El-Tanein Diet Week #32

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Main in Laguna Beach, California (July 2014)

I’ll be heading to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks mid-week #33 so next week’s post will be all about In-n-Out and sunshine. And a weekend in Vegas. It’s so easy to give up your workouts when away from home but, as I learned in pedestrian-friendly Barcelona, you’ve got to think of exercise as part of your everyday routine. Wash face, brush teeth, move your butt. I’m going to be hiking and running around the neighborhood while there so that I can keep up with NRC while away. I don’t want all the progress I’ve made to dissipate because of some animal-style fries. If anything, I’ll run FOR them.

Workout Tally

– (1) 6.45 km run
– (2) 30 min treadmill

Outdoor Activity

I’ll admit that this was one of my poor weeks given the momentum I’ve had this last month. I’ll also admit that I hit a low point.

For the past few years, I’ve conditioned myself to equate my happiness with my professional productivity. The more I’m stimulating my brain, the happier I am. A self-aware workaholic, I have not only been trying to trim the fat at the gym but in all aspects of my life as well. Reassessing where my brain cells are being used is a tiring task in itself.

…and so I crashed this weekend. My mind and body gave up and I couldn’t work or work out. Instead of heading to a cardio class or running off the frustration, I curled up with a book and let myself decompress. Sometimes, you need to break away and hibernate. I’m going to accept this and push forward. This next week, I’ll be better for it.

Nike+ App

 

Best Meal of the Week


Once again, dinner at Studio Beirut.

Other Highlights

250km Green Level: I’ve reached green on the Nike+ Running app! Sure, it only took two years of intermittent running but, with NRC, I should reach the next level much quicker.

NTC every Wednesday: Nike recently launched Nike Training Club sessions at U Energy gym in Downtown Beirut. They’re every Wednesday evening at 7pm and they’re free. All you’ve gotta do is book a spot a day in advance via phone/whatsapp. I haven’t had a chance to go yet but I’ll be checking it out once I’m back in town.


Sursock Museum with Mom: I promised mom a lunch at the swanky museum after we perused the halls of the old Sursock residence. It’s beautifully renovated; the historical architecture mixes nicely with sleek, minimal accents. The cafe is a bit too posh (and overpriced) for my taste but they had burrata so I was happy.

Workout Track of the Week

The track but with Elmo’s moves. From now on, you will never be able to listen to this song and not see him shake his groove thang.

Cheese of the Week

I ran out of brie last night. What would Kanye do?

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Nike+ Run Club: Byblos was our Valentine

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Taken by Ali Itani

As readers of El-Tanein Diet know, the Nike+ Run Club (NRC) runs twice a week from the Nike store in Beirut Souks every Tuesday and Thursday evening. However, what is not advertised on their flyers is the NRC-organized fun runs on weekends. I stress on the words “fun run” because the main point behind this group is to run for the sake of running, not for medals or podiums.

Leading the pack in this group of awesome folk is Mark Jibran, the NRC coach and all-around positive force of nature. Having a good coach should not be underestimated when it comes to sticking to a fitness regimen. If one’s trainer pushes too hard or doesn’t know how to motivate effectively, then they have failed as a trainer. What seems to fall through the cracks when finding a personal trainer or fitness advisor is not the reps or preferred activities used to get one in shape, but the personal approach they have while one is undergoing training.

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Mark Jibran, NRC Coach – Taken by Ali Itani

And that is where Nike hit the jackpot with Mark. He knows how to deal with people and he knows how to push without making you want to throw spiky pineapples at him so he’d back off.

For each coach, there is a pacer: Mohamad Marhamo. With M&M, the NRC is guided by two smiling and seasoned runners. We are pushed to keep running at our own best pace or, at the very least, to keep running. We are told how to stretch, how to stay hydrated, and how to exercise correctly. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you that they know what they’re doing, both are members of De-Feet Runners, a group of ultra-marathoners who run marathons back-to-back for 6 consecutive days to raise funds for charity.

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Mohamad Marhamo, NRC Pacer – Taken by Ali Itani

Running with these two on the Beirut corniche will show you that this group truly does run BEY. Be it at 6am or 6pm, fellow runners all over the path call out a happy hello to M&M because they are deep-rooted members of this athletic community that is alive in our city. While the rest of us sleep in, these guys are out there enjoying the sunrise and serene calm that you rarely associate with our chaotic capital. By being part of this group and going for runs at the crack of dawn, I got to witness this spirit and, dare I say, be part of it even if just for a few instances.

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For Valentine’s Day, we decided to take on the cultural port city of Byblos (Jbeil) for an early morning 10km run through the old souk and asphalt road to Amchit. On the bus there, while still trying to figure out how and why I was on my way to run on the morning of my 28th birthday, I was also debating how many kilometers I would actually do. The warm-up was set at 2km so that was the minimum but where would I stop? I’d done 10km in the Beirut Marathon but that question popped up, like it does before every NRC meetup, do I feel like it today?

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At every kilometer, my mind would ask, “are you ready to turn around?” But as I neared the halfway point where M&M were waiting with water, I had other NRC members making their way back and cheering me on. So I thought, “yalla, another kilometer and then you’ll stop.” And that’s how it went on until I did the entire 10. I did it thanks to their cheerleading combined with my mind not wanting my body to succumb to being closer to the age of 30. HA.

I was never a runner. Hell, I still don’t think I can call myself one. But maybe, in the future, with the help of NRC, I will be.

It’s Like I Never Left

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When I had friends visiting from their stints abroad during the summer or Christmas season, I couldn’t help feeling like they were in a state of growth & discovery while Lebanon, and I along with it, was frozen in an endless loop. Now that I’m the one coming back, I see that it wasn’t just an illusion.

I’ve been back for less than a week and it feels like I never left. Granted I’ve only been gone for 3 months and that’s not even long enough to digest a Thanksgiving dinner but not much has shifted. My cats are fatter (and thus, cuter) yet still unfriendly. Even my car’s side mirror is still faulty because it sat in my parking space collecting dust for 87 days. The most that’s changed is that my parents have become Beliebers because my sisters subjected them to so much One Direction in my absence. However, I’m not talking about my personal circle. Lebanon hasn’t moved a millimeter.

Perhaps that’s why those abroad love to come home: there are no surprises. You can lose a job in the middle of a divorce, pay a mortgage, get a 4th degree in Switzerland. But with all of that, when you come back home, you’ll still have unreliable utilities, corrupt politicians, and the best manoushe hot off the forn around the corner. Lebanon, in all her stunted glory, is the constant in their life of uncertainties and responsibilities. It’s comfort in the form of a country.

And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong is that I’m not visiting. The level of comfort wears off when you’re not just passing through. I would’ve loved to come back to a solved garbage crisis, a president in office, and maybe even a feline who wants to cuddle.

Lebanon is the perfect home base in that you can go live another life elsewhere, return, and still find everything as you left it. There is no FOMO because you can always be there for the next cycle. It’s bittersweet but, isn’t that the case for all things Lebanese?

El-Tanein Diet Week #19

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Ah, my last week in Barcelona. I did my best to fit in as many leftover discoveries before I boarded my crack-of-dawn flight back to Beirut. Let’s see week #20 be filled with more fitness than food, inshallah.

Workout Tally

Walking everywhere for 7 days.

Outdoor Activity

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The entire weekend would suffice as my outdoor activity because I spent most of it hiking around the outskirts of Barcelona. Between Montjuic Cemetery, the Parc del Laberint d’Horta, and the Carmel Bunkers, I tried to take advantage of the sunny outdoors as much as possible.

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Fitbit Flex

I didn’t even wear it this week although now that I’m back in Beirut, I will have to since my activity will not be one that is iPhone friendly. Back to the gym!

Best Meal of the Week

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Lascar 74 is a “cevicheria” in Poblesec. It was my farewell dinner with the office and my first time having ceviche. I’m now a fan of Peruvian cuisine thanks to this dining experience. I recommend the guacamole (uchucuta) and the cheesecake de Lima. Not together, of course.

Other Highlights

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Xurreria Trebol: I had seen this spot’s churros behind the glass and made a mental note to go back at some point. All other churros tried in Barcelona were of the “tourist” flavor – too oily and stale. Trebol knows what they’re doing though. A little digging revealed that it’s one of the oldest xurrerias in the city and the only one that opens for 24 hours over the weekend. If you’re not a sweet-toothed person, they also make their own potato crisps. Otherwise, if you want beautiful churros served by a beautiful man, go here. Their churros are stuffed with dulce de leche, chocolate, or vanilla cream.

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Treated myself to a solo dinner at El Nacional on my last night: The plan was to just take a walk through the venue to see the setup because I’d heard good things about its interior design. But when I remembered I had tuna and brie left at the apartment, I figured I’d go all out on my last evening with some steak, cava, and lemon pie.

Workout Track of the Week

He needs to stop doing this. And by “this” I mean making this catchy music that you can’t help but sing along to. It’s too late to say sorry though because I’m hooked.

Cheese of the Week

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Cava, olives, and patacones with my book at La Xalada. What are patacones you ask? Homemade plantain chips with avocado, manchego cheese, and olive cream. That sums up what I’ll miss most about BCN.

You Have Your Lebanon

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And I have mine.

Sietske, a Dutch blogger who’s been in Lebanon for ~20 years, recently posted about the tendency we have to sulk about our “situation.” It is a topic that I’ve discussed with my friends on multiple occasions: how there is an inclination for some nationals to diss Lebanon, be it from home or abroad.

Well, guess what? I can’t have that. You may have your Lebanon and I may have mine but, to the outside world, they are one and the same.

By being Lebanese, or a citizen of anywhere, you are effectively a representative of your nation. This does not mean that you gloss over its problems, pretend that it’s perfect, or downplay the serious obstacles that are incessantly popping up there. It does mean that you put these problems into their historical context, that you try to create understanding with an audience that may be misinformed or not know enough to pass judgment, and that you contribute to the inspiring image that your country can have if you let it.

Part of why Lebanon’s golden age is considered the 60’s is because that period’s been praised and talked about so much since then. How about instead of focusing on a time when Lebanon used to be glorious, we put the same amount of energy into portraying the greatness that Lebanon has today?

When someone asks you about Lebanon, if you answer with all the negatives and are quick to deem it a sinking ship, then you are choosing the easy route. This place can be difficult to defend and there is resentment. You feel that you should not be expected to be loyal to a place that never did anything for you but give you severe road rage, an overpriced lifestyle, and a useless passport.

I can sympathize with those who tease our system, our politics, our obsession with religion. I’m entertained by it just like anyone else who understands how aggravating these things can be. It’s comforting, in a way, to laugh it off when it feels like that’s all that can be done. On the other hand, when you nag just for the sake of it, you are filling a cesspool that does not need replenishing. If you are not satisfied with what is happening (or what isn’t happening) in the country, then there are three options: take action, stay silent, or leave. However, if you do leave, try not to trash the place that shaped you as an individual.

If you are abroad and you’re talking smack about your country, painting an ugly Monet of what we are, then you are being ineffective as citizens. You are lucky that you had the option to pursue other opportunities that may not have been available to you in Lebanon but you are not better than any other Lebanese person just because you left. Leaving does not mean that what you’re saying about the country has no relation to you. You are still Lebanese.

The more you insult your place of origin, the more you give others the right to do the same because it clearly doesn’t bother you since you agree with them. As a result, you’ve perpetuated the Let’s Take a Crap on Lebanon trend.

Let me put it like this: it’s like when you rant about how annoying your sibling is. Only you can complain about her annoying dietary preference for gluten-free no-wheat-flour falafel. As soon as your audience joins in on the bashing, it’s suddenly not okay anymore. It’s also similar to how some girls allow themselves to be called “bitches.” You using the term does not mean that you claimed ownership and made it empowering. It means you’re okay with its use, its derogatory connotation, and you’re indirectly saying “I’m fine with you using this term to describe me.” That’s exactly what you’re doing by allowing someone to call Lebanon a failure. You’re saying you’re okay with them calling you a failure. Should you be critical of its development, its government, its progress? Absolutely, but it should be constructive criticism and come from a place that hopes for more. Is it cosmopolitan, organized, and solid? No. But what you say about your own country, the place that is intertwined with your identity whether you like it or not, is a reflection of your character.

You are an ambassador of Lebanon to the world; after all, the best byproduct this country ever produced was the people that came from it. If the country has not made you proud, then prove that you are worthy of something better. Show others that this place that “still suffers from the echoes of civil war” is not a place that births damaged people. Change what it means to be Lebanese by being successful regardless of what your country couldn’t do for you. Prove that being from Lebanon is a strength, not a curse. Tell Lebanon’s story. Doing otherwise just makes me (and the rest of us) look bad and I won’t stand for someone falsely representing what I am. Stop associating my country, my heritage, and my identity with everything you (and I) don’t want it to be. Start embracing who you are or should be: a member of the community that is pushing back.

A Community without a President

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Today marks two anniversaries for Lebanon: 15 years since the liberation of the South and 1 year since the beginning of our presidential vacuum. Twelve months of a second round of headless chicken syndrome and yet, I find that there are signs that Lebanon’s community is still there. We are still pushing forward, trying to create a country out of what we have.

Instead of having Lebanon associated with suicide bombings, political ambivalence, or whether or not it can withstand the increasing number of refugees, there is evidence that this place is made of more than the troubles it carries.

It seems there is more to a country than the person who runs it – there is its people.

The community is those who are fighting against domestic violence. They are the youth who give the staircases in Mar Mikhael a fresh coat of paint. They are the organizers of street festivals that remind us of the beauty of our Mediterranean sunshine and attraction to life. The community is the designers and artists coming together for Beirut’s 3rd Design Week. They are the people coming up with a civil campaign against the privatization of Dalieh. They are the activists pushing for more public green space, equal rights of migrant workers, and ethical treatment of animals. They are the dignified Armenians who ask for recognition of a crime against humanity rather than an apology or vengeance. Sure, they’re the ones throwing and attending the parties and concerts too. The community is those who are not waiting for a president to create their Lebanon. The community is made up of people who are building it anyway.

Big Questions in Brooklyn

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Being in New York City can make you feel small. And when you’re arriving from a dot on the map, it can make you feel like a speck of dust in a sandstorm. It was the first time that I stopped to think, not only about all that has happened to me in the last few years, but also where I may be heading in the ones to come. Turns out, I didn’t want to wait another 3 years to reevaluate – by then, it would be too late.

Spending a week in NYC was more of an investigative trip. I wanted to see if it could be a new frontier, the next step that would shove me out of my comfort zone and teach me more about who I am. The more I thought this way, the more I felt like a high school senior in need of a gap year, a lost guppy who wanted to find herself or was on some journey of self-discovery, a walking millennial cliche. Basically, I felt like a spoiled brat because I wanted more when I was and am already quite fortunate.

Honestly, only those who are blessed enough to have options at their fingertips have the luxury to think this way. When you are tied down with responsibilities and bills to pay, the path in front of you has limitations. But when you’re not surrounded by commitments that dictate your decisions, you only have you to answer to. The possibilities are overwhelming and have never been more daunting. It brings on inner monologues and sidewalk soliloquies that have your brain pondering things like What am I really doing? Why am I restless after 3 years at the region’s best agency? Am I satisfied with where my life is now? And if not, why am I wasting time being stuck? But where do I go?

If I were to move to NYC, or move anywhere that wasn’t my dear Lebanon, would I survive it? Am I as strong as I think I am? Like many people who were strolling the streets of Brooklyn, I found that I was having discussions with myself out loud; I was asking the big questions that come with being in a big city. Am I doing everything in my power to make sure the life I want will come to be? What is the life I want?

My closest friends are all abroad and the days are numbered when it comes to those who are still here. Most of my phone contacts have country acronyms next to their names because they’re abroad trying to make something of themselves. Am I selling myself short by staying behind? Is there more for me out there? In a country that can be so much but give so little, I am finding it increasingly difficult to pass up opportunities that would empower me as a young professional, experiences that would equip me with new skills, and chances that would expose me to hidden facets of myself I have yet to know. Can Lebanon give me that? Am I still betraying my country if I want more for myself? If I stay but don’t move forward, who am I really helping? In the end, wasted potential serves no one.

I’m grateful I don’t have parents that poke and prod about when I’m going to walk down the aisle or make them grandparents. Instead they entertain the same questions that I struggle with. My dad recently asked me if I ever give any thought to where my personal life is at. I think he worries that he instilled in me such a spirit of ambition that my careerist ways have backfired. Regardless of whether it shows or not, I do think about it. Even more now that I have entered Wedding Territory. For the next 5-7 years of my life, I will have, on average, 3 engagements/weddings to attend annually. Not out of desperation, lack of self-esteem, or fear of becoming a cat lady, but this brings on big questions as well: Will I find that person? Would I notice them if I did? Have we already met? What am I missing? and then the worst one of all: Is something wrong with me? 

If I were to move to NYC, or any other city that disconnects me from the world I’ve known for so long, would I become more guarded than I already am? Would I be so good at surviving that I become too strong? Would I be lonely? Will I miss out on special milestones for the sake of my own selfish drive? Does going solo really matter if it means you’re sacrificing moments with the ones you care about the most? If I leave, dad won’t be around to make Spanish omelettes with Kalamata olives on Sunday mornings. If I stay, I’ll never make them for myself. There’s always a fine line when trying to decide what’s best for you. In the Arab world, sometimes you have to cut the cord yourself.

I resigned from my job before boarding my flight to the States. A week after landing, as I stood on the edge of East River Park looking at the Manhattan skyline on my last morning in Brooklyn, a small voice asked, will Beirut be okay without me?

I know I want to find out.