We all wish the other would talk first, the friend, the sibling, the lover. We all wish we’d cross their mind before giving up and starting the conversation ourselves, or worse, never striking one up again. We fear our own unimportance, some temporary obsolescence, not being needed enough…or at all. We entertain idealistic reveries forgetting the other might share or simply be unaware of them.

Maria

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Cereal killer

I have a problem with cereal. It isn’t deep-rooted or life altering, but it plagues some of my mornings when the craving for cereal appears and I have to obey its whims. My problem is simple yet remains unresolved: I inhale the contents of my bowl instead of slowly enjoying each bite or contemplating each spoonful the way they do on tv.

I didn’t grow up with boxes of cereal lined up in our pantry the way I saw they did on American shows, in fact I rarely had time for a proper breakfast before the school bus arrived! Every morning, I’d get a steaming cup of hot chocolate I barely managed to finish and ended up feeling nauseated the whole way up to school – the memory still haunts me today. However, on weekends, breakfast was a thing. I got to eat properly in the morning, to enjoy a labneh sandwich or anything I didn’t get on weekdays, and sometimes that included cornflakes. My favourite were Frosted Flakes and Golden Grahams -simple things always attracted me – except most of the time I ate them dry due to my previous (understandable) aversion to hot chocolate and the likes. It was only years later that I learnt to appreciate pouring milk onto my cereal and waiting the right amount of time before spooning out a tablespoon. It was an enchanting sensation, the half-drenched flakes, the sweetened milk, the slight crunch that dissipated inside my mouth as it all made its way around, caressing my taste buds. It was good, but it never lasted long enough; after the first few tablespoonfuls, the remnants of my bowl suffered from inevitable sogginess losing the crisp that characterized it so well. So in order to avoid reaching that point, I took the habit of swallowing the contents of my delightful bowl too rapidly, enjoying the textures and flavours at their peak, hence suffering how short-lived that joy was. At one point, I even tried adding the cereal in stages, but ended up with my milk rising in sweetness with each handful I added, the taste changing as my breakfast progressed.

I have a dream, to savour my cereal without rushing through, to enjoy each flake’s subtleties knowing the next will be its twin, half-way between crunchy and moist, enjoying the pool of invariably sweetened milk it’s happily soaked in.

Life in the time of internet

I was born in 1990. I can therefore claim it as my decade, a pure 90s child, whatever that’s  supposed to mean. The thing is, I’m a 90s kid with enough nostalgia to feel like a 70s, 50s and 20s kid as well. I belong to each a little, dusted with grunge, fed rock n roll, sparkling in a beaded flapper dress as Bing Crosby croons the night away from an old turntable. That sentiment however doesn’t seem to fit the age I’m living in. My teens and adulthood happen to coincide with the emergence of the tech generation, and I’m often expected to follow the movement, belong to this generation Y I do not understand.

If I accepted the truths my mind is flooded with, I’d be screaming “when I was your age” sentences at people all day long, because in my head – and heart – I come from a different time. I come from a time where the concept of making money by sharing your life as a couple was inconceivable. I come from an epoch where school reunions were the place to rediscover what our classmates have become instead of nodding at them as they tell us things we already know thanks to social media. I belong to a time where love was an end in itself, not a means to an end or a way to prove to the world that picture perfect exists.
As I was rewatching a show from my childhood, I realized I grew up dreaming of life like it was presented in movies in the past: knocking on your neighbour’s door for eggs or sugar or greeting newcomers with pie, taking a roadtrip for the sake of it instead of editing each moment into a like-worthy post, settling in a little town where everybody knows your name and not feeling like the world is surpassing the dose of ambition you need.

I never felt like I belonged to this generation of social overachievers, bundling the simple joys of life with empty expectations and shallow experiences. It always feels as though everyone is trying so hard to compensate for such poor self esteem the internet has to witness unending efforts to prove things nobody should believe in.

The way we ate

It was 8:47 a.m and I was on my way to work, reluctant, forcefully yanked out of bed by my alarm. I was riding the metro, another morose face in the crowd, when a mother with her two little girls stepped into the wagon I was planning my temporary blue collar life’s demise in. Plunging her hand in her bag, she handed her daughters one biscuit each. The eldest started eating, looking at the half asleep passengers around her, curious, hungry, a possessor of a slight attention deficit disorder like most children her age. Her sister, however, awoke my attention still dormant till then. She was staring attentively at her biscuit, almost too intensely. She had bitten off the four protruding edges and was now studying where to bite next, weighing pros, cons and colour gradients. The sight of her amused me as I always ate my biscuits in the same fashion, working my way to the best part, progressively eliminating the least interesting bits, bite by bite, until my favourite part presented itself to end my biscuit experience.
Most people after a certain age, just like this girl’s sister, start eating to satisfy an urge, their hunger or just to fill a void, forgetting to focus on every detail of what’s in their hands or laid in front of them. Some, myself included, keep that somewhat childlike pursuit of a taste chronology making the story culminate to the most thrilling chapter. I still bite off the edges first, circling around the center, steering away from the chocolate morsels teasing relentlessly but unsuccessfully, keeping the best for last while understanding every bite as it shares its secrets and complex layers with my palate and tongue. It always seemed to me as though food conversed with me, every meal being a reunion with an old friend bearing new stories for me to enjoy, another kind of imaginary friend who, more often than not, spoke in monologues, riveting, silencing, appeasing in their short-lived flow.

The hero within

I was waiting for a bus the other day when a young woman passed near me almost knocking me over. She was dragging a big cardboard box, holding it at times, trying to push it at others, stopping intermittently to gather her strength and breath. Curious, I looked at the side of the box in search of some sign of its seemingly heavy contents. Of all the possibilities my mind had come up with on the spot, none prepared me for a portable washing machine.
The girl, who was petite and thin, was carrying a little washing machine by herself, on a busy street, people standing by, oblivious to her efforts. I almost offered to help, restraining myself from doing so knowing neither my sensitive back nor tiny muscles would be of much use. As I watched her hold it up, walk a few feet, stop and stretch, lift it back up and repeat, I thought of all those women who do their best to get things done by themselves, count on their own strength and wits to get on with life. The idea that we were the weaker gender never pleased the feminist in me, knowing many women who could lift a man up with their hands, women who raised families by themselves, worked two jobs to feed their children, kept a strong front while society pitied their situation instead of applauding their resourcefulness. And as I watched her, I smiled, not once but twice, because after a while, a man came to help, a man many would call chubby with his belly hanging over his belted pants, a man many would assume was lazy, and who in that moment probably proved his high school gym class peers wrong by helping out a stranger in need of whatever muscle power could be extended.
Two stereotypes were broken in front of me that day, as I waited for the bus on an ordinary day. Just another ordinary day with extraordinary happenings.

The cedar inside

It takes distance to realize distance isn’t what we longed for most. Leaving my country for another was my childhood dream, recurring throughout my teenage years and most of my twenties. I wanted to leave, to go far away, to contemplate my old world from behind a long telescope and smile at the achievement of becoming an expat. The dream seemed much different than what reality turned out to be.

I always knew I loved my country, even though I bashed it often, even though I felt better once on a plane, spending months away from it, escaping all its troubles. I knew I loved it, but I didn’t comprehend why exactly, or that this distance I so urgently needed to take wasn’t from the country itself.

Lebanon has always been tagged with both beautiful and terrible labels, always described but never really understood. It is the land of the millenial cedar trees, the party country par excellence, there are beaches and ski slopes thirty minutes apart, and oh, have you tried the food? Try the food. All of it. Our stereotypes so dear to our hearts we repeat them incessantly to whoever is willing to listen, because they’re true but also, to some extent, because they calm our insecurities and give some sense to the blind love we have for Lebanon. For you see, it is also a land that suffered war, repeatedly, is situated in a strategic location amidst conflict zones, lacks proper…well, everything, and if those weren’t reasons enough to flee it, many students graduate with no job awaiting them outside school doors. Nonetheless, I wish the news told it all, how Lebanon bravely survived its wars, all of them, how the partying goes on no matter what, because hope is what we are made of (aside from hommos), how peace is maintained in the 10452 square kilometers that are home to seventeen different religious denominations, how our people are among the best and brightest wherever they go, becoming CEOs of huge companies or Brazil’s president or Selma Hayek, and how the undying pride of both those who stayed and those who left makes our country shine everywhere despite its minuscule size and its inherent mess.

I do miss my country, much more than I imagined I would and for reasons other than those I had anticipated. I miss its resiliance, its strength, its pride even during moments of strife or when there’s little to be proud of. I miss the smiling faces of neighbours who’ve seen me grow, the exclamations of strangers when they notice they know one of our family members that we barely know ourselves. I miss beers on the seashore even though I don’t like beer and watching the manoushe lady poking my pie with her fingers without hearing someone ask her to wear gloves because we all understand that’s not how it’s done. I miss the simplicity in a country that is everything but simple, and absurdly, I somehow miss its absolute absurdity.

Before leaving,  I knew I loved my country, but it took just a few months in a foreign land for me to become a true patriot, to know that we can count all a country doesn’t give us, but it’ll never outweigh what it does, the sense of belonging, the culture that none other will match, the history that only we understand fully because for a while we were part of it. No country is perfect and Lebanon certainly doesn’t come close, but perfection is a boring quality after all, offers no excitement and stirs no feeling below the skin’s surface. My Lebanon, I now get a new kind of goosebumps at the thought of you, one I don’t mind at all.

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.