Lebanon, I’m Leaving You for LA

IMG_4876

Well, for about 4 months at least.

When I moved here in December of 2000, I was a distraught preteen pissed off that I was being dragged away from Laguna Beach. A visit to Jbeil opened my eyes to a part of my identity I hadn’t yet explored. There was something very soothing about the ruins there; I was just a kid then but I remember being overcome with a sense of belonging. Ever since that gloomy day over sixteen years ago, Jbeil has been a special city for me because it felt like the beginning. There was so much I still didn’t know about who I was, about who I am.

In my quest to figure out where and how to secure a balance between my personal and professional life, I’m prepping for a move back to the golden coast of California. The last few trips there have exacerbated the curiosity to pitch a tent in my other homeland. For the last two years, I couldn’t get myself to leave Beirut (read: Wesley’s) to do it. But now, Dadboss & I have devised a plan where I can volley between the two worlds to grow the business, and live alone as a side effect. This arrangement was what I was trying to formulate unknowingly: a logical justification for leaving that allowed me to stay involved yet detached enough to blossom solo versus hopping on a plane to literally and figuratively find my-unemployed-self somewhere on the coast of the Pacific. This is a solution to the plague of confliction that I have tried to wade through every time I’m about to leave or return to the Mediterranean.

Being a dual citizen creates an itch to explore the options of both lands and I’ve yet to see what it’s like to be an adult in the US. That itch has been a roadblock for me; it’s been there sparkling in the back of my mind, tickling my optic nerve whenever Beirut’s giving me an aneurysm. Whenever the car horns get too loud, whenever the parliament decides to be indecisively ineffective, whenever I can’t find my damn socks in the sea of laundry that is my family home.

Oh, your life is SO hard.

I am not oblivious to the fortune bestowed upon me. To have options and the ability to even entertain flight and relocation is not granted equally across the board. Over a decade & a half in Lebanon and people make it sound like you’ve paid your dues by sticking around when you could’ve left sooner. It’s upsetting that living here is equated to a light prison sentencing of some sort. I will firmly state that choosing to stay in Lebanon is not a choice that should be pitied nor should it be labeled as playing it safe by remaining in a comfort zone. As a young careerist, there is this “cap moment” though. It’s when you feel like you’ve soaked up all you could from this place, when you feel like you’re a big fish in a small pond, and you either need to move elsewhere or embrace that status as a blessing. It could be an inherently Lebanese attitude, born thinking that we’re intended for bigger things. The restlessness has pushed so many of us out. We all know the reasons people leave, I don’t need to reiterate them. The reasons for staying though have become harder to hang on to.

Making the jump across the Atlantic has felt like a selfish wish, a direction that seemed tantalizing only because of the honeymoon-length gasps of fresh air I would get whenever stateside. I’d rationalize that living in CA would not be like those quick visits, that it would get lonely, that I would miss my Beirut’s chaotically beautiful bullshit. But the older I get, the more I want to be sure. The more I want to know that I’m not wasting my time on reruns when I could be writing whole chapters to a brand new book.

Deep down, Beirut is mine. She is all I think of when away and all I want to talk about. But lately, when I’m with her, I feel like she’s not there with me, like she doesn’t care to lift me up, like she’s charging through the station into a wall and I’m left on the platform in the dust wondering where the emergency stop is.

 

As of end of May, I’ll be gone for the summer for the first stage of my bicoastal, bicontinental living situation. This short move, similar to my time in Barcelona but not as temporary or short-lived, will be the beta-testing ground for my desire to transplant to LA full-time. This will tell me if that’s where I want to be and it will give Beirut a chance to win me back. Either way, one thing is certain: Beirut will remain my muse, fueling all that I do and flavoring my days with the olive in my skin.

Back in California: Where is My Life Going?

screen-shot-2017-03-06-at-6-01-37-pm

I feel like I have more headspace while in sunny SoCal. The 10-hour time difference gives me enough quiet minutes to get my to-do list in order while dadboss is snoring in another hemisphere. I don’t have many friends left here so there are less temptations and I’m not a tourist so there’s no major itinerary to follow besides work-related supplier visits. Books and sunshine are my main distractions. However, having so many tete-a-tetes with your own tete makes the content all the more daunting. This self-reflection, this attempt to answer the everlasting question of should I stay or should I go, this search for the cure of stunted adulthood – it can be overwhelming when you’re one year away from that 4-year reevaluation that just so happens to fall on my 30th year of life.

I love being here and it’s not just for the donuts. I love that my thoughts have room to expand like a soap bubble and pop when they’re done. There is no annoying toddler in the form of Lebanese inconveniences coming in to poke the bubble forcing its premature death. To be fair, that may have more to do with the distance from daily life than it does with the California weather and temperament.

its-a-wonderful-life-1946

Am I the only one that thinks, okay, I’ll figure this all out when I’m away for a few weeks? As if being detached from your own reality will give you clarity to work out the kinks in your life plan. You look back at home and think, is this where you want to be/are you maximizing your potential/are you meeting the right person/is this it for me/are you okay with it if it is? It would be wonderful if the answers to those questions came in black & white but it feels like gray comes in more than 50 shades. I’m sorry I used that. Won’t happen again.

When I’m away, Beirut is on my mind and when I’m home, I’m looking abroad. Not in the grass-is-greener way but in the am-I-settling way. Being young and untethered, restless and ambitious, hungry and responsible. All these adjectives lead to one: conflicted.

“Small goals.” After a talk with a friend in London who recently had a break from life to figure out life, he said it. Small goals will take some of the pressure off. Baby steps toward moving forward on a personal level so you feel that even if you’re not on the express train, you’re still not stagnant.

tumblr_mnri6fzrpe1rsyukao1_1280

And it’s about the little things. Reading in the backyard. Getting just the right amount of milk in your coffee. Finding that Yeezus shirt on Amazon. Tacos & dancing nights with your homies. Maybe the future needs to stay in the future since we all don’t know what’s ahead, how to get there, or even where we need to go. Or maybe I’m still jet lagged and a reflection session will hit me in the afternoon. At this point, all I can hope for is another good coffee and a good book to go with it.

The Barcelona Blues

DSC_0625_2

The burrata, the olives with cava, the walks after every cheese-loaded meal. When I look at photos of the time spent in Barcelona, it already feels like centuries ago. I don’t necessarily miss the city itself but I miss the wonder that came with being in an environment that was always feeding my curiosity, my drive, and my passion to learn. It feels like it was a memory of another lifetime because I feel the person I was there is not the person I am here in Beirut. But that’s the point of travel, no?

My motivation to keep pushing back at this “repatriation frustration”, to keep digging for the gold in a mine full of pyrite, to stick to the reason why I have this blog at all – that motivation is dissipating. They tell me this too shall pass. That’s what I am told by all those who’ve returned, but also by the ones that are still far, far away. They say that it’s temporary and you get over it once you find your rhythm again.

How depressing is that? That this fire will die down and you become complacent with the status quo, jaded with the gnawing annoyance in your gut, and eventually go back to going with the excuse of “This is Lebanon” while you kick back another G&T. Instead, the thought pisses me off more. I try to push through. I am trying to push through.

The main lesson I learned there (outside of my internship) was to channel my energy. Removing myself from Beirut showed me how much of my own fuel was being depleted because I was being too ambitious, driving myself into the ground because it was easier to do it all than to deal with figuring out one path to stick to. My generation has a hard time turning down opportunities. We don’t know how to say no because we feel like we have to be able to do everything at all times and our smartphone addiction makes the illusion that we can all the more convincing.

But it’s no fun being a scatterbrained basket-case who’s incessantly spread way too thin on a low fat quinoa cracker. Can I sit here and have a slice of cake for 5 minutes without thinking about how I’m going to buy a house before I’m 40/how much time will this need on the treadmill/did I confirm that Amazon order/did I get that quotation approved/what ever happened to Billy Idol/I should tweet that/how many days left before I have to submit that presentation?

So. Much. Wasted. Energy.

It’s time to let 2016 be the year of realizing stuff* and realize that I need to focus on investing my time only in what matters and makes me happy.

What’s taking up most of my sanity now: trying to fall in love with Beirut all over again.

*Just in case it wasn’t obvious, I am sarcastically using Kylie as an inspiration for this. I’m 89% sure she will be naming her first child Kale.

A Catalonian Frame of Reference: What People Worry About

IMG_8591

While being in Barcelona, I have done a lot of comparing with Beirut. It’s natural I guess, to compare your new relationship, flaws and all,  with the previous one that gripped your heart. Here I am, 8 weeks in, and the point that sticks out the most is how the typical Barcelona resident spends their energy and how it contrasts with a person living in Lebanon.

At first, I thought that residents here (and I say “residents” because not everyone who lives in Barcelona is Spanish) were blind to how good they had it. Oh, you poor thing, you’re not sure which bike rental service to sign up for. How hard life must be for you. It was resentment that was uncalled for. Their worries seemed so trivial and I thought that I was somehow better equipped for life’s curveballs because I came from a country that can’t get its act together. Sure, we are aces when it comes to back-up plans and sly maneuvering. The Lebanese know how to “bounce back and overcome adversity.” But then I realized something: you’re not supposed to spend so much of your own brainpower thinking about half the shit we think about back home and yet, we have to.

…or do we?

When I’m asked what I think about Barcelona so far, my automated response is, “It’s a lot like home except everything works.” I thought I was different from the Catalonian population because of what my daily life consists of in Beirut but, when having deeper conversations with people, I came to see that all of us have the same concerns, the same aspirations, and even the same confusion when it comes to romance and significant others. We may speak different languages but we’re not from different planets. It’s just that I come from a country that added a few rolls of parchment to my what to think about tonight while staring at my ceiling list. That does not mean that those who live here don’t have their own fair share of burdens, they just have the kind that is more of a DEFCON BEIGE than our constant VERMILLION.

This is why I left. I wanted to see how the other half lives, to see what’s missing at home as well as abroad, to see what would push me to emigrate elsewhere or make me stay. All I can say now is that being able to only think about things that are quintessentially important to my life, even something as basic as scheduling a tennis lesson before it rains, is refreshing. I wonder what it will be like to return to my scrolls of only-in-Lebanon problems.

Barcelona may not be my Beirut but, upon being away long enough to see it from a distance, I’m not sure what my Beirut has become either.

Barcelona, You’re Not My Beirut

BVl0a9fCcAE9UkQ

Still from Vicky Cristina Barcelona

I was told that, upon visiting Barcelona, I won’t want to come back to Beirut. I was told that I would fall in love with the city and Lebanon, with its garbage and unending toddler tantrum of a system, would not even compare to Catalonia and evening walks by Santa Maria. I will say it’s been an adventure every weekend; I’ve been investigating alleyways and losing myself in museums full of posters and sculptures I studied a few years ago. To be able to use my legs for more than just walking to my car has shown me how much I despise being at a desk for too long. It’s been enriching to be in an environment where you learn something new everyday. That, for a nerd like me, is always good. But the difference between here and Beirut? This is not home.

All people want is to find the place where they feel embedded. Maybe this feeling develops with time once you’ve created roots, once you’ve let your feet sink into the sand. Or maybe it’s already there because it’s where your parents grew up, met, and formed the life that led to you.

While binge-watching Netflix’s latest hit, Narcos, I found that not only was I improving my Spanish but I was also relating to a coke king’s link to his Colombia.  While hiding out in Panama, even though he’s got so much money he could bathe in liquid gold, the prospect of returning home is more important than all of his wealth and possible incarceration. I am aware that that is a romanticized depiction of a drug-lord but I can appreciate the sentiment.

It may be too soon to make such a declaration but I don’t feel a connection in Barcelona. Besides the professional lessons, I am grateful that it has given me the distance needed to get some focused perspective without my thoughts being punctuated with worry or distress that comes from a typical day in Lebanon. But it’s also shown me what it’s like to live in a city that is not my own, that I have no national ties to. I look for my own culture within the one that already exists here so that I can feel a sense of belonging but, even when found, I am just a visitor here.

I’ve said this before but it seems, no matter where I go, I am always looking for you, Beirut.

Adulting at 27 in Barcelona

Living solo, in a foreign country, with a foreign language. I haven’t been doing this very long but I’ve also never done this before so the adulting process is in full swing.

Here are a few tips for other late bloomers:

IMG_8272_2

Get to know the neighborhood
After wandering around in circles enough times around your place, take a mental note of places you’ll need on a regular basis. Draw up a quick map of nearby pharmacies, supermarkets, and bakeries that are within 2-3 blocks of you. Keep the map on your fridge and take a photo so you have it as a reference. 

Never start doing laundry at 11:30 pm
Because then you’ll have to wait for the load to finish so you can hang the wet clothes to dry or transfer them to the dryer. Lesson learned. #rinsehold

IMG_8360_2

Don’t overbuy or overbaguette
It’s weird when you’re only buying groceries for one. Keep that in mind when purchasing perishables like fresh baguettes that taste stale after a day. Store brand items are fine for all the basics of the kitchen. Do not go cheap on the olive oil though. As someone from the Mediterranean, let me just say that this would be sacrilege. Extra virgin, light in color, and use it for everything. None of that aceite de girasol stuff. And feed the stale baguettes to the birdies in the park, they don’t care.

Invest in coconut oil and an aloe vera plant
Coconut oil is a natural SPF and moisturizer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal agent. It’s like Windex for skin. It’s a good staple to have at hand when you need it. It’s also used in cooking and is a tasty alternative for butter when making popcorn. The aloe vera plant is a source of pure gel which alleviates burns and blisters.

For BCN, Veritas is an organic supermarket chain that carries lots of specialty products. It’s got gluten free, organic, and all other dietary sensitivity stuffs. I got coconut oil and aloe vera gel from there for 10 Euros.

IMG_8002

Try not to get hit by a bus or a biker
And by “biker,” I mean people on bicycles. Like most of Europe, this city is very bike-friendly and the public transport system is actually reliable. Although Beirut is home to crazy drivers, it’s not the place for pedestrians. Here, I’ve been walking everywhere using the metro only once this week. The thing I did not account for is that the bike lanes cut through the streets and sidewalks. When walking, be aware of the riders that are zooming by. And when waiting for the green man to light at the crosswalk, stay about a foot away from the curb because those busses get tooclose.

And, when in doubt, just google everything. The struggle is real.

Staying Productive When Unemployed

Courtesy of Stokpic

Courtesy of Stokpic

By unemployed, I mean not going to an office every day. That means you could be freelancing, applying for higher education or a new job, or planning world domination via miswak toothbrushes. Whatever your reasons are for not clocking in, here are some tips that I came up with from my own summer of unemployment.

Let Side Projects Take Center Stage
Use the flexible schedule to work on the side projects that were always lower on your list of priorities. When you have a full-time job, it’s tough to burn the midnight oil on something that isn’t a must or hasn’t fully taken shape yet. When the day’s events are up to you though, you can recalibrate where you want to invest your minutes. Not all side projects have to be grandiose and extra ambitious. It can be as simple as getting through all the books on Obama’s summer reading list.

Keep To-Do Lists and Deadlines
Without a boss or manager keeping you in check and the sun luring you into beach bummery, it’s not hard to waste away ending up in an endless lethargic stupor. Having daily lists of what to do can keep you on your toes, making sure you cross off the most basic tasks for the day. Just remember to be realistic with your expectations of what you can accomplish. Being productive AND sleeping in is doable, just set up the schedule that works for you.

Stop Feeling Guilty
You need discipline as mentioned above but you will have the propinquity to revel in the newfound freedom. There is beauty in being able to wake up when you want and shift things around on a whim. Learning to be okay with doing nothing temporarily every once in a while is a skill that has to be acquired. In the technology age when we’re all incessantly connected and online, we need to master the art of stillness. And if you’re wasting too much time/energy vegetating and living the funemployed life, take up a new hobby and eat more falafel. Those vegetarian sandwiches cost $2 and keep you full all day.

Courtesy of Stokpic

Courtesy of Stokpic


Change Desks for the Day

Get out of the house and off the bed. Changing it up helps you feel like you’re going to work, especially when your home is supposed to be the place you turn off your brain. If you need to get work done that doesn’t depend on internet connection, go to a spot that has bad wifi. You’ll be too frustrated to bother connecting which will force you to pour your energy into the tasks at hand, spending less time reading The Atlantic articles about millennials. Trying different hideouts to camp for the day with your laptop/sketchbook/agenda can be a fun way to get acquainted with your surroundings. You’ll test cafes and meet people who are a) escaping electricity cuts
b) researching something you could be into or c) wearing a tarboosh because they’re a lost Italian tourist.

Be selective with where you go though because spending hours on end at coffee shops can rack up quite the bill unless you’re one of the types that orders one cappuccino every 4 hours. A balanced way to assess how much you should ingest at a cafe is to base it on: how much internet you consume, how many other laptops are there, and how many waiters have changed shifts.

Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

Courtesy of Death to Stock Photo

Not to sound like a preteen on tumblr but with freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?