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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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.

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.

The teacher’s kid

When I reached the age of 3 and went to school for the very first time, I discovered something brutal: I was the teacher’s daughter. Not only that, but I was the teacher’s daughter in 3 different schools! My mother taught in one school and my father in another and he owned his own language institute in which they both taught. I can safely say my parents were literally and factually a school.

My first day at school marked my first day as the 50/50 kid, the child whose appreciation was based on how beloved or despised my father was since my mum taught elsewhere. I was a 3 year old big eyed ball of everything happy when I came face to face with “that guy” on my bus – a 15 year old mess who detested my father and made it impossible for me to get the clean slate I deserved; I was henceforth marked. As days went by, the bittersweet reality became clearer, the random squeals of ecstasy my appearance provoked in some and the flagrant eye rolls and grunts I obviously inspired in others, it was all due to my father being a teacher, the perks and the suffering combined. I later received the same treatment from my mother’s students, but by then I had grown accustomed to the whole charade, numbed to the itchy label I seemingly wore on my forehead – watch out, I’m “the teacher’s kid”, the miniature daytime boogeyman.

It took me my whole pre-teens and a few years into the delightful years of puberty and awkward self-awareness before I truly understood how valuable and just how extraordinary my life actually was, being blessed with two teachers for parents, livng in my own private classroom. I was amazingly lucky, there is no better word to describe it. Under one roof stood gathered walking and talking human dictionaries and encyclopedias, two beautiful souls who had dedicated their lives to the sole purpose of guiding young minds (not to mention adult ones at my father’s institute) down the road of knowledge and haphazardly through life in many cases. I was taught to value people, give as much as I could and stand by all those who needed help in any way possible, to share what I knew, and something I will never cease to thank them for, to understand the value of hard work and hard-earned remuneration.

Our time on Earth is limited and precious, and while we’re here roaming its uneven roads, we might as well make our stay profitable to others, be the gardeners of minds around us, give more than we receive in the hope that someday we too will run into someone we once helped and rejoice in their resulting successes just like my parents so often do. With their minds, they could’ve been anything they wanted, but they chose to teach, to suffer through long parent-teacher conferences, long invigilation hours, endless correction nights, cancelled weekends and their kids blaming them for their lack of energy, too young to fully understand the worth of each day they spent bent over piles of papers, watering the roses of tomorrow.

I was 3 when I understood my parents were teachers, 3 when I started learning that those who teach can in fact do, those who teach know enough to understand that without what teachers do, CEOs wouldn’t be able to type their names, presidents wouldn’t be able to read their speeches and doctors wouldn’t know the difference between a vein and a nerve. I was only 3 when I understood that when I grew up, I wanted to be just like my parents: a giver.

Every day is women’s day

Social media reminded me as soon as I opened my eyes that it was international women’s day, and I cannot help but compare it to all other hypocritical celebratory days like Valentine’s or even Independence. Let’s drink to women everywhere so tomorrow we can go back to throwing the empty bottles at their faces for daring to be just that: women.

It took me several years to appreciate the fact that I was a woman, to celebrate my double x chromosomes and proudly wear the label. As a child, all I could distinguish of the female gender was the “fragile” stamp we seemed to all receive at birth, one we couldn’t wash off or replace in a society too stubborn to acknowledge our strength, our power and our deserving all the same rights and opportunities as our male counterparts. Then I woke up, and how glad I was to finally brandish my lipstick and fire away all the sparks my womanhood had bestowed upon me.

However I can’t shake the feeling that giving women a day to celebrate them somewhat diminishes their value, just like Valentine’s or mother’s and father’s day diminish all the fireworks our loved ones deserves every single day. It also feels filled with hypocrisy, the way everyone picks up pink pens and paper on this one day, writes a post on Facebook quoting whichever prominent feminist the internet provides in the search results, and then goes back to not caring or worse, going against what feminism stands for the day after. Your neighbour is a human you should respect, not catcall when she picks up her newspaper in her bathrobe. Your waitress is serving you to pay her bills, not to worship all the nonsense you think you are entitled to utter as a paying customer. That girl didn’t wear a skirt for you, she wore it because she feels good in it. That lady is feeding her child so he is well nourished and can grow to become someone who will stand up for the mothers you deny the right to breastfeed in public spaces because it makes you queasy. Every woman is a being to be respected just like any other being on Earth, with beautiful superpowers like those of procreation and overflowing emotion and empathy. To all those who still doubt it, our hormones are one of our sources of magic.

Ultimately, everyday should be women’s day and mother’s day and an occasion for all those beautiful celebrations to remind us that we should love each other with no boundaries, no misogyny or sexism or antiquated patriarchal ideas on the place of women in society. A woman’s place is wherever she deems fit, wherever she feels comfortable, wherever she feels useful and hopefully, wherever that is, she can feel safe and strong.