August 2010


The last time I heard this much gun fire and intensity and felt this much anxiety over such hostility was when I was in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion 20 years ago. What am I talking about? The clashes between Hezbollah and Al Ahbash last night in Beirut of course. I was at home where I have no TV and I was trying to get my internet connection sorted out so the only source of news was my friend’s cell phone, she was getting regular updates from her mother and her friends. 20 minutes in we started to hear some crackling of bullets. News of a death had come to us. We decided to move to her place where there is a TV and an internet connection.

We called a cab and headed over to hers, what we didn’t think through was the proximity of her neighborhood to the fighting.  So we sat riveted to the TV and constantly monitoring the twitter feed (which was useless, who would tweet while there is a gun fight going on in their street!).  But the TV was constantly lowered as we tried to figure out where the gunshots were being fired and in between the fire there were the sounds of larger explosions some say it was RGPs other say it was a B7, what the hell is a B7? Or more importantly why do civilians have that kind of artillery?

The complexity of what happened and how it happened and why it happened and the various roles of different groups and sects is something I would find difficult to explain as it is multi-faceted. The idea that it flared up over a parking spot or a car passing by or something so trivial is an indication of something so deeply visceral that I can only begin to understand. So I wont even try, there are enough newspaper reports and other bloggers who I am sure are able to address the issue more eloquently and adequately.

I hate violence, I hate war, I hate guns. I hate how unnecessary it all is. Listening to various people talk about what happened and their reactions and how they all cope is very saddening. We all have our war scars and we are not allowed to forget them.  I am going to stop here, because I just can’t get over the “What the F*&$” in my head. Its not that I am scared of another flare up, it just revolts me at a visceral level. I have been through a war; I have seen invasion and occupation first had. I don’t want more war scars and I don’t want to reopen the ones I already have, I have struggled too hard with them already.

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Pictures of the violence can be found here:
http://networkedblogs.com/7blry

So throughout my life as a child and as an adult I have been asked the question in numerous forms and shapes and ways: Who is your role model? This question has always made me anxious, always. Why? I never had an answer and yet people expect you to say something, or actually name someone. And if you don’t have someone to idolize it must be a parent, since we rever them in our culture and they are somewhat sacred!

But you know what, my mother is not my role model.  I do acknowledge and appreciate that she did many great things and sacrificed a lot for us, but I disagree with a lot of things she did namely how we were raised in to be sexists and conformists. My father, well I was 12 when we lost my father so I don’t really know how he could be a role model in his absence. So there go the parents as people to emulate.

As for leaders in our times, well I hardly wanted to be a pop star, actor, sports star or any of those things. And looking around me I liked a few people who were “authority” figures but, seriously, I didn’t want to be a teacher, a professor or a manager. Even TV and movies did not present any role models that I thought OK this is who I want to be like. All the characters presented on TV we perpetuating the ideals of a “moral, conformist, sexist and patriarchal” society that didn’t resemble my life or what I wanted to grow up into (remember we only had 2 channels and  limited choice in what we saw). So I grew up without a figure to look up to or aspire to be like.

I started to read biographies, looking at the lives of people’s who were dead or outside the realm of my daily realities. I tried to look at the role models of others and learn about them. There I found things I liked and things I didn’t like. I tried to understand the cult of Che for example , when I was done I knew he was someone I respect, but  who’s approach I strongly disagree with. I’ve read the biography of many others too: Mandela, Rasputin, Queen Noor, Orwell, Mohammed…etc. And though it was interesting to learn about their lives, they were theirs to live.

So 33 years later and still no role model, where does that leave me? I’ll tell you. It left me with a lot of people to appreciate for the things they bring into the world. Things I admire and love and these are the things I want in my life. Things like passion, belief, joy, life, values, character, strength, love, serenity, intellect. I don’t want to be like any of them, but I want a life full of those things and so from different people I have learned different things; without having one role model or many. I don’t want to live their lives, I want to live mine.

I am a strong believer in energies. The energy of places and people. And I strongly believe that when you move, when you meet people, when you let someone in or someone out that there is a shift. I have experienced this many times and in different ways with different people and places.

Some places drain me, hold me back restrain me. I can think of an apartment I stayed in. It had dead air with no breeze coming through no matter how many windows you opened. The people in it were thorny and unhappy. Whenever I stayed with them all doors were closed, nothing worked, nothing was right with the world. The minute I moved to another space, an open space, which housed a lot of love and some animals it was a seismic shift and things just fell into place. The people in the first apartment are no long a part of my life. The people in the second one were keepers
I can think of the times I worked in offices with no windows, I didn’t last long. The jobs were no good, my productivity was terrible. It was lifeless. I can think of restaurants and cafes in which I feel comfortable and stay for hours and others where I just want to leave.

Sometimes I go out with friends and they drain me so much that I actually ask for others to join so that I am not exhausted within 30 minutes and they can deflect some of that energy. Other times I go out with a person and feel so exhilarated and energized by just being around them. And there are others that make me prickle and be on edge by just being in the same room. At first I didn’t understand any of this. I still don’t to a large extent. But I do recognize these things and learn to respect them and respond to them.

But its not just about space and the people around us. It’s about us too. It’s about affirming our needs and wants and going after them. Sometimes I am very good about that and sometimes I just get stuck. And when I am agitated and upset I don’t like anyone touching me. I don’t want to pass it on. I want to find ways to let it out into the world or as someone I was talking with last weekend, channel it to and from the universe.

But how do you channel this universal energy?  I don’t know.

What I do know though is I need to listen to my body and respect its needs and try to meet them. Lots of times I feel the need to sit on the floor, to ground myself and I do for 5, 10, 30 minutes and I feel so much better. Sometimes I need to dance, others I need to swim, and yet others I just need to lie flat on a bed. Sometimes I feel the need to touch others and hug them or give them massages (no this is not an invitationJ ). But whatever the body wants I try to give it. I am also trying to learn yoga and meditation to help quiet the anxiety of my thoughts and dispel agitation within. But I have also learned to let myself get angry, get sad, cry because that too is a need.

But whatever you do and however you dispel or channel energy I truly believe the world, no the universe, conspires in ways that affirm you with many signs and people that come your way and somehow reaffirms what is inside you and what needs to be done. You just have to be able to see, recognize and let these all in.

Last night I was coming home from Hamra and passed through the Bshara Khoury intersection. What I saw was very disturbing. A police car was smashed up so badly, and not from a car accident. The proliferation of soldiers and police throughout the intersection was jarring to say the least and the smoke from burning tires was dissipating. What was more disturbing was past the intersection and before there was no such signs of violence or dissent.  Chatting with the service driver I found out it was a very strong objection by the people to the continued, arbitrary and chaotic electricity cuts in the city of Beirut.

I’ve been in Beirut on and off for 9 months now and one thing that has been constant was the electricity rationing. In central Beirut we are lucky we only get one cut a day and it last 3 hours. There is a schedule, a cycle you can chart and follow. But what has been happening in the summer and due to the excessive heat additional rationing has been introduced; only it has no rhyme or reason. But, even with this erratic additional cutting we are still privileged. If you are not living in central Beirut this means you have electricity for four hours at a time and then it is cut for four hours and back again for four and off again.  GO farther afield and you get less and less electricity with longer periods of cuts that can go up to 12 hours.

Tourists don’t really have to deal with any of this, they may not even notice it, but for the people living here it can be a nightmare. You can’t store anything in a fridge. You can’t turn on a fan let alone an A/C, you sometimes have to deal with total darkness, electrical appliances sometime just frizz out and die, if you live or work in a tall building you are screwed. I am sure you can think of further horrors related to being without electricity.

A lot of people have found solutions around the electricity cuts, but not everyone can afford them and so, even though I was disturbed I was not surprised by the public display of anger. What did happen though, was that in my mind I thought of the water rationing and the shortages in Jordan and how if you don’t consume carefully your water ration will run out and you won’t be able to go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, bathe or more importantly drink and eat. Yet, Jordanians don’t go out and demand more water, burn tires and make very visible their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. And I wonder why is that?

We keep saying the next war in the region will be over water, yet we wait patiently for it. I wonder if it is because we are all aware that this resource is not “generated” but rather dependent on forces of nature (over simplification and totally ignoring water treaties here). Is it because even in the winter we are constantly told how much water we have in our dams, what our consumption is and we are all collectively responsible for the water (just think of all the complaints the water company gets if there is a burst pipe in a street)? Or is it because we take it lying down and are not used to vocalizing our displeasures in such visible and violent ways because a- we aren’t used to it, b- we are afraid of the consequences.

I don’t really have any answers here and it might be I am comparing apples to oranges. But the question in my mind is would I rather have water or electricity rationed and cut? I don’t know. I do many things that I normally wouldn’t when there is no electricity, but I don’t know how long I can handle it in this unbearable humid heat. I’ve also have learned to conserve water, take bucket showers and value water like the scarce commodity it is, but I like flushing toilets and running facets. So where do draw the line on tolerable and intolerable things we can live with and without?

So in my attempt to write every day, a resolution I made upon my return from Amman, I am finding it more and more difficult to find ideas and topics to talk about. Writing everyday is an exercise that is supposed to be both stimulating and therapeutic. Most of the articles I’ve read about writing have had similar advice: write, write, write… even if its crap, just write.  But my problem is even when I want to just write nothing wants to come out. When I was in Amman there seemed to be an abundance of things going on around me and thus inspiration was bountiful. I also had a lovely muse! These days the situation is a bit different. I am not as “active” in my personal life. I miss the stimulating random conversations I used to have with all sorts of folks, things that made me go hmmm. And I refuse to write about work. So to remedy the situation I either take my own advice and stop bitching and go out there or I stop writing, but as I have already made clear, that is not an option. So instead I have decided to ramble on and on as I am doing now and if it crap that comes out – oh well deal! I am determined to post something daily so I think you need to just hope for more interesting things to come up every day.

As a Time Management trainer I am constantly preaching for the use of “To Do” lists. And in fact not only do I preach but I practice too. But today I want to write a different kind of to do list. A happiness to do list that needs to be looked at everyday and maybe one day I will be able to cross everything on this list:


  1. Eat something fresh, whether its fruits, vegetables or something freshly baked.
  2. Buy flowers or water the ones you got yesterday.
  3. Have a fresh cup of really good delicious coffee.
  4. Take the time to breathe and breathe deeply.
  5. Write, draw, photograph, tap on a drum… etc. even if it is just a line, a click or some noise. Let your inner creativity play.
  6. Try to find something beautiful to say to someone – anyone even a stranger on the street, and sometimes you don’t have to say it but you can wave it!
  7. Help someone even if you don’t know them or see them.
  8. Play- a card game, a board game, a video game, a sport… but play. As adults we sometimes forget to play.
  9. Connect with someone you haven’t talked to in ages, they would love to hear from you.
  10. Look at this list everyday and try to cross of as many things to do as possible.

sskfaber

I’ve been traveling continuously since April 2009. My stay in any one place averages between two and three weeks. And in between all that travel I have moved countries. Why am I telling you all this? Because the number of times I get asked what do you do? How can I get your job? Or hear the statement “I want your life” has been in direct contradiction of how I feel about all this travel.

When all this jet setting started I was excited about it. I was going to new places, seeing new things, doing new things. But slowly  the wonder and excitement of anything new has been replaced with the more practical considerations of where to get a new SIM card, how do I get online, where is a good cheap and healthy place to eat, how long is the lay over…etc. Every place became just another hotel room or bed to crash on and with a focus on the task at hand, wondering when I will see my pillow again. It also meant that I could not focus on moving into Beirut, a place I found impregnable and hostile mostly because I wasn’t here to try to make it home (among other reasons I won’t go into now). I was always missing things because I was in the wrong city at the wrong time.

So here is a word of caution to all those that want a life of constant travel. You lose the wonder of new places. You end up going home to clean and do laundry and repack for your next trip with maybe a social event or two. Your social life is mostly online since you are always in the wrong place at the wrong time. People are always mad at you for not making the time to see them or for missing their events. You wake up sometimes not knowing where you are or where you are going next! Your wallet is full of the wrong currency and you always have the wrong map or no map.

On the flip side, you get to know the tips and tricks of various airports and how to get to the immigration line ahead of all the crazy lines. You know which airports offer free Wi Fi (because paying for it is against my religion, but paying for the coffee isnt). You have favorite haunts all over the world and can give insider tips to friends about random and not so random places. You learn to say hello and thank you in different languages and brush up on body language since its universal- just make sure you have the right dialect. You get to see people you miss and make new friends who’s path you would never have crossed otherwise.

But to be honest, and even with all those perks, I just want some time at home. I want to finish that paint job, get plugged into the art scene, actually make friends and not acquaintances, finish projects rather than just suggest ideas for others to maybe take on and well, settle into this new city I now call home. So I’m putting my passport away for a few months and I currently have no travel plans, so come visit and lets explore Beirut together and make that list grow from 10 to 20 and more.

So this is a stretch for a number of reasons including my lack of knowledge of this city, so here goes nothing…

1- Go for a walk on the Ain Mrayseh Cornish next to the sea and walk all the way to the light house- its free

2- Have a manousheh or Lahmeh b3ajeen- depending on where you get it from its 1$- 3$

3- Have cheesecake at Bread Republic in Hamra – its pricey but worth it. If you get the coffee you may jump the 10$ mark.

4- For as little as a dollar you can ride the old Ferris wheel by the sea side and they will stop you at the top and you can look out to sea from way up high!

5- Go to Dawra and try and find an Ethiopian restaurant, the food is interesting and the quizzing looks on the faces of the Lebanese when you tell them you are looking for an Ethiopian restaurant are amusing! It’s a treasure hunt that is rewarded with a big meal at the end. It would cost about 10 dollars.

6- Walk through the streets of Gemayzeh and Achrafieh to look at some old buildings that are quaint.

7- The national museum is tiny and a bit boring, unless you take note of three things in there that tell you more about the modern history of the city rather than the ancient one on display, the clue is look for the artifacts that have been affected by the civil war- FASCINATING. Ticket is a few dollars.

8- This might put you over the ten dollar budget but I highly recommend you splurge on an Armenian meal- the food is different and really good. Try myrig or mayas for a nice meal.

9- Take a walk through AUB- it’s the greenest spot in the whole city and can be very relaxing.

10- One of my favorite things to do on a Monday night is to go to this tiny little place called l’ Osteria in Mar Mikhail to listen to some live music. An orange juice is 3 or 4 dollars, have more and you jump the budget- but its worth listening to, especially if you sit outside on the street. The music starts at 9:00 pm.

I’d love to hear more about what to do in Beirut for under 10 dollars from others to since I am still exploring this city and trying to learn more about it. So add a comment with your favorite things to do here and lets go exploring!

The perfect guest is to some an elusive concept, but I disagree I don’t think the perfect guest is impossible to find. Trust me I should know, I have a revolving door in my house with a constant stream of guests, I’ve also spent five years of my life placing others in people’s homes. Some of the people that have stayed with me have been fantastic and have become lifelong friends, whereas others have left such horrible lasting images in my mind, that I cringe at the thought of them. Most people fall somewhere in between. So I was thinking what are the things that make you a good guest in my home? Here is a list, it’s not exhaustive or objective- I am sure we have different ideas of what makes a good guest and it will differ based on who is the guest.

1-      Replace the toilet paper and fill the ice tray! It’s as simple as telling your host she’s out or do just it yourself! And if you have stayed for a while buying more TP!

2-      Wash your dishes- really your host is not your servant.

3-      Pick up after yourself- this applies to gadgets, clothes, plates, papers…etc. Again not your servant.

4-      Ask before using- things maybe special have a special way of working or just not for your consumption!

5-      If you break/ damage something fix it, replace it or offer to!

6-      Offer to cook for your host or take them out to dinner or something – it’s always nice.

7-      Spend some time with your host, even if its just a morning coffee.

8-      Try to be considerate of cultural norms, and by that I don’t just mean different regional cultures but also home cultures, things like wearing slippers, meal times and such.

9-      Always leave the place as you found it or in better condition. I really hate picking up other people’s trash and cleaning up after them!

10-  Finally, try and leave a thank you note- they always put a smile on my face and I have kept each one that was left behind. It reminds me of the good times and makes me forget the not so good times.

So, if you are staying at mine, do remember these little things, it will make not just your stay more pleasant, it will mean that an invitation will be extended to you again and again and again.

Ahlan wa Sahlan!

So really I am not big on organized religion or religious rituals but there is something special for me about Ramadan. It is if anything a family time when my dysfunctional family puts most of its dysfunctionality aside and we gather for the iftar meal around one table. Sometimes we are passive aggressive yet most times we are civil. It is a time for me to bring friends to the family home, to break bread to commune together. It has been the norm for 33 years.

The first of Ramadan is especially special because we as a family have our ritualistic meal of all white dishes to kick off the month. We don’t accept invitations on the first of Ramadan but I have always cheated and invited some to ours on this day because I truly believe no one should be alone on the first of Ramadan- especially if they are fasting! The first of Ramadan meal is the one meal throughout the year that we can count on. It consists of sweet corn chicken soup (for its milky white color), chicken fateh (for the white yogurt it has on top and the white meat), fatoush (with white radishes in it), and cheese burak made from scratch and cheese atayef (both stuffed with white goat cheese). Everything is white for good luck and to start off the month with the symbolism that white embodies.

This year though it doesn’t feel like Ramadan. Nothing on the streets, in the shops or even on people’s faces says it’s Ramadan. I actually had to double check with friends if it is so! This saddens me for not only am I missing my favorite meal of the year, I feel I am missing out on the great excuse to come together with friends and family to eat copious amounts of food, complain about the boredom and restrictiveness that is Ramadan, among other things. Ramadan is to me ingrained as a cornerstone of the year a cultural marker of my life that is changing and slowly slipping away. I know that some of my friends will be envious of my stay in Beirut where nothing will change and the restaurants, bars and banks all stay open for business as usual. But you know I miss the business as unusual, the good, the bad and the ugly of it!

Ramadan Kareem to those of you that celebrate in every which way you do. Please have an extra piece of atayef for me.

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