Life


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.

My heart is heavy, my mind is clouded. I don’t know where I am going only where I’ve been. I am in a dark strange place with few candles lighting the way. Unsure when I used to be so confident. I know not what I want. I think of the past that cannot be regained, the present that is so prickly and a future that is so uncertain. There are things I know in my heart that I won’t let my mind know and things in my mind that my heart won’t hear.  Yet there is a voice deep down in my soul that is always carrying me through my darkness and in my darkest of hours it always tries to calm me. It shouts “it will be OK”. It is faint and sometimes the wind carries it strong and loud to drown out the noise in my head and heart and other times it just fades. But that voice is always there. It never stops and for that I am grateful. Even when I can’t hear it inside me this message manifests itself when it is least expected in a gesture, a laugh, a hug, a memory, a hope, a smile and I know It will be OK. To those manifestations (and there were many this weekend) I say thank you!

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.

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?

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.

Last week I heard the unfortunate news of Abu Firas’ passing. He died of a heart attack in his sleep. I was saddened and  at the same time happy when I heard the news. You see Abu Firas was an amazing man who I trusted, loved and shared a lot of traffic time with. He was one of the few drivers I used constantly when in Amman. He had been integral to my social and professional lives. He was special and so even though I am sad he has left us, I am happy that he had a painless  quick and simple death. To go in your sleep is perhaps one of the best ways to go, and knowing that he worked hard for that good death is reassuring. He deserved it.

For those of you that don’t know him, Abu Firas was a man you could count on to be where you needed him, when you needed him. He was patient, driving for hours in the heat or the cold in his old beat up car and in the new one. When you needed him to wait outside for “10 minutes” he waited the half hour and the hour and never got annoyed. He was funny with his falafel, George Bush and Tony Blair, and donkey driving  jokes that many of us heard over and over again.  He was honest even when he over charged us. We knew he was over charging us and he knew it, but he also he knew when to give us a break and when we should give him a break. He was the lynchpin that connected so many of us , never forgot any of his customers, for he always asked, always, about old friends that have left and new that he just met. He was dependable and ran many errands for me and others alike picking up, dropping off and collecting all sorts of goods from all over the city. He had an amazing memory for places not just because he was a cab driver, but he cared and made it a point to know. We even had our own names for the neighborhoods and the streets because of all the errands we ran together. He was who you called in the middle of the night to pick you up even if you had no money because you could always pay him next time. His passing, to me, marks the end of an era. No longer will I be able to call him and ask for a ride when the sun is high and the traffic murderous. No longer will he wait patiently when the sky is dark and the streets empty and unwelcoming to take me safely home. No longer will he pick up my mail at the post office and bring it home to me when I visit Amman. No longer will he wave as he whizzes by me on the street and call out my name.

I got one last ride with Abu Firas and we chatted and looked after each along the way , each in our own way. I am glad I could say good bye to him, for I was at the airport, and airport farewells are somewhat more resonating than the quick thank you in the city.  Good bye dear man, you will be remembered. He was special.

Abu Firas

One Last Ride

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Yesterday I was in the elevator about to leave the office, I pressed GF to go down but instead it went up. It opened on the 5th floor and there a man was waiting. He was a construction worker and it was clear he thought that because of our varying class difference he should wait till I was done and call back the elevator. I thought that was silly, we both want to go down to the ground floor, and what a waste of time and energy. We are both human, what is this silliness of class and gender! But it seems the invitation to the ride the elevator meant that it was an invitation to harass. He looked me up and down, his pelvis made the slightest move closer and with a sly look on his face he winked. I shouted at him in the angriest and most assertive of my voices “NO”. His body crumbled and his demeanor became that of shame, he looked away and mumbled “Istagfur allah”, god forgive. We left the elevator.

This is the latest incident of a lifetime of incidents. I have normalized, and for too long, the harassment I endure at the hands of men. Growing up I have been stared at, touched, called out at and, and, and… but I learned to ignore, and become oblivious to it. I lived in a bubble where, in my mind, I was not objectified. Two years ago that changed. A friend of mine came to my house and started a conversation; she asked me “what do you do when you get harassed?” And I immediately said “I don’t get harassed.” What a farce, I get harassed on a regular basis, everyday is an assault of some sort, I just became very good at using defensive tactics that made me invisible, protected me, or just allowed me to disassociate from the stares, the following, the “accidental” brushing, the catcalling…etc.

Throughout the last two years I have worked with my dear friend on an initiative to combat this assault and take a more assertive stand on harassment. We are still working on it. While on this journey I have taken myself out of my bubble and taken notice of every transgression on my body, my being, my soul and I have reacted. I no longer disassociate but instead I engage by being more vocal, more aware and more assertive. Not just with the offenders but with other women too, learning from them and exchanging with them strategies, ideas and tools for dealing with the abuse. For example, last year I was walking down a street in downtown Amman. This man looks at my breasts lustfully and says in the sleaziest of tones “Shu hal ibizaz” (look at those tits). Had I been in my bubble I would have just kept walking without even hearing or acknowledging what he said. That is not what happened. I stopped in my tracks and turned around. I filled my lungs with air and started to tell him off in my loudest of voices, the point was to turn the shame towards him and attract attention to him (shaming the offender and exposing him was one the strategies we talked about and it worked). Being the coward that he was he quickly lowered his head and with a fearful and stricken look on his face he scuttled along quickly like the rat that he is, people were looking at him rather than at me and wondering what did he do, rather than what did I do. I walked away head held high knowing that I stood up for myself and countless other women. I knew that next time, as I am sure there will be a next time, this lowlife will think twice and maybe thrice before calling out at a woman.

These daily acts of violence and aggression, whether physical or not, mean that I have to change how I deal with the world and I hate it. I hate that men like the two I mention leave within me a bad feeling of distrust, anger, and aggression towards mankind. I hate that every time I try to be nice to a man he takes it as invitation to assault my being or body in some way or form. I hate that I have to always be on alert, on guard, suspicious of acts of kindness and withholding acts of kindness. But I have decided to turn that hate, anger and mistrust in to an act of empowerment.

I have experienced firsthand what the power of sharing, talking and exposing these acts of harassment can do, and so I am going to write, talk and expose these acts every time they happen. I will not be silenced, I am not a victim. It is my right to walk down the street with the respect and rights due to me and my body. And when those rights are taken away I will not wait for someone to “rescue” me or fight on my behalf. I can do it myself.

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