El-Tanein Diet Week #2

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Week #2 of El-Tanein Diet was a disaster. Fitness level was pathetic, my Fitbit was dead, and the coastal feasting was at an all-time high. For being a fitness series, this post is loaded with food. That means that Week #3 is going to have to make up for it. BRING IT.

Bi-weekly weigh-in: 0. No change. Better than gaining, I guess.
Next weigh-in will be at the end of Week #4.

Workout Tally

1 Hike
1 Taebo

That’s ONE class along with the outdoor activity. Very, very poor performance this week due to various events and commitments (wedding season, after all). However, it has shown me that I can’t rely on late afternoon classes anymore. I’m going to have to start waking up early for morning classes, doing some random 5K runs, and hoping that the electricity at home will support my treadmill days for when I don’t make it to the gym or the track.

Outdoor Activity

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Unlike last week, this category is this week’s peak when it comes to getting the blood pumping. Some friends and I decided to go hiking by Nahr Ibrahim (Abraham River). We managed to GPS through a mountain and ask our way to the top until we ended up at a small church. There, you can leave the cars parked and take the “Lake Trail” of Jabal Moussa which leads to the Chouwen lake of the Yahchouch Valley.


Turns out the road up there is a lot easier than what Google Maps advised. If you’re coming from Beirut, continue on after Tabarja and take the right exit (the same one that leads to Okaibeh) under the bridge after Beit el Kataeb. Stay on the main road inward and there will be a left turn across from a gas station. It’s straight up after that till you get to the church. Worst case, stop and ask how to get to Chouwen. More info on hiking in Lebanon can be found here.

Fitbit Flex

This wearable went from being great to being an inconvenience very quickly. No further comment.

Cheat Meal

Thursday lunch at Classic Burger Joint in Hamra
A Classic Cheese with fries & coleslaw.

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A Nutella chocolate chip cookie cupcake from Gustav I got as a thank-you for being an expat tour guide. What a tough job.

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Other Highlights

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Having Grouper Fish (Likos) 3x this Week: Along with sushi as well, I feel I’ve become a human aquarium at this point. I’ve come a long way for someone who never liked seafood. I recommend O&C Fish Market for an affordable and fresh fish lunch. If you want some amazing octopus, make the drive out to Jammal in Batroun for a scrumptious lunch IN the water.

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Finally going to a beach in Tyre: The water was the perfect temperature for a hot day and, luckily, there were no jellyfish, just some weird seaweed-like slug bugs. I still prefer Batroun’s beaches but it was a nice change from the rocky shores. There are still parts of Anfeh and Chekka that I’ve got to see before September!

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Cards Against Humanity Nights: I’ve come to realize that if I keep attending this weekly gathering at my friend’s place, I will either have to count it as my cheat meal or duct tape my mouth shut. It’s quite the challenge to resist homemade rosé sangria and nachos.

Workout Track of the Week

I cannot understand why a megamix of Michael Jackson hits was the soundtrack for taebo this week but it was, at various tempos. Not that MJ isn’t perfect for basically anything, but I had to focus on the taebo moves instead of breaking out into dance. You can’t play this and expect me not to want to boogie instead of punch. Too many repressed shimmies and pelvic thrusts.

Cheese of the Week

While the country spent the last 6 days rolling in its own woebegone waste, it was a good week of seeing the beauty of our country’s beaches and natural greenery. You rarely get the chance to appreciate the outdoors and it made the environmental issue even more pressing after seeing what was at stake. 

All I know is, after this marathon of seafood and celebrations, this last week of July is going to be a killer. Take it away, work it kitty.

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Saying No to Temporary Fixes

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It’s ironic that in mob movies, members of the mafia use “waste management” as their cover when asked what they do for a living. Here, our mafia of politicians also has nothing to do with waste management. As has been the trend, whenever there has been an injustice in our society, a Facebook event pops up announcing a march against it. After the garbage fiasco this past week, an anti-corruption demonstration was planned for Saturday afternoon (yesterday) in front of the Grand Serail in Downtown.

I’ll admit that I haven’t gone to every protest but I felt like it was my civic duty to be present at this one in particular. If I didn’t go, I was a fraud: a hypocrite for not practicing what I preach. In essence, our presence at every march is necessary – we need to stand together when any member of our community or any issue that affects it is being defended and/or highlighted. We need to unite as a common front otherwise we are the ones to blame when our rights are violated or our politicians make poor decisions on our behalf and we quietly accept them. You have to take responsibility for your part of the equation before blaming others or authority. That also applies to the issue of garbage collection. As one citizen was saying at the protest, “this is our trash, we should sort it.” It is the country’s duty to collect and dispose of their people’s waste, but it’s the people’s duty to reduce their individual contribution to it. Once you do your part then you can be angry for them not doing theirs. It’s also about taking responsibility for putting such people in power and then suffering the consequences of our own votes. What’s done is done though so let’s deal with our present situation.

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I’m glad there was a demonstration. I’m amused when, after bumping into a friend there, she told me, “it’s my first mouzahara.” It was admirable to see people bringing their children there, exposing them to the issues that should be fought for instead of surrounding them with sectarian rhetoric. It was good to see the faces I see on Facebook, the ones who write about the problems, also there in person. It was great to see Lebanese flags, no party colors. It was commendable to see a peaceful approach to getting our voices heard. Who was listening though? The crowds looked indistinguishable from the ones at our summer street festivals and that’s what seemed wrong. I wanted more anger. I wanted more people. I wanted more alternatives presented for what happens once everyone goes home. Without a long-term plan, will there be change?

I went to yesterday’s protest knowing that it would either inspire or disappoint me. Sadly, it was more of the latter. I admire the activists that organized it and took action. Enough complaining without movement. But while standing there, I was surprised that there weren’t more people, that the ones there weren’t furious, and that the general consensus of the older generation was a pessimistic “what’s the point?” 

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Last night, I returned to Beirut from Broumanna and, from that altitude, there was a very visible gray cloud suffocating the entire city and we prayed that it wouldn’t rain. Driving (or diving, I should say) into it, the streets were a post-apocalyptic scene of burning dumpsters and filth.

The solution that they came up with yesterday post-protest was new landfills in new locations. But the people aren’t standing for it. Jiyeh residents have closed down the highways to South Lebanon because they don’t want to be the next Naameh. They may have inconvenienced a lot of people heading to/from the South today but they have every right to say no to a decision that will inconvenience them with a nation’s trash for an undetermined amount of time. We cannot let those in charge think that these “solutions” work. After seeing how they handle such crises, I wouldn’t want the trash moved to my backyard either. We have to reject this solution before it’s too late…again.


mouzahara: demonstration

El-Tanein Diet Week #1

Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

Week #1 of El-Tanein Diet is up. I’ll be doing weigh-ins every two weeks so 7 days to go. It seems having to write a weekly report is keeping me in check but I’ll admit that I still have to up the ante when it comes to gymming and avoiding the sugary goodness. Historically, Eid is never gentle on the digestive system but, enough excuses, here we go:

Workout Tally

1 Core
1 Boot Camp
1 Taebo

That’s a total of 3 classes which is satisfactory but not the minimum (which I’ve decided is 5/week, not including other cardio on machines). Starting El-Tanein Diet during the week of Eid may have been a bad move on my part. I ended up in the South for 2.5 days where you move from couch to couch just to keep things exciting. It’s either that or you camp out by the argileh and petit-fours. Not advised.

Outdoor Activity

This category is this week’s weak point. It seems the only thing that could qualify as an “outdoor activity” is the walk from Mar Mikhael to the Egg in Downtown which is pathetic when you think about the daily commutes on foot that occur in other cities. Next week will be better, promise. No really, the plan is set, stay tuned!

I did get to check out the structure from the inside though – that’s got to count for something.


It was a cinema in the 1960s before being partially destroyed during the civil war. It was briefly an exhibition space as well as a party venue (of course) up until recently. Now, its fate has been a debate for the last 10 years.

Fitbit Flex

The wearable failed me the week I decided to actually pay attention to it the most. It wasn’t counting my steps and has had the same calorie count every day since last Monday. Stage fright? This is the second fitness counter wearable that has gone haywire. My Nike Fuel band fell apart in the middle of a client meeting and Nike Support couldn’t help me since the product wasn’t distributed here. Better luck next week, Fitbit.

Cheat Meal

Wednesday late lunch at Butcher’s BBQ Joint in Mar Mikhael
A brisket sandwich with fries and special dips.

Other Highlights

Going solo to the John Legend Concert in Byblos: I was considering flying to Dubai in February just to see him so I was thrilled when he was announced as the front-runner for the Byblos Festival. By the time Monday rolled around, I wasn’t going because I couldn’t find a John Legend fan in my circle and I wasn’t a fan of going alone to a sappy concert. My friend managed to convince me to just do it since you don’t need company if the performer is someone you really want to see. His live version of “The Beginning” was so much better than the recorded track. Worth it!

Finding a pair of Nike Pro shorts for 39 thou: Thank you Nike Outlet by Galaxy Mall! Instead of waiting a month for Amazon orders or going to Niketown, I found a discounted new pair of black Nike Pros to wear once I reach the goal I set last week.

Workout Track of the Week

Not because it’s my favorite tune. It’s because it’s played during the taebo class and now I can’t stop myself from throwing rhythmic 8-count punches when it comes on in the car. Pavlov strikes again.

Cheese of the Week

The fund for Georges El-Rif’s family has reached almost $20K in two days. Although this all happened because of a horrendous crime, the way that the community came together to stand by Georges’ loved ones has really restored my faith in the Lebanese people. There are those who want to stand up to the status quo and make sure that justice will prevail, even when it seems like the authorities are nowhere to be found.

Instead of saying “this is Lebanon” and cursing the existence of such a corrupt society, the people took action. Even though it revolved around sadness, I am proud that we are slowly moving away from being passive victims. Let’s keep fighting for ourselves and for each other.

I’ll leave you with this gem until next Monday…

5 Steps to Survive Lebanese Wedding Season

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Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

1. Don’t Post Wedding Selfies

The beauty of having friends and family from different non-overlapping circles is that you can wear the same dresses to their occasions, even if they’re a few days apart. It is possible to last an entire wedding season with one dress if you do not document it heavily.

However, by posting a full-length-mirror selfie to Instagram, you’ve officially retired that OOTD to next year’s rotation because Noor won’t forgive you for wearing the same dress to her wedding next month – I mean, it’s like you don’t even CARE.

If you don’t want to recycle wedding outfits, then hashtag your heart out because you looking FINE and that hair won’t stand a chance against our humidity or surround-dancefloor-while-clapping duty.

None of this applies to men. Boys, just change your tie and you’re in an entirely new outfit. Life is unfair.

2. Power Banks

You will be there for at least 4 hours and you will be using your phone to either chat, take photos, or [insert social media addiction here]. Your phone will die. In the 21st century, that will cause people who are not in your physical presence to assume you’re also dead. That, and you could get very bored or be forced to talk to a relative who keeps asking about your age and marital status.

Make sure your lifeline is fully charged when you leave home and keep a power bank on you or stuffed in your little clutch.

3. The “3a2belik/lak” Drinking Game

3a2belik is the Arabic sentiment that means “hopefully you’re next” – at a wedding, it’s referring to going down the aisle. Besides hearing this from everyone including the valet parking guy, one of the best features of weddings is the open bar so, every time you hear a “3a2belik/nefrah minnik/nshallah mnshoofik 3arous,” take a sip from your glass of Chivas or a shot of tequila. At a large wedding party, make it 1 shot/3 3abeliks.

If you’re at a conservative wedding (i.e. no booze), replace the whisky with spoonfuls of tiramisu. The traces of rum may do the job or, at the very least, you’ll get a decent sugar high that’ll make you giggle your way through the night.

4. Take on a New Identity

When at a social function like a Lebanese Wedding, you’re bound to meet people. You may even be at a table full of new faces. Now is your chance to pull a Frank Abagnale and invent a whole different persona. Keep your name but change all the details. Don’t worry, they’ll never admit that they Facebook stalked you only to find out you are not a massage therapist with a condo in New Mexico.

Be careful though – you’re in Lebanon which means a person you don’t know could turn out to be your cousin. At that point, inform them about Step 3 and let the bonding begin.

5. Uber/Careem it Home

Unless your face is glued to your phone’s screen because you’re being an antisocial millennial and only showed up for the shrimp cocktail at the buffet (no judgment), you will not want to drive home because of three things:
a) Existing in heels
b) Not knowing the road back to civilization
c) 3a2belik Drinking Game/Open Bar

Avoid it. You could even go home in an Uber Black since you’re all fancy. Treat yo self. And wedding planners, get some promo-codes for your guests so everyone can drink and be merry…and safe.

Mabrouk to all the new couples of the season!

El-Tanein Diet

Womans Hand Taking Food From Cafe Table With Dips And Drinks

I don’t do diets, not the ones that are temporary fixes at least. Your diet should refer to what you are ingesting on a daily basis, not the starvation fads that cut out entire food groups. It is essentially what you’re putting in your system’s fuel tank and is your primary source of energy. I pride myself on being someone who has a lot of self-control and discipline but that is catapulted out the window when it comes to food and all things cheese. Unfortunately, munching on a box of Cheez-its while vegetating on the couch does not go unpunished when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

And so comes the challenge: how to make better eating choices while sticking to a regular active routine. How painfully boring and trendy this quinoa-loving way of life has become but becoming a chia cheerleader is not the point. It’s about being fit.

After spending a few years behind an iMac screen for hours on end and my metabolism turning the ripe age of 27, my physical fitness is not at its peak. Ever since I started boosting my hours at the gym, I’ve been feeling stronger and tighter. Even though I do more reps now, have a Fitbit, and use 3kg baby-weights instead of the 1.5kg I started with, I still can’t tell if it’s really working. I have yet to really keep track of my progress and when you don’t keep track, you may not be pushing hard enough. Your body adapts and you have to shake things up again.

TOOLS

Gym: Membership that includes various classes, home treadmill
Wearables: Fitbit Flex, iPhone 5S
Apps: Fitbit, Nike+ Training Club, Nike+ Running

GOALS

  • Do regular push-ups (I currently do modified bent-knee)
  • Plank for 2 minutes straight post-cardio
  • Lose 12kg by January 12, 2016 (2kg/month for ~6 months)
  • Work my way up to 6kg weights
  • Wear shorts to the gym without feeling the jiggles

Accountability is an effective tactic when it comes to motivating someone to change their behavior. It’s the main reason I can’t do DVD workouts. Besides the fact that a group’s energy is contagious, I need the public shaming to keep me going when I start to slow to a stop. El-Tanein Diet* is going to be my weekly post about my fitness journey. Every Monday, I’ll post about my week’s activities, total steps, weight loss, cheat meal and cheesy inspirational lesson. I’ll also try to throw in one outdoor activity to share. You don’t have to follow or read it but putting it out there will make me feel bound to an invisible contract (and audience) that will keep me in check. I’m not Serena, but whatever effort I put in, I’m #betterforit.

*a Lebanese phrase that roughly translates to “Diet on Monday” and is said out of guilt after hoovering an entire table of mezze over the weekend. However, the diet never comes and is always a Monday away.

Wake-up Calls

Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

There are some conversations that serve as wake-up calls. You may not notice them when they happen and the person you’re talking to may not realize that they’re snapping you out of a hypnotic routine. They’re not telling you anything you don’t already know but they’re a human catalyst forcing you to react and turn off autopilot. Below are 3 of my own.

Spring 2007
I had wanted to change the major on my enrollment card before starting my first year at AUB but decided to give pre-med a try. Worst case, I would transfer to architecture after a semester. But every term, I’d start out strong, get encouraged to stick to it, and then steadily plummet to mediocrity by the time finals rolled around. In this particular class of my second pre-med semester, I had survived my 3rd quiz of organic chemistry with Dr. Kaafarani. By survived, I mean my average was now suffering thanks to tanking on the last quiz before the final.  Kaafarani noticed this trend and asked me how I was doing in my other classes. I told him the truth, that I was doing very well in anything that wasn’t pre-med and it wasn’t something I was used to since I had always been a high-achiever. “Have you ever considered pursuing a major in humanities?”

When someone says that in our society, especially an instructor, it’s as if saying you’re not good enough for the science route. But coming from him and the way that he asked about my academic history, interests, and saw that I could perform well, it seemed he was telling me what would take me another 2 years to be convinced of: I could do it but I just didn’t want it badly enough. I graduated from AUB and went into the design program at LAU that same year.

June 2014
I had just finished up with an AIGA ME event at Coop D’etat for Beirut Design Week. A couple of expats had joined me for some beers so we could all catch up with each others’ lives. I was talking about my job and what I wanted more of, where I saw myself going, and what I wanted to do when my friend said, “you’re living in your worst case scenario right now.”

Where I was, at that moment, was an option that would always be available to me. If I tried to go do something else for a little while and it didn’t work out, I could return to my safety net. Home wasn’t going anywhere. But if I didn’t try to explore the possibilities in front of me, I would not move forward. I would be accepting the back-up as if it were the only path I could be on. The next day, I asked for a transfer to another office within my company’s network. It didn’t work out but it got the ball rolling.

February 2015
I’ve previously posted about this particular wake-up call. Following the passing of a high school friend and then a girl in my gym class, the words of the instructor struck a chord. He told us,“tell the people you love that you love them when you can.”

Nothing new or profound about that statement but, in retrospect, it may have been a combination of things that made his words give me chills after an hour of cardio. Love is the sole motivating force behind everything I do and I’ve always felt that you should put your entire heart into every action. That month, I was feeling stuck in molasses, trapped in a repetitive cycle that even a quick trip to Dubai couldn’t break. I was losing my drive, my passion, my self. This wake-up call was more about time, how little of it is spent wisely, and how much of it is invested in the wrong places or people. Eventually, I resigned from my job so that I could take advantage of my abilities, my privileges, and my future but, in order to do that, I wanted to have some say in the present.

I don’t know if these examples are as monumental as I’m making them seem here; like I said above, they’re usually triggers to thoughts that were already cooking, coming to a steady boil. Still, they are the sparks that light the fire under you and we could all use some heat to catapult us out of complacency. Feel the burn.

Old Beirut’s New Walking Tour

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Elie, our guide, is the one in blue. Note the train tracks!

Seeing parts of a city on foot seem to be an effective way of really getting to know a place and its history. Because you’re guided by a seasoned resident, the experiential aspect of walking through an alley while being told a story lets the information stick, giving simple streets new layers of existence.

A little over a month ago, I came across a Facebook page for a walking tour of old Beirut. I’ve been on different ones in the past few years – Beirut, Mar Mikhael, Tripoli – all enriching in their own ways. I texted Elie and saved a spot for this past Sunday.

You may wonder why someone would go on a walking tour of the city they live in. Being someone who’s behind the wheel most of the time, it’s hard to appreciate the nooks and crannies of streets you take everyday, not to mention the ones you don’t. If you’re a driver like I am, you rarely get to look out the window and admire what’s around you (other than the scooters you’re trying to avoid) or know what they’re about. And you don’t get to see it through the eyes of visitors or share your view of it with them. The exchange is the most fascinating part about perusing a location with strangers. Besides, as a resident, I want to know as much as I can about my own country.

This Sunday walking tour lasts 5-6 hours and starts in the middle of Ashrafieh. It cuts through Geitawi, Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael, breaks at Coop d’etat, and finishes in Bourj Hammoud. Being someone who frequents Ashrafieh a lot and worked in that area for a couple of years, I already knew my way around and was pretty familiar with where we wandered. Elie, who started giving tours about 2.5 months ago, says that the aim is to get people to share stories and talk to each other; he insists “I’m not a tour guide and I’m not about to be.” If that’s the case, then it’s right on the money. The mix of foreigners and Lebanese nationals created conversation about history, relations, food, religion, and politics. I liked seeing what people already knew about Lebanon and what they were surprised to find out upon visiting.

The walk concludes with a meal at Badguèr, an Armenian Heritage Center in Bourj Hammoud. The center was founded by the Mangassarian family and tries to promote artisans and Armenian culture. The restaurant gets their ingredients from the ladies of Aanjar and all the food is prepared in an old-fashion homey kitchen. It was a great setting after a long day; the perfect relaxed way to bond with new companions.

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Bits & Pieces from the Day:

– The meeting point was on Charles Malek Ave at 12:30 pm by the Sagesse school gate across from Leil Nhar. All the foreigners showed up early and proceeded to wait for one tardy Lebanese attendee, staying true to our respect for punctuality.

– A multinational group of 9 was from Doctors Without Borders. Magda, a woman from Mexico City, asked me about the diaspora, the brain-drain, and a typical day in the life of a Beiruti. She saw a lot of parallels between her home and Beirut: the love/hate push/pull of a chaotic city.

– A guy from the Netherlands is here interning for Bassma, a Turkish NGO dedicated to empowering families. He’s interested in international development and said, “Lebanon’s the perfect place to learn about that.” Indeed.

“That’s the most spiritual I’ve ever felt walking into a church and I’ve been to a lot of churches,” said one tourist after walking into the St. Georges Orthodox Church by the St. Georges Hospital (Moustashfa Al-Roum)

– A woman from Finland landed a week ago. She’s here to spend a year working with UNHCR and seems to have already fallen under Beirut’s spell. We were passing by Electricite du Liban when she told me, “I feel like if I had always lived here and I had to leave, I would miss this.” Some people are born here, live here all their lives, but don’t feel that way. And yet, to others, Beirut is the lover you can’t forget.

– Gemmayzeh is named after the Arabic word for sycamore tree (jumayz) because the street used to be filled with them years ago.

The streets of Bourj Hammoud have the same names as the streets of Armenia. I was mistakenly labeled as an Armenian resident of Ashrafieh because I knew about the Laziza brewery and taught the table how to eat mante. #proudchameleon

– Gibran Khalil Gibran and Nabih Berri both attended College de la Sagesse in Ashrafieh.

– Madame Arpi of Badguèr, while talking about the importance of a culture’s language, told us about an Armenian saying that I loved: “Even if you forget your mother, don’t forget your mother tongue.” 

Overall

In comparison to WalkBeirut, the Old Beirut Walk is less researched. It’s more like a friend taking a group through his neighborhood. It’s less structured, a tad less informative in terms of hardcore facts. Again, I’m not a fair judge since I am someone who has spent a lot of time in Ashrafieh; however, for a first-timer in the area, it’s a fine dose of Beirut’s character. Getting access to the Mar Mikhael train station would be an excellent addition to the stops included so attendees can see it during the day in its frozen glory (rather than at night in a club setting).

More residents of Lebanon should attend these tours because you become an additional tour guide and each one of us has their own basket of stories to tell about Lebanon. By attending, you give your unique take on the place you call home, learn about other nationalities, and you may even make some new friends, here and abroad.

Elie is hoping to expand the tour into Sodeco, Monot, and Basta but is looking for interested guides. Stay updated on upcoming tours here – the fee along with dinner/drinks will cost ~$40.