Joined: 21 March 2006
Joined: 21 March 2006
I first met Ranwa at Oxford at a conference organized by the English-Speaking Union. The ESU is an international charity formed in 1918, aimed at forging international friendships through the use of the English language. It was a week-long conference, attracting participants from all over world and was held at Magdalen College, one of the colleges of Oxford University.
The lecture theatre was full that morning. There was a respectful silence as the first speaker began the session. I actually surmised that the silence could have been caused by the miasma of Monday morning blues. None was so inflicted with that malaise than yours truly. I wasn't feeling too bright and bushy-tailed but somehow managed to conjure up some interest as I listened to the speaker.
Then the door opened with a creak and about 20 pairs of eyes, some censuring, some curious and some indifferent, turned to see who it was that dared to come in late for the first seminar on the first day of the conference. There stood this girl, smiling sheepishly, an apology in itself. The thing that struck me about her was her luminous beauty. She had masses of black curly hair, cheeks that dimpled when she smiled and large doe-like eyes. She was looking for a place to sit, and I waved her to come and sit next to me. She smiled at me, obviously embarrassed that she had disrupted a seminar. I was blissfully oblivious to rules then as I am now, so I smiled back and shrugged my shoulders to show that it did not matter and made space for her on the bench. It was a beginning of a wonderful friendship.
Ranwa and I stuck together like limpets and rocks. We clicked just like women can, without experiencing the frissons of jealousy or cattiness only women can.
During the day both of us attended the conference sessions. We heard, we spoke, we discussed, we debated. We met people from Mauritius, Japan, U.K., Bulgaria, Kenya, the U.S., India, Pakistan, Morocco, the Soviet Union, Korea, Taiwan and other countries. The exchange of ideas from people all over the world was stimulating and enjoyable.
When we were not attending seminars or lectures, we toured Oxford, that wonderful old city with so much history. Going for boat rides, browsing the bookshops, visiting the world-famous Bodleian library. Of course we did not forget that essentially girly activity that has universal appeal, shopping.
Come every night we'd go out, checking the place out, dancing, having a few drinks and then spending the night chatting away until the wee hours of the morning. Then we'd meet again for seminars. Ranwa was never late after that Monday morning. The only thing was, she skipped breakfast so that she wouldn't be late anymore.
My friendship with Ranwa blossomed. We chatted as if we were old friends. We gossiped. We speculated. We moaned to each other. We shared confidences and discussed love lives, in my case, lack of it. In short, we did things millions of girlfriends all over the world did and still do. The difference here was that we were both from different religions, cultures, and races.
We don't even share the same mother tongue. We were from two different parts of the world which the twain never thought of meeting. Yet here we were, as if we have known each other for ages. For the first time I understood what the concept of sisterhood meant.
It was difficult to be cynical and jaded when Ranwa was around. Her bubbly and effervescent personality made everything exciting, everyone a friend. One afternoon we were on our usual loitering exercise around Oxford. Suddenly she gripped my arm and said excitedly: "Look, look, that is a restaurant from my country!!"
She had seen the flag of her country hanging out of the window. I thought good-naturedly: "Get a grip woman, you only left your country last week and you'll be home next. Anyone would think that you are homesick because you have been away for years."
I couldn't help but laugh and get carried away with her excitement as she dragged me up the steps to the restaurant. She popped in, spoke to the restaurant people in her language and arranged dinner for more than 20 of us. That night, all of us, without the watchful eyes of the conference organizers, ate delicious food from a country we had never been to, smoked the hubble-bubble and generally had a fantastic time.
Ranwa then got all of us on the floor dancing to her traditional music which she got the restaurant owners to play. We all tried to do the dance like the natives. We huffed and puffed and our hips felt like a ton of lead as we tried to do the swirls. We were as nimble as a group of elephants stuck in mud.
Then Ranwa took to the floor. She tied the shawl with hundreds on gold medallions hanging from it around her hips and started dancing. She swirled and swivelled, and boy, could she swivel. The tinkling sound the gold medallions made as she moved was plain music to our ears.
The men in our group looked agape, their eyes widened in admiration, a few of them getting hot under the collar. We girls cheered but I did notice an envious look here and there. I was so proud of my friend. She had class, grace and style and I revelled in the sheer joy that she exuded as she executed a dance as old as time. It was brilliant to see a woman hold the attention of so many men. Even now, years later, I look back to that night as one of the most wonderful nights of my life.
When it was time to say goodbye, it was most difficult. Especially saying farewell to Ranwa. She made me promise that I'd visit her, and she promised me that she would take me to her favorite bar in her city, which was run by a man with lapsed Communist inclinations and whose walls had posters of Che Guevara. I was intrigued. It sounded like a place where Ernest Hemingway would have spent a month or two.
Her description of the capital city she lived in conjured a magical place of bustling days and sultry nights. All the pre-conceptions I had of life in that part of the world were banished by the time Ranwa finished her narration.
We did keep in touch, though not as often as I would have liked to. But I knew that if I needed a haven and a friend, Ranwa would be there for me. I was absolutely delighted when Ranwa met her Dr. Right and they got married and settled in Egypt.
"You have to come and visit me, habibti" (darling). She always called me that.
As usual I said "I will, I will," but I didn't. I was determined however, that once my life was satisfactorily settled, I would visit Ranwa, Ali and her stepson in Cairo.
I wanted to meet Ali. Anyone who'd make my friend happy was a hero in my eyes. She was looking forward to my visit, she said. She knew of bars and clubs that she would like to take me to. Ah, that girl knows me so well. She even promised to look out for a job for me. That was how close we had become.
I've been worried about Ranwa over the past few weeks. This morning I got an email from her. I replied and asked her whether she was still in Egypt. I got this chilling reply.
"Yes, but I am taking the first plane out, with my baby in me. My country is burning and the world is watching while my people are being butchered. I have become a radical. I have no choice. It is in self-defence."
Ranwa is Lebanese. That magical city she lived in was Beirut. I am even more worried for her now.
Joined: 21 March 2006
Joined: 21 March 2006
|For the Want of Chocolate Cake|
|[Opinion] Or how not to react when you are deprived|
I'd like to consider myself as a fairly civilized person. When I say "civilized," I mean I am fairly sophisticated. That's what I'd like to think anyway. I possess enough knowledge of Shakespeare to throw in a remark or two in a conversation. I am aware of politics and current affairs. I know who the leaders of most nations are (unlike the Fearless Pretzel-Choking Overlord of the West, whose name shall not pass my lips) and I do know how and when to use the proper cutlery, although there has been the occasional lapse where I have mistaken the fish knife for the butter knife.
I therefore could not quite understand, despite my self-proclaimed cultured outlook, how I could be besieged by this inexplicable uncivilized desire to inflict actual bodily harm, serious bodily harm, grievous bodily harm and all kinds of bodily harm on someone. Have my parents hidden something from me? Am I a descendant of a violent ancestor, an Attila the Hun or a Genghis Khan or some other bloodthirsty individual that my parents have not told me about? Or am I just a deviant from the line of scholars, poets, writers -- allegedly -- that I descend from?
I am a non-violent person -- in deeds, at least. Occasionally I have let rip verbal rants and ravings but I abhor physical violence. That is why I have not, to date, seen any film that has even a modicum of violence in it. I have not seen "Pulp Fiction" or "Reservoir Dogs" or "Kill Bill, Vols 1 & 2," and I doubt I will see "Vols 3 & 4" either. So what if these films are in the "Top 50 Movies You Must See Before You Die" or "Top 25 Films of All Times," both of which were subjects of programs shown over the British TV last weekend.
Any film that has violence, no matter how crucial it is to the story, is a no-no for me. My phobia of dentists shot up to an all-time high after I watched "The Boys From Brazil" and never recovered. I refused to watch "Psycho" because I did not want to walk around with a ripe smell about me, all because I may develop an unfathomable fear of the shower. So the gist of it all? I hate violence. I am not a violent person. My surge of a violent desire therefore shocked me as much as it worried me. However, dear reader, there is a reason for my violent reaction, so if you could bear with me...
So there I was sitting at home on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, flicking through the pages of a Sunday tabloid. I do not get Sunday broadsheets. Sunday broadsheets are bulky and are too intense for a leisurely day. There is the main newspaper and then there are the sports section, the food magazine, the entertainment magazine, the holidays magazine, the home magazine, the business magazine, the magazines magazine. It would be next Sunday by the time I finish reading all of that.
A Sunday tabloid is less hazardous. It does not tax the grey matter too much and it has enough trivia for me to read, assimilate and remember. So if ever I get into "Who Wants To be A Millionaire?" and I get asked which of the following gets rid of perspiration from your clothes: A. Gin B. Vodka C. Tequila D. Martini, I would be able to answer with confidence: B. Vodka!!! I know this by the courtesy of my Sunday tabloid...and Madonna. The singer, Mrs. Guy Ritchie, mother of Lourdes and Rocco. Not The Other One.
Another picture of pouting Posh and slimline Becks cavorting on a luxurious yacht. Life is so tough for some. An article on how to get a fake tan? I don't need a tan; I was born with one. Another one on how to lose 20 lbs in 2 days... oooh, I could do with that. I turn over the page in annoyance when I discover I have to give up on food, survive on cabbage soup and run enough miles that would take me from the Northeast of England to Australia. I want to lose weight but I do not want to die in the process! So I flicked the pages, skimming over them with a practiced eye, when I come to the page that had the offending news that had incurred my wrath which you all would have not forgotten from the first few paragraphs. (You better not)
"FATHER'S CAKE RAGE," the headline screamed. Apparently, 37-year-old Obnoxious Bozo (not his real name) flew into a rage because --get this -- someone ate his chocolate cake!! So what does Mr.O. Bozo do? Ordinary people like you and I would probably rant, sulk, moan and then pop in a piece of cheese or chew a leaf off the potted plant to get rid of the craving for a sweet. Not our macho man though. He went into a rage and then hit his partner with a hammer and threatened his children with a snooker cue...because someone had eaten his slice of chocolate cake.
He does not stop there, oh no. Bursting with understandable anger, Mr. Macho Man then repeatedly stabbed a carving knife into the bedroom door of one of his children. He threatened to kill his wife and children and then kill himself. All because a slice of chocolate cake had gone missing! I tell you what, that wife and children of his would never dare to even look at a chocolate cake for the rest of their lives.
Readers more sympathetic than I may contemplate the notion that Mr. Terminator may have had a reason for flying off the handle like that. Perhaps he grew up as a deprived child. Perhaps chocolate cake was a luxury in his household. Perhaps his poor dead mother wore a chocolate cake scent and chocolate cakes always reminded him of her. Perhaps in his previous life, he was a chocolate cake and when someone nicked it, it meant that no one respected him.
Apparently none of these possible excuses were brought up in court when he was charged. As for me, I have no sympathy at all for a man who beats up women and then threatens his children. I wish I was there with a hammer. Mr. Wannabe Steven Seagal was given a two-year supervision order. I have been thinking of alternate punishments for O.Bozo. The least violent of it is making him eat so much chocolate cake that the next time he sees one, he runs off screaming into the hills, never to return. Then we could have another urban myth -- The Screaming Chocolate Man of the Hills.
After I finished reading that piece of news, another little article attracted my attention. "Black Belt Melinda [not her real name], 9." Yes, reporters and editors are very imaginative where headlines are concerned. Karate kid Melinda has gained a coveted black belt at the age of just NINE (the newspaper's big casing of nine, not mine). Melinda has been practicing karate since 6, and had impressed her instructor with her "kata" moves. "Kata" apparently is a sequence of attacking and defensive moves and little Melinda had mastered it. I was very impressed with this piece of news. "Good for you, kid," I thought to myself. I wish I knew a few attacking moves. I do know a defending move though -- scream and run for my life. Melinda would be able to do more than that.
Now, you may wonder what is the connection between the Chocolate Cake Man and Melinda. Imagine Melinda eating the chocolate cake and D.Bozo runs screaming at her, brandishing a hammer. Melinda would throw the chocolate cake away, do a few cool moves, use the "kata" moves of hers and cause the harm that I was talking of, to O.Bozo.
HAI-YA!! KERPLUNK!! O.Bozo is on the floor and does not know what hit him. Holy guacamole, Batman! Or rather, holy chocolate cake, Melinda!! Sweet (pardon the pun) poetic justice. A child saves other children from the wrath of a chocolate cake-deprived psychopath and teaches him to respect women and children. Of course, the scenario was all in my head, but I cannot tell you enough how much pleasure it gave me.
Oh, the punishments I was thinking of inflicting on O.Bozo? Some of them are not fit to be published. There is one, however, that has given me particular pleasure. Like The Mikado said, when contemplating punishment for the death of his son and heir "Something lingering, with boiling oil in it, I fancy." I did fancy a lingering punishment for O. Bozo, but it did not involve boiling oil. It involved a shirtless O. Bozo, tied to a pole in the hot sun, a jar of honey and a jar of thousands of red ants. Hmm.
This violent streak in me is worrying.
Joined: 23 May 2011
Joined: 21 March 2006
Joined: 29 March 2012
Joined: 23 May 2011
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