Democracy held hostage, and the Lebanese are (and have been) paying the ransom

Lebanon gets an overdue vote in a few hours (Photo courtesy of The Daily Star, 2018)

Nine years the Lebanese have waited for their parliamentary elections, and, in just a few hours, their wait will come to an end. Lebanon will finally get its long overdue vote, and everyone will live happily ever after.

Everyone except We the People, that is.

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly democracy was kidnapped and held hostage in the capital – formerly known as the Paris of the Middle East, positioning our freedom and right to choose as fictional characters in a utopian tale.

Admittedly, the easiest scapegoats here are the politicians; and they make it so easy. You can call them crooks, shady, corrupt, liars, thieves, and you would be right. At least referring to the vast majority.

But, we are a democracy (on paper anyway, in a constitution that desperately needs dusting), and politicians didn’t just waltz into parliament. They knocked and came in, at the will of the people; they were elected. Rightfully or not is a whole other story, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

What plenty of us would agree on is that, We the People, are both the victims and the culprits in this situation.

We did this. We made our bed, this particular bed, repeatedly, and now we get to lay in it. Again. With dirty, unchanged sheets.

We could give the people the benefit of the doubt for a split second and blame their bad memory on the nine years (instead of the standard four, given that our parliament extended its own term) that have elapsed since we last casted ‘our’ vote. But the split second will quickly run out, and we’ll realize that the elections we’ll have on Sunday are but a déjà vu of Lebanon’s feudal days, which weren’t our history’s proudest.

The reason? Because Lebanese people have a chronic condition, that spreads both vertically and horizontally; in other words, children inherit it from their parents, but it’s also highly contagious, spreads like the plague, and targets everyone who had escaped genetics. It’s called Canonizing Politicians. Symptoms include: loving thy political leader with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And thou shall have no other leaders before their leader.

The leaders know this, but they also know the antidote: people need to put food on the table, to have jobs to raise their kids with dignity, to fill their tanks to get to work, and decent streets to preserve whatever cars survived this country’s terrible, terrible roads, just to mention a few. Our so-called representatives spend their time and resources, not on coming up with a strategic plan to move the country forward, God forbid. Instead, they identify opponents and swingers, gather intelligence on their weaknesses and needs, so that they can offer the voters something they can’t refuse. The rest of their time is spent on what they think is campaigning; they spend millions and millions first to get listed on a ballot, and then for marketing and PR efforts. While Lebanon’s debt grows deeper and deeper, the political ‘elite’ (elite as in those who can afford to run, not those who necessarily have the skills or experience to be public servants) are paying $6,000 for one minute of airtime and up to $240,000 to be hosted on a talk show. Perhaps this sounds like peanuts for those of us used to working or doing PR in western markets, but it’s ludicrous for Lebanon, especially when this ‘investment’ will all be stolen back from the government, from We the People, as soon as they get comfortable in the seat.

Will money and corruption skew the results tomorrow? Will this election be, in the words of none other than Donald J. Trump, ‘rigged?’ Hard to say. The moment you’re in that shady room, casting the only tangible proof you have that you live in a democracy, not even your left hand knows what your right hand dropped in that box, let alone the generous folks of the election-compromising cartels.

There will be different types of voters tomorrow: the unethical ‘loyals,’ who were offered bribes by competing candidates, accepted all bribes, and will end up voting for whomever they were going to vote for in the first place (loyal, I tell you); appreciators of relativity who decided that they’re going to take the ‘ethical’ route and only accepted the bribe of the highest bidder, for whom they will also vote, irrespective of whether or not he/she are the right man/woman for the job; and, of course, plenty of ethical loyals who hold their principles near and dear, who have not accepted any bribes, and who will vote for their all-time favorite candidate, ‘for free;’ that’s how fans and foes of the ethical loyals describe the generous act. No where in the world would this be appropriate election lingo. Not democratic ones, anyway.

So, essentially, we don’t know whether outcomes will be skewed as a result of these blasphemous acts, and if so, by how much. Mathematically speaking, if the candidate who ends up paying the highest price happens to also be the candidate of choice of a voter (which doesn’t make this any more ethical, legal, or democratic), in every case (which is highly unlikely), then the outcome of the elections will be the same with or without these ‘incentives.’ But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these conditions can only be achieved in a controlled lab experiment, which is not the case, and, therefore, the elections we waited nearly a decade to hold will most definitely be, well, rigged.

One could argue that the people can’t be blamed in this scenario, that the bribers are at fault because they tempted voters like Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. Possibly. After all, in a battle of values, where does feeding one’s children fall?

In a country where politicians keep getting richer, the middle class getting poorer, and the poor starve to death, it may seem like the only thing the poor can offer the rich politician is their vote. Right?


We the People are selling ourselves too short.

We the People have lost the long-awaited elections the moment the ballots were announced and we realized that the whole thing is a scam. That we were set up. That we’re electing the same families we elected every chance we got since 1992. That we’re feeding a feudal system that supposedly ceased to exist nearly two centuries ago. Yet, we happily and brainwashed-ly went with it.

So what is the point? What is the point of rising and revolting and burning tires to demand an election (that is already our right, by the way), and be ‘granted’ a used, beat-up toy that we tried and tested and have been bored with and sick of for decades. What is the point when we have to listen to the same crooks, who have literally ‘moved in’ parliament in the early 90s, and haven’t left their seats since but during campaigns so that they can make the same promises over and over and whisper sweet nothings in your ear, bribe you or not to believe them, win your votes, go back to their seats, starve you, exile your children to find a respectable and dignified life anywhere but here. Repeat.

My favorite part, you ask? Oh, it’s good.

A handful of people woke up and thought, wait a minute. We’ve been presented with no real agendas or plans from anyone. They’ve been fighting and arguing, but not actually debating (not on issues that matter to the people in any case). So they asked, and boy did they receive. Our politicians, top notch experts at nothing the way they are at cheating, figured why not cheat the elections, from an optics perspective at least, from the west. Yeah, the west knows how to campaign. Let’s recycle a slogan or two. We shall promise them Women’s rights this year. The ladies seem to rah rah to that, and it’s not like we actually need to do anything. With all due respect to women and our rights, gentlemen, I think we’ll pass. I speak on behalf of all of us when I say, for the love of God, stop flying before you’ve crawled. How about we start with the basics and you don’t hijack our basic human rights; once you master this I-thought-was-a-simple-task, we can then advance to the next level, one that we undoubtedly and desperately ache for.

Allow me to congratulate you, my fellow citizens, on getting your beloved election, a race among the rich. A vote you sell for a few liras today, but one you’ve been paying millions for for decades, and will continue to for decades to come.

I pray I’m wrong.

God bless Lebanon, enlighten its citizens to do the right thing, and give those sad excuses of public servants another game to fiddle with, so they let us live in peace.

Is this too much to ask?


I shouldn’t have to explain my self-worth to anyone.

I rarely discuss the romantic aspect of my life publicly. Let alone blog about it. The last blog that specifically covered my romantic life was written several years ago.

In any case, I’m gonna stop prefacing and get to it.

I’ve recently had some of the most memorable weeks of my life. Romantically that is. And I’m not just talking about myself. I’m talking about all the exceptional women around me. What can I say. 2017 made quite the entrance, and led us all to believe that this year, this year is the year where all of us kick-ass ladies would find our one and only.

Except we didn’t.

Let me start by sharing a few ‘fun’ short stories.

  • Translated for the UN, specifically requested to interpret major international conferences, wise advisor, loving sister, great friend. Meets boy. Falls in love. Boy proposes. Boy freaks out. Boy backs out.
  • Model-like body. Best heart. Wittiest soul. Exemplary daughter. Loyal-est friend. Loves boy. Boy loves her. Boy plays her. Boy ignores her. Boy asks her to travel with him. Boy disappears. Boy apologizes. Boy is too late.
  • Successful businesswoman. Absolutely stunning on the outside. Simply beautiful on the inside. Meets boy. Boy gets serious. Boy talks marriage. Boy flirts with other women. Boy disappears.

I don’t know about you. But I have the biggest girl crush on all three women. They’re outstanding. They’re the cream of the cream. They were discarded. Like the littlest of people. Like the pettiest of losers.

Except all of us rational-s know that they’re neither this nor that.

And the biggest question remains – how do we get ourselves in so deep, that we lose sight of who we are, who ‘boy’ is, and the incompatibility that we make ourselves believe is a ‘match made in Heaven.’

I’m not writing this because I found an answer. I’m merely paying homage to these incredible beings (and myself, really) who doubt themselves and their abilities everyday because of men who are simply, and for a lack of better term, not quite worth it.

I love men. This post is in no way, shape or form intended to dis an entire layer of society. I love them. And that will never (physically nor emotionally) change.

But I can’t help but resent the state that a good chunk of them put these women and me in.

But I did find a solution. A solution that will set me, these women, and our likes free.

A man who requires an explanation for why he should be with me (or them), really just shouldn’t. I (they) know who I am (they are). I (they) know what I (they) bring to the table. I (they) know what I (they) have to offer. And, at the risk of sounding arrogant, conceited, and full of myself (themselves), I’m (they’re) f**king amazing. And a man that I (they) have to explain that to is simply not worth my time, nor theirs.

I have spent way too much time investing in myself and my ‘life resume,’ which should really speak for itself.

I shall develop a one-pager that I hand out on dates from now on. You know, to get that bit out of the way early on.

‘Can I help you with those bags?’ No, thanks. I’m fine.

devochka_s_chemodanomLadies, have you used this response more often than you’d like to admit? Congratulations. You’re in the doomed category.

Gentlemen, we probably lost you at bags. Let me give you a hand. If you’ve offered a lady (one you’re interested in or not) to help carry her bags, and she kindly declined, despite the fact that she looked like a Christmas tree with ornaments hanging from every limb (me earlier today), run (I can’t believe I’m scaring away he who could be my one and only). At least for now.

The thing is, it’s not just the bags you offered to help carry. Or the door you offered to hold open while she carried the boxes. Or the nail you offered to put in the wall. Or or. It’s much more complex that that. A lady who doesn’t admit to needing help with these medial things, is sure as hell not gonna admit to needing help in much bigger matters, be it at work or at home. In love or at war.

I’m guilty as charged. Whether or not I want to admit to it. I suck at asking for help. I used to think it’s my strength. But I couldn’t be more wrong. This just might be my biggest shortcoming.

And this hasn’t just appeared. Oh no. God knows it’s been there. It’s been there since that first class in kindergarten, and there it remained. I never asked for help putting together puzzles in elementary school, or studying for quizzes in fourth grade, or preparing for my big exam in 12th grade, or my final paper in university. I didn’t understand the point of group projects – to be fair, I did have pretty bad groups starting out, where I did everything, so I thought it’d always be the case, and stopped even trying to involve anyone. And that’s just how it was, is, and hope it ceases to be.

The truth is, what I could get away with, albeit barely, in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college, won’t do in the real world.

Where the winner is she

Who knows her weaknesses.

Who raises her hand when she needs help.

Who isn’t afraid of admitting when it’s just too much.

Who doesn’t let pride get in the way of her learning new things because she knows that she can’t possibly, nor is anyone expecting her to, do everything on her own.

Who understands that those who get to call themselves kick-ass, are not those who were born with it, but those who become it.

I won’t pretend that she is me just yet. But I also can’t deny that she is just around the corner.

The cake I waited six years to taste

If you’ve been reading me regularly, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised that this post is a little shorter than usual. It’s about cake, after all. How much can you really say about a slice of cake.

The story goes like this:

In 2009, in between classes, I walk into a Starbucks near my college campus to grab a green tea. ‘No sugar please,’ I tell the cashier as I placed my order. I walk over to wait for my tea, and I felt the need to tell the barista one more time ‘sorry, can you please make sure you don’t add any sugar?’ You know, just in case. It was almost summer, which means almost time to go to Lebanon, which means looking like a fat foreign kid who can’t resist American junk food was just not an option.

As I waited, a slice of scrumptious chocolate cake grabbed my attention. It wasn’t like any other chocolate cake. This was heavenly chocolate cake. It looked so good. So sinful. My mouth was watering and stomach making all sorts of sounds just thinking about it. I couldn’t just leave it there.

Little did I care that what I was about to say was gonna make me sound like someone who’d lost their mind (you know, asking for a green tea with no sugar. Twice. Then ordering (what looked like) a 2000-calorie slice of cake): ‘can I also have a slice of your Chocolate Decadence Cake, please.’

I couldn’t wait to get out of there and go somewhere quiet, so I can peacefully devour my cake. A slice that had my name written all over it. I sat in a perfect spot, under a tree, all excited that I was about to have my first cheatcheat in a month. I opened the bag.

Wrong cake. I can’t believe he gave me the wrong cake. I debated going back to claim what’s mine, but it was time for class. (I found out later that the food-deprived me gave him the wrong name. Chocolate Decadence Cake was the name of another slice right next to my beloved).

In 2012, I walk into a Starbucks near my office in Abu Dhabi to grab a green tea, with no sugar. As I waited in line for my drink, I saw it again. Beautiful as ever. The same cake. The other side of the planet. Three years later. It’s fate. I wasn’t gonna get the name wrong this time. So I looked real carefully at the tag, and placed my order with confidence. ‘May I also add a slice of your Dark Belgian Chocolate Cake, please?’

‘Sorry, ma’am. The gentleman there has already ordered the last slice.’

You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. I debated fighting for my cake, but I had already made a scene by confirming twice that my tea has no sugar.

In 2015, I walk into a Starbucks in Kaslik, Lebanon. As I stood with a friend in line, I saw the cake again, and smiled. I told him the quickest version of my cake story. ‘Tonight is the night,’ he said.

I knew the name by heart. They have more than one slice. No one is ahead of me in line. Nothing can go wrong. ‘Okay,’ I (happily) surrendered.

We walked over to our seats, and as he placed the tray on the coffee table, my greenteawithnosugar spilled all over the tray. I should have known. My cake is ruined. I’m sure it’s ruined.

It wasn’t.

I sighed with relief. Tonight is the night, I reassured myself.

I sat down. My eyes widened with anticipation. My friend pulled out his phone to document the moment. I took my very first bite, of the very cake I fantasized about for so long.

It was gourmet-less, taste-less, disappointing.

We laughed and joked about it. He thought the story was so funny, I should write a post about it. I smiled diplomatically and thought to myself, what the hell am I gonna say about cake.

I got home that night, and realized that this is not just about my cake. It’s about every single thing I’ve ever put a ‘my’ in front of, when it actually wasn’t mine. Be it a job, a boy, a trip, a dress, a cake. Every single time I put them on a pedestal and made them out to be the next big thing. My next big thing. When in reality, they were neither meant to be mine, nor a big thing.

Often times, we try to make things happen, against all odds, against all laws of nature. We ignore everything and everyone telling us to stay away. Because in our minds, it’s ours. And we want it.

Well maybe it isn’t. And maybe we shouldn’t.

With Beirut, we had it on a silver platter

If you’ve known me long enough or have been following Thoughts & Abouts for a while, you’d know that, despite my political science background, I’m not one to entertain political discussions. I don’t agree with some of my closest friends on political views, and, if you’re familiar with Lebanon, where I was born and raised, you’d know that it’s just better this way. But we’ll get to that later.

For now, let me just show you the place that brought me up.

Beirut was born to be exceptionally gorgeous. Shamelessly beautiful. A Goddess to look at. Despite the wars, the bombs, the insecurity, the high cost of living and low pay, the corruption and class disparity. Despite everything that normally makes a place unlivable, Beirut was where you’d go to live. My city never settled for looks, though. It seduced you with its charm, and drugged you with its appeal. But on the inside, it was arrogant, unbreakable with a heart of steel. It was shot from every direction, but shone through, more stunning than ever.

Over the years, Lebanese abroad would always tell you that their current situation is temporary. That this new place they live in, although great, is not Lebanon. “Akid badna nerja3” (of course we’re going back), is an expression you’d hear often.

Lebanese were hardly the only fans, though. State Departments and Ministries of Foreign Affairs around the world have had notices on their websites for the last 30 years, warning their nationals that Lebanon is highly dangerous, and visiting it would be on their own risk. You’d think this would stop them, but they adopted Beirut as their own and went every chance they got. Why? Because Lebanese mastered the art of living. Because Lebanon is where you meet people who would give you their bed and sleep on the floor. Where the food is to die for and the parties are unmatchable. It’s where everyone, regardless of where they come from, their likes and dislikes, could find a corner that would force them to be spontaneous. Drag them out of their comfort zone. Make them nostalgic for their best memories. Remind them of their first love. Awaken their dreams and ambitions. Reiterate their raison d’être. Whisper in their ears that they only live once.

And, We, the Lebanese People, didn’t have to do anything to earn the right to the country where everyone wanted to be.

But there is so much Beirut’s looks and charm can do.

Growing up, every Lebanese student without fail learned in geography class that Lebanon was strategically located to connect East and West. That with its moderate weather and diverse landscape, people could swim and ski on the same day. That its four distinct seasons made it all too attractive for people coming from countries that didn’t have that luxury.

They failed to mention in geography class, though, that our strategic location also meant that we should thank God for the Mediterranean, our only peaceful neighbor. That our neighbors on every other side have issues that have gone on for decades, often spilling over to Lebanese soil.

Also growing up, every Lebanese student without fail learned in social studies class that Lebanon was home to 18 sects “co-existing harmoniously.” That it was a democracy with a constitution, where people had a say in what goes on in their lives. That our electoral law allowed for proportional representation amongst all layers of society.

What our social studies class didn’t tell us is that the 18 sects appear to be co-existing harmoniously. That our democracy was words on paper. That in reality, we’re a hereditary monarchy, monopolized by a few families whose names we’ve memorized all too well. That our electoral law and constitution couldn’t make up for the sleaziness of our “leaders,” and the naivety of our people.

We, the Lebanese People, took Beirut and all that it gave us for granted and said “thank you, but no thank you.”

We have not learned. And I’m not sure we’re capable of ever learning.

We can blame our government. We can blame our economical situation and our debt and our neighbors and our political enemies and “el wade3” (the situation). And, and and. But, at the end of the day, we should blame no one but ourselves.

After all that has gone on in our Lebanon. After we’ve given time and time again the same people a chance to make a difference. After they failed us every time. After they starved us, split us up, disappointed us, ruined our lives, increased our debt, deprived us of our most basic needs, we still cheer them on and chant for them. Who are we. What is wrong with us. How have we not made those who have driven us away from our Lebanon accountable for every mishap?

Perhaps the only thing Lebanon has ever done for me was sign a no-objection letter, attesting that my government has no issues or reservations with me working for a foreign government. It was the quickest signature I’ve ever received from my Lebanon. And how awful did it feel.

I haven’t lived in Lebanon in 11 years. I know. Now you’re thinking ‘why didn’t just lead with this, so we could have spared ourselves the hypocritical speech.’ And I’ll beg to differ. Every Lebanese who, for one reason or another, has had to leave Lebanon, will tell you that distance has made our love for Lebanon grow fonder.

This same distance, however, has made us appreciate other governments that are doing for people who aren’t even their people more than my government has ever done for me.

I’ve been living in a desert, also known as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for the last three and a half years. I dreaded this place at first. Maybe because I felt like leaving Lebanon for another Arab country didn’t make any sense. I was in the United States before that. But that was fine. I went to study, and that was justified. But how was I going to justify moving to the UAE when I couldn’t even justify it to myself. A monarchy in the middle of a desert.

I don’t think the way I saw the UAE changed until my parents came and visited. They opened my eyes to things I hadn’t seen. Things that are so different from Lebanon. Things they hated back in Lebanon. My parents who never wanted to leave Lebanon. Loved it here.

Their nod of approval redeemed my guilt in a way and allowed me to see the UAE from a different lens.

We co-exist harmoniously.

They were here on Easter Sunday, so we went to mass at a Catholic Church in a compound of churches and mosques. The priest led the sermon by “we thank His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, for his wise leadership and allowing us to be here today.” I later found out that the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, a Sunni Muslim, serving in the cabinet of a Muslim country where Sharia law plays a key role, cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony of the remodeled church and, according to sources, the government also contributed financially to the building of the church.

Major malls and stores here are decorated for Christmas. In fact, a few years ago, Emirates Palace, the UAE’s most luxurious hotel, put up the world’s most expensive Christmas tree to celebrate the occasion. In retrospect, Christians and residents of other religions are expected to respect Muslim observances through certain behaviors and modest dress.

We have a good life.

The UAE population constitutes mostly of expats, with UAE nationals only making up 10% of the population. Expats work across all fields and, for the most part, feel privileged to be able to work here thanks to the benefits and perks that the government has made possible. This has created a domino effect of feel-good everywhere you go, which has boosted the overall happy factor of the country.

The founder and first president of the country, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, whom everyone who lives in this country respected and loved, had a vision to bring civilization to the UAE and turn an economy heavily dependent on oil into a knowledge-based economy. To do this, the government looked at the rest of the world and brought the best of models to be replicated and implemented in all industries in the UAE from education and healthcare to aerospace and energy. The benefits of having these models here have evidently trickled down to all residents, regardless of their nationality, who now not only have access to the best hospitals, schools and technologies, but also increasingly impressive career opportunities. Ones they wouldn’t have had back home. In a tax-free economy.

But it’s a monarchy.

For a big proponent of democracy, the monarchy in the UAE hasn’t bothered me one bit. Before you spit out words like indoctrinated or brainwashed, take a second to think, realistically, about the reason anyone would want a democracy. To choose the people who would represent them in government and make decisions that would be in their best interest. I already have that here. Without having to lift a finger. So right here, right now, I don’t care whether or not I got them to government or they just happened to be good leaders who knew what they’re doing.

In a desert.

The UAE is only 43 years old. It was (obviously still is) a desert, where people, then called Bedouins, lived in tents and rode camels. When you step foot in the UAE today, not knowing anything about its past, you’d think you just landed in one of the most advanced European countries. With its towering skyscrapers, huge malls and spectacular luxury hotels, the UAE quickly made its way to the top in the region. It didn’t spare any expense to build and develop the best and tallest and largest and every superlative adjective you can think of. For the most part, it doesn’t get involved in the enigmas of the region, which made it a safe and stable place for businesses to settle and tourists to visit. It defied all laws of nature by planting and replanting flowers in sand, and air conditioning every single closed space, making the desert a pleasant place to live.

But this post isn’t about the UAE or anywhere else for that matter. It’s about Beirut.

With Beirut, we didn’t have to try. We didn’t have to fight for our spot as the Paris of the Middle East or the Bride of the East or the soul of the region. Beirut just threw herself on us and let us take advantage of her.

So when I say “ma ba3ref eza berja3” (I don’t know if I’ll ever go back), it’s never Beirut. It’s the people.

Beirut, Beirut was too good for us.

Some 48 hours I had

(initially drafted on July 3, 2015)

I hadn’t been home for my birthday in a few years. So I decided that this year, my 25th, is an ideal time to go. I kept hoping I’d get excited about the trip, but I didn’t. “Maybe I will when I get closer to the day,” I thought. But I still didn’t.

I’m not sure what it was. Perhaps the fact that I’m a Gerascophobic turning 25? Or maybe because I had put on a few pounds since my last visit, and no one notices weight gain like Lebanese girls? Or the fact that my sister’s future in-laws (i.e. her fiancé’s parents) invited us out to a post-engagement lunch on my very birthday, and my parents didn’t decline, so I felt like my birthday was being hijacked from me? Or because I’m going through a helovesmehelovesmenot period? Or the fact that I was questioning the questions that you’re meant to question yourself at 25. You know, the who am I, what am I doing with my life, what have I done, who should I be?

Perhaps all the above? I have no idea. All I knew is that right then and there I was down. And nothing was gonna change that. Or so I thought.

I landed in Beirut, and standing in the middle of the airport, at 3:30AM, were my parents and sister carrying balloons and colored signs with “Happy 25th Birthday” written on them.

We got home, and awaiting my arrival were more balloons.

Despite all the balloons and love, I was still down.

The next day, I went to grab a coffee with one of my closest friends, who got diagnosed with the unmentionable last year. For the purposes of this post, let’s call her Nour. Those of you who know Nour, would understand why the news of her illness was devastating. She’s what you would call full-of-life. Her energy is contagious. Her laugh is capable of turning anyone’s day right side up.

But those of you who know her also know that if anyone was gonna kick cancer’s ass, it would be her. And she did.

I got to the café and there she was. That familiar smile. That short hair that she rocked like no one else could. And there it was. That thing about her. Arrogance, perhaps. Towards the illness that thought it could steal her life and her laugh away from her, but couldn’t.

We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, so she immediately started asking about me. My life. My plans. And I didn’t have the courage to ask her about hers. Then I did.

How are you? I asked.

There was her smile again. Then she said amusingly “I had cancer and now it’s gone.” And laughed hysterically. The I-did-it laugh. The who-does-cancer-think-it-is laugh.

Then she said. “It was a good experience.” I couldn’t help the “yea, okay Nour. Keep telling yourself that” look on my face. And she saw it. So she explained.

I hit rock bottom, Rita. And now I can live. None of the little things phase me anymore because I’ve been through the worst.

And there it was. She gave me the first lesson of the trip, on a silver platter, without me having to go where she went.

The next day, we had the in-laws lunch that hijacked my birthday. My sister looked so beautiful and so happy, so I was happy. We partied and danced till we dropped. But I couldn’t help but think that I’m here celebrating her engagement, again, instead of my birthday, which I came home to celebrate.

And then it happened. The second lesson.

The waiters at the restaurant where we were came carrying a massive cake, with 25 candles. Then I heard an all too familiar voice singing my favorite birthday song – my dad. Who has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard.

I looked at my sister. She was singing and clapping and smiling. The I-gotcha smile. The you-think-no-one-can-ever-surprise-you-but-I-just-did smile. The I-love-you-so-much-I-would-turn-any-engagement-party-of-mine-into-your-birthday smile. So I teared up. At the hate I had towards this lunch that turned out being my surprise birthday party. At the selfless woman that my sister grew up to be.

That evening, I had plans to go visit a friend of mine whose father passed away a few weeks ago. She and I weren’t very close, but we talked sporadically. And when her dad fell ill, I’d check on her every once in a while and let her know that my family and I were praying for them.

My mom came along, one because I was home for a total of three days and she wanted to spend every waking minute with me, two because she knew her family well, and three, because I don’t know how to act in these situations. Do I talk about it? Do I not talk about it?

So my mom, who’s brilliant at everything, started the conversation. And it got my friend, whom we’re gonna call Nayla, talking.

Nayla: It kills me every day. I’m a believer, yes. He’s in a better place, yes. But he’s not here. I lost my father, and I’ll never get to see him in this life again. I am blessed, though, you know? I have no “ifs.” I spent every minute I could with him. When he got sick, I was always either with him or taking care of his diner, the second closest place I could be to him. And now that he’s gone, the diner is my priority. This place put food on our table. My dad spent his life building it and growing it to ensure that we didn’t need anyone and I can’t leave it now. Everything else can wait.

She then told us countless stories and memories of her and him. His best days. His worst days. She didn’t shed a tear. But the sadness I saw in her eyes and the anguish I heard in her voice were more powerful that all the weeping I’ve seen in funerals.

Nayla: In the days before he left, things were lining up like a puzzle. I believed more than ever that everything happens for a reason, you know? I’m so sorry, I talked too much.

Little did she know that I wanted her to. That I believed that too. That me going there on my birthday had clearly happened for a reason. Yes, she needed to talk, but I also needed to listen. Here’s this girl who just found a purpose in the midst of the biggest loss of her life. 

Nour and Nayla had every right to be bitter. I was healthy and the former wasn’t. My dad is here and the latter’s isn’t. But they weren’t. They graciously offered me the lessons they learned by going to hell and back, without even realizing that they did.

And then I saw it. The lesson of all lessons. Perspective.

Should women lose the pants?

(initially drafted on January 24, 2014)

You know life can have quite the sense of humor sometimes. This past week has been eventful. So eventful, in fact, that the title of this blog post didn’t start out the way it reads now. It initially was “Women Should Lose the Pants [period]”

The reason? Simple. At some point this week, I thought my pants are the problem and was ready to give up on them; but now, I’m no longer sure.

Chances are I’ve lost you at pants. If so, please get your head out of the gutter and think a little deeper.

Many years back, I dated a drop dead gorgeous guy. To this day, I still think he’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen. So hot in fact, that I stayed with him for a whole year and a half just so I can look at him. That’s a long time when you’re 17. I was the girl who always built up his ego, reminded him how sexy he was everyday (though he didn’t need the reminder) and even complimented his brains every now and then; despite the fact that he wasn’t exactly what you would call smart. Guys need that, a woman who supports them, I thought.

Months passed and I realized that I was giving a lot more in the relationship than I ever took. That by staying with him [knowing he was having an affair], I was sacrificing my everything including my dignity.

I decided to put an end to it but blamed myself for the mishap for a very long time. I probably wasn’t enough for him, I told myself. A drop dead gorgeous guy needs a size 0, six-foot tall drop dead gorgeous girl so they can be gorgeous together and have gorgeous babies.

It took me years to finally get over him. But with getting over him, came another item.

The Pants.

Sorry it took me this long to finally get to the pants, but I needed you to be aware of the background before we got here.

I wasn’t always the woman I am today. Bitter is probably not the best word to describe it so let’s call it “pink-less,” “girl-less,” “pants-ful.”

To girls, I’m strong and independent. To guys [or some], I’m probably the Cruela who doesn’t need them or anyone else for that matter.

Whether Hotboy (HB) was the reason or not, is not the point of this post. He was definitely a trigger though. The trigger that brought out the pinkless in me.

I’ll give you a couple examples so you get the picture. I gave HB passes for everything; being hours late to dates, not putting me first, checking out other women when I was around, having no clue what he wants to do in life or even what he wants. Anything he did wrong in the eyes of everyone, I gave him excuses for. Because, I mean, he was him. The hot, handsome him. And he was with me, though he could have been with any other model-like girl. And trust me, we don’t have a shortage of those in Lebanon.

Today, I’m different. I surprise myself everyday with behavior that would be deemed too manly/extreme/harsh even for a man.

When I love, I still love with all my heart. And I’m still a giver, that hasn’t changed.

But I want things to be a certain way now. The guy I choose needs to meet me half way, put me and my needs above others’, respect me enough to show up. On time. Feel just as lucky that I chose him as I feel that he chose me. Because, I mean, (narcissistic comment alert) I think really highly of myself. I studied hard, worked tirelessly and overcame incredibly difficult experiences to build my “life Résumé” and become the me writing this today.

I now decide overnight to take trips to the randomest of places, by myself, because I can. I have no problem packing up tomorrow and moving to a different continent, because why not. I have no desire to tie the knot anytime soon and don’t see the issue in sitting at the movie theater watching a movie by myself.

Love issues this week called for several “meetings” with a few girl friends of mine who see life from the same angle. We decided that maybe our pink levels are too low, our pants are too high and that we need to act more like “normal” girls.

Okay, okay. Maybe there are things that we could do differently. Letting guys pay for things every now and then is a good start and not the end of the world. Getting their opinion on things before we actually do them is feasible. Not talking to them for days because they broke one of our rules is probably not the best solution. But I can’t act vulnerable and dependent. It’s simply unnatural. Un-me. Undoable for any guy regardless of how much I love him.

Do we need them? Undoubtedly. But in the same way they need us. To give us love, sex, babies and be someone we can build a life with. We (and by we I don’t mean Women, I mean the Pinklesses) don’t need a provider, a leader, a controller. We need a lover, a companion, a friend. Who respects our independence and lack of helplessness and understands that these attributes don’t diminish our love by one bit.

Is this too much to ask? I mean should we tone down the pants so we don’t emasculate the guys in our lives?


I kinda like my pants.