Dec 30, 2014

A Whitehearted Deed: What Fadi, Ali and Ibrahim did in Trablos

I'm getting more and more comfortable with the short, spontaneous, snappy, out of the blog's original context sort-of-posts. This one was triggered by none other than my fellow Tripolitan, Fadi Mikati, who's done something quite incredible. Actually, the simple fact that he actually "did" something is remarkable enough.

On a lazy December Friday, he seems to have stumbled on another hideous scene on one of our hometown's streets. He was fed up with what he saw, and felt the rushing urge to say something, well do something as a matter of fact. One thing lead to the other and BAM; there he was announcing on his FB profile that he'll be cleaning the street, claiming he can never tolerate to have encountered that amount of repulsiveness, to have expressed a growing scale of disgust, watching his town turning into a populated landfill.

It wasn't long before Fadi's request got the appropriate praise and cheering, all while the same post managed to gather the first two volunteers, Ibrahim and Ali, who probably saw in the move a necessary step to take. What I love about that tiny/big event is so many aspects. Starting with the authenticity and spontaneity of the call, to the speed things were taking shape and the fact that those guys never minded the pouring rain on top of their heads. All it took was two days for the guys to be hitting the road with their tools and acting as promised. Litter was picked up eventually no matter how bad the weather was, and street ended up being a tad cleaner, actually a lot, based on my comparison to the pictures.

Left to right: Ibrahim, Fadi and Ali, as caught during their cleaning spree. Courtesy of Ziad Sankari
One more little thing to add, and it's been what hit my mind and what I personally had to deal with in the past: Imagine these guys, and oh-so-many others who get involved in personal wake up calls like such, who actually are doers in a way, the moment they are wearing their suits or so engaged in their universities and commonly everyday work fields. Imagine them getting so boxed up like everybody else out there, following the path of what their career had drawn for them by shifting up their ego to a point where, bowing down to pick up other people's litter is totally out of question. Measure that to a parent/lawyer giving out free hugs to random stranger, to a journalist singing and dancing in the middle of the road, to a student drawing graffitis after hours, to an engineer performing ballet. And the list goes on.

All at the same time, though, Tripoli has got to be one tough-ass lucky town to have people like Fadi, Ali, Ibrahim and all those lovely souls still hanging in there. Too bad media has gotten so used to slipping Tripoli out of their glam events map, but I got to admit (and I've been physically there too), Trablos is slowly shifting from being a town previously in hideous war, to a continuously glowing hub for all the "extra-curricular" (so to speak) initiatives you might ever think of in the Lebanese society.

Caught in action, by Ziad Sankari.
I'm not personally going to elaborate on what's taking place in my hometown right now, but I feel I have the duty to push you and check for yourself. Starting from Beit El Nessim, to Al Kindy, and so on and so forth. The list goes on forever. And it's all thanks to Fadi to have pushed me to write this today, I've been feeling homesick for quite some time and seeing their work have given me some energy for the coming days.

Let's have the guts one day to admit how careless we've become, relying on this cleaning worker to pick up our litter or that consciousness to calm down 5 minutes later. Streets won't clean themselves, hiding behind useless excuses and irrelevant arguments won't do neither. It's time we felt responsible for our own carelessness when it comes to public hygiene. And as Fadi had said "Getting yourself or your car cleaned with that piece of tissue doesn't give you the right to litter outside".

I believe Fadi and the guys have taught us one major lesson here, "It's okay to pick up garbage, even if it's not your own".

Here's to a cleaner Tripoli.

Nov 12, 2014

3ayune Workshop, of photography and unearthed hopes.

It wasn't until I had met Oriol that Wednesday in Gemmayze that I realized I’m finally going to teach photography in a refugee camp, the thing I had been dearly hoping to do, especially that my life was going to take a drastic turn. “Well of course you were accepted”, the words that made that day unforgettable found their way at last from his lips and to my heart. Despite of all that was going on with both my professional and personal life, all had to be put on hold for I was going on an unforgettable one-month trip that will manage to remain deep dug on my heart.

Two professional photographers provided training in basic digital photography to 92 children aged between 12 and 16 for a period of seven months.  Among the beneficiaries, 46 are Syrian refugees and 46 from Lebanese host community families. In addition to developing the photography skills of the children, the program engendered in the children an appreciation of art and provided a productive outlet of self-expression through photography. 3ayune also created a channel of communication and constructive dialogue between the Syrian refugee and Lebanese host communities.
Thanks and a lot more go to my friend Diaa, the one who keeps showering me with opportunities whenever she stumbles on one. It was all because of her that, on the 10th of August 2014 I was moving to a village in northern Lebanon – Kobayat – to live there for a month. That same village was the closest and safest village/town to Wadi Khaled, where the workshops were planned to take place. Once settled down, it was about time to come down to earth and realize what was to go on in the coming thirty days: the ups and downs, tears and laughs, frustrations and achievements, all were in store for us, me and Elsie and the rest of the team, something we never signed up for, yet enjoyed the most.

No matter how enchanting it all seemed for a while, a long while, facts were still there, I was about to let go of a promising career in engineering for that workshop, a workshop right on the infamous northern border of the country, literally minutes away from clashes, for a chance to teach over 40 kids something usually never comes to mind for a refugee or a person living on the edge of his own country, by all meanings. Yet I was there already and holding on to that chance as if it were my own salvation, as if that was exactly what I had needed at the time. In fact, going through an intensive photography workshop right before leaving the country was one remarkable thing to have done: it was the last taste in my mouth of Lebanon. The faces every morning, the mid-day lunch break, the smiles and the laughs, the tea and those particular days that only seemed to be endless, Elsie and I complaining to each other about this or that specific kid, Georgina struggling to keep it all in order... it all paid off eventually.

Gorgeous people, those who made my month unforgettable
It was only the first two days that needed to witness a sort of turmoil, things needed to be arranged before a never-ever-dull kind of daily routine started taking shape. Starting with the next door manouche shop where our team would gather to fuel up and get ready for the day, then with the eternally bumpy car rides where, each and every single day further on, the amount of bumps just seemed to be growing on and on! Up to that army checkpoint where we’d have to be stopped, checked and our names taken for intelligence registration.

It only took the kids some little time to know ahead of time the exact minute we’d be there on a daily basis, to find them gathering outside expecting us any second then. I still remember that morning freshness of Wadi Khaled the moment we’d step out of the car, the chilliness seemed to be so different from Qobayat or anywhere else. Their glaring faces against the morning sun would give us all the needed energy to go on with another day, especially when the workshop was coming to an end.

It filled my heart to see them grow up, evolve and grow bonds together. Their photography skills have surely shaped up really well, compared to when we first stepped foot there. Yet the bonds they have created out of nothing have broken all known taboos, from breaking gender segregation, to freely dancing in front of each other, performing acting sessions, growing enough self-esteem to simply stand up in front of everybody, raise their voice and express themselves on several occasions.

During one of the classes about light painting.
I was thinking to myself this morning of how much lucky I am to have stumbled on photography. Eventually, I was offered through photography priceless chances way more than I have ever gotten through all other domains I was involved in, all put together. The simple fact that I was given the title of a photography instructor, for a group of 50 kids for 4 weeks was absolutely a crossroads in my life, both work and personal, something that I hadn't realized until recently.

And finally, Cives Mundi, the spanish NGO given the shore of implementing this workshop, are organizing their second - and biggest - exhibition for 3ayune workshop. This is an open invitation to you all, to step foot there and check these little guys' work, to have a glimpse on their life, to really touch and feel what it's like to be living off there, whether refugee or resident. Exhibition was launched on November 7th 2014 till the 21st, at the Art Lounge in Beirut, near Quarantine bridge.

Rania giving her speech to the audience at the inauguration ceremony

Oct 6, 2014

Expats by Choice, Out My Window

My head shook infinitely that Saturday afternoon, at the sight of the beach that my small balcony overlooks to, having changed color or so I thought. The noise/garbage covering the Arabian Gulf's surface seemed to be non-static. Within seconds, I managed to grab my camera, fix my tele-zoom lens and started snapping photos. I'm really clueless on what to say, or whether there's anything to say at all, they just kept on going and flowing until it seemed like it was forever. Quite an eccentric gift in my gloomy solitude. Enjoy.

Oct 4, 2014

Sheepstakingly: How not to be an animal in Eid

Disclaimer: This post is to shed some light on the way animals are offered, slaughtered during Eid for Muslims and in many occasions for other religions and sects too. This is by far not concerned in discussing anything related to the righteousness, the history, the source or the validity of the mentioned ritual.

Photo posted originally by Khaled Merheb

I had always been traumatized by the way muslims slaughter poor animals on holy occasions, like Eid Al Adha for instance, under the sole excuse that it’s an Islamic ritual, a praised act by which god would accept your good deeds and wipe away your notorious ones. The simple fact that the tiny goat or that weakly sheep is held down really hard by two, sometimes up to four, strong men mainly holding it by the horn, raising their Allahu Akbar’s and slitting its throat, was just another painful, disgusting, mini-horror movie, every single time. Children’s screams and other people’s loathing makes it all come to sense: something seriously wrong was going on.

As a kid growing up in a majorly Islamic community, I was exposed to a lot of the muslim rituals, their habits, the kind of habits very few know the reason why they were practiced, and ever fewer, lest rarely found, those who actually practice them right. I remember running around town looking for butcher shops, where sheep would be gathered in right-now-made barns, sidewalks and pavements would turn into real-life slaughterhouses with strikingly red blood finding its way to the nearest drain hole. I always felt there was something wrong, I had the feeling this is not what was meant by the act of oblation, sacrificing a soul for the one, the supreme authority, the divine entity, for his characters quite contradict what’s being done her, being the merciful and all.

It was all until yesterday, the evening of Eid Al Adha, with which Muslims end their famous Hajj ritual, and for those who aren’t doing Hajj, they would simply offer their sacrifice whether with sheep, chicken, cows, whatever is within budget. In fact, Muslims, neighbors friends and relatives, tend to compete in who can pay the most money on their sacrificial animal(s): the more money, the merrier of course, and for surely the more divine forgiveness. Yesterday was the night I stumbled on a post on my Facebook timeline by a friend of mine, simply throwing out a 15-min video explicitly showing what was called "the proper halal way” for slaughtering an animal for its meat. I have to admit something here, and with full disregard to what I personally think of killing an animal for its meat or even for the divine benefits of it, I wished this guy was the butcher to provide me with my meat ever since I came to this world. The least to say about that guy is he was merciful. Yes, mercy, the most important thing most Muslims nowadays have come to forget.

The guy spoke of white-heartedness, and if I ever were to eat meat slaughtered by somebody, it has to be at least this guy over here.

Now that you’ve read and seen what it means to properly kill an animal, I want you to watch the following:

Again, this post is merely to compare both ways, nothing more, nothing less. If it were to me, however, I would start by slaughtering my ego, by sacrificing my earthly desires, by slitting the throat of what hatred my heart still holds. Eid Mubarak Everybody.

Aug 8, 2014

New-Age Seaside Gypsies

Our first Volunteer, Mr. Michel from Koura. Picture by Rimal Abeed.

Being severely brought down by all the notorious stench in the air the last few weeks, the three of us had decided to do something about it. Just as any other activity in Trablos, things had happened so spontaneously and smoothly. Discussions have been taking place for almost a month before that, but never were more serious than the week before, where we managed to borrow a guitar for Rimal to practice with, Moussa would practice his drawing skills, and I would prepare basically everything else in order to have a smooth chillout time for everybody, and offer people something they were craving for, I assume.

I wonder to myself sometimes, what have we got in this, all of us? It’s neither Rimal, Moussa or le moi that are getting paid anything for taking that action (something society fiercely teaches you in order to survive), neither are we taking any credit, any promotion, not even appraisal. And the photos & story were never meant to be published when Moussa and I first spoke of this. But there’s this little something that I still believe in, that surpasses all financial renumerations, all social appraisal and any sort of other grant, it's that one and only prize, the smile you see getting slowly drawn on people’s faces with that shine in the eyes that follows. You could easily tell their faces were glowing with fresh spirit, something that is not found in Trablos. You could see it in their annoyances, in the way some mocked us, in the eyes following us as they strolled down on that sidewalk.

Michel checking the Moussa's drawing. Photo by me.
Having met at the corniche on an extremely lazy Wednesday afternoon, the three of us, and location being picked, our stuff were laid down on a random bench and action just kicked off. It was kind of hilarious to be Moussa’s model for over 15 minutes, with me shouting at him to finish that drawing in less than 10 minutes, while anything longer than that would get people to become agitated, they would eventually leave – frustrated. Rimal’s turn to draw me was next. Even though her drawing was impeccable, but we certainly needed something faster than her 20-minute perfectly dashing portrait of mine. The lines, eyes, chin, lips and hair were just perfect, yet time was the issue. Long story short, our first (and only, to be honest) guest was Michel, a courteous, 50-year old, Lebanese living in Australia and originally from Koura, having been there with his son and their lovely Wolfy, a dark-furred dog laying by their side as they were watching bypassers. I come up to them and gently explain what we were trying to do, and to my surprise, and with all his welcoming attitude, he decides to join us.

Photo by Rimal Abeed.
He carefully sits where we ask him to, and manages to adjust his angle as Moussa dictated, all while he was bragging about his son’s girlfriend and her outstanding life achievements. Little had I known that our little “gathering” would attract so much attention, which turned all out to be in our benefit, no matter how much some of them pissed me off. I imagined, while my two fellows were doing what they were best at, and soon after taking my photos, for a split second that I would be in any of those bypassers’ shoes. Stepping out of my house/shop and heading to the seaside “corniche” would have been my afternoon ritual, my pleasant retreat despite all the filthy smell in the air or the annoying motorcycle drivers here and there. But, seeing a handful of young people playing music and practicing drawing and photography, would be the remotest thing I would ever expect, yet exactly what I had needed to have a new feeling hit me about that place. Tripoli appears to have been molded otherwise, unfortunately.

To wrap this post up, I can never thank enough both Rimal and Moussa for their guts and believing in me, and themselves first. What we did there has to be acknowledged as a break-through, the least. And finally, this is the first of so many events and activities to come. I would love if you would join us (and for that kindly contact me), but I would also love to see others taking the same initiative on their own. I mean, that is the eventual goal, isn’t it? :)

Jun 2, 2014

Deghri Messengers: Where Cycling Pays, Literally.

A couple months ago and right after losing my daytime job, I approached my dear old friends at Deghri Messengers to join them aboard ever since I was drooling to do that ages ago. In no time, I officially became a proud Deghri Messenger, I had my own messenger backpack, my receipt notebook and a whole lot more stationary and accessories that would make one a Deghri messenger, that’s of course besides the bike and helmet. To all those to whom the word “Deghri” doesn’t ring any bell, here’s a snippet:

“We deliver things by bicycle. Our service is fast, reliable and good value. Businesses and organisations all over Beirut rely on us to respond to their urgent delivery needs reliably and with a smile.”
Deghri Messengers is a bike messenger service in Beirut. They deliver all kinds of stuff around the city using only bicycles and the power of their own bodies. It's hard work and takes a special mix of fitness, passion for cycling, city orientation and pure guts.

Bike Messenger Essentials, Courtesy of Deghri Facebook Page.
Here’s a confession, or two. Being one of the messengers of Deghri was absolutely one of the very few amazing things that happened to me ever since I became jobless. I had the chance to do something I absolutely loved, to meet new awesome people, to visit companies of interests different from what I'm used to, grow my social network, and on top of all that, get paid for it! How awesome?! The simple fact that such a thing actually exists in Lebanon is wonderful enough to be spoken of everywhere, and of course to put it to use in most of our delivery chores nowadays, especially with the hectic traffic.

Some of the crazy folks behind Deghri Messengers
I don’t hide the fact that I would absolutely love to wake up one day to see our major cities packed with cyclers of all types, ages and genders. Would be even better to enjoy the commodity of initiatives like Deghri instead of the notorious cars and motorcycles that are currently doing the job in deliveries of all kinds. Going even further, such an idea was highlight of my innovative ideas for Tripoli all week last week, the town is best made for cyclers especially the casual ones.

During my time with Deghri, I got the chance to meet the mighty bikers, especially the ones who were always around including - but not limited to - Saunders boy, Matt Saunders, the man in charge at the Messengers dispatch office and the guy always ready to lend a hand in being a messenger whenever needed. Wissam and Chafik were two of my biker-heroes at the time, those studs would pedal all the way from Hamra to Jounyeh and then up to Hazmieh or Mansourieh in one ride, and feeling ready to hit the road again in no time afterwards.

My time with Deghri in four simple shots :)

Moving on to a couple serious topics here, Deghri has raised the flag for some help from us, kind contributors and volunteers:

  1. Deghri has launched its shoutout for volunteers in Beirut, seems like work is picking up really well. So, in case you were a cycler and think you got the time and a decent bike that you’re used to, able to handle biking all day and can give some time of yours for a couple (or more) shifts a week and get paid for it, be sure to follow that link.

  2. On the other hand, Deghri founders are in need of financial support to be able to be in Stockholm and join the European Championship for Bike Messengers in and around Europe to crown the best Messengers around.

"As a fairly new messenger service, it's extremely valuable for us to attend the championship, meet other messengers and of course test our riding skills. What's more, we will be representing Lebanon at this event, the most important in the bike messenger calendar in this part of the world." - Crowdfunding link on Zoomal

Messenger on duty in Beirut, where a break is worth the world.

Why Support Deghri you ask? Here's your answer:
"Because we are a group of young people from Lebanon looking to make a change in the country. Our inspiration often comes from being part of an international movement of delivery by bicycle, and attending the Championship will bring us closer to this community. The journey as well as the competition will help us grow as people and give us determination to continue our efforts in Lebanon."
I've been with these guys quite enough for me to know they're really worth every penny contributed or every second spent working with them. I can't remember a time I was happier ever since I left my job :)
Just so that you get some of their latest updates, the guys at Deghri have been doing a marvelous efforts lately. Let alone the eco-friendly time-saving bike delivery of virtually anything you can deliver on bike, and by that doing the community and individuals a huge favor, it's also crucial to mention the below:

  1. Baskil Festival, the first bike festival in Beirut to have taken the streets of Mdawwar Area for several days during which many cycler-wannabes have learned how to ride a bike for the first time in their lives, and were sky-high happy with that, to the conferences and talks about cycling in Beirut and in general. The festival witnessed great success and has received tremendously positive feedback, which I got a stench of hands-on.
  2. Regar, your cozy-slash-top notch bike workshop around Beirut. It's quite one of the best I've seen around, and beats others with the services offered compared to the budget (and tools) available.
  3. Bullit, Deghri's first Cargo Bike among its fleet. This beast can hold up to 60KGs of goods. It's mostly shown to the public every Saturday at Souk El Tayyeb where Deghri offer shoppers to deliver their goods for as low as 6000LBP using the Bullit.
  4. Awareness, by creating it first and raising it whenever needed, towards turning bikes, and more deliberately delivery on bikes, a standard around Beirut and hopefully all over the country.

Friends and lovelies at Deghri, I wish you nothing but the BEST!

Co-Founder Matt Saunders introducing Deghri Messenger in the Baskil Bicycle Festival

At Souk el Tayeb every Saturday, Deghri Messengers دغري will be available to bring shoppers' groceries home

Apr 28, 2014

At Last, the Website.
I never would have imagined the day I called the owners of Al Baba Sweets offering them a free photosession a couple years ago that, one day coming really soon, I would be congratulated by friends and family for my own website, the website that held my name. I ask myself sometimes where is this path taking me to, what am I doing here. I am fully aware this is my sense of insecurity due to the absence of somebody to drag me and guide me somewhere – as it’s always been – that is talking at the moment. I wholeheartedly listened to my close friends’ advice and rode the wave, and boy I must say it took me somewhere unbelievable.

I’m officially a photographer now, I built a career identity that is available for the public and I can simply throw in my website to anybody wanting to see my work. I used to prepare collages and work for hours picking my photos and eliminating others, only to be able to send a sample or two of my work to a potential client. The website is there now to represent me digitally, to be the complement of all my social media accounts to finally crown them all with a mother venue that tells it all.

It all started a while ago, when people wanting to work with me would ask to see the shots I used to take, my answer would be intuitively to check my facebook account. Cheesy as it sounds, these people actually went there and I would get those freaky friend requests every now and then ever since. Some highlights of that would be that day I was selling my mom’s old polaroid camera to a total stranger photographer on Charles El Helou bus station where she mentioned having a Facebook page and the need for every good photographer to own/run one. Giving her my then-usual answer of “no, it’s still too early”, she used an angry tone to push me into creating something that would give me identity overall and show my work. Another highlight would be that famous facebook post several months ago, where I dared to ask my facebook friends to pick for me. Seemed eventually that a website and a facebook page were both welcome, as soon as possible, with a huge amount of cheering and encouragement.

The website cost me around 25$ to launch and almost 4 rough months to finally settle down on a platform to build my site on, pick my winning shots, prepare the texts, the logo, the covers, the concept, etc.. It was one darn huge errand and it wouldn’t have happened without the last-minute intervention of my dear old Najd, my graphic-design-specialist brother. It was him who created the facebook cover and helped me shape up the visuals of the site. It’s crucial to mention at the same time that my welcome page photo was taken right in front of my bathroom door by my flatmate Jaakko, I literally had to crop out the black holes stuck on the white paint right there.

Here we go peeps, a little tour around the website:
  1. Landing page: it’s the page you see right after clicking “work”. The page has no specific theme, in fact it’s a collection of the shots that were the most famous on social media, including the famous shot of SahawHana iftar, Father Sarouj of Al Saeh library, etc..
  2. Portfolio: that’s nothing but a label, where if clicked would drop down a menu with access to the four basic categories for the moment. Other categories will be added with time.
    1. On Stage: concerts and artists taking the stage. Featuring names such as Nightwish, Mashrou Leila, Ahmad Qaabour, Scorpions, Lana Del Ray, Cirque De Soleil, Wanton Bishops, Majida Roumi, Magic Malik, Mazen El Sayed, Mike Massy, etc..
    2. Gourmet: Another name for food photography, most of the shots were taken at private celebrations and during shoots for clients. List includes Al Baba Sweets, L’Hote Libanais, etc..
    3. Soulful Portraits: I remember one of my photographer friends pointing out the unnecessity of describing my portraits with Soulful, this is – she said – to be decided by my viewers. Portraits and faces are the main reason I got into photography. Growing up, and probably till this moment now, I always had this urge to look at people’s faces with them noticing it. This is exactly how I work now, especially when a group of people is involved “please ignore me” I say. Portraits speak, and that’s what I love about them.
    4. Photojournalism: I don’t consider myself a photojournalist, it’s just the fact that I had the chance to be in several occasions where security was an issue, a protest was rising up or a news was being made. The fact that I got used to publishing my pictures in a flash put me on the journalism track really fast, without even noticing it. As a result, many of my shots were used in national and international newspapers, especially when the Al Saeh Library was burnt down and when the Salam and Taqwa car bomb incident took place, all with the help of dear friends and journalists such as none else but my friend Souhaib Ayoub, who gave me a huge push in that matter.
  3. Extras: Everything that is not photography and pictures all over.
    1. Tear Sheets: source of my pride. As the title says, it’s tear sheets and screenshots of some/most of the websites and papers that published my photos. Featuring CNN, Annahar, Assafir, Montreal Gazette, MTV Iggy, The Huffington Post, etc..
    2. Blog – The Dusty Wyndow: a simple link to my mighty old blog, the Dusty Wyndow :)
  4. Info:
    1. About: a little bio about me. I so believe this is going to reshape a lot before being complete.
    2. Contact: Throwing in a quote here and there has become a habit of mine: “One day, there will be happiness and there will be sunshine.” Your messages will be more than welcome :)
  5. Share:
    1. Social Media Buttons: Each and every button is connected to my account at each service respectively. These buttons are not for sharing the website, they're only for checking my social media accounts.
    2. Share: the key to sharing the website :)
The website has huge plans for the future and will host many other categories and extraordinary sections as promised on my home page. It is quite important also to write about the amount of support I got from friends and distant ones too, it was as if it were their own work and their newborn baby. I saw everybody congratulating me for the website at least, some were thoughtful enough to get a bit more into details and suggested a couple fixes, a handful more were courteous enough to point out a grammar mistake here or there. Blah! The energy was, and still is fantastic.

It triggers me the fact that I have to still be looking for an *engineering* job, to have interviews and to manage my way into getting a job offer. The website has done a great effort ever since its launch, getting in only two days half the views this blog has accumulated over last year, and my blog has some decent exposure. I must say I'm humbled by these people's heed to help me lift that website to a higher level by fetching out grammatical mistakes to fix and giving in their opinion of what could be altered in the design: Maja, Jost, Nina, Muslema, Souha, Mutaz, Foutoun, Fatima, Krystelle, Patrick, Rana, Randa, Mahmoud and pretty much everybody who threw in a word of advice.

Apr 16, 2014


Well, I got this pretty darn bad habit of not doing the birthday dues on time, and I've been lately avoiding birthdays all in all. Yet, for one of my brothers, I’m willing to make an exception. On April 15th 1998, I was bending over my grandma’s balcony waving goodbye to my teary mom who was waiting in front of the open door of that car, while everybody else was already inside. For a moment, and regardless of my young age at the time, it hit me. My mom was utterly sad. She felt so bad for having that baby and now that it’s about to deliver, she never felt worse. My smile for a split second turned into a frown and somehow I managed to get it all. This pregnancy was totally unexpected.

Flash backward in time, there was that home in Azmi street with a mom and two boys who lived their life day by day, and felt supreme joy around each other and most importantly whenever they were visited by their aunts, mom’s side’s aunts. Ever since we, the boys, knew we’ll be having an addition to our team, I remember feeling happy to be honest, and I believe I can say the same about my younger brother, Najd. Yet mom wasn't as happy at all. Something was missing, and at the time I was way younger than being able to understand what was going on. Here’s a hint, there was no such thing as love among my parents. Mom was always fearful, frail, with a dimming character, managing a family by herself, and that third child coming our way was just another burden she desperately didn't need.

Ever since delivery time started getting close, I found us moving up to my grandma’s house, in order for my mom to be well taken care of by her mother and sisters, and also being closely monitored by a handful of childbirth experts :) I do still remember that dark blue “sabot” (a special pregnancy pair of shoes) my mom used to wear, saying it was making her feel better.  I also still remember the strolls we used to have somewhere around our house looking for clothes for the newcomer and watching my parents fighting over the silliest stuff, like my dad not wanting to buy most of the stuff my mom wanted, and they had their reasons. All of this had piled up eventually into a growing repulsion in mom’s heart in terms of wishing the baby hadn’t come. Yet, and 16 years later, boy oh boy how mistaken mom was.

My aunt brought us burgers then, we went together me and Najd with her to a close restaurant where we bought our snacks and devoured them in the hospital's waiting room. I managed at a certain point to step inside mom’s room and check on her. I came close and kissed her, not realizing she went under the knife and was still anesthetized then. Her smile faded rather quickly and was calling out to see the new baby, whose name turned out to be Naji. I ran out to see him throughout the windshield of newborn’s incubator room, and without any help from any nurse nor any indication on his basket, I instantly spotted my brother. My brother was an angel laying down there so peacefully among all the other horrible weaning newborns. I instantly knew we’re gonna have a gorgeous time together :) I will never forget how we were dazzled by his somewhat darker skin tone and I was quite baffled by the hole he had in his yet-to-be-developped skull, the reason why he - probably - became my protégé for years to come.

This is to my brother Naji, my big man, who was a young toddler at the time and was the light our house needed then. This is to my friend and mentor, for all the times he taught me lessons I couldn't find in older people. This is to the newborn I used to hold in my hands and changed his diapers all by myself and took care of for quite a long while. This is to the bliss that was sent from heaven up above to our little tiny house. I remember kissing his cheek every time he fell asleep in his cradle, and used to enjoy every single moment we spent together. I will never be able to forget the nights we spent alone watching Disney movies to help you sleep, and eventually I'd fall asleep way before you, while you sit there laughing at me. I’m sorry for the time I put citric acid instead of sugar in your baby bottle :p and I do am sorry for the time I held you out the balcony, which still prevents me from sleeping from time to time and haunts in my dreams.

Naji’s become a full grown man now, ready to see the world, to love and be loved, to appreciate and be appreciated, to be wise and sprinkle some of his wisdom onto all of us and his surroundings. It’s quite sad I’m physically far from him at the time, but I just want you to know Naji, that the best times I spend in Trablos are when we’re together.

My heart grows every time I see him growing and blooming into the man he has become, and I trust the universe enough to know that his future is going to be the brightest of us all. Sixteen years have passed and boy they were gorgeous, can't wait to see what's gonna happen next!

Ladies and gentlemen, my brother Naji.

Apr 9, 2014

Gibberish, Barber Shop.

I just had another anger crisis yesterday, described by not wanting to contact any person anymore, and has developed into becoming furious in front of most people who reach out for me. It’s kind of disappointing since I don’t intend to do that, and the person on the other side wouldn't understand a bit, except for what they are receiving – the frustration. I became an adult at a very little age, I was responsible for a fatherless family at the age of 9. I still remember not being able to cross the street until my mom, bending over our balcony – 5 floors up, would signal me to cross. I still remember the amount of times I hesitated before entering a barber shop only for the fact that I wouldn't know what to say.

What's behind the mask? - Taken at the Clown Walk 2014
I got used to not speaking out for myself. In fact, I was praised for that. I was the all-the-time silent kid who usually is overly-accepting. I used to wait for my older aunt to come over because she took me out to Qalamoun, a 20KM away town by the sea, for ice cream on the beach at sunset. It was like a prayer to me, the thing that my parents hadn't done at that time, and I was only 2. I was constantly praised for abiding by the law, I was even given credit, lots of it, for the ability to withstand the system, go with the flow, get the highest grades and be on top of my class.

I was an older brother, a father, a husband and an adult at the age of 12, yet I was never myself. I was always boxed in a way that my outcome would absolutely be predictable. Therefore, a numerous amount of insecurities and issues have developed so complicated I can only wait for my next crisis, hide away for a couple days and then be able to mingle in all over again.

A note on the side, this post was inspired by Renno’s latest blogpost, a mighty character in the making and probably one of this life’s unknown soldiers.

I never received any professional help, guidance, the thing I need the most at the time, yet I know I wouldn’t be as cooperative as I should be. Knowing that, I began working constantly on myself, defining my character, monitoring my deeds and mistakes, being the supervisor I always needed, ever since I went to college. I’m proud to say I have taken a HUGE leap into hiding away the sides that I hated about me. I can now easily enter a barber shop and ask to cut my hair the way I feel comfortable.
- Have you ever gone to the moon and gazed upon yourself?
- I do it all the time.
- Weren’t you shocked?
- Yes, the first time. Yet afterwards, I started feeling disappointed, the kind that has yielded into a newer, better, and sharper Natheer.
Things started getting serious the moment I had become whole, or so I thought. Just recently I escaped the system for once in my life, I proudly left my job having the decision being made a long time ago, and started working on my own niche – photography. I never felt as happy, and to add to the fuzzy feeling, happiness meter would jump sky-high whenever I see any of my friends complaining about a Monday or suffering from a short weekend. There were no more Sundays ever since all days have become whatever I wanted them to be. I controlled my income and money was of value ever since. I felt, and still do feel, like an emperor.
- I would burst in laugh only on the inside, no sound would come out though, I wonder why.
- Same here, a long time ago I had no clue how to laugh, until that day I taught myself several ways of laughter. I stayed with the one I liked the most, my current one. But between us? It’s fake, all laughs are fake. It makes me sad to know I was way wiser than I am now, but I didn’t like it and insisted on becoming like everybody else, to fit in most probably.
I get a client every now and then, some are quite decent and respectable, they let me do my work properly, they appreciate how I work and allow me to feel comfortable enough to reveal my happy side, and hence, a wonderful outcome. They pay on time with no delays and are outrageously fantastic people. Some, on the other hand, are quite the nagger type of people, especially when it comes to women.

“Nah, I wished you had took the other side of my nose”

I pity this kind of people, for the amount of curses they would hear from me, in a parallel universe. There’s also the type of clients that have their own way of finalizing the work, they either become experts in photography or feel like not wanting to pay the full amount for some reason, or ever worse, both. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

In order to spread my name around, a couple of my clients/friends are receiving my photos completely for free, for the sake of promoting my name here and there and I have to be honest here, it’s quite good. I’m getting what other people are begging for. But the last incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I felt a huge portion of frustration and disappointment kicking-in, it seemed to me as if I was thrown all the way back to square one. A client so demanding can end up becoming – unknowingly – a burden, all while not noticing and not even being careful for I hadn’t spoken a word.

All at the same time, my prominently bad history with mom and family, the kind of history that remains unspoken mostly, is taking its toll on me. A close friend of mine had once driven me to a secluded place and suggested I scream. “But why would I”, my answer was. She realized way more than I did how much anger I was repressing at the time, after a certain incident.

At times like these, I would usually feel like staying at home doing nothing at all except for curling up to my pillow and reflect on stuff. Yet this time was different, my anger has got to a point where I can’t control it anymore. Yesterday was the first time I yell at mom in the street, no matter how awful that may sound, it was totally explicable at the moment. Yet, It felt horrible afterwards, the feeling that had led to even more anger the moment I went back to my place. Not knowing what to do, I saw myself going physical. For a split second I slapped my soul and told myself this shit needs to stop, somehow.

I can’t honestly tell if there were another way (that I know of, at least) to help me along the way other than writing about them, for talking to other people have come to be irrelevant. I wouldn't stand both people’s endless requests to explain and me hurting them at the same time. It’s a no at the moment, I just want to stay alone.

However, I've come to realize one thing during the course of all this. I totally didn't see coming the fact that some of friends were surprised to see me confessing about my anger, thinking that I (most probably) was an all-time happy positive kind of guy, who has all the reasons to be satisfied, and they were right. Just as I came across a lot of people who seem to me well-off and happy to their guts, yet it is becoming clear the cost they had to pay in order to come to that. I can’t but respect people’s pains and scars, for they were the bridge they chose to cross in order to draw that charming smile and tell a numerous amount of jokes here and there. Those who seem happy to us, are most probably the most desperate of all, if not at present then could be somewhere in their past. Let’s all respect that.

I come to look back at what I had written here, I admit it belongs mostly to my diary rather than a public post on my blog. But it doesn't change the fact all this could be of use to others, hopefully.

As a friend of mine had suggested, “I feel happy, oh so happy”. Fuck no :p here’s a clip to help you smile, just like it helped me.

Apr 4, 2014

An Ongoing Funeral: Anja Niedringhaus

Anja Niedringhaus, killed today in Afghanistan in their car. Source

I always thought they were invincible, reporters- whether writer, photographers, videographers, you name it - I thought they were the untouchables, the proteges.. "Never kill the messenger", a quality the ancient ethics of peace and war used to abide by, yet apparently not anymore. A 48yr-old world renowned German photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus was shot today and was killed instantly, all while her companion, Canadian reporter Kathy Gannon was wounded and is stable condition at the moment.

Kathy Gannon, AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan, wounded at the same incident. Source

AP had stated the following:
A veteran Associated Press photographer was killed and an AP reporter was wounded on Friday when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan.
The author's emotionlessness is nothing but an image of the grave traumatic news that shook AP personnel this morning around the world.
"Sad day. no more needed to be said", as one of my foreign journalist friends had expressed in her Facebook status today, the latter that had led me to this gruesome news.

AP author continues:
As they were sitting in the car waiting for the convoy to move, a unit commander named Naqibullah walked up to the car, yelled "Allahu Akbar" — God is Great — and opened fire on them in the back seat with his AK-47. He then surrendered to the other police and was arrested. - Full article here
Here's some of what Wikipedia had to say about the renowned photographer, before adding that fresh line at the bottom stating she was killed on April 4th while covering the presidential elections:
She was the only woman on a team of 11 AP photographers that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of the Iraq War. That same year she was awarded the International Women's Media Foundation's Courage in Journalism prize.
Even though I had never met any of Anja or Kathy, well neither Laurent or any of the other deceased journalists and photographers around the globe, yet I can't but feel my heart cringing whenever a reporter is killed. Their lives are taken away only for doing what they love the best, their way of contributing to this life and paying back to humanity.

Here's some of Anja's work that I had given myself the permission to showcase a handful of here.
Check all her work on both her Website and her Facebook page.

A young girl in her colorful dress reaches out to greet a Pakistani policeman - Anja Niedringhaus
Afghan boys study in a makeshift school in the village of Budyali -  Anja Niedringhaus
"German soldier sits next to candles lit to celebrate his 34th birthday during a long term patrol in Yaftal El Sofia" - Anja Niedringhaus