My Interview with US Homeland Security

DeathtoStock_ModernWorkshop-05

A week ago, after being searched in CDG Paris before boarding, my sister and I were picked up upon exiting the aircraft in LAX by two border patrol cops. I thought, Excellent, we get to skip the lines! as they walked us through immigration. But it didn’t end there.

I asked them why we were getting a police escort to the baggage conveyors. “Oh, we’re just going to conduct an interview once you get your bags.” Riiiiight. I tried connecting to the airport wifi so I could notify my aunt that, after our flight already being delayed 2.5 hours in Paris, we might be with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for a while. It didn’t connect.

After collecting our suitcases, we were taken to a back area of baggage claim where our bags were searched, we were questioned, and our devices were confiscated.

“Could you just write your passcodes here please?”

I asked if that was legal, implied that being this invasive was a violation of our rights, and mentioned that we were citizens. “Yeah, we’re not regular cops, we’re border control cops.” Whatever that means.

giphy

He gave me a leaflet about how they were allowed to take, copy, and keep all devices if necessary. Cop says, “it’s been like this forever.” “But we didn’t have our entire lives on our phones since forever,” I retort. I remembered the story about the NASA engineer and Rebecca Solnit posting about this happening but the legality of it all is a bit sketchy. You’re a citizen but you’re on the border so the Fourth Amendment – the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures – doesn’t apply 100% when within 100 miles of the US border.

Moxy*, the Filipino border control cop who felt like my friend after a 2-hour interrogation, says, he “eats too much rice” and is dabbling in a little landscape photography. As he goes through my suitcases, I explain what the jars of labneh and zaatar are, why I have so many books, and “yes, that’s Lebanese wine” as he peaks into a Wesley’s bag. He asks me about my Wacom tablet and we compare notes about which is the best one to buy. My sister, a nutrition student, gives him tips on how to stay healthy and tells him how she used to be a vegan extremist. The normalcy of our interaction gets interrupted by moments like having a police-escort to go pee, not being able to contact my aunt who’s still waiting outside cluelessly, and being told that my airport-bought cantaloupe needs to be incinerated.

I asked, “is this a Trump thing?” while we waited for our devices to return from a back room. Moxy has been at his post for 5 years and says it’s always been this way. Indeed, upon further digging now, it seems that this has been allowed since the Bush administration. Read more about this loophole and the legislation that conveniently passed quietly in 2013 herehere, and here.

They seemed surprised that my sister and I were so cooperative. Apparently, most who are stopped give them a hard time. “How weird, that after +20 hours on a flight here, they’d be assholes to you guys for keeping them from going into their own country. It’s been a long flight over, just ask whatever you want,” I said with a smile.  In these moments after a transatlantic voyage, you either lack patience or energy. Given my experience with these situations, being polite with a little sass has a greater impact in getting your point across than if you were to be plain aggressive.

I slipped in a few jabs (or latchet as we say in Arabic) when I could so that Moxy understood that we were seasoned at this search process and we didn’t appreciate being treated like terrorists in our own home state. I told him that this has happened before, that I get “randomly selected” and “interviewed” upon arrival AND departure from NYC or LA whenever I’m in town even though all I do is sell Oreos for a living, that now it actually feels odd when I don’t get stopped or marked with a giant X. I told him that their teams need to communicate better so I don’t have to keep telling my life story at every airport. He laughed and filled me in on this service which is your way of being proactive to you being prone to searches: DHS TRIP.

“Isn’t that like flagging myself FOR the system?” to which he replied, “well, you know you’re getting stopped anyway so you might as well do something about it.”
Good point, my man.

According to the leaflet Moxy gave me, DHS TRIP (or Department of Homeland Security’s Travel Redress Inquiry Program) “provides a single portal for travelers to seek redress for adverse screening experiences and to resolve possible watch list misidentification issues.” Unfortunately, it also says that, “individuals who receive redress through DHS TRIP may still be referred for additional screening for unrelated reasons in the future.” Hmmm.

They asked about our social media presence. When I mentioned my blog, he asked what I blog about. “You know, my life. This will probably be on there in a few days if I ever get my computer back.”
“Yeah? If you have beautiful readers, mention that I’m single,” says Moxy with a chuckle. I tell him that, since he already has my info, he should email me his photo so I can do a full profile. Business opportunity! A Tinder for border control cops in which I do the first screening interview myself.

When I got my computers, camera, and phone back, it was clear that they had probably downloaded its contents because I had an additional phonebook’s worth of Ethiopian numbers in my contacts. Jeez, if you’re going to steal my info, at least do it right. Now I know that if my iPhone is ever on the fritz, I have another backup synced at LAX.

To all those flying in the US soon, log out of your social media accounts and your email on all devices before boarding. Whatsapp conversations could be tricky – you can backup the chat history, delete the app, and redownload upon arrival. This may all be futile but try to carry as little data or access to it as possible. Most importantly, know your rights as a citizen or noncitizen entering the States.

Despite the annoyance at being delayed for no reason, Moxy’s upbeat, humble attitude and relaxed friendliness made the 2 hours easier to endure.

Moxy: I’ve got bad news *dramatic pause* You guys get to leave me now, you’re good to go
My sister: OH GOD, I thought you were going to send us back to where we came from!
Me: Which is here, technically.

We all laughed as my sister said, “see you next year!”
It’s always a pleasure feeling like a criminal in your own country. And they wonder why Beirut feels more like home to me.


*Name has been changed

Advertisements

The 6 Basic Emotions of Leaving Lebanon 

IMG_4896

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.

ANGER
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. 

DISGUST
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?

SADNESS
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? 

FEAR
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.

HAPPINESS
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.

SURPRISE
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.

Bambi Recommends: May in Beirut

Who’s tired of cocktails and parties? Okay, no one. But if you want to throw something new into the mix, check out the below suggestions for things to do in May.

IMG_5302Midad Exhibition
Dar el Nimer, Hamra
Midad refers to the carbon inks that are made of the soot of burnt natural ingredients. The exhibition itself addresses the history of Arabic calligraphy, walking you through the history and uses of the artform. It runs till October 2017 with talks and workshops until July. The development of the script and how it progressed through time is truly fascinating.

IMG_5634

Stargazing with BeirutVersus
Various locations
Khalil Azar of BeirutVersus has been organizing trips up to mountaintops for quite some time now. It all started when he joined some Brazilians on a night photography session in Dora. Next thing you know, he’s diving deep into astrophotography and teaching peeps about Polaris, bolides, and the many constellations around us. Not sure if there’s any upcoming gazing for the rest of May but keep an eye on their page either way.

IMG_5420

Layers of a Ghost City – Downtown Beirut Walking Tour
Starts & ends at St. Georges Hotel
Marc wants to stay under the radar so I’m limiting this to a paragraph. The new walking tour on the block, Marc leads groups on Saturday afternoons through Downtown Beirut. He does a superb job putting the old & recent history in context and giving you both sides to the controversial Solidere project. You don’t need to be a foreigner to learn a little bit about the city. It’s 3.5 hours long and Marc’s spending a semester in Berlin over the summer so join the next one while you can.

Off-the-Ground: Design Hackathon for Social Impact
Antwork, Hamra
Part of Beirut’s 6th Design Week running from the 19th-26th under the theme Is Design a Need?, this 2-day hackathon is bringing 30 designers together with organizations to address 5 social issues weighing down on the city. Read more about it here. If you’re more about activism, besides Design Week, there’s also Heritage Watch Day with a focus on Dalieh and Honeine Palace.


And if none of those do it for you, go grab a new book at Oliver’s Kitchen & Coffee Shop in Gemmayzeh. I recommend their Middle East section, melanzane, and lemonade.

What’s Left of Khiyam Prison

IMG_5462

Once a French military barracks complex of South Lebanon built in the 1930s, the Israelis converted the Khiyam Lebanese military base into a detention center in 1984. Infamous for the torture of captured members of the resistance, their relatives, and those who refused to cooperate with Israel and the South Lebanon Army (SLA), the 5000 detainees held there never went to trial and at least 15 never made it out alive. Formerly known as the Free Lebanon Army who fought against the PLO, Amal, and Hezbollah, the SLA was a Lebanese militia that operated as the Israeli proxy during the 1985-2000 period. The SLA is known locally in the South as jeish Lahad (Lahad’s army) after Antoine Lahad, the general that took over when the previous leader, Saad Haddad, died in ’84.

The SLA disintegrated in 2000 with the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the prison has been a symbol of the Israeli occupation of the South ever since. After the withdrawal, many SLA members fled to Israel and Europe out of fear of how their fellow Lebanese would feel about their actions when the dust settled.

Israel denies any involvement in what went down in Khiyam and says the SLA did all the dirty work. They just supervised and provided the equipment, training, and funds. According to a Human Rights Watch report, Israeli intelligence agents had direct involvement with the Lebanese interrogators. It also states, “Israel is obligated under international law to hold accountable and prosecute its own citizens and Lebanese nationals who participated in or condoned acts of torture at Khiyam.” Instead, those that fled to Israel are rumored to be living under their protection at the expense of the Israeli taxpayers.

IMG_5494

THE TORTURE 
The 70x70cm bathrooms (seen above) of the military base were converted into solitary cells that left prisoners in complete darkness. Torture ranged from electrocution of the genitals to whipping while tied naked to a flagpole in the blazing sun or freezing cold to being doused in hot and cold water while cuffed blindfolded to window grilles. Prisoners were allowed out in the sun for 15-20 minutes every week or two. The “chicken cage” was a 90 cubic centimeter enclosure for extra-severe forms of punishment.

“In Khiyam prison, we died a hundred times every day.” – Al-Akhbar

The guide of the premises, Ahmad el-Amine, was a prisoner of Khiyam for 4 years. As we passed the pile of stones that was once the cells of 500 female prisoners, he said that the SLA (or the Israelis by contiguity) would sometimes detain the wives, sisters, and mothers of the male prisoners. His wife was an example. Besides those who were working with the resistance, female relatives were also taken in and used as leverage to get prisoners to give up information. They’d tell a male detainee that their mother or wife was in the next room, make rape threats, and force him to listen to her screams until he’d cough up the answers kept secret while under interrogation.

Perhaps the most disturbing part about all the physical and psychological torture was that it was conducted by their compatriots, sometimes their own village neighbors who had joined the SLA.


KHIYAM PRISON TODAY
During the 34-day 2006 war with Israel, in an attempt to erase what happened there, the grounds of the Khiyam Prison were bombed via airstrike. Along with the lives of 4 UN observers, around 65% of the structure was reduced to rubble leaving behind just a few solitary and group cells with their intact bedframes plus vehicles used by the multiple armed groups.

Sitting at the top of a hill overlooking the border towns of Lebanon and just up the street from the municipality building of Khiyam, the remains of the prison receive visitors from all over. Ahmad lives there, giving tours in a yellow branded cap and selling $4 DVDs on the torture and disturbing history of the site. Old trucks and tanks rust near the watchtowers on each corner that now have Hezbollah flags waving from their posts.

If you find yourself in the South, go see it while you still can. If there’s ever another offensive with our favorite foe, they may attempt to strikeout “Khiyam Prison” on their to-do list once and for all.

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.

5 Non-Tinder Ways to Meet People

In the age of workaholics and swipes, it is hard to meet people the old-fashioned way. In Beirut, when you’re at a dinner thing, it’s with people you see every 3-6 days instead of new humans who introduce you to other bubbles.

Here are some options for meeting movers & shakers in this tiny town:

IMG_2587

PC: Hasan Shaaban

A DINNER THING

Every month, two ladies throw a mystery dinner in a mystery location with 20 mystery guests and you have to apply to get a spot. When you #getonthelist, you’re notified that you’ve snagged a seat at the upcoming dinner but you don’t know where the dinner will be held until a few hours before. I’d first heard about this via Vogue’s article on Beirut and, although getting on a list has a pretentious feel as expected when being featured in a luxury publication, the dinners are exquisitely put together, change in terms of theme and style every time, and allow you the opportunity to meet 19 fresh faces in an intimate gathering. Meeting these 19 other strangers (sometimes less because Beirut is the size of a scorpion’s…tail) from various fields is the highlight. The one I attended was a candlelit dinner in a carpentry workshop. I met the Lebanese architect behind the new Mukhi sisters boutique, a brand manager who introduced me to leaves with carpaccio doused in Macallan whisky, a film agent based in the UK who connects directors to projects in our region, and a guy who’s side gigs are the next two activities in this list.

@adinnerthing is what a dinner thing is supposed to entail: encountering the unfamiliar with lots of wine, food, and pretty table settings.

TACOS & DANCING NIGHT

So at A Dinner Thing, I met Mikey Mu who’s an actuary-by-day/event-planner-extraordinaire by night. The first Mikey-event I attended was Tacos & Dancing Night at Taqueria del Jefe in Gemmayzeh. It’s once a month and at random so follow Mikey or me on whatever channel you prefer and stay tuned for the announcement of the next one. Much like the taco joint, it’s a laid back crowd chilling to old school r&b and all the jams that got you through calculus. Was that just me? Math was the only subject I could do to music.

IMG_4299AFIKRA

Born in NYC 3 years ago, afikra is a get-together that features two speakers presenting topics on Arab culture that happens every 4-6 weeks. As of this year, afikra is active in 5 major cities (NYC, DC, Dubai, Montreal, and Beirut) and will be launching in 4 more in the next year.

“The name itself is play on words in colloquial Levantine Arabic. When pronounced a’fikra (or 3afikra) it means “by the way”, but if pronounced a fikra it sounds like the English word “a” and the Arabic word “thought”, as in “a thought”.

Stepping away from the name, the mission of afikra is to create a space where our members can congregate and communally explore topics related to the Arab world. We want to build a community of young curious minds who are interested in promoting intellectualism around these topics.

Anyone can be a speaker, all you do is apply. There’s only one condition: you have to have attended an afikra session before. I’ll be speaking at afikra vol4. SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTIONAL PLUG ON MY OWN BLOG.

Mikey also organizes How Have I Not Seen That?, Freelancer Breakfasts, AND happy hours every other Wednesday at Antwork, a coworking space in Hamra. Follow their page on Facebook to be up-to-date. It’s okay, Mikey makes me feel super unproductive too.

CERVANTES (or any language center)

I just wanted to learn Español para viajar por California but apparently this is a thing guys do to pick up chicks. Well, GOOD FOR US LADIES. Any class or skill you decide to learn will introduce you to fellow curious students. It’s like uni days except most of the people in class are also slaves to The Man. Cervantes offers classes with multiple time slots in their Centre Ville location so you’ll have an excuse to roam through the ghost town at least twice a week.

NRC/NTC

IMG_1775

Obviously, I’m going to mention the free Nike running and training clubs since this is where I adopted so many new BFFs. Ain’t nothing like suffering and sweating together via a healthier lifestyle choice that brings you fun peeps in spandex, amirite?

Bonus: Communal tables at cafes and restaurants. Seriously, they’re hotbeds for social interaction and elbow friction. Meow.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 8.59.19 PM
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.