California Got Me So Arab


I don’t know what it is about the golden coast that gets me playing Umm Kalthoum and Abdel Halim while obsessively reading about the shitshow that is Lebanon as of late. Parliament’s third term extension, a tax hike with no benefits, the first domestic-violence death of 2017, more useless world records, and a guy punting cats. I can’t turn a blind eye while away but it doesn’t create this homesickness that pulls you back. Instead, it makes you deflate and wonder what you’re going back to.

A New Yorker article on American small talk hit home (pun intended) as we attended trade shows or, honestly, just headed to CVS for drugstore lipsticks and 12 other products I didn’t plan for. “In the East, I’ve heard it said, there’s intimacy without friendship; in the West, there’s friendship without intimacy.” What a perfect way to sum it up.

When in NYC a few years back, 20 minutes upon arrival, I had my AirBnB host’s Yugoslavian mother tell me about her 22-year old stay in the city and her impending trip to Italy with her new lover. She invited me to come over someday to play ping pong. It was an instant delve into the personal, an instant intimacy that may have come from feeling like outsiders together. She had told me that she felt my Lebanese side, that she could talk to me, that I would understand how people don’t have a natural warmth to them the way that we do. She hugged me goodbye and I never saw her again.

In SoCal, the number of times I’ve had a complete stranger ask me about my day can get a bit unnerving when you’re on the 10th human interaction. Growing up in Beirut has made me more of a New Yorker. You don’ even knaow meh. Stop with the fake niceties and give me my foot cream, kthxbye.

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Funny how the various ingredients of your identity become so pronounced when you’re a foreigner in your own country. Being here seems to bring out the olive in me. I see why our diaspora creates bubbles, why Arabs attend a Mashrou3 Leila concert in downtown LA, why my dad used to host gatherings here that would feature some rendition of dabkeh through the living room to 3aladil3aouna. I see why a Tunisian/Swiss guy at an expo said, I’m so glad there’s a Lebanese here, and hugged me as we parted.

Back in Beirut, you reject your culture while fully submerged in it. You don’t make an effort to be Lebanese because you just are. And with that comes a resentment that is a cocktail of pride and disgust. Why do you have to be so wonderful and f*cked up? Fawda w meshe. I appreciate the structure of the USA, the ease, the insane ticket prices that actually deter rule-breakers. But the devil’s voice tells me, with time, this would bore you. 

Would it though? Or is that me romanticizing the headache I’m returning to? My creative juices haven’t felt this potent in eons. Could it be the physical and mental distance anyone would have from being away from the everyday or is it due to being away from Beirut herself?

Oh Beirut, the way I love you makes me who I am but it may just kill me.
DRAMA. See you soon, boo.

Back in California: Where is My Life Going?

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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.

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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.

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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.

NTC Beirut: Boys Are Welcome

In the Trump era, equality has taken on an urgency that goes beyond Girl Power laptop stickers and singing along to Beyonce lyrics. As is standard when it comes to gender perks, girls are left out except when it comes to Beirut’s NTC. In a twist of irony, NTC Bey sessions were only available to women; that is, until this month. As of March 1st, Nike Training Club’s classes at UEnergy gyms will now be co-ed as all beasts are considered equal head by ladybeast Diala, the official NTC Trainer.

NTC sessions are so quick and efficient lasting only 50 minutes tops; it’s no wonder the guys were getting jealous they didn’t have access to FREE circuits with a trainer and potential mates (as in “friends,” tihihi). If you ask me, this is great for both sexes. Not only does it allow for another biweekly gathering where you can meet new friends with a common interest in fitness and a healthier lifestyle, something that is lacking in Beirut, but you also get to be pushed by the competitive nature of training. Although biologically speaking, males and females differ in their capacities to lift and strength-train, having supportive bros pushing you to be a fierce ladybeast is always helpful. Did I mention skimping on monthly gym memberships now that you can run & train for free with Nike? For NTC, all you have to do is call the corresponding UEnergy branch on the same day to book a spot.
After 4 months of marathon training, my Nike peeps and I have reached a certain level of camaraderie I haven’t had since my university years. Much like the days when I’d come disheveled wrapped in a ginormous hoodie to Nicely Hall pre-exam having hardly slept, my Nike bros & I have seen each other at our most raw and gross. Suffering together with all masks dropped brings you closer; perhaps closer than those who have only seen the coiffed and carefully curated color-coded version of you. All activities that require bonding via social interaction while your body is undergoing stress lead to formations of tight friendships (basketball, hiking, chopping tabbouli ingredients), especially given that we commune to decompress after long workday nightmares, on and off the road. You’re already in this mindset of shedding bullshit and dropping facades. Ain’t nobody got time for drama. Within NRC or NTC, much like in classrooms, you’ll find people you can connect with without the need to be at the alcoholic watering hole complete with why the heck is this guy talking to me vibe. Don’t get me wrong though, we eat, drink, and be merry. There is one common ground that all my Nike gymrat athletes share: we do all this because we love food. Turns out, coming together to get healthy has helped me find my fellow foodies. Maybe at NTC, you can find your people too. Or you can just come run (and eat) with us regular runners at NRC. I guarantee you’ll be welcomed at both.
March
And NRC runs every M/T/Th 6:34pm at Nike Souks – Downtown Beirut

Finding Your Footwear: Nike Running Shoes 101

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When it comes to material possessions, these three S’s are my kryptonite: sunglasses, stationery, and sneakers. Even before I became a runner, I had too many kicks to count; running just gave me an excuse to go full throttle on the athleisure trend, to the point where friends flat out tell me not to wear Nikes on dates or upscale outings.

But what I never understood pre-NRC was that, when you were looking for more than a pearly pair of white AF1s, you had to look beyond the exterior of a shoe. When it came to running or training, you needed to ignore aesthetics and get to know the shoe: it’s all about inner beauty. After blisters, black toenails, and swaths of BodyGlide, you learn that picking the right shoe for your body and activity is essential to your performance and continued dedication to a sport. It’s kinda like love: you can try to force it but, if you’re not the right fit for each other, it’s just torture that will end with you on the couch avec a tub of Chunky Monkey.

As I learned last year, finding your one shoe love can be a tough and expensive lesson if you don’t do an online background check. I’m going to give you a cheat sheet here to save you the trouble. Don’t sweat over getting the shoes, sweat when using them.

BUT FIRST, most models have an upper mesh for breathability while the heels have responsive cushioning but Nike has patented technologies when it comes to the engineering of their footwear. Before we get to the goods, here’s a quick vocab lesson:

Free: allowing your bare foot to do what it does naturally but with protection
Lunarlon: 30 percent lighter than traditional Phylon and allows the force of impact to be evenly distributed
Flywire: strategically placed filaments that function like cables on a suspension bridge to offer support precisely where it’s needed
Zoom Air: durable airpockets that reduce the force of impact and return to original shape to brace for the next round
Dynamic Support: more soft foam on the lateral side for cushioning and more firm foam on the medial side for support

Now, there are three main categories of running shoes: run stronger/faster/longer. Anyone who does 5Ks or more regularly should go to the “faster” category. Let’s associate each with one word to break it down.

Run Stronger: flexible
(Nike Free RN/Motion/Distance/or FlyKnit)
Free RN: Free outsole and soft foam cushioning
Motion: Free midsole & outsole plus dual-density cushioning
Distance:
Lunarlon midsole with upper mesh of Flywire cables
FlyKnit:
Fits like a sock with Free outsole and soft foam cushioning



Run Faster: lightweight
(Nike Air Zoom Elite/Pegasus/Structure/FlyKnit/Streak/Wildhorse)
Elite: forefoot Zoom Air unit and Flywire mesh
Pegasus: two Zoom Air units (1 forefoot & 1 heel) with lighter
Structure: Dynamic Support in the midsole and more overall stability
FlyKnit: Fits like a sock but is mid-cut so your foot is locked in and ready for speed
Streak: a FlyKnit model with Flywire cables, Zoom Air unit in heel, and anatomical toe shape and midfoot shank for power and propulsion
Wildhorse:
Dynamic Fit with rock plate in forefoot to protect from rough terrain, rubber forefoot for wet tracks, abrasion resistant mesh, ideal for trail runners

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Fun fact: Allyson Felix’s kryptonite is Hot Cheetos and Ben & Jerry’s Oatmeal Cookie Chunk. Essentially, it’s like we’re the same person.

Run Longer: cushioned 
(Nike LunarTempo/LunarGlide/Air Zoom Vomero/Air Zoom Odyssey/LunarEpic FlyKnit/Airmax/Zoom All Out)
LunarTempo: Lunarlon cushioning, midfoot Flywire cables
LunarGlide: Lunarlon laser cuts on the sole, Dynamic Support cushioning
Vomero: double Zoom Air units in front & back, Flywire cables, and ankle support
Zoom Odyssey: triple-density Dynamic Support on the midsole, heel & forefoot Zoom Air units, Flywire upper mesh
LunarEpic FlyKnit: Lunarlon laser cuts on the sole, pressure mapped outsole for targeted cushioning
Airmax: full-length max air unit, polyester yarn body, waffle pattern outsole for even weight distribution, Flywire cables for dynamic fit
Zoom All Out: Asymmetrical Flywire cables for midfoot support, fits like a sock, waffle rubber outsole, segmented rubber crash rail

Nike models come out every year and runners await to see the colors, adjustments, and slight upgrades. Much like the iOs updates, auto body kits, or Pantone color of the year, based on research & design, Nike comes out with enhanced versions of running shoes every March and September. Pegasus is already on its 33rd iteration. Once a year is around the average time you should go for a new pair but trading in your sneaks is based on how much mileage they get. At around 400K, they’ll be worn down enough that your soles are going to need fresh cushion and you can track that by tagging your shoes on the Nike+ Running app in case you’re too much of a wa7esh to notice the pain.

Although heavier than other models, I’m a Vomero gal. I’m waiting for the 12s softer Lunar midsole and firmer cushioning so I can retire my half marathon 11s.  Remember, you can keep your older kicks for hikes and outdoor activities, strength training sessions at the gym, or donate them to the Beirut Marathon Association.

Daughter of an Immigrant, Product of a Mixed Marriage

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It’s been a while since I’ve been compelled to write a personal non-running post and Trump’s hyperactive reign as president has made me weary about where America is headed. There isn’t a lot I can do from this side of the planet except share (online and IRL). This blog turns FIVE this month so now is as good a time as any to tell the Bambi story.

My father was one of many Lebanese teens who traveled to the States in the early 80s, in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War. Dad ranked 4th in his promotion, like all Lebanese parents claim to have done, and took intensive English classes upon arrival in the land of the free. He enrolled in community colleges, eventually in a California state school, and was studying to be an electrical engineer. He met my Protestant blonde mommy “at a disco,” as they say. After a few months, some songs left on answering machines, and a wedding in Las Vegas, my parents were wed before either of them had hit 23. Baba was still a masters student at the time and had planned on working for NASA’s JPL but alas, we make plans and Allah laughs.

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AND THEN I CAME ALONG

When I was a curly-haired munchkin growing up in Southern California, you could probably say that I identified as white. I went to private elementary schools that encouraged acceptance. My mom told me Bible bedtime stories, we celebrated every holiday, and dad told me Imam Ali words of wisdom. I attended a public middle school in a rich school district of an artsy gay-friendly town where 6th graders were taught about major religions and their core structures. If anything, I learned more about Islam from that history class than from my own Muslim dad. My mother’s family, technically white, was also full of mixed heritages due to my uncles and aunts marrying into every background and minority. My point is, I grew up in an environment that fostered tolerance and education but I also kinda grew up white. I didn’t know I was different because I hadn’t discovered that part of my identity. If anything, I had rejected it because Lebanon was still that tiny place where teta lived which sometimes had electricity but always had humidity (some things never change).

It wasn’t until I had moved to Lebanon at the formative age of 13, that I realized my Arab genes rendered me as an ethnic caucasian. Although white is an ethnicity, when anything is described as “ethnic,” it means it’s anything that isn’t white. It was only after I embraced my third-culture kid upbringing that I saw that my olive skin and dark features meant I was not white, that I was going to forever walk the tightrope of dual nationality and the respective stereotypes that each one came with.

After 9/11, being Arab became even more pronounced in my sense of who I was especially when it was stigmatized and automatically linked to terrorism. Instead of wanting to shy away from that part of me, I wanted to hold on tighter and make it known what being an Arab really meant, what living in Lebanon was actually like, and coming to terms with what being an Arab-American citizen allowed for me but not for others.

During the summer after graduating from high school, I had my first taste of violence due to a 34-day war with Israel. My family and I were displaced and we lost our home. The bombings that started with Rafik Hariri’s assassination, the invasions in neighboring countries, our deaths that were somewhat dismissed globally. All these events revealed a disheartening reality that your worth as a human, at least according to the media and the West, was very dependent on geography. Acts of terror in both my nations would repeatedly show me who I was in relation to the rest of the world.

BEING CHRUSLIM IN LEBANON

A friend of mine, also a product of a mixed marriage, had introduced me to this term which I thought was a perfect moniker for a situation that most can’t relate to. It also made my answer to, so what are you? take on an approachable tone. It made it easy for me to talk about and it made it easy for people to feel like they could ask for more. I love that I have a moral compass that was constructed from being exposed to two religions. I can understand both without being tied to a strict system of beliefs and although I would not say that I’m a particularly religious person, I’m principled in how I approach life while being accepting of others’ different approaches.

Living in Lebanon where religion is very present (too present some would argue), also pushed this appreciation for my mixed background further because I was able to blend in easily regardless of what sect someone identified with. The generalized misconception is that kids grow up confused not knowing what to believe in. In my case though, I grew up looking at religion as a source of guiding comfort for all rather than another source of division for the few.

AS A WOMAN IN THE MIDDLE EAST

In a household of 3 girls, we were empowered by our parents. Being a woman was never portrayed as a disadvantage. We were told that the world would treat us differently and that society would have unfair expectations of us because we were female. But we were also told that our gender should never be a factor that should keep us from being everything we wanted to be. Dad pushed us to be no-bullshit, no-drama girls who can do anything a boy can do. Mom showed us how to do it with compassion and patience.

I’ve been influenced by examples of sister strength throughout my young adult life. My education track exposed me to some of the most fierce ladies in the country. With all the top researchers of my pre-med days in AUB being female to the best design professors also being tough XX-chromosome cookies. From Dr. Nada Sinno of AUB’s bio department to Dr. Yasmine Taan, the woman responsible for bringing design to LAU, I was not under the impression that women couldn’t do it all.

This only continued as I entered the workforce. From my part-time job at LAU’s communications office which was 90% female to Leo Burnett Beirut where I worked on a 100% female team of 5 rockstar creatives led by Yasmina Baz, I had an ecosystem that made me forget about glass ceilings. When I had asked around about her, Yasmina had been described to me as the creative director with a Midas touch because everything she was involved in turned to gold. She showed me how to be meticulous with your work and confident with your ideas. She knew how to be firm yet kind. My second boss there, Betty Francis, a regional hair care guru, put life’s priorities into perspective and taught me self-respect in how you conduct yourself with others. I’d never imagined that advertising was still a MadMen’s world because of all the badass talent I had been surrounded with during my time at Leo. Burnett’s Beirut office is loaded with strong female role models in an international industry that is a male-dominated scene. On top of that, both my ladybosses taught me that you don’t have to choose one or the other, that the working mom wasn’t a myth of the Western workaholic world. You could climb the corporate ladder, find your person, and build something worth working for: a family.

AMERICA IN BEIRUT

I joke that the family empire I’m involved in now is a reflection of my parents’ marriage: bridging the worlds that they are each part of and fueling both economies while injecting food into whatever we do. I know that my experiences are mine alone and that average immigrant offspring have not lived my life but Lebanon has shown me that being exposed to diversity is a necessity while America has shown me what diversity can do in a nurturing environment. America’s mixture, not just of foreign doctors and scholars, but of average Joes and blue collar workers from all over is why, to the rest of the world, the USA represents possibility. Immigrants, whether refugee or not, are people looking for opportunity to succeed. One may arrive to start a falafel chain and another may become an engineer, marry a blonde lady, and sell beef jerky for a living after returning to the homeland. In the end, all immigrants are survivors, whether they’re fighting to stay alive or fighting to live with dignity. They are all people with stories to tell.

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Their wedding photo is a Polaroid.

I’m proud of my nationalities and my parents because they shaped me into a tolerant, determined individual who just happens to be female. I love that the American ideals are being defended but I wish this fury was around when US foreign policy had been affecting these same banned (and unbanned) populations on their own soil. Perhaps the only positive effect that has resulted from Trump’s presidency is that the public are now scrutinizing every action being taken and order being made. There is a thirst for truth and knowledge that is unlike the complacency that was the status quo of late. As Jon Stewart said, maybe Trump will make America great again but not in the way he thought he would. He’ll make it great again by showing that Americans will stand by our pledge of allegiance that we recited to the stars & stripes every morning: one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Catalonian Traditions, Turkish Snowstorms, and Lebanese Warmth

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Coincidence brought me back to Barcelona around the same time that I had departed last November. I found the city just as I had left it, minus a few notches in temperature but just about the same number of pigeons.

Going somewhere familiar is unlike vacationing in an undiscovered destination. I guiltlessly slept in and spent afternoons in cafes. I finished a book. It was, for once, a break where I disconnected from home and was present in real time. I still worked from my trusty overweight laptop but I was mentally distant enough; my thoughts had room to expand and float above me before they popped in thin air.

Being in Catalonia at the end of the year means you learn about the seasonal traditions. First, there was Tio. Then, on New Year’s Eve, you have to eat 12 green grapes when the clock strikes 12. One grape per chime of the clock, one grape per month of the year. You also have to wear red undies for good luck? Some say they have to be a gift, others say you have to gift them before daybreak. I’m still digging up the origin story on this because I fear it’s the De Beers’ solitaire of undergarments, not that that stopped me. After 2016, I’ll take any source of luck for the calendar ahead.

Tortell de Reis (like our Galette des Rois) appears on January 6th for Three Kings Day. It contains two surprises baked into the pastry: a small king figurine and a bean. The person who gets the slice with the king gets to wear a paper crown and the person who gets the bean has to pay for the cake. They’re also granted good luck if they keep the bean in their wallet all year. I had already paid for the cake AND the bean was in my slice. It’s like it knew.

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Whenever I encounter Arabs abroad, there is an immediate sense of familiarity. You’d think that once you’re out of the country, you’d make it a point to meet people of different backgrounds but I understand why we flock to each other when setting up shop overseas. When I come across a Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian, and, of course to an even greater degree, Lebanese, I feel an unspoken understanding. As Rankoussi, my glass-blower friend in Rome, said to me with a grin,“you are also from there,” after revealing he was from Damascus.

The unexpected “unlucky” 72-hour layover in the Radisson Blu near Sabiha Airport opened my eyes to a quality of our people that I am reminded of whenever I leave: warmth. 

I left Spain decked out in thermal Nike running gear (that I didn’t run in) and boots (to avoid adding the extra weigh to my suitcase). Thank you red underwear and bean for knowing more than I did. Besides the literal warmth my lucky outfit provided, there was a figurative one that came from being stranded in a Turkish blizzard with 3 Lebanese guys who were also flying back to BEY from sunny Barcelona.

Although I may not ever see my stranded brothers of Istanbul again, I am grateful that I had some company while stuck in a frozen village. Plus, chasing down taxis in a snowstorm would’ve been a nightmare solo. These absurd yet instant friendships where you are trading stories on a hotel couch drinking minibar wine, the kind that may evaporate as soon as you part ways, never to see each other again, was still comforting in a situation where you would normally feel entirely alone. It’s bittersweet how this only happens when we’re away from home. When abroad, I don’t get the same warmth from my fellow Americans in airport terminals or Starbucks lines but, when I’m here in Lebanon, I don’t get it from my fellow Lebanese either. When at home, we don’t mix outside of our known circles.

We have to be removed. We have to be foreigners together against the world to feel like we can do that, to feel like we’re the same.

5 Irrational Sources of Travel Anxiety

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I’m currently delayed in Barcelona El Prat airport due to snowstorms in Istanbul so it’s the perfect time to get back on the blog track to discuss the irrational but real anxieties that overcome travellers. Or just me.

Baggage Weight
I would love to travel without the worry of overweight baggage charges but alas, I overpack shoes. And purchase more shoes. I wish I could say that this fear is restricted to the 23kg suitcase but my carry-on is also a source of stress since my ancient Macbook is a hefty 4kg baby in a 3kg carseat. Add that all together and you’ve got enough weight left for…3 pencils and 2 tubes of lipstick. BUT YOU CAN’T CHECK IT IN, THAT’S MY CHILD.

Meet UnCute
IF you manage to look semi-attractive, you will NEVER run into another attractive human in an airport. You will only run into your soulmate when you look like ass or as I like to call it, I woke up like dis…every 23 minutes for 6 hours straight. Peppermint tea helps with the bloating. You’re welcome.

Dirty Bathrooms
This doesn’t need an explanation. This isn’t even irrational. Just ew.

Misaligned Passport Stamps
Would it kill Passport Control to think about my passport pages as artwork? Of course it would because that’s a ridiculous request only a designer would make. But if you’re going to layer or stamp next to another stamp, can you try to do it in a studied way? Or not, that’s fine. I’ll just wait ten years, get a new one, and visit this country again when you’re replaced by robots. I know, that probably means we won’t have paper documents by then but let me hold on to this. It’s all I have.

The Cloud
Fluffy white marshmallows in the sky are shutting down airports. You planned to fly in tonight and snow is like nah. I want to crack dark jokes but only when I land safely at my final destination. Not that final destination. Here comes the anxiety. Posting this so I can go pray. I love you all.