“I’m a Grown Woman!” (Says me)

This post is mostly for the wonderful women in my life, who know me best, who will probably shake their heads when they read this, and who will hopefully laugh out loud.

20130814-212314.jpg

Yesterday, I had a moment. I’ve had many moments since I moved back home with my parents.

On this particular day, I was home reading when my brother called me. He was working alone and he asked me if I could bring him lunch. He is a small business owner and his shop is just a few minutes away from my parents’ house.  I jumped up right away (because I, myself, do not like to be hungry for long without food. My alter ego comes out, and its not a pretty sight!

So, I hurriedly threw some clothes on and scrambled out of the door. As I was walking out, I realized I had on shorts.

Not a problem, except that my brother is the epitome of an over-protective, big brother. And as a brother to three women, I sympathize for him. Really, I do. But he can be exasperating at times. He is not fond of his little (and big) sisters wearing short, tight, (i.e. attractive) clothes. I sighed to myself, and started to turn around to change. I should just save myself the lecture, I thought.

Then, I stopped myself. No, I am not going to change, I declared! I would not allow him to tell me what to wear (or how to live my life). Besides, I had an appointment on the other side of town at 2 o’clock, and I didn’t have time to go back and change.

My brother, the poor guy. He wasn’t aware that I was in the midst of the “Finding out who I am, and being my own person” stage of life. Or the “quarter life crisis” as some people refer to it. He had no idea that the culmination of me living back at home as an independent adult for six months was about to come down on him. Someone always has to bare the brunt of these things. Little did he know, it would be him.

On my way to get his lunch from Subway, I played the dialogue out in my head. I knew exactly what he’d say. I came up with a well-thought out response. Do you sometimes engage in conversations in your mind, that you intend to have with someone else? I know I’m not the only one who does that! I quickly grabbed his order and headed his way.

When I arrived, he was tending to a customer. I watched him carefully, noticing the quick glance he shot at my legs. I darted to the back of the store to wait for him. When hemfinished, he walked over to greet me warmly. And by warmly, I mean…

“Dude, where is the rest of your clothes??” he said with a hint of annoyance in his voice.  “First of all, thank you for lunch,” he said. And then he got to what was really on his mind.

“Now, you are a young lady, and you do not need to be out here wearing shorts showing your legs. There are perverts out here who are looking at you. Hmm. That’s true. My subconscious agreed with the last part. But for heaven’s sake, these were ordinary, stone-washed, denim shorts. Not that short.

But I was ready for him!

“I’m a growwwn woman!” I belted out at him (hearing Beyonce’s voice in my head). “And I will wear what I want, say how I feel, and believe what I want to believe!”

He looked at me with a perplexed expression. Clearly, he was wayyy in over his head, and this was a battle that he did not want to fight.

“Ok, Summer. You are a grown woman,” he said. Then, he shook his head slightly, and quietly retreated.

That’s it? No arguing? No chance for me to give a big speech about my coming out? So anti-climactic. I was a bit disappointed, but still satisfied with the outcome, overall.

“Now, I have an appointment to get to,” I said presumptuously. “Enjoy your lunch.” I flashed him a smug smile. My inner-self roared with delight, as I sauntered out of there, half of me proud, and half of me amused by my own antics.

Oh well. It’s the small victories that count.

The Destiny of a Boy from a Lost Land

My Friday nights have been far from glamorous. While most of my friends who are now hundreds of miles away, shed their worries of the week with cocktails and late nights, I have been spending quiet evenings at home sipping shai with my parents. Not thrilling. But I’ve always been one to believe that if we open ourselves up to it, we can learn from almost any experience. Since I’ve spent many modest nights at home, I’ve come to know the story of Mohammed Assaf.

Assaf is a twenty two year old singing sensation who gained notoriety on Arab Idol, an Arabic version of American idol (yes, they copied the American television series). He has been nicknamed asaroukh, or rocket, a friendly play on political terms for a boy from Gaza who has a voice that is out of this world.

But it is not his incredibly charming voice, nor his undeniable good looks that caught my attention. Okay, maybe it caught my attention, but that’s not all. There’s more. It’s Assaf’s personal story that has made me examine an idea which I have recently been giving much thought to.

Destiny.

In Arabic, the word destiny is qadar. What is destiny? The formal definition is: something that is predetermined, or inevitable. Does destiny exist? Is it real? Is it something we cling to as a means to cope with the uncertainty of the future?

There is no doubt that there is something spectacular about Mohammed Assaf. When he sings, it’s as though his entire life was leading up to that moment. And although he’s only 22, his voice seems to carry years of pain and suffering. Many people say his voice bears the burden that only a Palestinian living in Gaza could feel. I’ve seen the children of Palestine myself. They grow up quickly and they’re far beyond their years.

But despite the sorrow and despair that surrounds him at home, there is something beautiful, magnificent even about Assaf’s voice. It makes you want to keep listening, as though he will reveal some secret to you that you can’t stand not knowing. Here is his story. 

Assaf grew up in Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza. In order to audition for Arab Idol, he had to apply for a visa to leave Gaza, and he spent two days traveling to Egypt. If you are familiar with the difficulties Palestinians face in traveling in the West Bank and Gaza, you know that this is a frustrating task. It is sometimes impossible for Palestinians to travel outside of Gaza. But Assaf somehow managed.  When he reached the Rafah border crossing, he was denied passage into Egypt by a security guard. He explained to the guard his reason for traveling, and the guard graciously allowed him to leave the country.

When Assaf finally reached the hotel where auditions were being held, he was too late. He called his mom to relay the disappointing news. The doors had closed. She told him, find a way to get inside.

So he jumped the wall.

Security guards seized him to escort him out when a Palestinian official with the show recognized Assaf from his performances in Gaza and gave him an audition number, allowing him to compete. Assaf had been singing in Gaza since he was a child.

It’s remarkable that Assaf even made it to the auditions. He could have easily been denied a visa to travel from Gaza to Egypt, as is often the case with Palestinians attempting to travel outside of Gaza. He could have met an unsympathetic and unimpressed security guard at the border that day who turned him away. He could retreated and gone home when he found the doors of the hotel closed. And the official that saw him at that moment could have been looking the other way, or simply could have been indifferent when he saw Assaf.

Upon hearing this story, I got to thinking. Assaf’s story reminds me of many of the values of success that I’ve heard time and time again.

If you want something, you must put yourself out in the world to get it.

Yes, Assaf has a brilliant voice and a rare talent, but if he hadn’t made the effort to go to the audition, he wouldn’t have had that chance.

You must work hard to overcome obstacles. Assaf made a decision to go to the audition, but he faced challenges along the way. Checkpoints, road blocks, walls, (literally). But he continued anyway.

We all need help from others at some point. If it wasn’t for the official, who gave him a number, although the deadline had passed, Assaf would not have been able to audition.

And finally, you must have faith. When asked what he thinks of all of the fame and popularity, Assaf has said, “It’s God’s will.”

Which brings me back to this idea of destiny. There is a saying in Arabic…that everyone’s fate is written on their foreheads. In knowing Assaf’s story, and hearing his voice, I can only believe that this was his destiny.

Trombones and Dreams

When I made the decision to step away from my career, someone close to me said that it would be a tremendous learning experience. They were right. This week I had the chance to visit with family whom I haven’t seen in years. I spent the week with my older cousins, Sarah, Amani, and my sister Ivan, who are each strong, courageous women by their own rights. I also spent time with my younger cousins–four beautiful, loving boys. It was amazing to see how each of them has their own personality and individual ways that make them special.

It has often been said that people come into our lives for a reason. This idea has revealed itself time and time again as my journey continues. The opportunity to spend time with the boys was a blessing. It must have been God speaking to me. More like yelling, loud and all at once! I felt renewed by their energy and laughter. I didn’t expect it to be a learning experience. But it was a testament that life is a continuous learning process, and we can learn from people who we least expect to. One particular moment served as a lesson to me.

Khalid, the eldest of four, is 11-years-old, and he is learning to play the trombone. One afternoon in the kitchen, I overheard him and my sister having a conversation. She was speaking of a friend who is in film school in New York, and who has always dreamed of making films. Khalid, in a matter-of-fact tone that only an eleven year old can articulate, asked, “Why is she doing that? Do you know how many people fail trying to make movies?”

I was taken aback that someone so young would say such a pragmatic thing, but also saddened by it because he seemed to lack the idealistic outlook that I expect of someone his age. My sister, ever the optimist, pushed back and replied, “Yeah, but you’ll never know if you don’t try to pursue your dreams. And if you fail, at least you tried, right?”

The next evening, Khalid brought his trombone out and played for us in the kitchen. He filled the house with high notes, and we all gathered around and applauded him. His younger brother, Ehab, acted as conductor, while Nedal and Omar waved their arms and danced around the house. We even gave him a stage name, Kal Raz (although that’s still being contended). Khalid told me that he practices in music class at school, and every day at home too.

Later that evening, the two of us went for a walk together. I asked him about school, and what his favorite subject was. History. Then I asked him if he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. Without hesitation, he said “A lawyer.” I smiled, impressed by his confidence. “That’s great,” I told him. “I think you’d make a fine lawyer.” But deep down, a part of me flinched, hoping that he will keep playing the trombone, because I saw the way his eyes lit up after he played the first song for us. Or perhaps one day he’ll want to play the guitar. Or be an aspiring writer. Whatever it is that makes his eyes light up the way they did. Because as mature adults, we know that our interests and passions change along the way. Before I left, I told Khalid to keep practicing and working hard at the trombone. Because he’s good at it, and you have to work hard at any talent. I told him that one day he could be a great trombone player. In essence, I was pleading with him to follow his dreams. Now that I think back, I wonder, was I pleading with myself too?

I have always been someone who has sought advice from others. I am the youngest of four siblings. I was fortunate to have people guide me and teach me and learn from their mistakes. I have been blessed with amazing mentors who believed in me and supported me.  I am so grateful that I have had so many people willing to help me and share their knowledge with me throughout my career. I deeply value the insight and guidance I gained from all of them. But I never imagined that I would learn something so  inspiring from someone who still has his whole life ahead of him.

(from left) Nidal 9, Khaled 11, Sarah, Ehab 7, Omar 5

(from left) Nedal 8,Khalid 11,Sarah(mom), Ehab 7, Omar 5

Khaled Razick, 11

Khalid Razick, 11