Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vicky: My mother, my child…

My mom Victoria
Those telephone calls you dread… I got one in June 1984. It was to say my mom, Vicky, was in hospital and risked going into a coma.

Although always there, the memories came flooding back this week when a close and loved relative went into a coma. As my thoughts and prayers are constantly with the family, it took me back to those difficult months 28 years ago and the eight years that followed.

I was in Cannes, with my sister Asma, already dealing with a misfortune when the phone rang. My magazine had asked a London friend to reach me. I had to fly back to Beirut as quickly as possible.

That was easier said than done. I had left Beirut with much difficulty. Lebanon was still in the grip of a civil war and Beirut airport was closed. I had to fly out from Damascus and make the return trip the same way – by plane to Damascus then by road to Beirut.

My magazine, Monday Morning, made all the arrangements. I flew to Paris and then to Damascus where I arrived at night. My colleague, Nadim Abu-Ghannam (who has since passed away), met me at the airport. We drove to Beirut by night, passing through Syrian and Lebanese checkpoints manned by different factions. I think the state of my puffy eyes eased our way through the lot.

A neighbor who had our house keys got worried when, by noontime June 23, she didn’t see Vicky leave the flat. She decided to check on her. She found mom slumped on her bed. She quickly alerted the neighborhood and called an ambulance that whisked her to the American University Hospital (AUH).

Mom had suffered an aneurysm at the base of the brain. I had no idea what that was. The next 24 hours, I was told, would be crucial. She would either regain consciousness or have spasms and go into a coma.

During the journey back to Beirut I was praying for the first scenario and hoping at least to make it back before the second. It was not to be. She did go into a deep coma before I arrived.

By coincidence, while in Cannes, I read an article about a child in a coma in a village in Latin America. The whole village had rallied to take turns caring for the little boy. They were talking and singing to him and trying to trigger something that would wake him up.

We are talking about a time when there was no Internet, no Google search, and no telephone lines, electricity or water in Beirut… Hard to imagine, I know.

The first shock of seeing Vicky with tubes all over and helpless was devastating. Mom was strong, opinionated and full of life. She was the soul of any gathering, the busy bee of the family, always on the move and with something to say.

With Vicky in hospital
But there was no time to feel sorry. Acting on what I had read in that magazine, I got the hospital room looking homely in case we were there for the long haul and started the agonizing days of trying to bring her back to us.

I was very lucky in that my friend and soul mate, Zepure Hamparian Mansour, was at the time, and until a few months ago, the head of radiology at AUH. Zepure, her husband Yorki and her team at the radiology department, especially Elo Artinian and Seta Kazandjian, were good Samaritans. They did everything to help me overcome the absence of my sister and brother from the war-torn country.

There was no question of my going to work, a decision I paid for dearly. I lost my job at Monday Morning, which had changed ownership. It also meant having to move to London eight months down-the-line.

Strange how with one phone call, your whole life is shaken, stirred and turned upside down. Nothing would be the same again. It was a time to dig deep for all the strength the human body and mind can muster. That’s when love and caring take over.

Spending whole days in a hospital and losing contact with the real world are never easy. The hospital becomes your world, and one I got to know well along the years with long spells at AUH in Beirut and Charring Cross Hospital in London. I was there for more than 16 hours a day despite arranging for a night nurse.

The hardest part was leaving Vicky at night. It took me three to four hours each night to say good-bye and leave the room.

The days were one long, continuous soliloquy. Zepure, Elo and Seta helped relieve the pressure and we would joke and talk and involve Vicky in all our conversations.

We also kept up a chain system of massaging Vicky’s legs and arms to keep them mobile and avoid thrombosis. We had to turn her every couple of hours to prevent bedsores, keep an eye on of all the electronic devices Vicky was hooked on, make sure mucus did not gather in the tubes and choke her, as well as other innumerable tasks.

It was also our mission to keep it happy. I alienated a number of “aunties” who came into the room crying over Vicky. They were quickly shooed out.

Do people in a coma hear you? We didn’t know then and I still don’t know now. But there is always the hope and conviction they do.

Vicky was in a coma for five weeks, which felt like five years. Then one morning, I got a phone call from my cousin Dalal to ask about her. I told mom, “Come on, wake up and talk to Dalal.” Suddenly, her eyelids fluttered and she opened her eyes. Panic followed. Hanging up, calling the nurses, paging the doctor…

The first test was to find out how alert mom was. The scans showed that one of her front brain lobs had been drowned in blood, but we didn’t know the exact effects.

One question puzzled us during the five weeks. I couldn’t remember where she had hidden her little box of jewels. So I asked, “Mom, where is the jewel box?” And she looked at me exasperated and said, “You know it is behind the cartons on the balcony.” So that was that.

Celebrating so many things in September 1984
Vicky had lost her recent memory. She had no recollection of anything that happened since the aneurysm. She didn’t realize she was not well, which during the next eight years would prove to be a blessing. At first, they didn’t want us to leave hospital, because they thought it was a matter of time for her. But Vicky proved the doctors wrong and fought for eight years in which we could bask in her warmth and love.

It is an experience that makes you appreciate every second of your life, your health, your family and friends. It puts many concerns in perspective and you learn to let go of trivial issues.

After five weeks, my mom was back, but more as a child.

When the coma patient wakes up is when the tough work begins. It is exactly like having a child on your hands. It is particularly difficult when you leave hospital and have to cope without the gamut of doctors and nurses and equipment.

The eight months after we went home were hard. As were the eight years that followed. They were dedicated to getting a child on its feet and trying to recover a mother. There were many complications along the road, especially in a country ravaged by civil war. And perhaps one of the many blood infusions she received when blood banks were still slackly controlled infected her with Hepatitis C. But all that is for future posts.

For now, I wish our patient well and my relatives patience and strength.

Related posts:
Dearest Mom – March 21, 2011
Soulmates for life  -- November 2, 2010

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My quarrel with SOPA and sister PIPA

From Gino's Blog
I am protesting against SOPA/PIPA -- the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate – and blacked out Mich Café all day Wednesday (January 18) because I oppose censorship. I believe in freedom of speech and in keeping the Internet open and free.

I also believe the two bills would stifle creativity and innovation. If passed in the U.S., they would surely trickle down to other countries. Typically, when America sneezes, the world catches a cold. In this case, the world would be exposed to life-threatening pneumonia!

It is also a fight between the big players in the movie and music industries and the “little people.”

If SOPA/PIPA became law, the Internet would no longer be free and open. In the words of Wikipedia, which blacked out its English service yesterday (January 18) for 24 hours, “SOPA and PIPA are real threats to the free and open Internet… Among other serious problems in the current draft of the bills, the requirement exists for US-based sites to actively police links to purported infringing sites. These kinds of self-policing activities are non-sustainable for large, global sites -- including ones like Wikipedia. The legislative language is ambiguous and overly broad, even though it touches on protected speech. Congress says it's trying to protect the rights of copyright owners, but the ‘cure’ that SOPA and PIPA represent is worse than the disease.”

U.S. President Barack Obama said January 17 he would not support SOPA. The bill is maybe killed for now, or for the duration of his administration. But PIPA is slated to go before the U.S. Senate next Tuesday (January 24). 
“Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing,” the White House said in a statement. “We expect and encourage all private parties, including both content creators and Internet platform providers working together, to adopt voluntary measures and best practices to reduce online piracy.”
Both SOPA and PIPA try to combat online piracy by preventing U.S. search engines like Google and Yahoo from directing users to sites distributing stolen content. Both bills would also enable people and companies to sue if their copyrights were infringed.

Under PIPA, sharing a video with anything copyrighted in it, or what YouTube and Twitter do, would be considered illegal behavior.

PIPA would disrupt the Internet, stifle innovation, shut out diverse voices and censor the web. It is bad for freedom of expression, creativity, and does not protect our rights. Gone will be the open libraries for music, videos and books, for example.

Fight for the Future is leading the protest. It says, “We're living during a global shift as big as the industrial revolution… We, as a society, are literally building a new world. Fight for the Future is here to bring the most essential human values back into the debate about how society uses technology. We believe there's hardly anything as important as ensuring that our shared future has freedom of expression and creativity at its core.”

Fight for the Future wonders, among other things:
  • After spending thousands of years building libraries of donated books, why do governments try to tear them down when they happen spontaneously online?
  • Why can't I give money directly to every musician I like, instead of paying Apple or Spotify and leaving virtually nothing in the pockets of the artists?
  • Why does the US pay so much for cellphone service? And for slow Internet?
  • How is it possible that singing "Happy Birthday" in public is still illegal, and why does anyone stand by these laws?
  • Will every kid growing up in every developing country have access to every book ever made, as soon as they get a Smartphone? Or will the books cost $12, an impossible expense for a poor kid?
  • Why have we all been sitting idly while the movie and music lobbyists have been systematically advancing legislation that strips freedoms, blocks innovation, and exclusively advances Hollywood's financial agenda?
Keep the Internet free, please!

Related sites:
SOPA and why a Lebanese should care – by Lebanese freelance programmer Mireille Raad

Monday, January 16, 2012

“Olives” -- the book variety that is

The very mention of olives can make me drool. Black ones, green ones and especially those from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. They are the best. And the closest I got to them while living in the UK where jars of little black olives from Nice, France.

But this is not a post about the eatable kind, but Olives by Alexander McNabb, the self-published novel that has just hit the bookstores.

I felt esteemed and privileged, when my author friend Alexander McNabb emailed me a PDF of Olives to read.

We had just spent an amazing day together in Beirut. I joined him on a trip and for lunch in Shemlan where he was researching his next release, Beirut. We spoke a lot about both books but I wasn’t expecting to get an advance copy. We were joined later that night in June by our friend Naeema Zarif, the very talented Lebanese graphic artist who created the Olives cover.

I was reluctant to start reading Olives. Books are very personal and one of the most important aspects of daily life to me. I read profusely for my own pleasure and enlightenment. To give an opinion to an author was going to be challenging and embarrassing. Also reading a “foreigner’s” take on contemporary events in the region is usually something I try to avoid.

But, I did start reading Olives and gave up three precious nights out in Beirut to finish it. In daytime, I often found myself looking forward to the evening’s reading. To my mind, that says a lot about a book.

Yes, Alexander is a foreigner. But he is a foreigner who after working and living in the Middle East for over 25 years has made the effort to integrate with the people of the region, learn their customs and traditions, some of the language and a lot of the mannerisms.

I started reading Olive, set in Jordan and Palestine, with my copywriter hat on. I forgot about it after about 30 pages, as I got engrossed in the novel.

Olives author Alexander McNabb
I have met so many men like Paul Stokes and fallen in love with quite a few, as you do with the main journalist character of the thriller. They are mostly out of their depth in the turbulent waters of the Middle East and often not to be trusted.  Middle Easterners love conspiracy theories. So the spying part in Olives falls right into the mold. For us, every foreigner is a “spy suspect.” It is also easy to recognize yourself in Aisha Dajani and her extended family.

Olives makes for compulsive reading as you get taken in by the romance, and by Alex’s tackling of the more serious themes, including the fight for the region’s water resources, the effects of Israel’s construction of the “security wall,” Palestine, and Jordan.

The politics are so well mixed with the romance that the narrative could be taking place in any trouble spot and usually does. The characters – the English girlfriend, the embassy representative, the Swede -- are all well placed and credible.

The ending might shock some, but it is Olives – A Violent Romance. I found it very credible as I have had such an ending in my life and know a lot of other people who have. It is the kind of ending that affects hundreds of people every single day in the quick sands of the region.

What I didn’t know when I read the PDF version is that the book starts with a quote by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Any “foreign” author who can do that is surely worth a read.

Thanks Alex for the kind words
Another surprise in the hardcopy is the “Thanks” page at the end of Olives where my name is mentioned. I’ve finally made it into a book! That blew me away and brought about a few tears.

Thanks Alex and I can’t wait to read Beirut.

Related reading:
Alexander McNabb’s blog Fake Plastic Souks
The Olives website

Monday, January 9, 2012

Dubai bird to sing Zayed’s name

Congratulations to Princess Haya and Sheikh Mohammad
on the birth of Baby Sheikh Zayed (Photo by Emirates 24/7)

As a sign of the times, the number one birth in the United Arab Emirates was announced on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter.

“Princess Haya and I were blessed with a baby boy… We named him ‘Zayed’,” is how HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai welcomed the arrival of his second child with HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan on Sunday (January 7).

The announcement on Facebook
Sheikh Mohammad and Princess Haya, who married in 2004, had their first child, Sheikha Al Jalila, on December 2, 2007. (See Dubai sheikha’s likeness to her mom, April 7, 2011)

By Tuesday morning, the good news had been shared 1,407 times on Facebook, with 33,700 likes and 13,322 comments congratulating Sheikh Mohammad and Princess Haya.
Baby Sheikh Zayed is named after the founding father of the UAE, HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004), loved, respected and admired by the people of the Emirates and the international community.

The proud parents leave hospital with Baby Sheikh Zayed
(photo Sukar)
I wish baby Zayed well. I will be teaching my little bird to sing his name. Congratulations to his parents, his sister, his family and citizens of the UAE.

Related post:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lebanon to protest rape law

Nasawiya, a collective of feminists working on gender justice in Lebanon, is organizing and mobilizing for a January 14 march against Lebanon’s antiquated rape law.

The march, according to Nasawiya, will be to demand the following:
  • We, the women who reside in Lebanon, excuse ourselves from playing the decorative role that has been imposed on us. 
  • We take to the streets today to say that we are aware and knowledgeable about the methodical war that state and society have waged on our bodies and our safety through their political parties and leaders. 
  • From now on, we will not accept empty promises that are heaped upon us every time we call for our rights.
  • We will not give in to patience. We will not bite our wounds and postpone the battles of today to tomorrow. 
  • Our voices will be louder than the bickering between your parties and your sporadic yet connected wars.

Nasawiya also calls on Parliament to: 
  • Pass the draft law for Protection from Domestic Violence as it has been written and with no delay. 
  • Intensify punitive measures against rapists and those who attempt rape, amending the respective law. 
  • Treat verbal harassment as physical harassment, especially in the workplace, making it a crime subject to judicial penalties. 
  • Deal with complaints related to sexual violence with rigor and consistency.
  • We call on the Interior Ministry and the Municipalities to also apply those measures. The three bodies should work to make our streets and neighborhoods safe, especially at night, by ensuring proper street-lighting, and allowing us to carry tools of self-defense, like taser guns and pepper spray.
  • We extend this invitation to all women and girls who have been exposed to rape or attempted rape or harassment in all its forms, to all so-called “housewives” that have been subjected to beating and verbal abuse, to all those employees, teachers, activists, workers and union leaders who experience sexual abuse time and time again, and to all those who feel the injustice and lack of equality.
  • The march starts at 12 p.m. at the Interior Ministry near Sanayeh Garden and will proceed to Parliament at Nejmeh Square.
  • We women no longer possess anything but solidarity with one another. We must stand shoulder to shoulder and unite. What lies before us is the last of our battles: the defense of our rights, bodies and security. 
  • We have nothing to lose but our chains. The time is now.
For Nasawiya, a collective of feminist activists means not having a traditional NGO structure of boards, staff, and volunteers. It is a member-driven collective where everyone is equal and supports the other’s activism. “We believe we are stronger together,” it says.

Nasawiya believes:
  1. Sexism --  a devastating result of the feudal/patriarchal culture that we live in -- is a major social problem that we should work to eradicate, especially since it is deeply related to other social problems, such as classism, heterosexism, capitalism, racism, sectarianism, etc. Therefore, we must fight all forms of violence, discrimination, and exploitation that are based on gender, sexuality, able-bodiedness, ethnicity, race, religion, class, etc.
  2. As women, we have the right to a positive self-image and an emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy life.
  3. As women, we have the right to our bodies and our sexualities. In other words, women should be free to express their sexuality, free to make a choice about engaging or not engaging in sexual acts and/or relationships, free to choose whether they want to marry or not, whether they want to undergo an abortion or not. Women must also have easier access to helpful and non-judgmental sexual health services, as well as sexual education.
  4. We must work to eliminate all forms of harassment, and all forms of gender-based violence, verbal, physical, and sexual, wherever they happen.
  5. All women should have equal rights of employment, and equal treatment and pay in the workplace.
  6. Women should be encouraged to enter the fields of study and work that are currently dominated by men, such as sciences, sports, etc.
  7. Domestic migrant workers are employees and should have all the rights of employment, starting with respect and equality.
  8. We have a responsibility to be smart consumers since what we buy and where we buy from are political as well as personal choices that affect us all.
  9. We should encourage women to start women-friendly, workers-friendly and environmentally friendly small businesses. Women must play an active role in the political process, and lead the way in political reform.
  10. Women must have all their citizenship rights.
  11. Women must assume more leadership roles, in the private and public spheres, to reflect their central role in their communities.
  12. We have to promote feminist art, women-friendly media, and women’s studies courses and institutes.
  13. We should respect our natural environment, as exploitation of nature is parallel to the exploitation of women.
  14. We should support other feminists in the Arab world, the global south and the rest of the world, who are working towards a similar vision of a better world.
If you are in Lebanon, do join the march on January 14, spread the word and support in any way you can.

Related posts:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lebanon’s 2012 Twitter honor list

There are so many lists that come out at this time of year -- looking back at 2011 and ahead into 2012. The one I always look forward to is Youssef Alam’s on his blog Joe’s Box.

For the second year running, I am there, under my twitter handle @mich1mich. It’s like being on the Queen’s Honor List! Queen Elizabeth’s honors are bestowed twice a year -- at New Year's and on the British monarch's official birthday in June. Most of the honors go to people who are not in the limelight, for services to community or industry, but they also reward a sprinkling of famous faces.

Joe gives a rundown of people to follow on social media platform Twitter. He says in his blog post on January 2:

New to Twitter? You don’t know who to follow? Here are some of my favorite tweeps with different interests. They share information, positive energy, interesting and funny stuff…

This year make sure to follow 12 “Lebanese Birds” who tweet regularly and make the timeline special and 100 percent Lebanese:
  1. Funky bird: @funkyozzi Serious Funky girl tweeting about technology, communication and writer of many interesting blogs.
  2. Designer bird@mayametni  Visual communication consultant and creative director twitting only creativity. 
  3. Artist Bird: @Halamoubarak Activist with an artist’s touch. Make sure to follow her blog.
  4. Friendly Bird@mich1mich spreading only kindness and positive energy.
  5. Beirut bird@beirutspring Tweeting everything about Lebanon, including politics.
  6. Marketing bird:@sdarine Tweeting interesting marketing links.
  7. Funny bird@Uxsoup Tweeting technology tips, tricks, trends and some (R-18) quotes.
  8. Social Media bird:@pas_M Tweeting very interesting social media and  marketing links.
  9. Photographer bird :@Footnem  Nice photography tweets.
  10. Smart bird: @_Archangelus_  Smart and funniest tweets.
  11. Intellectual bird: @NasriAtallah Our man in Beirut.
  12. Hummus bird: @Hummusnation  Takes daily Lebanon news by the ankles and dangles it from the highest floor in Burj el-Murr until it cries for mercy.

I would definitely add Joe to this list and make it a lucky 13!

You can check out Joe’s 2011 List "11 Birds to Follow in 2011" and add your views and comments on his blog, at @JoesBox on twitter, or JoesBox on Facebook.

Thanks Joe, it’s a real honor to be on the list and in such good company!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ring out 2011, ring in 2012

Dubai rings in the New Year... at Burj al-Arab
Adieu 2011, Bonjour 2012. My friends and I ushered in both years on a beach in Dubai watching fireworks from two of the most iconic buildings in the world – Burj al-Arab and Burj Khalifa.

In the same way as fireworks, the New Year kicked off with sparkles and explosions interspersed by intervals of quiet and some darkness. But as with sparklers, you always look forward to the next bang.

The Old Year was thought-provoking on the personal and general levels. The Arab Spring, the continuing economic meltdowns, the Acts of God, the new challenges and innovations and the people we lost or welcomed to the world during the past 12 months… are now locked in our minds and hearts.

On a personal level, the Old Year was stimulating, with its ups and downs.

Dubai's Burj Khalifa rings in 2012. Photo by my friend Derrick Pereira
Luckily, my sister, my brother and his family, my extended family and friends are in good health and working, which is the biggest blessing. I hope that carries into 2012.

After a difficult start to 2011, I was fortunate to spend six months on and off in Beirut on a job. I learned a lot and rekindled my love affair with the city I had left for 20 years thanks to the kindness and generosity of family and friends.

The fireworks at Burj al-Arab
And when the sparkles and fireworks fell silent for a few months in September, they shone again and I was offered another opportunity in Dubai that is going well.

Mich Café in the Old Year was a continuous challenge, enjoyment and passion. You, the readers, have been most generous with your time on the blog. This encourages me to keep going. I thank you one and all.

I look forward to the coming 12 months and all the adventures along the way.

Happy New Year, Happy 2012!