Salt of this Sea

It was not until last night that I watched the movie Salt of this Sea by Annemarie Jacir. I have been hearing about it for a while now, and cannot believe that I have not seen it earlier.

Starring in Salt of this Sea or (milhu hathal bahr - in Arabic) is well-known Palestinian poet from New York, Suheir Hammad and Saleh Bakri, a well-known Palestinian actor.

The script was very poignant and symbolic, and the story so true and typical of all Palestinians. Personally for me, there was a very melancholic feeling, accompanied by a lot of anger. Sparing you most details, the main characters in the movie suffer from restriction. They are denied entry to a land they can only see in their dreams. Faced with reality, but determined to defy it, they try to steal these precious moments of which they are deprived, and enjoy them while they last. They manage to sneak into Yafa (Jaffa). What is sad is that they start to make pretend, like they could manage to really stay there even if it was "illegal" for them to. Put in that position, I would pretend too. Like them, I would also try to forget everything stolen from the Palestinians and pretend like it was still there, like there was never an occupation and never an intruder.

Mostly, what took my breath away was all the scenery. There was Jerusalem and its old streets, and the beautiful blue sea, the fertile orange trees and the amazing old houses of Yafa. I spent the whole night dreaming of being there, breathing the perfumed air, lying on the tranquil beach, tasting the oranges and walking so freely in the streets of Yafa.

Honestly, I felt like this movie was made for people like myself; Palestinians who have not lived in nor seen all of Palestine. I felt like it was a gift. I had only heard about Yafa's beauty in my grandparents' stories and had never quite been through such an experience. I think that most people would say that the movie is crucial for foreigners, who are usually the ones who are unfamiliar with Palestinians' stolen rights. I would agree to a very large extent, but personally still, I felt like it was for me.

This afternoon, I watched the movie again. I had not missed any particular detail but I wanted to have that feeling again. It was the closest I could get to being in Yafa, whose door is shut in my face, a heaven on earth that I would only see in my dreams.


Portobello Road

I have recently been to London for a short course, but also spent some amazing quality time with my sister and caught up with a dear friend. Due to the extremely cold weather (which was practically an impediment for me), I did not walk all the streets of London as I had earlier imagined. Luckily though, I had been to London before, and fulfilled my role as the tourist on the sightseeing bus.

I was happy to explore other things this time, things that would not have been normally introduced to me as obvious London attractions. I had the great pleasure of meeting Portobello road.

Just walking distance from Nottinghill Gate station, Portobello road is a real treat. My first time around, it was difficult to focus on just one thing. I was distracted by the beautiful rainbow of colors on buildings, and amazed by all the extremely original shops. From leather to antiques, these shops were anything but ordinary. It was everything you would not find in a typical commercial area.

I remember it was snowing that day, and in spite of not being able to feel my nose and feet I recall being completely overwhelmed by everything around me. Fruits and vegetables of every shape, kind and color were being sold on the side of the street, and everybody was out and about, as if there was plenty of sunshine.

I was fortunate enough to go back on a Saturday. The street was busy with stands. The weekend market had been set up. It was the first time in my life that I had seen that much vintage. I bought two amazing items dating back to the 1930's.

If in London, then Portobello road is a must see. It was definitely a highlight for me.

Oatmeal Glory

I think everyone laughed at my "oatmeal" phase. I had been watching a food channel for a while and particularly loved the oatmeal segment. Between programs, as a sort of commercial break, they would show you a quick recipe that could be made with Quaker oatmeal. I think I was drawn to how incredibly simple and easy the recipes were. I remember jotting down the easiest recipe for plain oatmeal cookies.

One day, I went out and bought some oatmeal for the cookies, and started making them immediately. In no time they were out of the oven. Everyone thought they were delicious, and I was amazed. I was laughing on the inside the whole time, because I knew how ridiculously easy they were to make, and everybody thought that they had been baked by a professional!

Questions came my way as people instantly wanted to know how they were made, and it was as if it was my personal duty to advertise the amazing benefits of oatmeal and the thousands of creative recipes you can make with it. It was hilarious.

Seriously though, oatmeal is very good for you. I think the fact that there are so many recipes for oatmeal is wonderful. It can be incorporated  into almost anything; chicken, meat vegetables and dessert. Of course, it is a very rich source of fiber but is also very good for the heart. It can help maintain good cholesterol levels and contains iron. There I go again!

... and now for the infamous oatmeal cookie recipe ...

You need:

1 cup of flour
2 cups of oatmeal
1/2 a cup of sugar
2 tsp of cinnamon
A small bar of butter (but keep some extra aside in case)
A pinch of salt

Now four easy steps!

1. Mix butter with sugar
2. Add everything else
3.Roll the mixture into balls (in the size you want), then after placing them on a baking tray, press them down a little from the center
4. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes at 180-200 degrees

While making these cookies there are a few important points:

Originally, you are meant to do everything manually and not in the mixer, but if you don't like working with your hands the mixer is fine. I've tried both ways.

If you feel like the mixture is too dry, add more butter. If it is too moist, then add more flour.

Keep an eye on them while they are baking; be careful that they don't burn from the bottom. They are supposed to be very soft when you take them out, so don't over bake them.

Bon app├ętit! If you ever do try them!


Cross-stitch - part I

As I am soon to be married, I felt the need to know about how this is celebrated in Palestinian Folklore.

What I've learned from the older generation is that it is an old tradition for a Palestinian woman to have a collection of costumes completed before her wedding. This tradition is still followed around the Arab world but does not necessarily involve traditional embroidery anymore. Originally, in villages, preparations for the bride kept all the people busy. As a social activity, all the women would sit around to work on embroidered pieces to dress the bride.

Jealous of how lovely that sounds, I thought I'd make this experience more personal. As a huge fan of Palestinian embroidered dresses, I thought I would get a couple of them hand made for myself by the women who have been working in the art of embroidery for years and are rarely found in Amman. Original embroidery can be a real treasure; the older it gets, the more precious it becomes. It is like gold. It is amazing to think that I could have such pieces. Some of those have been passed on to me by my grandmother and mother. It would be fascinating to do the same with my daughters and granddaughters!

With much success, I have found a group of extraordinary women, highly experienced in embroidery but can barely make ends meet. I will be talking about them later on, and I will also talk about what they are currently making . I feel so lucky thinking it is for me.

In order to fully benefit from this rare and wonderful experience, I thought I'd research everything I can about Palestinian embroidery and feel like I know about the process. Here are my findings (in brief):

I was amazed to discover that the use of cross-stitch in embroidery first originated in China around 5000 BC. It then moved to India, Egypt, Greece and Rome finally arriving to the Middle East. Research is suggesting that the earliest Palestinian cross-stitch dates to around the eleventh century AD.

In the art of Palestinian embroidery, a woman uses a needle, a thread, a canvas and sometimes a charted sketch to cross-stitch the stories of life.

The cross-stitch is the most common type of stitching used in Palestinian embroidery. As the name suggests, it is achieved by sewing a cross on the canvas; several cross-stitches sewn in a certain way create a symbol.

Symbols are mere shapes inspired by Palestinian village life. Fruits, trees, flowers, animals and other shapes are sewn onto fabric using a series of color combinations. In Palestinian folklore, these symbols all have appellations,of which some are very humorous, for example: 'the man upside down'. One has to be very familiar with embroidery to be able to understand and differentiate the symbols used; one reason being the existence of different shapes for a symbol. For example, there are many different shapes in which a pine tree can be embroidered.

Palestinian embroidery is very symmetrical and planned out. One can improvise, but to a very large extent, there are rules to be followed. To ensure perfect results for a dress for example, certain motifs are used. Units are always used to fill up the fabric, either singly or alongside one another. The basic form is square (e.g. for moon or stars), round (e.g. for roses) or rectangular (e.g. for birds). Branches are also beautifully entwined and can be wide or narrow. Borders also vary from wide to narrow and usually these accompany, compliment and work around units and branches. Edgings are border motifs for sleeves or additional cross-stitch shoulder strips.

Wonderful color combinations, intricate detail, beautiful symbols and motifs are not the only things that make Palestinian embroidery so great. A dress embroidered a certain way has specific connotations as to the specific region in Palestine where it is made and can also indicate the status of the person owning or wearing the dress (status generally meaning single, married.. etc).

I find all of this mind- blowing. I can't even begin to think how amazing it is to actually know how to practice this exceptional art.

I will be visiting the women in the coming few days and will check in with the progress and details soon.


Getting to know Karmel

Before creating this blog I constantly thought about what it is I should blog about. Should I blog about my personal and general interests, or should it be my online journal? Should I bring up politics or should I address my concerns for society?

One thing I knew for sure. I knew that which ever way I choose to run this blog, it should reflect everything that is me. To a huge extent this means that my blog will tell my personal story, but I'm not sure I have a story yet. It was soon after that I realized that this blog business is making me question who I am, and in that moment I found myself faced with the word discovery.

I then asked myself this question: What exactly about myself do I want to discover? I quickly had the urge to dig deep down. Heritage was the second word that came to mind. What truly identifies a person better than his own heritage? Born and raised in Jordan but originally Palestinian, my knowledge of my original heritage only comes in fragments. I don't mean to sound like a really biased Palestinian, but I think that the Palestinian heritage is probably one of the most fascinating in the world, and is really worthy of attention especially that it is in danger of being instinct; a fact I find highly critical and very sad. I immediately decided that on this blog, I will go through a personal journey of discovering my heritage, a huge part of my identity and a series of unanswered questions.

Could this blog only be about that? I have so much that I want to put out there and this blog is just the place. I then thought of my passions in life – les joies de vivre. Why not share them with others? Like many in this world, I look for the beauty in everything, which basically means that I don't really know what my passions are since I will quickly develop one as soon as I discover another beautiful thing. What I know though is that I have a passion for food, a constant urge to know how different ingredients are mixed together to make great flavors and to learn about the international cuisine. Another thing I know is that a great book exists as a gift to all mankind, truly great in every sense of the word, this book, through its stories will unfold to you everything that is beautiful in this world, and since it is beauty I look for, then where better to look for it than in the Holy Quran.
"Music is the universal language". I don't know who this quote belongs to but I agree and to that I might add: in it much beauty can be found. It can be the expression of every emotion and in that sense it is par excellence a very personal experience. Mine can't be put to words but on this blog I will try.

After making my mind up about discovering my heritage and exposing my passions, I still felt like there is more to be said. As limited as my experiences are due to my young age, I feel like some of them are unique. So on this blog, I will also write about my special experiences.

With limited knowledge of what goes on in the world, I still always feel concerned about some issues and particularly two. I am majorly concerned about the Palestinian crisis; how Gaza will be restored and how stability can be sustained amidst the threat of Israeli occupation and civil dispute. Other major concerns of mine are the negative influences on the upcoming generation. Being a teacher and working with teenagers made me realize this and worry. So with that said, I want this blog to be a platform of debate, where I can address these concerns and hopefully get valuable feedback. Of course, my mind is welcome to add any new concerns to this plateau.

Finally, I thought I'd add a completely spontaneous element to this carefully planned blog. I thought I'd designate a part of it to my floating thoughts. This is where I pay tribute to my father – Izzat Sajdi. On a blog entitled space, my dad lets his own thoughts float. How liberating! In that I find joy, and this is why I shall do just that as well.

That being the last of my ideas, I think I know how I'll run my blog. I would like to go back to the word discovery. I think of that word when I think of my heritage, as much of it is unknown to me, but in reality, pretty much every aspect of this blog will be my attempt to discover what my passions, experiences, concerns and thoughts are. Hopefully it will be the way my mind can grow, as I explore things and then write about them, it'll be an incentive to know more. Also hopefully (and this will require patience and probably some time) it'll be read by many people, and I'll get feedback on everything I put forward, because that can teach me great lessons and open my eyes and mind.

Pieces of my Palestinian Heritage, La Joie de Vivre, A Unique Experience, Debate and Floating Thoughts are the five constant topics you'll find here, under which I will explore some facts and mysteries!

* This blog is entitled Karmel. I love the sound of this word. Originally, Karmel is a mount along the coast of Palestine. It is also what my sister always says she'll call her daughter. To me, the word Karmel embodies beauty and is also largely a symbol of my intention of discovering my heritage. I felt it appropriate.