Hummus, and what you think you know about it

And when someone

Dips little pieces of bread

Into what they consider a “foreign experience”

And think they have it figured out;

You don’t know,

You don’t know.

 

When you rip little pieces apart

And fill them with things you only considered eating once on a weekend with a partner

Because you knew the place quite well;

You don’t know,

You don’t know.

 

When you have it at your parties

Laid out with snacks and pita triangles

Claim to have your own twist on it

Claim you know what it’s about.

You don’t know

 

You don’t know,

The smell of my grandmother’s kitchen

After pounding garlic into the smallest bits.

Crushed peas were treated like guests in her home,

She let them take their time.

They get nights to sleep

And take long, hot baths

before they turn themselves in for a bigger cause.

no longer shy, they mix with tahini

the same paste that always got the best of my mother

as she inevitably gives in to its charm

and mixes it with other sweet things on the table

as my aunts swarmed around with pieces of bread to taste, and smiles that stretched to their ears.

 

The smell of lemon zest on your hands

As you help her squeeze the last drop

You don’t know;

The question

“baddak baad le2me?” (you want more?)

The affirmation

“baddak baad le2me.” (you need more.)

the conviction

“baad le2me we7de kermele” (take one more, do it for me.)

 

This pita bread you hold,

  • Was given to me when I was three;

Barely had teeth so I mushed it.

  • Made for me when I was fifteen

Torn apart at both its ends after it’s wrapped, because that’s how I liked them, so that’s how my grandma made them.

  • That I, now at twenty-four, tear apart in my hands after a long day at work.

Far from where we all shared it.

Far from when we all shared it.

And I sit and wonder how you think you know.

 

In Lebanon, we eat mezze on a table with legs strong enough to hold all the heart in the food

And all the overbearing things we yell at each other.

It should be steady enough to hold the amount of anger, and passion we have for a country we want to see on its feet.

I rely on our table to be strong enough to carry the weight of my grandmother’s prayers

And the heavy sound of empty chairs around where we once laughed across to.

Our tables are strong enough to hold our elbows when we stretch our arms to feed someone across them, and when we are convinced that they have not had enough,

As the olive oil drips on our fingers from one

overfilled

piece of bread, and hummus.

 

This is what you,

My friend

simply don’t know.

Memories of a Revolution lived abroad

Paris, 03 December 2019

I sit at the edge of my seat in a Lebanese snack place, on the corner of one of the many corners of the narrow streets that decorate Paris.

A surprisingly heavy taouk sandwich in one hand, and a little carton of tabboulé in the other, I was rethinking my decision of eating half a kilo’s worth of garlic before going back to work, but the thought was short-lived, as I realized that I was also engulfed in the smell surrounding me, so if I hadn’t chosen garlic, I would’ve smelled like garlic either way.

The tall figure making the sandwiches, a man whose large belly constantly hit the table he was working on, has strands of grey hair scattered around his thick black beard, sports a tiny man-bun on the back of his head, he wears his work shirt, long sleeved with the logo of the restaurant on its back, yells out people’s orders quickly, while simultaneously yelling at the person on the cash register.  Both at work, it was a busy lunch and there was no time to lose.

Two men walk in and order their usual, sit down around a table that looked like their usual, and ask the chef about his brother in Lebanon

كيفو خيّك؟ كان بالمظاهرة؟

“How is your brother? Was he at the protests?”

“Nothing can stop him from going, I just hope this amounts to something in the end”

They exchange news as he’s adding one dough after the other, spreading them out with his hands before throwing them on the Saj.

He inserts another dough ball into a machine that flattens it, and with both hands in flour and mess, says loudly

، يعني شو بِ هِم إذامسيحي أو مُسلم، أو درزي

ما خلصنا بقا

(What does it matter, if I’m Christian or Muslim, or Druze, we’ve had enough, let them focus on the real issues for once”

He gets louder and slaps the flattened dough on the hot Saj, the two men shook their heads in agreement and bite into their sandwiches.

Amidst turmoil in Lebanon, every bit of the chef’s angst was punched into the dough, thrown onto the saj, it mixed in with the parsley, and was constantly screamed into the ears of a cashier nearly deafened by the sound. 

He was overflowing with rage, and hinted pride and chauvinism, that it fell onto my plate. I tasted what he felt, in the way he made his food. Messy, over-filled, and not shy about its flavors.

He pauses for a moment and looks at me from behind his working station, his gaze firing sharp knives into my thought bubble.

ما هيك؟” (isn’t it so?)

The chef, no longer focusing on the dough, looked at me with desperate eyes, I didn’t know whether he was exhausted from the Saj or the news on facebook he’d been stuck to for the past two weeks.

For less than a minute, silence ruled the little snack place. He wipes drips of sweat off the tip of his receding hairline with a piece of cloth.  I smile back politely and nod in agreement.

Another man walks in, clearly in his handsome mid-20s. He has light brown  eyes and darker hair; orders a sandwich, and before the chef could put everything into place the boy says, with a spark in his eyes

“please ما تقصّر بالثوم “ (don’t hold out on the garlic paste please)

لعيونك” (literally translates to “for your eyes”, roughly means “you got it”)

ولا الكبيس” (and the pickles too)

ولك على راسي” (literally translates to “on my head”, roughly means “I’m on it”)

and squeezes the last few remains of creamy garlic paste onto the man’s sandwich until you could literally no longer see the chicken underneath.

The man laughs and thanks the chef, who has made it a habit of screaming at his customers, semi-politely. Locals of the area seemed a little scared or taken a-back, but between the Lebanese eating at that restaurant, the yelling seemed pretty casual.

None of the locals seemed to notice what was going on with the food that day.

But I felt it

Those who have brothers and sisters there felt it, and sung it like a hymn they knew by heart with every bite they took.

Madhouse

But how many people were around us?

Was there anyone there?

I don’t think I remember it well. All I remember is that I was holding my drink, then suddenly you were holding my hand. It was cold outside but you felt so warm. It happened so fast I couldn’t tell it had changed seasons.

I always wonder, when I loved you right at the sweet beginning

When there was so much I didn’t know,

How I confused night from day

How did you play with time like that?

You had capabilities I’d never seen anyone else have. You’d slow down time just for me, I still have no idea how you did it.

How you made the seasons change around me

Leaves were falling in summer and the sky was greying in spring! My own personalized madhouse!

How you flipped my head upside down and made me place my words in the wrong places;

my sentences didn’t make much sense then,

they would start with commas and end with capitals, but I still felt like I could follow the story, like it made absolute sense to me.

Is that crazy?

This chaos still makes so much sense to me.

on Sundays and their occasional emptiness

I sit in my bed this Sunday morning after turning off my alarm at 9am, then 9:45, then 10am. If my mother were waking me up, she would have kept the door to my room open so that I heard the TV playing outside, and would eventually call me in for breakfast, which would usually motivate me.

It still looked a little dark outside, as the gloom of Paris took over its pavements and buildings, and in sequence, my darkened room. I was familiar with this color, and the sound of cars driving nearby, softly then loudly for a few second until the sound quickly faded as the cars got further away from my window.

I like to wake up early on Sundays just to take in the laziness of my morning. I am finally not in a rush, I do not have to grab a quick breakfast from a shop outside, I do not have to eat my croissant with a mouthful of honking and a sharp smell of diesel fuel.

I am home, it’s warm inside, I can make eggs and cut up tomatoes and sit in my silence.

I woke up with a strong sense of longing for my home in Lebanon today. I quickly realized I had been dreaming quite vividly of our salon in Lebanon. The marble tiles of the floor, the way they felt under my palms. I sat on the red rug that had always been in our guest room. My mother hung paintings of her own and of other artists on each corner of the vast room. There were so many of them that I’d often forget which ones she’d made, and which ones she’d bought.

I woke up this morning feeling like I was home, then realizing I wasn’t. Realizing that I hadn’t been in that home in almost a year. I hadn’t celebrated my birthday with my parents by my side in almost 5 years, I hadn’t eaten a breakfast my mom had made me in a really long time. This comes flooding onto me like rainfall.

I am lucky and unlucky; in the sense that I get to live my freedom and youth in Paris, I get to focus on bettering myself, I get to meet people I would have otherwise never met if I had not chosen to be here. I have a family that loves me and supports me, and wants to see me grow, but I do not get to share breakfast with them on Sundays. I see my cousins once a year so every time we cross paths it seems as if their shoulders had gotten a little wider, their hair a little longer and suddenly they speak fluent English and have Instagram accounts.

The more time passes by, the more I keep replaying the same memories.

The smell of our car that had been buried in the basement of our home in Lebanon for over 10 years. “It smells like war” my mother would say, every time we sat in this janky thing when we were visiting.

I’m grateful, but I’m also quite tired. The line is wearing a little thin, and I realized this when my cousin had facetimed me to wish me a happy birthday a couple of days ago, and our conversation ended up with me sobbing over the phone just because I felt like a big piece of me was missing. I left a piece of myself in Lebanon, in Dubai, with my grandma, with my aunts, with my cousins, with my neighbors and their moms, with my mom and dad, with a seat that had always been reserved for me at the table, with laughter and feelings that gush straight out of my heart when I was around those I loved most. Indescribable, incredible, unconditional love! from numerous hands sharing plates of food and sharing stories and laughter, I left a piece of myself in every corner I remember being in and now I can’t seem to get it back.

We sprinkle ourselves everywhere so much that we only realize the scale of what we did after the silence in our rooms becomes deafening. There is a big part of me that is missing, that is longing to return home, that is still sitting at the table where the food is good and it’s always loud, and the worst part is I think I’ve become accustomed to this feeling; a little emptiness that I thought I was only dragging around. After talking to my mom on a Sunday morning I realized she felt it too. She too had left pieces of her with me in Paris, with my brother, with her sisters in Beirut. I wondered then if we were all still looking for our seats at the table, and if we all walked around with a little emptiness in us, and felt the pieces fleeting a little further the more the years accumulated, and whether we ever will get to fill it again.

and in Lebanon, we burn

I don’t know if you’ve felt what I’ve felt, when you looked at the images and videos of a burning Lebanon that I’ve missed for the smell of its pine cones and the sound of its crickets during nightfall,  but did anyone feel a sudden urge to riot?

Media says that it was the biggest wildfire to date. Things like this had happened before in Lebanon, I remember seeing smoke in the distance a few times in past summers from the edge of my balcony. My neighbors and I, aged 10 and a little above, pointed our fingers in the distance towards smoke that seemed to move slowly with the wind, so it was definitely not the first time I heard of something like this; but never of this proportion, never in the scale of numerous towns and acres of land affected.

yet still, to date, the biggest fire remains imprisoned within us, as we watch our trees lose their leaves to other consequences than a simple change in seasons, and they fall a little deeper into the ground, and we wonder why we keep finding dirt and soot between our own fingers; the Lebanese people have become accustomed to burning. We carry both happiness and sadness, both desperation and hope, and I always wonder whether we ever get to put them aside, whether we get to rest our shoulders that have gotten used to carrying the weight of two opposites: “I’m miserable here, but still grateful”, “I miss it there, but it’s sad to see what it’s become”.

Yesterday we watched as Lebanon burned around us; and for the first time, the outside felt just as inflamed as the inside, just as enraged and under fire. We saw what people felt.Let the flames speak true to what has been going on inside us, we’ve carried this heat in and out of Lebanon, when do we get to put it out?

We are angry, we are away from home, and we are under fire.

I will not point fingers for what has happened yesterday, even though there are fingers to be pointed at many heads, but I am ready to point fingers if recovering, restoring and reforesting will not be a priority for our government. This should not only be NGO work, or expat Fundraiser work, this needs to be handled nation-wide, for better roads, quicker actions, quicker solutions.

Lebanon, our flames were on TV yesterday for the world to see, our trees and houses were on fire, but let’s not pretend like our house wasn’t burning down for years.  We’ve always felt it, expats and residents, and now it was impossible not to see it.

Let it be a reminder that trees will rise again, even after being burned to the ground.

In hopes of rising up with the flames, in hopes of protest for better action against the many things that have been burning around us for years and that have enflamed us whole, every fiber in me wants to protest, should we move the fire to the streets?

For info, donations for a GoFundMe organized by Dhalia Nz (83.5K $ raised so far – updated on 16/10/2019 at 11:33pm) to help the people affected by the fires, to donate supplies, food and medical help. https://www.gofundme.com/f/vvt7tr-help-the-people

 

 

When Friday’s commute to work gets calmer

On your way to work,

You make sure to tie your shoelaces twice before you leave the house. Keys in door lock, twice to the left, you slide them in your pocket and run down the stairs three floors, because it’s almost 9 am and you know the elevator will stop at every floor. You think you escaped the hassle, but it follows you into the metro, people and their vests are now against you,

you can’t avoid this at 9am, you swear to wake up earlier the next day. “at 8:30” you thought, “I should be out by that time, I’ll avoid this”. You also said that yesterday, and the day before.

You start remembering the emergencies you have to take care of today, one by one they rush back to you like a flood. Reply to Greg as soon as you get there, even though he sent his email at 9pm yesterday. Does this man ever stop working?

Send final draft today absolutely,

and call the printing agency, they haven’t gotten back to you in two days and you need the leaflets to be sent out urgently.

The metro swifts through multiple stops, opens and closes doors automatically and loudly, countless people rushing in and out, you no longer hear the stops.

A woman walks in, slower than the rest of the runners, her time seeming different than everyone else’s.

You watch her in slower motion than the scene around her. While everyone’s attention is on their phones, their briefcases and bags on their backs, her importance was laying its head against her heart, almost asleep.

He was the size of a doll, his little fingers wrapped around two of hers, she didn’t pay attention to the noise around her, only her little boy wrapped around her belly, his face squished against her.

She sat next to you, and for a moment you felt a little calmness settling around you.

Amongst the chaos, the woman and her three-year-old son were as silent and peaceful as you wished 9am would be.

You looked at his little hands and wondered how yours got so big.

“He looks so small” you though.

You wondered how this woman kept watch on this little speck of a boy.

While her focus was on him, his was on the world. He was curious and looked around the train, made eye contact with people and felt when he was being looked at. He noticed people and sounds, because he turned around whenever he heard the loud signal of closing doors.

In the train, people’s eyes are on their phones, when they bump into you they don’t look up, they either stare into nothingness or into a book, yet this little boy stares you down fearlessly. He has big brown eyes and little black curls that hang right above his eyes. He grins with little teeth and gaps in between.

He’s wearing a gray hoodie, jeans and little navy blue boots the size of your palm.

It seemed like the world was wonder to him, but all you noticed was how his mother looked at him like it was the first time she did. The world may have been wonder to him, but her child was wonder to her. While he reached out for the world, she reached only for him.

What I would say to you, if you were here

If I could talk to you now;

Right now I would look directly at you for a good moment, because it has been a long time since I’ve last seen you.

I’d take you in very slowly, in order to have you fully, but in little doses.

If you were here, in front of me

I would be holding your head between my hands, with great attentiveness,

the way you promised to hold my heart; but more calmly,

so that I wouldn’t ruin any of your edges;

so that I wouldn’t smudge anything I wasn’t supposed to,

and have you as you were always meant to be.

If I could talk to you right now,

I’d try not to say too many words.

You’ve always told me that I talked too much, and that I should learn when to be quiet and listen to the silence that surrounded me after I gave it a chance to settle.

I would hold your hand when you tried to walk away, turn you back to face me just so that I could see you see me;

so that you recognize the darkness in my eyes

and I recognize the light in yours.

I’d touch your hair with all of my fingers and press your head against mine,

I’d tell you secrets just so that you would have parts of me that no one else will ever have.

If  I could talk to you right now, I’d tell you that I’ve missed hearing you babble about the  stories constantly going on in that head you carry on your shoulders.

I’d want to spend a few days wrapped up in the thoughts that you have of me.

Do you still think about me? Will I be enveloped in the velvet of your imagination or is there no trace left of me?

If I could talk to you right now, I’m not sure I would say much more than what you already know.

I’ve loved you enough to know that you do not need me, and will probably no longer think of me, but I am grateful to have loved you when I did.