Memoir Part 7: Bomb on the Beach

Between the mountains and the sea, the breeze goes back and forth, alternating in the direction between night and day, elevating some of the torture of the hot perpendicular rays of the sun in the daytime, and the other torture of the high humidity at night.

We played on the Kournish Thursday nights till we were exhausted.  We either went back home biking, or we met our parents in whichever house of a family they were spending time with that night.

We would play soccer, build castles, find dead fish, occasionally helping fishermen pulling their nets from the sea, creating obstacle courses with bicycles, throwing stones, discovering new things, attacking abandoned houses after creating myths about them to scare ourselves, eating berries off the best berry trees in the area, and if we met a new boy, we would discover him and it would be a very exciting Thursday night for us.  We would gather around him asking him questions, listening to his stories, till there was nothing more to know about him.  It was like an initiation to friendship.  I experienced that myself moving from one city to another when the students in a new class would gather around me and shower me with questions.  In few minutes, you would make 10’s of new friends and few best friends.

If you grew up in UAE at that time, you grew up knowing and loving Sheik Zayid bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder of UAE, and the ruler of Abu Dhabi, as well as the President of UAE.  He was commonly named Baba Zayid because of his fatherly love and figure to all the Emirates.  He was one of the wise tribal leaders who is only remembered for his positive accomplishments and kind leadership, true to the Arabic and Islamic issues.  UAE was very stable and growing fast during his time.

During that time (1983-1986), there were two major events in the Middle East: The first was the Iraqi-Iranian war which took place just across the Persian Gulf (we called it Arabian Gulf).  The second was the Israeli occupation of Lebanon all the way to Beirut and the birth of the Islamic and Lebanese resistance in Lebanon.  Both these wars had direct effects on my family and our surroundings.

While playing on the kournish one Wednesday night (because our school had that Thursday off coincidently), I, Hamoudi my brother, and Islam my Egyptian friend, found a little yellow metal container that looked like a fire extinguisher being washed ashore by the dark salty waves.  Anything that entered our space, new and different, got all of our attention, having nothing else to entertain ourselves with on that stranded pseudo-island.

It was heavy, and we started playing with it. It had writings in English, and picture instructions that showed a picture of an explosion at the end.  I told Islam to throw it away because it seemed dangerous, but we couldn’t resist following the instructions. While implementing the instructions step by step, unlocking the head cover, pulling some strings, up to pressing a red button, we were laughing out loud, thinking that we found a bazooka.

Well, less than a second from us laughing and Islam pressing the red button, it seemed that a year passed.  Although much of the details have been blocked in my memory due to the shock, all I remember that there was a big explosion.  Lucky enough the bomb was directional and it flew right into the sea before it exploded inside in the ocean and covered the surface of the sea with a huge field of fire, that was meters high.

I also remember that I was running as fast as I can.  Islam was running too.  Hamoudi was nowhere to be found.  Islam’s hand burnt because he was the last person holding the bomb before it went off.  We ran about a mile far. Then we looked around us for Hamoudi nowhere to be found.  We were looking at the fire. Did something happen to Hamoudi?!  And then we see his silhouette with the fire behind him, running towards us.  For some reason, Hamoudi pretended that he was dead after the explosion.  But when he received no attention because no one was there, he got up and ran towards us.

Hamoudi arrived, and all of us were breathing crazy hard, then we looked at each other, covered with sand, and water (due to the big splash in the ocean of the explosion), we cracked up and started laughing hysterically. We decided to go to the little police office on the Korneich and inform the police.

We went in, and an Emirati police officer with a big belly in front of him was sitting in the airconditioned room watching TV.  He probably has never dealt with any situation ever.  Khorfakan is a very quiet safe city with a small population.  We were little scared of talking to him, but he was smiling and joking with us.  We told him that we found something that looked like a fire extinguisher and we played with it, but it exploded.  He said he was wondering what was that loud explosion sound.  He promptly called more units using his two-way radio.

In few minutes, after people heard the explosion, people gathered at the kournish, as well many police units arrived.  We were looking at people talking, making up rumors and theories.  Us being in third or fourth grades, could not really tell the people gathered that it was us who found and caused the explosion. The police shut down the kournish, and they combed the whole beach finding multiple of these devices.  We later knew that it was dropped from ships carrying weapons to the Persian gulf.  Islam went home because he needed some medical attention for his hand.  Me and Hamoudi went home and decided not to tell mother so we don’t get a good old Arabic beating for being trouble makers.

When we arrived home, my mom ran to the door and she was shocked and terrified. She hugged us and made sure we were ok.  She said that the police called and asked them to bring us to the police station to collect our statements.  My father came back, and he was a little angry for us “causing trouble”.  If you are a boy in an Arabic house, you never want the police to call home and ask for or about you.  It is a tabboo.  The police first asked that we go to the hospital to be checked.  Then we went to the police station so they would take our statements.  My father, being the Manager of National Bank of Abu Dhabi in Khorfakan (basically where all the police salaries are banked), knew everyone, and received so much respect from the police officers.  They were cracking jokes about us, and about Lebanese and bombs.

This remained as a single memory that never will be erased.  And we were lucky that we survived it.  Death brushed our hair on that day.  Our lives would have been completly changed if Islam was not pointing the bomb to the sea.  The sea saved us.

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Memoir Part 6: Islam, hanan, and Death of Ayman

Islam Yakout Mohamed Mursi

One of the names that I will never forget.  My brother from a different mother.  A dark-skinned Alexandrian boy from Egypt with an amazing sense of humor, as it is common among Egyptians.  Islam had no siblings, and I was his best friend.  His family treated him like I am his brother.  I was one of them.  The kindness and compassion that his parents overflowed with to me were heartwarming .. one of the things which made me who I am today.

Let me talk to you about al-hanan… an Arabic word that translates to a mix of kindness, love, tenderness, kindliness, care, warm-heartedness, and a million other words that cover every bit and piece of those feelings.  It translates as language, but it doesn’t translate as an emotion to the West.  This word is not translatable to English because it is not about language.  Language is there to symbolize something that exists.  The famous Arabic poet, Nizar Qabani expresses his yearning to the hanan in his letter poem Five Letters to My Mother:

I am alone.
The smoke of my cigarette is bored,
and even my seat of me is bored
My sorrows are like flocking birds looking for a grain field in season.
I became acquainted with the women of Europe,
I became acquainted with their tired civilization.
I toured India, and I toured China,
I toured the entire oriental world,
and nowhere I found,
a Lady to comb my golden hair.
A Lady that hides for me in her purse a sugar candy.
A lady that dresses me when I am naked,
and lifts me up when I fall.
Mother: I am that boy who sailed,
and still longes to that sugar candy.
So how come or how can I, Mother,
become a father and never grow up.

From the hanan of my parents, to the overwhelming Charafeddine hanan, rooted deeply in the history of our family from Ahlulbait, the family of the Prophet that has been cloaked with tragedies, and manifested in my Grandmother, to the hanan of the parents of my frirends Islam and Firas, to the hanan of the warm salty beach that carresses the white sand softly, to the hanan of the sounds of Azan jumping playfully on the rocks of the mountains of khrofakhan … to the hanan of the oldmen eyes siting at a cafe bench watching us pass by … we were submerged with Hanan.

I never will forget an incident that happened to me when once I went to buy my Mother something from the supermarket.  While coming back, I decided to take the side streets among the communal popular old houses.  These streets are usually sandy and only lit by the small lamps above the metallic doors.  I got a little scared for it was dark. I started running. While I was running, there was a construction metal piece coming out of the ground that hit my feet. It cut me right between my toes. I was bleeding. I dropped the merchandise from the bag. I collected them gently back into the plastic bag while limping on a bleeding foot.  In that condition, one of the doors nearby opened.  A middle-aged woman came out with thick glasses and Egyptian style hijab.  She  said: “What is wrong ya Mama?”

The word Mama entered my ears and comforted all my nerves. I didn’t need to speak, and she didn’t wait for an answer after seeing what answered her inquiry.  She came to me and looked at my feet, and held my hand and pulled me to her house like a panicking mother.  She was talking to me, but I don’t remember what she said anymore.  But I remember she gave me a glass of water to drink and she was cleaning my foot from sand and blood, applied antibiotic (red medicine we used to call it), and bandaged it.  She offered to call home, but I told her I can just walk home.  I left.  Never saw her again, nor I know her name.  But she gave me another injection of hanan that would last me a lifetime.

The mosque was so close to our house like I mentioned before.  Upon hearing from my teacher that praying in the mosque is 24 times better than praying at home, I started rushing to pray in the mosque everytime I hear the Azan.  I went to the mosque so much and was the youngest person praying in the mosque, that the Imam visited my father to inquire if there were problems at home that I am fleeing from.  My father expressed while laughing that there is nothing wrong at home and that I just loved praying in the mosque.

We learned French and English at the Emirates School in addition to Arabic off course. The French didn’t go well.  The teacher gave up and quit. We stopped learning French, but still learned English, rarely used in the U.A.E. at that time.

One of the teachers was really proactive in the school, and she formed the Scholastic Police.  She got us hats and scarves.  Being the oldest class in the school, and I think I am talking third grade now, we were naturally the Scholastic Police.  We were supposed to patrol the school and ensure that students didn’t go to the back of the school during lunch or recess and that they stay in the field.  She nominated me as the captain of the police since I was very popular among my class and had good grades, but I refused. I wanted to reserve the right to be a bad boy.  Being captian of the police brings too much attention.  She appointed Mohamad, a boy whose father is an Emirati Sheik and his mother is a Filipino.  Mohamad was the richest kid in school and his father was feared for being a deputy minister so no teacher would get Mohamad mad.  Once Mohamad was sick, and we went a field trip to visit his house. It was a huge mansion with unlimited toys. Anyways, soon enough, we were using our positions in the Scholastic Police to allow our friends to go play in the back of the school.  Nobody would listen to Captain Mohamad since he really had no real leadership.  The whole idea backfired on the teacher, and the Principal canceled the Scholastic Police. We kept the hats and scarves.

Wissam and Mohamad in Emirates School
Me with the shorts, and Mohamad, and you can see his Scholastic Police Scarf

I had an Egyptian classmate called Ayman.  Ayman went to buy something from the store with his bike, and a car struck him and he died.  We were too young the understand the concept of death, and it was pretty much my first experience with it.  The school went into mourning. Teachers were crying, and they played Quran in the school for few days.  They were monitoring us to see if any of us are traumatized or deeply affected, but we weren’t.  Nevertheless, we were under so much pressure to be deeply affected!  Sitting in the field listening to Quran while our heads are down, Islam leans towards me and says: “pretend that you are crying”.

I don’t know how to pretend emotions.  It is one of my problems I guess. My face shows what I truly feel.  This has caused me so much trouble in life, but I like it.  Early trouble is better than late trouble. I really don’t feel the tragedy of death, since it is inevitable. What is 100% predictable, cannot be surprising. I have always, and still do feel that way.  The only concern I had was that Ayman borrowed my notebook on his last day of school.  I was thinking it is impossible to get it back then.  I never tried.

We had nothing in Khorfakan but each other, as friends, to keep ourselves busy and entertained.  There was no TV, except one channel that played cartoons for a maximum of one hour a day.  There were no electronic games.  There was not one single swing in the city or slide.  Soccer balls were rare. My father bought me one from Dubai.  There was no theater, no gym, no soccer fields, no arcades, no parks, no toy stores, no children clubs.  There was nothing but the mountains, the ocean, and your friends.  Friends became an integral part of seeing and experiencing life.  This became a deep characteristic of me. I had a hard time shed it away later on in life.

We would climb the mountain or play at the beach. We would bike to each other’s houses. The city was safe. We would just leave our bikes on the street, and they would never be stolen. We never needed chains. “Muslims don’t steal”. That is what we thought. We thought that stealing, adultery, murder, and paganism were things before Islam. There was so much trust.

Next time I will tell you when we played with the bomb till it went off on the beach!

 

 

 

 

Memoir Part 5: The Bus to Fujairah 1983

The bus picks me and my brother Mohammed, who we nicknamed Hamoudi, (as it is commonly done to the name Mohammed in the Arabic world, the most popular name in the world),  every day in the morning.  As our apartment is on the beach, we wait under its breeze and the mountain view on the other side.  I remember the serenity of those mornings when whoever left of the fishermen that are still tidying their boats after the dawn’s auction at the fishermen’s market, are making the settle sounds in the distance along the seagulls.

As I reflect back on my memories of the school bus, I wish that our seating was not assigned.  We had a bus supervisor, an old Egyptian woman, with a tight scarf and thick glasses, that was mean and ultra-serious.  We took the bus about 3 years and didn’t have a chance to make new friends due to the assigned seating, and no talking policy.  We talked anyways, but in a low voice, otherwise, we would risk our ears being pulled, the favorite torture method of that teacher. We took that 30 minutes road from Khorfakkan to Fujairah so many times, that we memorized everything.  The number of signs on our way, the number of villages we passed through, their names, and how many cars we can spot in them, the Bedouin tents at the bottom of the mountains, always with luxury cars parked next to them.  We got to a point where we would pick a color, and count everything that we passed through that had that color.  We would get ecstatic if we were allowed to change our seats and sit next to someone else, especially my friends Islam and Firas.

 

Islam is an Egyptian boy from Alexandria, with a super kind father and mother from Egypt.  We met in grade 2 but became friends after a fight on the bus that broke out between me and him.  Boys tend to become friends after they fight.  It is kind of a settlement of the alpha dominance within a group.  Once it gets violent and they realize they are equal, they become friends. I scratched his face by accident with a silver bracelet I was wearing while swinging at him.  Remember, we were 7 years old.  It showed on his face during all the years I have known him, and he used to call it the deposit of friendship.  I and Islam became lifelong friends.  You will hear his name often from here out.

I also met Firas in 2nd grade.  He is a tall, big built, Syrian boy, father from Homos and mother from Halab (Aleppo).  We also became friends after a fight.  Both Islam and Firas lived in Khorfakkan, so we took the bus together every morning and afternoon.  Here is how I fought with Firas and got to become friends. After the first trip, I wanted to secure a better seat on the way back, so I ran to the bus after school and reserved a seat next to the window all the way on the back.  It happened to be Firas’s morning seat.  I left my bag on it to reserve it and stepped out.  He walked in, removed my bag, and sat on it.  I walked in and told him to move his a#$.  He wouldn’t.  The conversation got heated, and with a large audience, I found myself swinging at Firas.  After few minutes of fighting to no avail, the supervisor came, so we had to break it off.  Firas continued to sit on that golden seat.  The bus moved.  Everyone is quiet.  In few minutes, Firas taps me on my shoulder and offers me the seat.  He has one of the kindest hearts. We became lifelong friends. He lives now in Mississauga, and we do visit occasionally.

I, Firas, and Islam became friends. We lived the next few years in Khorfakan finding adventures together and discovering the corners of this beautiful village. The most common area and perhaps the only area to go out to was the corniche (the corniche is a French name given to a street that faces the beach or a boardwalk at the beach).  Along the beautiful cost of the Gulf of Oman,  the corniche had restaurants lined up along it, and open areas for children to play.

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There were no playgrounds and the open area we’re not done yet it seeming that it was supposed to be completed with planted grass and palm trees but that never happened during our time there. Since Friday is the only day off in UAE (being an Islamic country), people go out on Thursday nights. I and my friends would go out to the corniche on Thursday nights walking and figuring out what we’re gonna do that night. We went with the flow; if there were guys playing soccer we played soccer. We were spontaneous. There were absolutely no activities for children in Khorfakan nor is any playground or sports program to accommodate them. We would meet at the mosque and then we would leave to play with our bicycles or with a soccer ball or find out what to do between the houses.

The Emirates school I went to in the city of Fujairah was an Islamic Elementary little private school. It was a new school and it’s focused on a strong curriculum including Islamic studies and 40 and language was recently established so when I went into it in great too I was basically The highest class in the school we grew up here after year being the oldest children in the school so much responsibility was put on us as a role model’s and as the students who would implement any programs or activities the school came up with.

When the school was first designed and they designed a little prayer area next to every class from the prayer area has a green rug and it was very well lit with large mosaic windows that let the sun in with the spectrum of color that added to the spirituality of such a place. As the school expanded, they converted these prayer areas into other classrooms, and we would pray in another area in the school.

The Emirates School was modern compared to the building of that time.  It had a great auditorium, library, a large area in the middle where students would assemble every morning in the Taboor, which literally meant a line of people.  Every class would line up from shortest to tallest with their first-hour teacher in front of them, and the school would start with a recitation of Quran, the national anthem, wise word of the day, perhaps a hadeeth (oral tradition of prophet Mohamed), and a word by the Principal.

Most of the teachers were religious, well-educated, middle-class Egyptian women.  The expression used in Egypt to describe an older sister is “Abla”.  We called the teachers Abla’s.  The term is Turkish meaning an older sister.  As the Ottoman Empire ruled the Islamic WOrld, Turkish words are common in the Arabic slang.

The school took pride in its Islamic teachings.  Our religion class at the elementary level was taught by an Islamic Sheik (scholar) who came to teach us from the Mosque.  Sometimes, the bus would take us to the Mosque to learn Qu

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ran there.  The Sheik was also from Egypt.  I feel now that they were all sympathizer if not members of the Muslim Brotherhood, but that is not something strange given that the Muslim Brotherhood was basically the default organization of any Islamic activism in the Islamic world then.  Actually all the Islamic movements afterward, Sunni and Shia, have stemmed, by a way or another, from the Muslim Brotherhood.

London Day 8: Bye Bye London – Detroit Airport – Reflections

We woke up in this last morning, went to grab coffee and a sandwich from the Italian Fountain Cafe at Hyde Park next to us, and came back to the hotel room to check out and depart.

I am taking the Heathrow express from the Paddington Station, and Walid is taking a bus to Victoria Station, then a bus to Liverpool.

I carried by one polo green duffle bag, while Walid dragged his big bag on wheels, and carried his laptop case on his shoulder, the laptop that never left him during this trip.  We stopped at the entrance of the Paddington station to say goodbye, a moment that is always hard and awkward for me.

I don’t like goodbyes as much as I don’t like showing emotions.  A research by Harvard university that lasted 75 years, concluded that healthy relationships bringing joy is the strongest factor of happiness in someone’s life.  Here is a talk about that:

 

My relationship with Walid is one of the healthiest relationships I have in my life.  We vibrate at the same frequency, and share mostly the same vision of life and the perception of our relationship to it, to history, and to civilization.  Since we met in 1996, we have shared our love for art, music, religion, food, culture, film, and positive outlook of life.  When he left the U.S. in 2010, I did not know the impact that will leave on me till he was gone.  The loneliness a close friend leaves in your life upon separating is crushing. London was great, but seeing and spending time with Walid was even greater.  I said good bye fast and left so the situation would not turn into an emotional one. I worry that if I break down, 20 years will come out during this break down and it might go uncontrollable. We said good bye, hugged, and departed silently.

London was an amazing city.  In addition to its beautiful streets, roads, buildings, architecture, art, public spaces, parks, rivers, greenery, bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, pubs, boutiques, smiling faces, and history, there were two more things that were a big part of the London spirit.  One was tolerance! London has given up on being an English city and decided to be an international metropolis city.  It has given up on its English identity and chosen more a multicultural one.  With a city rooted in history, and so much pride to hold, it takes lots of tolerance and nobility to do such a compromise. I learned from that, and it made me a better person, and it made me appreciate London more.

The second was WWII.  Yes! World War Two, that almost destroyed this city who decided to fight to the last breath. Although I appreciate Paris’s preference to preserve Paris rather than destroy it through a futile fight with the Germans, Britain decided to fight, and there is a heroic beauty to that.  You see it on the walls and streets, on the monuments, and restored buildings.  There is a sense of pride and honor that roams the city in the morning with the fog, and fills the londoners lungs with air of  integrity.

Flying through Delta Airline international was a great experience.  So much convenience, from the refreshments served, to the showings offered, to the comfort of the chairs, to the charging stations at each seat.  There were plenty to do, and the flight is never a bore due to the high level of entertainment offered.

Once we reached the US, we were received with a ridiculously long line for immigration and a woman officer shouting to organize the line.  The line took more than an hour.  The officer was saying that couple airplanes arrived at the same time and created the rush hour.  Really?!  You are in an airport and can not handle two airplanes?!  Maybe instead of 4 immigration officers, you can have 10!  I crossed the entry point smoothly, and was picked up by my friend Yousif at the door.

Coming from London, America feels a little over policed, less tolerant, and with President Trump in the White House, a little unfriendly and dark.  Nevertheless, it is home, and the greatest place to be in terms of financial opportunity, ease of living, and educational opportunities.

I have decided that every April, I will take a Euro trip, with the next one in 2018, will be to Paris.  Till then, I hope that you will consider traveling to London, one of the greatest cities on Earth, and I hope you will find my travel memoir useful in your trip, especially by itinerary map.

 

 

 

London Trip Day 7: Persian Dinner – Edgware – Ahmad Alkatib – Tower of London – Final Night

He is an Iranian musician from Italy, living and working in London.  He was playing all kind of music from around the world during our dinner me and Walid at the Rose Garden restaurant, located in the London Elizabeth Hotel, right across from the Italian Fountains entrance of Hyde park.  The food was delicious, and we were the last customers of the restaurant that night.

The waitress is from Lithuania, and the people eating next to us were from Turkey.  London is gorgeous in its diversity.

Next day, the promised foul (pronounced foooooool in Arabic) plate was awaiting us on Edgware road.  We grabbed our coffee from the Italian Fountain cafe and walked through Central Park to Edgware road, a major road that has its origins as a Roman road and runs 10 miles in a perfect straight line.  The southernmost part of the road is noted for its distinct Middle Eastern flavour.  Many Lebanese and Egyptian restaurants, hookah cafes, and Arab themed nightclubs line the street.  The Odeon cinema, once the location of the biggest screen in London, often now shows films in Arabic.

There were many choices, but asking around at the best place to eat foul at, we were directed to AlShishawi restaurant.  An Egyptian owned restaurant, but serves all kind of food.  It is nicely decorated in arabesque and wood work of Egypt.  We sat out side and chose couple plates of lebanese style foul, then added some shawarma that looked so fresh and delicious to skip.  Nothing is like a clear cup of tea and the sound of the spoon stirring the sugar.  It brings so much memories of childhood.  What I enjoyed more than the authentic food, is the happiness of Walid, who has been deprived from such dish in Liverpool, since he left Lebanon.

Walid’s battery was dying, and while he tried to decipher the crooks from the honest salesmen of Edgware Road shopts to buy a new battery, I was in contact with Sheik Ahmad Alkatib to meet.  Ahmad Alkatib is a former scholar, and current thinker, author, and reformer, originally from Iraq, and lived in several countries.  His reform theories are aligned to IRSHAD and we consider ourselves fighting the same fight for Islamic reform.  He has published 10’s of books and currently very active on Facebook, with two live sessions a day!

We met Sheik Ahmad Alkatib and walked with him to Starbucks on Edgware, then we went with him through the tube, which I wanted to experience before leaving London, to another area, called Queensway, which had multiple Arabic books stores.  He showed us a new book he published.  We visited Al Saqi Book Store on Westbourne Grove, which is one of the most popular Arabic book stores in that area.

We said good bye to him there, and stayed a little looking for a book.  Could not find the right book to read, or actually did not know what to look for.  My education in Arabic language has been islamized by my Islamic studies, so I rarely read Arabic books outside the religious context.  The Hawzah (Islamic Seminary studies institution) did not encourage or at least did not facilitate reading books outside the circle of the same school of thought.  I was lost in the biggest book store there.  I decided to ask Walid.  Walid really had no suggestion for me.  He said none of these he would recommend.  I called my friend Mohamad Fahos from Lebanon using WhatsApp, and asked him.  He recommended few classical which I could not find.  The books also were very expensive.  I ended up buying 1 book just so I would not regret having a book from a such a rich library.  Yet it was unfortunate that nothing attracted me.  That is part of the severe lack of literature problem in the Arabic world.  Basically, nobody writes anymore, and those that write don’t publish, and those who publish don’t make money out of their publication.  There are no incentive to publish unless you want to feed the spiders living on the book shelves of the deserted Arab book stores and libraries.

In addition, the books were very expensive.  12 to 20 pounds per book.  Almost double the price of the English similar books.  After placing 5 books on the table for the guy to calculate a price for me, the price was about 70 pounds.  I offered him 50 pounds.  He said take them all for free since you are breaking me anyway, angrily!  I was embarrassed by his statement, but could not just put that investment into these books knowing that they will be available online soon, and they are probably not worth the money to tell you the truth. I returned them all but one, that I paid for 12 pounds and left.

I stopped for a gelato bite at Snowflake Luxury Gelato.  How can you resist a luxury Gelato!  Then we stopped at Arro Coffee for a pour on coffee experience.  I asked the blonde barista to tell my friend Walid all about the pour on coffee.  She was from Italy.  She asked us where are we from, and Walid answered from Lebanon and my friend is from the US.  She right away turned to me and smiled and said “Nice to Meet You!” Without looking back at Walid.  Me and Walid noticed the obvious differentiation in treatment between us upon declaring our citizenships, and it was funny to us.

We walked back to the hotel, while Walid tried to help his nephew Ali via WhatsApp video chat on his Math homework, getting furistrated at times. We arrive at the hotel, and decided that we are not going to settle down for the remaining of the afternoon to relaxation, while we are on our last night, and we are going to thread down to one sight, that I have read so much about, and watched 3 documentaries about in preparation before going to London, but haven’t seen yet … the Tower Bridge.

It takes two buses to get to the Tower Bridge, but the second bus is always free if you take it within the hour of taking the first bus.  We hopped on in the middle of Rush Hour, and took as about an hour and a half to get there, sitting on the second floor of the red bus, watching London and talking.  Can not have better travel time than that!

We arrived prior to sunset to the Tower Bridge, full of tourists.  Strolled across it few times, and beneath it. Contemplated this great city and the people who have walked this bridge and watched this sunset.  We then got a couple Starbucks cafes and walked on the other side of the Thames across from the Tower of London.  We then headed to downtown, and we took a bus from there back to Edgware.  We arrived there about midnight, and it was still full of people and strolling cars.  The hookah cafes were bustling with guys and girls smoking and talking.  We ate couple stuffed lamb plates as a goodbye meal for me and Walid, and walked back to the hotel through Hyde Park after midnight.

We talked about what scares you in life?  What is the scariest thing to you?  For Walid, he still had a thing for evil spirits and demons which he believed in.  For me, it was humans,  sick or mentally ill delusional psychopathic humans.

We had short conversations to the sounds of Arabic music before our eyes fell heavy with sleep in the last night in London.

London Trip: Day 6: Padington Hotel – Natural History Museum – Persian Dinner

It is Friday.

A couple from Netherlands shared our hostel room.  They were friendly, liberal, and hated Trump.  They talked about the economy, and the growth taking place in Netherlands.  They spoke English with us, and it seems that English is the international language in Europe.  They said that Holland was booming.  They said that if you visited Holland, you should not only visit Amsterdam, for there are many beautiful cities and areas.

It dawned on me that we are now in the countdown for the final days in London.  Worse than that, it is the count down for my time with Walid.  I wanted to spend quality time with him during our last three days.  I also wanted him to be comfortable, since he is really uneasy in a hostel.  I wanted to have a private place where we can play Um Kalthoum at night, and sit and talk for hours while eating his wheat Loaves of Bread or his grapefruits.  “Make sure not to peel the white parts”, he would tell me. Continue reading “London Trip: Day 6: Padington Hotel – Natural History Museum – Persian Dinner”

London Trip: Day 5: Trafalgar Square – National Gallery – Big Ben

Sleeping on the upper bed, I woke up Thursday morning while Walid is playing the creepy man prank on me, staring at me real closely.  I missed his creepy man jokes.  He used to stand behind the door of my office when we worked in 2004 in a cellphone shop, and watch me in a creepy way, and pretend that he is hiding when I see him.  Sometimes it made me wonder if a psychological issue was really being manifested.  Thankfully, it was  just a prank all along.

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Walid is 10 years older than me, but he has the wisdom of a 100 years old philosopher. He grew up in Beirut Golden time, in an ocean of intellectual waves, when Beirut was the Paris of the East.  Then the intellectual waves became intellectual wars, and they in turn converted to real wars, and he lived the civil war in lebanon that started in 1975 day by day, the Israeli occupation that swept up to Beirut in 1982, till he left in the 90’s, and the civil war outlasted him till the year 1989, when it kind of ended with the Taif Accord, while the war with Israel continued till today.  He studied music in California, and a bunch of other things.  He is a professional guitarist, a well learned pianist, a great composer, and an accomplished poet in Arabic.  He is a reference and an expert in the Arabic Language with all its branches, Arabic Music, Arabic poetry, and fluent in English and French.  He also speaks Spanish, and some Russian and German.  He is also an Islamic scholar, and few of his friends declared him as Mujtahid.  Although it might have been a joke at certain times, but it really reflected his intellectual capability to infer the jurisprudence he needed for his daily life.

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Walid is also a radio producer, video producer, a TV host, a columnist, a chinese cuisine chef, a donut baker, an educator, and school administrator. Continue reading “London Trip: Day 5: Trafalgar Square – National Gallery – Big Ben”

London Trip: Day 4: British Library – Russell Square – British Museum – SOHO

Someone once said that the greatness of a city is in the proportion of its public places to its private ones.  The British Library is not only a library.  It is a celebration of knowledge.  It is a museum of the history of script.  It is a compositor of the great documents written in history.   It is London’s largest indoor public space.  It holds over 150 million items. Almost 14 million books, 824,101 serial titles, 351,116 manuscripts, 8,266, 276 philatelic items, 4,347,505 cartographic items, 1,607,885 music scores, and 6,000,000 sound recordings, and that makes it the second largest library in the world after the library of Congress.   It is also a conglomeration of awesome cafe’s and shops.  Thus, it is a great place for studying or working with its free wifi and 10’s of sitting spaces.  5 to 9 thousand people visit it a day. Continue reading “London Trip: Day 4: British Library – Russell Square – British Museum – SOHO”

London Trip – Day 3 – Imperial College – Science Museum – King’s Crossing

I am writing about my 3rd day in London, but today is the end of my last 5th day.  It will be hard to go back and recollect the 3rd day with its feelings since by now I feel the city has overwhelmed me emotionally.

On the morning of Tuesday, I woke up early, checked out, and left my bag at the Bell Desk for a pound, and headed to Hyde park. Our next destination is Natural History Museum in South Kensington.  We will cross Hyde park going there, so it makes sense to start at Hyde park’s Italian Fountain cafe.  I love this cafe.  It is the first one I experienced in London, and it feels like home to me now.  Just like the myth that chicks will think of you as their mother hen if you are the first person to see after they hatch.  That cafe was my mother hen.

I wrote, and sipped on the flat white that seems the most popular drink in London.  Another reason to love this city is that my drink, which is usually not even offered by most American cafes, and if offered, not written on the menu, is the most popular drink here.  I guess I have a London taste, or since most of the cafes in London are run by Italians, an Italian taste for that matter.

When Walid joined me, we strolled down one of the beautiful paths of Hyde park going South, on the bank of the Serpentine river. Magnificent monuments and sculptures marked the intersections of the park walking dirt roads, and dogs roamed freely.  I always saw a scene in the US when two dogs, leashed and walked by their owners, meet.  It always seemed like they want to kill or rape each other.  Seeing dogs roam freely in London, and then bark and approach each other when they meet, but yet not touch each other, made me think that the dog-leaching thing in the US is way overrated.

London is an ever non-ending beauty.  It is one large classical museum.  The architecture merges together producing chambers and chambers of Art and Architecture.  Then lined up under these magnificent 3-4 floor historical buildings, cafes, pubs, and restaurants, book stores, tea shops, and little shops, very neat and beautifully designed and decorated. I was impressed by most of the logos and type fonts.

In approaching the Natural History Museum, we passed by the Imperial College, and there, there was a farmer’s market in the middle of the day.  It didn’t make much sense since it was Tuesday, but it was a gorgeous coincident.  Authentic healthy Indian chutney food (street food), fresh beef burgers or kabab in a wrap full of fresh vegetables, cookies, fresh apple juice, pies, coffee, and line up of choices in small canopies.  I could not resist trying a sandwich, while Walid bought a loaf of wheat bread.  Yes, he was eating mostly like Jolvanjone from La Miserable. That’s what I called him every time he was eyeing a loaf of bread to buy. He would get some yogurt with it sometimes, and sometimes he would wrap it with some avocado and honey.  He ate like prophets, talked like philosophers, dressed like a 90’s teacher, and sang in the streets like a crazy person.  I loved every second with him.

Every time we walked through or in a university campus, he could not stop comparing the experience to the strenuous experience of passing through the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Beirut, Lebanon, and how a guard needed to check his student ID otherwise he would not be allowed in.

There was a long line to enter the magnificent Natural History Museum, but next to it were the Science museum which had no line.  It wasn’t on my plan, and I thought it is similar to Michigan Science Center or Ann Arbor Hands On Museum, which is basically few activities for kids to educate them about some sciencitifc facts. I was wrong.  The Science Museum was a magnificent two parts, each 4 floors museum, that covered the history of science, especially as related to British scienctists, from 15 century to today.  I ended up separating from Walid din the museum, and ended up staying till it closed at 5:30PM.

I then was invited to give a talk at a book store near Kings crossing area, and so we did pick a hostel next to the book store and reserved one night there, two beds, in a room of 4 beds.  The talk was titled: “Meetup with Wissam Charafeddine, cofounder of IRSHAD”.  I arrived there, and there were about 20 people sitting on chairs waiting, from different age groups and nationalities.  I was introduced by a Persian English host, and then I proceeded to talk about Islamic Reform, the story of IRSHAD, and my personal story.  After we were done, I was invited for dinner in an Italian restaurant near by, and had a great conversation with a friend from the Western Desert, a friend from Palestine, and a professor from Egypt.  All of them are English now off course.

That was my first night sleeping in a hostel.  I was convinced by the feasibility of using a hostel from my friend, Yousef Alqamoussi’s experience with hostels in Costa Rica.  You can read all about it at onechapterone.wordpress.com.  A shared rooms by a group of usually young travelers, and common rooms to intermingle and socialize, or work and eat.  Rooms are used usually only for sleeping.  Sometimes there are toilets and showers within the rooms, and sometimes there are general toilets and showers that are shared through out the hostel.  Although I was eyeing the Astor Hostels (there are 3 of them in London) to stay at, I didn’t reserve prior to my trip because I didn’t want to restrict my plans in a newly discovered city.

We stayed at the Key Stone hostel, next to King’s Crossing station.  It was also across from two things on my plan:  The King’s Crossing Bookstore, and the SHOP and DO Tea shop, which was rated as one of the best tea places in London.   Walid didn’t join me for dinner, and resorted back to the hostel to settle and pray.  As a practicing Muslim, he prays three times a day at least, 5 prayers.  So if you are not a Muslim, there are 5 muslim prayers a day: Fajr (morning), Dhuhur (noon), Asr (afternoon), Maghreb (Sunset), and Isha (night).  Each prayer is made of a number of physical activities or postures and sayings associated with them.  While each of the prayer has a strict interval to be prayed within, Dhuhur and Asr internvals can be combined into one, and Majrib and Isha can be combined into one, without needed excuse for Shia Muslims, and with a needed excuse for Sunni muslims.  In order for a Muslim to perform his/her prayer, they need to do Wudu (ritual washing), and have pure clothe (no impurities on it, and impurities are blood, semen, urine, excretion, pork, dog stuff, alcohol for some muslims, and infidel stuff for some muslims).  And only when you thought this can not get more complicated, listen to this:  Your wudhu is invalidated by using the bathroom, sleeping, farting, or passing out.  For ejaculation or sexual intercourse, Ghusul is required (basically taking a shower).

In Muslim countries, there are mosques or places designated for prayers everywhere.  It is also a common scene to see people stopping, lining up, and praying on congregation.  In the West, Muslims suffer through this practice, and often get into awkward situations.  And here is one of the most awkward ones I have every heard about that happened to Walid that night.

Walid prayed 5 times a day during our visit to London.  Keeping up with my plans, he prayed all over the place.  At Hyde Park, in Russel square, in the basement of restaurants, on the lawn of the National Gallery, at the Elizabeth fountains in front of the gates of her Majesty residence at Buckingham palace.  He prayed Jumaa prayer in a mosque in Paddington.  The guy who he asked about Jumaa prayer because he looked Muslim basically took him with him. The best place to pray off course was inside the hotel room.  Well, in the hostel room in this case.  We booked a room of 4 beds (two sets of bunk beds),  and when Walid entered the room, there was a couple already sleeping.  Trying to be as silent as possible, and not wanting to turn the light on, while also his phone was dead as usual, he went out of his way, to go get a flashlight so he would not wake up the other guests.  He used the toilet and washroom that were outside the room so he would not cause noise by using the ones in side the room.  Then he placed his prayer rug in the room, in silence, in the dark, and he started praying.  He read all the prayers in side his heart, and made all the moves with the utmost silence he could perform. Nevertheless, after leaving the room for 10 or 15 minutes after he finished his prayers, upon returning to the room, he found the two couples out.  We are talking at about 12 or 12:30AM.  Their beds are undone, lockers are emptied, their bags disappeared.  This mystery puzzled us for hours, trying to figure out what happened.  I asked the reception about them, and they said they don’t know anything about them leaving. We had a hypothesis that they were scared shitless by Walid prayers.  Maybe they have never seen something like that.  Maybe they have an Islamophobia, and I say that innocently, not out of bigotry by them, but perhaps out of ignorance.  At anycase, we decided that Walid would inform the other guests in the room of his performance of prayer before doing so and old explain to them the prayer so they are comfortable with what he is doing.  The next guests we shared the room with for the next two days were fine.  Carlos,  a Philipino English guy, and a couple from Netherlands the night after.

We slept, and it was not our half way through the trip, but we have experienced so much so far.

London Trip – Day 2 – Notting Hill – Portobello Market – Buckingham Palace and Unexpected Digressions

The dark eyed, hazel haired Italian Fountains Cafe server smiled at me as she sees me open my palm with a bunch of coins in them.  I figured out it is easier to just let them pick up the coins which they need rather than to try to hold each coin to the sun, investigate it to decipher out all the engravings, 15th century emblems, and the detailed ornamentation of the crown of her majesty, what denomination of a coin each is, before I do the math and give the right combination.

Then proceeded to sit on the patio overseeing the Italian Fountains in Hyde Park. The Italian Gardens is a 150 year old ornamental water garden located on the north side of Kensington Gardens in Hyde park.  It is believed to have been created as a gift from Prince Albert to his beloved Queen Victoria.  After my friend Walid joined me, we took a strol down the serpentine river, and stoped by the Kensington Palace, which is a 500 years old castle with so much history, the last of which is becoming the home of Princess Diana. Continue reading “London Trip – Day 2 – Notting Hill – Portobello Market – Buckingham Palace and Unexpected Digressions”