For the last few days, I’ve been experiencing what can only be called “total system shutdown.” All things thawra pinch me with annoyance. I still believe in it; if anything I believe in it more because there is no longer fear that I will wake up and find that it snuck out the window. After Sunday’s numbers, I’m confident that this will, at least, make it to Day 30.
So what is this feeling? This resentment? This guilt? At first, I thought it was coming from disengaging from the constant ebb & flow of the protests, for the need to momentarily come up for air.
“Look out for yourself.” “Your mental health is important.” “You have to have a life beyond the thawra so you know what you’re fighting for.”
But that isn’t it.
It’s because I realized that, even if the government were to fall tonight, even if we were given every human right scribbled on white boards, even if we were presented with the roadmaps to our utopian Lebanon, even if the blueprints were unrolled and the technocrats were getting every check on the ballots…I realized that all of it would not be for my generation.
I’ve been repeatedly saying that this is a long road, that these changes will take time, that patience and perseverance are the tools we need to sharpen to win this. But only now have I seen that that also means, as an almost-32 year old single female with just a cat as a dependent, all the battles we fight will be won for the generations after my own.
As a parent or student, it is easier to be filled with adrenaline for this. All you have to do is think of your child or of the next decade of life beyond graduation. It has been heartwarming to see tents filled with the proud, hopeful civil war generation and the determined, empowered Lebanese youth. But as someone in between those two phases, it is heartbreaking too. I am absolutely willing to fight but I am overcome with envy. I do wish the match was struck a decade earlier. There is shame in even admitting that I feel this way but I’m acknowledging how furious I am that those of us who have stayed here will have to sacrifice more when our friends have already left, when our elders are already sick, when our careers are already stunted. Hasn’t she taken enough?
This revolution is not for me but it is for my younger sisters. It’s for my aging parents. It’s for parents who have passed away too soon from illnesses they shouldn’t have had. It’s for every kid who was rejected from a hospital. It’s for my female friends who have married foreigners and want their unborn children to be seen as equals. It’s for the mountains, the tomatoes, the hyenas, and the olive trees. It’s for every word I have bled for this place.
It’s for my country. And hell, it’s for my cat.
And if it’s for every one of them, then I guess it is for me after all.
October has always been my favorite month because it’s about change. The leaves, the costumes, the weather, the government.
Yes, the moment we’ve all been waiting for is here. I have been wanting to put this all in words since Day 2 but I haven’t been able to peel away from what’s happening. Even now, I sit with the TV streaming MTV Live, my twitter timeline refreshing on my iPad, and Instagram is scrolled periodically on my phone. I thought yesterday was Monday as I’ve been counting my days in days of the revolution, or thawra. Today is Day 7.
I’m addicted to the Square and the thawra I thought may never come. I don’t know how to focus on anything unrelated to our revolution and I’m literally in it – I can only imagine how the diaspora feel as their adopted cities continue with their days, as usual.
I feel like a representative for my friends who are not here. I have walked down to Martyrs’ Square alone one too many times because those who would be walking with me are in another time zone. I have heard, “this makes me proud of Lebanon” with conviction from those who had long since given up on her. Their encouragement to continue and their desire to be here has spurred a statement they rarely ever say: “Neyyelik inte bi Libnein hala2.” You’re so lucky you’re in Lebanon right now.
Yes, I am. We’re making history.
But I am weary. I am exhausted. I don’t know if we’re being naive in thinking that if we just hold on long enough, the ruling regime will fall. The corruption is in every vein of an intricate system; it would be foolish to think that they would walk away and the clouds would part to shine on a utopia. They are waiting for us to lose confidence like we have done in the past. It is all so fragile. Another chance that, if lost, could shatter even the staunchest believers after so many false starts.
I am drained but it’s not because of walking to downtown or navigating through crowds for days on end. It’s because of the feels. It’s difficult to describe how emotionally taxing it has been to see the people, or the sha3b, unite through anger, pain, and joy.
I have been choked up a few times a day, every day of the thawra. Before I go to sleep, I worry it won’t be there in the morning. I worry it’ll collapse before it forms. Like a mound of clay spinning on a potter’s wheel, a revolution being molded by the hands of the people. Are we just going in circles or are we forming something beautiful? Will these hands stay steady? Will they bring their hand together to create a vessel that can withstand the pressure?
But the power of the people is real.
I want to go back every day because of it. Not just to make sure it’s there but also because it’s addictive. When I feel my faith is wavering, I go back to the street for another hit and it’s restored.
The power of the people is palpable.
It fills your lungs. And that’s just it: people are breathing. Something has been unleashed. The sha3b is alive and so is the country because, as a protester said, na7na kil shi bi hal balad.
We had turned more and more inward as the ruling class, or sulta, left us to depend on ourselves alone. After the fires tore through the Shouf last week, after the Minister of Environment spoke down to us like a kindergarten teacher, after they wanted to steal from the most basic method of communicating with all our loved ones who were driven to emigrate, after thirty years of a broken system, we have learned that we aren’t even an afterthought in their agenda.
But just as the community came through for the wildfires, they have come through for the revolution. We have each other. We have strength that is not only figurative, but it is also corporal. It seeps out of our pores and rolls down our skin in beads of sweat. The sha3b is full of fury but united in their healing. The sha3b who not only shake signs and wave flags but who wake up early to sort through trash left by the protesters the night before. The sha3b who block the roads with their bodies to shut down normalcy. The sha3b of Tripoli who chant for Dahiyeh, the sha3b of Beirut who chant for Tyre. The sha3b who grab hands with strangers to dabke in the middle of a protest. The sha3b who lie on the Saifi grass, who tear down the barriers to their downtown, who bring their man2als and plastic chairs to sit on the sidewalk. The sha3b who have brought back the souks. The sha3b who are making the cities theirs again. Reclaiming their space, their central district, their rights. The sha3b who have been through so much and are finally smiling.
There have been complaints that the revolution shouldn’t be a party. That we should stay focused or we’ll let this all slip away. This fear is valid and true. However, in the early stages, for this is a marathon, we must draw numbers. We must make the sha3b feel safe, empowered, and understood so they keep coming back. Meetings are being organized, demands from the sha3b on the ground are being noted, WhatsApp groups are being formed. And there are technocrats and activists that have been shouting from the sidelines before this (in)formal uprising began. They will be anything but still in this movement. Even the amenities in the Square have improved with each day – bathrooms, medical, food. It is not wrong for people to come together through happiness, harmony, and hope. We need this boost so we have staying power.
Join the party in the way that you want and do the work that you feel is needed. Help clean-up the streets in the morning, ask people what they want from this or what they’ve been through, change the chants you don’t like. Fear of this revolution being ruined is what, in actuality, will ruin it. It will cripple you. It will keep you at home. For once, the streets are yours. Take them.
And it is a marathon. When you train for one, a key to making it to the finish line is to set a pace. You can’t go full speed as soon as they blow the whistle. You can’t let the excitement gauge your energy in the first few kilometers or you’ll be spent before the quarter mark. In the thawra, you must also be careful to pace your participation. Egypt’s revolution was 17 days, Earth’s revolution is 365, ours will not be complete in a week. This will need time so take shifts, take breaks, take breathers. Take friends or family down with you so their mere existence reminds you what you’re fighting for. We need to stay fierce. We need to keep the issues at the forefront so we don’t forget what brought us here. We cannot go back to sleep. We cannot go back.
“The most important thing now is that we gain a victory in terms of people believing in themselves and the hope of people imposing change through taking action because this is what has been missing for so long.”
The unknown ahead is frightening but think of the last 3 decades. It will get worse before it gets better so we must sacrifice in the present to ensure the future. The power of the people is real and now we know it. Now let’s use it.
And since I’ve paid attention to the date, today will mark Teta‘s one-year memorial. I wish she could’ve been here to see my new Lebanon.
Leave it to Lebanon’s growing pains to get me writing again. I’ve been so wrapped up in other media and projects that my fingertips haven’t been still long enough to weave a coherent paragraph of word strings.
Last night, I went to the stars. I needed to be off the grid to get back on it, to reposition myself, to be aware that my time on this third rock from the sun is finite and, ultimately, negligible. Marcus Aurelius said, “what we do now echoes in eternity” and getting lost in a snapshot of the universe will remind you that you are a blip on the timeline of this planet, the planet that is slowly dying because no one feels like their choices have any impact. We want fewer motorcycles on the road but we want shawarma delivered to our doorstep at midnight. We want freedom of speech but we want to silence music or mask art that are reflections on and of our societal structures.
“Remember when music used to sway us?” – Lyrics from Comrades by Mashrou Leila
Khalil Azar, the cognoscenti of the astroadventurer group, BeirutVersus, mapped out where we were in relation to our geolocation and the summer season. A concept that stuck with me from his intro was that of Jupiter and its 3 moons. Gravitationally bound to one another, the system stabilizes as they resonate in space. In the sea of the Milky Way that flows out of the teapot asterism across the sky of Kfardebian, that glimmer of cosmic kinship was solacing.
The thought of entities orbiting harmoniously in vast darkness is the way we keep spinning and allowing for life to persist. We each have our own moons keeping us stabilized in a world that is geared to always veer into chaos. The second law of thermodynamics roughly dictates that we are not supposed to stabilize, that there is a constant loss of energy available to do work, that entropy will only increase as we continue to exist. No wonder the loss of a moon can throw you into a tailspin.
Last night’s universe by Anthony Ballouz
As Khalil continued to break down the stars with Arabic names, including the three that make up the Summer Triangle star formation, we quickly saw how influential our part of the world was in celestial documentation. Vega, one of the vertices of this triangle, is a loose transliteration of wāqi which means “falling” or “landing.”
A fellow stargazer then said, “Wein kinna w wein sirna.” * “We’re still here,“ I said.
And yet, with the youth being shipped out in droves, their bags being packed by their own parents who shove them out the door, the collective attention being sidetracked because of a meme or a lyric while the country is Vega, falling further into decay – are we still here at all? The sky is the most basic record of the past and it could be that we’ve all but vanished to the eyes of beings across the galaxy. All this light is seen from a distance even though we’re long gone. It feels like this place is a sky full of ghosts.
*A phrase that means, where we were versus where we are now
It’s finally warm enough to sit on the balcony like a real Beiruti. It will only be a few weeks of this before the humidity has us locked indoors until October. I find myself wanting a cigarette just because I have a place to smoke it. A place to watch the smoke dance away from my neighbor’s drying laundry above.
Beirut is so layered, not just in its being but in its literal appearance. Electric cobwebs, satellite dishes, the red air-traffic lights. It’s modpodged like a paper mache landscape of concrete and rooftops. During take-off, as the aircraft would climb into the sky, I used to look down at the cars and be fascinated by the number of people below that would breathe in a day that was removed from mine. I feel that in my own city when I look at a spread of buildings stitched together like a quilt. Who’s in there? What are they worried about tonight? What have they seen? Who are they thinking about? What song is on repeat until they hate it?
Like Greyworm’s other track, loving Beirut’s a bloodsport. I won’t proselytize on that; I’m tired of taking you along on my personal peregrination when it comes to this love/hate thing. I frequently find myself caught between wanting to leave the noise for some time in a tree OR wanting to wander in its streets for a dose of abandoned secrets.
I digress, let’s talk about wine.
I’ve started another side hustle that involves Lebanese vino. You can learn more about it here. During the research process, I once again saw a parallel in enology and viticulture that can be applied to life’s grand design. What can I say, I’m an acolyte of the vine.
I’ve been ruminating about timing.
So much of making wine is dependent on timing. When to prune the vines, when to pick the grapes, when to bottle the blend, when to uncork the bottle. Pick the grapes too soon and they’ll be underripe and just shy of the desired sugar level. Wait too long, and they’ll be plump with diluted flavor. Open the bottle on a Thursday solo and you’ve just sentenced a Syrah to death-by-cooking the following week because you didn’t plan on finishing it off alone. Much like the orbiting objects on our mobile of life, there is no strict formula that will tell you when things should happen. There’s a rough suggested timeframe but, in the end, you go with your gut and sometimes your gut lies because it wants to get to the goods, the end, the wine.
You can see that patch of grass on AUB’s Green Oval calling out to you and you kill 30 minutes lying there listening to your WORKOUT playlist. But you can miss the poppy blooms in the South because you kept delaying the drive. You can meet the one when you’re a zero and it won’t match up because human romance isn’t a binary code. You can see that gig winking at you from across the ocean but you’re knee-deep in the soil, roots wrapped around your ankles like sea anchors. You can want the timing to be right but it’s just not. There’s more to do, it’s not the right time, says your gut. Timing laughs and you’re thinking, I’m trying to navigate here, asshole. Timing can be such a Moby Dick.
But then there’s that chilled rosé you pulled from the fridge, that frosty glass on your balcony at 6pm on a Sunday, that lingering sunshine that just hugs your skin with a tenderness that sweat beads are afraid of.
In the rush of it all, that’s a single drop of perfect timing.
“It’s a love/hate thing” is what I’ve been replying to the “what’s Beirut like?” question. To the Lebanese transplants and Lebanese-Americans, all respond in varying levels of comprehension of that phrase. The younger the company, the higher the understanding. I’d chalk that up to the youth needing to be hopeful that there is something to go back to, that there is something worth saving, that we’re still too naive to realize how much our country won’t do for us as we age.
After moving into my own apartment in Beirut, I planted my roots deeper within the city. I chose to try Beirut in full capacity and it’s given me so much mental stability but I know that this is only relative to my current state as a single, unattached person working for the family. Providing kibbles for my cat on the daily does not sway me to change coasts but it may be different if I were thinking about my kid’s access to a backyard or my parents’ retirement. The love/hate thing may not have enough love to balance out in the long-run.
I’m 3 civilizations deep into my ageless city but will I ever stop asking this question? Will Lebanon ever stop being followed by a question mark?
Beirut has given me my temperament. I am passive or aggressive but never both. It is either worth the confrontation or not worth the acknowledgment. In California, there are sources of calm. GMO-free sunshine that doesn’t make you sweat. The blooms from the heavy rainfall have wrapped the hills in green. It’s all rigged in a way. Less hassle, less pressure points, less weight on your chest. Fewer acupuncture needles poking at you in the form of a basic need not being met, one that you’ve paid for twice. Not just because of the Apple stores of weed or the proximity to waves but is anyone ever angry here? Could I create without the discomfort that Beirut provides? Is that a necessary ingredient for creation or am I just convincing myself that it is?
LA is this place that reminds me of my younger self when my worries were getting home before curfew or enduring another Thursday morning class about plants. Even the yearly catch-up sesh with airport security feels like a moment to review what’s changed since I last got randomly selected. Some know how to show what feels like genuine interest when essentially interrogating you. After talking to Rick,* the US customs agent from New York, for a half hour before boarding my LA-bound flight in Paris, he says, “you’re a strange bird.” That and his encouragement to open a doughnut shop in Beirut makes me think we could’ve been friends if we were talking in the terminal’s Starbucks line, if we weren’t meeting like this, if he wasn’t being paid to inspect my existence. He even tells me that he likes to just have a conversation with flagged passengers because you catch more flies with honey, right?
LA is this mirror that asks, “shu?” with a twist of the wrist, the same way my uncle does when he asks what kind of grilled meat I want. I’m removed enough from Beirut to take a look at the reflection. To realize I might’ve missed parts of LA but buried the memories that resurface with every uprooting. That darker, slimmer version of you with miles of highways and swaying trees. LA is that ex-boyfriend you thought you forgot. The one you thought you didn’t miss until you felt his heat under your fingertips. That one that felt familiar but existed only in simulation, only under perfect circumstances, only on the set of a Hollywood movie. That one that teases you with whole coffee beans and painted lady butterflies. It’s not real and it doesn’t know you anymore.
Or does it?
LA, as my home away from home, serves the purpose of reminding me what I should not be complacent about back in Beirut. From the most nuclear (eating habits, writing frequency, trading in road-trip curiosity for mornings with a laundry basket) to the most communal (recycling, inconsistent utilities, lack of green space, customers who’ve lived in America so they know better than you, expensive Brussel sprouts, the amount of gas left in my dull-first-dates tank). It’s not taunting me so much as it’s saying, “remember when you wanted this?”
It’s not about looking for it here but attaining it from where I am now, for now: my bubble in Beirut.
Every February marks the anniversary of the blog (7 years!) and my birth. It also is the anniversary of the passing of my friend, Raja. I didn’t know him as well as I would’ve liked but he was one of the first people to read this blog. Throughout high school, Raja was the child prodigy who published a book at 15. He encouraged me to write and he encouraged others to read what I wrote. In the days when I was attempting to be anonymous, I knew that at least Raja was reading my public words. Part of me hopes he still is somehow.
Truth is, we were never that close and that’s what I’ve been mulling over this week. During the days that lead up to Valentine’s, a day which makes you evaluate the level of love you’ve chosen to allow into your perimeter, I thought about the guest stars in your personal series. Those that could potentially become a permanent cast member but end up being written off too soon, and not necessarily through death. They play a role, possibly very minor versus the headliners, and exit stage left after they’ve read their lines. You may not even learn their name. The impact of the interaction or just a statement they say can be something that stays with you longer than their own physical presence.
“Closeness lines over time” by Olivia de Recat
My parents throw out quotes of strangers they met on planes like they’re reciting proverbs, wise words of an art collector they met one summer before El Nino wiped out beach houses, a family lesson from a nameless neighbor who watched me grow up. I see these visitors being logged into my own narrative too. They need to be transcribed somewhere as a thank you for a sentence or a push that pulled you out of a gray day or energy that charged you for free. A brief moment where you got tangled in their light stream, unraveled, and kept moving into infinity.
Uber drivers, that high-heeled mom who help me haul a shelving unit into the trunk in the Costco parking lot, that customer service hotline rep who laughed at the ON HOLD music with me, the carpenter on the corner who told me about his days in a German publishing house, the lady winemaker of the North who teases me for rejecting her olive oil because I’m obviously from the South. I cherish these pockets of humanity and the bits of unsolicited advice you catalog and retrieve on command.
This Valentine, and every once in a while, pop open the caisson and sift through the memories of those who left a smidgen of a mark on you. Love doesn’t always have to be grand. For a few, it can be just love and that still counts.
My sister has been sending me memes on Instagram that hit the nail on the head each time given what’s going on with me in parallel. The below was a few weeks before the launch of my podcast:
In the same week as reading this article about millennials being the burnout generation, mapping out a trip in June, and tweaking a business plan, she hit me with this one:
Even decisions feel like accomplishments in the age of endless options and bullet points we voluntarily add to to-do lists. January is that month that gets you thinking about time and where you’re throwing it away. My resolution every year, without fail (or with?), has been to learn how to allocate my energy efficiently. To learn how to do more by doing less. Being selective with where you invest a finite resource (time) is a practice that needs to be consciously put into action when it comes to social, personal, and communal intersections. This is in all avenues, not just professional. That’s not to say that you only invest in the permanent or forever but to choose what’s worth it at all.
A friend of mine shared a Facebook status about his change of heart toward activism and choosing different battles. From long-haul fights like the political change in a young, dysfunctional country to even the most fatuous like having that third beer on Sunday night. It’s about trading the time for the fuel rather than the fire that will surely go out.
You’re swimming in multicolored post-its that will shape tributaries that you’re supposed to wade through to write a book that no one but your mother will read. You’re hopping through your own Bandersnatch without a back button. Is this where you want to pour your perspiration? Is there a campsite on the way to that summit? Is there a summit? Is there a pause?
A pause to let it yistéwe (Arabic for letting a stew cook through). A slow boil on low heat so the meat drips off the bone and the tender decision is soft and succulent. It’s not rushed and chewy, it’s cooked in fat juice and breaks down at the touch of a tongue. It’s fulfilling and digestible. It’s spreading the butter effectively so it soaks into the grain, it coats the bread and begs for rosemary & sea salt. Man, I’m going to miss the carbs of 2018.
I’m caught between wanting to write more but happy that what I do write is worth every peck at the keyboard. But I want to fill folios and I want to create. Fewer tabs, more pages. Fewer pixels, more paper. Less ephemeral nothingness, more tangibility. I want to become a creative machine in terms of production and expression but not in terms of pumping out identical cups of tasteless flan. Give me creme brulee or give me death. How much is too much? How much is not enough?
I want to write. I want to write. I want to write. I want to paint my life. Earthy, deep vermillion from wine and the soil that squeezes it tight, green from grape and olive leaves, and milky gold from sandy stones with wrought iron detailing. I want to paint my life with the palette this country gives me and the stories it hides under every fallen veranda.
But in order to make, you need to make time and found time is never lost.