Mar 30, 2013

Recall the Joy Killer

"أذكروا هادم اللذات"

It would be stupid for me to hide the fact that I'm yearning to spend some time in a grave, my grave. I confided a close friend with this secret recently, only not to keep it within me and grow into becoming a burden. Her support was a relief, she understood and offered some help. I felt I was not alone.

Am I that emotionally disturbed to ask for such a simple thing? Am I this paranoid to want to lay down in a grave? Am I the type of people that are so dysfunctional that they only succeed at burying themselves? No, no and a no. I'm a fully functioning, fully productive human being who constantly has the feeling of wanting to lay down for as long as possible, 6 feet down, with the company of someone close, waiting at the edge in case something happened.

It might be the state of mind I always find myself at, the type of psychological state that constantly asks me to remember death.

A teacher threw a poll at a class of 10 yr olds, asked "What is the main reason for death?". Most students elaborated on the topics resulting in death and came up with the usual: Cancer, smoking, car accident, etc.. But there was this one student that answered with "Life".

The first and most important reason for death, is life, and he was right. Death is the most natural outcome of being alive. There is no more festive occasion than passing away. There is no better celebration than closing one's eyes and saying farewell.

I giggle sometimes whenever I think of my community's reaction to death. Absurd isn't it?
I still remember that morning when my cousin came over in a huge haste to my aunt's house, where I had spent the night before, to inform us of something very bad news, her blackened face tells. Found out later on it was my uncle who passed away, my mom's brother. I remember spending the first day at the family's house, where my uncle's body was waiting to be buried. I still remember to this day being the only one with no tears in their eyes. Everyone was weeping, my grandma was even slapping her face and body, grieving her deceased son. I stood there amidst all, watching all these people in black and white, and started wondering why they were doing so and feeling the way they did. I then turned my head towards the body's face, and there it was: He was smiling like never before. His slightly wrinkly face was at ease, as I have always known him in his life; no tension that brought his eyebrows together, no stress that deformed his pitch-black mustaches.

We were sent later on to my father's family's house, and were strictly forbidden, especially me, to go back to that house. Little did they know, nothing could stop a curious 9 yr-old boy from doing what he has in plan. I found an excuse and went out. Although that was my first time walking in that area, I actually managed to go back and forth to where we were at. But I couldn't get any close, fearing someone might see me. However, I managed to sneak a peek and saw people of all sorts, all wearing black (?!) were gathered on that balcony. It seemed to me that having someone die, is basically an occasion for the whole family to gather in one place for some time after their egos have taken their toll on putting them apart, even though those who were fighting try to pick their mourning schedules to avoid meeting there. An occasion for people to try out that black expensive dress/suit they bought a while ago. An occasion to show off with cars and possessions. A chance to match couples, finding a bride for that woman's son in the Gulf, or looking for a stud for this woman's 20 yr-old gal. Hypocrisy at its best.

Meh, I'm getting off topic. My uncle was smiling, just like his mom, my grandma, who passed away 6 years later. I witnessed both, with my bare eyes, and no one could change the striking fact that they were both smiling when they passed away. Why grief then? Why not celebrate and dance?

Ever thought of what would happen if you passed away tomorrow? The below are two movies that I think are the breakthrough in such topics.

And finally, here's an excerpt of a story I stumbled on a few minutes ago. Google translate will help those who never had falafel:

 يروى أن أعرابياً كان يسير على جمل له، فخرّ الجمل ميتاً، فنزل الأعرابي عنه، وجعل يطوف به ويتفكر فيه، ويقول:
ما لك لا تقوم؟
مالك لا تنبعث؟
!هذه أعضاؤك كاملة
!وجوارحك سالمة
ما شأنك ؟
ما الذي كان يحملك ؟
ما الذي صرعك ؟
ما الذي عن الحركة منعك ؟
..ثم تركه وانصرف متعجباً من أمره، متفكراً في شأنه

We haven't changed a bit, did we?

Mar 19, 2013

A Wake Up Call - When Cancer Hits

I've been thinking a lot lately of the day I get cancer. Would I be the man with a well-fit family by his side, and lots of friends supporting him, which by the way would be unknowingly helping in letting him go?

I was just reading the story of a man, with a wife, kids and lots of friends, and who just had discovered he had throat cancer. He was taken to the hospital where the doctor in charge had ordered an operation, after which the infection got worse and another operation was put in place to finally take out the throat. The man, all desperate and miserable of had come to him and what would happen later on, just when he was about to fall for his friends and family's recommendations to take his throat off, received a message from a long-forgotten friend, talking about a center for treating cancer, run by a doctor, a woman who follows unorthodox ways to "cure" cancer (by curing I mean eliminating) with mostly live, green, uncooked food. That was it. His despair led him to flee to the center, knowing that whatever happens he'd at least remain away from the knife. Four months later, his cousin managed to find him. As he entered the center, he was told to go to a room where a few patients were circling a man listening as he told them stories with bright eyes. It didn't take the man a long time to realize that storyteller was his then-cancer-infected cousin, the man whose throat was about to be removed a few months ago.

When will I have cancer? Or is it that I already have it and I still haven't found out yet? I bet most of the ones that have feelings for me would feel sad and force me to stop thinking this way, but I don't have time for emotions anymore.

When will you have cancer? What will you do then? Don't ignore it. The cigarettes you smoke/inhale every single waking day will give you cancer. The fast food will give you cancer. The over industrial sugar and commercial food will add to it. All the anger and negativity you hold inside will contribute as well.

My grandmother died with cancer, my aunts are most probably infected with a dormant type. My mom will surely have cancer, if not by heredity then by the smoking rate and the miserable life she's living now. It kills me not to be able to change my surrounding at least, let alone a whole society.

I wrote this post to try to get down to earth once and for all and reassure myself that when cancer comes, I'd be most ready. The moment I know cancer has found its way to me, I would leave it all, try my best to go somewhere new, preferably with no people at all, and live there. No medicine is to enter my body, no pills and no additional tests. I will let go of my anger, of my ego, my own hopes and expectations. I will forgive everyone, I will see myself in every other person there is. I will offer my possessions for those who need it. I will spend my life in giving with nothing in return. I would teach myself how to tell jokes. I would stay with the poor and eat with the homeless. I would become happy.

See? Cancer is in fact the answer.

Cancer is only a signal my friend, it's not a disease anymore. We either accept the challenge and know what to fix, or we might as well be dead before we know it, only waiting to be buried. Wake up and see how and why you're ruining your own self, fix it before cancer would come and fix it itself.

PS: this post is only to speak my tongue, to tell you how I feel about the whole issue. I know this is no joke to most of you out there who dealt with cancer themselves or through loved ones. Take it as a personal blog post, as thinking out loud and forgive my ignorance.

Mar 14, 2013

Wissam & Angie - My First Photosession

I feel like writing about my first photosession for couples, which happened to be with the lovely couple Wissam and Angie.

It felt a bit strange to be invading the privacy of two persons while revealing their cherished moments together. I knew it was the hesitation of the first few minutes, and I knew I had to do something about it. I decided at first to take single shots of each of them, while the other helps me with the setup and lighting. A new kind of connection started to grow between me and my subjects, and confidence is building up instantly.

It was necessary to break the ice at certain moments and take photos of both of them, especially when the shot was worth it. A couple of times Wissam was holding the reflector in front of Angie's face, and suddenly something happens that makes a worthy shot at hands: he might laugh at her, she might feel annoyed about his behavior, etc.. These little details were the key to open up, especially when there were some discomfort.

Alas, the single portraits didn't stop, and I had my few golden shots where the couple was amazingly glowing in them with the only twist that one of them is physically absent.

As a last resort, it was important for me as a photographer who will be snapping their character as a couple, to know some history, to go back all the way to when they met, to hear their laughter when they got out of the movies once or when they had fun in the past. I had to be there, or else the session would've been as lame as going by the book.

It is necessary to have at least one of the couple to be comfortable with you, and have confidence in you, such a feeling is crucial to bring a charming ambiance to the session, and most importantly to help the other rise to the same level of comfort and ease, which is exactly what happened that day later on. It was only a matter of time before turning into one of the best shooting trips I've ever been to.

I was absolutely happy with the outcome, either emotionally and technically. All in all, I was really proud of both Angie and Wissam: I had always wanted to make my first photosession phenomenal and unforgettable, and you guys helped a lot into making it happen.

If I were to go on with this type of photography, I have the guidelines now to abide by, I know what to do and I am aware of what to expect.

Finally, I can't but surrender to the feeling of yearning, and that, by far, is the main reason I'm hoping, sometime in the future, to become someone else's first couples session :)

Mar 11, 2013

Pilgrimage To Baddawi

I had always wondered what the Baddawi Camp for Palestinian Refugees looked like. Although it was only 10 minutes away from my residence in Tripoli, I've never been there before. We Love Tripoli’s event Shoot as you walk was my opportunity to have been there for the first time in my life, and to my good luck, holding my camera, fully loaded and focused on taking pictures. Waylon and Reine were invited to come along and spend the morning with us in the camp, to have a better outlook on the situation Palestinian refugees are living in. Eight-thirty that morning was our time to ride the bus heading to the camp.

I was, as most of the people there, concerned about the security measures and of course, whether a permit was taken in order to take photographs inside the camp. The organizers, and especially Taha Naji, have already taken this into consideration and obviously got the permit and an additional entourage throughout the camp.

Our first stop was around an old dysfunctional fountain outside a citadel. It appeared to me later on that this was located in the Beddawi area, on whose outskirts was the refugee camp. The longer the time we spent there, the more anxious I was to eventually reach our destination and finally meet the people inside, watch the armed security personnel, observe the children playing their innocent games and sharing stories with the locals on poverty and international support.

Right beyond the camp’s entrance, a few young guys were waiting for us to start our tour. I liked how organized everything was, and moreover, I loved how the whole camp was aware of a fresh foot walking in its tight alleys: everybody was in full attention, whether in amazement to meet strangers, or in becoming overly worried about security breaches, especially by an group of “strangers” armed with their fancy cameras. I admit, a few of the photos I took over there were a few of the photos I took pride of, and to add more to it, I admit most of these photos were a breakthrough in my approach to photography. I went where I didn't go before, I went as far as nagging to an old woman until I stole her portrait, I distracted some to get the photo of others, I went as low as stealing someone else’s newly-discovered scene (something I never do), but the opportunity was too precious, my morals and ethics were put aside for the rest of the trip.

If the camp had a face, it would be the face of an old woman I met over there, she and her companions were gathering around a coffee table. They were all veiled and were discussing something so important their voices literally went totally silent when we stepped foot in their proximity. Here’s the issue, I can’t stand seeing a wrinkled face without taking a closeup photo. If there were anything I regret in my photography history was not having the guts to take someone’s photograph while all I needed to do was ask. I challenged myself that moment and asked the old woman for a photo; I mean, her face was a history book, an old map, a deserted island where civilizations have come and gone, leaving nothing but scars and wrinkled skin. She refused of course, which pushed me to distract her and press the shutter in a way I rarely did before: continuously snapping photos hoping I’d get a good one at the end. Though I was making sure I’d take at least one good portrait, I knew deep down the photos were not so good. I needed something else. I waited till everyone left, remained standing there, she watched everyone leave and apparently forgot about me. There was my chance; there was the Refugee Camp Story on my camera. A pensive look was all I needed.

Technically speaking, I am falling in love more and more with prime lenses, ever since my first was a 50/1.4, and my current lens is an amazing 35/1.8, the most suitable lens for close up headshots. I have a long way to master such a lens of course, but at the end it’s the thrill of the moment that counts the most.

If there was anything that would draw rainbows around the blackened camp, that would be the smile of each and every child around there. Innocence was so overwhelming I had to take a break from all the energy filling that playground. It was a football field where everyone was either practicing penalty shots, gathered around their coach, or simply shooting balls here and there. It was my second breakthrough to have been the annoying curious photographer to run around in between the players’ feet only to take a decent photo. The ball that hit me in the head was my signal to step aside and let the players go on with their practice; this was not the easiest lesson by the way. Eventually, it was this kind of overflowing energy that I needed to rationalize the universe’s justice in such a forgotten spot of the surface of earth. Divinity was there, in the eyes of those little champions, in their cries and cheers, in their jumping and kicking, in their feet touching the playground’s grass. Everything made sense over there.

I am aware those people need more than a playground or two, a UN aid or a country’s gift to raise their spirit. They had a cause, and only one cause, to go back to their mother land, their Palestine. Why do I have the privilege to work in a reputable company, earn a good salary, enjoy the simplest rights I have as a citizen in my country while, for the most of people my age in such camps, aren't even allowed to get a job. Whoever decided this is totally mistaken and this has got to change.

This might have been my first visit to a refugee camp, but will surely not be the last one. I have no clue to what extent I, as an individual, with the help of my fellow friends, am able to make a difference, but at least I know I’m not taking a neutral stand and watching other people’s rights getting violated. I would be taking action, and that is rule #1 in changing the world we live in: To be the change.

I only hope to see that old woman’s face smiling next time I have the chance to visit her..

Mar 7, 2013

A Thousand Dollars Richer

I sold my kindle just tonight, a few hours ago, the kindle I kept dreaming of having ever since I heard of it, for a bicycle in exchange, topped with a 40$ in difference. I failed at keeping it of use and therefore I sold it.

At the same time, today Farzat, a great guy got back his bicycle, the bicycle I was supposed to buy (a good racing bike) but decided to return it at the last minute.

My old camera, the Nikon D80 is on sale now, for a bundle worth 900$ at the moment, having the body along with two lenses. In return I now have the newer D7000 (that I barely got the chance to use) which I got from a Lebanese business man last week in Gemmayzeh, on the night at which he was supposed to fly to the US.

I have now two bicycles, just as before; I have a new camera, just as before, but with the only difference of being a 1000$ richer. Yes, a 1000$ in 2 months, effectively in 2 weeks. This is business, this is making money out of substantially attractive deals and once-in-a-lifetime offers. And here's how it started.

A post on my timeline spoke of a camera for sale, it was a D80 with two lenses, a bag, a flash and of course the memory card. The bundle was worth more than 900$, I got it for 500$ which, after paying the amount, left me penniless for a while afterwards, but I felt like knowing what I was doing. That's my first profit right here, a 400$. On one hand I desperately wanted the SLR over the bridge HX100 I had, I needed the 50/1.4 prime of course, and eventually the whole gear to shift to a newer level.

With time, I felt having enough of what I had and it was time to move a step higher, it was the turn of the D7000. A man with the FB profile showing only a professionally taken photograph of the man, was advertising about his D7000 bundle that had generally another prime, the 35/1.8 Nikkor, a wider angle prime over the 50 and of course a better type, ever since it's a G instead of D. Alas, the man was asking for more than a 1100$ for the whole bundle, I got the cam with the lens for not more than 800$. Here's my second profit, a 300$. What caught my attention the most was the state the cam was in, and the morals Cesar had. He even followed me outside of the Margherita, the restaurant we agreed on meeting in, to warn me not to panic if I saw any spots on the viewfinder, and explained what to do then.

On a whole other level, the kindle was getting of no use in my bag, except for an occasional checkup to fix my hair or so, that was one excellent piece of glass the kindle had! So clearly, it was time to pass it on. I received a message from Aamer, asking me if the kindle was still for sale. In return he offered his bicycle. A few days later, he had a kindle, I had his bicycle with a 40$ at hand. There is my third profit, more than 90$.

The D80 is to be sold soon enough, for an amount exceeding 750$ of course. The large amount of Fawks masks I have now is only waiting for people to grab them, 10$ at a time. Now that's a real profit.

All in all, I truly find, at such a premature time, how easy it is to make money and to become rich, if only you knew how to play the game. I eventually ask myself, do I need to become rich? If yes, I'd be damned for having to let go of my friends, family, and most importantly myself. If it were a no, I'd have to let go of my thirst for more money.

The moment I grabbed that new camera, a feeling of resentment filled my veins, I didn't want it anymore: it was too easy and didn't have any challenge included. Now, close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself becoming a rich man, waking up to a very expensive bedroom, opening one's eyes to a land that never ends, that happens to be your possession. Having maids and servants, people around you offering their sweat and fake smiles waiting for the end of the month to get their underestimated salary. But hey, you are rich, and everyone's enjoying the game. Even your wife, sure she was the love of your life, but would you think she'd still smile to you if you suddenly decided to stop the money flow in the family? She's not a bad person, not even your kids whenever they become angry when you refuse getting your oldest girl a car for her birthday simply because she asked for it and you could easily afford it.

This is not the life I had imagined for myself, I truly miss sitting with my family over dinner, a dinner as simple as a plate of olives and a few cups of tea, simply because we can't afford the extras, and believe it or not, because I felt richer that way.