Monday, December 31, 2012

Thanks, 2012


What a year, eh? Sure, the world didn't end (I still call shenanigans on that), but no one can deny that this was a particularly feisty one. I won't lie; I'm not particularly sad to see this year go, especially since its second half was nothing short of a disaster in all possible aspects, but still, I choose to believe that it could've been worse, and that is one thing to be thankful for.

Yep, thanks 2012, for not being an even worse year. Thanks for the roof above my head and the bed I sleep in at night. Thanks for keeping me close to my family. Thanks for letting me see them smile and be happy around me. Thanks for giving me the chance to hug my mom as often as I could. Thanks for the opportunity to hear my dad's voice, even if it's mostly chiding me for no reason. Thanks for the chance to hang out with my friends, and to see them happy with their loved ones. Thanks for letting me be by their side during the happy moments, and the sad. Thanks for all the stellar music that I got to listen to, and all the memories I now associate with them. Thanks for the movies, good, bad and average, that I watched on many a night as you went by. Thanks for letting me tackle a dream of mine, to write and see people around me all clamoring for their chance to write. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to buy a girl some flowers; it was fun. Thanks for the amazing books; the funny, the informative and the sad, they've all been a pleasure. Thanks for all the thoughts that have roamed the expanses of my mind, they helped pass the time. Thanks for the memories, too, even if I could've done without a few of them. Nevertheless, they've added to who I am, and hopefully that's not too bad a thing. Thanks for the chance to wake up early and see the sun spreading over Cairo's ragged rooftops, and for the chance to listen to the eerie quiet at 4am, when there's no one in the streets but me. Thanks for all the nice food, even if it tried its damnedest (and partially succeeded) to make me fat.

And, finally, thanks for letting me see people smile. It never gets old.

Well, what do you know...2012 wasn't so bad after all. Here's to hoping 2013 follows suit.

Happy new year, everyone. :)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Vignettes -- #1: Memories

Vignettes is a current writing project of mine, mainly a few short stories - some of them fictional, some of them real, and some just random musings about the state of the world we live in. 

It’s one of those things you find hard to forget. Even if it does evade you for a little while, it still finds its way back to the forefront of your memory, sooner or later, and you decide to document it, if only to acknowledge that you do recall everything, down to the very details. The thoughts, the feelings; they all come alive in your head once more, and there’s nothing quite like it.

This happened to me a few years ago, though the exact date eludes me. It was Friday, I believe, and I was just about done with Friday prayers. I was on my way out of the mosque, tying my shoelaces, when an old man walks over to me and starts putting on his shoes as well. Being the introverted recluse that I am, I really do not pay attention to the man, keeping to myself instead until I’m done and ready to leave. Turning towards the gate, I start to make my way to it when an old, craggy voice stops me.

“You know, it’s very different now.”

Turning again, I find the old man – dressed in his plain galabeyya and ‘Emama, his battered face a crisscross of wrinkles – standing next to me by the gate. He’s looking at the vast garden encircling the mosque, clearly lost in thought, and maybe even time.


“Everything’s different now. This garden, it should be green and beautiful. There ought to be kids running around, playing frivolously. There should be families sitting in the shade, men and women at every bench. But, look at it now, unkempt and dirty, with all those youth straggling around, doing nothing at all. Why don’t they play a sport or something? Where are all the youth centers?”

“Well, there are youth centers and clubs around, hajj.

“I know, but they’re nothing, shadows of what they used to be. I recall the times of the king…oh, you young people, you’ve truly missed out on those times. Princess Ferial, Qasr El Nil club, the parks everywhere…those were the good times indeed.”

“Eh, I guess things just change, you know?”

“Oh, yes, they do. I just wish the change was once, just once, for the best.”

And with that, he just smiled and walked out, leaving me there to ponder his words.

I just wonder, when I’m his age, what memories will I have to recount to my kids?

Oh, well. I'm sure I'll think of something.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What Is It Good For? (Absolutely Nothing)

Leaders. Commanders-in-chief. Generals.

Great men.

Great men?

It's a question that I've been pondering a lot recently. Wars have been part of human history since its conception, but the idea still irks me to this day. What is a war, really? At its very core, it's the decision that you're going to take someone else's life for some reason, be it conquest and expansion, or seeking vengeance for some slight, or a number of other equally viable (and ridiculous) issues worth fighting for.

But then, you just have to think about it; the simple man, the smallest unit in an army of thousands, what's his stake in all of this? Is his life even slightly benefited by waging war against his fellow man? Does he even believe in a cause that - most likely - isn't his? It baffles me, how those generals and commanders manage to convince their subordinates to head into a bloody trench, in search of glory that is - by definition - fleeting and momentary. These men-of-war, these fantastical, almost-mythical beings; they are manipulative and deceitful, and they're constantly lauded for how well they do that job. Boggles the mind.

But then, you might come along and say 'No! You fight to be safe! You fight to defend yourself!', and I rightly call you an idiot, for you're missing the point entirely. Your right to self-defense is well preserved, and is not being argued here. The idea is what starts these wars in the first place. Why drag an entire nation into a struggle, a pissing contest, that costs it most of its resources, and - more importantly - youth?

Is humanity really that vain?

Am I so silly as to be expecting an answer to that question that isn't 'of course it is'?

Of course I am.

What is funny (and there is nothing funny about this entire affair) is the fact that human vanity might've started the trend of wars and conquest, but it's greed that keeps this bloodied machine running smoothly. These 'lords of war' here and there, they turn a profit on these little skirmishes, and they're not about to let business dry up.

Is it not magnificent, how human lives are now mere blips that drive cash flows? Congratulations, your much sought-after death is now the reason someone somewhere is buying an arsenal of guns.

And - make no mistake - they will kill you. And they will feel good about it, not because they've defeated their enemy, but because they've validated their exorbitant purchases. It's like that annoying kid who buys an SLR camera, and immediately creates a Facebook page with a shitload of crappy photos, simply to feel good about himself.

You are the crappy photo.

Enjoy your life.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Septembral Anxiety

I am at what some might call an interesting juncture in one's life.

Currently, I'm back to being without a job, but - through some stroke of misguided luck - I'm back in class, studying (and teaching) my way towards a second master's. The past few weeks have been somewhat tumultuous, to say the least; errands to take care of, things to sign, paperwork to forget about, etc, etc...but it's not just that.

It's been a veritable hell inside my head.

I do not know how to describe it, but I have a massive problem with lack of clarity. Not knowing what the coming step might be irks me to a great extent, much like an itch that you cannot scratch. I toss and turn for hours in bed, trying to think my way through a situation, wondering where it might lead, and I end up not knowing. It is not an enviable place to be in.

This all culminated in a night, a few days ago, when I couldn't take it anymore. I was literally freaking out, thinking that my future had been summarily executed, flushed down the drain. I simply did not know what I ought to do, what my next step should be, and more thinking lead nowhere. My brain refused to work, the spectre of failure loomed before me- mocking me silently, and I went to sleep.

When I woke up the next day, I had the answer, and it was astounding in its simplicity; I decided I didn't want to worry about all this anymore. It was too tiresome to keep worrying about the future, about work, about people, about the crushing loneliness, about where I'd be in a few years, if I was making the right decisions...too much, and I already had the grey hair to prove it.

So, I just cast off all those fears and worries. I now ask myself  'Is there anything you can do beyond doing your best with what you have right now? Is worrying going to solve anything?' and the answer is always 'No.'

And, for once, I've decided that this answer is an acceptable one.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hyperbolia Inundata

How's your day going? Is it 'the best you've ever had'? It is 'the most awesome thing since sliced bread'?

How about that cupcake? Is it '> life'? Are you 'experiencing multiple foodgasms'?

Do you 'Loooooove this' and 'adoreeeeeee that'?

Well, isn't that nice.

Being an avid user of Facebook and Twitter, I'm no stranger to the expressions people use to reflect their current mood or thought. What troubles me, however, is the amount of hyperbole that keeps sneaking into such statements, that it becomes almost impossible to take people seriously (not that taking people seriously on such media is a good idea in the first place, but for the sake of the current argument, let's assume that you do).

It is curious, because it's becoming unacceptable for a person to simply state how he feels, that he simply likes or loves something. No, you have to state how much you adore it, or how much it disgusted you. It has to become so bloated and grand, so expressive,  that it loses any shred of authenticity it might have possessed in its original form. Your entire life becomes this aggrandized version of itself, where everything is garishly, almost grotesquely, bright and colorful.

And, it just makes me wonder, why? Why is it that our emotions, be they positive or negative, have to be injected with dose upon dose of hyperbole, until it becomes self-mocking. Are we so starved emotionally, that every incident has to become the worst/best ever? Are we so self-conscious that our lives have to seem better than anyone else's? Do we really need so much attention that we've done everything save tape fireworks to our tweets and posts, simply to let people know that we're having the time of our lives, every single time we go out?

Newsflash, guys; happiness - like everything - is best expressed through simplicity. Recognition has never come through hyperbole, but authenticity. People can sense that sort of stuff, much as you'd like to believe otherwise, and trust me, no one is going to believe you just had the best pancakes the northern hemisphere has to offer, unless you can back that shit up with proof and samples.

An understated life might take longer to appreciate, but at least, the appreciation lasts.

Till next time,


Monday, August 27, 2012

A Quote On Humanity and The Nature of Life

I've just finished Cloud Atlas, and there was this quote near the end of the book that I felt the need to share.

"Scholars discern motions in history and formulate these motions into rules that govern the rises & falls of civilizations. My belief runs contrary, however. To wit: history admits no rules; only outcomes. 

What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts.
What precipitates acts? Belief.

Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind's mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being, & history's Horroxes, Boerhaaves and Gooses shall prevail" (Those are examples of villains in the book.)

"You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our consciences itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy? Why fight the "natural" (oh, weaselly word!) order of things?

Why? Because of this: one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness  uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.

Is this the doom written within our nature?

If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe diverse races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share this candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds to make real. Tortuous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president's pen, or a vainglorious general's sword."

Nice thought, no?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Spark Plug

What if I told you that your existence is a mere second of thought within a much larger mind? Would that fascinate you or scare you? We are always inclined to lend importance to our existence, that our lives are a big deal. We're here for a reason, we keep telling ourselves. 

But is that a truth, or is it a lie that we perpetuate and repeat ad infinitum, in the hopes that we'll believe it, or perhaps in the hopes that saying so would make them so. 

Of course, there is nothing that suggests otherwise, and for all I know, we might truly be a big deal, but it is sometimes interesting (and quite funny) to note the tricks that we play upon ourselves, during the grand quest for self-worth. 

But then, how would you derive your sense of self-worth? Do you base it upon the opinions of others? The opinions of the well-cultured few? Perhaps your very own opinion. It's quite funny to discuss this with people, and watch them tear apart each hypothesis with such furor that you'd think you've committed some grave faux pas by suggesting that they rely on some external source of self-worth. We are self-aggrandising and self-deprecating, in one hard-to-swallow oxymoronic dollop.