Thursday, April 21, 2016

How I became disassociated with religion

Dear readers

I've dared to release myself from the bounds of religion at a very young but critical age in my conservative community. I look back now and I'm trying to define the moment that turned me into this fearless, unapologetic girl.

Just like any muslim home mine had several quran books. I never considered them but feared them as my mother used to say that if you ruin a quran book by writing on it you will be damned. We had some quranic sayings written across the walls but i never read them. My father prayed. I laugh at how once i tried praying but failed horribly. My mother really hated everything related to religion although she was born in Saudi Arabia.

I was raised in a christian school. I didn't know christians and jews were our enemies in terms of who gets heaven. My school did not consider it their job to enhance our knowledge of the other religion. All i knew was that they didn't share the same religion classes as us and sometimes said stuff that were contradictory to what my religion teacher said. Back when i believed everything she said.

In fourth grade a new religion teacher stepped into our class. She was an overweight hijabi woman. She had a sweet voice and hid under a compassionate smile but i could still see her mean looks when nobody else was looking. She sat on a chair and started drawing mathematical diagrams of islam that nobody understood. Then started to mark lines underneath important passages in our religion book for the upcoming test. Marking every quranic passage as one to memorize. She didn't discuss anything with us. We just have to study for the test. She was practically asking for my hatred.

 This woman started my track of hating religion. She made it a subject of memorization for an impossible tests. I studied her tests more than math but still failed.
Till then i didn't know that i was studying islam without my choice.
I sensed how wrong some texts were in our religion book. When i ask about them the teacher would blow me off. I was alone in a class full of  students who would agree with the teacher without thinking twice and there i became best friends with Adam*
He was just like me. He didn't believe the teacher nor the book. We Became friends over laughing and talking about her. We would say some witty comments in class. When i argued with the teacher i had a back to protect me . We were together ON this.

Adam was like me he grew up with the possibility of asking how and why. His culture was different that is why in sixth grade Adam had to leave for London. My back was gone. I became a baby with no bones just MOLDY TISSUES. I was alone with a teacher smirking at me because she knew that now she got me. That i could either fail or just shut up and listen to her.

I listened. I didn't argue. I studied the tests and failed . I knew that if i went too far with my thoughts she would fail me. It was an unspoken agreement within us but i still thought about God and religion. Nobody could stop these thoughts not even myself.

And so one day in 8th grade my teacher was being mean to me. I was worked up because i was struggling to keep what i have to say for 4 years. I stood up in class i looked her in the eye and told her that she had no saying in this and got out of the class. I went to my principal. Sat in a chair and told him calmly that i got out of the class because i could not take her anymore. He was shocked. I was the type of girl every teacher loved. He took me to the teacher to say sorry but i still had lots to say.

I looked at her and said that because of her now i hate religion that she teaches it wrong. Its all just passages to memorize for a test that i will fail and that she is so lazy she never moves out of her chair unless the principal was called for.
My classmates were giggling to themselves. I didn't want them to giggle but support me so i finished of with: Its not just me its the whole class.
It was true all of them spoke behind her back. I was the only brave person to tell her that in front of her face.
They all looked at me in a poker face. As  if they didn't understand me.

That was the first shock i got from my community. I thought that they had my back because this is what they really thought but they didn't care about fixing things they only wanted to save their butts.
Now i was proud but screwed.

In the summer of 8th grade Adam told me what he really thought about religion. He told me that sometimes he didn't believe in God that there were so many unanswered questions in his head. That it was all so ambiguous. He tried to confine in me but i was shocked. I never expected to hear such words. I was programed to believe in God. I was afraid that listening to him would also make me question the only ground i had. That i will become a kafer (infidel) who i was supposed to  condemn. I screamed at him. Trying to convince him and myself with rubbish.
He was in london. He could be an infidel. I'm in Jerusalem if i said such a thing i'll be condemned. I was scared but the bitter truth was that eventually i was going to think the same way. I was going to figure out that my ground was light and feathery filled up with lies.

 I didn't know that there was a choice of not believing in God until a breeze swept the feathers away and i fell. Hard.

I entered 9th grade with ease. I had a new class because i changed schools. The religion teacher was a nice woman who didnt just line up passages but now all hope was gone for me. This idea of not studying relegion Was buzzing in my head. I was still the only girl who argued with the teacher about what she said . I wasn't afraid anymore. Sometimes almost on the verges of really becoming a kafer inside the class.
Im not close to my classmates because of these religious views. I'm considered weird and a disgrace because i show my controversial thoughts in the open.
I'm brave i ask the question they think but hide.( This doesn't apply on all my classmates)
Such as why does a woman stay 3 months in her house when her husband dies ?
Why cant i have half the inheritance not 1/3 ?
Why did the perfect God change his mind repeatedly and create different imperfect religions all centered in jerusalem ? Knowing that we humans are troublesome.
These unanswered questions or their silly responses made me rebel.

In 10 grade i really opened up. I was angry about all the time i lost listening to the trash the religion teachers say. I figured out i could be anything. I stopped praying in the morning with my class. Instead i go to my locker and move around between the frozen statues of my classmates.

I was able to speak up and think this way because my mother raised me differently. She got a  divorce when i was 9 so i got away from the praying father. Having no man to tell us what to do in the house made it possible for me to think about the universe and God. Also my best friend Adam who is now a real atheist didn't help much in my process of becoming religious.

Last year i posted how i hated islam and seriously was considering changing into an another religion i got 10s of comment telling me of how can i  do this and how can i say such stuff. How a disgrace i was. I even learned that i should be killed.

Now seriously, for me all religions are horrible. I was just angry.
Being muslim and not believing in islam for me was like being gay and unable to be open about it. I went to my principal asking him to stop studying islam. Asking to read instead or study christianity just for information. He completely refused and said that this would bring a bad image to the school then called on my mother but she laughed about it.

In my family I'm considered as a disgrace but i like it when they give me the you are a lost case look. Its worse when they try to convince me to stop what I'm doing and go back to my senses. I want to use the part of my brain which shuts down when i believe in God. I want common sense.

 I still partially believe in God and still consider myself muslim. I just dont do all the islamic ways of thanking him and remembering him for example i dont pray at all but enjoy fasting in ramadan as a way of bringing the family together.  There are many positive sides of islam. (although there are some bad stuff too). Yes islam is viewed wrongly by the media but I've chosen to stay away from any religion because the the circumstances didn't help me. Note that my views are still undecided.

My community is a great one and i went to emphasize on how lots of individuals in my community supported me. When i say community i mean the few people that i've met.

*  I changed the name.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Fading away

Dear readers,

I just found out the cons of documenting every part of my day. Not every moment of my day is a good one. Not every thing i do I'm proud of.
I wrote a post naming it rich folks where i judgmentally wrote about people i barely spoke with calling them names and degrading them. I didn't give them a chance. I was just so into the moment i didn't think ahead. I didn't think about who i was hurting and how i wasn't hurting them with the truth because this is not who they are. I was just being cocky. I want to appoligise to them and specifically this one girl on my mind and i promise i won't hurt anybody again on this blog.

What i want to talk about is my experience being away from home in the MEET conference (read the post jungle hunger to know what MEET is).
In my eyes my year is divided into three main groups : Arabs speaking arabic together, Israelis speaking hebrew together and the neutral ones they are from both the sides and speak english together.

Coming into MEET i stayed at least two days with each group studying them. After the summer i knew for sure that i was an individual. I didn't fit in any of the groups. I didn't understand hebrew i couldn't make the arabs laugh nor understand their jokes (which I'm sure are good) and the neutral where too active and loud even for me.

So i stayed alone. Sometimes staying with the arabs but mostly i would sit with some other individuals and that is where i met Noam.
I met Noam in the summer. We connected over American TV shows and books. We used to watch Pretty Little Liars together and talk non stop about everything. Agreeing on everything.
We even planned to meet each other after the summer. I remember once when i looked at her on the bus and promised myself that i would be connected with her even without the help of MEET.
But that never happened.

After the summer i was hit with the truth. There was still an unsafe and violent situation around. An arab hanging with an Israeli wasn't the image to be seen. I ran from the dates that noam would set and never show up but i still loved her inside.
The moment i looked at her in the first session of the yearlong i knew that something changed. There was a political wall now between us . The young girls watching PLL and playing charades protected by the fake walls of a summer camp are gone.

I didn't try to reconcile. I depended on the summer to fix what was broken. The summer could bring everything i thought.
When i came to the meet conference i didn't see her around but didn't notice that until she came late at night. I didn't say hi nor hugged her. We got used to that.
The next day while i was sitting with some kids from nazareth in meet i looked at my phone and found that Noam left the meet group. I ran to my TA  Naomi asking her about Noam and where she was. She affirmed what i had feared.
A shock went through me. I thought of us smiling at each other promising to stay friends. I thought about the first time i saw her after the summer. I thought about the next summer and how i was going to fix it. I was too late and she was gone.
I dont know why i asked Naomi for Noam's number i already had it but i took it and called her. Her voice was weak and calm but sad. She told me she left because of her and that she didn't stay because  she didn't want to.

I helped her leave. I ignored her and the wall between us thinking that the summer was going to come sooner or later. I imagined us graduating together but now thats gone.
Its not just Noam that is gone now lots of Israeli girls left MEET. Its mostly arabs now.
Getting into meet, saying these tearful goodbyes in the summer. I didn't believe that anybody would want to leave. The ones i was connected to most are now fading so fast i can't stop it.
I went to the Arab girls telling them about Noam. They hit me with how it doesn't matter and how better it is that there are more arabs now.
I was losing every part of meet that i knew. I was losing the thing i thought i knew. Its like i was wrapped up in a warm blanket and was uncovered in a matter of seconds.

I thought about me staying alone last night thinking how cold i was. How depressed i felt. How hard I've been trying to connect with anybody while she was a matter of seconds away from me. I could've stopped her.

I didn't think i was going to cry. I went to Naomi to get a grip on what is happening. I was surprised that when i really needed it i went to her not to any other Palestinian TA. I found myself crying to her. I told her how i could see my year leaving in front of me and i couldn't prevent it.
I told her how lonely i am and how i wish i fitted with anybody. I wanted to tell her about Noam but i couldn't tell her what i had lost.
She held me to her and talked some sense into me. She encouraged me and showed me the bright side of not belonging. How being unattached to a group made me free to try and meet. How i have reached a higher level than them but that didn't help i cried more thinking i want to be in their same level.
I stopped crying when she told me how i remind her of herself in my age. Trying to do the same thing but also failing. I was surprised that she found something in me that was like her. I didn't expect to do that to Noami. I saw truth and trust in her blue eyes. I saw kindness and care that i didn't see in anybody but my mother and with that i was able to wipe my tears and look forward to the future although i couldn't see anything encouraging in it.

I stood up and washed my face. I hugged her like i used to hug Noam when i cried in the summer. All i thought about was to get myself working and out of this situation. I went to a computer and started working on the game i was supposed to do and this somehow helped.

If you are reading this Noam I'm sorry i didn't come to the dates we arranged. I'm sorry i didn't hug you. I'm sorry i broke my promise and I'm sorry i waited for the summer. The nice thing about it is that i can still imagine us graduating together hand in hand with our MEET diplomas.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A first

I woke up on Saturday with mom screaming "we're late" which is something I'm used to.  I got my things together and we were off to ramallah for an appointment. We spent lots of time in ramallah wether walking in the city buying KFC (not for us) or the amazing ice cream that could only be found in Ramallah named Rokab.
If you dont know Ramallah is in the west bank. The part that belongs to Palestinians and is only inhibited by Palestinians.

I looked at my phone and it was 5. I was supposed to be at home at 6 because i was going to pack my bags for a night with meet in neve shalom (wahet il salam ) which is close to tel aviv. I didn't panic Ramallah is only 15 minutes away from Jerusalem i expected the check point to be empty but that was something that no smart person should do.
As i arrived to the check point it looked like god turned against. Telling me that I'll never reach Jerusalem. The check point was filled with thousands of cars. We tried numerous check points trying to find a way through but the only thing that was to be done was to throw me into the streets. I had to walk through the check point, again expecting it be empty.

It would be the first time that i ever walk alone in a check point I thought. Having to speak to a soldier and being checked by myself. I put on a fake composed voice and a stern face and looked at my mom. We both gave instructions to each other and i flung myself out of the car taking with me some money, my mothers id to pass with as i am registered with her which is the only way i can reach Jerusalem and two iPhones ( freaking iPhones don't have battery when you need them).

I went through cars beeping at me and people screaming at each other with my brother following me. When i arrived at the check point i looked at the maze of iron in front of me and turned into a five your old. All i wanted to do now was not leave my brother. I would do anything to stay safe and sound in my mothers car but i had no time so i ran into the maze.

Looking at the people ahead of me they were 10. I looked at the women in front of me and asked "how long would this take?"
One smiled "hmm 30, 45 minutes its based on the soldiers mood" she said
Me and 70 other students in a bus depend right now on a soldiers mood.
I waited and waited shifting to sides and calling whoever i can but the line never moved. A man would be checked for 10 minutes and was asked many questions. I couldn't ask the people to go in front of them i just couldn't i had to wait and be late its because i expected.
A woman in the front of the line whispered my name and winked I've never seen her before but i moved forward and didn't think about my mother warning me not to speak to anybody.
"Are you Mirvat's daughter ?"she asked.
I smiled a giant smile and told her how late i am and wether i could go in front of her. She let me.
After 3 men i arrived to the face of the soldier that got me late. I looked at him and he was a pathetic 19 year old. I raised my chin and talked to him in english knowing that any word in arabic or hebrew or my nervous voice would let me stay there for another 5 minutes. He couldn't answer me he probably didn't speak english. I made him feel embarrassed. He didn't ask for the ID. He didn't need the ID now.
Thats the trick dont be a Palestinian and ur good to go.

For a first time i handled that well. I thought about my family there waiting behind the maze and how i didn't want to arrive home by myself but i just faced it. Trying to convince myself that I'm alright but till the next day i didn't feel alright.

Wether it matters or not i arrived 15 minutes late to the meet hub. Got into the bus but this meet conference wasn't a jubilant experience and i'll be talking about that in the my post.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A night with "rich" folks

My family and i were invited to a birthday party for a person I've never seen in my life considering it was supposed to be an intimate occasion we weren't really up to it. The party was supposed to happen at my mothers friends house, she personally invited her so my mom couldn't say no .

Its a habit of my mom to take us anywhere she goes.It brings some pros and cons but nonetheless we had to go. I was up for it really i knew that the family has a cute 10 month year old boy named sam.

It took us 50 minutes to arrive to their home it is a little bit after tel aviv in a village named Qolenswah. On the way my family and i enjoyed some arab songs. Growing up i felt embarrassed by arab songs and refused to join in with my family.  Now i take it as a chance to feel like i belong somewhere. Like it or not arab world Palestinians are still arabs. 

The people were supposed to be rich. Getting in to their village was a shock. It looked worse than a camp so we didn't expect anything. I actually expected to see a ruined home just like my grand mothers in azzeh camp. 

Ohh was i wrong. The house was fascinating with everything my family and i wish to own in a house (i have to say mashallah) it had a pool and a sauna basically it had everything. 

Living in jerusalem means that you dont own anything because everything is expansive. Its a way that israel uses to make us want to get out of the country. To own a small apartment in Jerusalem you either have to be very rich or live in debt your whole life so basically most jeruslamites live in rent which is also expensive not forgetting the arnona which is tax for living on the amazing whole soil of jerusalem. They make me feel like I'm living in Chateau de Versailles. 
What i want to deliver is how impossible it is for a family like mine to own a house so seeing a house like what i saw today was exceptional. I enjoyed it while it lasted 

For the first time ever other families brought their kids a long. There were 3 other "teens" ranging from 13 to 19. They are what we are supposed to call them "class" the ones that use english 3/4 of the time while they can deliver their sentences better in arabic and go to extremely expensive schools. I found them very shallow and uninteresting believe me i preferred the 10 month old kid at least he wasn't giving me looks and showing me how of an important rank he is. 
Some of their parents weren't even better. Some were exceptionally dull and shallow. Faking everything specially their so called american accent.

I hate being so judgmental and negative. Its true i judge a book by its cover ( i actually do that in bookstores) A great part of the evening was dull. When i talked to the english baby sitter she told me that i was more grown up than my age. Ohh i so wish you wouldn't say that thats why i feel like i can't really make conversations of meaning on the meet bus with 70 other teens. Thats why i never fit in with my age. I spent the evening with baby sam looking at his eyes while he slowly drifted to sleep. 

Tomorrow I'm spending a night in wahit il salam with meet. I hope this time that i will find a group that is a tad bit more interesting. I'm afraid i'll be cold tomorrow and its not because i dont have enough sheets to keep me warm. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Jungle Hunger

I haven't been posting much lately. Its not because I'm not committed. Its just because I'm doing finals. I really care about getting good marks. I consider it the only job i have to do and i do it pretty well.

Sometimes i stop studying to go to Ramallah and enjoy other programs. Today after 4 hours of studying i visited the meet hub.

MEET (Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow) is a program that i joined a year ago. Its an amazing program that brings promising Arab and Israeli students to study computer science and entrepreneurship. Till now i think they made a mistake by getting me in. You see i don't get the promising part.

Its a very challenging program. They make us make games from scratch using gibberish called python and present our projects to important people. Last year, in the summer i presented my 3D printing project to the manager of Facebook in Tel Aviv. It was quite exciting really.

I am always encouraged by this program. Everybody there is extremely smart. They all have strong personalities and all agreeable. I'm discouraged by CS. I always try to at least finish a line of code without an error but i mostly need help from anybody that is of 1m around me. Believe me the point that i am in in CS makes anybody able to help me.

3 sessions ago they asked us to make a breakout game. I came up with the idea of jungle hunger. A monkey (ball) is trying to eat the fruits (bricks) by bouncing off a trampoline (pedal). I worked with a team of 5 to make up the coding for the classes, collisions, borders and bouncing.
I seem to have lead a successful team. Tonight at 7:30 we presented the only finished game between 3 other groups . It took us around 9 hours to finish. Everybody was amazed by the game specially because i am in the team. I must say that my two other team mates Anan and Yaniv worked their butts off while i observed.
I find working with a team very challenging and this is an important part of meet. One of our values is to embrace teamwork for me that is quite difficult. By nature i like to lead but in meet I'm supposed to step back and let others shine and explore the great pleasure of ordering people around. In this project i discovered the perfect balance of leading and working hard. its not just bossing around now its advising and organizing.

The instructor was very proud of us and encouraged us to go even further on this game.
Just like every week i went back home completely tired and cold. Now I'm tucked in bed, a cat that my mother found on the street (thats a long story) is purring next to me and I'm enjoying how perfect chemistry is with my warm Harvard sweatshirt and a cup of anise with chamomile.

Hope everything is going well with everybody.
Good night.

Friday, April 1, 2016

An inside look at the palestine marathon from an unregistered runner

Today i woke up at 6 am on my weekend. Seriously concidered going back to sleep. Then convinced myslef to wear my running gear and get out of my grandmas house in bethlahem. 

We rode the car with my mothers photographer and arrived to the nativity church. Everything felt exactly like christmas except there wasnt a tree and it was morning. 
The square was not crowded. There were mostly forgeiners but after some time the square filled up with many people from different backgrounds and orginins. There wasnt any perosnal space. Not even to warm up.
I expected such a thing. We arabs like to try new things. At least to get a picture out of it. 
The marathon was spilt into two teams 10K team and the 21 and 42 team. 
The music was so loud we couldnt hear each other. Some warmed up and at 8:00 sharp(surprisingly) the 4th right to movement marathon began. After 15 minutes the 10K marathon started running. 
I was runing with my mother, brother and a friend. The truth is that we barely ran. We walked the running marathon like no other. 
We ran first to the wall, passed the ayda rafugee camp and continued on to the main route in Bethalhem. It was depressing knowing that we had to go back. 

It wasnt something forgein for the bethlehem people, they warmly welcomed and encouraged the runners, i thought that they would judge us but was very much mistaken. Some runners helped The handicaped by pushing them. The police also took the matter in a great way by ushering the best routes for car drivers and helping out. Planting such an undertanding on how to handle such an event is amazing. 

On some stops we were given water and fruit. I was pretty disapointed to find plastic cups thrown all over the ground. I hated the view so much. 

Many NGOs ran for great causes such as the right for women hertige. These groups ran together. They shouted, sang and raised signs. It really raised awarness for such cases. I loved how such a marthon had so much to tell. 

The whole aura of the marathon was exciting and very welcoming. No judging was involved and everybody was laughing. Some sang traditional songs on the way. I felt connected with everybody. I really felt like i was part of something special. That i completed something special. 

It took my two hours to finish the marathon. An hour longer than most of my friends. Becuase i was unregistered i wasn't  allowed to feel the moment of completing the martohn through the finish line but yala it was for free. You see i came with my mother as press. Thats one of the many perks of being the daughter of a journalist. 

When we finished we danced a bit, talked a lot and then ate hummus. 
I walked an extra 3 kilometers to my grandmothers house which felt like hell. 
At that moment the 42 kilometers runners were finishing their race. 

When i arrived. I went straight to bed. But when i woke up i heard that the soldiers threw gas at the camp. I laughed at how they didnt throw it when there were forgeiners running around.They don't want to ruin their image that badly. The wall was enough. 

All in all, it was an amazing marathon. The sights we visited were great. The feeling of being united was there. Next year i will surely do it again. Hope next time that i actually run though.

2nd of april.