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A tribute to my mom

After my article in NowLebanon about a special initiative for Mother’s Day, this an overdue complementary post about my mother and all the delicious meals she cooks from scratch with fresh ingredients.

But as Anna Jarvis the founder of Mother’s Day who fought against the commercialization of this occasion until her last breath, would have pleaded: every day should be an opportunity to thank our mothers. So mom, here’s to you.

“Viva la vie Boheme!”

At this moment, in San Francisco, the Bay Area more precisely, a couple of my friends, Maria Royo and Anton Calderon, young Spanish filmmakers, are preparing the logistics for their road trip through Latin America, to film a documentary about lullabies, Nanas: LULLABIES AND BROKEN DREAMS ON THE PAN-AMERICAN HIGHWAY.

Maria and Anton are two vagabonds who would not flinch at any prospect of living an unconventional adventure.

After Rediscovering Pape, their first documentary, which brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw it, now they are off to yet another spirited escapade.

The Lullavan is how they dubbed their vehicle, a 41-year-old Volkswagen Type II Bus from 1969.

Their journey will be recorded on their website, click here and check it out, it’s really cool.

Here’s a photo of Maria and Anton with the Lullavan, the vessel that will carry them on their odyssey all the way down to Argentina. Maria pasted my green-box photo I had from a photo shoot, to sort of, include me in their journey. Of course, the van doesn’t have my picture on it…Still, I am, without a doubt, a Lullavan aficionada all the way.

"Viva la vie Boheme!"(Photo Credit: Maria Royo)

1:CHECK, 2:CHECK, 3:CHECK

A friend of mine told me this joke: A girl lying down next to her boyfriend.”Babe, I love listening to your heart beats,” she says. “That’s ur internal biological clock ticking, Babe,” answers the boyfriend.

We still don’t know if he was the one who invented it. He said he was inspired by a sweeping mania, that he called the “I wanna-get-married syndrome.”

This syndrom is not particular to Lebanon, but to most women around the world who are setting their priorities according to their biological clocks.But the obsession with marriage is going a little bit overboard.

Let’s take Lebanon for example. Most girls want marriage. They want it quick , they want it fast and they want it now!

I did not really start thinking about marriage until I came back to Beirut. Everybody is asking about it, or about the prospects of it. You hear phrases such as, “it’s time!” , “Yalla” (“come on” in Arabic), “we hope to see you a bride soon,” etc…

Everyone is concerned with that issue: Parents, relatives, friends, even potential employers. This IS the talk of the town.

Such concerns about my relationship status, I find endearing. But when it becomes a daily refrain, it takes on another tenor.

Wary of preserving my inner peace, I spend so much energy filtering out people’s comments about the necessity and the time to get married, it gets tiring.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in marriage against all odds, I believe in a bond, more than anything else really.

I wish some people take some time in their choice of partner and when they in fact, choose to get married, they would do it for the right reasons. Reasons of love, mutual understanding and common visions for life, which have become rare currencies in the current social sphere.

In the pursuit of the “happily ever after,” a checklist that resulted from too much conformity to fake social standards and the loss of the true essence of relationships, is the only map.

On that checklist, profiles of men with trust funds and of women with certain looks are in high demand.

People with capacity to love and to offer mutual enrichment to one another is rarely heard of. On top of it, romance has lost its place in that equation.

I just want to share my favorite quote on Marriage by Rainer Maria Rilke.

The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a wholeand before an immense sky.

That is the standard folks, that is my standard at least. Until then, I am happily single and ready to mingle.

Take it outside

I previously wrote a post  about smoking, but since it seems to be the sujet du jour in Beirut, I thought I would give it another round.

The link below is for a video from CNN posted in November 2009.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/11/16/lebanon.smoking.ban/index.html

Or Watch it on Youtube

First, I applaud CNN for delving into our society’s problems away from the glamour and glitter culture that they marketed throughout the summer.

When I lived in Istanbul, I found similarities between my host culture and mine.

Hands down, Lebanese and Turks can pride themselves for being serial smokers, or “chimneys” (can I say that?).

Yet Turks have somehow managed to abide by the smoking ban in public places initiated in July 2009. Most happening nightclubs witness a crowd of smokers blocking the sidewalk just to take their smoke outside.

In Lebanon, such public smoking bans are met by resistance from smokers and of course tobacco companies which have docked in nicotine paradise where tobacco control legislation have yet to see the light of day (Check this article about the role of tobacco companies in delaying any smoking regulations in Lebanon).

So far so good…in the sense that, for those who have lived in Lebanon long enough, can understand that this resistance is legitimate and expected.

Our government is apathetic by default towards most issues, let alone smoking issues, which with all due respect to all anti-smoking activists, is not really a pressing cause in the midst of such havoc.

But for a young adult on CNN (at 2 minutes 15 seconds of the video) to boast that Lebanon is a freedom culture and to be so proud of not respecting any laws is more than my humble mind can process. FREEDOM CULTURE?… SERIOUSLY?

I think some are confused about the true meaning of freedom.

I cannot fathom the following either. Even the most anarchist Lebanese can abide by the simplest laws and protocols of any country they live in: Standing in line for instance, only applies outside of Lebanese borders. But we  forget these civil habits as soon as we set foot at Beirut International Airport (actually even before the plane lands…we are in such a hurry that we unfasten the seatbelt and rush to the overhead bins). And we are so proud!

Now back to our smoking hot topic…Enough with empty arguments already. It is about time we practiced some civility in our country, just like we do elsewhere. At least, those who can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke, don’t have to endure it everywhere they go. Just, kindly take your choking outside.

The bear awakens

After a six-month hiatus, I am finally getting back in the game.

To all my faithful readers and supporters, I am sure you would understand the reasons that kept me off my keyboard, but not off the screen. I was almost everywhere, except on my blog.

Now I need to blow the dust off, and just retrieve my favorite platform, my redemption.

I will take it easy for my resurgence post, so please bear with me.

"The simple bare necessities of life!" (Image from http://www.reelingreviews.com/ thejunglebook2.htm)

Following my last blog post, and as I was getting ready to re-adapt in Lebanon after being away for over five years, providence had decided otherwise.

I found myself packing my bags again and ready to go off to another adventure entitled: Istanbul.

The nature of my job in Turkey allowed me to fully immerse myself culturally. I even learned some Turkish words. Go figure! I was able to order from restaurants, negotiate  prices at markets and …well, greet people. I will write about this life-changing adventure in length. I won’t do it now, not yet.

Briefly, I presented a program about Turkish cuisine for a new TV channel that will broadcast for the Arab world.

One word that would perfectly capture this experience: it was a roller-coaster. I had absolutely no time to write on my blog then.

I am in Beirut now and I just want to savor the past and focus on my re-integration. I don’t want to be ranting, but I haven’t really had a smooth ride. Few days after my anticipated return, I fell while skiing and had a bad neck distortion that spun me into an existential crisis…of the ugly kind. Add to that some hallucination and long hours of sleep because of heavy medication. I could not read, write, cook, think.

For the first time in a very very long time, I was absolutely doing nothing. While this may seem delicious to some, everything looked so dark and miserable to me.

I was dealing with a serious injury and with transitioning into my life in Lebanon. I was not the same person. Everything about my life before leaving was very different. Now, I feel like a stranger to almost everything that was once familiar. Most of my friends are now married and/ or expecting. While I find this truly adorable, I definitely feel a social emptiness. I don’t have anything in common with most of the people around me. A harsh realization…but today I have chosen to embrace this divergence and celebrate it.

I have recovered from my neck injury, I am overdosing on Vitamin C however, to recover from a flue. A flue of the kind that blinds you when you sneeze. I almost had a car accident a couple of days ago because of a sneeze that filled my eyes with tears and made me lose control of the steering wheel. That was a really close call. So I decided to lock my self at home until I recover.

It will take time for me to feel that harmony in my life in Beirut especially with the many stomach-churning and frustrating things that happen on a daily basis.I will definitely have a say about those …

But for now, I feel positive and in love with life wherever that might be. I want to celebrate it.

And most importantly, I am just so happy to be writing again.

A diva at work

In Lebanon, plastic surgery has become an intrinsic part of daily life. Some banks are introducing loans for plastic surgery, a clever move that has attracted many customers. Ads are now playing on the obsession with plastic surgery to boost the sales of whisky! Although there is no direct relation between physical appearance and consumption of spirits, marketers can simply use magic words that people connect with, or more likely words that characterize Lebanese customers: beauty, fabulousness and plastic surgery.

"Plastic Surgery made me fabulous...Live your way"...An ad on Achrafieh highway in Beirut (Photo by Carla Haibi)

In the above ad, plastic surgery as the only way to fabulousness is linked to living your life as you want it and whisky. Whatever the connection may be, it seems to be working…

All was calm and normal in the land where plastic surgery is used as a service in some travel packages…Until www.ANADiva.com, was launched. ANADiva, litterally means, I am a diva. A diva in this context is a woman with character, wit and a well defined identity. Through this online forum, Gwen Abou Jaoude, the founding diva and a friend wanted to tackle the issue of standardization of beauty in Lebanon. The website also aims at celebrating the beauty of the Lebanese woman and her identity.

As part of her awareness campaign she organized an event called “Be yourself or everyone else” this Sunday 20th of September 2009 at Gemmayze, the bar area in Beirut. Through this event, Abou Jaoude aimed at raising a red flag and at getting the debate started about an issue that has become a major social problem.

Using quirky installations, she booked one of the prominent bars in Gemmayze called Gem and a section of Saint Nicholas stairs that lead to it. The unusual set attracted a crowd of passers-by and media people despite the heavy rains that night.

I had the opportunity to write the concept of this campaign on flyers and the messages on the installations just because I really believe in pushing the envelope and providing an opportunity for a dialogue about the rapidly changing appearances of our society.

Finally, someone has dared to step in and make a statement not aimed at fighting plastic surgery per se, but rather aimed at questioning the obsession with it and its consequences on the identity of its heavy users. With most Lebanese women now looking alike thanks to the wonders of the knife and scalpel, the individuality of these women as well as their traits are lost and confused by increasingly high and unrealistic standards. Those standards are inspired by images promoted by media, images of plastic silhouettes and the glamour culture void of any emphasis on inner well-being or self-esteem.

Poster of the event (Photo by Carla Haibi)

As part of this special set, Abou jaoude installed a booth, she called the confidence booth where she invited people to go inside and have their pictures taken and enjoy a moment of fame where their self-confidence rather their concern with their appearance took over.

Black faceless models scattered on the stairs displaying messages of the negative consequences of an increasingly plastic culture (Photo by Carla Haibi)


Sewing machines set inside Gem Bar symbolized the mass-production of beauty in Lebanon where plastic surgery is increasingly sowing similar faces and bodies and crippling the society.

the confidence booth with the slogan “You are your own star… shine!” (Photo by Louma el Khoury)

Antique sewing machines on display at Gem (Photo by Carla Haibi)

Although this event was the first step towards a debate, Abou Jaoude has vowed that this will only be the start of a series of initiatives, the online forum ANADiva.com included, in order to promote critical thinking and preserve the true markers of the Lebanese beauty. Log on to the website to learn more and be part of the conversation.

A model trapped in a web in the ceiling symbolizing a crippled society by the loss of identity due to uniformity of beauty standards (Photo by Carla Haibi)

Sauvez l’enfance!

I think this is it…the cherry on top of the scone of shocking and yet perfectly accepted practices in Beirut.

A recent article published in NowLebanon, informed about the concept of beauty stores for children.I chose the following excerpt from the article that says it all.

 “Kids come in to take care of themselves, to look good and to pamper themselves.”

…such outlets are primarily avenues for Lebanon’s young girls to learn the importance of hygiene and cleanliness, a rationale echoed by the owners of the country’s other two children’s spas. 
“They become more and more aware, they grow up knowing that they have to have clean hands and clean feet,” said Hilal.

 

"If I saw that look in my kid’s eyes I’d do the opposite of whatever I was doing" and Photo credit:hoitycoity.com/post/ 151795543/highglitz

"If I saw that look in my kid’s eyes I’d do the opposite of whatever I was doing" and Photo credit:hoitycoity.com/post/ 151795543/highglitz

 

Shouldn’t basic hygiene standards be taught at home and at schools simultaneously? or have beauty parlors taken over the education and the upbringing of the next generation?

What would a young girl, who at the age of four,is a regular at a beauty parlor, be doing at the age of 15 to live up to the image she was groomed to have? or at 25 for that matter?

In Lebanon, some parents from certain social classes have evolved their upbringing practices. In fact, they chose to just deliberately set the social expecations for their girls at a very early age. Those expectations will not only shape their children’s self-esteem but will also take away some basic elements of their innocence. The preoccupation with appearance and grooming should not be even on the list of concerns of a four year old, or a five year old and not even before mid adolescence. What about classic children preoccupations? Should girls be raised to believe that they have to conform to the expectations of the society for their appearance before they can even spell?

Reading this article, made me think of my childhood and what my concerns were at the time. I grew up during the civil war in Lebanon. Like many children of my generation, the so-called “war generation,” I have been initiated to flee my house leaving everything behind whenever the bombing got closer.

Apart from Chantale Goya, Ton Amie Lilianne and Zora La Rousse, Remy Bandali was my ultimate childhood idol. Two years my senior, Bandali was a child prodigy and a star at a very early age. We were in the same primary school and I saw her perform live on several occasions in Lebanon. I knew her songs by heart, every single one of them. I can still sing them to this day, 22 years later. 

But the reason I mentioned Bandali is because one of her most famous songs landed her a performance at the Champs Elysees in France and stardom as the youngest performer in the world. The song is called: “Outouna el Toufouli” which literally means give us the childhood. Bandali sings in Arabic, French and English in the same song. I will transcribe the lyrics of the english section of the song which is a translation of the sections in the other languages.

“I am a child with something to say, Please listen to me

I am a child who wants to play , why dont you let me?

My dolls are waiting, my friends are praying, small houses are begging…give us a chance…give us a chance

Please, Please give us a chance” 

In arabic, she says to give the children their childhood and to give them peace.

This song was a hit because it really portrayed with innocent lyrics, the tragedy of the livelihood of many Lebanese children growing amidst strife and violence of the civil war.

The irony of our evolution lies in the fact that many children of my generation were craving a childhood and lived in fear during a very tumultuous period in the country.While in 2009, values of education and civilization are making way for social decadence. 

As a result, some children and girls in particular don’t have a childhood to claim, because it has been already taken away by their own parents.