Bubble trouble

I woke up early today, too early, and as I vainly tried to fall back asleep, an odd flock of random memories visited my forcibly awakened mind.

When I was around 10 years old, my mother had to get surgery. At the time, having not experienced the matter myself or really been told what it entailed to have bones and tissue sawed and sliced, it didn’t seem as big of a deal as I now of course realize it was. She packed the few things she needed, pyjamas, hair and toothbrush etc. and left home. I believe I had school that day and went on with my life with the simple thought that my mum wasn’t at work but with a bunch of doctors, and that I oddly wouldn’t find her home when I returned. In my mind, that was it, I’d miss her but it wasn’t something to fuss about. Children can sometimes be terribly naive.

So I went back home, dad too, with news that we’d visit her the next day.

“Have a bath now.”

I remember hating baths at the time, all the tiring procedure of scrubbing and experiencing that burning in your eyes as ubiquitous amounts of bubbling shampoo trickled onto my face and ever unsuspecting eyes. So I got in, got clean and got out. The chore of personal hygiene over, it was time to return to more enjoyable pursuits. Or so I dreamt before hearing:

“Now we must dry your hair so you don’t catch cold.”

I had forgotten how structured my father could be in certain situations, and heat being the last thing I wanted applied on my scalp, I sighed and reluctantly nodded in approval.

“I’ll get the hairdryer”, he said.

I remember feeling amused and slightly scared at the thought of my father caring for my hair, a man who, well, didn’t have the gift of such a mane to really claim expertise in the department.

It hurt. There was pulling and indescribable manoeuvres with him trying to balance a boar bristle brush in one hand and a bulky 90s hairdryer in the other, pulling from the left and bumping my head on the right. The 80s blow-up made a failed comeback that night, but it was nothing compared to the ponytail we gave up on the next morning. Oh, dad…

Looking back, I think that period really strengthened my abhorrence for hairdryers, and it still shocks me when my dad, seeing my hair wet, tells me to go dry it off. Just look the other way, pops.

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Happily obsolete

I grew up the old fashioned way. In a time of electronic evolution and new technologies, my parents decided to bring me up the way they were, with no added help, no frivolous objects, thus repressing the urge to follow the latest trends and rendering me less of a victim of increasingly elaborate marketing ploys.

I learned to use a vinyl record player when my classmates were walking around with discmans, I had a twelve channel programmable television set and a cassette player when my contemporaries had a hundred channels, cable and the latest hi-fi systems. I also played with elaborate (and definitely non-aerodynamic) paper airplanes and retro electric trains when gameboys and Nintendos were all the rage. You’d probably assume that made me mad, and you’re right, it did…at first.

As years went by, the more I had access to what was considered obsolete and the less I dabbled with modernism, the more I learned to count on myself for entertainment and everyday tasks like reheating dishes in a skillet or oven pan and finding the right technique to not end up with half of my food stuck at the bottom of what could easily become a dish-washing nightmare. And yes, I never had microwave popcorn with all the fake butter and ten thousand useless ingredients; instead, I went through bags of burnt kernels to perfect the corn popping technique, and guess what? I still can’t make a decent batch. Didn’t expect this turn of events, huh? I learned to cook whole meals from scratch while my friends were playing video games but I still can’t make a half decent bowl of popcorn at 27, how ridiculous. Well, it doesn’t end there. Since I moved from my parents’ house, I have had access to microwaves much more often – home still being a preserved haven of health and lowkey technology – and have used them a few times to reheat something in a hurry or make the occasional mug cake. However, popcorn remained a pan-only treat until about a week ago when my roommate popped some in a paper bag. The thought having pleased me, I decided today to try my hand at the matter and followed the relatively childish procedure: put popcorn in bag, close bag, program microwave and…pop! Except she forgot to tell me one thing: how many minutes do they take in there? I was alone and just pressed on 4, a reasonable time in the microwave world, I thought. One thing is for sure, guessing is a bad idea. A burning smell started exuding from the machine around three minutes in, but being in unfamiliar territory, I assumed it was a figment of my imagination, for how could anything burn in a microwave? Famous last words. I opened the door when the timer rang, unfortunate tune of my popcorn’s death sentence: inside the brown paper bag was a clump of black chunks formerly known as popped corn kernels. I’ll refrain from describing the dark cloud that also came out of my unfriendly helper.

Ultimately, I suppose my old-fashioned upbringing had nothing to do with my popcorn-making abilities, I believe I just don’t carry the kernel-popping gene (or the paper plane designing one if we’re being precise). Nevertheless, I think I’ll maintain the tradition of making my future children just as clueless about society’s downward spiral into the technological abyss, teaching them the value of time and what wonders a little elbow grease and creativity can produce. My train and record player patiently await their little hands…or mine until then.

With change…comes change

I haven’t written here in a while. Not for lack of words or things to say, mostly in an attempt to bridge the life I had when I created this blog and the one I’m leading now, an ocean away.

I moved to a new country a while ago, to a place I had never been or ever imagined I’d end up. I needed change since the moment I took my very first breath, sudden urges to move around taking over my mind every few months, with an inability to remain still in a region that is anything but. I’m Lebanese, I am proud to be Lebanese, but I just don’t fit in Lebanon, and Lebanon doesn’t fit the many versions of who I am. So I packed my bags leaving out what didn’t fit in the two pieces of luggage I had resolved to take, things, people… 27 years’ worth, and boarded a plane. Two, actually. Needless to say it but here it goes: I am very far from home… and from Lebanon. That distinction is essential.

I’ve lived with my parents my whole life, befriending them early on, and while I did everything to leave Lebanon behind, I never wanted to leave them. It’s hard. Much harder than I had thought possible. You’d think I’d have gone bored from seeing their faces everyday and yet here I am readjusting every inch of my mind to fit this new reality, one without them, one where I have to start all over, meet new people, decipher a new accent, memorize new streets and decide what I should keep from my past. Will streets I’ve walked in my whole life look the same when I visit? Will I start listening to Sabah and eat labneh every morning in an attempt to lose less of myself to this new environment? Or will I rejoice at glimpses of my former life with every little cucumber I bite into and every familiar face I run into on my way to fulfil whatever new habit I’ve acquired in this foreign land?

I’ve changed already, and it’s only been a short while since I left. I’ve changed and it feels like it’s only the beginning, the start of missing everything, the end of missing out, the biggest change of all: what if now, all I want is for things to stop changing? Is it finally time for this restless spirit to find constance? For a while, at least?

Everyone…too

The “me too” campaign is going strong as more women – and men! – share stories and testimonials of what they’ve experienced or witnessed others live through, and although I am overjoyed that light is finally being shed on a crucial matter, I am saddened by many people’s reactions. For instance, every #metoo posted equals three “yeah so what? There are more urgent matters like war”.

Yes there are terrible things happening all over the world, does that mean we should neglect the abused in favour of things we mostly cannot handle ourselves? This is a matter we can fix, or help diminish by removing the taboo label off this behavioral herpes that sweeps our nations still. It is a worldwide issue, something that has been shut up in diaries, whispered and hushed for too long, something nobody should have to endure in silence or be silenced for having endured.

Abuse and assault of all kinds are what bring disease to our societies, mental disease, heart disease, invisible illnesses that plague so many secretly because this world is too blind to see and too ashamed to acknowledge that this is real and dire to address. We cannot sprinkle glitter on the matter and say “oh it’s a Hollywood thing”; it’s in your city too, in your street, at your kids’ school and your wife’s workplace, in your friend’s home and at the supermarket. It’s what keeps your neighbour from sleeping soundly or what makes your mother lock her door twice.

I have lived through too many things to allow people to disregard this issue, to trivialise my or anyone’s life altering encounters. I have been groped in taxis, spoken to graphically by strangers, talked to inappropriately at wotk, followed on my birthday as I left the metro alone at night and ran for my life only to have a pseudo friend ask me if at least my almost aggressor was cute. How could being cute make up for whatever could’ve happened if my feet had failed me? How could being cute make up for what could’ve broken inside me if two strangers hadn’t interfered and ran with me for a while? He wasn’t cute. He was scary and tall and made me dread walking at night, an activity I had always loved, and that whether alone or accompanied. He was a criminal and he stole my sense of security.

I wasn’t dressed in a revealing way. I didn’t mislead him with my words. I didn’t instigate him in any other way than by being there at that moment, when he decided I would make an excellent prey. There are no valid reasons, no possible excuses for such acts. There are urgent matters all around us, but right now we should open our eyes and ears and fight for more justice, push our faltering societies to act and alter our defective upbringing so that future generations don’t live through this fear we have borne for too long because speaking up would lead nowhere or would bring shame upon us. It’s not our fault. We didn’t ask for it and we don’t deserve it.

It is easy to forget that we are the actors not only of our own lives but others’ too; we are not mere extras in the picture, we’re supporting actors engaged for the betterment of each other’s days. You can help change things, and #MeToo.

Flower for an hour

Illness is treated very differently through our lives as well as throughout the world with factors such as age or social habits taken into consideration when dealing with patients. A sick baby attracts more attention than someone in their late twenties, and propriety begs you visit a bedridden octogenarian even if their illness will automatically induce nods and morbid predictions. So if it’s all a matter of decorum or pre-determined fears, where does love fit in the sick world?

Having been in the sick bed recently, I was able to observe the visiting traffic from the opposite perspective, to analyse the different interactions illness provoked in front of me. First, to make things clear, I was in a two-bed hospital room. I therefore wasn’t alone and had to endure frequent visits from strangers coming to celebrate the ongoing life of my neighbours – how riveting.
First, there was a young lady who had just given birth; her friends and family catwalked right past my bed all day bringing flowers and nibbling on chocolate and whatever her husband had spread for the occasion. Conversation was basic, no intrigue, no passion moved their lips except when the offered candy graced their tongues – I’d visit patients every day if I knew I’d be rewarded with food!
Then, when mother and child were given the green signal, an elderly woman replaced her in the white sheets opposite the room. Accompanying her were her son and daughter, both probably in their sixties, alternating smile and pensive pout, worried what the future held for the matriarch of the family. They had no visitors, choosing to remain within the tight bonds of blood, communicating the same banalities they usually exchanged, “did you talk to x?”, “what’s the name of that honey you bought?”. They knew the risks, repeated her age to whoever asked what was wrong, nodded…she’s old, we all know what to expect.

Come to think of it, we deal with illness the way we deal with a beautiful flower bouquet: we hold it carefully, lay it down slowly, talk about it, photograph it with pride…then after a few days, our grip gets more careless, we change the water less often, we don’t talk about it much anymore because we know it won’t last long. We sometimes hang it to dry, stare at the withered petals with affection, nostalgia, and if bugs start clinging to it, we simply throw it away, unfazed. I was a flower bouquet this week, and somehow, I was put in a pot. You don’t take pictures of potted flowers, they’re here to stay, safe…as long as you water them.

White bedding

I had my first surgery ever 3 days ago. I had never been admitted to hospital before, never been cut up or sliced open, never been injected with strange liquids and probed with utensils I wasn’t conscious to inspect or approve. 3 days ago, my safe space was broken into, but my armor found itself strengthened; I survived.

I didn’t have major surgery, my condition wasn’t life-threatening, but I had no choice but to take the leap: say yes to the scalpel and no to this malevolent parasite eating me up from the inside. I admit, I cried a bit, I couldn’t help some lonely tears from trickling down my cheeks as the anesthetics took over my body and shut down all will power I had. I knew that I’d wake up a few hours later weaker, different…brand new maybe? Alas, I didn’t feel all shiny and fresh as I emerged from my foggy state; I felt tired, confused, old and most importantly…stuck. I wasn’t allowed to move, to eat, or do anything natural to my wellbeing. I was instead haunted by needles and nurses with charts, neon lights and an overdose of white. The aftermath. Long hours staring into space, falling asleep and waking in a start, pain everywhere, with nothing familiar to cling to.

I didn’t tell many people about this journey I had been forced to embark on, just a few friends and of course my parents. Visitors flooded the floor with armfuls of flowers and chocolate boxes, balloons and get well soons, and I watched them through my heavy eyelids as they entered other rooms, hugged other patients, kept them company while I composed yet another poem on how white everything was in this antiseptic world. I didn’t crave the applause, the screams and the crowds, I didn’t need all the attention or joyful pity, I simply wanted the nightmare to be over, to be home in bed or in a prairie skipping rope, to be anywhere but in this helpless state at the mercy of unknown arms.

I have often dreamt up situations where the love around me would be put to the test, where those who enjoyed my laughs would do anything to wipe away my tears. I somehow forgot to imagine my own hand holding the tissues, pulling me up saying: this is your test, stop waiting for the world to take it for you.

For a friend

I know not how to make my voice say

That my heart cries for you today,

And I know not how to comfort thee

With much more than an earnest plea;

Today I ask all angels in the sky

To turn each gasp and every cry

Into beds of roses for her to sleep,

And may your soul learn not to weep

For we’re all but visitors doing time

Till those promised bells begin to chime.

We are so near the sweet departed

Who want us not so broken-hearted;

Despite the void and all the pain,

Remember not these days of rain

But count the days of sunny splendor

Given to us by ones so tender.

It is not far, this new hello

Though hours seem to pass so slow,

We’ll see their bright faces again

So keep in mind that until then

If your strength begins to sway

I am only a few steps away.