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.

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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.

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.

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?

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.