Till next year–God willing

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On Monday, July 28th, most of the Muslims celebrated the end of Ramadan with ´Eid-ul Fitr, or the Feast of Breaking the Fast, which is one of the two celebrations in Islam (the other being ´Eid-ul Adh´a, or the Feast of the Sacrifice). That is, most except for at least Morocco. In Spain, I think almost everyone just celebrated on Monday except for Granada´s Mezquita Mayor—a mosque founded by a generation of Spanish converts. I was told that they follow the Sufi branch of Islam. They celebrated ´Eid the next day.

The mosque is decorated with several verses of the Qur´an, and somehow the one in the picture below particularly grabbed my attention last time I was there. The verse says: Say, “This is my way; I invite to Allah with insight, I and those who follow me. And exalted is Allah; and I am not of those who associate others with Him” – Qs 12:108. It is so eloquent when recited in Arabic, and it touches upon one of the five pillars of Islam, namely that there is no God worthy of worship except Allah (i.e. true monotheism) and that Muhammad is His messenger.

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Although I sometimes visit that mosque, I decided to follow the country that I am living in to celebrate the end of Ramadan. It was a lovely ´Eid; a little different not spending it physically with family but instead over skype, but I also celebrated it real life with some friends here, ending the day with a delicious tea called “Té Al Andalus” at one of my favorite tea houses, As-Sirat.

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Ramadan has been very delightful this year—despite, or perhaps even because of, the long hours. It has not been half as hard as most people predicted it to be, and now you see how quickly this Holy Month has left us. In the end, it was all ´Much ado about nothing´. At least to me, it has truly been a spiritually uplifting experience. I just really love this month, I guess also because of the feeling of unity I seem to feel, not only with fellow Muslims, but also with the poor and the needy, and I love the consciousness that comes with fasting. I hope we will be blessed to live to see another Ramadan in good health, spirits, and peace, God willing. Allahumma ballighna Ramadan.

I liked breaking my fast in the privacy and comfort of my own home, but during the last week of Ramadan a friend of mine and I made it a point to go at least two times to the Mezquita Mayor for prayer in congregation and to break the fast there. The community of Spanish converts (but there are actually more nationalities represented, like American converts, British, and I believe even Swiss ones, and the list goes on) has a tradition of providing a meal for the congregation to break their fast after the sunset—or Maghreb—prayer. The women are seated together in a room and the men in another room to enjoy their meal. This community of converts actually in some instances has been in existence for three generations already, with children and children of children.

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The converts, at least here in Granada, also have an interesting style of clothes they wear. They wear the veil, for instance, as a turban, instead of the version that also covers the neck and chest. A shop owner from this community told me that they do that to reconcile both of their worlds: The Islamic one and the Western one, and to maintain an open and accessible attitude and appearance to the secular world they are living in.

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It is also a tradition at this mosque to provide couscous for the congregation after the Friday sermon and prayer throughout the year. Christians have their Holy Day of the week on Sunday, Jews have it on Saturday, and for Muslims it is the Friday that is reserved. Normally, the mosque is packed with (Muslim) students or tourists from all over the world, and even non-Muslim friends of Muslims, as the following picture demonstrates, taken somewhere in April this year.

Met fleuri!

But most of the students have gone back to their respective countries and cities for their summer vacation and to celebrate Ramadan and ´Eid with their families, or because their exchange program ended or for whatever other (summer related) reasons.

I can´t believe I have been here already for more than six months now… It is still a little chaotic, perhaps also because of the Spanish system still, but somehow there is some peace within that chaos and all the work that I still have to do. It is nice though to see that I kind of seem to know how to get things done from the officials here, which is really of great use and help. I had been told by my boss, and also by some other people, that Spanish people are hard to really befriend. I find these kinds of generalizations really hard to process, because I think that in the end, people are drawn to each other based on deeper reasons and connections: Birds of a feather flock together is the saying after all. Truth be told, most of my friends here are internationals, but I do know some Spanish people that I really appreciate, whether it be my favorite cashier at a supermarket here that I frequent, a host Mom I befriended through a friend, a Spanish girl I met during a seminar, or even some of my co-workers who do not work for my organization, but who work in the same building as I do.

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But I guess—like we tend to do with ourselves as well—we are hardest towards those who are closest to us. Somehow we seem to hold those nearest to us to higher standards than we would others. Yet the only thing we can really do is try to ourselves be the change we want to see in the world because, in the end, we can only change ourselves. It really is as simple as that.

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Focus on the Alhambra

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I have almost been here in Granada for five and a half months, and I do not think I have mentioned the love that brought me here in the first place even once… The Alhambra, and Granada’s history.

As a student, I already fell in love with Granada and its rich history, and in 2010 I first got the opportunity to come here. It was a very brief visit, but good enough to satiate the desire to come here that I long felt––at least for the time being. I visited the Alhambra on a guided tour, in English, and I truly was awestruck. Somehow it all seems so surreal that people really built and even inhabited this palace, when the Islamic civilization prospered here in Spain. The palace is a building that seems to come straight out of a fairy tale book, very cliché, but let’s say out of the Arabian nights, yet a people really once worked, lived and loved within the Alhambra’s precincts. Enchanting would be a good word to describe the beauty of the palace and the history it entails.

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I enjoy contemplating the Alhambra from afar, from any one of Granada’s many viewpoints, but nothing can top actually roaming inside the palace through its many courtyards and gardens. Just simply taking in the beauty, the harmony, and the tranquility it seems to breathe.

I often pass by the Alhambra and visit it, but last weekend I visited the Alhambra again with a guided tour––this time it was in Spanish. Our guide´s name was Daniel, or Dani as he preferred to be called, and he was ‘muy simpático’, or very friendly. The thing with the guided tours is that I hear what the guides are saying, sure, but my attention is drawn more and consumed by what I see. For instance the photo shoot of Asian flamenco dancers I just caught when we barely entered the Nasrid Palace, or just the intricate details that define the Alhambra.

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From the first guided tour, however, I do remember three moments in particular. The first one was when the tour guide told us to stop for a moment, to stop taking pictures, and to just look. It’s something very simple, but we often seem to forget about this. To just be present and take pictures, sure, but with our eyes, and with our minds or even our hearts. The second moment was when the guide mentioned a poetic verse written on the walls of the Alhambra, and although I do not remember that particular verse, unfortunately, I do remember the feeling it left me with, speechless. The Alhambra is a work of art in all of the meanings of the word, and more. There are whole narratives, creeds, and values carved on its walls, a history book in plain sight recounting the story of a people who no longer exist. Did their blood survive, though, and could it still be running through the veins of those who share the history of Al Andalus? And then finally, the third moment was when we were at one of the gardens and I, or we, just stopped to listen to the water––I have never heard a sound quite as eloquent.

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I hadn’t written poetry in quite a while, but last night, reminiscing yet again on the Alhambra and on the past, the following poem was born,

Signs

The musical sound
of running water,
kneeling down to rug level.
Mirroring reflections,
the creation’s creation.
Court of the Myrtles,
a time long gone.
Where are the people––
the kings, the princes,
or even the noblemen?
Go forth on earth,
witness the destiny of those
who long before you came.
In their secrets there are signs.

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And Spain, or Granada, keeps surprising me. I heard that residents of Granada can get free tickets to visit the Alhambra, every Sunday. And you can go as often as you want. It’s not that the tickets for the Alhambra are expensive, at least compared to what I am used to, but this gesture of the city kind of seems to want to instill a sense of pride in its inhabitants, that the Alhambra is ours. It really does feel a little bit mine as I feel really at ease and at home every time I am there, to be honest. And there are, absolutely, worse ways of spending your Sunday than walking through gardens that come closest to perfection as we know it in this imperfect world.

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Solitude has never been as pleasant as taking a good book with you, or even better yet, the Qur’an, and looking for a silent corner in a wonderful Islamic palace during a summery day. Immersing yourself in a story, and every now and then, lifting your head up to remind yourself where you are, in the here, in the now.

 

Time to reflect

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Hello…?
– Hola, ¿Lorenzo está?
¡Qué no es el número de Lorenzo!
– Es que…
¡Adios!

Lately, I have repeatedly been receiving phone calls from people asking for a certain Lorenzo. I really have no idea who that is. This, however, brings back the memory of the time when I purchased my Spanish sim card. I had to register with my passport and everything. When I asked about why this is, I was told that it had to do with the fact that the ETA, a Basque nationalist and separatist organization, in the past made bombs go off with mobile phones. For that reason, all phone numbers have to be registered so that their owners can always be traced back. Interesting.

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The mystery of the garbage pick-up times was also long solved: it, of course, has to do with the weather—it is as simple as that! When I first got here, it was still winter and pretty cold outside, but the system is based on its Mediterranean hot weather season. In the summer, it is practically undoable to go outside and be productive during daytime. A lot of the other things that need to be done are also finished up at night, like putting up street decorations for yet another fiesta or fair. In the afternoon, during the siesta time, the streets can be pretty much totally deserted. The people use the siesta time to relax and recharge, because, like bats, the people here live at night. I mention bats because it is late at night that I sometimes see them flying around the Río Genil, one of Granada´s rivers, which is around the same time the people start going out of their homes.

In the evening, the weather is more agreeable, and it is perfectly normal here in Granada to go for ice-cream around midnight. The famous ice-cream place of Granada, Los Italianos, doesn’t even close till around 1 a.m. and sometimes even past 2 a.m.—the latter probably during the weekends. The place is often really packed and you have to stand in line to get your ice-cream. I have to admit though, the ice-cream is okay, but it is not like I haven’t had better before. And so it is that you can see couples, and even entire families including the grandparents, enjoy their midnight treat on the cooled down streets of Granada.

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That’s it for some of the observation I wanted to share.

As for how I am proceeding with the month of Ramadan—Alhamdoulillaah (all praise is due to Allah), it’s going excellent! I am sad though that it passes by so fast, today is already the 16th day that we are fasting. It does make me even more aware though of how I want to make the most out of the remaining time of Ramadan by laying a solid foundation on which I can continue well after Ramadan. I really like how intense the experience is, how intense the feeling of awareness and the desire of wanting to make the most out of this wonderful month is. The first week of Ramadan, unlike the many ´scary´ predictions I heard from the people, we had great weather. It wasn’t that hot at all and we had a lovely breeze some of the days. It gave us enough time to get used to the fasting and the real heat is only starting now, with the temperatures being around 40 degrees Celsius. But it really is not that bad.

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Tranquillity has returned to Granada, with most of the exchange students gone as well as the bulk of the Spanish and international students who went back to their respective cities and countries. And I even fasted a bit from having a social life, focusing more on reflection and reading the Qur´an, as we are in the month of the Qur´an (i.e. the month of Ramadan). I came across the following verse that I find so incredibly powerful:

And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” – Qs 7:172

It perfectly describes the pure inclination every human being has to believe in the One true God. As every artist signs his work, this deep feeling inside of us can be seen as the Signature of the Creator left within our chests so that we may seek answers and guidance. On a soccer field, it hit me while watching the Portugal-USA match recently, when all the emotions are raw and running high, the players often turn their heads to the sky, to something outside of them. But what exactly is it that they are looking for, and why?

A couple of days ago I went to Cordoba again with friends who came to visit. This time we explored the city by carriage—it was another way of viewing the city. It gave a different perspective, shall we say. I did not visit the Mosque-Cathedral this time around, but I still have some pictures from the previous visit. I have not written about that experience yet, but suffice it to say that it was an impressive experience. It felt really schizophrenic, how the Catholics preserved much of the mosque, and even mimicked its style, but insisted on converting it into a Cathedral—a case of prestige borrowing from times long gone, perhaps?

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Slowly, the pieces are starting to fall into place, and time for reflection is found. But in the end, it is only time that will allow that process to run its due course. Sabr.

Wonderful Granada

Jumuah April 4 2014 - By Mariam

Life here continues to be unpredictable and pretty dynamic. I think that for the past few months I have pretty much lived the life of an exchange student, although without the accompanying deadlines and exam stress. It feels though like a chapter that I am ready to close, and I am looking forward to a time of calm–devoted to some reflection. Luckily the Holy Month of Ramadan is nearing*; it will start in less than a week. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and it is a month in which all Muslims around the world are required to fast, meaning that they need to abstain from eating and drinking (yes, even water!), and that they need to restrain ‘every part of one’s physical body’ from dawn till sundown. It is ‘a time for Muslims to focus on purifying their soul through prayer and self-sacrifice’. I took the quotes from the website that I am including below, for those who want to have a simple overview of what this month entails even more.

I have been told that the summers here in Granada are really tough and super hot, but I remain optimistic. And today for example is a wonderfully cool day, so who knows how this summer will turn out to be.

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What I have been up to lately? I traveled a bit more in Andalusia, participated in a nice weeklong training near Malaga, got to know more wonderful people. The latter never seems to stop, thankfully. Whether it is during a seminar, in a tea-house, at the mosque, sitting outside at a square or a view-point–I always get to know more and more people, and they are all wonderful souls. Each and every one of them and all of them teach me–in their own ways–new and often important things. It is nice though to reflect upon this, because these encounters are essentially little, valuable puzzle pieces, but it is also nice to just appreciate it and let it be.

I am intending on reading a bit more as well, and I recently finished reading a book by Khalil Gibran Khalil, a Lebanese writer. I would like to share the following excerpt of the book entitled ´The Prophet´:

On Joy & Sorrow**

Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.”
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

It is wonderfully eloquent and it perfectly describes how balanced life in fact is, if you pay attention—but it is key to be honest, especially with yourself.

And Granada, wonderful Granada. I enjoy being in the old part of the city, the Albayzín. Someone described it as a little city within a city, and I find truth in that description. Climbing up the hill, encountering people I only met there on the streets, like this Italian woman who is a street vendor, but who isn’t really part of the wider community of street vendors, or hippies, as they are often called. In fact she is here on a similar mission: traveling, and in the process trying to figure life out. It is fascinating though how she has chosen to live on the margins of society in doing that.

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A lot of the impressions and lessons are gathered, but I haven’t had the time to pen them down or reflect on them yet. I am looking forward to doing that in the days and weeks to come. For now I wish those participating a: Ramadan Kareem!

* On Ramadan: http://www.ramadankareem.info/

** Khalil Gibran Khalil: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jrcole/gibran/prophet/prophet.htm.

It looks like Spring, it smells like Spring, but it definitely feels like Summer.

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Here goes, attempt number XXX.

So I guess I cannot really speak of a culture shock here in Spain the way we usually understand it, having already been exposed to so many different cultures growing up. And it’s not like I have never been to Spain before, although never for such an extended period of time. But I think that, more than anything, the journey I am on here is more of an internal one—a pretty intense one at that. I really love how long, rich, and unpredictable the days here can be, as I briefly mentioned before. Each day seems to contain several short stories within it, and observing this is a lot of fun.

I recently started traveling more around Andalusia, and hiking through its astounding nature. Most of the sights are truly awe inspiring, like the hills, the mountains, the waterfalls, the trees, the colors. You don’t even have to travel that far from the city to find yourself in a totally different world. For the ‘Fiesta de los Patios’, a famous yearly courtyard festival in Cordoba which is listed as Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, I made my way to that city again. It was really pretty, and I had a lot of fun with good company. And I love how Spring here in Andalusia is such an interesting experience, because the weather at the beginning of Spring was all Summery, but it felt weird because outside it looked and smelled like Spring, although it really didn’t feel like it.

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Because Granada is small enough to be able to walk to many places, but big enough for it to take you at least 20 minutes, I had to accustom myself to walking rather long distances. I know it’s cliché, but at least personally and here in Granada, I started to understand why Spaniards are known for being unpunctual. Every time I walk to work or to class I have to pass through the city center, and although I can only window shop because I am in a hurry to wherever I need to be, most of the time I just cannot help but be late because I stopped somewhere for a few seconds too long. And the chances of bumping into someone you know are just too high, and when you do, you just have to have a quick chat because it is almost always someone you have been thinking of, or whom you still wanted to contact or meet up with soon.

At work, things are starting to really get interesting and dynamic. Once you adapt to the unpredictability of the organization and the country’s general structure and try to find your way around it, it can be really exciting. Nice opportunities pop-up regularly, like this international seminar co-organized by my organization. It included participants from six different countries, and the program was fast paced, incredibly intense and really inspiring.

I know I have been asked to write more ‘details’, and perhaps at some point I will. Right now I have to be brief though. I really appreciate all the beautiful souls I got to know here in Spain, and I especially love their sincerity, honesty, and reliability. I have grown to really love them and care for them, and I feel so blessed that they have crossed my path. Recently, I went up the old part of the city, and I bumped into an American Muslim woman I got to know in the first weeks I got here. She lives here and has her family (husband and kids) here, and I appreciated her the moment I met her. When she saw me she went something like: “I had to think about you this morning, I hadn’t seen you in a while and I wondered where you were and what you were up to, I was like: ‘Where is this kid!?’”. I just felt so much love being sent my way, and it really was an amazing feeling.

One of the things that became even more apparent to me in the past few weeks is how important it is to follow your gut feelings. What feels right, and what doesn’t? And if you’re not sure, it never hurts to pray.

The clock ticks life away!

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Today marks my third month here in Granada, Spain, and it is only now that I am able to attempt to really write a blog post. The truth is, I don’t even know where to start. I have gotten to a point where a lot of the ‘new things’ have become normal to me, like making tea by putting a cup filled with water in the microwave and heating it up with the tea-bag in it, or drawing a number at the supermarket Dani to buy my fruits and vegetables. And then there are the things that I have more difficulty with getting used to, like the whole siesta thing and having to work at night. Or that they pick up the trash here just past midnight and continue to do so for hours! Seriously, what’s with that?

These three months really feel like so much longer though, and apart from the fixed things like work and classes, it is really hard to predict what you will be doing in your free time. Something always pops-up and you never know where you will be spending the night: at what friend’s place will it be this time? I have gotten to know so many wonderful people here in Spain and I am going to have to say goodbye to a significant part of them pretty soon as they are exchange students or people finishing up their international projects. That’s something really characteristic especially of Granada: it is a moving city. People come and go, and the mix of people also constantly changes. It will never ever return to be the way it is right now with the people that are living here at this particular moment. I guess it is the same with a lot of other things or places, but somehow it is much stronger or more magnified here in Granada.

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Another thing that is really magnified in Granada is what people living here love to call its ‘magic’. You know how sometimes a person you know randomly pops-up in your mind and not long thereafter you bump into that person? It has happened to me a couple of times here, but I think I need to be more in sync with myself for that to happen even more often. But it does happen though, and it happens here more often than it ever did in any other place I’ve ever stayed at before. And I’ve been told that there is even more magic to Granada… So that’s definitely something I am looking forward to discover in the days, weeks, and months to come.

I guess I haven’t been too exhaustive in this post, but I intend on writing more regularly now! As for now, my siesta time is over. Vamos… al trabajo.

“If you were to…

 Lake on our way to Chefchaouen (2)

“If you were to rely on God as He should be relied on, He would provide for you as He provides for the birds. They go out in the morning hungry and return in the evening full.” – At-Tirmidhi

Yesterday marked my two and a half months’ stay here in Granada, Spain. It has been a roller-coaster ride so far, the bulk of which were all positive experiences. The theme of my stay here truly revolves around planning less and trusting life’s timing more–relying on God’s Plan. Because, honestly, all the plans we make almost never materialize the way we want them to. Often times amazing opportunities come unexpectedly and unplanned. One of them was my Spring Break trip to the amazing Morocco. I just got back Sunday 20th from a nine day road trip through that breathtakingly beautiful country. How this came about, you ask? Well, less than a month ago I met this Afghan-American girl on the streets of Granada who just started talking with me. We ended up spending the rest of that lovely day together. She told me that she was going to Morocco with some friends for Spring Break and invited me to join them. Right then and there I agreed to go with them, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this opportunity for the world.