Dear hippocampus,

Bilal Zaiter
8 min readFeb 28, 2021


I have some confessions to make

40 years ago, i was younger. You were fresher. We did not meet because i was young and you were too. Then we both grew up a little bit more. You faster though. But still, I did not pay enough attention to you. You have always been there but i did not know. Simply i did not recognize. In the beginning, no one told me, then when i started growing up nothing changed.

Then one morning, in a boring winter day, I was introduced to you briefly during a biology class at school. The class was in a classroom with windows besieged with iron bars. Yes, this is how most of schools in Syria looked like. My childhood. Our childhood. A childhood of generations took places in such schools. This is not the middle east. This is not Syria. This is Syria under the rule of one of the most oppressive regimes known in history. And in that context, and in that hostile environment, i was introduced to you. You were not introduced to me. You were just one among that group’s members that i was introduced to collectively. And honestly, you were not the center of my attention at that time. You did not even grab my attention. Not that you did not manage to make a good first impression but it is just that the teacher was bad. The introduction was awful and maybe that was one of the reasons i realized later in my life how important the role of a facilitator is. So, i am sorry for both of us, that the intermediary was not qualified, the environment was not supportive, and the context was not helpful and that you and me did not manage to meet properly at that time.

Then that’s it. That was the meeting and that was the goodbye.

I never met you again and i never tried to find out about your news. I forgot you.

You are responsible for that too.

Dear hippocampus,

Yes, you are responsible too. You are one of the very special regions of my brain involved in my learning and my memory. You were involved in shaping my memory, what i remembered and what i forgot, and this is how and why you were exposed to my life. This is how you were involved in making my life. So maybe it is time to have a real talk. You and me.

Darling hippocampus,

You remember, how during my very early youth years i tried to grow my hair long. But then you also remember for sure how i was triple-shamed by close community members and by society at large. I was told, i look like a gay, like a woman, and ugly. As if being a woman or gay or ugly is a stigma. But you know how socializing works. You know how wrong and harmful practices can be easily normalized. I was nurtured in those communities that do not appreciate many of life diversities. But I do not blame society, i do not blame you. I do not blame me.

My conversation about identity always looks and feels and smells like an onion. A mental onion. It does not smell great anyway and the more I peal, the harder the smell gets. Let me draw a nicer and more helpful picture. Yes let me, because you are involved in learning and memory. So let me pick up a more pleasant past experience as an example. Yes, Thank you. A nest sounds and feels warmer and more relevant. Nesting rather than peeling an onion. This feels like nesting. The work between memory, language and learning sounds like nesting.

Back to my hair story, so i grew it anyway. Until one day, under huge pressures, describing my curly hair as ugly ugly ugly i took a [stupid] action. I used -wrongly- a hair-straightener cream that made me lose certain parts of my hair -forever-. Damage. Big damage. Who was the solo responsible? Me.

Well, I did not arrive suddenly to that wrongdoing. I was learning it. Better put maybe, i was absorbing it. Until i was fully saturated with the idea that the norm is the straight hair and nothing else. Since i was a kid i used to take great care of making my hair look as straight as possible. Using all the possible ways. The easiest and funniest was to wear sort of pirate piece of cloth and tighten it hard to my hair to make sure it will stay straight enough for as long as possible after i remove it once i leave home. Horrible? Yes, now that i make this confession, it sounds horrible. But honestly, it is also funny how we — yes we — impose and mainstream certain social practices without even realizing how harmful they can be. The most scary part about status quo is that it is silent. It does not draw attention and it just clones and imprints itself into the hearts of its passengers.

With girls the situation was even worse and much harder. A woman with a curly hair has minor chances to be admired or even noticed as a favorable person.

Where all this prejudices came from when the majority of Syrians and Palestinians in Syria had curly hair? Hollywood most probably and the western inferiority complex. My mother knows this very well. She recalls very well how when she was teaching English as a second language in Kuwait back in the 60s, many people used to fight for anything imported. Anything imported - [foreign goods]- is automatically qualified over local ones. In Syrian the situation was similar, except that there were not much [foreign goods] under Assad (1970s until the father died in 2000 and his son with his Syrian-British wife started to import everything).

We grew up overestimating the [foreign goods] and disgracing [foreign humans]. We grew up under-estimating ourselves and giving ourselves very little credit, chances, and respect. Ending eventually with that big-self-hate.

You also have your responsibility and you are a victim. You are the memory and the learning. You are the lesson and the teacher and you are the student. In today's trending words you are the model. The machine learning model. You get the input and you render it out. Then you take other input and you change the output results based on the newly learned experience and so on. Self-sufficient, Self-dependent and autonomous but you are not self-conscious. You need to be monitored and this is where you and me failed to make a good relationship . Why? Again because we were introduced to each others, actually, you were introduced to me in a -shitty- way, context and environment. The experience was not pleasant and the learning was near zero. I said near.

You know how does it feel when things start badly and then we continue to feed them the same unpleasant fruits.

Like my experience with my body. For a long time, i hated my body because of my chest hair. It took me 20 years to meet women who would assure me that for them that was sexy. A total shock. In the beginning i could not translate this. Was it something cultural or personal! Was it social or psychological! Then i understood there was no need to categorize the world. But that is another story for another day. Because it is the same story around Islam in the west. Islam is most of the time introduced in a shitty way, context and environment and then this first learning occasion keeps getting highlighted and emphasized until it is imprinted in the memory. This is when categorizing and eventually polarizing happen. And this is how polarizing turns into weakening fragmentation. It is the same story within Islam itself. The world for many Muslims is either black or white. Either day or light. Either death or life. Either heaven or hell. All the nuances are hijacked and buried under thick layers of memory.

Dear hippocampus,

Yes, it is the same with religions. I have always preached inter-religions understanding but i never lived it truly until the first time i slept with a woman of another religion. Borders crossed and walls were knocked down. Such a feeling. This explains why ‘make love’ is not just a hashtag. It is a mind -set. However, it is problematic as the slogan continues ‘Make love ….Not war’. Why is it necessary to be contradictory in order to highlight the power of love?

Is not it enough to say: Make love!? Yes, i think it is enough.
Because since i was too too too young a great part of my identities both, the personal and the national ones were based on positioning self against an enemy. Sarcastically enough, eventually, i will discover that even this enemy was hypothetically presented most of the time. Identity, my identity and the identity of many Syrians, Palestinians, and many Arabs is based on defining ourselves as the counterpart of the Israelis.

Now, take this a step further — which thanks to my parents, neither me nor my siblings needed to experience it — and replicate this to see the dangerous and damaging implications when Muslims, Jewish, Atheists, Christians, Buddhists position themselves against the others. Or when WE position ourselves against THEM.

Dear hippocampus,

So why all the confessions? What do you have to do with them? And why am i angry at you?

I am not. I am not angry at you. I am just frustrated. Because you were receiving and reflecting without drawing my attention. This is my problem with you. With my shoulder i have a clear problem but it is not as sophisticated as this one with you. My shoulder hurts me. I have a problem with it when the pain gets stronger but i can not throw any blame. Because it is giving me the sign, the big alert: There is something wrong.

While with you it was all the time a silent mood. Mute. I could not realize it until it was too late. But then i ask myself what is too late? You also have the answers : you accumulated all my experiences in regard to time. From waiting at the bad dentist clinic to one person cell at Assad’s horrible and scary detention centers. From waiting a lover to show up at the train station to waiting a lover’s birthday to come so that i can make a nice surprise. And from crossing borders through mountains to fighting cancer with someone i love.

So no no no it is never too late. Because the notion of time is so pleasant. It is encapsulated in our perceptions. It takes the form of our perception.

Then what is it with you? All those confessions, are mere acts of narrating my memory and you already were there. Sometimes before me and sometimes you stayed on the stage much longer than me. Hours and days and months after i had left to my bed and to my other lives.

Could it be jealousy then? Am i jealous of how much you know and how much resilient you are and how much committed you have always been. committed to me than me?

Or is it rebelliousness? as i am way too sick of your control of a two core functions of my life/trans-portium ! Memory and Learning?

Let me think ! But you are observing and you can manipulate the experiences i can recall and how i can recall them.

But why do i have this doubt. About you? Why do i think that you are not acting to my favor ?

Weird !

What is weird?

Nothing is weird.



Bilal Zaiter

Writing makes life joyful. You will often find me playing at the digital humanities playground.