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Hands

December 5, 2013

A previously lifeless phone is resurrected.

“In Israel to dial US…” proclaims an iPhone that has not worked since I crossed the Atlantic over a month ago.

Crossing borders into a sphere that my cell phone company recognizes is nothing peculiar, and yet…

Three minutes pass, and another phone is resurrected.

“Welcome to Palestine!” proclaims my Egyptian Vodafone.

The dichotomy between my two cell phone carriers would act easily as a metaphor if a cheap explanation of a “conflict” were something of interest. But, I’m tired of black ink and overused pseudonyms.

The war between my cell phone carriers erupted as I sat uncomfortably on a large Jordanian bus in my first attempt to cross the King Hussein bridge.

I’ve made no secret of the difficulty I encountered upon my previous exit from Israel at the Eilat-Taba border crossing. I knew this border like the back of my hand, it was familiar. Its process had become as predictable as the flashy bathing suits adorning the Russian bodies that I always found myself squished between. Being questioned at the border was not so uncomfortable compared to such visions of sun burnt flesh.

Yet, in July 2011, while making a dash from Birzeit to Cairo, I ran into the tallest of walls, despite having leapt over the most damning less than six hours before.

“Where are you from?”
“Why were you in Israel?”
“You studied Arabic?”
“Where?”
“Did you participate in any political organizations?”
“Are you Palestinian?”
“Do you have Palestinian family?”
“Are you Palestinian?”
“So, are you Palestinian?”

These were all nothing new and, still, nothing unexpected. But what followed a rambling of questions and answers was.

“If you try to come back to Israel, you will not be let back in.”

Smack. That wall hits hard. I ran back into Cairo’s arms and away from that demon.

I’d grow old telling this story if I were to believe it, and if I didn’t listen to the countless others who were told similar variations when exiting Israel. But, I’d rather not grow old pondering the strength of a man’s words. I’d rather put them to the test, because, at this point, what do I have to lose?

The rumbling Jordanian bus was packed with giggling children and vacation-goers. While they all discussed non-trivial matters and travel plans, I was anxiously pulling threads out from the bus seat. I was overcome with adrenaline, and fear was a non-issue.

Those familiar visions of fleshy Russian bodies were replaced by an army of Malaysians with backpacks. Time passed slowly in an endless line to handover luggage for inspection, and then there was the first interrogator’s box.

“Passport.”

Flip, flip. Eyes up, eyes down.

My passport is pushed back to me and I am ushered to the next box made of steel and Plexiglas.

I share an intimate twenty minutes with a middle-aged Israeli man who asked me a series of personal questions that I submitted to in a Yat-like ramble. My tactic: drown me in your questions, but I’m going to drag you down with me with enough words to make your head spin.

Smack.

It was not a wall, it was my passport. My small identity book, which I previously assumed to be my biggest hurdle to moving pass this steel box, was dropped before me for the taking.

“Welcome to Israel.”

It only took me a few steps forward to break down, overcome by a sense of relief and guilt. I can test these borders when others cannot. Identities carry such heavy baggage. We assume them without knowing anything of them, and it is only with time and challenge that we learn to adapt to these preconceived notions of ourselves.

Through rolling hills and white brick buildings, the minibus carried me back into the arms of Jerusalem. A Jerusalem I never thought I would see again. For two year it had become a dream, a distant memory filled with moments of trial and error that shaped my understanding of a difference in stories between two peoples. She was unrequited love, a love I felt guilty for having attempted to possess while knowing so many whose unrequited love for this place grows stronger with each passing day of dreaming of return.

What transpired during my week in Jerusalem does not match up to the hands of strangers I took into my own when I crossed back into Jordan. Sitting on the Jordanian bus, crossing no man’s land once more, I possessed pocket change of dinar that did not add up to the amount needed for a bus ride back to Amman. And, as luck would have it, the ATM was broken.

“Do you have a ride?” asked the soft voice of the man who sat next to me on the bus. He was returning from a brief trip to Ramallah where his uncle had recently been admitted to the hospital.

Abandoning all reason, and warnings, I accepted his offer of transportation to Amman. In the hour it took for us to travel from the Kind Hussein bridge to Amman he told me of his family’s flight from their homeland. His father fled from Jaffa to South America, before settling in Beirut. There the man’s father met his wife, who had fled from a village north of Nazareth. In his old age, the man’s father was given the news that he would die of cancer. Knowing this, he made a promise to himself that he would die in Palestine, and that he did, in his brother’s home in Ramallah.

Upon exiting my new friend’s car, I shook his hand, and in his hand I felt the hand of his father.

Walking the nighttime streets of Amman, a friend introduced me to a man who had fled from Jerusalem decades ago, not knowing that the road he traveled would be a one-way street. He would never see Jerusalem again. He would not be able to test the words of men as I had, because the walls surrounding him are taller. I shook his hand.

In the hour-long drive to the Amman airport, at the early hour of four in the morning, my taxi driver told the all-to-familiar story of his family’s flight from Palestine. I shook his hand.

These hands will still hold onto what is more tangible than soil or home. They cannot grasp walls, but they can find solidarity in the hands of others who share a similar fate. A shared identity, a shared idea. With each handshake, we offer recognition of this identity and make it stronger. At least, I hope. How could I not, knowing that these men have held onto hope for so long.
Screenshot 2013-12-05 16.16.59

Ctrl+Alt+Del Egypt

August 17, 2013
tags:

If you attempt to combine the keys of control + alt + delete, you will find your plea for a reboot unsuccessful. The control button is stuck in place, and the delete is not to be found. If this were a movie, you would find that the pause button is also missing, along with the remote control.

The sight is unbearable, but no one can find the remote. Blood soaked streets, blood soaked hands, blood soaked clothes. There is blood raining from the sky that forms pools on the ground. If you bend over one of these pools of blood you might see, in a glassy reflection of this red, a pair of eyes pulling you forward, hungry for more blood.

The dawn is red and dusk is black, and the cycle repeats in a circular motion that promises more blood for the hungry demons the next day. And to those who inhabited the bodies previously living by the grace of this blood:

May your dust run through the river, and may the people drink from it, and realize the peace that no one understood.

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Image credit: Mosa’ab Elshamy

In a New Drama, Egypt Battles for Its Cultural Identity

June 22, 2013

(On June 21, 2013, Muftah.org published my piece on the drama surrounding Egypt’s ministry of culture. An excerpt and a link to the full article is below.)

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Photo credit: AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI

By Kaylan Geiger

As supporters of Egypt’s Tamarod (rebel) movement gear up for the much anticipated June 30 protest for President Mohamed Morsi’s removal, Egyptian artists and intellectuals are in a fight to prove that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Egypt has long been revered as a cultural capital in the Middle East. From Umm Kulthum to Naguib Mahfouz to the hundreds of Egyptian-made movies that are broadcast on Arab-language television station day and night, Egypt’s cultural and artistic scene is a source of pride for many inside the country.

Read the rest of the article here. 

 

Blood Soaked Values

April 15, 2013


55 people died today, but I am not sure that many took notice. They lost their lives to fire and politics, wrath and fury. Blood was torn from their veins by an invention of the human mind, finding its form in the mechanical bombs that sparked disaster and diseased ideology.

These bodies did not lose their heartbeats in Boston. The bombs that stole these lives were not buried in America. Nor London, nor Paris. Can you tell me about the 55 lives that have been stolen today by indecent acts? Should you be judged if you could not?

They lost their lives because of politics. Yet, the world is tired of the tales from this place, and every other place constantly soaked in blood. There is no pleasantry in these places, where numbers make up headlines, but the places are exchangeable and interchangeable. Scrolling headlines of dead bodies are numbing and exhausting. If we were to throw care into these words and numbers they would consume us with their consistency. They numb us to the point that it does not matter anymore where these bodies pave the blood soaked streets. Because it is no one’s problem but those who behold it and make the problem so.

But now, bright red lines stream across American televisions and computer screens, screaming of blood and terror. Unlike those 55 bodies that linger cold in a different place, the number of bodies in Boston who inhabited life but do no longer and those that cling to life are on constant loop through these red lines on the American television. There is panic and there is fear, there are messages of hope and encouragement, there are cries for patriotism and demands for an answer.

While the answers to “Why?” and “What?” matter, without them the conclusions have already been made. Care. You must care. You have to care.

The politics of this blood spilt in Boston is of now unclear, and the verdict of “Why?” is another story not yet known. The politics of the 55 cold bodies is also unclear. But those 55 bodies proclaimed in a headline are not run constantly in red lines across a television screen. They once were, but they are no more. Because they lack importance? You tell me.

55 people died in Iraq today, but I am not sure that many took notice. It may have been 56 or 57, or perhaps more, perhaps less. But does the number matter as much? Because greater numbers in Chad and Syria have been bypassed. As tears fall for a number that remains in constant loop across American television screens, none fall for 55 cold bodies save those of their families.

Numbers are values, they will never be equal, but they all count. The greater inequality is in the politics that teach us not to care about the other sets of numbers, no matter how little or great their size.

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Photo credit: Scott Nelson

For the Love of Attribution

January 29, 2013
 
They said
You said
I said
She said
He said 
And we said
We all said them
Yet we took no claim of them
Those words that were said
Belong to no one
No she, no he, no they, no you, no I, no we
But who?
Because
Were these words not said?
Perhaps
It is
That they never were

 

Wanted Attention

January 10, 2013

7 January 2013 – Washington, D.C.

A woman sits on a bus.
A man sits next to this woman.
He turns to her, words rumbling forth from his mouth in no particular pattern, but they are laced with disrespect and cruelty.
“Where’s your Burqa?…You should make me your husband that way I can command you.”
The woman pays him no mind, and neither do any of the bus’ passengers.
He continues to spew words of ridiculousness.
His words echo loudly, enough for every ear to hear.
“I know my breath spells like alcohol, but I would rather not eat right now and talk with you instead.”
His words of ridiculous begin to harbor threat.
“I should rip those eyelashes from your face.”
The girl continues to look out the window.
“Look at those ugly dots all over your face.”
The girl’s gaze remains focused on the street as the bus pushes forward.
The man lifts his hand, and places it hovering above the girl’s knee.
“I’m going to grab your leg, woman.”
The girl remains seated, staring out the window.
The man repeats himself.
“I’m going to grab you right now.”
Again and again.
“I’m going to command you.”
The bus stops at 15th and P Street.
The woman stands up from her spot and moves hurriedly towards the door, into the fresh air free from words of malice.

This is not India.
This is not Cairo.
This is Washington, D.C.
And that woman was me.

This story is not particularly harmful if you only read its surface. The girl could have moved, I could have moved. But chose not to. Instead I remained seated, understanding the situation fully, so that I could observe the actions of my fellow bus passengers. And the words of that man on the bus hurt nothing like the lack of action or attention this incident received from every individual standing close by. Women read text messages and old men read their newspapers.

People die because others decide to just stand by.

Run for Your Piece

October 3, 2012

3 October 2012 – Washington, D.C. 
In Syria, people are running for their lives. In Washington, D.C. people are running after themselves.
The paradoxical reality of the “game” is most disheartening in times of war. In times of peace, the suits talk and spin words wanting another war. In times of war, there are strategies for peace, but by staring at the map on the table we cannot see the bombs going off behind our backs.

Several months ago, I wrote that our preaching for morality without practice has made the West guilty of employing the reaper in Syria. By playing a game rather than seeking to intervene for the sake of humanity, despite all of the grand costs an “expert” can rattle off, we forget to wipe the dots of blood from our grey suits and sharp ties. We sip wine and we complain about the castle’s bureaucracy. Oh, the bureaucracy is always to blame. Yet, bureaucracy has only become the scapegoat for our selfishness.

We are selfish because we refuse to take action while pretending like we care. We are childish for climbing over one another in a race to the top of the “I told you so” game. We are dogs chasing out tails, constantly amused by ourselves and our cardboard soapboxes of mighty power.

All the while, people in Syria are running for their lives.

Enough with the game, you can stop pretending now. All I see is make believe.