Meet Jess Rizkallah: The Lebanese-American Whose Poem On Being Torn Between Being Arab & American Will Blow You Away

I’ve been into slam poetry for more than two years now and Button Poetry is one of my favorite YouTube channels. I love it so much that it’s the only YouTube channel for which I’ve enabled notifications.

Late last night, Lebanon-time, I get a notification that a new poem by Jess Rizkallah has been uploaded. Intrigued by the name, I open the YouTube video to find one of the most enriching, gut-wrenching poems I’ve listened to on that website in months.

In three short minutes, Jess Rizkallah was able to convey the struggles that she, a Lebanese-Arab-American woman in the United States goes through trying to juggle her Arab side with her American side, in a culture that is increasingly putting both of her components at odds. I mean just look at a creature like Donald Trump existing and at people, many of whom are Lebanese unfortunately, applauding him.

Jess Rizkallah is a Lebanese-American woman who’s trying to find herself in the dichotomy of cultures in which she is stuck. She is light-skinned enough to pass as white, but brown-souled enough for white people to call her on it and make her question who/what she is, and question she does: From the injustice her family went through, to the change of beauty paradigms in the United States that now include her and her sister (thanks Kim Kardashian?), to the politics in general that make her people feel like lessers.

The poem may be Jess Rizkallah’s personal experience, but I find it’s something most of us as Lebanese, who have been outside the country at certain points, who are immigrants, who might immigrate soon, have to deal with or have dealt with at a certain point: this need to assimilate while also wanting to maintain the semblance of who you are.

Find the transcript below:

i am but i’m not

white man says to my brown father

go blow up your own country i’m not buying a car from you

fires my father replaces him
with another white man.
the first time i hear my father cry,
my grandmother says a hail mary.
& he smashes the statuette of white jesus

we still brought it with us when we moved
to the white neighborhood where the children
broke eggs into our living room named us loud & dirty and the white father smiled at us
the next morning
as he mowed
his lawn.

& now white man leers at my brown sister
who no one believes is my sister he likes how exotic & kardashian she is all bellydancer hatching
from double apple smoke something entrancing
in the way she talks / way she walks
white man better keep walking say the Lebanese men who say they will protect my sister
they say they are her Big Brothers
i say No, actually I am her big brother.
I am all of her big brothers & I am her big Sister

so they tell me my problem: i’m too White
for them too loud & dirty won’t shut up, but they like the way i wear my shorts
& my arabic is too dull of the knife
my tongue could open them with so i let them
drive me home

then white man asks to use my phone
tells me i look like a Nice White Girl
not like those Not White girls winks. do i know what he means and suddenly
i hate him it is so easy to hate them

but it’s midnight by an alley on boylston & a strange man has
my phone so I just tell him No, I don’t know what you mean and suddenly I feel very much like a white girl because I am.

But I’m also not but when I’m scared
& I want to be, it’s not impossible it’s actually really easy.

but white girls still ask me where I’m from.

no, where are you really from? when you go back do you have to cover up?
& their boys love middle eastern girls
but oh man, all that hair would have to go

so i don’t shave anything for weeks because fuck you

then an arab man tells me he loves a woman with body hair
and i fantasize about setting fire to every individual hair on my body because fuck you

and my mother tells me i’ll never find a man if i don’t get rid of it

but she also tells me to be less american so less white? but i am white. so is she but she watched people die & still, white people called her the smelly immigrant

but white people invite me to their potlucks.
ask me to bring my mother’s food. they like me. except when i’m angry and they don’t like me. or when they don’t like my brown family.
i don’t look like most of my family.
i look like the people that hurt my family.

the census classifies middle eastern people as white but if we can be called terrorists and white people can’t then are we really the same?
is the distance between guantanomo and an acquittal just a pair of parentheses?
i’m safe in spaces others are not but invisible when my white friends make bomb jokes
when they say we deserve it
maybe i am the insurgent that hollywood says i am maybe they’re not safe from me from my tongue from its rage living in the space between
all my loud & my too much

& it’s funny
that’s the only thing white people and my people agree on
when they look at me

Lebanon Successfully Turns Army Day Into A Mortifying Freakshow

I get it if it’s Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day or any other day that has become, over the years, synonymous with commercialism and ways for advertisers all around the world to sell their products.

I get that 2016 has been proving a tough year so far. Our economy is going downhill, if that’s even possible. Inflation is going up. Roadster diner changed its menu. It’s a tough year out there to be Lebanese. And it just got tougher to swallow.

The horrors of 2016 continue today with Lebanon’s Army Day, celebrated every year on August 1st, becoming our new Mother’s and Father’s and Valentine’s Day. For lack of other words, bel lebnene: 7alabneha.

Ad agencies across country decided Army Day was yet another opportunity not to honor the army, but to pitch their new product in a way to sell it riding our army’s back. So everyone and their mother decided to do Army Day ads, of which this is a sample:

And just when you think that this would be the end of it, the yearly social media gaffe occurs with Virgin Megastores deciding to honor the army in their own way:

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Awesome, right? Except that picture is of an Israeli soldier. You’d think that such a mistake would not occur on Army Day, out of all days, let alone on any other regular day. You’d think a campaign such as this would go through several people before surfacing online, but guess again I suppose.

After posting the above screenshot on my blog’s Facebook page, Virgin were quick to take down the post and decide that pointing out the fact they were using Lebanon’s only enemy country to “give respect” to our army was us leading a “campaign” against them. I’ve begun to realize that this is the Lebanese way for companies to deal with backlash: it’s always a campaign, and they’ve never actually fucked up. Even if it’s a picture of an Israeli soldier.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 11.32.23 PM

And if you thought this was the end of it, you thought wrong.

Because this is the country of “la joie de vivre” and this is summer, and as we all know, you can swim and ski in the same day w hek, a Lebanese overpriced resort decided to flaunt its army love in the only way it knows how, other than parading its own overcrowded facilities of course: half-naked bodies dancing in a pool to a semi-remixed version of the Lebanese National Anthem.

I swear, you can’t make this stuff up:

Many may not see anything wrong with such a display, but I find it hard to find swimsuit-sporting half-intoxicated bodies prancing to your country’s national anthem as anything remotely approaching paying respect for your country or your army.

2016 will officially go down as the year when Lebanon commercialized its Army Day. It was probably a long time coming, but we’re officially there. I wouldn’t be channeling my inner Layla Abdul Latif much if I predicted next year to be worse, with more ads, more products that want to be sold, more people paying money to sell their products than actually contributing to the army in the ways that it can benefit from, all to the backdrop of a country so buried in the sand that Army Day passes by every year without us having a proper discussion about it.

You see, would ad agencies find Army Day to be such an enticing opportunity hadn’t we, as Lebanese, put the army on a pedestal beyond reproach?

See you next year. And happy Army Day. Ba3d fi Exotica ma 3emlet di3aye. 

Haifa Wehbe’s Sister Does Porn Disguised As “Music”

That awkward moment when the bar is being set so low for “music” in the Middle East that the singers we used to think were talentless begin to appear as producing valid art.

More than a decade ago, when Haifa Wehbe first started singing, everyone and their mother complained about how she was all sex and no talent. As people got used to what Haifa offered, her half-sister Roula Yammout figured it would be alright for her to break into the Lebanese and Arab music industry as well.

I guess she did not get the memo, however, that the tastefulness that her sister offers is not easily attainable. So she made a porno instead, and in doing so makes her sister look like the Oum Koutlhoum of 2016 when it comes to singing.

The song is titled “Ana Rola.” In case you remember, her sister also has a song titled “Ana Haifa” released early in her career. Between both songs, and I can’t believe we’re calling them “songs,” one can be considered a masterpiece compared to the other.

In her song, Roula Yammout claims that she can “fall for any guy” as she prances around in barely-there bikinis while sucking on pacifiers. I don’t get it. She should’ve just gotten a dildo and be done with it.

The following snaps summarize the whole video:

There’s literally nothing more to it than her breasts and her ass and her flashing them around in the hope of her vulgarity catching on and becoming the next big thing in the music scene.

This is not to give her a boost. Her video will make the round soon enough without needing us. After all this is Arabia, and you can smell the sexual repression, and you can almost see her naked. But it is a very scary moment, definitely, when this woman managed to find a producer willing to splurge on her making a porno   music video and probably did so happily, if you know what I mean, thinking that there is a possibility for her to actually make a “musical” dent.

I really hope they’re proven wrong because the only thing to be said about this is: what the fuck is this shit? Is she doing a demo for what the Khaleejis can expect?

 

Adeela & Why The Fans Of Nancy Ajram, Elissa, Other Divas Need To Be Less Butthurt With Jokes

Picture this, a sarcastic joke making fun of a Lebanese pop star ends up threatening one of the biggest and funniest pages to grace Lebanese and Arab Facebook.

Over the past few months, and in lightning-speed time, the sarcastic page calling itself “Adeela,” referring to the world’s biggest pop star Adele, was as famous in these parts of the world as the character it’s based on.

What started of as jokes placing a hypothetical Adele in an Arab setting soon became a scathing, sometimes over the top but often always spot on, critique of the state of the Arab pop scene. When Ahlam decided Lebanese were beneath her, Adeela was the first at the guillotines. When Beirut Madinati was running for elections, Adeela was voting for them in full force. The examples are endless.

However, with the evolution of Adeela from an Adele-sarcastic character to an all-seeing basher of Lebanese and Arab female singers, unless they’re called Julia Boutros, the amount of people that started to take offense at Adeela’s jokes started to rise exponentially.

It wasn’t that the jokes attacked their mother or father or religion – gasp – or family.

It wasn’t that the jokes were offensive in themselves to those people’s character.

No. Those people were so butthurt by a joke… about their favorite singing Diva, and at their forefront is the legions of fans of Nancy Ajram, Elissa and Maya Diab who almost managed to get Facebook to shut down Adeela’s page earlier today.

The sad part is that it’s more than likely their respective “Goddesses” couldn’t care less about being joked about. In these parts of the world, any publicity is good publicity. It’s not like Adeela making fun of a singer on Facebook is a Kim-Kardashian-Exposing-Taylor-Swift moment. And yet, the amount of offense that some people take at creative, and yet ultimately useless, jokes is beyond unacceptable.

Some of the jokes are as follows, as you can see few are those about whom there were no jokes:

Isn’t that the Arab way of doing things, though, so when someone “offends” you, your reflex to deal with that person is to silence them? It must be engrained in Arab DNA.

The picture that threatened the existence of Adeela’s page yesterday was the following:

Adeela Nancy Ajram Chicco

There’s really nothing to it. It makes fun of how Nancy Ajram seems to find her way as a spokesperson for everything in the Middle East. It was reported to Facebook as “offensive content and propagating pedophilia.” The extent some people go to is unbelievable.

So to the “fanzet” who think that jokes are something worth getting up in a fit about:

How about you make chill pills part of your daily routine? Why don’t you do some mental exercises to somehow boost your mental capacities to someone who doesn’t take personal offense at a joke targeting someone who will never be affected by it and who doesn’t relate to you in any way other than you fangirling over them releasing a song after Eid el Fitr?

The fact of the matter is we need pages like Adeela in these parts of the world, not only to serve as a much-needed comic relief that never borders on the cliche, but also to maybe, just maybe, shake some sense into our over-botoxed, over-stretched, over-faked scene. Who knows, maybe the next Arab revolution is not about changing political systems but reducing lip fillers?

Let’s Help 56 Year Old Rozine Moughalian Get The Liver Transplant That Would Save Her Life

Rozine Moughalian is a 56 year old mother of two from Bourj Hammoud and if she doesn’t get a liver transplant within a month, Rozine will be no more. This is as simple as that statement could be formulated.

Over the past three months, Mrs. Moughalian developed subacute liver failure. Doctors have not yet been able to identify a cause but her condition has deteriorated so fast that the only cure for her is a liver transplant operation, one that no hospitals in Lebanon can do.

As such, in order to save her life, Rozine’s Moughalian’s daughter, Catherine, turned to the only entity that she knew had the power to save her mother: us. This is not the time to disappoint.

We have less than 10 days to raise the required hefty amount to ensure that Mrs. Moughalian is covered for the operation and all its associated expenses. I believe we can do this. A couple of years ago, we all got together and pitched in to give my friend Simon a fighting chance at beating his leukemia. Let’s do the same for Rozine, a psychologist and a mother, who still has plenty to give to her family, her country and herself.

We should not let Rozine be the victim of the Lebanese condition, where only those who are rich enough can access healthcare while those who can’t pay up wait for their souls to be reaped. This is not how things should be and we should not allow it. Minister Wael Faour, if you or your people happen to read this, it is your duty as a minister of health to make sure that citizens like Rozine, who at times like these need governmental assistance the most, to get it and have a fighting chance at life. This is as important as ensuring coverage for those above 64 years of age.

Donate here.

The following is a statement from Catherine Moughalian, Rozine’s daughter:

My mom, Rozine Moughalian, is a 56 year-old psychologist and mother of two. She lives in Bourj Hammoud, an area that has been recently piled with garbage and darkened by black smoke from burning trash. In the last three months, my mom developed subacute liver failure, which doctors were unable to diagnose and suspect possible drug or toxin exposure. The condition developed quickly, and mom went from working three jobs two months ago to being hospitalized with a terminal condition today. She is currently in need of a liver transplant without delay (within the next two weeks).

It is an extremely difficult process to find donors and secure funds in such a short period of time. So, due to bureaucratic procedures and time constraints, she can’t receive a liver transplant in Lebanon and it was recommended by doctors that she be transferred abroad for proper assessment and treatment. We are currently aiming for transferring her to Iran or India, these being the cheapest options. France was also an option earlier but it costs double what the surgery would cost in Iran or India.

Mom does not have the money for such a surgery, and she doesn’t have access to free quality healthcare. We need to raise at least 200,000 USD by the end of the month to be able to fund her surgery or it will be too late.

I find it absurd that my mom won’t get to live out the month because we can’t afford the money or a donor. She has the right to access free medical care, she has the right to get appointments with doctors without wasta, and the right to be admitted into the hospital at the expense of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) without having to wait a day in the ER while we make the “right calls to the right people.”

In a country where our basic rights are not available, or only available to a select few, sticking together is more of a basic need than duty. If you feel you can donate, any amount will bring us closer to the goal of keeping my mom alive.

I understand if you can’t donate, but please share this message with people who you think can help, either financially or by pointing us to people who have had a similar experience and can help with procedures and logistics.

I urge you to gather your resources as I am gathering mine. Thank you for reading this.

In solidarity,

Catherine Moughalian

If you have means of helping other than donations please contact me:

catherine.moughalian@gmail.com 961 3 098 817

Three Men Raped A 16 Year Old Girl From Tripoli… But They Won’t Go To Jail

Welcome to the land of where the value of women is contingent upon the flap of skin resting at the precipice of their vagina, where their rights are fluctuating based on the mood of the men that enable them and where our girls are taught, from the moment they open their eyes, that them being the second sex does not invoke otherness but rather rank.

A few days ago, in the Northern city that I love, a 16 year old girl was a victim of the Lebanese condition three times.

She was the victim of this sex but no sex country, where the level of repression we instill in our people is so high that some find the only way to release is to violate other people’s sanctity. That girl was violated by three men in one of Tripoli’s suburban areas.

Her ordeal did not end there, however. Following the breaking of the news, Lebanon’s media saw it best not only to discuss her ordeal at length, but to give out her full name for everyone to read, to diffuse and to memorize. Not only was this helpless, violated woman a victim of the barbaric horny men who saw her body as nothing more than a piece of meat, she was also victimized by a media system that saw her horror as nothing more than an opportunity for them to title their articles and news reports with: “in names, in pictures and in video.”

And then she became the victim of a judicial and political system that will now see the men that violated her go out of jail, with the only thing about them harmed being their ego that has been bruised, not that would matter because, at the end of the day, they will remain men with penises that can fuck whichever vagina they please and she will remain a girl who has lost that flap of skin and as such is relegated to another level of human worth.

The father of the girl in question dropped the charges under the pretext that his daughter had consensual sex with the aforementioned men. Yes, because the story that she was actually raped is just so hard to believe so it’s spun, under pressure from all kinds of kinds, into a story in which she wanted to have three men take turns on her, not that it matters because one marriage proposal would’ve fixed this in the eyes of the law anyway.

Yes, it’s easier to believe that the girl whose rights are being violated the same way her body was willingly had sex with three men than to believe the three men that had her are being backed by a certain political side in Tripoli to make sure they get out of this unharmed.

Yes, it’s easier for three men to rape a woman in Lebanon, leave her bruised, with traumatic memories to last her a life time, than it is for me to name the politician in question in this piece, or in the hypothetical scenario of tweeting something bad about that fictional Lebanese president of ours. We sure have our priorities sorted out people.

It’s easier for people in our country to believe that this woman had consensual sex than to believe she was raped. It’s easier for people to make up all kinds of excuses than to look at what happened right in the face and try to advance our society a little bit forward. It’s not what she’s wearing. It’s not how she’s acting. It’s not related to anything about her except that she did not want to have sex, and yet she was forced to.

Welcome to the country where the husband of Manal Assi, who murdered her in cold blood in domestic abuse, gets less jail time than someone caught smoking pot. I have no words. I hope one day the girl in question finds a state of mind in which she can sleep at night.

Lebanon Panics As It Faces Wave of Pokémon Refugees

Pokemon Go

With the advent of “Pokemon Go,” Google and Nintendo’s latest advent into the mobile gaming industry, Lebanese were dumbfounded to find their home country becoming, overnight, a playground for creatures they had thought were long gone from their memory by now.

Home to around 4 million people, this small Mediterranean country now houses over 2 million refugees. As its boundaries are overtaken by Pokemon, security officials are scrambling to make sense of the situation, while calls to strengthen border control remain ever present. Lebanese minister of foreign affairs was overheard saying, according to sources, that the situation has become “unbearable” and that “heida yalli ken ba3d na2esna, ya ma7la yalli ablon.”

The sentiment is echoed in Lebanese streets. An Achrafieh resident who preferred to remain anonymous angrily breathed into my recorder saying “enough is enough! We dealt with those Syrians and Palestinians thinking that was it. But those colored things? What is this? Do they think we’re Japan? Thank God that Vogue reporter was here before those creatures arrived!”

Numbers indicate that most of the Pokemon in question have taken up residence in the area stretching from Downtown Beirut, up to around Jbeil, or what is referred to in Lebanese colloquial terms as “Jabal Lebnen, ard l soumoud wel 3onfouwen.”

“When will MTV or LBC or any other Christian outlet discuss this horrifying rampage?” Joseph, a resident of the Keserwani city of Jounieh, was heard saying. “The threat to our Christian areas is increasing by the moment. ISIS is at our border. You’ve seen what they just did in Nice! The Syrians are here and those leftists hang you if you say anything. But now those Pokemon are among us, and next thing you know those Pikachu will be taking our jobs in electricity, among other things. Is this acceptable? We fought all kinds of barbaric invaders to stay here, it’s like they want us to leave!”

His friend Georges agreed, further saying: “How will we keep our lands now? It’s been horrible enough to try and prevent sales to others. The Lebanese government needs to intervene, this is a matter of national security.”

Pokemon Go is an app whereby, using augmented reality, the real world becomes filled with those Pokemons we grew up watching. In order to catch them all, you need to walk around your neighborhoods and city, wait until those creatures contact you, and try to capture them. The goal is to become the master of all those Pokemon and to hold as many gyms for your team as you can.

“If Sheikh Saad wants us to host these Pokemon, then we will.” Omar from Tarik El Jdide commented. “Bass beine w beinak, l wad3 ma ba2a ye7mol.”

Beirut’s leftists, on the other hand, are having a field day trying to quench the Lebanese desire to assault the Pokemons and establish curfews. “Municipalities want to register them, enforce curfews upon them, and we’ve also received intel that some municipality officers have lined up those Pokemon for illegal questioning. Pokemon rights need to be respected above all. This kind of hateful attitude towards these creatures seeking refuge in our country is unacceptable,” Alaa Sabhani, a prominent activist went on record saying.

Alaa’s colleague, Ramez, further added to the aforementioned point saying: “We have to grasp and appropriate the level of horror that these minorities are withstanding in our communities. What have we become other than soulless creatures roaming around this capitalist corrupt imperialistic-designed piece of land they call a country?”

Further South, Hussein Nasrallah was adamant about Hezbollah’s readiness to fight this invasion: “If we need to go all the way to Japan to stop them from coming here, we will.”

The image up North is entirely different, however. While the majority of Pokemon decided to take up residence in Mount Lebanon and the Greater Beirut area, crossing the Madfoun towards Batroun and Tripoli reveals nothing more than a perfectly deserted land.

“Honestly, who gives a shit,” Ismail – from Tripoli – went on record saying. “But at least now people in the country are more worried about that than Tripoli’s municipal council not having any Christians.”

Indeed, similar to their real-life counterpart, North of the Madfoun is an area devoid of Pokemon or facilities in which those Pokemon could train, eat or do what it is that those Pokemon do. When Niantic, the Google subsidiary responsible for the app was contacted, their reply was as follows: “What is Lebanon and why are you concerned about its North?”

Foreign journalists are flocking into the country to report on the matter as well. “I’m so glad to be given new material,” Justin Jones, a reporter for the New York Times was overheard saying at one of the overpriced pubs he was paid to visit in Beirut. “This Lebanese joie de vivre cannot be more correlated and exquisitely manifested than with these wonderful new additions to their country.” Rumors say he was romantically involved with a Jigglypuff.

Of course, the Lebanese joie de vivre is best exemplified by the lala-landers of the country who couldn’t remotely care. “Ben oui, j’pense que they aghe totally adoghable! Main’ant I have captured a Squirtle. J’aime squirting. C’est tres in!”

How will Lebanon handle the continuing influx of Pokemon into its land? Time will tell.