Tag Archive | "Family"

Seventeen


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Is school going well dear?” My grandmother asked, smiling at me. I didn’t reply at first, so she asked again.

“Sorry Grandma. Yeah it is. It’s going good. I finish grade twelve soon and I’m gonna hear about universities in a month or so.” I tried to smile, but it was hard, and instead of asking a question back, like what you’re supposed to do when it’s a normal conversation, I just sat there quietly.

“Well dear, I’ll leave you alone for a little while. You look like you need some quiet time,” she said. Then she stood up, and started heading out of the room.

My Mom, standing against the wall about ten feet away, looked at me and nodded her head towards my grandmother. I knew what she wanted, but I didn’t want to do it, so I pretended like I didn’t notice, and acted like I needed to straighten out my tie or something. Then there was a shadow in front of me, someone blocking the light that was behind me.

“John.” my father whispered a warning in my ear, warm breath passing across the back of my neck, setting my nerves on edge, egging on the rebellion inside me that was just about to blow up. “Get up and get over there,” he said, growling. His hand squeezed my shoulder hard, not in a loving way. I knew there was no point arguing, and besides, with everyone pretending to not look at me, it would have been pointless. I looked over at my mother, but even she was looking away, her face set in that stupid “I can’t deal with this” expression that I just so totally hated.

“Okay,” I said quietly, my teeth clenched. “Just let go of me.” I jerked my shoulder forward, and my father released his hand. I stood up, worked my way past sitting relatives and friends, around chairs and couches, darting glances, unasked questions, and into the next room.

As often happens to men my age, not old enough (yet) to live on their own, there ends up always being a lot of time spent in places you just didn’t want to be at. It could be a reunion, a family gathering, a Christening, a baptism, first communion, and then all those goddamn holidays, and every time there’s a better place to be and some better thing I could be doing, and some plan I totally made weeks ago and even told everybody about, like, a hundred times, but no. No. I have to go.

The door clicked softly behind me, and the quiet conversations were replaced by soft whispers down the hallway in the other room. My feet stood there, rooted, unable to shift or move even an inch, until the scream came. It was a loud, short, piercing, anguished, confused scream, and I just hated it. I hated it and I couldn’t take it anymore. Then came the sound of someone falling on the ground, and a moment later the soft footsteps of family friends and half-known neighbors passing by, deciding suddenly to be somewhere else for a while. It was the crying that got me going again, I just couldn’t take hearing it.

As I moved into the other room, I saw that everyone else had cleared out. It was a large space, but looked so cold and empty now. These are always sad things, but I mean they could have at least made the room look a little more cheerful. In the middle, in a small pink heap on the floor, my grandmother cried. Her bony frame and sharp angles shaking, gasping, sudden misery making it hard for her to breathe.

I walked over and asked her if she was okay, putting my hand on her shoulder. I fumbled in my pocket and found some kleenex, and passed it down. She took it and thanked me, and kept crying. I didn’t want to stand there, bent over like some giant, so I sat down, and listened to her for a while. She didn’t understand what was going on, and wondered why nobody had told her that her husband had died. There he was, lying peacefully, as they say, but he didn’t look right to me, not like the way dead people look when you watch funerals on TV shows.

Soon her crying died down a little, and I stood up, gently getting her to stand up as well. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I just stood between her and the casket, and helped her to the door, and back into the other room.

A minute later I was sitting down in my chair, the same chair I’d been in all morning. My grandmother was cheerful again, asking me all sorts of questions. She asked about school, girls, my car, and my sports. Then she started to look a little distracted. She looked at her watch, and around the room, searching. “Where’s William?” she whispered to herself, looking for my grandfather’s face somewhere nearby. She looked for a few moments, then stood up and left, and I looked down at my shoes. When I sensed my father coming my way, I didn’t even wait for him to say anything. I just got up and walked after my grandmother.

She’d been quicker this time. When I popped my head out the door, I didn’t see her. I waited for a moment, but I didn’t hear anything either. It was strange. So I walked down to the viewing room, and sure enough, she was there. She wasn’t crying, just sitting on the floor, in the middle of the room, staring at my grandfather, like all those other times today.

I put my hand on her, and felt nothing. I pulled it right back, scared, and got down on my knees beside her. Her eyes were closed, and she wasn’t crying because she wasn’t breathing. I didn’t know what to think, or do. I felt so confused. I knew I should be feeling really sad, that I should be crying, but it wasn’t like that at all. I felt, not happy, but relieved. And then I felt ashamed for feeling relieved. I felt so goddamned selfish for feeling that way, but I couldn’t help it. And then I think I figured out why.

It was mercy. All day, in and out of this room, I counted seventeen times, including now. I watched my grandmother see her husband die, right before her eyes, again and again. Every time it happened, leading her away, I watched her forget all about the whole thing. Today I hated God like I never hated anyone in my whole life, because it was just the cruelest joke ever imagined. I kept thinking if I saw anyone even crack a smile that day, I’d just go ballistic on them.

I guess it just took a little while for God to listen, but eventually he did. What the mind forgets, the body remembers, and whether it was God or nature, something knew it just wasn’t natural. And so there I was, kneeling on the floor, holding my grandmother’s hand, and while I knew I had just lost her, she had found her husband again.

From James O’Hearn…

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Time and Time Again


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From Dubai Corespondent James O’Hearn…

You know, I find it really hard to explain to my wife exactly why I not only need time to write, but that our separate understandings of what “time” means, are very different. To her forty five minutes means I’ve been writing for long enough. “Isn’t that enough time?” To me, forty five minutes means I’ve just gotten started. “Enough? Are you crazy?”

It’s an endless argument that circles about ad infinitum, always leaving me angry, yet hopelessly unable to articulate how I view things. If I say “I need a few hours, uninterrupted,” it translates as “Go away, I don’t want to be with you.” The invariable result of these exchanges is hurt feelings on one side, guilt on the other, with anger, and frustration for both.

It is not that either side is right or wrong, but that the two sides are mutually incomprehensible to each other. What is needed, I think, is an advocate who can articulate the differences in a way that is easily understood, and reasonable.

Today, as luck would have it, I came across “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule,” by Paul Graham.

The crux of his argument is that there are two types of people when it comes to time – Manager types and Maker types.

Manager types break down the day into discrete blocks or sets of activities, and are always used to both multi-tasking, and fitting additional stuff in. They are kind of like my wife, who, when faced with a moment of respite, will decide that a certain cupboard needs reorganizing, or the laundry that was going to be done tomorrow could just as well be done right now, while she is cooking dinner, and chatting with a friend on the phone.

Maker types don’t break down the day into discrete blocks of time, because that often impedes their ability to get a workflow going, to go about the business of making. Interruptions break the concentration, stop a making in it’s tracks, and every time this reoccurs, the maker is starting at the beginning again. Makers avoid interruptions, and try to suspend their awareness of time. This is kind of like me, who will sit down, start tapping out an idea, exploring it, organizing it, adding to it, revising it, and polishing it. Time will flow without my knowledge until the task is done.

The problem comes when the Manager and the Maker conflict. I’ll be in a flow, getting something straight in my head, and all of a sudden a holler from out of the room will break my concentration. My wonderful, lovely wife will inform me that I have to come, now, this instant, and see to the children. Why? Because she can;t do everything, you see, and she is already cooking, doing the laundry and currently talking to her friend! At first I would point out that if perhaps she did one thing at a time, then she wouldn’t need to me to run out and deal with something that swift motherly hand and a corrective word could take care of.

The response, after omitting the unprintable string of words that immediately follow, usually relates to a strongly worded question as to why can’t I just “help out?”

And it’s true. Why can’t I just help out? Why can’t I just pause my brain, and hop back into it without a hitch? By not helping out, I’d only be proving what a cad I am. But on the other hand…

And that’s just the problem. For this, can there even be an “other hand?”

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Mall Culture


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j0438998From James O’Hearn…

One thing for sure about this wacky little emirate is that there is an incredibly high number of malls per capita. The wife and I recently decided to hit a new mall each week, and counting off just the ones we know, that list is going to take quite a long time to get through.

One thing I’ve read in blogs and in the news is speculation that this massive overdevelopment of retail space in Dubai was going to have negative repercussions during the economic crunch. But so far, I can’t say that I’ve seen any evidence that this is happening at all.

Today we went to Times Square, one of the newest shopping centers built on Sheikh Zayed Rd. Times Square has only open been for a year or so, but already it draws in a good number of affluent larger families on account of the disproportionate number of kids stores, and places for children. One spot in particular, Fun Square, is an absolutely brilliantly executed kids zone. Birthday parties there need to be booked weeks in advance, and for those who just drop by, it is worth every single dirham to chuck the kids into the multilevel padded play palace. You can literally see a line of mums, slumped thankfully against the wall in chairs, finally getting a moment of rest while their little devils burn up enough excess energy to ensure early bedtimes later on. And with a Caribou Coffee downstairs, a massive Sharaf DG electronics store, and a large after-market car parts store, it’s like Mom and Dad crack city.

On the way out of Times Square, we decided to stop at the new Oasis Centre, just one interchange down the road. We needed to pop into the nice Carrefour Express they have, but when we came in close to the place, found that they had no parking whatsoever. There were over 800 spots underground, and maybe 100 above ground, the place was jam packed. This centre, which had burned down years ago, and only just reopened a few months ago, was already teeming with customers, enough so that we had to head on down the road. And in doing so, I noticed something I hadn;t really thought about before.

As it stands right now in Dubai, you can find a large mall, almost literally at every interchange along a stretch starting at Ittihad Rd. in Sharjah, heading on through to the other border of Dubai. Start with the Sahara Centre in Sharjah, and after crossing the border into Dubai you have Century Mall. Go up Ittihad a few minutes and you pass the Deira City Centre. The next major interchange, Garhoud Bridge, is next to Festival City. After that, at the Al Wasl interchange, is Wafi City. Then, passing by the interchange near Karama, is Lamcy Plaza. At the World Trade Centre roundabout, where Ittihad Rd. becomes Sheikh Zayed Rd., you won’t find a mall, per se, but you will find one of the longest, and by far the tallest, strip malls in the world. On Sheikh Zayed Rd., at that point, is an unbroken line of skyscrapers that stretches for a full mile on both sides. At the next interchange, you can hit the Dubai Mall or the Mazaya Centre. After the next interchange is the Oasis Centre. The next interchange brings Times Square, and the next interchange after that is where you will find the Mall of the Emirates. Past there, is the Dubai Marina Mall, and then further down the road, near the border between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is Ibn Battuta Mall.

Each mall is no more than a five minute drive, as the crow flies, from the next one down the road. Back in Canada, I can remember driving quite a ways to get to any mall of note. In Ottawa you start with Bayshore Shopping Centre in Nepean, go on to the Rideau Center downtown, and then the Place D’Orleans on the other side of the city. Over roughly the same distance, in both cities, cities with comparable populations*, you go from three malls along a stretch in Ottawa, to fourteen in Dubai. That’s about a mall every kilometer and a half. And those fourteen? They aren’t doing too badly.

Almost anywhere else I can imagine, in Canada, and even in the United States, that many major retail centers, strung along over such a short distance, would be a disaster for the developers and owners of those malls. You just can’t support that much retail space concentrated in such a small area. Yet for some reason those same economic realities don’t seem to function here.

Could it be population density? Maybe, but I don’t think so. The population density of Dubai is 25% higher than that of Ottawa, but in Ottawa, on the whole, the standard of living and per capita income is leagues beyond what Dubai can boast. For all the extravagant development in Dubai, the city itself just isn’t that built up. There are few sidewalks, the metro system is yet to open, and outside of the few major arteries like Sheikh Zayed Rd., there are really not very many major roads. And as for wealth, the extravagant wealth that Dubai is known for really is concentrated in small percentage of the population. Which nixes the next question – are people richer? Not on the average, no.

Which leaves the question as yet unanswered. How can Dubai have so many malls, yet not face a massive retail sector meltdown? Is it because, outside of going to the mall, there isn’t much to do in Dubai? Is it because Dubai lacks the massive power centers that litter than landscape in North America – the massive expanses of parking lot filled in with a few big box stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Best Buy? Is it because Dubai is pretty much the shopping center of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman?

Any ideas?

*Dubai’s population figures also include hundreds of thousands of laborers who live, for all intents and purposes, outside of the city. Those same laborers also do not figure into the plans of retailers, as their salaries are a) exceedingly modest, and b) are usually tied up by monthly remittance commitments.

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Heading Towards the Nonsense


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2-lama-j 

From Lama J . . .

Simplicity is the cure for the complications of daily life, pureness the one and only remedy and salvation. It’s not a philosophy or a theory I’m trying to raise, but a question I keep asking myself – is it really strange to be simple? Is it a shame to be pure and spontaneous?

 

I grew up in a simple house, where I learned how to earn things. I was taught to be proud of being a Palestinian, an Arab, and above else, a Muslim. I always prayed with my parents and fasted during Ramadan every year – today I still do.  I used to visit my uncles and relatives, although part of me didn’t really like doing so. I respected my parents and never argued with them about anything, even if they weren’t convincing. I used to help mom and my sisters in preparing big meals for the family. In fact, we each cooked twice a week and it wasn’t an option to do so, but a duty. I grew up proudly in a very simple and traditional Middle Eastern home. Looking back now, I feel lucky.

On the other hand, I received my education from a private school, where boys and girls were allowed to study with each other. I had posters of Wham and George Michael in my bedroom, loved to listen to pop music and watched Western movies and TV shows.

As I grew up, my dad used to tell us, when you work hard your reward is always big. He also said to work as if there is no one beside you to help. After I finished university, I worked in many places in Amman trying to earn a living and to prove that I could do a lot of things with a small amount of money. Eventually my efforts and education took me to a job Europe and my travels around the world began.   

My dream, all along, was to have a family of my own – kids here and there, playing with them one minute and yelling at them the next. I guess it’s a simple dream. I love kids, and I’m not afraid to say that loudly. I guess I’m a big kid too, as I’ve never wanted to grow up. What could be better than having beautiful angels living with you, watching them grow, learn, and later marry to start families of their own? Kids are a blessing from God. The Holly Quran even says “money and kids are the beauty of our lives.

I felt the need to write these thoughts, just to make sure that I’m still on the right track, trying to follow what I think to be normal. In the end, I try to keep the balance in my life.

Many sophisticated co-workers and friends of mine from different nationalities and religions often look at me with a big question mark. I guess I’m silly and very old-fashioned about my ideas of having kids and living happily ever after; I guess I’m wasting my precious time cooking; I guess I’m not really enjoying my time because I don’t party a lot. Hmmm… where the hell I have been hiding all these years??

Let me say this loudly, so all can hear – this kind of thinking is not normal!! A friend of mine with no children, who has four cats and calls them her daughters and who always talks about how children would interfere with her lifestyle, is not normal. Sometimes she takes couple of days off because one of the daughters is sick. Don’t get me wrong; I love animals. They’re beautiful and cute, but they are not people.

Another friend of mine told me she doesn’t want kids because she’s afraid that her face will get paralyzed? But How?? Did you ever read about this happening to anyone? I didn’t.

Another is telling me she has her own way of living and kids are just an interruption to this lifestyle. Can’t kids be part of our lifestyle? Another hates the responsibility, but aren’t we are supposed to be responsible? Another thinks that she makes money to enjoy spending it, and not to waste it on kids. Are children a waste of our money?

 I can give endless examples of women I meet in my day-to-day life who simply cannot imagine having children. I’m sure there are more and I’m still interested to meet and to listen to their opinionsl. Most of these fellow women react so strangely every time I show how much I need a child, looking at me in a way that makes me try to hide my feelings towards being a mother. Sometimes they make me feel like I ran away from the Stone Age.

I guess people like being weird these days. Maybe it’s cool to be different, or it’s good to make lots of money and not share it with anybody. Many marriages seem to be now based on emptiness; a need of having something called partner in one’s life, but this partner doesn’t expect much from the other. Every time I feel proud of learning how to cook a new recipe that my husband really liked and want to brag about it. When I do, once again, I made to feel like I’m from the Stone Age.

A friend of mine doesn’t like cooking because she cannot stand washing dishes. Another one orders from a food service to feed the family every day. Some literally have never done anything, but work at their jobs. Many place work as a priority over starting a family of their own and their husbands are not even complaining.

Is this the new generation? Are these the expected future mothers? Are we really convinced that this is the right thing? How far we are willing to go with this way of thinking? Is this a new religion that people want to follow, where we can be more classy and civilized?

I guess we are heading towards the danger zone here; I guess we’re heading towards the nonsense.

 

 

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