Love on a Bike

Gallery & Shop by Rima Malallah

Love on a Bike is Rima Malallah's shop. Established in Amman, Jordan in 2006, it offers a wide selection of art & handmade products- paintings, pottery, woodwork, glass, custom-made furniture in addition to mural work. Items available for purchase online and at the brick-and-mortar shop in Amman.

My Heart is Bisbis-Shaped

I met Bisbis a few weeks after moving back to Amman in 2005. I still remember, very clearly, the first time I saw his unbelievably cute face in a cage full of other kittens. I instantly loved him, a week later I brought him home. He was only three months old and so teeny he could fit in a fez.

My heart

My heart

The first game we ever played involved me rolling batteries across the floor and him chasing them. Due to his inability to stop running across a slippery floor, every time he took off in pursuit of one he would only come to a stop when he crashed into some cushions. He’d then get back up and do it all over again. To this day that routine is still the most endearing thing I’ve ever seen. My heart was full of love for him from that day forward.

That same night though I felt a twinge of panic, it grew into a ball of regret - this entire time I had been motivated by the cuteness of an adorable kitten, now I was starting to feel the weight of responsibility I’d taken on. I decided not to act on that feeling right away. Almost fourteen years later I can’t explain just how much Bisbis taught me about commitment, responsibility, obligation, and love, and the beauty of these concepts in practice despite sounding burdensome and restrictive in the abstract. In deciding to not follow through on that panic on day one I learned the value of patience and accountability. That panicked feeling turned out to be so fleeting I can’t imagine how different life would’ve been had I acted on it, and I’m so grateful I didn’t - I would have missed out on all these years with the best cat in the world.

I’m not going to share the details of how it all ended, or even how much he meant to me because that’s too personal, also he never learned the ways of the internet so I’m sure he wouldn’t be checking this in the afterlife. So hopefully he knew how much I loved him while he still could.

As most of you know he had a chronic kidney condition that afflicts so many cats across all breeds, but especially his. So much of health comes down to how lucky or unlucky you happen to be in the genes you inherited. He was deeply unlucky so I tried to compensate for it by giving him the best care I could find. To that point, I think my only real regret was not finding the best vet sooner. I went to six doctors before finally ending up at Best Friend Veterinary Clinic. Instead of going over all the ways the vets did him wrong over the years (ask me in person and I’ll share tho) I’m going to focus on the things that went right with Dr. Nassem & co at BFVC.

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We started going there almost exactly two years ago, within one week I was in a panic because his poop was so weird, turns out he was overeating for the first time in years! In the lead up to his diagnosis Bisbis had lost so much weight, so much. He went days without eating, I would skip work and put together a buffet and he would just walk away. I was told by one vet that it was pancreatitis in addition to the renal failure, and with conflicting treatments for the two conditions we had to ignore it. He stopped drinking, I was told to give him water with a syringe. This went on for many many months and he seemed to only get worse under their care. Turned out they were wrong in their diagnosis (which they did nothing to test for to begin with). He didn’t have pancreatitis - it was just heartburn and a toothache, which Dr. Nassem swiftly diagnosed and treated.

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It’s easy to be dismissive of heartburn and a toothache, but if you’ve ever suffered either you know, minor as they might seem, they have the power to make your life miserable. Sure, renal failure can ultimately kill you (life definitely will kill you), but heartburn can feel like torture. Does it really make sense to ignore it while claiming you care for the welfare of an animal? Dr. Nassem took it seriously and in doing so helped turn things around for Bisbis. No heartburn meant he could eat, eating meant gaining weight, which gave him energy, which boosted his appetite, which kept the renal failure at bay, and just like that he was his happy purring self once again.

For me this story perfectly sums up the kind of care Bisbis went on to have his final two years of life. Bisbis and I went there every two days for two years. Sometimes we went daily for a month or two. There wasn’t a single visit that ended with me thinking Bisbis wasn’t being treated well. Cats suffer mostly in silence and so their pain can easily be ignored. It never was though under Dr. Nassem’s care - his comfort and well being were the first thing we would talk about and the last thing we ever discussed.

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No other profession in the medical field is as grueling and as under-appreciated as veterinary medicine. No human doctor deals with a baby all the way from birth to old age and ultimately death, with all the milestones and struggles and scares and adventures that lie between. Imagine the toll that would take: to walk alongside all these animals, who if they’re lucky and live a long happy life will still die too soon because we’re just on different timelines.

No human doctor can properly diagnose and treat the entire body and mind like vets do; whether it’s dental issues, tumors, chronic conditions, behavioral problems, etc, all while dealing with animals who are scared and at times aggressive and their humans who can be very rude and ungrateful, or just panicked and heartbroken. I saw so much while being there every two days for two years. I saw so much joy and happiness and panic and grief and unfortunately I saw people be incredibly rude to staff members who show more care to humans and their animals than anyone else in the world.

I’ve had plenty of bad days at work, I have a trove of hilarious and horrific stories of weird things and awful customers and harassment and really bad luck with neighbors and their plumbing. But even on the worst day no one died at my job. No one has ever lost a final fight in a long series of battles. I’ve never had to share truly bad news and watch someone have to grapple with their new reality. No one ever dies, not many cry. But all these things are daily occurrences for vets.

I’m eternally grateful for the care they showed Bisbis and me, we both got quality of life back once we started going there. I was able to go to work and be productive and have some freedom of movement. He got so much better it was easy to forget how serious his condition could get. Death is inevitable, so the hope then is to have a good life while you can. Bisbis got to have that thanks to a doctor who cared enough to not dismiss quality of life issues - he didn’t ignore his daily struggles just because he was going to die one day.

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I wish so much that he was still healthy, happy, and here. I’m glad we met on that random day in August and got to be buddies for the next 14 years because that’s just the most wonderful and unlikely thing in the world. I love you Bisbis, you’re my all-time favorite cat and one of my top three favorite people in the world, I will always miss you.

Best Friend Veterinary Clinic is located close to Safeway, 7th circle. You can find them on facebook https://www.facebook.com/BestFriendVeterinaryClinic/. Don’t be rude to the staff. No one asked me to write this, I just love them that much and I’m forever grateful for everything they did for Bisbis.

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2005-2019

2005-2019

A Tale of Two Men

Teacups with loose leaf infusers in the works

A couple of weeks ago I found out that a ceramic studio/shop in Amman was copying my designs. It felt like a kick to the gut, and as someone who’s dabbling lately in the ways of denial I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. But being very new to denial and avoidance I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

In an attempt to make sure I wasn’t imagining the infuriating similarities I showed a photo to two people who know my work best. Their reaction was the embodiment of how I felt.

I’m so angry about this. But not a tiny bit surprised. This is not the first time a man does this to me and my work. The first time was in 2006. I was much younger then and just starting out and he blatantly stole my work in ceramics and replicated it until he was able to fill up an entire shop with my creations. 

He stamped his name on the bottom of pots and no one questioned how his style suddenly changed from doing nothing more than replicas of desert inscriptions to the work I was producing at the time.

When that was happening I took up crying and website design. I felt so lost and so robbed and had no recourse. But I was only 23 and I had a world inside my head much bigger than any life I lived on the outside, so after hours I started work on love on a bike. The first version of loveonabike.com was created using an ancient program called Frontpage, best known for its use by the Nabataeans in the 2nd century AD.

It’s really easy to think the love was the product of some wealth and inspiration. It’s neither of those things. It started out, with help from my mom, as a desperate act to find purpose and to reclaim what was stolen from me so easily by someone with a lot more power than me - someone with an established reputation who’s adored locally and beyond. Stopping him was impossible, but to stop creating things because I was screwed over would have been just as ridiculous.

No matter how much we might fight it I think people are built to move on from things, at least not think about them daily. I rationalized it in my head by thinking, he stole one thing from me, I’m capable of so much more.

Thirteen years have gone by. There have been so many setbacks since then. But with a bit of perspective and hope each one carried within it the possibility of being more than just a setback. The more I made, the more enthusiasm there was for my work, the more I made, the better I got. 

And then another man came along and stole my work again. He follows me on social media. Hi? 

If people don’t have within them an ethical compass that guides their actions there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. I am deeply aware of this. Name and shame, some will suggest, but there’s really no point. Some might say this is flattering. It’s not.

The only foolproof way to stop people intent on stealing is to keep all the ideas locked up in my head. That’s obviously a terrible idea and not really a solution.

The first one stole the best 23 year old me had to offer and now you are attempting to steal my best of 2018. But I’ve already moved on. You will never keep up with me, because to model your work on someone else’s will always put you behind.

I’m motivated by an obsessive love for this craft that has been with me since I was a little kid (see below). You might succeed in stealing a finished idea, but what you can never take from me are my hands and mind, which carry within them memories of every brushstroke and every thought and will always come up with new ideas to build on the old. That history can’t be stolen.

And like the last guy, the legacy you’re creating with your work is one of blatant theft and appropriation, nothing more. And you, like him, are profiting off of the hard work of many others. I know that chances are you’ll keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll keep getting away with it. Still, something had to be said.


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Pinching & Throwing

A few years ago I heard on the radio somewhere that thousands of years ago humans who danced fared better than those who didn’t. The reason being that dance was an essential non-verbal form of communication and if you didn’t/couldn’t dance you didn’t get far in life and evolution/your own people weeded you out.

Instant panic. 

I don’t like dancing. I never dance. I don’t care to even try or learn. It’s a part of life I’m happy to do without. So why panic? The explanation, if you know me well, will make perfect sense. If you don’t know me you might find it/me odd and that’s fine. Here we go.

Discovering the importance of dance was very worrying because I instantly realized I wouldn’t’ve done well. It’s one thing to feel pressured (and refuse) to dance at a wedding and a whole other dive into a deep well of panic and anxiety to have your survival depend on it. Be honest, even if you enjoy dancing, you’re now panicking a little just thinking about it, aren’t you? Oh, you weren’t but now you are?

Don’t worry, it’s okay to worry.

Cat in a scarf, not a fan of dance either

Cat in a scarf, not a fan of dance either

I’m deeply interested in the how of life (it’s why I ask a million questions about everything) and upon discovering that dance skills were essential for one’s survival I started worrying about just how I would’ve made it. I was certain I wouldn’t have. Never mind what a moot question or worry that really is - I’ve managed to live my life sans dance and I’m fine. I don’t actually think society is going to cast me aside for my refusal to dance, and evolution hasn’t stopped me from coming into existence. So I get how silly this sounds, why worry about how I would’ve fared had I been born thousands of years ago?

Welcome to my mind!

The simple answer is that I did, and once you have a conscious thought the options are to either willfully ignore it or deal with it. I don’t know how to do the former, so the latter it was. It didn’t take long to resolve the panicked feeling - I would have been the person making the pots! Surely that person wasn’t expected to dance, they communicated with the vessels they made! I also could have made food, and everyone loves food! Making pots and filling them with delicious food was how I would’ve survived human evolution.

Clumsy cat is embraced not ostracized

Clumsy cat is embraced not ostracized

Go to almost any archeological site in Jordan- you will find shards of pottery all over (called surface scatter) because one of the most important forces in the evolution of humans was the ability to cook food (it saved the body energy from having to digest raw food all the time and the human brain had a chance to grow). Nowadays you would be hard pressed to find something that fosters a sense of togetherness more than food does, and there you find the true value of functional pottery.

If you’re an anthropologist or an evolutionary biologist (or just better informed than I am) and you think i got the story wrong about the importance of dance or the development of the human brain let me know. I’m not trying to add to the wealth of misinformation that’s already out there.

Pottery shard, circa 8th century Qasr Mushatta Found while on an adventure with Bashar from  A Map and a Lens

Pottery shard, circa 8th century
Qasr Mushatta
Found while on an adventure with Bashar from A Map and a Lens

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March Opening Hours

As promised the shop will be open this coming weekend, however, I don’t recommend visiting if you’ve been recently.

While tons of things are in the works, none are actually ready for sale. The ceramic reserves were depleted over the Christmas rush and making everything from scratch takes time. And while the rain was lovely for the soul it’s not been good for the clay - causing delays in the drying process.

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new year, new plan

Hello everyone, 

I wanted to reach out to let you know about some changes happening at Love on a Bike this year. But before I get into that, I'd like to extend a massive thank you to all of you who made it out to my event in December- the shop is looking a little bare but in some ways that's a wonderful sight! There's just that massive/tiny ball of panic about replenishing everything quickly but other than that, it feels so so good!

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I'm sure many of you noticed the cancellation of regular opening hours about two years ago now. The major cause for that was Bisbis being diagnosed with renal failure in January 2017. Following an extremely confusing and emotionally exhausting few months I found an amazing vet. Since then, for the most part, Bisbis has been doing much better than I ever thought possible.

Renal failure is a chronic (ultimately degenerative) condition which is sadly somewhat common in cats. During most stages the disease is extremely manageable and with the proper diet and care your pet can go on to have an amazing quality of life. Bisbis is somewhere between stages 3 & 4. He requires visits to the vet every third day, and with a week being made up of seven days that means every week the days shift, like a Cat Lunar Calendar. Gregorian Calendar, what's that? We go by the Basboosian Calendar!

General Bisbis Von Hishis, the greatest Mew of our time who led us to victory in the Battle of the Cute.

General Bisbis Von Hishis, the greatest Mew of our time who led us to victory in the Battle of the Cute.

Here he is post-battle relaxing at home.

Here he is post-battle relaxing at home.

(I am perfectly happy to come across as a doting cat lady in this post.)

Anyway, sometimes Bisbis has to go in outside of these scheduled appointments. Despite not being a cat myself, sometimes I too need to go to doctor appointments or run a bunch of other errands that end up taking forever because why is traffic so bad all the time? When I was 12 the population of Jordan was 4.5 million, now that's the population of Amman alone. Is mid-30s the age where you start to reminisce about the days when traffic wasn't so bad? I find that it's a very hot topic in life at the moment.

Back to the story of the last two years. The first half of 2017 was spent feeling hopeless, then I found an amazing vet and Bisbis was getting better. Things were looking up! So, I tried to bring some order back to the shop opening hours but inevitably emergencies would arise and I would have to leave to deal. Gradually I took down opening hours and started posting requests that people get in touch before making the trip to the love.

Few ever did, resulting in many showing up to find the shop closed. People would call me upset, I would attempt to explain and apologize and implore to please next time call in advance. Instead people would message on social media. Being busy with work and away from the internet I would often miss their messages until late at night. People would get more annoyed, I would get more frustrated with the ridiculous number of apps and sites (a dozen?) I'm expected to check for messages, which honestly just isn't a reasonable thing to do. Repeat this cycle for two years and here we are.

Many people have been incredibly kind and generous in understanding the situation I'm in and I'm eternally grateful for that. Many of you have pets of your own and know the love and bond you have with the little floofs. I've run into so many of you at the vet. On the other hand, some of you have suggested I put him down. So, you know, like many parts of life it's a mixed bag.

Some of you might be wondering, if I'm constantly at the vet why can I go off and paint murals then? Well, because murals are scheduled in such a way that I just need to finish work by a certain deadline, how I get that done is on me to figure out. There's a flexibility there that running a shop with strict daily opening hours doesn't offer. Last year was incredible and miserable for that reason, I worked most Fridays of the year, all the public holidays, and had virtually no breaks between projects. I was always making up for lost time.

But look at the prettiness! You can find more photos of each project by checking out my feed on Instagram.

Time-lapse of part of my mural at Farah Hospital, 2018. For more time-lapse videos check out my youtube channel 

Despite so many of you being so understanding, This situation just isn't sustainable. I need to make changes in order to keep going in the way I need to for Bisbis and the way I want to for the shop. I also need breaks every now and then. Not having a single day off for months is not normal or sustainable. There's this common misconception that if you do what you love, it's not really work. But of course it is! Work is work. Beloved or not is a different matter. I love art and it's my job. I'm also a human being and we all need a break. No matter how much they loved their job, a lawyer or a banker would never be expected to go without a break. People in creative fields and the self-employed shouldn't be viewed any differently.

The shop opened about 12 years ago, and for the first decade I had regular opening hours and rarely took time off. Two years ago life changed and instead of continuing to make myself miserable and causing frustration all around it's about time I adapt and adjust to my current circumstances. Solidifying changes and creating clarity wouldn't make things worse, but they could make things better.

As far as you're concerned the change is mostly a mental shift: instead of thinking of Love on a Bike as a shop that should have regular weeklong opening hours please reclassify it in your head as my private studio that I open up to the public a couple of weekends a month. What's been lacking these past two years isn't my drive to create nor is it the demand for my work (thank you so much for that!) but it's any sort of structure that allows the two to meet in a positive way.

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I want to continue to create things with clay and paint because it's what I've always wanted to do and I want to be able to take care of my cat because I love him. I want to be able to open my shop because I'd like to continue making a living doing this and I want to share what I do with those of you interested in seeing it. Every now and then I would like to paint murals. I want to do those things without causing people frustration or constantly having to apologize. The only way I can make all that happen is by closing shop, creating in solitude, having time to do the life admin stuff without it piling up in the background until it's a monster crushing me in silence, go say hi to the vet every two days, and two weekends a month open up the shop for visitors.

So for January the plan is to open on the first and third weekends of the month:
- January 4th & 5th
  4-7 pm
- January 18th & 19th
  4-7 pm

Opening hours for February will be posted on my website and social media by the end of January. But the tentative plan is also to open on the first and third weekends of the month, but the hours for February should be longer.

Every now and then I'll send out an email with updates but mostly I'll just make that information readily available for you to find in this section of my website. The idea is to open on two weekends every month, days when customers always preferred to visit anyway. Most people have Fridays and/or Saturdays off- opening on those days is meant to substitute quantity with convenience. Prior to this I almost never opened on Fridays, so I hope this is a welcomed development.

If any emergency is going to affect these hours I will make sure to post about it on instagram and on here in advance (make sure to bookmark this page if you're not keen on social media). Please check it and don't just show up at the shop on random days that aren't listed. The shop will not be open to visitors outside of these hours.

You can always get in touch with me by calling or texting 079-643-3311. I don't check messages on any social media platform, but you can email me at loveonabike@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have. You can also contact me via the contact page on this website by following this link.

Finally, thank you so much for ever supporting Love on a Bike, even if it was only one time a decade ago. All mountains are made up of tiny bits. 

Coming fresh from the Christmas rush the shop is a little empty but I have lots of new ideas I'm really excited to start working on. I hope what this post lacks in concision (it's a real word, I checked) it makes up for in clarity. Two years of confusion just needed to come to an end.

Happy new year!

Rima

love on a bike all rights reserved 2006-2019