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.

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Sex, that taboo

(initially drafted on February 10, 2012)

I got in a car accident a few days ago caused by an illegal immigrant who had no papers, no insurance and probably a stolen car. (But that’s another day’s topic) After the accident, I drove myself to the hospital, got checked up by a pleasant doctor who asked for an X-Ray. I got escorted to the appropriate block by a lady who seemed to be more like the hospital slut than a nurse. She winked at and flirted with every single guy we bumped into on our way to the x-ray room. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more awkward, the radiologist walked into the room and instead of asking me if there was a chance I could be pregnant (as they would at any normal place), she asked if I was married.

Her dumb question got me to think about her ignorance as a healthcare specialist, our ignorance as a people, the taboo that we made of sex, the meaning that we gave to virginity, and this backwards world that we’re creating for the future generations.

I wanted to say so many things but didn’t know where to begin as her question was wrong on so many levels. I felt the words fighting to get out of my mouth but 5 seconds later all I spit out was: “I’m single.” I felt weak, submissive to the status quo which is not usually a trait of mine. I should have said something. I really should have said something.

We live in a society where it’s 3eib (a shame) to talk about sex in public. I feel awkward bringing up sex in front of my cousins or friends (males of females) who have never left Lebanon. It’s a no-no topic that should just be kept behind closed doors. I think the rule is: if you’re a girl and you’ve done “things” (even if you haven’t gone as far as sex), don’t tell anyone because people talk and then no one would want to marry you. Seriously, what the hell. Where do guys fall into that equation? I know a guy who would only date/marry a virgin when he has literally “de-virginized” half the population. I don’t see anyone telling him to keep quiet about it in the fears of not getting married. Quite the contrary actually, he kinda brags that he’s a man whore. But that’s ok because he’s a guy.

We live in a society where we shame a girl who gets raped to the point that she’d rather keep quiet and let the bastard who raped her go unpunished.

We live in a society where we’re formally introduced to sex for the first time in 9thgrade. Don’t get too excited. We learned about animal sex and had to do the math and figure out how it would happen in our species. We don’t have a formal sex education class so naturally we have to get our sex knowledge from other sources; Porn, other kids, random people, movies… Since the forbidden is desired, especially for teenagers who think they’re “badass” for having sex, they go on sex sprees with anyone. With no protection. With no clue.

We live in a society where the definition of a “virgin” is messed up. So messed up I want to throw up. I was at a doctor’s clinic a few months back when this lady walks in screaming, yelling, going nuts. Her 10-year-old daughter was holding her hand, in tears. The lady was so loud that everyone and their mother heard the story so I didn’t have to eavesdrop. Apparently, her daughter fell on a sharp surface and started bleeding (hence the tears. She was in pain!) and what was the mother worried about? “Please doctor, can you make sure she’s still a virgin? And if she’s not, can you attest on a piece of paper that you’ve checked her up and that she’s never had a sexual relation and that she’s “popped” because of the accident? Just in case we needed it in the future” I was in awe. In shock. I didn’t speak for hours. How do you react to that? What does being a virgin have to do with her damn hymen! And how could the mom think of such thing when her daughter is bleeding to death and is in excruciating pain? I was hoping it was a nightmare that I would wake up from but it wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t because when I told the story in another circle full of Lebanese women, hoping I’d get some of them on my side, I didn’t.

WAIT: Wait to have sex but wait for the right reasons. Ladies, saving yourselves for your husbands does not count as one. I don’t see them saving anything for us. Be with a guy who appreciates/respects the fact that you’re a virgin but would be with you even if you weren’t.

EDUCATE: Let’s educate teenagers so if they do have sex, they can do it safely. Let’s prevent teenage pregnancies, abortions and STDs.

CHANGE YOUR MENTALITY: In order to change a society as a whole, we have to start by changing our own mentality. We can’t expect a girl who gets raped to say something if deep down we’re still going to blame her. We can’t pretend like we’re cool with talking about sex if we’re going to think “slut” of the girl who brings it up.

It is our responsibility as a society to do something.