The impending departure date has rekindled my explorative fire that went out sometime in early 2016. Then, getting swept up in the day-to-day and marathon training as of July, the need to investigate Lebanon’s hidden corners took a backseat to kilometers and containers. My excursions had kept me deeply infatuated with the unturned stones that built Lebanon but the more I run around to explore, the less I run around to run and the more I spiral into this abyss of treat-yo-self-neglect. I’ve yet to master the right balance of self-care when it comes to trying to do it all. I won’t attribute my temporary move to CA to the lack of recent road trips or coffee encounters but I’m sure it aggravated my jaded stupor that had me stuck on autopilot.
THE LAST FEW WEEKS
They’ve been a mix of stargazing in Kfardebian, dancing at the Jazz Festival to Monday Night Blues Band or to La Bamba at Taqueria, prepping for afikra, strolling through Khiyam prison, joining a walking tour of Downtown, practicing some Arabic calligraphy, and ingesting way, way, way too much shawarma – kidding, not even possible. (This may be a preemptive measure since there will be nothing like Barbar in California but I’ll need to drop in on Zankou Chicken to see if they’re still repping us right after 17 years).
LEADING TO THE FEELS
Psychological research has classified six facial expressions of distinct universal emotions: anger, disgust, sadness, fear, happiness, and surprise. These encapsulate the emotional roller coaster ride before checking out of Hotel…Lebanon.
The traffic. The horns. The corruption. The. never. ending. brain. cuts. It’s all so taxing on your thought process. Much like our modern-day online reading patterns are now interrupted by hyperlinks, the average attention span and focus in Beirut has a lot to compete with.
On top of fender benders and a failure of a parliament, my mom orchestrates a royal symphony every time she does dishes and I’m thinking, why is there so much NOISE? Why can’t I afford to take a kickboxing class twice a week so I don’t scream into my giant birthday teddy bear who I share my bed with? Yes, I’m almost 30. Farrah, please GO grow up.
The rising levels of this emotion are what push people out of here. The repetitive web of damaging self-destructive behavior in the form of a country. It’s all the same. The same problems and the same parties with the same people having the same conversations. We’re on a MiddleEastWorld loop with no flies to swat. You romanticize your midday strolls but then the stench of garbage infects your nostrils while you’re ogled by an ass on a motorcycle who zips by construction workers building a monolith in the place of another demolished old home. Why am I subjecting my body to this filth? What’s so beautiful about this?
Even the dating pool is detrimental leaving you questioning what kind of standards you’ve conceded on and what you’re settling for in a hostage negotiation for love. Why do I have to put up with this? Why am I, a smart & decent catch, underappreciated and overlooked by the opposite sex? What am I doing wrong?
Suddenly, your anger and disgust are alleviated because there’s an exit in sight and all you’re registering now are the positives you’re going to miss. Like when you reflect fondly on an ex, forgetting all the disappointments or red flags. Beirut is a jungle and you are swinging on the vines through the 3 kilometers that take 45 minutes to drive through. She is what kept you connected to reality and saved you from speaking with a Californian accent. Why do I have to leave you to feel fulfilled? Is that what’s going to happen? What if it’s just me? Why does it have to be like this?
The comfort zone of the bartenders who know you by name (because you’re a regular, not an alcoholic), running into high school friends outside their barbershop as you walk through Gemmayzeh on a Saturday, or even the simple pleasure of the perfect plate of muhammara. What if I miss out on something? What about lunch breaks with dadboss? What about Wednesdays at Dany’s and Sundays at Jerry’s? What if I’m making a huge mistake? No, I need to get out of the frying pan and into the fire, out of the Mediterranean and into the Pacific. But the Mediterranean is your fire. Wait, what?
But then I reread my posts about my numerous returns where it felt like home was just as I’d left it and I remember that dreaded feeling for anyone with ambition: stagnation. I’ve had enough summers in Beirut. What’s (or who’s) to be missed won’t be affected by a brief disappearance. The FOMO is overshadowed by the desire to sink into the other side: my American half which has been repressed since my early years in Laguna Beach.
When I feel ineffective professionally, it hits hard because it is such a fundamental part of how I identify myself. I’m a powerhouse workaholic so when I’m demotivated and unproductive, it shakes my core. The discoveries and adventures ahead do create anticipation but, in all honesty, the part that I look forward to the most is the clarity that comes with the California sunshine. The short-circuited brainwaves will reboot.
I’m excited to have coffee in the backyard, to learn how to cook Lebanese classics because I’ll have my own kitchen, and to do my own laundry so I don’t have to spend 20 minutes looking for a pair of socks. Legalized marijuana, chance sightings of celebrities on Sunset Blvd, PCH that stretches all the way down the sandy coast. Call me a simple dork but, even with all that, adulting activities while getting creative shit done are what I crave most.
In a strange twist of events, being put on a deadline gives this sense of urgency to take advantage of the limited time. Procrastination and postponement weren’t options anymore. It has unexpectedly reminded me why I love living here and has provided me with the state of mind I want for my send-off so I can make a fair comparison once stateside. I didn’t want to board a flight leaving Beirut thinking, good riddance you hellhole because she’s better than what my recent apathy has made her into mentally.
I ran into a friend at Souk el Akel who asked me, “shu you’re done with Beirut?” Something tells me this is a whole other kind of beginning with her given how California makes me turn up the Arab. Split time between the two coasts may force appreciation and acknowledgment of the good & bad in both places. Give me enough sunshine with Panda Express orange chicken and California might just make me see where home should be rather than where it is.
Ten days to go but, either way, y’all know I’m coming back for the shawarma in four months. So as I did before Barcelona, let me say: Beirut, I haven’t left yet but all I ask of you while I’m gone is that you be smart, be strong, and be good.