Stories from Afar & Up Close


i no longer wait
for the better times
midnight blue sky above us
silver stars upon it
hand in hand with you
along the river
trees right and left
desire in their branches
hope in my heart

i straighten up my room
i light a candle
i paint a poem

i no longer kiss my way
down your body
through your navel
into your dreams
my love in your mouth
your fire in my lap
pearls of sweat on my skin

i dress myself warmly
i paint my lips red
i talk to the flowers

i no longer listen
for a sign from you
take out your letters
look at your pictures
conversation with you
till midnight
visions between us
children smiling at us

i open the window wide
i tie my shoes tight
i get my hat

i no longer dream
in lonely hours
your face into time
your shadow is only
a cold figure

i pack the memories up
i blow the candle out
i open the door

i no longer wait
for the better times
i go out into the street
scent of flowers on my skin
umbrella in my hand
along the river
midnight blue sky above me
silver stars upon it
left and right
desire in their branches
hope in my heart

i love you
i wait no longer


May Amin (1960-1996), Afro-German poet
translated by Tina Campt

Egypt, Umm al-Kafkawiyya...

Saturday morning, at Kasr el Aini hospital in Garden City, Cairo.

(In Arabic) “I would like to see a doctor.” Woman at the door: “3rd floor”.

First two elevators don’t work. Third one around the back does. Long hallways with old, dirty tiles. Follow the red arrow to the Out Patient Clinic. End up in Radiology. Follow the black arrow to Neurology. End up in Out Patient Clinic. See hallways full of people in niqaabs and gallabiyas. Realize that this is probably not the hospital my friend recommended. But I’m here and it hurts, so let’s keep going.

Room with a secretary and eight other people trying to give her paper slips in different colors.

“I would like to see a doctor.” “Room to the left, pay first.” In the room to the left. “I would like to see a doctor.” “What for?” Shit, forgot to look up the word for kidney. Point at my back. “Your back?” “No, inside.” “Your stomach.” “No, the other side.” Why can I only remember the word for liver? Shall I try that? No. Turn around, walk into the hallway. Cry. Receive an sms from a friend; “Everything ok? You need anything?” “Yes, the word for kidney!” “Kelya, plural kela.”

Back to the room to the left. “I would like to see a doctor for my kidneys.” Pay 75 pounds. Get a pink paper on which I have to write my own name in Arabic. Back to the room with the secretary. My name is entered in a big book. A nurse takes me by the hand, walks me to the end of the hallway, sits me down between all the other people and tells me to wait. Many people come and go in the room that says ‘kela’. Forty minutes pass. Lady to my right who smiled at me twice suddenly pushes me through the door when two guys come out. Friendly doctor who speaks English diagnoses a kidney infection. Writes down seven lab tests/ultrasounds she wants me to have done. Prescribes insanely strong antibiotics.

Laboratory is on the 1st floor. Walk down. Find the reception, hand over the paper. Get a white paper. Across the hall to the cashier. Pay 92 pounds. Get a green paper. “Go to the computer.” Guy behind the computer gives me my original paper with some stickers and my name transliterated from Arabic back into English. Across the hall for the sampling room. “We need urine.” Find the toilet, get blocked by cleaning lady. “This is for men. The other door is for women.” Door has a sign that says ‘Way Out.’
Go back to the room across the hall. Get blood samples done.

Back to the 3rd floor for the ultrasounds. Follow the purple arrow, end up in Out Patient Clinic again. Sent to the other side of the building. Told to wait in the waiting room. After 20 minutes, ask a nurse what’s happening. “We don’t do ultrasounds on Saturday. Go to the 8th floor.” Back to the elevators. “These elevators only go to the 7th floor. Go down to 1st, then back up to 8th.” Switch elevators on the 1st floor. Up to the 8th floor, surgery and maternity ward. “Are you fasting?” “No.” “You need to fast for 6 hours or we don’t do an abdominal ultrasound. Go to the 3rd floor, they’ll do it.” No one at the 3rd floor anymore. Go down to the 1st floor, follow black arrow to Exit, end up in Mosque. Turn around, follow arrow to Surgery, find yourself in the main hallway.

Walk out. Get prescription filled at a nearby pharmacy. Go home. Spend the rest of the day in bed dreaming of Kafka.

Tiresome conversations with taxi drivers, part 823

Taxi driver: So why do Dutch people hate Germans? Is it because they have a female president?
Me: Wait... what?!?
Taxi driver: Yeah well you know. Because she's a woman! She's supposed to get married and have children! And how can she lead the country when she has to take care of the children!?!
Me: What about women who don't want to have children?
Taxi driver: All women want to have children.
Me: Not all women do. So what can women do if they don't want children?
Taxi driver: That doesn't exist. All men want to make money, and all women want to have children. In the end, all women want nice things, and soft things, and babies. Deep down inside all women want children.
Me: (staring out the window)
Taxi driver: It doesn't mean they are not strong, on the contrary. If I carry my baby boy, I get tired after ten minutes. But women have special muscles in their underarms so they are strong enough to carry children for hours.
Me: I think that is not true.
Taxi driver: Maybe people from outside don't know this. But all Egyptians know this is true.

Welcome to Egypt, where women have special baby-carrying underarm muscles.

On 'human shields' and inhumanity in Gaza

It's the third time in six years that Israel launches a war on Gaza. Can you imagine that? If you were a Palestinian child born in Gaza 6 years ago, you would now have lived through three wars (provided you survived all of them). It's also the third time in six years that the Israelis pull out their tried-and-trusted-'Hamas-hides-behind-the-people-and-uses-them-as-human-shields-therefor we are allowed to bomb anyone and anything,'-rhetoric,  and I'm getting really, really tired of it. I previously posted the below text on facebook, but decided to share it here, too.

So let's talk about those so-called 'human shields', shall we?

[First, to get this out of the way: if you lock up people on a small strip of land, it's kind of naive to expect them to separate into different zones - one for fighters and one for civilians. Obviously they are sharing the same, small, physical space, so stop pretending you can hit one without hitting the other or even that it's their own fault if one gets hit while you were supposedly aiming for the other. Thanks.]

Second, and much more importantly: there is no such thing as a Palestinian human shield. Why not? Because the very rhetoric about human shields dehumanizes ALL Palestinians, whether they are fighting with Hamas or not. Here's how that works:

1) Saying Hamas uses 'human shields' (rather than, for example, 'civilian shields') implies that once you are Hamas, you are no longer human. Therefore, any Palestinian who picks up arms to fight the occupation is no longer seen as human.

2) If, as a Palestinian, you resist the occupation in other, possibly non-violent ways (and it seems that 'being physically present in Gaza' already counts as such), the very rhetoric of being used as a human shield strips you of the very thing that makes you human: agency. It means your presence is not the result of your own convictions, no, you are merely a puppet in the hands of the terrorists. And puppets, as we all know, are not human.

Simple, right? Two birds, one stone; they're either violent terrorists or passive weaklings used by terrorists. Neither is human, neither deserve that we care about their life.

Oh, and let's not forget that the first ones are usually men and the second usually women, meaning that as an added bonus this rhetoric reduces the resistance of Palestinian women in its many shapes and forms to zero. Ugh.