Circle Pines

Last year my daughter got to experience something I never thought I’d be able to give her: a week at summer camp. This year she’s going back for two.

I’ve always been wary of summer camps. It’s cultural, but it’s also marginalization. Camp always felt like a thing for Rich White People and not a thing for queer undocumented Arabs who make less than most people’s car payments per month.

So when I found Circle Pines, through a couple different friends I was thrilled.

This is a camp that teaches the same values I hold: community, justice, social responsibility. It’s a camp where I can talk to the director and the intake volunteers about being worried that my ex might show up, and being assured that he won’t be able to take my kiddo. It’s a place where my daughter can talk about the things that worry her, the cultural biases, the gender prejudices, and the experiences of navigating then world as a mixed race child of an undocumented parent. She can learn about good stewardship, about community management of shared resources. She can go on hikes and explore nature and learn about bugs and plants and biology and all the lovely science things she reads about.

She can socialize and make friends and teach the different cultural songs and dances she’s learned with friends that have never been exposed to them. And she can learn theirs.

I’m not sure I can ever adequately describe the impact this camp has had on our family. It’s been massive, and wholesome, and appreciated.

So if you’re like me, wanting to give your kids an opportunity that is in line with your values and ethics, and struggling to find a place where you know your kids pronouns and gender will be accepted and appreciated, where their cultures will be shared and respected and not appropriated, where they’ll learn the value of community, and their responsibilities as community members? Send them here. I promise it’s worth it.

*note, I don’t get paid or benefit in any way from this post. In case you were worried.https://www.circlepinescenter.org/summer-camp/

On Immigration

CONTENT NOTE: MENTION OF INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE AND IMMIGRATION

Last week I met with the local branch of Justice For Our Neighbors, a legal clinic that helps undocumented and other immigrants with their immigration process.

I’m applying for status under the Violence Against Women Act. I qualify for this pathway because of how I ended up undocumented in this country to begin with. It’s a long, messy story.

I haven’t heard back yet if they’re going to take my case or not. In the meantime, I’ve been forcing myself to write out my affidavit.

I ended up in the US after flying to New Mexico for what I thought was my honeymoon. My husband and I were planning on visiting his parents, then road tripping back to Toronto. That’s not what happened though. He kept delaying our return until out of fear of becoming undocumented, I finally agreed to stay in the US. He took my passport, the immigration paperwork I had downloaded from the internet and filled out, and the money for the fees and never filed. I don’t know what he did with it all.

Years later, when the abuse was evident, I tried to leave. He told me if I did, he would call the police, and I would be arrested immediately and deported, and I would lose my kids. He told me he never filed the immigration paperwork.

I stayed. I kept hoping I could convince him to go back to Toronto with me. I thought if I could be a better wife, then he wouldn’t hurt me anymore.

Part of the VAWA application for status involves breaking down in detail the abuse that happened in my marriage. It’s a messy and triggering affair, and I have yet to sit down for a writing session without being hit with all the emotional ups and downs that come with talking about it. Even now, four years removed from my husband, I still find myself caught in the gaslighting and the anxiety. Could it be my fault? Did I make him hit me?

Logically, I know better. I know from working with other domestic violence survivors that we all have these feelings, and that they never really fully go away for some of us. They’re there, in the back of our minds, reminding us that we’re never going to be fully free, that everything is our fault, even when it isn’t.

One of the biggest obstacles to healing from domestic violence is learning to love yourself again. Learning to trust your gut, to have faith in your abilities. That asking for help to achieve your goals, and protect your autonomy doesn’t make you incapable or weak. In fact, it makes you stronger.

So here I am, looking at the fear I left behind, and comparing it to the love I have ahead of me. I need to keep reminding myself that things are better now, and they’re going to be even better once I get my immigration sorted.

I’m surrounded by people who love me. Despite my husband’s best attempts to convince me otherwise, I am lovable, and loved. I am not useless, I am not worthless, I contribute to my community. My kindness isn’t a lack of intelligence, it’s a willful choice to see the best in people, and to want to do the best for my community. And letting my community support me through this process doesn’t make me a terrible person. It just means I’m welcome, and I’m not alone.

If you would like to contribute to the fundraiser my community put together for me, you can do so here.

I Love You

Hey. Hey you.

Over there.

I don’t know you. Not personally. We’ve never met. But I love you. I love the way you move through this world, trying your best. I love the way you wake up every morning, even when it’s hard. I love you when you drag yourself out of bed and move forward with your day. I love you when you can’t do it today, and stay in bed and sleep. I love you with your hair done, and I love you even when you pick cheese balls out of your tangles.

I love you when you’re crying, smiling, laughing, or sobbing.

I love you, even when your monsters are winning.

I love you, even when it’s hard, even when you don’t love yourself. I love you without condition, without fail. I love you even if I walk away from you. I love you for you, for all your good and your less-good. I love you when you’re angry, when you’re scared. I love you.

Olivia: Or Loving A Cat With FeLeuk

I volunteer with a local cat rescue. In addition to fostering cats, I spend Fridays at the rescue office helping folks adopt, scooping poop, and making sure all these lovely four legged furballs are fed and watered and loved on.

My rescue currently has a cat in the office named Olivia. Olivia is the sweetest, friendliest, most affectionate cat I’ve ever met. She’s often riding on my shoulders while I clean her room, and I often spend extra time just sitting there with her sleeping in my arms. Trying to leave the room is heartbreaking — Olivia hates being alone, but she has to be.

Olivia has Feline Leukemia. It’s a highly contagious infectious disease that doesn’t affect humans, but can lead to death within three years in about 85% of infected cats.

Initially cats show no signs. They seem healthy and fine, but as the disease progresses, they eventually lose their appetite, lose weight, develop a persistent fever and pale gums.

It makes cats like Olivia, who are so loving, so playful, and so kind virtually unadoptable. They can only go to single cat homes. They can only go to families who understand that these cats likely won’t survive the 15-20 years your average pet cat does.

People who adopt FeLeuk cats are rare. They’re an exceptional breed of humans who cares more about the cat’s quality of life than they do. They adopt knowing they may only have a few years with their new buddy, but committed to making sure that those few years are going to be the best years of that cat’s life. People who adopt FeLeuk cats do it knowing the heartbreak, and the difficult decision they’re going to one day have to make, and deciding that it’s worth it, so that cats like Olivia can have a few years of stretching out in sunbeams, of riding shoulders, of purrs and pats and snuggles.

Our rescue doesn’t adopt out FeLeuk cats lightly. They can only go to homes that don’t currently have any cats that are negative for FeLeuk, to adopters who understand the very serious reality of adopting a cat who is positive.

Olivia is going to be at the rescue for a while, I’m sure. And I’m going to be there every Friday loving on her until she finds her home.

If you would like to adopt Olivia or another special needs cat or dog in the Kalamazoo, MI area, check out Kalamazoo Animal Rescue’s Special Needs Pets adoption page. You can also donate to the rescue’s continuing costs by clicking here

Rose and Halim

Let me tell you about my grandparents, Tata Rose and Jiddo Halim. They grew up in Haifa as neighbors. Jiddo’s family were Christians, and Tata’s were Jewish.

It didn’t matter then. They both thought of themselves as Palestinians. Jiddo was always in Tata’s kitchen, rifling through the pantry. Their parents were friends. Jiddo called Tata’s mother Khalto Nada: Auntie Nada.

Jiddo’s mother, Zamileh and Nada were best friends. The families ate together nearly every week, and Zamileh went out of her way to make sure that she had kosher recipes for when Nada ate with them. The two women spent nearly as much time together as my Jiddo and Tata.

Tata and Jiddo were always running through the streets of Haifa. Where one was, the other could always be found, whether they were sitting under the fig trees in Jiddo’s yard, or soaking their feet in the salty water of the Mediterranean. You could find them by their laughter.

This was before the war.

My grandparents were only 16 when they fled the violence. Jiddo’s family ran away to Lebanon for safety. Tata’s family joined. They wanted their children to be safe and happy, and that wasn’t much of an option in Haifa anymore. They gave up their homes and their belongings, ran for the beach, and followed the coast line into Lebanon, hoping for safety.

They lost everything but each other. It wasn’t long after they made it to Lebanon that my grandparents married. Tata moved into Jiddo’s home, and together they eked out a small living raising seven children together. They made Beirut their home, never once forgetting the beautiful streets of Haifa where they held hands, chasing frogs like Palestinian children of every faith used to, back before your faith defined you.

My Name Is Aila

One of the most frustrating things about existing as a person of color in our society is the subtle ways in which you are not considered a person.

I’m Arab. I’m Palestinian by way of Lebanon. I’m olive skinned, dark-haired, and I bellydance. I do a mean dabke. I wear a keffiyeh. I walk into grocery stores speaking Arabic and hunting through the meagre international aisles for a tiny taste of home. And people ask to take their photos with me. People ask me where my hijab is.

“How long have you been in this country?”

“Where are you from?”

“Wow you speak good English!”

I’ve had people explain to me that in This country we speak English, not “Muslim”…while I was speaking Dutch. Because any language that comes out of my mouth must be “Muslim.” Like I’m not an atheist born to Christian/agnostic parents.

It’s the people who start crying and talking about how difficult it must have been for me to leave my home behind, how happy I must be that that I live in a civilized country now.

I dunno lady, I was born in Germany.

It’s the people who stop their bicycles while I’m walking down the street to talk to me.

Do they have bicycles where you’re from?

Where I’m from? You mean Canada?

It’s the women in grocery stores who tell me I’m wearing a pretty scarf, like my keffiyeh is just a scarf, and not an important cultural symbol, like it doesn’t carry meaning. Like it isn’t my single most prized possession.

All the small ways we are made into novelties. Shiny caricatures of strongly held stereotypes, and no amount of correction seems to break their delusions of who we are.

My name is Aila. I foster cats. I like knitting, aquariums, and cooking. When I’m really excited about something, I jump up and down and I clap. I love punk music. I sing “You are my sunshine” to my children every night. I love deeply. I always do my best to be kind. I’m more than an object for you to make yourself feel good. Won’t you see me?

On Community

I’ve had a pretty rough couple of weeks lately. Things have been exceptionally difficult with expense after expense piling up, friendships ending, responsibilities overtaking me, and the loss of both a foster cat, and one of my pets.

It’s been overwhelming, but I’ve been okay. My community has stepped in to back me up wherever it can.

My friend Malorie has been helping me pick my youngest, Bug, up from school. Andy leaves work on his lunch break to drive Bug to his preschool class, and makes sure I have a key to his house so I can find somewhere quiet to catch up on work. Nathan makes me a lunch and leaves it in the fridge so I don’t have to spend time making my own. Mara drove an hour with her father in law to help me take care of some roommate business. Julia went and picked up my cat’s ashes so that I wouldn’t have to.

Multiple friends send me reassuring messages and reminders to eat and stay hydrated throughout the day.

I haven’t had community for most of my life, and having one now is a genuine feeling of ease and comfort. I don’t have to worry as much. I can help my friends, and they can help me. We weren’t built to live solitary lives, we were built to love, and to work and fight together to survive.

We can’t survive without a community, and the single most powerful act of compassion we have at our disposal is our willingness to risk everything to keep each other afloat. In a society where we often find ourselves subjugated, alone, and struggling, our most powerful tool is our willingness to love each other.

Share The Love (Even With Yourself)

I spend a lot of time worrying if I’m kind enough. I always want to be the person who responds to a situation with compassion and empathy. And sometimes that backfires. Sometimes people take advantage of that empathy and compassion.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is to share that empathy and compassion with myself. It’s so easy to blame myself when people do things that hurt me. I desperately want to believe that we all get what we deserve, and that my actions towards others are always fair and reasonable, but that’s rarely how it works. Our decisions and perceptions are often colored by the various experiences we’ve had with our lives. Those of us who experience mental illness or trauma may see attacks where there aren’t any, or try desperately to help people whose actions intentionally or unintentionally hurt us, with no regard to our own mental health.

When people are hurting us, it’s okay to say no and to walk away. It doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It means that we’re not the best person to help them right now. It means that as much as we love the other person, we also love ourselves, and we deserve to be treated with kindness.

I can’t fix people. I can lead them to resources to help them help themselves, but I can’t do the work for them. I have a responsibility to myself to treat me with the love and kindness I want to give other people. That’s easy to forget sometimes.

On Hopepunk

We live in a world where many of us struggle every day. We struggle to be heard, to be valued, to survive in a universe that seems set on making our lives as difficult as possible.

Some of us are struggling to pay the bills, to eat, to raise kids on our own. It’s hard and the world seems so full of pain.

Sometimes, even acts of kindness end up feeling like chaotic nightmares. There’s no such thing as perfect victims, and that’s never more apparent than when you’re bailing someone out of an abusive situation, only to have them turn on you in a misguided effort to keep themselves safe.

Even in cat rescue, there are weeks when you feel like there’s no hope. Like you can’t handle one more dying kitten, one more abused cat. Like there’s so many sad moments, and not enough wins.

Those are the moments when finding a sliver of hope in a vast, cold expanse of suffering feels impossible. These are the moments when it’s the most important to keep going. To keep fighting, to keep acting with kindness and love, even when it blows up in your face, even when you’re scared and hurt and afraid. Even when you’re not sure you can afford to hope anymore.

You are at your most punk when you’re creating that hope. Keep fighting. Keep breathing, keep going. The world is a better place with you in it, standing there, holding the line with your beautiful self.

You matter, and I love you.