Two Months, and a Bit.

It’s been just over two months and I still cannot decide if they have passed in a blur or have been going agonizingly slow. In a sense, it is definitely surreal that there is only 4 weeks to go for the semester, but from the perspective of counting the days until I am home, they have definitely been barely passing. They have been packed with events, though. My mom visited for two weeks and left. I met with various family and friends and felt more connected to home. I went Middle-Eastern grocery shopping and realized just how much I missed balady bread and good old ma7shy (stuffed vine leaves). I have started teaching one of my friends Arabic and am hopefully not confusing her too much. I have settled into a routine—more or less.

I am also starting to figure out more about the experience and delve into it.  Continue reading

Advertisements

A Month.

A month? Wow. It passed so fast…but not really. It was so fast in the sense that I would have thought I would be fully settled in and accustomed after having been here for a month, but so slow in terms of how so much has happened over the course of these four weeks. It feels like it had to be so much longer than that. Since I last wrote, I have been to all my classes—twice—and have already given two weeks of tutorials as a TA. I have been to Toronto, twice, on (very) brief visits, have been to several events with the department, met so many people, and have been grocery shopping at least three times! The most important development by far, though, has been that I finally have a room—with furniture and everything!

Things seem to be slowly falling into place… Continue reading

A Week Away from Home.

It’s been a week, even though it seems so much more than that. I have made it through a 30+ hour flight, a 2+ hour line for my study permit and not finding a trolley at baggage claim (aka. having to juggle my two large—and overweight—suitcases, 1 overpacked carry-on and my typically heavy handbag). I have survived my first night alone (after having mentally prepared myself that my mom would be there to help ease the shock of it), moving into a new place where I knew no one, then rushing out to buy a mattress so I didn’t have to sleep on the floor (which I ended up having to do anyway, because it turns out I have to give the mattress 24 hours to fully expand…) Continue reading

Wild: An Inspiring Story of Self-Discovery

Imagine yourself at a height of 10,000 feet (approximately 3,000 meters). You’re alone, except for your huge and heavy backpack and the occasional owl hooting or coyote yelping. The weather is unpredictable, your feet are killing you and you haven’t showered for days. You stink. This is exactly what Cheryl Strayed willingly walked herself into back in the summer of 1995.

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is a travel memoir/biography of the summer she set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon, covering over 2,000 miles on foot, on herown. Mostly alone in the wilderness with her backpack “Monster”, except for the occasional hikers or towns she passes, Strayed struggles. Her feet are swollen and blistered; her toes are coming off. Her back is killing her, but she continues on. She learns to ignore her fears, telling herself that “fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves,” and her muscles grow stronger by the day. Most importantly, her trip allows her to re-find herself. She understands what to hold on to and what it’s time to let go of; she makes peace with her past and walks into whatever the future has in store for her.

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave.”

Reading the blurb on the book’s back cover, you might not think it would be as good as it is. Simultaneously enjoyable, heartbreaking and and emotional, Wild is extremely relatable. Strayed’s experience comes to life on the pages, laced with her remarkable humor, as she both recounts her journey and flashes back to how she ended up on the trail in the first place. It makes you want to go hike the PCT ASAP and find yourself just like she did. You become eager to meet the strangers who will instantly become your family on the trail. Her love and grief for her mother permeates the pages and her passion for books, even on this arduous trip, is something that every book lover is sure to identify with.

“They were the world I could lose myself in when the one I was actually in became too lonely or harsh or difficult to bear,” she says.

At a point in my life when I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do and where I want to go, I found Cheryl’s Wild particularly inspiring. She doesn’t shy away from admitting the wrong things she’d done in her confused youth earlier and is not apologetic for not having known her path then. She makes it okay to not know right away, but exhibits determination and strength in the process. The feminist tone to her book is also especially inspiring. It’s not an explicit I-am-feminist discourse, but rather an implicit assertion that comes with being the only woman on the trail that year.

From a literary standpoint, Wild is extremely well-written. It is engaging, descriptive and funny. Even though I’m not usually a memoir kind of reader, I was hooked from the very first page, unable and unwilling to put it down for two days straight until I finished it. Then, I became nostalgic for Cheryl, Monster and their occasional trail companions. Then, I googled backpacking trips and contemplated when, where and what.

Story and moral-wise, the book is spot on. Inspiring doesn’t even come close to covering it. It’s become one of my all-time favorites and I can’t wait to see if the movie lives up to it!

A (Humble) List of Favorites

The idea for this first came to me at the request of a friend. Placing more faith in me than I probably deserve, she asked me to write about/recommend my top favorite books. I don’t have a set list of favorites. Being the bookworm and avid reader I am, my list of favorites is never ending. Below, though – in no order other than my random memory – I have tried to include the ones that have made the most impact (and that immediately came to mind).

Without further ado, then.

1. The Harry Potter Series – J. K. Rowling

While I don’t have set favorites, I know this will forever be my number 1. My first series and my childhood. I remember being as proud of myself as could be for reading those huge books and not thinking it was a chore. Hogwarts and Harry never fail to keep me entertained and included in this amazing world of theirs. Sirius and Dumbledore impart their wisdom, and Hermione reminds me a bit of myself when it comes to books. These are books about friendship and family, loss and grief, and, yes, good and evil. If you haven’t read them, already, you’re about a decade late so get to it. And, no, the movies don’t count.

2. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

Another book I always recommend. P&P is not just another romance in Victorian England. It is a humorous take on a society’s values and traditions. It is an exploration of our biases and prejudices, of how we see ourselves and others. Most importantly, it is the book with one of literature’s most timeless heros and heroines. Mr. Darcy is every girl’s dream, and Lizzy Bennet is who we all want to be. You root for them when they are at their worst and in the most unlikely times. Ignore all stereotypes about Austen and pick this up. You won’t regret it.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Childrens playing and superstitions against the backdrop of a racism-infused South. It is a book that hits especially close to home in the way it tests the strength of morals and principles in the face of society and the majority. When Atticus Finch decides to take on the case of a black man charged with raping a white woman, he is not only standing up to the community at Alabama, but to entrenched racial ideas. Told from the perspective of his 10 year old daughter, To Kill A Mockingbird is a true classic, with analogies, humor, depth; it is a story that is timeless. Its sequel is set to release this summer and I still cannot decide if anything can ever live up to it…

4. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

If you want your heart broken, your eyes reddened and your face soaked with tears, this is the perfect book for you. Set in Nazi Germany, it is a book about the plight of Germans and Jews alike, but most importantly, it is about a young girl’s discovery of and relationship with words. This is probably why I love it so much. Other than the fact that it will tug at your heart forever, this book perfectly explores the power and limitations of a book. It underscores how discourse is essential to everything. It pays tribute to words, and I will forever be grateful to Zusak for that.

5. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

A poet at heart, Plath infuses her only novel with beautiful writing. Her streams of consciousness take us into her character’s head and show us what it is like to have depression, having suffered it herself, and her descriptions and comparisons are as vivd as can be. It is not a sad or wallowing book, though, but a young girl’s journey as she embarks on the “real world”, hindered not only by the world’s obstacles, but also by her mental illness. The Bell Jar has some of my favorite quotes of all time. Even if you do not (thankfully) struggle from depression, you will find it hard not to relate to Esther Greenwood at some point in the book.

6. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. – Adelle Waldman

A contemporary piece of fiction that has joined the ranks of classics in my book. Waldman expertly delves into the male brain and psyche, offering us the other side of the story as we join Nate in his quest for the one. We laugh and cry with him, but we sympathize with his partners because we’ve been them at one point or the other. It’s fresh to see things from the perspective of the guy, because we’re so used to the girl narrating and gossiping, and resigned to the idea that guys don’t share or talk. I wholeheartedly recommend this to both males and females. Girls, it will be interesting. Guys, you’ll be surprised at how Waldman nails your voice!

7. We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

Around 120 pages, a book to finish in just a few hours. I know I did. Then, I badgered everyone I knew to go read it as well. I will only tell you that the narrator’s voice is so strong and distinct it will capture you from the first few lines. Her descriptions, thoughts and flair for drama are brilliant and will definitely have you hooked. I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers. Just a tiny favor: let me know when you’re done with it!

8. The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan

Less a story than a manifesto, this book is written as a series of dictionary entries. As you read through them, your own experiences will come to mind, as you understand what the character is going through. It won’t take long to finish, but I can guarantee you will keep coming back to it for random quotes, consolation or simply to know that it’s not just you. My copy is only a year old, and is already battered and washed up. From someone who treats her books like prized possessions, this definitely says something.

9. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

This book was my initiation to Hosseini’s work, and it was among the first books to show me that there many other interesting things to write about than American culture. It showed me the value of writing about where you’re from and what you know. Mainly a story about growing up and knowing better, it also encompasses a great deal about history, politics and the people that get squashed in the middle. Redemption, salvation, starting over and staying true to one’s roots. It is a masterpiece. Hosseini’s two other books A Thousand Splendid Suns and And the Mountains Echoed are also beautiful. I heartily recommend them, the first being his female-dominated novel, and the second dealing with loss, grief and never letting go.

10. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

Probably the best I know in showing how wild and destructive, yet eternal, love can be. If there were ever two people made and suited for each other, they were Cathy and Heathcliff. But it’s more than just their love story. It is the internal struggle between heart and mind, the fanaticism of religion, the judgement of outsiders, the payment of consequences by others. We may not be as rootless as Heathcliff or as wild and passionately unreserved as Cathy, but their story could just as easily be ours, changing a few details.

11. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

I am guilty of having initially judged this book by its cover. A young adult romance novel named after its two characters: big deal. Once I decided to give it a try, though, I understood what the whole fuss is about. It is NOT just another teenage love story. It is a cry against teenage categorization and a call for teenagers to be themselves. It is an embodiment of what being young and in love is like, one which pays tribute to old music, comics and people who stand out, without ignoring or understating the real problems of life we all know exist. Oh, and it is brilliantly written. I finished it in a day because I literally couldn’t put it down.

These are, more or less, what came to mind when I thought of recommending books. Be sure that this list is by no means complete and will continuously be updated and added to, even if only in my own head!

إرث الحكاية” لنسمة جويلي… وحي من الرحلة…؛”

ربما كان الجهل، وربما التكبر…؛

أياً كان فهو خطأي، كما أوضحت لي نسمة جويلي في كتابها “إرث الحكاية”..؛

لم أتصور أبداً أن لأدب الرحلات أن يكون ممتعاً هكذا… حسبته دوماً مجرد سرد البعض لرحلاتهم، فلم أبالي لوصفهم للمكان ومناظره، وناسه وتقاليدهم… فضلت أن أزور تلك الأماكن يوماً بنفسي، وأكوّن انطباعات خاصة بي فضلاً عن انطباعات و أراء الكاتب…؛

أيقظتني نسمة من ذلك الوهم، وجعلتني أستمتع بروايتها عن رحلتها حول مصر، فهي لم تضيع صفحات كتابها أو موهبتها الواضحة مع الكلمات في مجرد وصف الأماكن والمشاهد… جعلت لروايتها هدفاً أسمى من ذلك…؛

يأتي “إرث الحكاية” بعمق ونضوج فكر لم أتخيّله، بداية من عنوانه ومروراً بفصوله التي على هيئة جوابات… فمن خلال رحلاتها إلى أسوان وسيوة وسانت كاترين والمنيا وغيرهم تحدثنا نسمة عن الحياة ومعانيها… عن الحب وما يؤدي إليه…؛
تطرح علينا أسئلة عن أنفسنا وأفكارنا، عن السياسة وما آلت إليه مِصرُنا…؛
تتطرق لما يجعلنا مختلفين، وما يجمعنا…؛
فما الذي يورثنا المكان، وما الذي يجعلنا ننتمي إليه؟ لماذا يأتينا الحنين عندما نظننا قطعنا كل الخيوط بماضينا، وكيف نمضي وإلى أين؟


قد يكون “إرث الحكاية” أول كتاب أقرأه من أدب الرحلات، فلا أدري إن كانت فكرتي عن هذا النوع خطأ في المطلق، أم أن كتاب نسمة تخلى عن النمط المتعارف عليه…؛
في كلتا الحالتين يظل الكتاب فريداً في نظري، فهو لا يدخلك إلى عالمه فقط، ولكنه يفرض نفسه عليك… يرغمك على التأمل في كل ما هو حولك.. في الحياة الخاصة والموضوعات الأكثر عمومية…؛
يوسع آفاقك ويجعل فكرك عن السفر وكل ما يحويه أكثر نضجاً…؛
يرسخ فكر نسمة أن

السفر ناس وتاريخ وثقافة وتأمل ورحلة تقطعها داخلك… فلا تسمي نفسك ‘سافرت’ لو لم تكتشف…”؛”

Under The Bell Jar…

Syvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is in no need of a review. It is its own review.

The Bell Jar is written from the perspective of a twenty year old girl in Boston of the 1960s. Largely, it is her account of what it means to suffer a mental illness, presumably clinical depression as hinted at by her train of thoughts and the details given. But it is also much more than that. It is the ordeal of a writer, who feels uninspired, blocked and rejected, and the confusion of a girl becoming an adult and unsure of what she should be doing. It is the struggle of a woman against society, its norms and the pressures that come with it. It is a longing, and a journey, to become free.

With vivid imagery and eloquent descriptions, Plath places us right there with her heroine, Esther Greenwood. Esther’s depictions of the places around her and her witty thoughts about people, places and events are deep, entertaining and, often, funny. Her voice is distinct from her surroundings, and the changes that occur to it, illustrative of the changes that come with the ups and downs of mental instability. At her worst, Esther is emotionally miserable and occasionally delusional, but her metaphors and images are as crisp and to the point as ever, delivering exactly what it feels like. She details,

“I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done,” after a particularly bad treatment, and, later, “I would be sitting in the same bell jar, stewing in my own sour air,” giving the book its name.

Plath’s book is one about mental illness and its treatment, for sure. It explains to the reader just exactly what it’s like, breaking past stereotypes and social stigmas. It is also about interpersonal relations, as Esther finally gets better when she has a caring and devoted therapist, as opposed to her previous arrogant, self-concerned ones. It deals with growing up and finding oneself, as well as realizing that sometimes it is okay not to have everything figured out.

The Bell Jar is brilliant, poignant and captivating.