Happy When Happy Despite

Happy When Happy Despite

Image result for happy sad face

On my last birthday I made a massive discovery about myself: I have been postponing happiness for the most part of my life. I was the “happy when” type, the one who needed something to happen as a condition for her happiness.

Over the years, I have deceived my self continuously by promising to be happy when I achieved something or reached a goal;  alas I  could never keep the promise because I had to set another condition.

I will be Happy when I get married.

I will be happy when I get that job in the university.

I will be happy when I get my PhD.

I will be happy when the kids grow.

I will be happy when they graduate and get married.

I will be happy when I move to the new house.

I will be happy when I lose those five kilos.

I will be happy when I get my dream car.

And I was happy for all these things but only briefly because I had to hurry up and set a new goal and forget about the precious things I already have, take them for granted and assume I should have something else to aspire to.

Now that the realization struck me like a tornado, I tried to remember the last time when I was unconditionally happy, when I did not set a target.  To my surprise, I had to go so far back to the time when I was nine or ten! I saw myself playing on the beach with my sister and brother and some ten or twelve cousins. My parents, uncles and aunts were sitting under three overlapping umbrellas talking and laughing and eating as if there were no worries in their world.

I tried to figure out the reasons  why I lost the”  just feel happy for now ability” and decide the exact time I adopted ” a happy when” attitude ? Is it something in my personality?   Is it a cultural heritage which allows us to be happy only when our family’s pre-decided goals for us are achieved?  Is it an outdated educational system which stressed academic success as a condition for happiness and an end in itself? Or is it an inherent sense of guilt that stressed I  did not deserve happiness unless I do such and such and lashed me to do things fast and perfect?  Instead of coming up with a clear cut answer, I made another discovery.  Whenever I caught myself feeling happy for one little thing or another, I always felt guilty for it!.  How can I be happy while a relative is sick? Or when my son is stressed because of a final exam?  Or a friend has  just lost her husband? The things to worry about or fret over are always abundant;  deep down I have that notion that as long as they exist I have no right to be happy.  So happiness itself becomes a crime, another reason to torture myself  for not being supportive or helpful or at least appreciative of other’s feelings.  So instead of seizing the opportunity to grab a moment of happiness, my automatic pilot would drag me down to the real world and my mind would shun the happiness urge and start to do its real business: spotting a problem and trying to solve it, quick. I have always found excuses and sat up dates and deadlines that I never could meet to postpone happiness.

I also found out it is a cultural issue. In my country if you are with friends or family and a fit of laughter strikes for one reason or another, you will always find a sane person who volunteers to remind you that you have no right to be so happy! They will remind you that this very happy situation would definitely turn into a problem or a sad situation and warn you that your laughter might miraculously lead to tears!!   ” Khair Allah homa eg3alo chair”  meaning may God not turn this situation into the opposite.  It is some kind of  supplication we always mention when we catch ourselves lost in laughter or a sudden fit of happiness, as we expect God is likely to punish us for feeling happy.  This, of course, has no religious- related grounds at all since we are always urged , as Moslems, to expect good things and rewards from Allah.

Why cannot we just replace” happy when” with “happy despite” attitudes. To be happy despite the pain, the traffic jams, the loss of a dear one, the failure to get the job. I am not in a position to tell you what to do to be happy. If there is one thing I know by now about happiness then I must tell you it is a  CHOICE .  Happiness is so subjective, relative and brief.  I simply do not  know about you. But I know that I can feel joyful with simple things, as simple as a cup of earl grey or raspberry tea by choosing to drink it mindfully, by a one day trip with my husband, by a bunch of lilies in a vase by my desk, by watching a Disney movie with my kids, or taking my daughter to a shopping mall. Happiness is short and illusive, so go grab one moment and always make the choice to be happy no matter what happens.

Dubbing or subtitles?

Lonely Translations

english german dubbing translation

Dub or sub?
The decision could be more important than we realise.

It is no secret that with dubbing, so much can be lost in translation. Humour sometimes falls flat-on-its-face flat and the voices of actors can ring hollow – or worse, come off as camp or macho when they should be the other way round. However, hidden under the voice-over, there is a far bigger concern lurking: does dubbing affect our ability to aquire another language?

Surely, it is no coincidence that the citizens of Spain, whose TV and cinema are dubbed into the local language, have the worst level of English in the EU according to a recent survey (http://www.ef-uk.co.uk/epi/download-full-report/), nor that the top five on the same list, including Norway, The Netherlands and Denmark, all use subtitling. Research has shown that we pick up languages much quicker as children than we do as adults, and that in…

View original post 491 more words

January 2015: Global Arab and Arabic Literary Events Calendar

ArabLit & ArabLit Quarterly

The start of a list of January 2015 events dealing with Arabic literature in some sort of translation. Please add more below.

January 5

download‘One Book’: Many Readings of Susan Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin (Worldwide)

The “One Book” readings begin on January 5 in Dèvillac, France and continue in the cities across the US, Sweden, Italy, Canada, Germany, England, and more. Look for an event in your area.

Arabic Literature group at the Boulder Public Library (Boulder, USA)

January’s discussion is of “The Gaza Kitchen,” by Laila M. El-Haddad and February’s The Seven Veils of Seth: A Modern Arabic novel from Libya, by Ibrahim al-Koni. More here.

January 7

Opening of the Qatar International Book Fair (Doha, Qatar)

Set to run through the 17th. More here.

January 8

A Conversation on The Holy Sail (Doha, Qatar)

A talk with author Abdulaziz al-Mahmoud and Dr. Khaled Hroub on al-Mahmoud’s second novel…

View original post 216 more words




Short Story


by Abeer Elgamal (Egypt)


Snip, snip, snip…. “Voila! What do you think, sweetie? Do you like your hair?” I ask the bride as I add the final touches and spray some glitter on her curls. I fight a compelling urge to scratch the back of my hand.
“Marvelous, Rasha, you are a real artist!”

The bride’s relatives begin another round ofzarghroutas. Joyful as the sound is, for me it is also torturous, mixing in my mind with the click of my scissors as they work their magic on the hair of yet another customer. Pain creeps up my spine like a spider. It marches up and down until I feel the ache at the back of my neck. I wake up to the thanks of one more satisfied customer, one more stylish haircut, more of the snipping sound that causes more aches and pains, that haunts my dreams and defines my daily existence. It is part of who I became some twenty years from that day: the hairdresser, the owner of one of the biggest salons in Cairo.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, followed by the thump of thick chunks of braid hitting the marble floor – those sounds still pierce my ears like poisoned spears.

Can I open my eyes now, Sister?” I pleaded.

“Not yet,” she replied in her scolding manner.
I wanted to know why she was angry with me all the time. Did she ever love me? My victory is hers, too; did she not want to be rich and famous and beautiful like Madame? She handed me down her clothes, her shoes, and here I am achieving her dreams.

My heart sank at the sound of the scissors devouring more chunks of my hair. My right hand itched badly; it still does when I am afraid; it does all the time. I had a sudden urge to touch the back of my head but I knew Sister would not let me; she might even slap me just for trying. The night before, as we curled up under Father’s bed, she hugged me and whispered into my ear like good friends do. That was the first and last time I felt I really had a sister who cared about me. She told me that every day she sneaked up to observe the hairdressers as they styled the customers’ hair. Since the owner of the salon did not allow her to go near her clients, she wanted to try her skill on my hair. My blond hair: long, shiny and soft, the pride of poor Mother.

But it was okay to cut it off. Mother suffered every month when I washed it. Braiding my hair must have strained her hands and neck after a long day of working in two or three houses. Mother never complained, but I could sense her aching bones and hear her yawning; mother yawned all the time. She said she loved my hair and that it reminded her of her own when she was young, before she gave birth to nine girls and lost some of it with each one. Mother was pregnant again because Father wanted to have a boy. She will lose more hair.

Sister said ladies paid a hundred pounds to get their hair cut and that I was lucky to get it for free. They are all stupid, she thought. Then she had to get the broom and collect the hair from the shiny floor that she had swept earlier in the morning. Sometimes she brought home some detergent in a little bottle and used it as a perfume. It smelled so clean; it made you feel like you had just had a long bath with Lux soap. You felt like Mona Zaki or Yosra, all glowing and perfumed. The smell made you feel like a wealthy lady from a big house with a huge balcony full of flowers.

We sneaked out right after Mother left at dawn, and took four minibuses to get to the salon in Nasr city. She said the woman who came to clean with her was sick and that it would just be her and me until the other girls came at noon. I hid under the building and Sister went to Madame’s apartment on the tenth floor to get the keys. She opened the big lock and heaved up the metal gate, which disappeared miraculously inside the wall. In front of us stood the gleaming glass doors. She used a smaller key to open them. We slid inside and she fastened the latch from the inside and turned on the lights. I was startled; hundreds of little lights buried in the ceiling began twinkling like tiny stars. I had never seen real stars because the sky above Manshyet Naser was always dusty because burning garbage caused a smog over the whole area, reaching Al Basateen [a huge graveyard where poor families built shacks for shelter] where I lived. I guess the smog never went away;  I just don’t go there anymore, not after Mother died and I took my sisters to live with me. The big lights on the mirrors were more like suns, shining with warm yellow rays. I thought I was in heaven. The shiny black marble floor reflected the lights and the smell of cleanliness made me feel pure like a piece of cotton. Sister said there was magic in that place. Ugly women came in the door and when they left they were transformed. Sister said I was prettier than Madame herself, and her daughter. She pointed to a huge photo of the daughter’s wedding; she looked like a princess with short hair and a tiara, in a fantastic dress with a long train stretching behind.

“Choose any chair, ya bet,” Sister ordered.

The chairs were soft purple leather, rimmed with silver; they could move in all directions with a gentle touch. She said the seat in the middle was the one Madame used for her best customers, the ones who paid thousands and gave my sister five or ten pounds in tips. She swore one of them always had stacks of money lying in her open bag under the chair. Back then, one stack would have solved all our problems, could have moved us from the one room we were crammed into and given Mother a day or two of rest.

I thought Sister was lucky to be in this salon for most of the day, wearing that nice clean uniform, surrounded by beautiful things and watching ladies as they got prettier. But she never was; she was angry and resentful. She believed people treated us like insects; they wanted us out of their sight, buried in the cracks like cockroaches. She was banished all day to the inner rooms, to clean the bathrooms after each use and was only allowed to come into the salon after a haircut in order to sweep the floor. “The look of us bothers them; we are gross and dirty. But our dirt is on the outside while they are dirty inside, all of them are,” she said.

I still thought Sister was lucky to be in the salon all day, smelling that beautiful clean aroma and looking at those sparkling mirrors. She said that when the other girls came to work, they played beautiful music and laughed with the wealthy women as they did their hair or cleaned and painted their nails. She said some women even stripped naked and the girls would scrub their bodies with Moroccan soap and wax their private parts. Then Madame would order Sister to clean the bathrooms after the women showered. It was dirty work, she claimed. When I saw the bathrooms I knew she was exaggerating. They were gleaming and spotless. Sister wanted to remain in the salon and learn everything.

I did not believe everything Sister told me. I knew she hated those women and she hated Madame, too, although she gave her ten pounds a day. That was a lot of money, 300 per month. I said she should be happy and grateful but she believed it wasn’t fair; she worked hard all day and Father took the money in the end to smoke hashish. She said one day she would have her own salon and it would be bigger and cleaner that Madame’s. I still don’t know why she hated Madame so much. She hated the women Mother worked for, too. She went to help Mother before she got the salon job. Then there was an “accident” and mother swore she would never take her to any of the houses again. Mother heated a spoon and burned Sister’s  thigh. I didn’t see it happen; I was with other kids watching a burial nearby, waiting for the traditional alms to be distributed by the dead man’s family, when I heard her scream. I ran to see what was wrong and missed the handouts. When I came in Mother was crying; she swore to burn Sister’s face next time if she took anything that did not belong to her. The next morning, Mother returned the ring to the woman she worked for and apologized. But she was kicked out for good. The woman said we were a family of thieves. When Mother came home without money that day, Father beat her. He said he would kill us all if she did not bring money for his smoke every day. Since I slept by Mother’s feet, I heard her cry most of the night. I stroked her feet and she stopped crying. She said Allah would help her because of me. She said I was as pure as cotton and that Allah would never forget us. Mother prayed five times a day, in the morning before she left and four other times when she returned in the evening. She said the women did not allow her to pray. They thought she just wanted to have a break from work. I prayed with her when there was enough water to cleanse ourselves before prayers. She said I couldn’t pray without being tahara(pure).

Snip, snip, snip.

Sister divided my hair into four parts and fastened each with a big pin that Madame used for her best customers. She saw the girls do this every day and had learned to do it, too. She said I had to close my eyes while she worked. I wanted to see myself in the mirror and learn how to cut hair as well, but she said she wanted to surprise me with the style that Madame’s daughter had. She said I was more beautiful than all the women who came here, and that I must find a wealthy man to marry me when my period started. She wished she was as beautiful as me. She looked just like our father: she had his dark coloring and his thick curly hair, so she used a headscarf to cover it.

“Open your eyes and look!” Sister said proudly.

I wanted to cry; my stomach churned as it did when I was hungry. I swallowed hard as if that would stop the tears or make me feel full. I was not hungry; Sister had bought me foul (fava beans) and falafel on our way. The sight of my hair scattered on the floor made me feel dizzy; the sight of customers’ hair lying on the floor still does, every day, whenever I give them haircuts; every single day I feel the same as I did on that day. I still have an urge to scratch my hand and I cannot help touching the back of my head, as I did that day on my badly shaven head.

“I look like a boy!” was all I could utter then. Sister said that the cut was called à la garçonne and gave a vicious snicker. Mother would surely heat the spoon again for my sister, and probably for me, too. But she did not. She just cried and hugged me that night as we slept. She said she was sorry she had to leave me alone in the house and that I did not have to cut my hair with the fish scissors. She was afraid my hair would not grow again. She said that hair has a soul and it gets sad when it is cut badly. Mother never knew my sister did it; I hated to see her punished. Each time she was beaten, my bones ached; sometimes I got bruises like hers. I loved my sister, I always will. I wish she had lived to see my glittery salon; I had achieved her dream.

Deep Inside

Deep Inside

I rummage my bag for a pen. The employee waiting for my signature looks furiously at me under her reading glasses. I get more nervous and it takes me longer to find the pen when I think about how many pairs of eyes behind me stare indignantly at me.

Oops… it is red. The one I use to correct my students’ papers. Now I have to delve deeper into the bag to find a blue one. The fidgety steps behind me in the queue sound like war drums. Sooner than I expect, I will hear words darting in the back of my head like arrows.  I swear in my head that the moment I get home I will turn my big fat bag upside down on the floor and throw away all the items that crowd it and make any attempt to find anything a torture.

As I walk home, the strap of the bag cuts deep through my aching shoulder. I remember mother’s complaint: “you took all your books to school when you were young. I tried to convince you to leave the ones you don’t use every day but you always insisted”. Having all my books and notebooks made me feel secure then. I kept the habit when I got older. The things I loved made me feel safe and I kept them close: my favorite  books,  the fountain pen my uncle gave me,   the golden chain my father gave me when I was twelve, the huge fur coat my husband bought me in America and piles and piles of things that crowd the rooms in my house . My hand bag was no exception. I kept myself surrounded by memory- infused stuff and carried all my luggage around.  I felt safer knowing I have everything I need handy.  With years’ worth of accumulated stuff, I felt heavier, shackled and entangled in a web from the past and now is the time to get rid of the extras. I need to live lighter, feel lighter. I will start with my hand bag.

I open the door, throw the burning hot keys and the sun glasses on the coffee table and decide to skip the shower until I take care of the bag.  Now that is one brave decision and I might as well reward myself with a cup of earl gray tea to push me through the hard job.  My uncle loved earl grey too. The kettle clicks indicating water is boiled and wakes me from my thoughts. When was the last time I emptied the contents of my bag? I fail to remember. When I want to change bags I usually take everything in a bag and stuff into another. I choose the big ones that won’t revolt against the volume and the weight of my stuff.  When was the last time I de-cluttered my messy life? Five years ago when I moved into the new apartment? I don’t remember getting rid of things back then, I only came up with new ways to store them.

One step at a time. Take it easy nice and slow. I encourage myself knowing that it would not be easy to part with my things. My things.  Parts of who I am, just like the five extra kilos I keep within and carry around, failing to let go of.  I will have some fun doing it too. No, no, no.  Not the diet. That will come later. It is only a simple task of cleaning up a cluttered bag, I assure my anxious self. It would be like a game: I will sit in the middle of the big sofa with the bag on my lap, just like a new born.  I will put the things I have to keep on my right. Everything else will go on the left, even if it is used occasionally it will go in the trash. I take the last sip of earl grey and touch my aching right shoulder to push my hesitant self forward. From now on I won’t have to carry a heavy bag. Even more. I will get rid of the huge sack like bags. I will get out my pretty medium sized bags and start using them. I will change bags every few days instead of hanging on to a black one that goes with all outfits. If I don’t use my bags then I will have to get rid of them too. That would be a fit punishment.

God that hurts!  It feels like delving inside your very soul and grabbing out all the rot.  To my right I put the small purse with the money and ids.  Another swollen purse lies on my lap, refusing to go to the left side.  I don’t even remember what is inside it so I get everything out. Photos of my husband and children, not one photo each, but a set of six recent photos in case I needed to apply for something. And many photos of all the stages of their lives.  The twins appear in the hospital room in their pink and blue baby hats, my older son in the kindergarten graduation uniform, my older daughter holding her favorite Barbie dolls are just a few examples. My parents appear in a black and white photo by the sea and my young niece in a lovely red dress when she was six months old.  Many other photos keep me smiling for an hour, bits and pieced of my life. How can I move around without them?  I keep them on my lap until I have the courage to decide if they go to the left.  I will need another session of deep down delving. I postpone the whole task for another day.



I am heartless. My sister’s voice, shocked and tearful, tells me our father is ill, seriously ill. I hurry from the phone to my room to check my wardrobe. I look for something black, something that will look elegant and flattering on my saggy body.  I am heartless. I remember Father’s kind face; I feel his hand holding mine as he led me encouragingly into the sea when I was four.  “We will have fun,” he promised. “I will carry you if you want. Just don’t be afraid. Nothing can hurt as long as I am here with you.”  I was such a cowardly child. I was afraid of water, afraid of loud voices, afraid of losing Father.  I had a recurrent dream that my father had died; I had it throughout my childhood. I would wake up shivering and crying. Mother always said it meant that Father would live to be one hundred. When you dream someone is dead it means they will have a long life, she said each time. And I believed it. A world without him could not be real.  But Father is not one hundred yet. He is not even near that. Maybe I will have to forget about the black dress for a while. For ten years, maybe?  Or just five… a couple of years will do… or just a few more months. Who knows?  Maybe he will take me to my grave, the same tender way he took me everywhere… the same loving hand holding mine, the same tired eyes when he stayed up all night to keep me company as I studied, the same smile as he held my babies the moment they came out of my womb. Father was always there, will always be here, for me, for all of us.  I never told Father how much I love him. See how heartless I am?