This Kibbeh-saga image is inspired by the art of one of Vienna’s greatest architects, called Hundred Waters (HundertWasser). I got to know about his art the second time I paid Vienna a visit, one day after 9/11 turned the world into a gloomy place. The first time I visited Vienna, I was 9 years old, so I don’t think I “saw” much of the things adults pay attention to, including HundertWasser’s art.
The second visit was a bit weird. The world was still “alright” back then. I was part of a delegation that toured Austria. We took off on September 12, 2001. No one thought much of 9/11 back then; the media blizzard that turned the incident into the world’s biggest tragedy was still dormant.
We were a delegation of happy Arabs touring a “safe” world, we had no “war on terrorism” cloud hanging over our heads, no self-suspicions about our own motives, no fear of being misunderstood (at least not more than the naive image of the camels and tents they thought we left back home). We were warmly welcomed by Viennese tourism officials. Over dinner at one of Vienna’s top restaurants (can’t remember its name, but it overviews a chapel that got burnt in world war I or II), we didn’t speak about terrorists, or the West v.s East, we didn’t dwell on the divide, nor did we eye each other suspiciously. No one asked us if we could travel everywhere without facing visa troubles, no one cared about gloomy issues like that. We spoke about food, culture, and art – excessively. Well, four of us spoke about these issues, in a desperate attempt to camouflage what was going on elsewhere on the table.
We were a delegation of 14 women. Four of us, including this writer, were “normal” people with normal psychological problems, the rest were deranged females on their first-time trip ever outside the country. They looked hormone-driven with all the sexual innuendos, the harassment they gave men on the street, the things they told men. Even for us, the liberal bloc, some of the things we heard them say were shocking, especially that they were single & married, Christian & Muslim, veiled & unveiled women who decided they had a common goal: Let’s harass the men and vent all our sexual and social frustrations. The women looked like a mishmash of cultures, coming from every possible background you could think of. There was the hair-dyed, make-up painted women, walking side by side with veiled, body-odored females, and the mini-skirt kinda folk, in perfect harmony with Christian, short-haired ladies (stereotypes, stereotypes).
Honestly, some of them were ready to devour that half Egyptian, half Austrian tourism official who took us all out for dinner. They revived the Arabian tradition of the Harem around the guy (in a female-dominating kinda way, which made the guy cringe. He once called out for me – since I looked at him in a way that suggested: “They’re gonna eat you alive, poor you” – and said: “Ya sa7afa (media people), what are you doing over there?” – meaning – “girl with the compassionate look on her face, come rescue me Dakheel 3alaiki ana!”). Yes, the four of us, girls who didn’t want to rape the guy, sat on the sidelines of the most aggressive competition to win that man over for husband-ship. I could swear some of them were eye-ing him as a second husband!
Although that trip was culturally shocking, seeing my own country women turn into beasts around one another, I still remember it as the last of the “nice and fluffy” trips into the West. Light-headed traveling & light-weight conversation never took place from that trip onwards; once the 9/11 saga spiraled into very very dark directions. The cloud of a terror-fearing world has successfully formed by the 2nd week of our Austria visit.
9/11″mentality” kicks in !!
A man sat behind me and kept on peering over my shoulder to see what I was reading. It hit me that he must think I’m a terrorist since one of the deliverers of 9/11 “conveniently” left a copy of the Quran with maps and airplane manuals in the car that was found around the scene. I was a journalist, and we were trained to spot conspiracy theory and adopt it at light speed. I can claim I was one of the 1st people who saw where the world was going a few days from 9/11 (lol). I hate the West for injecting copies of the Quran in their media spins!
Anyhow, shortly after, an alarmed-looking woman approached and stood a few yards away, trying to think of a good excuse to talk to me. A third man with walky talky stood at the room’s other end. I saw what they were doing – but since I believed I had every right in the world to read the Quran wherever I was without being suspected of being anything other than a person reading Quran, I stayed put and continued reading while the tension built up in the hall.
A few passengers were asked to change their seats, while I was still reading. Then the man sitting in the seat row behind me stood up, the security woman approached, and the other guy closed in while others ran across from another hall. I thought that was the most ridiculous thing that ever happened to me! I couldn’t believe how extremely brainwashed people were and how stereotypes played a great role in forming people’s attitudes towards one another.
So, I kept reading on, and the woman (since I looked Middle Eastern) spoke to me (of course security people chose to overlook the fact I was wearing a nose ring, a knee-torn pair of jeans, and had my hair all over the place. Stereotypes that usually surround the bohemian kind failed me that day). The woman was very nice. She told me that she’d like to escort me to help me with my bag, since my bag looked a bit heavy for me. My bag was a fixation of hers. She tried to sound as VIP-ish as possible so I won’t feel I was suspect. I kept holding the Quran, and she offered to carry my bag for me.
On that trip I had one bag only, the type and size you could carry on the plane (and the whole idea was that I won’t have to stand at the belt when I arrived home, so I can bolt out of the airport as quickly as possible. I think I was traveling a lot back then and was getting sick of wasted time at airports).
El mohem, the woman insisted to carry my bag, faaa in order not to drill in her conviction of my terrorist inclinations, I allowed her to do so and acted as if I didn’t notice the army of agents walking on both our sides and behind us, I also acted oblivious to the fact that all the passages to other halls on the way were blocked by security people and that we were (excluding the security guys and gals flanking us) the only people heading towards the gate. At the gate, an officer – who looked like someone who had great authority – received me with a cold smile. He said something to the girl, and she looked at me and smiled warmly and said “Maam, let’s take your bag to put it in the baggage area in the plane, it’s heavy and we want you to be comfortable.” At that point, I threw away my composed posture, my I’m-innocent-and-have-no-idea-what’s-going-on looks, and decided those people aren’t making me wait at the baggage belt in my home country! The purpose behind traveling light will not be squandered just because the media machine decided to destroy the image of Quran carriers!!!
You can say I went crazy. Yes, I went crazy. I told them I had rights and I wasn’t stupid, and that they suspected I was a terrorist because I was reading the Quran, and that I noticed how they closed in on me, that I was journalist and I was going to efda7 them (scandalize them) in my own country and in the media, and that no way in hell that bag was going to Baggage (back then threats of this kind were plausible. I guess now if one says something like that, 3adi, they’ll bomb the offices in an accidental raid).
Faaa… I was so crazy with anger that they were actually afraid. The woman told me that they were sorry if I suspected anything, that they “closed in on me” because she thought the bag was a bit heavy for a lady like me – with torn up old jeans on (of course, the bag was feather-heavy and easy to carry) – and that it was airport policy to see to MY comfort. I told her, I didn’t want to feel comfortable and that my bag goes with me on the plane or I won’t be flying that day. She said a few words to the senior-looking man, who was inspecting my passport, and then told me yes, yes, the bag goes with me on the plane.
They inspected the bag, scanned it, opened it, played with it – and obviously ran a security check on me – then suddenly the mood changed. Of course el jama3a found out that my Quran-reading did not carry all the new significance the media had attached to it. They were smiling again, treating me with great ease, their eyes looked at me like I was just another passenger, and to make me feel “trusted” they let me “touch” my bag. Someone else carried it for me, but they let me touch the bag without making me feel like I was going to pull a string and detonate a bomb.
Of course, all of this happened while the security guys were opening chocolate wrappers that belonged to little children whose father wore Afghani-looking clothes!
This whole story was ignited by this morning’s Kibbeh cravings. Why is Kibbeh part of this story? Because my cravings reminded me of life’s little pleasures, and I tried to remember times in my life when I woke up this light-headed. I found out that ever since 9/11, mornings became heavier, life a lot gloomier. That Vienna trip was the last of my Kibbeh-spirited sprees. After which, the opening of light in the world was put out by myths of every kind, media sagas of every shape and fear-infested world dramas.