In light of the New Year and Resolutions…

Every New Year, we take (or try to take) the time to come up with resolutions that will hopefully be kept for the month of January at least. Every New Year gym subscriptions sore only to see its clientele decline in the next 2-3 months. I know so because last year I joined a gym and saw the effects for myself. Not to mention, I stopped going in March consistent with the aforementioned trend. Notwithstanding, I think its important to take the time to ask ourselves where we could use some improvement or what aspects of our life could we change or ameliorate. As I go through this thought process and consider a calorie counting app, I thought I would also take the time to read (and share) some thought-provoking poetry that I found inspiring. The first excerpt is from Yesterday and Today by Khalil Gibran from the The Treasured Writings of Khalil Gibran.

“Yesterday I was like a singing bird, soaring freely here and there in the fields. Today I am a slave to fickle wealth, society’s rules, the city’s customs, and purchased friends, pleasing the people by conforming to the strange and narrow laws of man. I was born free and enjoy the bounty of life, but I find myself like a beast of burden so heavily laden with gold that his back is breaking.


Yesterday I was a happy shepherd looking upon my herd as a merciful king looks with pleasure upon his contented subjects. Today I am a slave standing before my wealth, my wealth which robbed me of the beauty of life I once knew.


At that moment a poor man stood before him and stretched forth his hand for alms. As he looked at the beggar, his lips parted, his eyes brightened with a softness, and his face radiated kindness. It was as if the yesterday he had lamented by the lake had come to greet him.


He entered his palace saying, “Everything in life is good; even gold, for it teaches a lesson. Money is like a stringed instrument; he who does not know how to use it properly will hear only discordant music. Money is like love; it kills slowly and painfully the one who withholds it, and enlivens the other who turns it upon his fellow men.”

I like this poem because it takes us back to the simplicity and beauty of yesterday while revealing the capacity to live life that in that same beauty today by being in tune with those around us. I believe the strength of the poem does not lie solely in sharing wealth but I believe this vision can be extended to knowledge, power, technology, etc. It shows us that we can use our new found wealth of knowledge, technology, information, etc. to brighten up the lives of others and use it for good. It’s not about returning to the simple life but learning how to bring back the joys we once experienced in simplicity. I think this poem shows us what it means to contemplate the meaning of our life and how to improve our lives and those around us.

The second poem I wanted to share is also written by Khalil Gibran and speaks to questioning our actions and the motives behind why we do things.

Seven Reprimands by Khalil Gibran

I reprimand my soul seven times!

The first time: when I attempted to exalt                                     myself by exploiting the weak.

The second time: when I feigned a limp                                       before those who were crippled.

The third time : when, given a choice,                                                  I elected the easy rather than the difficult.

The fourth time: when I made a mistake                                                 I consoled myself with the mistakes of others.

The fifth time: when I was docile because of fear                            and then claimed to be strong in patience.

The sixth time: when I held my garments upraised                          to avoid the mud of Life.

The seventh time: when I stood in hymnal to God                            and considered the signing a virtue.

I particularly like this poem because it reminds us we can all benefit from identifying areas and aspects of our lives and relationship with others we would like to change. That being said, it takes New Year’s resolution lists to a whole new level.

Happy New Year!

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2014 in review courtesy of WordPress:) Happy New Year!!!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 950 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 16 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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In honour of Black History Month…

After spending the day reading about Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, Elaine Brown and Assata Shakur in response to a post my cousin put up on Facebook, I thought it important to share some inspiring poetry from the Black Power Movement in honour of Black history month. Although I disagree with the violence and at times sexist approach used by some Black Panther members to gain respect and recognition for African American rights and freedom, I completely agree with the founding principles of the movement which are based on equality, justice and community for all the downtrodden, marginalized and oppressed people. It espoused the ideals of true freedom and revolution best put in the words of Assata Shakur in the following poem:

“[…] r/evolution means the end of exploitation. r/evolution means respecting people from other cultures. r/evolution is creative.

r/evolution means treating your mate as a friend and an equal. r/evolution is sexy.

r/evolution means respecting and learning from your children. r/evolution is beautiful.

r/evolution means protecting the people. the plants. the animals. the air. the water. r/evolution means saving this planet.

r/evolution is love.” Assata Shakur

Here are some inspiring poems by Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee) that remind us where we once were less we forget to cherish one other and fall prey to excessive Individualism, Colorism, Sexism, Racism and Hate.

blackwoman  by Haki Madhubuti

will define herself. naturally. will
talk/walk/live/&love her images. her
beauty will be. the only way to be is
to be. blackman take her. u don’t need
music to move; yr/movement toward her
is music. & she’ll do more than dance.

my brothers by 

my brothers i will not tell you
who to love or not love
i will only say to you
Black women have not been
loved enough.

i will say to you
we are at war & that
Black men in america are
being removed from the
like loose sand in a wind storm
and that the women Black are
three to each of us.

my brothers i will not tell you
who to love or not love
i will make you aware of our
self hating and hurting ways.
make you aware of whose bellies
you dropped from.
i will glue your ears to those images
you reflect which are not being


Wadsworth Jarrell (American, born 1929). Revolutionary, 1972. Screenprint on paper, Brooklyn Museum

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Par le Feu… By Fire by Tahar Ben Jelloun

I know it’s been a while since I’ve shared my thoughts on some of the books I’ve read but I will try to do so more often. Yesterday, I read Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novella PAR LE FEU, “By Fire”. The novel is based on the events of December 17th in Sidi Bouzid, namely: the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. He nicely describes the problems, corruption, self-loathing, lack of solidarity and other circumstances that lead to the self-immolation of his fictional character Mohamed.

I really liked the novella because it allows you to better grasp what Tunisia was like prior to the revolution. Haven visited Tunisia myself and interacted with the people there, the story truly nicely illustrates what living under the regime was like. I remember my cousin telling me I should not use the President’s name for fear that someone would report us. I asked what would happen if they did and he said: “we would get taken away and beaten, if not something worse”.

I also love the way he illustrates the tension between the poor and the silence of the older generation. The complacency of the rich and middle class. The corruption and terror among the people of the lower class. I also love the way he shows that Mohamed did not set out to be a hero in his novella. It wasn’t through grassroots political actions. It was simply a man who lost everything, an innuendo of what loss of hope does to someone.

He then ends the novella on how Mohamed became a symbol of the resistance. How once word spread to the international communities and the outrage it caused in Tunisia and abroad, he became a part of the “heroic martyrs of a new Middle Eastern revolution.”.

So on that note I would like to end with the moral of the story:

“L’histoire de Mohamed n’appartient à personne; c’est l’histoire d’un homme simple, comme il y en a des millions, qui, a force d’être écrasé, humilié, nié dans sa vie, a fini par devenir l’étincelle qui embrase le monde. Jamais personne ne lui volera sa mort.” Tahar Ben Jelloun, page 50.

English Translation:

“The story of Mohamed belongs to no one. His is the story of a simple man, like a million others, who as a result of being crushed, humiliated and abhorred during life eventually became a spark that ignites the world. No one can ever appropriate his death.”

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A veritable national revolutionary army!

I have been following extensively the media dubbed “Arab Revolution” intensely since it began with the Tunisian people’s uprising to oust its tyrant Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. I was happy to see the Arab people in other countries like Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Algeria and Morocco, rise up and speak against the corruption, social injustices and lack of democracy in their own countries. I believe the social and political upheaval in Tunisia and Egypt was a success in part because the role the army played in the revolution, without their neutral or support in certain cases maybe Tunisia and Egypt would be stricken with the same unfortunate misfortune Libya, Syria and Yemen are facing today.

A friend of mine suggested I read Jean-Paul Sartre’s preface to Frantz Fanon’s book The Wretched of the Earth and in light of its revolutionary spirit I would like to share with you the passages that deeply moved me.

Not so very long ago, the earth numbered two thousand million inhabitants: five hundred million men, and one thousand five hundred million natives. The former had the Word; the others had the use of it. Between the two there were hired kinglets, overlords, and a bourgeoisie, sham from beginning to end, which served as go-betweens. In the colonies the truth stood naked, but the citizens of the mother country preferred it with clothes on: the native had to love them, something in the way mothers are loved. The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the
teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed. From Paris, from London, from Amsterdam we would utter the words “Parthenon! Brotherhood!” and somewhere in Africa or Asia lips would open “…thenon! …therhood!” It was the golden

It came to an end; the mouths opened by themselves; the yellow and black voices still spoke of our humanism but only to reproach us with our inhumanity. We listened without displeasure to these polite statements of resentment, at first with proud amazement. What? They are able to talk by themselves? Just look at what we have made of them! We did not doubt but that they would accept our ideals, since they accused us of not being faithful to them. Then, indeed, Europe could believe in her mission; she had hellenized the Asians; she had created a new breed, the Greco-Latin Negroes. We might add, quite between ourselves, as men of the world: “After all, let them bawl their heads off, it relieves their feelings; dogs that bark don’t bite.”


Listen: “Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience.” The tone is new. Who dares to speak thus? It is an African, a man from the Third World, an ex-“native.”


In short, the Third World finds itself and speaks to itself through his voice. We know that it is not a homogeneous world; we know too that enslaved peoples are still to be found there, together with some who have achieved a simulacrum of phony independence, others who are still fighting to attain sovereignty and others again who have obtained complete freedom but who live under the constant menace of imperialist aggression. These differences are born of colonial history, in other words of oppression. Here, the
mother country is satisfied to keep some feudal rulers in her pay; there, dividing and ruling she has created a native bourgeoisie, sham from beginning to end; elsewhere she has played a double game: the colony is planted with settlers and exploited at the same time. Thus Europe has multiplied divisions and opposing groups, has fashioned classes and sometimes even racial prejudices, and has endeavored by every means to bring about and intensify the stratification of colonized societies. […] In the heat of battle, all internal barriers break down; the puppet bourgeoisie of businessmen and shopkeepers, the urban proletariat, which is always in a privileged position, the lumpenproletariat of the shanty towns–all fall into line with the stand made by the rural masses, that veritable reservoir of a national revolutionary army; for in those countries where colonialism has deliberately held up development, the peasantry, when it rises, quickly stands out as the revolutionary class. For it knows naked oppression, and suffers far more from it than the workers in the towns, and in order not to die of hunger, it demands no less than a complete demolishing of all existing structures. In order to triumph, the national revolution must be socialist; if its career is cut short, if the native bourgeoisie takes over power, the new state, in spite of its formal sovereignty, remains in the hands of the imperialists.

Posted in Arab Revolution, Fanon, Politics, Post-colonialism, Tunisia, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Women without Men? …

The other night, I watched the Movie Woman without Men, which was based on Shahrnush Parsipur‘s novel “Women without men; a novel of modern Iran”. Shirin Neshat’s feature length film beautifully captures the underlying political tone of the book advocating FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY and JUSTICE.

In the movie, Nahid asks “Don’t you think that justice depends on freedom? And a poet answered “You can only speak about freedom or even democracy when a society is culturally developed and conscious.”

Essentially, the people must know who they are and what they deserve. The people must unite and struggle for what they believe in. The peoples’ voice must be heard, but, more importantly to Parsipur’s book, women’s voices must be heard.

The demands for freedom, justice and democracy by the people are reflected in the silent cries of the women in the movie; the females’ pain, sorrow, sacrifices and even  death epitomize the women’s cry for their voice to be heard in the misogynistic society portrayed by the movie.

However, when you read the book you are blown away by the fantasy and spirituality with which the author conveys her views on women and the part they play in Iranian society. The book does not suggest that women are better off without men but that women need to find themselves and not limit themselves to the Iranian vision of “SHARM“, which loosely translates into English as the code of conduct for maintaining one’s “reputation” or chastity.

Shahrnush Parsipur tackles the taboo subject of Iranian women and their sexuality, which is in part the reason why her books are banned in Iran and she is now living in exile in the USA. For one, she challenges the long held myths of “virginity” and “propriety” strongly upheld in Iranian culture.

Not only does she encourage women to know themselves by reading, experience and self-discovery but also to create their own identity and not just take on the role that man has ascribed to them.

This reminded  me of the poem Four Springs by Partow Nooriala, which celebrates the beauty of all stages of womanhood.

Four Springs


Yellow silk cocoon,
Butterfly flaps fluttering
Disheveled hair, bare feet
The little girl
Sets out in the breeze
Children flittering
And lost games linger in afternoon haze.
Where is that twelve-year-old girl?
With my dolls and jump ropes
And cardboard house
And a drop of blood
A veil between childhood
And puberty’s dawn.


Bashful, clinging to childhood,
She bathes her breast-buds
In morning dew.
She is a budding spring
A sudden pageantry of green.
She averts her eyes from her beloved
But the thumping of her heart
Is audible even through a storm.
The almond blossom
Brushes the sixteen-year-old girl
As does the here and now of love
My lustrous skin.


How it burns
Dagger gouging, skin pins and needles
A thousand
Blows on the bones
Half-conscious and torn asunder.
Push, push, push
She claws at the sheets,
Those mercurial clouds shift.
Bright wet hallucinations and dry
Tongue stuck to palate.
Pressure, pain, perishing…
An impatient child
Escapes the uterine strait.
My howls drown my nineteenth year.
In one instant
My creation assigns its pain to me.


Forty nine-year-old
Is not wary of phobic
Fuddy-duddy chitter-chatter.
Time spins
In a frenzy of repollination
And the ray of light
Emanating from my soul
Releases me from
Decadent superstition
And wrath.
Ecstatic in yet-springing-anew
Finally wise to seasoned love
Menopause*, this Change of Life
Fights an uphill battle
For this old shrub of a heart
Has never before blossomed so red.

From Selseleh Bar Dast Dar Borj e Eghbaal (With Chained Hands in this House of Fortune) 2004
Chaahar Rouyesh©Partow Nooriala2004

* In Farsi, the word for Menopause also means annulment and/or despair.

“Women without Men” is a fantastic non-linear narrative filled with imagery illustrating the oppression and limitations placed on women by an excessively patriarchal Iranian society pre- and post- the 1979 Iranian revolution, which is readily exemplified in the story of the five women who seek temporary relief and sanctuary in the garden of Zaraj.

The book starts with Mahdokht who witnesses a sexual act between a 15 year girl and the gardner Yadallah (not the good gardener), which makes her extremely angry. She even wishes death upon the child because she has committed such an heinous crime. She then comes to the realization that “My virginity is like a tree” and that she must stay in the garden and “plant herself” in the ground. Later, in the novel we see that with the help of the “good gardener”, the former prostitute Zarrinkolah, and the twice-dead brought back to life Munis, Mahdokht becomes a tree. She sprouts roots, grows and get’s new leaves until the tree bursts and turns into a mountain of seeds that is spread across the world. Mahdokht’s transformation into a tree thereby becomes a metaphor for the fulfillment of her sexual desire without the loss of her virginity. Thus, she propagates herself without getting involved with human sexuality, but in so doing she is not human. At the end of the novel the good gardener tells Munis: “Look at your friend, she wanted to become a tree, and she did. […] Unfortunately, she didn’t become human, she became a tree. Now she can start over so that she can become  somewhat human after billions of years. Seek darkness, seek in the darkness, in the beginning, in the depths, in the depths of depths where you will find light at the zenith, in yourself, by yourself. That in becoming human, go and become human!”

Throughout, the book the garden of Zaraj is not only the place where the women are free from male control but also a place where they can reinvent themselves outside the confines of a repressive male society. The garden of Zaraj is only a temporary refuge in their journey, and in the end of the novel the women acknowledge that they are not satisfied living a life separate from the men or the outside world. But, as a result of finding themselves in the garden, they evolve and reinvent their relationship with the world and with men. Two of the women transcend the limitations of their flesh, while the other three females chose relationships that are based on love and respect that fulfill some of their needs. They are no longer a shadow of a preconceive patriarchal notion of an “ideal woman” but WOMEN expressing their desires and needs. They no longer simply exist or react to the confines of a limiting framework of there society but find their inner voice and are guided by their psychological vision of what is possible and who they are.

Needless, to say the movie uses the women’s journey to enlightenment as a symbol for the Iranian people’s struggle not only to find themselves but their voice in the confines of a limiting and oppressive society. Likewise, Mahmoud Darwish has illustrated his people’s struggle for freedom in the poem No more and No less by writing in the voice of a woman part of an excessively patriotic society.

So, on that note I will end on the poem No more and No less by Mahmoud Darwish.

No More and No Less

by Mahmoud Darwish translated by Fady Joudah

I am a woman. No more and no less
I live my life as it is
thread by thread
and I spin my wool to wear, not
to complete Homer’s story, or his sun.
And I see what I see
as it is, in its shape,
though I stare every once
in a while in its shade
to sense the pulse of defeat,
and I write tomorrow
on yesterday’s sheets: there’s no sound
other than echo.
I love the necessary vagueness in
what a night traveler says to the absence
of birds over the slopes of speech
and above the roofs of villages
I am a woman, no more and no less
The almond blossom sends me flying
in March, from my balcony,
in longing for what the faraway says:
“Touch me and I’ll bring my horses to the water springs.”
I cry for no clear reason, and I love you
as you are, not as a strut
nor in vain
and from my shoulders a morning rises onto you
and falls into you, when I embrace you, a night.
But I am neither one nor the other
no, I am not a sun or a moon
I am a woman, no more and no less
So be the Qyss of longing,
if you wish. As for me
I like to be loved as I am
not as a color photo
in the paper, or as an idea
composed in a poem amid the stags …
I hear Laila’s faraway scream
from the bedroom: Do not leave me
a prisoner of rhyme in the tribal nights
do not leave me to them as news …
I am a woman, no more and no less
I am who I am, as
you are who you are: you live in me
and I live in you, to and for you
I love the necessary clarity of our mutual puzzle
I am yours when I overflow the night
but I am not a land
or a journey
I am a woman, no more and no less
And I tire
from the moon’s feminine cycle
and my guitar falls ill
by string
I am a woman,
no more
and no less!

Posted in Mahmoud Darwish, Poetry, Politics, Shahrnush Parsipur | 2 Comments

YES the PEOPLE CAN overcome Tyranny!!!

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The recent events in Tunisia have really been a blessing to my family and I. Having been there in the past and seen the oppression of my people, it was great to hear that the people were speaking up and … Continue reading

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