Nov 19, 2016

When Aly found Marie

Not so long ago, particularly in one of my summer trips to Lebanon, I meet a woman called Marie, she endlessly wept as she was telling me . It was then when she hit me with the worst, as she was heartbroken over the fact that her son would be 62 the next day. I didn't get it, and upon me asking why is this making her so sad, she frantically said "he's been missing since 37 years now".

News got on social media through the below post, and it took some time before it got some interaction and, only in March 2016 had the story's exposure started to pick up. Many people shared the story, some of them recognized Marie (or somebody who looked similar, or had a similar story), but then there was only this guy, Aly, who was literally head-first in the story, he left me wondering what's in it for him as he was privately messaging me over the course of the next two months on the updates of his search.

Some time passed and I had not realized at all, that Aly had never forgotten about Marie, until just yesterday where he pops up saying "We Found Her". My heart was on cloud 9 that same moment, I just couldn't believe it. It felt as if I had been waiting for that update since forever now.

However charming and magnificent this update might sound, we're still on the shore nevertheless. First of all the only sort of help that could bring Marie back to life is putting all efforts into investigating in her son's fate. A closure for a grieving person like Marie can mean the whole world, can even be more important than her own life. I still remember her telling me of how unimportant food was, if it weren't for a few good church servants who'd offer her a meal or two weekly. Second sort of help can be, of course, by providing her with a sturdy and coherent source of shelter and income, so that she wouldn't have to beg taxi drivers to drive her somewhere for free.

And last but not least, if there was anything that shook our hearts with Marie's story is the fact that there still are thousands and thousands similar brokenhearted mothers and wives out there in this damned country, forever grieving their loved ones waking up each day wishing for a closure. And I had not seen one politician do anything in that measure. It's time we woke up and grew some guts in that sense, Marie and all the other mothers certainly deserve to live the rest of their lives peacefully.

I will keep you updated as Aly will meet Marie very soon, there might be some ways we could all help.

"Heartbreaking , closure is important , it is a daily torture to live with the questions that have no answers , is he alive ? Is he dead? How ? Where? When? A mother's heart will never forget or let go , it will forever beat with the aching endless love for her kids !"Latifa El Hinnawi 

Nov 10, 2016

Tripoli Recites, by Zeina Hachem Beck

This is a post about how small the earth is. Back in my UAE days I learn there's a poetry gathering in Dubai, a couple hours away from where I lived. I contacted the organizers only to know they were Lebanese, she was Lebanese as a matter of fact. It was only her, Zeina, who was in charge of it all and that event happened to be the season finale before their summer/fall break. Knowing the curator of PUNCH (see here) being Lebanese, and later on finding out she's also from Tripoli was a blast. I do have a handful of friends from Tripoli too, some living abroad, but they all have this in common: they have started a poetry collective wherever they are. Samer Annous, assistant professor at the university of Balamand, has been famous for running those monthly poetry gatherings in Mina, particularly every first Wednesday of a new month. Sara Sibai has blown minds with her spoken word poetry, and keeps on doing so. She is now curator of the Beirut Poetry Slam, and also took part previously in initiatives such as the Soapbox Society.

Back to Zeina, that veteran Tripolitan, wife, and mother of two adorable daughters, had found it best to start what is known now by PUNCH: Dubai-Based Poetry and Open Mic Collaborative, probably the only of its kind in all of the emirates. I met Zeina the first time, during their season finale event where they gathered some of the most profound spoken-word artists ever. Some of them had moved us to tears, while some others swept us off our feet with their mesmerizing performances of love, deceit and so much more, some others were so great at filling the whole lounge with giggles and laughter, however.

I like to celebrate people of this kind, the sort that brings other people together, that brings other energies together in one spot and moves on with it, shapes it up and brings it up to the world in an unprecedented way. Zeina's poetry slams have received much praise by Dubai-based and international media, aside from being praised for her own work, being an accomplished poet and spoken word artist. It might be highly relevant, too, to mention that I'd heard of Zeina through her previous work with my beloved Fayha Choir, in an outstanding performace called 3Araby Song (video below).

Long story short, Zeina is going back home tomorrow, for her second solo performance in Tripoli, in Warche-13 in particular, the gorgeous newly-opened cultural venue in Mina. Event details can be see here on Facebook, and will launch at 7.00pm sharp. The event will be followed by a book signing.

Oct 3, 2016

Ruwwad, Tripoli's Pioneers

Photo from Ruwwad Lebanon's Facebook Page

"I came here a broken woman, Ruwwad has turned me into a strong person. I don't have to beg any politician anymore!" were the words a woman performed as she stood among her peers interpreting a video they were just watching. She gathered the applauds of every single person listening, whether donors, guests or staff. She was one of the ladies that were benefiting from Ruwwad's empowerment program gathering women from both ex-conflicting Jabal Mohsen and Tabbaneh under one roof.

"Everybody thought I was a notorious person, somebody who cannot be friends with others, and that made me pretty upset in return, until Ruwwad came along and showed everybody the real me" uttered a young man in front of us during the "Dardashat" stop, part of the "My Identity" program at Ruwwad. I was immensely moved with this young man's intervention, and I bet I saw somebody else wiping her tear too.

"Some of our students have come over to us wishing their schools were as cool as Ruwwad's support classes", said Ms. Reem Haj Ali answering one of the guest's questions. The classroom was so vibrant it took us a while to realize there were so many children benefiting from the library dedicated to Ruwwad's children. The same library was also filled with books and stories of all genres, languages and sizes to fit to each child's hunger for learning and reading. I could see with my own eyes the way each of those kids were enjoying the classroom and the whole atmosphere.

All of the above took place right before the inauguration of the Ruwwad's graduation ceremony, celebrating the first batch of graduating students from the support program launched by Ruwwad a few years back for young adults from both Jabal Mohsen and Tabbaneh, previously drenched in bloody conflict and not joint-back with efforts such as Ruwwad's.

What is Ruwwad?
"Ruwwad Al-Tanmeya is a non-profit community development organization that works with disenfranchised communities through education, youth volunteerism and grassroots organizing. Our approach encompasses an array of programs and initiatives that, together, strengthen agency and facilitate redress to problems prioritized by members of the community. Three main programs anchor Ruwwad: Child Development, Youth Organizing and Community Support." - Abstract from their FB Page.

Photo from Ruwwad Lebanon's Facebook Page
I was invited to the inauguration and the private donor tour right before the main ceremony, I was by that given the chance to witness beforehand the importance of what Ruwwad was doing. The same guys and girls who were looking at each other as enemies a while not so long ago, were now working together hand by hand to reach a place higher than the dumpster they were all left to rot in.

As the bio explains, Ruwwad had been mobilized not so long ago, mainly by active members of the private sector to reenergize the conflicting areas of Jabal and Tabbaneh, especially after the reconciliation almost two years ago. Today, Ruwwad spans Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine, and operates through a strong network of partnerships with the private sector and civil society and governmental agencies (source: Ruwwad's FB page).

It is not troublesome to admit that, Sarah Al Charif with the help of the gorgeous girls and boys helping out running Ruwwad and volunteering for this or that chore, are handsdown some of the most hardworking people I've encountered in Lebanon. I don't need to be told what their building was like a year or two ago, I've seen it with my own eyes. I've heard with my own ears what was it like to be from either areas talking about your neighbour right across the street. Ruwwad have done some phenomenal work right there.

Even though I weren't able to attend the main ceremony, but the vibes were all over the internet. I will be quoting several Facebook posts as follows. All the best to all the graduated students and can't wish but the best for Ruwwad and its personnel.

Aug 13, 2016

My 30th

We've been friends for a while then you must know I'm not big fan of typical everyday birthday celebrations, from facebook posts to cakes and parties. It's not that I'm being prophet of doom here or, well, the Grinch, it's just that I don't see any purpose of celebrating a day I haven't contributed to in any way. Hold on, let me put that differently, I'd very much love to celebrate a friendship anniversary for instance, a sweet memory, an achievement, some progress I was part of, you get the idea.

That said, you must also know of my yearly anniversary ritual, which is quite different each year. (check 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015). Despite growing really tired of all this, I thought to give it a shot based on previous years' success stories. It all started with using a cover photo on my Facebook inciting folks and fellows to, since they'll be doing it either ways, express their birthday celebration differently, whether in a kind deed, a good word or basically just about anything that I can have pride in saying "This somebody did this something on my birthday!"

Long story very, very short, I did end up getting some feedback. This blogpost is to celebrate them all.

Starting with Sandra, the one who managed to turn into two complete strangers into acquaintances, one of them actually ended up on their couch watching a movie with them.

And then on to Nina, who gleefully took out the company's receptionist out for lunch :)) and much more too.

Another friend, Vanessa, had done something incredible too, which she wanted to keep secret. And not to forget Cady, who had hilariously made his precious roommate dinner that day and made sure he'd let me know. Cracking!

Nuhad on the other hand had made my day with an out-of-the-box sort of deeds. See for yourselves.

Last but never the least, here's a bunch of posts that genuinely made me smile my heart out (I'm sure there were others, but forgive me for having so many and barely able to follow them all, especially after this long while).

Jul 23, 2016

El Mina's Book Market

It goes without saying that yesterday was probably when the town had witnessed one of its most successful mini-projects. It was that Samer, the Tripolitan professor at a renowned university in town, and the activist if I may call him, had wanted to put to use the available resources in order to bring books back to life, and hopefully promote for a new fashion for reading them.

Samer, and through the Cultural Agenda, made ties with a few fellows and created what is now known as the “El Mina Book Market”, the first of its kind in Mina (Tripoli’s very own sea port) where used books are sold, bought and exchanged too, all in the sake of gathering enough money to send children back to school. The event was held in non-other than Rassif cafĂ©, the roadside coffee shop that, I believe, had excelled in marking a new footprint and raising the bar for all future coffee shops in town.
“An open air street market for used books. Kids' reading corner and family activities. If you'd like to volunteer or participate in organizing the event, send a message to Cultural Agenda- El Mina.”
As you might be able to notice from the photos, the books were so diversified I was baffled myself. You could see the quran and the tales of the Sahabas right next to a communist book, a German novel or the bible itself. Aside from the books themselves, it was worth mentioning that the organizers had made a wonderful move by inviting a couple authors to the market, in order to exhibit books of their own too, namely Yahya Mawloud and Michel Baghdadlian, both of whom had been dearly celebrated.

The event, as Samer had stated earlier, would take place once a month, which is also the time by which readers would have to return the book they borrowed on the event before. And yes, there was a section for Not-For-Sale books, also known as “Exchange books”.

I can only say I had felt immense happiness for so many reasons, of which the below:

  1. Books have found a new spot to be exhibited other than the city’s yearly “Book Exhibition” which I dare call “very poor”.
  2. People have found what quenched their thirst for an active startup-society of readers and like-minded fellows. What was more surprising was when two neighbors met at the book market not knowing how much of a book worm the other neighbor was!
  3. It’s a humanitarian cause at the end of the day. 
All the best for the Cultural Agenda and all helping hands, the best is yet to come.

Jun 20, 2016

Paw Shake, Tripoli's First Animal Shelter

We finally have it in town, Tripoli's very own, and possibly the first, dog shelter. A group of enthusiasts has decided it's about time there were somebody in town to take care of all the homeless and rejected feline friends, many of whom end up being tortured out there, even put to death in some cases, especially those linked to the municipalities themselves, mainly due to total ignorance of how to handle stray animals.

A few words about Paw Shake from the initiative itself on their Zoomal Page:
Paw shake is a group of several young guys in Tripoli and all are volunteers. We all have the same passion for dogs and we have raised many dogs in our homes in Tripoli. Each person of this team is dedicating his free time for dogs rescuing through reporting and sending homeless dogs to specific NGOs in Lebanon who are providing shelter and food for these homeless dogs.
Puppies put for sale in Tripoli's Flea Market
Mahmoud Mawass, founder of Paw Shake, has wholeheartedly launched a Zoomal crowdfunder  titled "Take Me Home" recently to amass up to 85,000USD to be used for the land, for the shelter itself and of course, for the operational costs and staff expenses. The shelter will be situated in Tripoli, but will extend its operation to Mina too, Tripoli's most famous bay, as Paw Shake is doing its best to convince both municipalities to join forces in terms of support, funds and also, and most importantly, awareness.

My two cents: I do believe what has been happening to stray dogs, their puppies too, is tragic to say the least. With an uneducated society progressively exporting individuals finding their way to municipality and decision making positions, it's about time to break that endless loop in regards to stray animals and bring in fresh, educated spirits, such as Paw Shake.

You may always support the initiative by:

  • Supporting them through Zoomal
  • Becoming a volunteer as of now
  • Liking their page and promoting them on social networks

May 2, 2016

Video Footage - Le Trio Joubran in Concert

Couldn't think of a better place where I can share all the videos I shot during the Trio Joubran latest concert in Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, on April 30th 2016. Let alone that I'm a big fan of the three Palestinian brothers, these guys kicked some serious ass in a stunning performance back then.
This post isn't about the photos I had taken (you can check them on my facebook or on, but rather as one place where you guys can watch their performance split into parts.

Now for the technicalities, excuse:
1- The unexpected nauseous camera shakes
2- The amplified bass and distorted sound

Feb 8, 2016

Buster Keaton, taking over my blog for a while.

Who would've thought that one day my blog, the Dusty Wyndow blog, would wear the cape of one of the world's top silent performers (yet not as famous as Charlie Chaplin)? Here's how, and why, it all happened.

It had come to a point a while ago where I grew really tired of playing youtube and soundcloud music, track after track, to keep myself and my tiny desert house entertained. Music just wasn't doing the job anymore. It was all until one day I found myself playing movies as early as the 1920s, surprised by the fact that we actually had movies back then. I had always made fun of the way our grandparents would be taken so damn serious by what's displayed on that big luminous screen: Actor falls down? they gasp and their faces turn white. Train wagon coming their way? Some would probably jump off their seats, wholeheartedly believing it is actually happening! Never had the slightest clue this phenomenon would reach my chores as well.

It was when I decided to play those silent movies back to back, not really caring much what or who I'm watching, since to me there had been only Charlie Chaplin, the one who triggered it all. I was watching, for the 100th time probably, Charlie's masterpieces, such as Modern Times, The Great Dictator or The Circus. Those films  really got a taste of their own: The cheesy piano music, the -mostly- expressionless faces and the simplicity, most importantly, that overcame the whole thing and managed to get a grab of our hearts all.

However, there was something telling me that, somewhere out there, there has been this trend where films were not made longer than 20min, and probably before the days Charlie had become a famous actor. A few clicks here and there were enough to meet Buster, a name I had never heard before but a face I had seen often times.

Who is Buster?

Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton (October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966) was an American actor, director, producer, writer, and stunt performer. He was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression, earning him the nickname "The Great Stone Face"
Funny enough, he got the name "Buster" when he fell down a staircase at the age of 6 months and was then picked up by non else than Harry Houdini, who said "That kid could really take a buster".

My doubts were finally confirmed, the guy was a dead face throughout his performances! That sure has exponentially increased my infatuation gauge and got me hooked (will explain in a bit). Buster's 20-mins films were rolling back to back at that moment, and the couchsurfers that happened to be crashing at my place back then had their own share as well.

His Works

I got to admit, again, that I knew Buster only recently. Lucky are those who had spent more time digging through his works, and probably growing old in his era as well. I had started out with "The Goat" filmed and published in early 1920s, broke my heart later on to see him an aging man in "The Railroader" (1956) almost a generation later, the wrinkles eating his face out. The guy has over 80 titles in legacy, in which he not only acted, but also wrote and directed, before cancer ended his life in 1966.

Why Buster?

It's here where I ran out of words. Why him to take over my blog and not any other person? What did he have that had grabbed so many hearts and still is? Luckily though, I had stumbled on a page citing 10 Reasons to Love Buster Keaton, reciting the top five below:

5.  His Eyes.
4.  Buster was not educated.
3.  His stunning physicality.
2.  His tight artistic vision.
1.  He always makes me want to be a better person. 

So what's with his dead face?

"Poker face", "Great stoned face", "Silent face" were few of the endless adjectives attributed to Keaton's figurine. Despite of all the reasons why Joseph Keaton had decided that, it still is an unshakable proof that this person is a master actor, being able to suppress all sort of emotions leaving the viewer the freedom to shape it up the way they want. The New Yorker had written the below about Keaton:
“In a film world that exaggerated everything, and in which every emotion was dramatized and elaborated, he remained impassive and solemn, his poker-faced inscrutability suppressing all emotion.”

All in all

Had I ever thought of giving tribute to anybody on my blog and smudging them all over the website, at this moment I could not think of a better match. Buster is the type of people, and I say people, and not actor, that forced his way to my timeless list of impressive characters and sure had made unbreakable ties with millions out there, myself being one of them.

Jan 6, 2016

Why I still don't have a Facebook Photography Page

And will never have one, not in the near future at least, to clear things out first and foremost.

It's become a trend lately for anybody who's reached a certain level of progress (both technical & artistic) in photography, to seriously consider promoting their work in order to, out of oh-so-many reasons, possibly earn a buck or two on the side, or it could be simply to create this one point where "fans" can follow their most recent work.

Photography has always been a breath of fresh air to me, no matter how cliche it might sound, but it definitely is. Photography has definitely taken me to places I would never even imagine myself being if it weren't for my camera. I was doing pretty well at some point in the past (and still do, hopefully) when a few friends approached me to launch a Facebook page, some even insisted I'd do so. Most of these calls were turned down eventually, me thinking that it's an absolute waste of time.

"I'm not even close to being good enough to having my own Facebook page" - I thought to myself repeatedly.

But was it really about the fact that I'm not up to the challenge? Here are some of the speculations I had been noticing on other photographers' (repeatedly underlining the word "photographer") Facebook pages, the speculations that I had used over the time to build a pretty solid list of things that keep me away from running one of my own:

  1. Niche: I simply can't make the commitment of keeping a non-niche page alive (cf.2). A normal all-around type-o-photography page will not attract any viewers other than the 1st level friends and their friends too, to a max of a few hits/views a day on the long run and probably a few likes a week (cf.4) from people we never heard of, or that don't live in the same country. And hence the question: What's my niche? What am I really good at? God only knows..
  2. No.1 being said, a page that acts as a magnet for new viewers has to have a niche. In other words, the photographer in concern has to be dedicated to one type/style of work, and one only. The general formula could be: success/uniqueness grows reverse proportionally to the breadth of the photographer's style (the less your styles are, the more unique of a photographer you become).
  3. The Audience: a major factor each Facebook photographer has to think of: Who are my audience? Do I have the tools to reach a circle wider than my surrounding and the ones that already know me? Am I up to being able to grow and interact with a challenging audience in order to improve? How am I going to be able to surround myself with unbiased critics and professional viewers? Questions I don't have answers to (yet).
  4. The Scale: I can't really imagine myself getting to a point where my success is measured by the amount of likes my page has, and therefore comparing it to other pages with more or less likes. It's a totally false representation of the value of my work as a photographer: I bet posting a photo that received over 10K interactions (likes, shares, etc..) in the past on some artist's page prior to a concert won't get anything beyond 100 being re-posted in a page.
  5. The Bad Stuff: In continuation of No.4, and in moments of despair due to lack of new likes (or worse, the loss of some previous likes), I might find myself doing the following:
    • Sharing to my profile each and every photo that I post to the point where each photo has only one share, and that would be me.
    • Liking my own posts
    • Tagging some friends
    • Posting a manual on how to see my page's feed, believing in the conspiracy that Mr. Zuckerburg has dedicated a few of his minions to bring my page down.
    • Resharing some of my old work in the sake of some new likes from newcomers
    • Inviting old-time school friends to like my page, with whom I haven't had a decent conversation since, well basically, school!
    • The worst of all: sponsoring my page as a last resort.
  6. The Squeezing: I'd be put under a tremendous amount of pressure to issue new (and regular) work, whether in stories or in individuals, the thing that I hate the most, and that I constantly run from when it comes to photography. I like the pace I set to myself.
  7. The Captions: I might be a good photographers but that would be for a very good reason: I suck at expressing myself. I suck even more whenever it comes to writing something below my photo, something that I had run away from a long time ago. What's with the captions you say? I have learned down the road how important the accompanying text may be, and how strong it is to the point that sometimes, in some cases, a bad caption can ruin a darn good image.
  8. Picking A Name: How can I even put it to words? Can you imagine? "Natheer Halawani Photography Page""The work of Natheer Halawani"? No. Then what? Probably settle for some out-of-the-box ingenious yet low-profile name. "NH Photography" ? Gosh no, I'm never going that way.
  9. A Helping Hand: The fact that I'll be needing the help of my Facebook friends to share and promote for my work kills me, plainly kills me. Not because they're my friends doing me a favor, but it's basically a sign that I've reached a point of despair. It might get so hideous that I might back away from the thought of it only because of the promotion. 
  10. The Compression: Do I even have to elaborate? How many of you were ticked off by having their photos compressed to trash quality on Facebook when initially they were thought to be a masterpiece on your laptop? Even major photoshop artists seem to stay away from Facebook only because of compression, which might turn their artwork into garbage.
  11. The Censorship: Even though I haven't really done anything that needs censoring, but Facebook is quite famous for its unreasonable censor guidelines, whether that be violence, nudity, profanity, etc.. Last thing a photographer/artist needs is some more limitations.

It all seems, however, so easy and even pleasurable too for some of my photographer friends, and I do salute them for all the work that's been done, in any means possible, to promote and preserve a fully functioning page that doesn't just pass away in time. However, and you might be asking yourself this as I type, what is the alternative? I'll throw in some of what I had thought of:
  1. A Website: Dear old 2000s technology will always remain alive. On top, it's totally professional if done right, and highly customizable too, rather than the blue tint vomiting all over my "page". In fact, I might as well dare and call a website a "Silent Facebook Page", where the absence of any sort of visible/readable human interaction is actually a bliss. I might add actually that I'm indeed running my own website, which had quite a blast of support the moment it was published, and up til this day the website is doing absolutely awesome in terms of stats, even without me pulling any SEO strings.
  2. Flickr: What's that you ask? Probably one of the oldest -and best, to be frank- tools any photographer can find online. Not only does it well secure your work against online theft, it also provides a major exposure to a huge audience of amateur to senior photographers. That's of course in addition to the immense storage offering (1TB/account as far as I remember) and the absence of any image compression.
  3. My Personal Facebook Profile: and yes, why not? The audience is already there, in fact my audience is growing with me. Their perception to my work is changing as mine is, which is splendid to be honest. They get to see my normal life, my music tastes and my travels, all while being reminded occasionally that my photographs are getting better and better. Something that a mere page doesn't come close to.
  4. Other Photography-Related Social Networks: Such as the famous 500px,, and many more, with services available entirely for free and of course in addition to some limitations here and there.

It might be irrelevant at this point to clearly state Facebook has not been built to suit the needs of photographers all around, well at least not at this time. Facebook has been (and will always be in my guess) a social network, not more, not less.

Disclaimer: Whatever is mentioned above doesn't necessarily have to be true or false, neither does it apply to anybody but me, the author. Any point stated above might stand the total opposite to somebody else, and for that, I would really love to read your inputs.