I want to say more, reflect more and share more about this wonderfully restorative trip I’ve had here in Oakland. But with so much to do I think it will have to be this short message (which was of course a FB status lol):

How has this happend? 6 weeks have flown by. I am sad to be going, excited about what is coming, and I am so happy I had this time to start coming back into myself! Thank you to all those that I have met, crossed paths with, had long conversations with, played and partied with, and broke bread with. You made my stay ♥

more later- today is about being here and tomorrow is about getting there – Amman here I come.

 

:D

I first started to cross stitch 12 years ago a friend of my mother’s taught me. It was really easy. You get a fabric with enough holes in it and count out the pattern. But it wasn’t about how easy it was or knowing how to count. It was about being completely and utterly consumed. So consumed that there is no room for a single thought other than needle in, needle out , cross over and count. If you are distracted, look away, think away a stitch is dropped, and the pattern skewed. And so it was the perfect all consuming activity to replace the ex. The ex who took up four and half years of my life. And in his departure left a huge void to fill. I didn’t want him replaced by another, nor did I want him back. But I wanted the time and space he occupied in my life reclaimed. So I embroidered. I consumed myself with something other than him.

 

Embroidery became my therapy. And so over the last 12 years I have picked up my needle and thread and thought up patterns in times of distress. I started after him and stopped when I was ready to reengage and face the world without him. Having something to fill the time and space when there wasn’t anything else. I picked up again seven years ago when my world was turned upside down. I made a few pieces and stopped mid piece about two years later, when the world was right side up. It took me five years to finish that particular piece, and only recently. It was started in Amman and finished in Beirut. I have been embroidering like a fiend in Beirut for the last two months. A sign of distress and dissatisfaction. A sign that I needed to stop my mind and still my thoughts and consume my hands, my eyes, my head and my heart.

 

I have started another piece now and want to finish it and be rid of it. You see I rarely keep any of my work. When I was reflecting on that I realized that these works come from a place of sorrow and sadness and sometimes even depression. And when they are finished I give them away, and in that act make them pieces of joy. This last piece I am working on was started as a piece of joy. I wanted to turn the tables around on my act of consumption. I wanted it to be a work of joy and to be given in joy. The irony is that though it may have been a labor of love, it will now be given away in sorrow.

 

A lot of people know I am fatherless, few know he is a missing person. I rarely speak about it. He’s been a missing person for 20 years now.  He was abducted by Kuwaiti militia after the “liberation” of Kuwait in February 1991. I know this because it was the last piece of reliable credible news we were able to get about him after he disappeared in the past 20 years.  I don’t know why I feel the need to say this now, or even put it up for public consumption. It is and has been a long battle of denial and affirmation, struggle and joy, of unknowing, and of silence.

As the years moved on, he crossed my mind less and less. The most reoccurring thought is “what if he is behind that knock on the door?” As the years moved on, that thought too diminished slowly. As the years moved on, we fought less and less to find news about him. To find him.  A part of us just got too tired.

So much has happened because he is missing. So much of it has shaped the dysfunctionality and the functionality of my existence. Sometimes I wonder what would have been had I remained that precious daddy’s girl. Would I be the woman I am today? Would I be where I am today? Other times I just don’t wonder.

Twenty years after the fact I ask myself what do I want? Do I want justice? Do I want retaliation? Do I want compensation? Nothing really helps with the black hole of not knowing.  Nothing really makes up for an absent parent. Twenty years later all I want is one thing. Closure.

Dad as young man

Dad as young man

It is now officially a year. A year since I arrived in a car with two people, two cats, useful and useless stuff and a lot of hopes and anxieties. One year later I am not sure what to say about this move and this life I have made for myself. I initially moved for four months to “test the waters”. Four months in I knew this is not the place for me, I just don’t fit in. This is not to say Beirut is bad, it just doesn’t work for me. I am not suited to live in the Paris of the Middle East. Yet I stayed. I was doing something I really enjoyed and believed in and that is why I stayed. I persevered and struggled along day in day out. Some days were better than others and I must say I have accomplished a lot in this year. However, is a good “fulfilling” job worth staying in a place where I have progressively and accumulatively gotten angrier and angrier and sadder and sadder?

 

 

And so one year on I know that I am planning my exit strategy. To go where and do what I do not know, it is challenging, it is scary but I know that I can’t stay in a place of anger, in a place that takes away hope and laughter from me.

I’ve been in Beirut for a little over nine months now and throughout those nine months I have been on more planes and crossed more borders than I care to remember. But on my last trip I transited through Amman. That trip was a turning point, for many reasons. I feel I have finally closed the doors of Amman and now I have opened doors, or am really trying to, in Beirut.

Its been such a difficult time on so many levels, Beirut is a difficult city to assimilate into and be a part of its social circles. But its even harder when you are stuck in a life you took 20 years building. It’s harder when your history only goes back on average a year and my oldest relationships I have here are two years old. Having no sense of history, having to have to go through all the social angst I had as an adolescent and young adult and try to build relationships from scratch all over again, takes its toll. I have been on a roller coaster of emotions for nine months. This ride has had some very low dips and few high peaks. And I hate roller coasters!

Knowing you are falling into deep despair and trying to pull out all the tools in your arsenal to stop it was what I have been doing for nine months. It didn’t work, until recently. Looking back it didn’t matter what tools I tried to use because there were factors that were not in my favor and things I did that didn’t help me. I travelled way too much and it’s hard to settle down somewhere when you are only there for two or three weeks at a time! It’s hard to establish yourself when you are seen as an extension of another person and not as your own entity. It’s hard to be committed to exploring and trying a new place when your heart and mind are elsewhere. It’s also really hard to start from scratch when you leave behind you a life of complete and total success, satisfaction, and fulfillment. It’s hard when you have to relate to your nearest and dearest electronically and through machines when touching them and seeing them were daily occurrences. It’s hard when the smells and tastes of 20 years’ everyday are replaced by the strange, the foreign, the alien. It’s hard having seamlessly traversed the various communities of Amman and been a part of so many people’s lives, and part of so many different circles, ideas, initiatives to become so one dimensional, viewed from one lens and through a box or label. It so hard going through a year of firsts away from home, where tradition and ritual gives way to… well nothing really, and no one really understands what the fuss is about.  It’s hard knowing that the life I left behind is… well, left behind and there is no going back.

A month or so ago, at my new Toastmasters club, I gave an ice breaker speech to introduce myself. Standing in a room full of strangers I spoke of this transition and how painful it is, and I likened it to the transformation from a tree to a bird. I will quote a part of that speech here as it sums up how I feel about this transition and my future outlook about my time in Beirut.

“But in knowledge and self awareness lies power and I am determined to make the transformation work. This metamorphosis is a long process and it started with my uprooting from Jordan. It is, I think, the  most painful and challenging part of the transformation to be ungrounded, to be wobble and blowing unsurely in the wind. Exposed. Vulnerable. But these raw bare roots that are swimming around in the air like the tentacles of an octopus are slowly receding into the trunk that is the body of the bird, becoming my inner strength to carry with me wherever I go.

My branches that are full of leaves and fruit and melding together in a canopy of colors and light new feathers, transforming into beautiful powerful wings that will fly me every which way I want to go. They are still a bit stiff mind you, and I am learning to spread them. But when I am done they will be strong and ready for flight colorfully gliding through the clouds.

This tree is becoming the bird it always wanted to be and when it does the whole world will become its nest.”

I know my time in Beirut is limited. It is not a place I will spend 20 years building a life; I also know that Amman is no longer an option. I need to move forwards not backwards. And so Beirut is the place where I will learn to fly in stormy weather, after which, the clouds will part, the sun will shine, and the wind will be high. I am optimistic. I am determined.

I have hit rock bottom on numerous occasions. There was the professional funk, the financial insolvency, emotional turmoil, dead end relationships that resulted in a broken heart, and of course the dreaded depression. But the thing I have learned consistently and with ever bedrock I hit was that the only way is up.

No matter how hard you hit, for how long, whether this is hope or not, whenever I was at my worst something deep inside always said it just can’t get worse. And believing that and knowing it meant that things could only pick up and move forward and upwards.

I remember in 2003 when professionally, in one year I was fired, then resigned, then laid off, then out of work for the longest time. It seemed like my professional life came to a complete standstill, and slowly I was running out of what little savings I had. I went from interview to interview and the jobs I wanted either didn’t transpire or the jobs that wanted me were shoot me boring. So towards the end of the year I was penniless and without prospects of any financial security. But what happened was the spurred me on to become a freelancer. I was and still am a “Jane of all trades”, resourceful, with a good head on my shoulders. This meant that I could do anything I wanted to and it didn’t have to be in the framework of a 9-5 position. And so after hitting rock bottom, I thrived. I learned that I could aspire to be anything I wanted to be and have fun doing it! I became a story teller, a trainer, a proposal writer, a project coordinator; I learned all about cross cultural education and managed programs in informal learning. I’ve dabbled in community organizing, activism, volunteerism and I’ve thrived. The past six years have been so robust and alive and I’ve enjoyed the bigger chunk of them. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t challenging or trying, there were moments of extreme boredom and frustration. But that only meant I had to evaluate what it was I was doing and have the guts to change it. Getting the guts, taking the leap – well that’s another story for another time.

In 2005, I found myself facing a different set of challenges. Ones that were related to family and home. It’s a scary thing realizing that though we may be related by blood, our nearest are not our dearest. Learning to deal with that concept and evaluating a home built around misogyny, selfishness pitted directly against sacrifice, emotional guilt tricks, stunted growth and potential withheld by tradition, religion, and culture that transgressed into ones physical and emotional self. Suddenly waking up to all this and seeing it clearly left me more resentful than happy. I hit family rock bottom. So what did I do? I made changes that had very negative effects in the short term including a depression. That rock bottom was not bedrock! But four years after taking the steps to assert my needs, stop the guilt trips, put an end to the transgression, saying no to misogyny and taking responsibility for myself as an individual, my relationship with my family has improved dramatically. There is respect for my privacy, my needs, and myself. Its not always rosy and bright mind you, but we have all come to know our boundaries and limitations in the most positive of ways today. My relationship with my mother has never been better!

Oh but two years after that crazy family journey came the big whopper. In May 2007 I fell in love and subsequently got my heart trampled all over it. It was a secret love affair; some may even say it was one-sided. I won’t go into the heartbreak for it left me jaded, distrustful, and more a commitment phobe than before. But it did result in some beautiful things. I learned that I had the capacity to feel at a very deep level. I learned that I could let people in and share parts of my life without it leaving me feeling vulnerable and weak (including starting this blog). Towards the end it taught me how to regain myself after being lost in someone completely. And I am not as jaded or distrustful as I was back then. The commitment issues I am working on ;).

If I were to chart my life it would have a lot of dips and a lot of highs. But one thing that screams out at me when I look at this chart is that I climbed to the highest peaks after each dip; the deeper the pit, the higher the climb was. And so I have learned to succeed from my failures, and truly appreciate what it means to be accomplished. Today I am surrounded by my accomplishments and I am very proud of every abyss I fell through as much as I am every triumph of spirit and soul.

Its been a while since I stood before an Ocean, the last time I did I had felt so heavy. It was a dark night on a beach that stretched 6 KM of the southern coast of Sri Lanka. As I stood before the ocean, I felt rooted at my spot. I wanted to go in, but I knew I was heavy. Neptune was very compelling and I stood there for a long long time in the dark silence, only the surf was talking, it spoke on Neptune’s behalf whispering “walk in, come in, come play with us”. It was a night in which I knew if I walked in I would never walk out.

But tonight it was different. This time the waves were happy, they came up and gently kissed my feet. Saying hello and welcome. I responded with smiles and playful walking up and down the shore, following the light lapping of the surf. It was calming, light and quiet. It was happy. I want to go back in the morning to catch the sun come up over that beautiful gulf.

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