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Open letter to my best friend in Palestine (that I’ll never get to see)

THERE IS REALLY NOTHING SECRET about the road. Alaa and I have mapped the way from al-Bireh in Ramallah and through the villages of Birzeit to Ein Yabroud, around and under the bypass road at the edge of the Ofra Israeli Settlement and Silwad, through the villages of Deir Jarir and Taibe. And we know precisely when we are leaving ‘Area A,’ those areas within the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority, and when we are entering ‘Area C,’ those areas of the deeply divided territory under full Israeli control — although all roads, regardless of area classification, are Area C. It’s important for you to understand, because there exists no road in all of Palestine where we ever really feel free.

But beyond Taibe, our road of legend. So sinuous, that we follow only the sky. So dangerous are its curves, that we feel safe here. So lost beyond the confines, that we feel found. Alaa is behind the wheel, and he gently heavies the weight of his foot against the gas pedal. We are not scared; it feels like flying, and I want to fly above our confines, given to us, placed on us, forced upon us. I release the buckle of my seatbelt and soar from the open window, arms stretched like magnificent wings. “Nobody can hear us,” I shout to him as he drives — and we are laughing, and alive. “Alaa, I want to scream to the sky!”

“Haifa, be careful!” — one last glance. The poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote of Palestine: Do not describe what I can see of your wounds. And scream that you may hear yourself, and scream that you may know you’re still alive. Alaa has this way of looking at me as though his heart is in his big brown eyes.

And so the cool night air takes my hair, and I scream to the desert valley before us, “CAN YOU HEAR US! I WISH FOR LOVE!”

Hysterical laughter, and I fling my body back inside and take his hand into mine — eidy fi eidek, Alaa. This is our sacred place. When I take the wheel from him, Alaa shouts from the window, “GIVE US A FUCKING BREAK!”


Mother as wingman in Santorini, Greece

“OH NO YOU DON’T,” my mother said. “You’re not going to jump off from there.”

“It’s deep enough,” I said, teetering on the edge of the schooner, the Aegean Sea below. In the distance, the white-washed buildings clinging to the edge of the caldera looked like snow.

“I forbid it!” she said.

“Mom, I’m 35.”

“Then act like it,” my mother called.

I leapt into the sea.

As I climbed the ladder back into the boat, the sandy-haired stranger smiled at me and winked. I had noticed him as soon as we had boarded the sunset cruise. He had smiled at me then, and being my mother’s daughter, I smiled back. He didn’t look like the usual tourist — sunburned, tennis-shoe-clad, a face tinged with an expression of awe and indigestion.

“What do you think you are, a mermaid?” my mother asked.

“Maybe,” I said and smiled over to the sandy-haired stranger.

My mother caught me and said, “What are you looking at?” even though she already knew.

After a hiking trip up Nea Kameni volcano and a swim in the cloudy warm springs, the tourists were settled back in the boat, drinks in hand, and the sandy-haired man played the saxophone, serenading the setting sun. My mother and I sipped Greek wine, listened to the breathy saxophone, a sound both sassy and serious. The music of a clandestine love affair. Or so I imagined.

It was my mother who’d asked him to ride up the rickety cable car back to Fira with us, who’d invited him to dinner. It was as if she wanted to make sure somebody was going to have a Shirley Valentine experience in Greece.

But this proved to be quite an ordeal, considering Benny, the Albanian saxophone player, had a repertoire of about 10 English words. He could speak Greek, Italian, and of course, Albanian. I can speak Spanish, a language closer to Italian than English, so we managed on Benny’s Italian and my broken Spanish, understanding about 7% of what the other said. We made it through dinner this way, eating takeout gyros on a park bench. He invited us to have drinks later at Enigma, the nightclub where he worked.

“That Benny sure is nice, isn’t he?” my mother asked.

“I guess so. It’s hard to talk to him.”

“He’s handsome.”

“Did you see he’s missing teeth. In the back?” I asked.

“Don’t be so judgmental,” my mother said.


When the rain doesn’t change anything

PETER AND I did a lot of things in the rain. We met in the rain at a bus stop after arriving by ferry from mainland Malaysia to the island of Penang. We hiked a mountain in the rain and were chased by monkeys on our descent. We ate many dinners together in intermittent silence as the rain drummed on the thin roof covering us. We had sex in the rain. The water drummed hard against the bamboo roof, and with the waves crashing hard against the beach a few feet away, I could barely hear the sound of him breathing heavily into my neck. It wasn’t because it’d been months since I’d felt the passionate need of a man on my skin that I lost myself and molded so effortlessly to his body, or even because of the way his thick hands wandered with such care from my lips, down my neck, across my breasts, and pulled me intensely to his chest. It was because he remembered the things I’d forgotten I’d told him two weeks earlier — things an intellect such as his shouldn’t have made note of in the first place — and the way he endearingly corrected my facetious remarks with factual statements — sincerely and without patronizing — that I felt, being four months and three time zones away from home, I could indulge in the best of what could come from being in the right place at the right time.
Keep reading.

10 ways to maintain a long-distance relationship

1. Schedule regular check-ins.

It seems kinda obvious, but if you can’t have dates because one of you is in Chiang Mai and the other one is in Cincinnati, you’re going to have to be proactive about scheduling time to see each other’s faces. Nothing makes someone feel important and part of your life like showing them they’re not “out of sight, out of mind.”

Build a Google calendar you can share to schedule dates, or have regular weekly or daily Skype calls. I met a girl at a magazine launch whose boyfriend was in the Peace Corps in Moldova, and she napped in late afternoon so she could get up at 3am and videochat him as he ate breakfast. That’s a little extreme, but you get the idea.


How to break up with someone while traveling

Don’t be a jerk.

Whether you’ve known your partner for two months or two years, you liked them enough to want to spend a whole lot of time with them. Unless something really dramatic has happened, chances are you still care about and respect them. So don’t wait until they’re asleep and check out of your shared hotel room with all your stuff. Don’t have a screaming match in the middle of Barcelona. Don’t act like an asshole in the hopes they’ll break up with you. All classic maneuvers in the breakup pantheon, these tricks can hurt even worse when someone is far from home and their support network.

Furthermore, just disappearing or causing a fight can actually be quite dangerous if you leave your partner stranded in an unfamiliar place or surrounded by ruffians. I had an abusive ex who used to threaten to break up with me while we were out exploring labyrinthine cities and refuse to tell me the way back to the hotel. Seriously uncool.

Keep reading.

How to join the Mile High Club

Plan ahead. If joining the Mile High Club is a spontaneous decision, you probably won’t be reading this article (unless you’re on a plane with wifi and you’re looking for some help, so I’ll keep it quick). Otherwise, planning ahead can make things easier. Don’t wear underwear and choose clothes that can easily be removed or zipped open (skirts are a must here). Also, make sure you have any protection you use close at hand. Very frustrating to get started and realize the condoms are still in the overhead compartment!

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What we must understand about our relationships before it’s too late

WHEN JEN AND I MET, we were in our 30s. We had both been through enough in life relationship-wise, but also with other challenges. Jen was a widow. She was married before but at the age of 25 became a widow. From talking to people who knew Jen growing up, she was always a very optimistic and loving person. But I think that experience had a huge impact on Jen and how she lived her life, her ideas about embracing life and following her dreams.

I was at a point in my life when I was trying to figure out who I was and what my purpose was. So as far as our relationship there was just this unspoken way about it that we didn’t want to make life difficult for each other. Life was hard enough. When you leave home in the morning and you go out in the world, life is kind of beating on you. You just put a helmet on and deal with these things. So we thought that when you come home, no helmets are allowed. Why make life difficult for each other?