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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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?

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.

Wrong side of the world

“Must’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed”. What if, instead of devising which side of the mattress is more convenient to stand up from, we realized we wake up daily on the wrong side of the planet?

A French friend posted an article on Facebook yesterday talking about how more and more of her compatriots are choosing to leave their country in search of better horizons. I wondered – thinking of how beautiful life in France seemed to me who’s always felt stuck in a country I’ve never deemed comfortable – how differently we each perceive the places that aren’t “ours”. It’s a beautiful thing to witness the traditions and customs of various cultures, and I’ve pondered several times the idea that maybe the multiple immigrated masses are, by making this mixture possible, contributing to the annihilation of separate identities and creating a cosmopolitan world with the qualities intrinsic to each country slowly becoming a vague historical memory. Notwithstanding how sad this makes me feel, thinking of how the idiosyncrasies of the world will someday be obsolescent notions of the past, a part of me knows we aren’t all meant for the soil we took our first steps on, and that however patriotic one wants to be, the impossibility of identifying by force with a culture or population too different from one’s natural inclinations make immigration a much more plausible solution than brainwashing oneself in order to fit into a carcass evidently inadequate. It isn’t easy, leaving, looking back and acknowledging that our past is just that: passed. It is however a healthier alternative in the long run to becoming a disillusioned adult forcedly accepting a future too different from the one we envisioned as hopeful children.

“Your future awaits” they tell the kids, but what awaits us in the future when we accept the things we know are not made for us? What becomes of those who stay when every atom of their being urges them to go?

My first time…eating tofu

I know, for a second it seemed like I was about to tackle a completely different subject, but certain food items can sound just as taboo. My tofu chronicles as I call them started around a year ago – I’m not vegan or vegetarian although more than two thirds of my meals would make you think I am; I’m just guilty of loving vegetables… a bit too much.
I enjoy being in the kitchen, and I love cooking just as much as any other art form. Eating is just a bonus I don’t have when I paint or make things; I’d take a bite out of my canvas but I’m not sure they season them well these days, and I’m quite positive coffee tables aren’t actually coffee-flavored. Right now you must be thinking I belong in a gingerbread house like the one Hansel and Gretel fell upon, and I agree, unlike my clothes which keep screaming at me and asking for mercy every time I open the fridge. Mmm, cheese…
So, uhm, getting back to that tofu, I was at the supermarket one day and saw they actually sold quite a variety of the product, and having never really searched for tofu in Lebanon, I wrongfully thought the country was devoid of the delicacy. Well maybe “delicacy” isn’t the appropriate term for the interesting ingredient I was about to experiment on. I bought a pack, “extra-firm tofu steak” oh yeah, I was drooling already, Internet images racing through my mind. It’s safe to say I had never tasted tofu before, and had only read the raving comments of food bloggers posting eye-catching caramelized chunks of my soy-based friend.
I returned home, found a basic recipe I could tweak at ease and started the process. Being a big fan of curry, I made a spicy vegetarian version and dropped my now crisped up cubes of tofu into the mix to absorb all the flavors. Sounds good till now huh? Some rice noodles, spiced tofu & vegetables in a light creamy yellow sauce and… no. As soon as I had swallowed the first chunk of what I can only describe as chewy boiled egg-white omelet, I knew I had to revert to plan B: fish them all out of my bowl and pretend they never existed. Flavored soggy cardboard would have done the job just fine, I believe.
I spent months convinced that tofu was a horrid invention and that those bloggers were insane for shoving such a thing into their mouths, my refined palate was appalled – well, some people think they have style whileas I believe I have gourmet tastes, and yes my palate comes equiped with a full range of emotions.
A few months later, I spent two weeks in Germany, and venturing on risky ground, had what I’m convinced was the best tofu dish ever. Battered and swimming in a caramel soy sauce and shiitake mushrooms… my tummy demanded more and my palate was in a state of pure ecstasy. Needless to say I went back again! Then I left Deutschland and its culinary wonders, and plunged into a gloomy pool of despair, deprived of my sweet beloved… I read too much Poe, I know.
Since then, I’ve had a tofu-based dish once, and I enjoyed it, but still haven’t dared cook the tricky thing myself. However, I now feel ready to try and take on the monster again and this time, it’d better be edible…closer to tissue paper maybe? I think I’ve had my dose of cardboard for a while…