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.

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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?

A morbid year

2016. Mentioning it is already a horror story, but the way it is ending for me is truly worth making a film out of.

This year started with Bowie’s death, then Alan Rickman’s, followed by Harper Lee, Umberto Ecco, young Anton Yelchin, Mohammad Ali, Prince, Pete Burns, Paul Kantner, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gloria de Haven, Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Carrie Fisher then her talented mother Debbie Reynolds a day later! These deaths and so many more make for the saddest obituary, but hey, 2016 wasn’t satisfied with taking people away, it also added to the madness by making Donald Trump president, and in parallel giving Lebanon its own orange head of state. Wait, we’re not done yet! Exploding phones, Brexit… this year is watching us, amused by the mayhem, eating popcorn while we look right, left, up and within for answers nobody can give.

Well, if only that was it for me. I had one of the most stressful years leading to meds being prescribed so I can digest all the chaos, my father was hit by a water cistern as he was crossing the road, I snapped my back and had to walk like the hunchback of Notre Dame for over a week swallowing pill after pill searching to relieve more than my swollen muscles. However, nothing compares to the joke of an ending this year had in reserve for us. Hearing the news of my mother’s cousin passing a few days ago, then my former school principal’s whom I loved – her being a long time family friend – I verbally challenged this last week to test my nerves and surprise me further, and to be honest I wasn’t disappointed. Yesterday morning, we were informed that my dad’s cousin on his mother’s side had died. Preparing ourselves psychologically for yet another funeral, the phone rings. On the other end is my brother explaining he had just been informed that my father’s cousin from the paternal side has been dead for 4 days in his house, and since he had no immediate family, the authorities were waiting to find relatives to take care of the usual procedures. Naturally, us being the closest in Lebanon, we were asked to go into the house where – insert nervous laugh here – the corpse still lies, sign papers, make an official inventory of his belongings with the probably overpowering stench of our cousin’s decaying body, then arrange for his funeral.

So 2016, for your last day of existence I withdraw my challenge, you’ve won, now will you please go on vacation and never return? I’m no longer a fan of surprises.

Beirut not for Beirutis

So we have lost the last public beach left in Beirut. Ramlet el Bayda was the last bit of shore remaining in the small list of public spaces we could still call our own, us people of Beirut, as we watched every grain of sand become someone’s property.

From our government to our health, ruins and historical buildings, even the sand of our land is for sale, each little grain getting stuck between our toes can be sold to the most generous imbecile because what are we but pockets with a slowly dying identity? We are Lebanese with fewer and fewer Lebanese characteristics, places, faces… we are Lebanese living in a country that is looking and feeling less Lebanese by the second. In our country you can swim and ski in the same day, if you’re willing to pay to have less than what another country would offer for free. Our beaches are polluted, but we still want to call them our own, our cities were destroyed but we still want them to be rebuilt in the same style, with our people living in them and not whoever will throw 10,000$/sqm like it’s change. We want our ruins and crumbling buildings more than another shopping center we probably won’t be the ones buying from, we dream of those tiny green spaces we still have, to be able to stick our hands in the beautiful grass and know it will last another day without having empty bottles and cigarette buds thrown in by careless individuals because we have no laws protecting our public spaces. We want our wild rivers and old streets to remain without strange highway projects and useless dams suddenly being proposed.

Why is it every single time change occurs in this country, it is only for the worse? Why is it a beautiful place like Lebanon cannot remain beautiful and truly deserve to be the country that rose again, the country that war and floods couldn’t terminate, the country that only moves forward? Do we only deserve to be sold to the highest bidder?

“We’re used to it”

This was supposed to be a nice calm Sunday, the kind Beirut has been having for a little while, the kind we pretend to always have even when people are angry, people are fighting or people are dying. We all feel outrage, but it all gets calm in our minds soon enough; we’re used to it.

An hour or so ago, an explosion occurred not so far from my area. Facebook didn’t offer us a “mark as safe” button as it so regularly doesn’t – they’re used to it too – so everyone has been writing status updates informing all others they’re still alive and breathing. We’re not victims…yet. no casualties tonight, no one to mourn, no martyrdom, no blood spattered on the streets for us to walk on seemingly fine but torn up inside. You see, we’re used to it, used to the sirens and the special reports, the sudden shifting of all TV channels to emergency news and death counts climbing as we sit at home rocking our shaken bodies repeating “I’m ok, this has happened before, we’re used to it”. We’re a war country, 10452 sq meters of scars and fear, coexisting individuals coming together when everything falls apart, falling apart when faceless monsters start planting bombs and doubt around our chaotic haven. “Who are they and what do thet want?”, we time and time again ask with no definite answer to calm our anguish, anxiety we hide so well having mastered the art of bottling up our disgust for a place we don’t ever feel safe in. Because, you know, we’re used to it.

I am fed up, fed up of turning on the TV I barely use every time the house starts shaking, I already know it’s not an earthquake. I’ve had enough of having people call or text in panic asking if I’m fine, I’ve learnt by now to identify when it’s not out of boredom. I don’t want Facebook to ask me if I’m safe, I don’t want to have to wonder or have my loved ones tremble at the thought that I or anyone else might not be. I don’t want us to be used to it because this is not something normal to be used to!

Wedding for one

Wedding season. Again. I didn’t think much about it a few years back, attending those I felt obligated to go to, staring at the overly made up ladies and the men stuffed in suits two sizes too small with buttons begging for mercy, eating cake with too much chewy white fondant. Nowadays, it’s my friends getting married, exchanging vows to stay together for the rest of their lives, promising to care for each other for as long as their hearts keep beating, and it makes me smile, happy to see souls uniting, dreaming of all days to come. Except, I feel a slight pang with every smile I draw, it hurts a bit watching it all from the sidelines, the way I never imagined it would.

I’m the type who likes to run free, the kind of person you can’t restrain, whether behind a desk or with words; yet I can’t help myself from wanting something that lasts through the movement, another soul to keep mine from getting lonely. Unlike what is so often understood, freedom isn’t a solo endeavour, one can be wild and free as a unit, the way my parents were, are, and will stay. They have proved to me that “together” is a beautiful world, “together” is an unmatched experience for it’s not one laugh echoing in the forest, it’s not one voice singing along to cheesy roadtrip songs, it’s not one heart beating faster with excitement as new discoveries are made, there is another, and it only makes the first one beat stronger, longer.

This isn’t another “I need a man in my life, I don’t want to end up with 72 cats and a tupperware collection” rant or sob story. Firstly because I’m allergic to cats and I already have quite a nice tupperware collection, secondly because I don’t believe I need someone else to complete me, help me or hold my hand. I can guide myself through this mess of a life, I can stay on my own completely satisfied, but no matter how complete I feel by myself, it is rather beautiful to witness two wholes make a mesmerizingly symbiotic new whole, together.

I don’t talk about it much, this little folly of my imagination, the one that makes me dream up my own wedding, my own quirky version of two hearts intertwining as medieval music plays in the middle of nowhere, wind gently caressing the faces of the few beloved guests; I don’t understand extravagance, being surrounded by people I barely know or will barely notice on the day my life finds itself overturned and shaken by a crazy fantasy made real. I often dream up that day where I too step into this togetherness I still haven’t tried, this adventure seemingly as mind-boggling as those I regularly plan out, and as I watch others begin their journey on this not so lonely path, I sigh; I too would like a taste of union, to someday be two instead of my eternal “one”… but that’s for another day; today I fly by myself, my own groom. One ticket please!

Somewhere else calls my name

IMG_20150910_090241I am not a career person, someone who aims to become more important, gain more titles, make more money, more more, more. Don’t mistake this with me not being ambitious, I am, just not socially ambitious, not driven by the conventional upgrading of one’s position vis-a-vis their comrades. I aim to upgrade my life, my experiences, my knowledge, I willingly spike my adrenalin, follow my intuition and whims full throttle.
From a very early age, I dreamt of discovering the world, the corners different to mine, the faces I was taught not to identify with, the languages I can listen to for hours without understanding a word said, yet keep lending an ear in fear of missing a vowel. I have daydreamed of adventure, of shaking hands with wild gorillas, climbing up trees like I would push a supermarket trolley to pick my fruit, bathing in the Amazon river instead of wasting water in a tiny glass shower cabin… there has never been a limit to the things I could achieve if I set my mind to do them, the only limit was myself, my socially subjected fears and the stereotypes I have time and time again been conditioned to believe I had to conform to. I finished school, finished university, got a job in a big company and…quit. i just couldn’t. The road called my name, the wind whispered enchanting poems of life, mapped routes for me to follow and I yielded to my nature’s temptations, weakened by my heart’s longings, empowered by possibility. Then I tried again, got another job, did well, loved everyone there, then… quit again. My mind is too fidgety, my passions fickle, my thoughts confused, but one thing remains certain: I abhor routine, safety, constancy, I dislike feeling stuck when I could be running free. I wasn’t born rich, wasn’t given all I asked for unlike many of the kids I grew up with, but I learnt over the years to not base my fears on money, to not let the lack of it hinder my progress or my aspirations. Money is an evil, just not mine. I’d work as a waitress to fund my month in Nicaragua, do one odd job after the other to keep going on the path I see so clearly in my mind.
We have no limits except those we set, unless we listen to the deluded voices haunting our days telling us we can’t live wild and free, nothing prevents us from embodying the persona we feel fits us best. I belong on the road, found in transition, lost in my dreams.