self


For years I have believed that I can only kill plants. Anything green left in my care will wither and die. I even managed to kill a cactus at one point. Late last year the Jasmine tree cutting went brown, and I didn’t have to do anything really just leave them in water and they will take care of themselves. It’s quiet pathetic. Yet I cann’t reconcile this belief with the desire to have a big green indoor garden. One of my most vivid memories of leaving Kuwait was the collection of potted plants my mother was leaving behind. It filled a third of a room and was just beautiful.

So, following in my mother’s foot steps, and inspired by a wonderful person here in Beirut and yet another all the way in California I have started to introduce greens into my home. I got a cutting of an Aloe for my balcony from my friend. And this month I have Jasmine cutting from a tree I walk by everyday. Next I think I will start some herbs for the kitchen and slowly I will turn my ever so brown thumbs into vibrant greens.

Aloe on Balcony

Aloe thriving on balcony ledge

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

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.

I have a every English sounding name and coupled with the whiteness of my skin, the blondness of my hair and Americanized accent I have always had a hard time asserting my Arabhood. This has been something that has plagued me since my childhood. I knew I was an Arab, and I knew I didn’t want to be mistook for an American, German, British, French…etc. person and having Sally as a name didn’t help. And so in my attempts at asserting my identity I have had a turbulent relationship with my name as it is the second thing people usually know about me after taking a look at me.

When I was younger I fantasized about changing my name to Salma. Why Salma? I am not a 100% sure. I think it might be that when I heard it I loved its ring? Maybe because it was connected to Abu Salma, a Palestinian poet who is also a relative and though I haven’t read his poetry (hangs head in shame), the name drew me. I love the name Salma so much that a few years ago I adopted a cat named Sally with a friend and it got so confusing that we named her Salma instead- and she took to the name beautifully.

But I didn’t change my name instead I consulted every dictionary and baby name book I could find and always looked up my name Sally to learn about it and understand it. I was only satisfied when I found out that my name has not only a Hebrew root, an Irish root, is used as a verb in English and has meaning in Arabic.

I was first clued to the Arabic meaning when people starting singing a Abdel Halim song to me in which he says “Walla Mana Sally yali Saletouni”. I’ve never really heard the full song but was so happy to hear my name in Arabic song and find the Arabic root to my name. And so my name comes from the Arabic word sala which means one of two things depending on context and derivation: To forget (something I do really well) and the other means to entertain (something I sometimes do well).

Today when someone comments on my name being an English name I am quick to add that it is an Arabic name too and has a beautifully appropriate meaning for my personality!

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.

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 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.

The other day my mother had a gathering. She invited her friends and sisters for some fun and entertainment. So the house was flooded by about 10 to 15 women. There was dancing, food, jokes and of course gossip and idle chit chat. Inevitably, at least one woman would come up to me and make that fateful comment. Talking to me about that dirty three letter word without saying it.

 

Throughout the years I have come across ever possible approach from these women. This includes the veiled compliments, the suggestions, the questions to the outright self important proclamations. They would be direct or indirect, they would be public or discreet, supportive or hostile… you name the approach and they’ve used it. The most common approach right now is marriage and how I should be focus on that and sure enough the comments about my figure would follow shortly.

 

That’s right you read correctly, they talk to me about being a bit FAT girl! Fat is a dirty word in our society, and by society I mean global society. It doesn’t matter where you hail from you need to be a size 4 or less. And what is worse here you have to have a skewed relationship with food. You make massive quantities of the most decadent dishes and deprive yourself of them. You have to be petite, tiny, slim-waisted and dainty so that you are an eligible young lady and prostitute yourself before these older women to find an eligible man and have a suitable life.

 

What is funny is none of these women have these figures they encourage me to have. These women do not have the life I want to lead, know nothing about me except from that sliver of interaction and yet they presumptuously think that I am unhappy in my skin! I wish it ends there too, at least there is a context in which these comments are made. I really don’t like it when strangers come up to me and tell me I have such a pretty face if only I would lose the weight, or a shop vendor or tailor makes that comment. And don’t you just love the people that try to push those magic weight loss products?! These people may think that they are doing me a service by telling me about my body and what is best for it. It’s as if they have a right to judge me solely by a number on a scale without knowing anything else about me.

 

I have been fat since I was a baby. To me being thin is being a size 14, I am tall, big, round, curvy and yes that dirty word we all try to avoid… FAT. And you know what I am not apologetic about it anymore, I don’t feel sorry for myself, I don’t think I need to change and when one of these women comes up to me today or a stranger comes on the street says something my responses are along these lines: who gave you the right to talk about my body, excuse and what do you know about me to make that comment or very proudly I love my curves and they love me and they go everywhere I go!

 

When I was growing up I never thought of myself as fat despite being so, I was athletic and active and never really felt heavy. Yet the world around me made me feel such, but as I grew older I came to understand my body and respect it and demand what I could of it by taking care of it. Being healthy to me is more important that the number on the label. I was also adamant, from childhood, about people respecting me for my intellect, my personality and not my looks.

 

But it still took me a long time to come to terms with that dirty word and use it: fat. Fat is not acceptable to our world today, but fat I am and like I said to that woman and I will repeat it as often as necessary, I love my body, I love curves and I love my fat! If you have problem with fat then please take it elsewhere because this big fat girl loves herself enough to say enough.

Next Page »