranean and lined with thick dark lashes. I see those eyes staring widely in horror, as their bodies lay twisted in positions possible only in death. Can she know that I think of her daily, that I’m so worried about them I can hardly think, that I feel guilty for not calling, not emailing sooner? What a stupid emotion guilt is, as if it can stop bombs.
Lately, I’ve been saying lots of yallas and tai’la hons. “Kul il batata habibti, bous bous bous.” We eat hummus and tabbouleh, and I’m thinking of making some kunafa, maybe a little sfouf for dessert. It’s culinary solidarity. Perhaps instead we should eat bitter olives and drink only lemon juice. I am fasting today.
I hear on the news that in the holy place where the priests say Jesus (peace be upon his powerful and illuminating soul) turned water into wine that the blood of Arab children is running through the streets. Again. Again. F****** AGAIN! Just as it did 10 years ago. Thank you Israeli Defense Forces, for ensuring that we don’t forget. Your Arab neighbors don’t have the security of ardent declarations of “Never Again!” In our lives it is again and again and again. Ya Qaana. Oh Qana.
No, I am not an Arab. I am the wife of an Arab and the mother of Arabs; my life is forever intertwined with Jnoob (South Lebanon) that land of strength and pain and simple beauty. I gave birth to its sons and daughters, nursed them with my milk, nourished them with my soul. I’ve got the permanently transformed body and forever heavy heart to prove it. Maybe, I once thought, Ali will be Yaroun’s first shaheed. And then I thought “how awful, how awful that when I look twenty years into the future I only see Jnoob offering more martyrs.” Enough with the shuhadaa, when will we have peace!? “Peace” it feels so hollow now that it’s been so thoroughly co-opted by its enemies. Peace has sold out. Peace is an Uncle Tom. We want justice, damn it! Otherwise it is just oppression in peace drag.
But when has the world ever given a damn about the peace of black and brown peoples? Yeah, I know white folks oppress one another too, and I ran breathless from Dearborn, that pulsing heart of Jnoob in the American midwest, ’cause there I learned the heart wrenching ways that brown folks hurt one another too.
Hussain looks at the bodies on the screen, the destruction of Lebanon and pulls his little children before the screen. He says, “Do you see those people?” pointing at the Israeli soldiers like katyushas could explode from his very fingertips, “they are your enemies for life!” When I hear about Hussain and what he told his children it feels like someone is pulling my heart out of my chest, strangling my struggling left carotid. It pains me that physically to admit how much effort it took for me not to do the same. Instead I try to explain to my children the nuances of war. Israelis are not all bad, they are not all your enemies, some people do bad things, but that does not mean they are irredeemably bad. Maybe one day we can visit Israel. In my fantasies I dream of sitting with the Israeli mothers I know, all ticheld and hijabed watching our children play and sharing a plate of (k)hummus and something better than what we have now.
It’s just a dream.
I spend my days riding waves of emotion. I am angry, I am furious, I hate, I love, I cry, I feel despair. I step outside of myself to float on pools of rage, I come back in at the sound of the adhan to ask Allah’s forgiveness and pray hard that I hold on to my humanity. No one is my enemy for life. I can not teach my babies that. I’ve got to find a better way, to teach them honestly, but with optimism. Adrikna Ya Imam! Perhaps the time for shuhada is always, it's just the place that changes.
I eat, sleep and dream Lebanon in all its complicated pain.