Big Questions in Brooklyn

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Being in New York City can make you feel small. And when you’re arriving from a dot on the map, it can make you feel like a speck of dust in a sandstorm. It was the first time that I stopped to think, not only about all that has happened to me in the last few years, but also where I may be heading in the ones to come. Turns out, I didn’t want to wait another 3 years to reevaluate – by then, it would be too late.

Spending a week in NYC was more of an investigative trip. I wanted to see if it could be a new frontier, the next step that would shove me out of my comfort zone and teach me more about who I am. The more I thought this way, the more I felt like a high school senior in need of a gap year, a lost guppy who wanted to find herself or was on some journey of self-discovery, a walking millennial cliche. Basically, I felt like a spoiled brat because I wanted more when I was and am already quite fortunate.

Honestly, only those who are blessed enough to have options at their fingertips have the luxury to think this way. When you are tied down with responsibilities and bills to pay, the path in front of you has limitations. But when you’re not surrounded by commitments that dictate your decisions, you only have you to answer to. The possibilities are overwhelming and have never been more daunting. It brings on inner monologues and sidewalk soliloquies that have your brain pondering things like What am I really doing? Why am I restless after 3 years at the region’s best agency? Am I satisfied with where my life is now? And if not, why am I wasting time being stuck? But where do I go?

If I were to move to NYC, or move anywhere that wasn’t my dear Lebanon, would I survive it? Am I as strong as I think I am? Like many people who were strolling the streets of Brooklyn, I found that I was having discussions with myself out loud; I was asking the big questions that come with being in a big city. Am I doing everything in my power to make sure the life I want will come to be? What is the life I want?

My closest friends are all abroad and the days are numbered when it comes to those who are still here. Most of my phone contacts have country acronyms next to their names because they’re abroad trying to make something of themselves. Am I selling myself short by staying behind? Is there more for me out there? In a country that can be so much but give so little, I am finding it increasingly difficult to pass up opportunities that would empower me as a young professional, experiences that would equip me with new skills, and chances that would expose me to hidden facets of myself I have yet to know. Can Lebanon give me that? Am I still betraying my country if I want more for myself? If I stay but don’t move forward, who am I really helping? In the end, wasted potential serves no one.

I’m grateful I don’t have parents that poke and prod about when I’m going to walk down the aisle or make them grandparents. Instead they entertain the same questions that I struggle with. My dad recently asked me if I ever give any thought to where my personal life is at. I think he worries that he instilled in me such a spirit of ambition that my careerist ways have backfired. Regardless of whether it shows or not, I do think about it. Even more now that I have entered Wedding Territory. For the next 5-7 years of my life, I will have, on average, 3 engagements/weddings to attend annually. Not out of desperation, lack of self-esteem, or fear of becoming a cat lady, but this brings on big questions as well: Will I find that person? Would I notice them if I did? Have we already met? What am I missing? and then the worst one of all: Is something wrong with me? 

If I were to move to NYC, or any other city that disconnects me from the world I’ve known for so long, would I become more guarded than I already am? Would I be so good at surviving that I become too strong? Would I be lonely? Will I miss out on special milestones for the sake of my own selfish drive? Does going solo really matter if it means you’re sacrificing moments with the ones you care about the most? If I leave, dad won’t be around to make Spanish omelettes with Kalamata olives on Sunday mornings. If I stay, I’ll never make them for myself. There’s always a fine line when trying to decide what’s best for you. In the Arab world, sometimes you have to cut the cord yourself.

I resigned from my job before boarding my flight to the States. A week after landing, as I stood on the edge of East River Park looking at the Manhattan skyline on my last morning in Brooklyn, a small voice asked, will Beirut be okay without me?

I know I want to find out.

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Mistakes Made in NYC

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    • Buy a SIM card from a vending machine in JFK. T-Mobile, why no stand at the airport? How are there no telecom providers there? What’s a payphone?
    • Pay for individual metro rides. Get the unlimited 7-day card for $32 and take all the wrong trains you want, no penalties for being a semi-tourist except lost time.
    • Fail to invent an app that tells you where there are clean public bathrooms and charging stations. Every traveler’s two worst enemies are iPhone batteries and bladders. With that said, thank you Starbucks for your $7 blattery break. Get the powerbank from all those techie shops in Duty Free.
    • Assume that Airbnb hosts will have towels available because it’s basically like a hotel with a stove, right? Go buy $5 bath towels from a dollar shop around the corner. Proceed to have pink fuzz everywhere after every shower. It’s been 3 days since I returned and I still feel like a molting Furby.
    • Allow eternally lost friend to navigate. Instead of ending up at Century 21, the discount hotspot by the Empire Hotel, you end up near a Century 21 real estate office in Soho.
    • Attend Sleep No More while suffering from respiratory allergies. Although one of the most intriguing experiences and my first at interactive theatre, running up and down staircases through creepy sets with a mask on when you can’t breathe is a whole new level of nightmare. Note to self: bring tissue and a snorkel next time.
    • Eat breakfast before going to Smorgasburg. That’s just wasted space. Especially when you’re going to be stocking up on 18-hr cooked bbq beef burgers, ramen burgers, nutella banana wontons, and truffle fries. And maple lemonade. And cheese curds. And Pepto-Bismol.
    • Eat everything and justify it by saying “well, you ARE walking a lot here.” You are not Forrest Gumping through the Meatpacking District, you’re packing meat through all the districts. No, I don’t mean like that, perv.
    • Wait too long for a table at Spotted Pig in Greenwich without taking photos of the movie-set neighborhood streets because, if you walk away, you might miss Kanye walking in. Forget to ask for your burger without Roquefort cheese because you’re so hungry you didn’t even read the menu, you just said “burger, medium well” and started counting pig statues. Miss the train back to Brooklyn for the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory Tour. Go home to slip into food coma.
    • Wear the right shoes with the wrong socks and bleed on your Nikes. Use this as a completely illogical excuse to buy a new pair and go to Lady Foot Locker when you know sneakers are your Louboutins. If you find yourself agreeing with the saleslady when she says, “you can never have too many Nikes,” you need to get out. ABORT MISSION.
    • After realizing you are part of the first two cult followings of America (Starbucks and Apple), contemplate joining the 3rd: Abercrombie & Fitch. Realize you don’t like smelling like a junior prom queen or lining up to use a flashlight to shop for hoodies. I can do both by rummaging through my own garage.
    • Pass up on a bottle of chili oil honey from Roberta’s because you got take-out since there was a wait of an hour and fifteen minutes and you didn’t want to buy it before trying the Beesting Pizza. You thought something called “chili honey oil” could actually taste bad. Fool.
    • Leave ribs on your plate at Hillstone because you’re full. You could’ve taken 4 more, weakling.
    • Going to Fuerza Bruta after ingesting half of NYC. I am a slug in human form.
    • Only spending 10 minutes at Grand Central Station and 30 in Dumbo. What are you even doing underground on the subway where you see nothing but people using the earphone protective forcefield? Swim to Brooklyn.
    • Wait for someone to ask where you’re from. Walk around with “I’m from Beirut” written on your face because people will either think you’re:
      a) a good businessperson
      b) friendly unlike the “dry Americans” and give you hugs goodbye
      c) from a place they’ve never heard of and, thus, you are exotic or a terrorist
      d) just sooo gorgeous.Upon revealing my nationality, an Ivory Coast cabbie immediately felt a connection because our countries were both occupied by the French, a Yugoslavian mother told me her life story within 12 minutes of meeting, a Turkish shop owner gave me free postcards & stickers, and a Puerto Rican gay man named Carlos said I was the Regina George of New York. WIN.
    • Send a picture of your vegan doughnut to your vegan sister. Have her jealous vibes send your cappuccino flying into your lap. Plus side is smelling like doughnut glaze all day.
    • Introduce yourself using Arabic pronunciation. Adopt “Vera” as your new name since that’s what they hear anyway.
    • Constantly move. Johnathan from HONY can’t take your picture if you don’t stand still and look pensive. I had my speech ready and everything. I even bought a hipster hat from a Brooklyn flea market.
    • Be flattered by people thinking you’re a New Yorker but then have an existential crisis about whether you are meant to be one or not. Chuckle and think, “Please. Carlos is right. I got this,” and get on the 6 humming JLo.
    • Use the excuse “I’m cold” to eat warm breakfasts like bagels, waffles, and muffins. Blueberry flavor and topped with fresh fruit because, ya know, it’s healthy. Having an everything bagel will teach you that frozen Sara Lee bagels tossed in a toaster aren’t bagels, they’re carbohydrate lies. Thank God that the cold also means your clothing layers will hide your gluttony until you go on a kale-only diet for 6 months upon return to the labneh motherland.
  • Miss labneh.