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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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!

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.

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.

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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.

Friends, foes, colleagues, lovers and fighters, it is an exciting time in my life as big changes have been happening and continue to happen. Throughout this year I have transitioned from being a full time employee to a community organizer and volunteer whilst I freelance on the side. But alongside that other changes are in the works.

It saddens me that I will be leaving Amman when a lot of the work I am doing is gaining momentum. But the next step is just as exciting. I will be traveling, and soon. These travels will take me to Bahrain and then Lebanon. I don’t know for how long I will be gone, but it will be at least 4- 5 months. I do know I would love to see and interact with you before then. I want to tie any lose ends, see all the wonderful people around me and give everyone a big hug before I go.

Call me, email me for a coffee, a hug, a walk, a chat… and make sure it’s before November 7 otherwise it will be months.