Falling in love

People fall in love. To my naïve ears, the phrase used to sound like a one-step action, occurring due to sheer fate or coincidence. He taught me otherwise.

Falling in love is a process, a struggle between me and my beloved. If his love were a well and you were to look inside, there would be no end to its depth. Each sunset, as I reflect at his well, mine grows deeper.

The struggle lies within the paradoxical nature of our love. His love for me is complete and boundless. Mine is finite, but growing. The deeper I fall for him, the higher soars my heart. In my falling, I rise.

The spider ascends, slowly, along the first silver thread of its web. With the slightest movement of light, the thread becomes invisible to the human eye. Yet the thread continues to exist and the spider resumes its unhurried dance. Each creature is on its own journey.

A few hours before dawn, when the universe sleeps, I feel the closest to him. He listens to my complaints, my fantasies, my regrets. With his gentle embrace, my insecurities slip away. He is the first and the last one privy to all the buried thoughts within my heart. The only one aware of the exact curves of my body. The feel of my skin. The shape of each of my teeth. The parts of my being that I appreciate and those that I criticize. He assures me that I am perfect, just like his love for me.

During this intimate conversation of two lovers in the final moments of darkness, lightning strikes. The hairs on my arm stand up in distress. My beloved holds me tight as the fresh smell of rain envelops us. He promises that the first ray of sunlight is near.


Allah, my beloved, my Creator, my One and Only God, has hundreds of beautiful names. One of my favorites is Maalika Riqqi, the Master of my Freedom.

Imam Hasan Al-Mujtaba (peace and blessings upon him and his family) was once asked, “What is the distance between the Heavens and the Earth?” He replied, “The cry of an oppressed person in supplication.”

On this sacred 23rd day of Ramadan, “Ya Maalika Riqqi, free us from the chains that we have built, shackling us to vain pursuits. Teach us to drown in your love, for in this drowning lies our salvation. This upcoming year, let your two angels keep us ashore, the left arm supported by your final Book, the right arm by your final Prophet and his family.”

Shrines of Iraq

Shrines of Iraq, 2016. Heavens on Earth.

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Metanoia in Oman

Metanoia (n.): The journey of changing one’s mind, heart, or way of life

Two years ago, I had no idea I would be here again. This time, not to visit as a foreigner, but to live alongside locals and learn Arabic. Language is a key so miraculous that it allows you to embrace a culture and explore in a way a tourist can merely dream about.

Living in Ibri, Oman, during the holy month of Ramdhan, I am learning not only Arabic, but also the importance of searching for peace. Below is my first attempt to experiment with Arabic poetry and to discuss how what we choose to pursue in life transforms our definition of success and happiness. I am forever grateful to Ustaadh Said Mana Al-Ghafri, one of my Professors here, for guiding me through the writing process.

Surreal view in the city of Nizwa

Surreal view in the city of Nizwa

رمال جافة ممتدة بلا حدود في الأفق

السماء تعكس فساد شاحب

هناك حيث الصبار يعيش ويزدهر

الذين يفتقرون الشوك سيعانون

ليبقوا بدون نهاية حازمة

يواجهون الدهر والأرض الخشنة

عقيمة هي جهودي في البحث عنك

سرابٌ قاسٍ شبه تام ولكن كاذب

تحت الشمس الساطعة ارتعش في ضجيج

في عقلي أصواتٌ وشغبٌ ينمو

تائهةٌ في اِتجاه المجهول

يدّعي الوقتُ بأن جهودي لم تثمر

إعياءٌ يُغلّفني بذراعيه

وأنا أسبر خيالك وجمالك

واحذٌ فقط يمكنه انقاذ روحي الضالة

ويعطيني القوة لاكتشاف الصراط المستقيم

 لو ادركتُ فقط قوته وقدرته

حياتي سيغمرها النور المُبين

Wadi Zahir

Dry sand stretches unbound in my sight.

The sky reflects a colorless blight

where the cactus exist and thrive.

Those lacking thorns may strive

to endure without a resolute end,

encountering time and again harsh land.

Futile are my efforts searching for you:

a cruel mirage, almost perfect yet untrue.

Under the glaring sun, I shiver in unquiet

amid voices in my head, a growing riot.

Wander I in a direction unknown.

Time pretends my labor was not sown.

Exhaustion envelopes me in its arms

as I fathom your illusion, your charms.

Only One can salvage my soul astray,

give strength to find a stronger way,

if only I realized His power and might

life would again permeate with warm light.

Well, hello there!

Well, hello there!

The Persian Goldfish

1

I was the goldfish, brilliant as the sun.

3

Alone in my bowl, deceived, I was free.

Lounging in waters, calm, my trough,

spent I eternity eyeing the gold coins below.

9

Until some force, a shine, Sublime

showered upon my round universe

spring, along with a myriad of signs:

a drop of vinegar for patience in hard times

for health, chunks of apple and garlic

wisdom from the rays of a candlestick.

My vision, much clearer, I witnessed

the water, now a bright pink, stressed

with love for the soul and hyacinths galore.

4

In the glass bowl, I saw not my reflection

but blossoming sprouts, a reincarnation.

Now, I live to comprehend the Merciful One

and become a goldfish, obedient as the sun.

Sara's Haft Sin!

Sara’s Haft Sin!

Haft sin is a spread put out for the Persian New Year as the sun completes its cycle. Iranians and several Muslims celebrate the first day, Nawroz, also the first day of Spring. The beautiful spread above is the work of a dear Iranian friend of mine, Sara, who lives in Istanbul.

Inspired from the haft sin, I wrote a poem as 1394 begins. I wish us a peaceful upcoming year complete with love, travel, success, and fulfilled dreams. Although I don’t have a haft sin to share, I have a few photographs of mine that I hope will lend us color and inspiration.

Raison d’être from Kapadokya

As soon as I laid my eyes on you,

the ten-hour-long bus ride felt true.

You brought me into a novel world

of blues and browns, handsome herald.

Longed I to stand under your clear sky,

to confirm the rumors, to be nigh;

I knew not you’d give me the raison d’être

to forever guide my life, Kapadokya. 

Moments lived in your valleys lent

an escape, liberated breaths well-spent.

Fairy chimneys, hot air balloons,

an elderly couple selling ragdolls amid runes. 

Here I was on a simple escapade

away from society, its deceitful trade,

in search for a reason to live

not just to survive, to merely take and give. 

I found it in the reflection of a handicraft

as I left a pottery site, a magical shaft.

I saw myself in the misty, carved mirror.

I smiled back, a reason so simple, so austere.

Seen at the pottery site

Seen at the pottery site

One of the highlights of my stay in Turkey last summer was visiting Kapadokya (also spelled as Cappadocia). While in Istanbul, one can see water and people from every angle, Kapadokya is unique for its rocky terrain and peaceful silence. 

If you look closely, you'll see faces in the enveloped rocks!

If you look closely, you’ll see faces in the enveloped rocks!

Often, we experience ordeals that make us evaluate our existence. During these times, one fact we should firmly hold on to is: pursue what brings you happiness. The most magical blessing in the world is you. Live for yourself and those who care for you.

Grateful to have had the opportunity to visit and photograph this fairytale-like place

Forgiveness from the Bosphorus

The blue waters are blinding my sight.

My father, the Emperor, try as he might

couldn’t defeat Fate for she acts

as she pleases. Even our tower lacks

the power to buy time. Said the oracle,

“She’ll die at 18. Quite a spectacle.”

Father in his boundless love built

a majestic prison to stop my wilt.

If only he embraced life, its turns,

I’d be at peace with what Fate spurns.

If only I’d been allowed to walk

on land with others, to love, to talk,

the inevitable bite of this asp may

not have been as torturously gray. 

Sitting across Kız Kulesi, the Maiden’s Tower, I tried to imitate the way my Turkish friend ate ayçekirdeği, sunflower seeds, skillfully and quickly. Hours had passed since midnight. During one of our conversations, she described to me the legend encircling the Tower in front of us. It was my first time in Üsküdar, an area of Istanbul that was serene and magical. Just like the legend. 

Sitting across the Maiden's Tower

Sitting across the Maiden’s Tower

An Emperor had acted upon a prophecy – his daughter would be bitten by a poisonous snake – by isolating her in a tower in the middle of the Bosphorus Strait. Little did he know that he’d one day bring her a gift basket in which the snake had taken refuge. I tried to imagine the Maiden’s last thoughts as the venom brought her closer to death. Despite the fact that her father’s actions were guided be a desire to protect her, would she be able to forgive him for depriving her the right to live among people? Would she be able to forgive him for her solitude? Did she have enough time to ponder upon the complexity of life, emotions, and forgiveness?

The majestic Maiden's Tower

The majestic Maiden’s Tower

As the New Year starts, I hope we can appreciate the importance of forgiveness. A shattered hope. A broken heart. A rejection from your dream school. A loved one lost to illness. A decision you regret. Let it go, before it overtakes your happiness, before it leeches off your present life. I recently read a book that began with the following quote:

Difficult as it is to forgive, I believe we carry the capacity in our hearts to do so. Wishing you a year filled with peace.

Sonder in a Blue Country

Abundant carnations, striped, red, and pink

suffocate my memories of you, my only link.

I incinerated the deceptive, orange marigolds,

but they bloom again; on my soul, the grief holds.

Grateful, lilac bellflowers are ample as well.

The country who embraced me can tell:

the flame of hawthorns and hope has grown

into the stubborn seed of adversity life has sown.

Sure, the thistles have pierced me for years;

my veins throb with misanthropy and tears.

But I take pride in my inherent mistletoe:

my ability to surmount waves high and low.

The voyage may remain a vicissitude, but

a daffodil thrives in my heart, a dream to reunite.

A man of grass at the piano surrounded by flowers in the center of a park in Istanbul

A man of grass at the piano surrounded by flowers in the center of a park in Istanbul

In the humid summer of Istanbul, I was sitting on the tram chatting with my friend with my eyes on the scenery unfolding outside our window. The world was blue. At least it was in Istanbul. Placid, sad, blue waters everywhere. A city, where for some, shaking off the blues seemed almost impossible. When my camera lens captured the photograph below, I sincerely believe my heart had fully encountered sonder.

#BlueIstanbul #Perfection #NoFilter

#BlueIstanbul #Perfection #NoFilter

Sonder (n.): the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

While I may spend quite a large chunk of my life fretting over the GRE, my prospects of graduate school, and the morose difficulty of life, there are people out there leading equally intricate lives, if not more complex than mine. People who were forced out of their homelands. The Gender and Politics in the Middle East summer course I was taking at Boğaziçi University had cultivated within me – someone who used to get bored of politics – a desire to learn about the injustices happening around me. Picturesque Turkey was now home to over 1.6 million Syrian refugees, according to UNHCR estimates. My heart burned with sorrow and anger at the helplessness of a mother and son begging in Arabic for help outside the Sultanahmet Mosque.

A massive book welcoming visitors at Gülhane Park

A massive book welcoming visitors at Gülhane Park

For me, a person wrapped in a soft blanket, comfortably typing away in a heated home, it is indeed difficult to understand the plight of those who are struggling worldwide this winter, in countries that are foreign to their eyes. However, you and I together can surely keep them in our prayers and thoughts. My poem is a small effort to do so. I wrote in the language of flowers – a universal language – inspired from Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s novel and dictionary of flowers and emotions. By stepping into the worn shoes of a refugee, I tried to evoke the feelings he or she would feel: of loss, but also of hope.

Kairos over two months

Kairos (n.): The perfect, delicate, crucial moment; the fleeting rightness of time and place that creates the opportune atmosphere for action, words, or movement

Origin: Ancient Greek

This past summer, I was lucky to visit London. I realized on the infamous London Eye that as we moved, the scenery changed, albeit to a small degree. Each moment was perfect in its own form. Over half an hour, I had seen different angles of the city. The sun was setting and our ride soon ended. Similarly, life is like a circular machine, during which we have the chance to experience the world for a period of time. It is up to us to keep our ears and hearts open to what the world has to give us at every breath we take.

I took this photograph when I was standing on the London Bridge.

I took this photograph when I was standing on the London Bridge.

For a little over two months, when I heard or witnessed details that lulled or accelerated my heartbeat for a few seconds, I jotted them down. Here, I have composed a choppy compilation of a few of those moments. Snippets from the lives of others weave together with ours to create a shared history. Through these connections, we give and gain support, a communal relationship which makes us human.

For years Angela worked hard at

a department store without fail.

One day we visited and heard that

she’d died. I couldn’t wail.

For her weapon was to always smile.

She’d once fixedly peered at my face:

“You’re lucky to travel for such a while;

new sights transform life’s pace.”

Her words echoed weeks later

as I hurried to my next class, Today’s Russia

pulling closer my purple sweater.

A swirl of leaves shot me into inertia.

132 children forever fell asleep

as Pakistan drowned in bloodshed.

My uncle and his wife in London weep

in joy at their newborn’s bed.

J, a teenaged participant as a start

shared with me her life’s content side:

love for lacrosse, her boyfriend, and art.

Then: a desperate attempt of suicide.

It’s hard to comprehend people’s lives,

their reasoning and reactions.

I must keep trying as the train strives

to prevent my photographing the swans.