Category Archives: Other writings

Lami‘ah Abbas Amarah: elegiac reflections on the 1991 Gulf War1

Translated by Salih J. Altoma


Baghdad

Just like in the old days, Baghdad has come to embrace me.

Has Baghdad come to this faraway land?

The flowers of love in each greeting hand

bring back cherished memories.

In Baghdad’s alleys, I smell spices,

Fragrance of the Anbar rice simmering

As I walk home from school, hungry at noon.

And you, my loved ones, you are my migrating homeland,

The companions of my journey,

United we are by our love for Iraq,

By our haunting anxieties,

United in a choking sensation.

Yes, we choke, while here the food is plentiful

There, in Baghdad, a child starves,

An old man goes hungry,

And a dispossessed woman is left with nothing to sell.

Our blood has been shed, but has the exalted Arab honor

Emerged unstained?

Yes, we go on choking

For we know by name every one of those who starve,

Those who die for lack of medicine

We know by name every one of those, whose homes have been plundered,

The merchants who were killed in their own shops,

Those who perished senselessly,

Those who became insane

Or were maimed, or missing.

We know them all by name.

Scattered are our souls

Half here, half there,

We reside in two different places,

Only our bodies live far from Iraq’s soil.

Amarah (This and ‘Basrah’ are originally parts of the poem ‘Tears on a Sad Iraqi Face’)

O my memories of Amarah. I hear rockets blasting my memories.

There my life began.

I recall summer times, the sad melodies of the nocturnal flute

Chattering on sleepless roofs.

My love is: Amarah, my grandfather’s house, and

The road to my school.

Walking along the river al-Kahla` was my song.

Now the songs are silenced,

Even the songs were not spared death.

And now, by the order of my enemy, I shall pay for each bomb that fell on my

family.

Basrah

O Basrah, confluence of the two rivers,

Of the two wars,

O most noble hearted of Iraqi cities,

O hill of ruins, O mass graveyard.

The thorns of all the palm trees

Poke through my heart.

There is nothing more ignoble,

More despicable than this war.

Suspension Bridge [Written in the Iraqi vernacular]

It is not the bridge but my rib that has been smashed.

O most beautiful bridge, a band girding the Tigris

Beneath it water glitters, sunset glows

A bridge binding the two quarters, Karkh and Rusafa, forever intertwined

O joy of the bridal processions crossing the bridge

leaving behind their perfume

Woe to the hand that destroyed it, destroying every inch of history, every

feeling of joy.

Tears on a Sad Iraqi Face

I rested my head on an Iraqi chest and wept

his heart endured the same sorrow as mine

he caressed and calmed me; I slept

as branches of sadness, interlaced between

our souls, moan even in our silence

O wailing heart, O most beautiful eyes

I have ever seen

What has united us?

The cruelty of this war?

Or the passion of love?

O sad face from my homeland.

What tears what love can wash that sad face?

O my family, now only terror fills their hunger,

Fills their thirst. O the panic of resurrection.

Is there any road that does not lead

them to destruction and Hell.

Any shelter for them?

What age do we live in? An age of barbarism?

Or an age of civilization,

Disgraced by its deeds in Amiriyyah.

This is the gloom of a defeated knight,

his hands paralyzed,

his forehead bearing the brunt of destruction,

all the sadness of the burning palm trees

all the wailing songs from the South,

all the echoes of lamentation.

O palm trees of Samawah

How much cruelty can exist in this world?

Seventy thousand children, sweet as dates

— No, even sweeter – have fallen,

Along with your burning leaves, for what sins O palm trees of Samawah?

Like a headstrong mare I was.

I tripped not

Nor was I easy to subdue

Possessing the pride of the palm trees

Of my homeland’s ageless hospitality.

My pride was to starve, rather than to bend, defiant, like the palm tree.

Alas! Led I was one day to forget my pride

When my own guide misled me.

Lo and behold! Now I stretched out my hands asking for charities,

Dispensed by the same hands that destroyed civilization.

Enemy

Yesterday I had my own name

So did my children and my sister

Suddenly overnight we were all named ‘enemy’

One name for all of us

Like one school uniform

Oh! How painful this ‘enemy’ name is!

All my life I sought equality as a salvation

How has it turned into bitter reality, animosity, and bullets?

And we, all of us, have been indiscriminately called ‘enemy’?

America! I have loved you since my childhood

How often I sailed in my dreams toward you!

Paper was my boat

I sailed across the Atlantic

Anchoring in Manhattan

Telling tales from the ‘Arabian Nights’

Oh! How beautiful children’s dreams!

I sought you, America, a refuge

Like a weary bird singing for love and hopes

Then what?

Here I am a wounded bird

More weary than ever

Cast out at your door

My love songs withered in fear

And died on your soil.

I have become a suspect

Like the wildest criminals

But I did not bear arms

Nor did I conceal heroin under my skin

Why did they skin me at airports?

From among all other travellers

Why am I alone an ‘enemy’?

I did not starve a child in California

Nor did I, in malice, burn factories

I did not destroy a bridge over the Hudson River

I did not bomb Seattle

I did not garb thousands of widows with black garments

Why am I then called ‘enemy’?

O God! With my heart full of love

How did ‘enemy’ become my name?

 

 

Random Thought!

One day when my group and I were taking a class at Sarah and Shane’s, Sarah showed us an interesting view of Damascus. Before we started the class she took us to a roof of one of the buildings. The view was amazing. It’s indescribable. From that roof you can see Damascus. All Damascus: parks, mosques, churches, streets, clubs, everything. I still remember the things we were talking about. we were talking about how unpredictable Damascus weather was, especially where Sarah and Shane lived – uphill. It was great time.

Me, Sarah & Shane together in Nabak, Syria

She had created this sort of bridge that no other teacher I had had done before. She was more than a teacher, more than a friend. I used to talk to her about virtually anything concerns me, whether class material, things we discuss in class, or generally life issues… I miss our talks; I miss you, Sarah!

I had you in my mind today during the vigil. It might sound absurd but I really wanted you and Shane sitting with me (I know, we will change the poster to something else, don’t worry) today. I know where you are now is kind of has warm weather, at BU beach today though it was great as the cool breeze started to get higher. After you get home, spend sometime with your family, you should definitely get here and sit at BU beach!

I will take you there.. As you read this! Someday, soon…

Histothracheology!

That day I was sitting in my veranda and wondering about my origin. Where did I come from, and how my religion developed? Many questions, and the answers were hidden somewhere back in thousands years ago. Following the great peoples’ footsteps is so helpful that a one can invest their life-styles and techniques in the obstacles or problems that they – a one might be facing daily. Civilization is combination of things achieved or erected when a few nations could do such things. Because of the Archeology, I had the chance to learn more about those nations. Archeology, the study of ancient civilization, in my personal point of view, is a useful and helpful way to know the origins of the first human beings, to determine the way of other civilizations lived and how to invest these concepts into our own life.

Archeology is a bit like historiography but the only deference is that the written documents of some civilization and the politic papers are examined by the historians. Archeologists are the ones who dug them up to the historians. In addition to that, archeology has a good relationship with Anthropology. Anthropology couldn’t work properly, if there is no base for its study. Archeology is Anthropology’s base, for it studies human fossils that are 4.5 or 3.5 million years old. Archeologists examined those fossils and study their behavior and their way of treating each other. Because life was hard at that time, people were labeled into kinds, for instance the strong and weak. The strong people were the most popular and famous, whereas the weeks were neglected and omitted. In fact, Romans have their competitions – battle-death where people have to fight against each other. The fighters, who survived, will gain respect and fear among their fellow-Romans, as many archeologist studied. That shows us how Romans managed their victories on the occupied territories.

Archeology is so important, for it can tells the origin and history of deferent kinds of humans and their ancestors who lived about 3.5 million years ago. The earliest archeological sites included these at Hadar, Ethiopia; Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli, Tanzania; Ease Turkana, Kenya; and many sites in East Africa. These sites contain evidence of the first appearance of the early humans. In addition, Laetoli even reveals footprints of the first humans of 3.6 million years ago. As a matter of fact, it shows the earliest use of simple tools: hammers, sickles and spears. Moreover, Laetoli shows an evidence of how people spread out of Africa into Asia 1.8 million years ago, and Europe 900.000 years ago. In addition to that, it shows how their beliefs were developed, where many fairy tales were emphasized and existed.

As much as Archeology is helpful for ancient civilization as much as it inspires people to apply it in modern life. Present-day societies can learn much from their forefathers. Applied Archeology refers to archeological research that is designed to have practical and educational importance for modern societies. In the hills of Bolivia and Peru, landfills, for instance, archeologists reconstructed systems of elevated field that once was used for the ancient farmers and allowed them to grow corps and potatoes without losing them from frost. Now, farmers at that region have learned to use the same technique with an outstanding success. Furthermore, since the 1960s, many urban archeologists have dug deep under the big cities like London, Paris and New York City, to reveal what lies underneath their streets and alleys and uncover the earlier cities. The excavations not only helped the archeologists to know more information about the earlier urban life, but also provided important information for city planning, for instance, the origin of social classes and also the idea of the infrastructures such as sewage systems.

In summation, Historiography, Anthropology and Archeology are connected. As we have seen, archeologists are digging things up and presenting them to historiogists, and those examine the things they have got and explain – write them down for anthropologists. How amazing this world is. I didn’t know that there is the science-cycle just like the life-cycle. An noted before, Archeology is so important to know how the past humans lived or how behaved. Seemingly, those things had developed through the old past to the present. This particular science is like a diagram that draws pictures of other people created, invented and achieved their future – what we call it “present!”

Who Should I Worship!

I grew up and I knew one religion, my parents raised me as a Muslim, they taught me what Islam is, what it means to be a Muslim and what we believe in. I acknowledge that in my life, I’ve seen a lot of people from different backgrounds, I’ve known Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Hindus. One day I had a class with my teacher and this class was about new people who made a creed for themselves. In fact, They called themselves Rastafarian.

I sat in front of my computer; I couldn’t stop my fingers from figuring out what Rasta is on the internet! I’ve found some unbelievable facts and information about these people. First, only a few people know the true story of this religion.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., National Hero of Jamaica, he was founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., National Hero of Jamaica. He was founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League

Rastafari has its roots by the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, he believed that all black people should be proud of their race. He became an inspiration to black people especially after organizing the Black Nationalist movement in America in 1920. The next year, he had almost a million followers. More people believed and supported him after his speech in 1920, “look to Africa, when a black king shall be crowned, for the day of deliverance is at hand.” That speech came true when Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned as Ethiopia’s king, who became known as Emperor Haile Selassi, the one who everybody considers as the Rastafarian movement’s founder. After his crowning, the movement officially began. Rastafarians settled in the small southern Ethiopian towns of Shashamene. Haile Selassi, who considered the God incarnate, gave them 500 hectors of land on which to settle; they started migrating to Ethiopia 38 years ago.

Rastafarianism is a mixture of politics and religion for many reasons. One of them is that they believed that Haile is their king because he is black and he will put them on the freedom ship and free them from slavery.

Selassi I, was Ethiopias regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. The heir to a dynasty that traced its origins to the 13th century, and from there by tradition back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Haile Selassie is a defining figure in both Ethiopian and African history.

Selassi I, was Ethiopia's regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. The heir to a dynasty that traced its origins to the 13th century, and from there by tradition back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Haile Selassie is a defining figure in both Ethiopian and African history.

Rastafarians support and empower the black race and they consider Haile as an incarnation of God, and he is seen as part of the holy trinity, and as the returned Messiah that was promised in the bible. Furthermore, they believe in Christian doctrine that says God came onto earth in the form of Jesus Christ, to give instructions to humanity. That is true but they do not agree on this version of story. They believe that these instructions were corrupted by western societies, for instance, white people (called “Babylon.”). Moreover, they believed that God appeared again as the Ethiopian Emperor to adjust and fix the instructions to black people.

You can recognize Rastas by their colors, they wear red, yellow and green that came from the Ethiopian flag, their dreadlocks, and the reggae music, particularly they listen to Bob Marley. The reason they listen to that kind of music is that there is no bad language that outs women down or violent language or even gun talk like most Rap music. Also, they smoke Ganja.

The Rastafarian religion has interesting and unique beliefs. For instance, they cherish certain herbs that are mentioned in the holy Bible. Ganja is a primary element of their religion and they smoke it to reach the highest levels of spirituality. Another interesting belief, Rastafarians are too into any sharp implements to be used on man. For example, no trimming or shaving no tattooing on the skin or cutting in the flesh, as was said in Leviticus 21:5: “They shall not make baldness upon their heads, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.” Rastas are more likely to be vegetarians. They eat as little animal flesh as possible; they do not like the idea of eating pig flesh, shellfish, etc. Rastafarians worship Haile Selassi and consider him a model and they recognize no other God than him. They reject pagan beliefs, without disrespecting the believers. Rastas agree to live in a world of one brotherhood and a sign of that is they condemn jealousy, hate, deceit and humiliation. They believe in love to all mankind. An interesting fact is that they do not accept the aid, possessions or any help given by the enemy that may impart upon them, in fear. For that, their main purpose is to uphold Rastafari. Furthermore, they are opposed to the luxury and pleasure of modern city society.

I had the chance to meet a wonderful Rastafarian Jamaican man, Jason Janis, 45 year old. The meeting was as simple as you can imagine, firstly I asked him about their beliefs, “The basic beliefs of Rastas is to uphold the truth and defend good over evil, to do will of god here on earth to keep the 10 commandments.” He said. Actually, I was a bit curious about their religion, Muslims pray and fast to God, but as for the Rastas they fast in remembrance of past prophets and saints and holy men of times passed by, “we fast for our men who suffered a lot during the past 100 years.” Dreadlocks are something that identifying Rastas from non-Rastas. I considered it something to put onto your hair, but I was shocked when I knew it’s for religion purposes. “The origin of dreadlock comes from the times of Moses when there was a tribe called the Nazarenes (Bible, Ch.6) who wore dreadlocks, as did Samson as a sign of their covenant to the almighty God.” He explains this matter. Another thing I wanted to ask in order to satisfy my curiosity, Ganja, the holy herb, what is good in it and why Rastas smoke it to reach the highest levels of spirituality, “Ganja goes with the territory, it opens the mind, It’s good for meditation.” I had to ask him about its history “It was found on Selamon’s grave and the Bible says (all herbs are for the healing of the nation).” The meeting was great. I loved it; it was full of good information. Now, I know what Rasta really is. I asked him to talk to me about their social life and he said “We go to Rastafarian church dance, we listen to reggae music, I listen to it because of it has uplifting lyrics, not bringing down woman, the race and no gun talk.” He adds, “We don’t believe in homosexuality and abortion.”

During my usual morning walk. People were coming across me, I thought about talking to someone about Rastafarian to see if he has any idea. John T, a 22-year-old British man, was the one I ran into during my walk. He was polite and he accepted to do this interview. I asked him about Rastafarian, what he thinks of them and what their beliefs are, “I think Rastafarianism is a movement more than a religion, in other words it is a way of life, they do not have church or a central worship place, they just gather in a place and do whatever they do.” I asked him about their stereotype “Well, I’m not sure but most Rastas I’d known they’re Black Caribbean with dreadlocks in their hair and multicolor hats and most of the time a laid back attitude.” He said.

Sarah Shourd, an English teacher, welcomed the idea of Rastafarians. She had been to Ethiopia in the core of Rastafarianism. She thinks it’s a religion, it’s a way to direct people to the right path, “It’s a Bible based religion, it gives guides and clues to ‘reach the God’s rope’ to people who do not know the way. I’ve been in Ethiopia it’s amazing. The people there were just kind and simple. I saw no signs of an aggressive attitude.” She said. About their stereotype “well… smoking marijuana, the dreadlocks (their hair must be natural), they’re close to nature – away from modern society’s needs, they reject western traditions, and listen reggae music especially Bob Marley – one love,” she said. Sarah showed acceptance of to be a Rastafarianism and welcomed this idea, “yes, I would like to be Rasta, I agree with some of their beliefs, like they love each other (as obvious in Bob Marley song – one love), the rejection of and resistance against of western policy and imperialism. Also, I believe in black power and they should be freed from racial discrimination,” she adds.

Today there are an increasing number of White people. For Rastafarians, this period will mark the beginning of a new world, in which Blacks are respected. Many Rastafarians believe this is how the world would have been, but for the behaviour of corrupt whites, they will fix themselves by themselves.

A Person’s Impression in Life

Among the vast millions of people around the world, doubtless, few are kept in mind after their death. You don’t have to be famous or genius, in Physics or Math, in order to be remembered. I believe that, it is so important to put one’s best attitude everyday to the people, by treating them kind and nice. A person can spread joy and love to the people around them, as well as spread positive feelings in themselves.  In my personal opinion, I want to be remembered by my actions towards my community and the people around me.

 

Life is so long and amazing. It’s about choices, because everyone creates their own unique individuality and characteristics. If I asked to categorize people, I’ll do that according to their choices in life. For instance, people who make others comfortable and happy around them, and on the other hand, those who don’t care about others, that is what I believe in. I have faith in the own ability to make others comfortable and feel wonderful about themselves. I believe in tomorrow and in a second chance, because they are the most significant concepts to human beings. Through this idea, a person will does the best of his actions to the particular day that he lives. Take my case as an example, I’ve became more aware and concerned about my people’s needs. Moreover, now I’m working on completing my education and returning to my country where I can be an additional beneficial element to the combination of my community. Therefore, people will remember me as the one who helped his country to stand on its feet all over again, after the occupation.

 

When I wake up, I begin thinking every day. This is the beginning of a new day; I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is important because I’m using a day of my life for it. For that matter, this day I will do good, appropriate and effective things towards the people around me. I want to be a friend to everybody. I want to have and achieve a dream of mine every single day of my life. However, I want to be remembered for the satisfactory and pleasant things I did. I’m certain that people will not remember what I said, and might for what I did for my own interest. They will always remember how I made them feel. I don’t want to be remembered as a bad soccer player or physically, strong or weak, or even smart or average. I want to be remembered by the friendship I made, the care and compassion towards others and the most important part, the faith and hope that never die inside. Furthermore, I want to be remembered by the happiness and goodness that I contributed with the world. Life would be so much enjoyable if every person looked to the inside beauty of others.

 

 To make a long story short, at your funeral, when someone comes up and say such nice things about you, and the way that you lived your life. Your children or even your grandchildren will be so happy and proud of you, for the only fact that you did things that last and remembered after death. I believe that, this is the most important thing that we all should live for, to commit to people’s memory. “Goodness does not consist in greatness, but greatness in goodness,” an Egyptian-born Greek writer, Athenaeus, once said.

The Procession of Reading Children’s and Classic’s Books

Every phase of life has its own readings that enrich this phase. When I was a child, I liked reading a lot, particularly the ones who communicate with me, which build up my mind and plant morals and ethics. Children’s books like scientific or fiction has a simple language that strengthens the reading passion in me. Now, as a grown up, I love to read a lot, but the only difference is that I read some classic books. I have to admit that in classic books, I found the pleasure of reading, I’m impressed by how clear, serene, and solid the words are, my brain imaginatively recreate what the words just implies. “When I had read this story to the end, I was filled with awe. I could not remain in my room and went out of doors. I felt as if I were locked up in a ward too,” Vladimir Ilyich Lenin once said. The classis books paint me a picture of what life at that time look like. The classic books writings have been developed during the past 100 years.

 

Naguib Mahfouz, one of the best-known Arabic novelists of the 20th century, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1988, has incredible books. For instance “Bayn Al Qasrain,” is one of the most encyclopedic books. It’s like moving diagrams of how the Egyptian community was looked like. This particular book picturing the Egyptian collapsed society. Mahfouz usually talked about controversial subjects, for example, the British occupation. Moreover, he mentioned Egyptians daily life and how they suffered, during the occupation. Mahfouz supported his piece by examples and facts derived from Egyptians social life. “When disasters come at the same time, they compete with each other,” Mahfouz said. I believe that this book is an immortal book, that Egyptians take it as a reference of their life at that time.

 

The second impressible author I admire, Charles Dickens. Through his fiction, Dickens did much to highlight the worst abuse in 19th century society. He was influenced by his youth readings and even by the childhood stories. In spite of all his life discomforts, he was more like Shakespeare, touched a range of readers, which was perhaps his greatest talent.

 

Just on his second novel, Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens describes characters from many different social and economic levels. The novel is set against the background of the New Poor Law of 1834, which established a system of workhouses for those who, because of poverty, sickness, mental disorder, or age, could not provide themselves. Young Oliver Twist, an orphan, spends his first nine years in a “baby farm,” a workhouse for children in which only the hardiest survive. Then he goes to London, and falls in with a gang of youthful thieves. Dickens renders a powerful and generally realistic description of this criminal.  Later, he contrasted the squalor and cruelty of the workhouse and the evilness city with the peace and love Oliver found in the country at the Maylies’ home.

 

As a result, I cannot cut off that a one should read only either children’s or classic books, but I can say that a one should read whatever book that satisfy his interest. Robertson Davies, a Canadian novelist and critic, said, “A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.” That kind of books is what I call an immortal book.