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.

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I’ve finally moved to Beirut. It took me nine months but it finally happened in August. What took so long, I mean I’ve been living in Beirut since December, right?  I have been thinking about that for the last two months and knowing how my mind works and knowing that I always try to understand the logic or emotion behind something I have come to many realizations. I will share a few here and others in conversations with friends later. But I will say it is finally the end of the beginning and it is time to move forward.

Like I said “what took so long?” is a question that I ask myself and I think I have some answers: Travel, Home, Amman, Relationships, Community, activities are among some the things that come to my mind. Let me start with the first. Travel, since I moved I have been constantly on the go with a maximum of 3 to 5 weeks at any one time in any one place. Though Beirut was my base, it was not home since I really didn’t have the time to settle in, paint walls, fully unpack, and get into my routines. I was shopping for my trips rather than for my home and doing laundry with the intent of packing a suitcase rather than putting away in closet. It is very difficult to be on the go if you are unsettled and it is very unsettling to be that unstable therefore it is nearly impossible to start moving in someplace when there is constant motion.

Another reason is Home. Home is such a strange concept I have learned. I am not sure where or how to start articulating what I want to say or how it impacted me. But it took me 9 months to close up my home and sell my belongings I slowly untangled myself from what I called home in Amman. It entailed giving away things, selling things, donating things and just compressing my life to one room.  It was so hard and so easy at the same time. It was a hard decision to come to and it was hard deciding what is to stay and what is to go but when decided it was done. It became easy to look at those books I had been accumulating for over 15 years and say well they are just books, my photography on my walls was just pictures in frames and other such detachments. Things that took on such huge significance at various times in my life are but mere memories in my mind and it took a bloody long time to get there.

When I think back over those nine months I think of all the trips I made to Amman and the trips Amman made over to me.  The idea that Amman is so close and easy to jump to and from meant that I was never fully in Beirut. I would default to Amman in many ways including my shopping, I even postponed buying pots and pans until I went to Amman and to this day I buy my bread in Amman.  I’m still on Ammani mailing lists that are constant reminders of things I am missing out on and with an inbox full of Amman and no time to get on the Beiruti lists it was difficult to get plugged in and despite a lot of efforts I still am not, but breakthroughs are being made and I am getting there-slowly but surely.

My relationships and my communities both in Beirut and in Amman are very different as is their various roles and mine within these relationships and communities. This was a major adjustment as in Amman I was not only fiercely independent I was usually in the middle of all the happenings and connected to so many things in so many ways. My relationships in Amman were also very diverse and spanned many many years. I’d gone through so many things with so many people and I did not have to explain myself, who I was or where I was coming from. I was surrounded by people I loved and people who love me. In Beirut I had to start from scratch, my oldest relationship goes back two years and is turbulent to say the least. I felt very vulnerable, dependent and always on the fringe, never really able to fine the entry point. I had such a hard time as a lot of what I would say or do would be interpreted as me being difficult, rude or unfriendly or vice versa. I mean to this day I can count on one hand the number of homes I have been invited into in Beirut, something so strange and weird coming from my particular Jordanian context where I was always turn down invitations and apologizing from social engagements and many homes were always open. The socialscape in Beirut is very different and building those relationships   My friends were always saying things take time and I know they do, but for someone who is used to being in the middle of a lot of social and cultural activities and life full of people the emptiness and isolation of moving to a new place is very intimidating and depressing. But I must give a shout out to the few lovely people who were really welcoming and inviting throughout and in no particular order I want to say thank you to: GA, SC, RB, MM, HA and whomever else went out of their way to be inclusive and welcoming.

On my last trip to Amman in July/ August there were many things that made it a final decision. I truly felt it was the end of era. I dismantled so much of my physical and material world. I sold my books, gave away my DVDs, and pretty much said good bye in a way that I knew I won’t be coming back for a long time. I have left what is there there and am now firmly in Beirut. Amman is home but in that way that it isn’t  your everyday home.  This is a turning point in my relationship to a city I grew up in, I loved and lost in, I fought and won in, a city I gained my independence in, a city that I grew a family in, a city I am happy and proud to have been a part of the fabric that made it special to me and all those around me.  That trip was the last line in the chapter I call Amman as I knew it.  I was in Amman this weekend, my first trip back to say good bye to a friend leaving on a long trip (I will write later about the first trip after the move). We are both on adventures in worlds far from those we know, and I said to her as I say to myself  “Just remember, when you put your foot down its always taking a step forward.”

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

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?

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!

I’m coming home! Next weekend I will be heading to Amman. I miss it much. I’ve been thinking a lot about my life here in Beirut and the differences between it and Amman and its like comparing apples to oranges. I came with high hopes and expectations and I quickly stumbled and tripped over myself in my fumblings around this new home of mine. I have learned a lot about myself and even though I knew I am a creature of habit I had not realized how much of my life was habitualized and ritualized; from my weekend “spontaneity” to my structured work days and weekly commitments. I miss it all.

Next weekend, I leave to go to Amman to relish in all that it is; to look out at the beautiful sunset, play scrabble with my scrabble partner, walk through its old windy street, play with the kids of Al Qalaa and meet the ones of Weibdeh, coffee with old friends, stich and bitch, and Tuesdays at Ivy’s and Wednesdays with Toastmasters. I go back to recharge my batteries that have been running on empty for a while now. I go back to get my Ammani fix.

But before I go I want to reflect a bit on my experience in Beirut. In the last few months, I not so quickly or easily learned that I needed to unlearn a lot of things and pick up new ways of relating and new ways of being. It is growing pains all over again, with social awkwardness, misfitting and feeling like the last one picked for the team, only I don’t know where the team is to start with. I feel unproductive, unaccomplished and with too much time on my hands and no interest in filling it, because I was not relating to where I am. Stating the obvious, Amman has been and still is a big part of my life. In the last few months I have over romanticized it, reminisced about it and continued to make it the yard stick that I measure Beirut against. And because I have done that I have set myself up to fail, fail miserably and be miserable while failing. If my life has taught me anything, it is that from my lowest points, my miserable and not so miserable failures, that I learn the most.

So enough about Amman; Amman will take care of itself. Beirut. Beirut is a big reason I am excited about going to Amman. I am excited to leave so that I can come back. I know it is strange, something has shifted and I no longer want to hide away indoors and block the world out. I am excited about this city, its people, and what it has to offer. I know this now because on my way back from the US, I had the same feelings I do when I return to Amman after any trip: the feelings of wanting to return and having arrived home. The next step is to define what that means.