Posts in Books

Transatlantic Arabic reading

My friend Bassam disagrees with me. He tells me he avoids reading any Arabic publications on planes heading to the US.

“It’s out of respect for their fear,” he tells me. “What’s that supposed to mean? ” I ask.

“Well, you know. I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable while flying. You know how things are now.” “Come on, you’re not doing anything wrong,” I reply. “You should read the book that you like. It’s your right.”

Of course, we didn’t agree, because very few people agree with me on anything but that’s okay.

Unlike Bassam, I didn’t have any respect for anyone last month and decided to take the Egyptian bestselling novel Azazil (عزازيل) with me on a flight from Amman to DC. The first leg of the flight was from Amman to London. Reading a book that clearly displays “the scary language” was not a worry for me leaving from Amman. ِAfter all, the plane was filled with Arabic speakers who are used to seeing and reading “the language that should not be named.”

It was a great flight. I had three seats to myself. I kicked back and read for five hours while drinking wine and being served food and snacks. Nothing was expected from me and I felt elated.

The second leg of the flight was when I became nervous and started thinking about my friend Bassam and his no-Arabic-publication on-US flights policy. Do I really need to do this? I mean, I could just watch the in-flight entertainment and save myself all the trouble.

Cover of 'Azil'
The cover of 'Azazil'

Of course, as soon as the plane from London to DC took off, I pulled Azazil from my carry-on bag and put it on my lap. I had to get myself in trouble because that’s who I am. The middle-aged, all-American looking woman sitting next to me was reading a book that had the word Afghanistan in its title. A good sign, I told myself.

Somehow, I felt I needed to explain myself before I started reading my scary book. I felt I needed to talk to her to make her feel comfortable as she will be spending the next eight hours of her life in very close proximity to me (you know, United economy can get very cozy) .

To my surprise, she was the one who broke the ice and started the conversation. She started telling me about the book she was reading and how much she was enjoying it. Of course, that was my chance to show her my true colors. I showed her my novel and told her point blank that I was a bit nervous about reading it on the plane.

“Why”? she asked.

“Well you know. It’s in Arabic, and I have been reading lots of stories lately about people being stopped at airports and taken off planes just for carrying Arabic books. You know, some passengers get nervous if they see Arabic script on the plane.”

“Quite honestly, I’m very impressed that you actually can read it,” she said.

This is a very good sign.

A few minutes after our brief conversation, the flight attendant passed by us offering drinks.

“I can’t believe that on US flights they make you pay for alcohol,” I told the woman next to me (whose names I can’t remember now because I’m old). I felt I had to say something to keep the conversation going.

“I know,” she said. “You know what? let get me you a drink.”

” What? No you shouldn’t. Come on. You hardly know me”

“What do you like?”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course!”

“Okay. I will have some red wine.”

Just like that, a total stranger bought me a drink for absolutely no reason. It was such a random act of kindness and a nice welcome home to my newly adopted country, where people are genuine, friendly, and generous. Somehow, I proved my friend Bassam wrong. Not only can you read  Arabic on the plane, but some flyers find this impressive and might even buy you a drink or two.

I was hoping that by reading on the plane, I might shatter some people’s stereotypes of Arabic readers, but what happened was the other way around. My own stereotypes of Americans being scared of my native language on a transatlantic flight was deconstructed. There is no reason to fear or hide from who I am.  The fact of the matter is I am who I am and it is a great thing. After all, people buy me drinks!

‘The Geography of Bliss’ makes you happy

One of the best books I read in a long time is a travel book called “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner. It is really not your regular travel book, it is one with a twist. The author of this book travels the world looking for the happiest place on earth. This might sound cheesy to some, but trust me,  it is far from it. The author is smart, genuine, funny, and extremely witty. He takes you to faraway lands while making you delve into the deepest corner of your soul. He makes you think and reflect. He shocks, and fascinates you. He makes you laugh ad cry. In a nutshell, he makes you happy.

I read this book a few weeks ago on the plane on my way to Kathmandu, and it was a perfect choice for entrainment on that long flight. My favorite chapters are  his adventures in Qatar, Moldova and Bhutan.

The conclusion of the book might sound like a cliché to some: Money can buy happiness but not necessarily, happiness is relative, and happiness mostly comes from your family and friends. Some might argue that there is nothing new to this conclusion. I tend to disagree, it is not really the conclusion that matters, it is mostly the journey to get there.

Read this book!