23.

I turned 24 today. And it was a horrible day.

I woke up feeling I couldn’t breathe, feeling like it was just another day to get through the motions. I went to the hospital. I took care of my patients. I did what I had to do but not more like I usually do. I smiled as people wished me happy birthday. I had yet to see the happy in the sentence. I didn’t know what else I could do. 

Perhaps there was nothing really wrong about today. But I didn’t see it that way all day. Call it overt-anxiety. Call it over-scripting of things and dramatization. But that’s how it was. My head told me today was a bad day and I didn’t try to tell my head it was wrong.

And then when I got home this evening, exhausted and feeling mentally drained, my little brother surprised me with a piece of cake on which he had lit a candle. And I hugged him as he sang me happy birthday. There was nothing else I could do. I thought that would be it until my parents called and my mom sang me happy birthday over speaker phone. And my grandparents called to wish me long life and the only thing I could do is wish them health. Their calls filled me with so much joy that the only thing I wanted to do was go spend my day with the people who made it as such. 

Then, as I headed to the dinner my friends begrudgingly dragged me to, I realized that many of the people that made 23 the year that it was were around that restaurant table, had called or texted me earlier that day. Those people had changed their pictures into a collage of their memories with yours truly. They were really, positively happy that this was my day and they wanted it to truly be a happy birthday.

This post may not mean much to most of you. But, as I turn a new page, my thoughts turn to family and friends – cliche as it may be – in order to tell them thank you for being there and I hope they’ll keep on being there.

Here’s to all the people that made me. Here’s to all the people that make each of my days worth living.

I turned 24 today. And it turned out to be a good day, indeed.

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The Lebanese Fathers Who Hate Their Daughters

I didn’t believe when I was told she was getting a divorce.

The initial thought that crossed my mind, in sectarian Lebanon, was the how, given her sect. I then asked the why. They said her husband was beating her up. I would have never told. I knew her for a very long time. I knew her husband for considerably less but he never gave the impression of being a wife beater.

Or that could have been the reason why she liked wearing longer sleeves than usual during the times when long sleeves were intolerable.

What will happen to the children? I asked. Nobody knew. They said they might split custody. Others said their father didn’t have time to take care of them. In a few weeks since she took her decision, she became a single woman with children to support in a country that doesn’t accept cases like hers.

And I couldn’t have been prouder of her: standing up for herself, her body, her bruised arms, her children, their sanctity and all of their well-being.

I figured things could only get better for her now: she had family that should help her get back on her feet, she had the support needed to recuperate from months or maybe years of abuse, she had the strength to make herself whole again.

How wrong was I?

Her father was a man of ambition. He sought office many times. Sometimes through proxies whose campaigns he orchestrated, other times by running directly. His ambition surpassed the confines of the town in which he acted but he knew he wouldn’t get farther than that. He tried nonetheless, expanding his repertoire of friends to a growing list of much more influential men who gave him purpose, who gave him lists to drop in conversation, who gave him fake importance which he mistook as influence.

And her father beat her up as well.

He beat her up when he knew she was getting a divorce.

He beat her up when he knew she was going through with the divorce.

He beat her up when he knew she had custody of her children.

He beat her up when he asked her to stop the divorce and get the children back to their father and she refused. He beat her up so much that her ailing mother came to stand between them and was slammed across the floor, as she was withstanding for years, despite the chemo coursing through her veins and the cancer killing her insides.

He beat her up because he felt it gave him power, because he figured it would straighten her behavior.

She feared he’d beat her up if she visited her mother in the hospital. So she didn’t visit.

She feared he’d beat her up if she visited her mother to take care of her on the days her husband had her kids. So she’d wait in the car until he left before she’d sneak in.

She feared he’d beat her up if she did anything that he would think was out of the ordinary so she never did.

Her husband beating her up was something. Her father, on the other hand, was something else.

His abuse diffused to her siblings who mentally abused her as well. He rendered her a doormat on which they stepped every time the woes of life overburdened them. And she took all of it anyway.

Then, when it all became too much to bear, she decided to seek help. So she went to a lawyer. How can I sue both my father and my husband, she asked while clutching the medical reports detailing the abuse she was withstanding. The lawyer advised her not to. If you sued them, he said, the law will say there’s something wrong with you because they both beat you up.

There was nothing she could do. So she kept on taking it, hoping that one day things will get better.

That father is one of the Lebanese fathers who hate their daughters, who don’t deserve their daughters, their wives or any of the women of their lives. Those are the fathers who should stand by their daughters, forcibly weakened by society and by law, regardless of whether their daughters are in the wrong or the right, but not only fail to do so, they stand against their daughters forcing them to go down to where society put them. Those are the fathers who perpetuate the weakness that society has inflicted in our women.

I hope for a day when she wakes up and find the strength she has, despite it all, somehow rewarded. Until then, may her god be with her.

22.

As my friends sat around me singing happy birthday to you on that cold Saturday night which wasn’t even technically my birthday, I felt happy. The rain glistened off the window in front of me, it was cold outside but I felt the warmth of the party that was celebrating me turning 22.

I wish I knew in that moment that some of those friends were not there to stay. I wish I knew in that moment what year awaited me as I blew off those candles and people applauded.

/Trust.

I was standing alone in a crowded room on a cold February night and I was just realizing I knew absolutely no one there even those people whom I thought I knew all too well. And they’re not speaking to me, pretending like they didn’t know me. The fake smiles, the fake truths, the fake nods, the contest of who’s acting like they could care less… I had gotten tired of them all. The amount of insecurity that people had was way too unacceptable for me to handle anymore. And as everyone smiled and hugged each other, I started wondering: what did I do wrong not to be the one being welcomed like this?

It took some time for me to realize that I had done nothing wrong at all. It took some time for me to realize that keeping your guard up is a necessity. Trusting people easily should never be a possibility because the amount of assholes in this world is way too high. I realized I shouldn’t be surprised to have been let down because your expectations out of others towards you are very rarely met. So you do your best because you hope that this would somehow return good upon you. But you expect nothing.

Even people whom you thought would never ever disappoint you end up doing so. And they throw around lame excuses to justify doing so but you would have reached a point where you couldn’t care less anymore.

The theory is easy. The practical aspect of it is still a work in progress.

The saddest part though is that for a while after that I had to fight the urge to pick up the phone and call.

Foreign Home.

Your home away from home where you are foreigner and yet you fit like a glove to your hand. The lack of complexity with people. The lack of the need to be two-faced in order to get ahead. I remember the great people I met all too well. I remember the good times I shared with them. I remember the places I went through. I remember standing in front of that Royal Palace and feeling infinitely happy. I remember sitting under the Eiffel Tower on a warm Paris night. I remember walking through a cemetery where people I could only dream of approaching were laid to rest. I remember being at the place where the world’s major decisions are taken. I remember Porte des Postes. I remember Cormontaigne. I remember the grey August clouds overcast on the city as I saw it from the ICU of the hospital where I had spent most of my time being treated like a colleague. I remember those walks I took just to be alone amid the greatness of the place whose air I breathed. And I remember her with her blond hair and red lips and that rainy night in the streets of Lille.

So Small.

It’s easy to get lost inside your own problems which always seem so big at the time they’re happening. It’s very easy to make them seem like they are the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. It’s very easy to over dramatize them: why me?

But on a Monday, in a waiting room at a hospital in France, I realized how pitiful it is of me to dwell on the friends that were no longer there, on the grades that weren’t that good, on the things that I could’ve done. I saw people trying to convince that twenty year old boy of the need to cling to life as much as possible as his body rejected the heart transplant he had spent the previous year undergoing. And I realized then, as I tried to get him to feel better, that my problems are just so small.

Diagnosed.

She’s not invincible. She’s not going to be here forever. She’s weak. Her own body is killing her. As you look upon the worried face of the woman who gave birth to you, it can’t but kill you inside to see her hurting and to know her thoughts are about the potentiality of her not being there for you anymore. And you go in with her to her surgery because you know that being there for her will make all the difference. And it almost kills you to see her there, a shell of the person that she is, because of the drugs they injected into her veins. But you know it’s all for the best. And your senses perk up when the surgeon is stunned to find the procedure he had thought would be fairly straightforward was not. And your worry increases when you find out that the cancer was not as localized as they thought it was. Then when she wakes up from the anesthesia and the first faint word upon her lips when she sees your face is “habibi,” and despite the severity of it all, your worries in the world subside for just one minute.

Even thought she might lose her hair. And even though she might lose her weight. You’d still do anything for her to be there for you. And it may be selfish but it’s really not because you know that there’s nothing more she’d want as well.

Life/

Despite your guard being up, some people roll Into your life who end up surprising you. And you feel happy about them being there. things end up getting better for you and you remember the good times you spent and you realize that you regret nothing at all. You find the family which you had taken for granted will always be there for you. You meet new family members who were taken away from you by life and and time space and you find more in common with them than you’ve thought possible. You grow, you become more critical, you stand up for what you believe in. You take things in and hope that your life isn’t going to waste.

At least now you know where the 13 in State of Mind comes from. And right now, I’m felling 22 one last time, one last day. And thank God for that. Hello November 13th. Hello year 23.

Pity The Nation

Pity the nation whose sons and daughters have to weep biding farewell to their parents as they go to nations you don’t pity,

Pity the nation whose parents have to weep biding farewell to sons and daughters they may never see again,

Pity the nation whose sons and daughters don’t see as a good place to build their future,

Pity the nation whose parents know whole heartedly that their sons and daughters will not be on their side for long,

Pity the nation whose sons and daughters work hard towards making other nations better,

Pity the nations whose parents work hard to get their sons and daughters through tough life,

Pity the nation whose sons and daughters dream of faraway lands where they would become parents,

Pity the nation whose parents’ daily bread is their grandchildren never knowing who they are,

Pity the nation whose sons and daughters have very few reasons to hope,

Pity the nation whose parents have few reasons to want their sons and daughters to hope.

Happy Birthday JC!

Happy birthday to my middle brother, Jean Claude, who turns 20 today. I’m fairly certain he will never read this (he has a thing against reading in general – except if it’s a Facebook chat with a crush/love interest/hot girl/you get the drift) – but what brother would I be if I didn’t wish him a happy birthday from here, right?

I may be still bugged by the fact that both of us will vote together next year, despite me being two years older, but I guess I should make sure I start brainwashing as soon as possible. We don’t want him to make the “wrong” choice next year now, would we?

Either way, as you embark on a new decade of your life, my dear brother, I wish you the best of the best: plenty of health, success and for the love of your family to still be here for you. You and I may be more like gunpowder and lead but I still love you and can’t imagine my life without you.

So here’s for 80 birthdays more. Too bad I won’t be able to eat cake. I think we should have a talk with mom and dad as to why they birthed you around lent. Or I should probably ask myself why I went extra religious this year.

Le brother and I back in the days - Palm Sunday in case you're wondering. Our parents sure loved to match us

Happiest birthday! 😀

Year 21: The Highs and Lows

Well, today is my birthday. You might have wondered why I love number 13. Well now you know. 13/11.

And for the first time in eleven years, I have the same digits forming my age. 22.

Many people would be overly happy when their birthdays come up. But to me, they serve as an opportunity to reflect on what happened in the year that preceded. In a way, it’s my version of new year’s eve – except that it’s my year.

Year 21 was an alternative current in its highs and lows. When it sank, it sank. When it rose, it soared. When I look back on “21” now, I see a year where I was happy. And that’s almost always the case with life – you consciously forget the bad things that happened, only recollecting them upon an active conscious effort of remembering. The good times are the ones that stay.

So for some introspection and retrospection as my 22nd year starts, I’ve decided to put 21 in perspective.

 The lows:

Prior to 21, I was faced with one of the first key decisions of my life – when I was rejected in the three med schools that I applied to and not knowing what to do next. A biology degree, which I got from AUB, was rather useless in the work field, especially that I didn’t want to teach. So the opportunity presented itself for me to enroll in a rather useless program where I’d be wasting a year, biding my time before I attempt med school again. And that was the crux of 21 – going to classes, attending lectures that you knew had a rather short usefulness span. Many had said that one year is nothing when you look at the big picture. But it’s hard to look at a bigger picture when you see your accepted friends, whose grades are not much higher than yours, nagging about med school when you know you’d do anything to be there. You see, I am not a bad student. Sure, I don’t study as much as I should but I feel I don’t need to. I felt I had done enough to get in and in any normal year I would have gotten in. But the wind blows where it will.

21 was also accompanied by an increased sense of mortality. Soon after my birthday (3 days later to be precise), my mom’s cousin died. He was a great family friend and his death was tragic. I had become accustomed to people I knew passing away then. But you don’t really think about it much, except when you sit with your parents and you start talking about the people you knew. You get to a point where you’d be like: I’m 21 and damn, I know too many people that have passed away. And that number is only going to increase as I move on.

I look at my grandparents and hope nothing happens to them anytime soon. I also look at them during the funerals of their loved ones and I can’t but feel devastatingly sad as I think that most of the people they spent their whole lives with are no longer here. It hurts me when I see my grandfather not bid farewell to his best friend saying: “I don’t say goodbye” as if knowing that his time is coming soon.

We’re all going to die – but you push the idea out of your head as much as you can. Sometimes, you even learn to live with it, thinking you’ve gotten okay with the idea. But what hurts the most is the tears of those that matter to you the most. And then you realize, it will never be easy.

The highs:

I can vote 😀 Anyone who knows me knows I’m very competitive when it comes to elections and such. Back in 2008, I was named “Mr. Republican of AUB.” John McCain lost then but you get the picture. So when I turned 21, and later saw my name on the voter’s register, I felt great. Anyone who says they don’t care is bluffing. You can’t but feel happy when you know you’ve crossed that milestone.

I rocked the MCAT. I admit the program I was enrolled in wasn’t going too well. I mean, I was getting really good grades but the idea of competing again with people who were out of your league back in AUB, well, that’s not the most encouraging of premises for you to want to excel. So it boiled down to the MCAT, which I was taking again. And what do you know, I got my results at an El Molina Tweetup. I can’t tell you how awesome that moment felt when I opened the website and saw my grade which shouted at me: YOU’RE ACCEPTED! GO PARTY!

Subsequently, I got accepted into med school on July 6th, 2011, which also happens to be my little brother and cousin’s birthday. Even though I didn’t feel as happy when I got the news as I felt when I got my MCAT grades, it still felt great to finally have closure for that part of my life. Once you’re in Med School, it’s very hard for you to fail yourself out. Once you’re in, you’re practically there – unless you decide you don’t want it anymore. And for the record, I still want it.

21 also had the honor to be the year where I saw my dad’s family, all his brothers and sisters, together under one roof for my aunt’s wedding. It was the first time in over 17 years that I saw my aunt who came especially to be her sister’s maid of honor at the wedding. I also met my cousin technically for the second time, but for the first time realistically. And if you ever thought that there’d be awkwardness, that was thrown out of the window the moment I sat with my cousin and we started chatting. She was such an awesome person with whom I had more in common than I thought possible. My aunt, also, turned out to be such a lovable person. She cared more than she should and, well, she’s all kinds of awesome. I can’t wait to see them when they come back from Australia this Tuesday.

And speaking of weddings, 21 also had me attending the first wedding ever of a direct family member. My aunt got married on June 17th and the event was just magical. Living with her in our Beirut apartment, I had to bear with months of Bridezilla moments but they all transformed into the best wedding I was ever part of, the testament to that being my whole hometown talking about it two weeks later.

21 was the year when I first hopped on an airplane to spend 17 days in France and Spain. Although those 17 days had their fair share of lows, the moment I rode the plane back to Lebanon, only good times stuck in my head: the moments I spent in France, Lourdes, Toledo, Madrid, etc….

I also started blogging during “21” and I think my attempt so far can be deemed as a success based on the amount of response I get on what I write and the amount of people that are interested in reading what I have to say.

21 was also the time when I met awesome people with whom I’ve become great friends, such as Paul Gadalla whom I helped in procuring a job in Lebanon. I was the first person he told when he got the job. He exposed me to his culture as an Orthodox Copt and showed me their struggle before it became headline news, confirming his fears all along. Paul also helped me in many of the posts I wrote, which many of you read.

And in 21, I became even better friends with the awesome people that were there all along. So thank you Nathalie, Sonia, Elia, Maguy, Hala, Roland, Howaida, Kris for always being there.

PS: spoiled rich girl needs to get a job; Roland and I are rocking med school; Cell biology nerd needs to figure out how to get those basal membrane proteins figured out already… :p

And last but not least, my great family has always been there. I couldn’t have asked for better people to be my parents and brothers. One of my brothers is busy being a womanizer 24/7, the other one is in the US. And although I miss my little brother who’s busy being an exchange student (and rocking at it), this didn’t put a damper on the later quarter of 21. In fact, I feel proud whenever he tells me about the “A’s” he’s getting in his courses. I feel happy for my aunt who’s starting to build her own family now and I can’t wait for her to have little kids that I can boss around. I feel ecstatic for having the warmth of my grandparents’ love surround me. And my parents are the best parents that could be – the sacrifices they make, the sweat they pour and the energy they put to give my brothers and I the best life possible. You can never but be forever grateful to them.

I daresay 21 was great, which is probably why I feel happy writing and reading this. It reminded me of all the good times I had. Some might have been less good. But never bad times. The lows might have gotten me down but the highs came right back there to push me up. Life goes on either way, and, wanting not to sound too cliche, with great family and friends around you, the hard times get easier and the happy times get so much more joyful.

Here’s to 21… hopefully 22 will be even better.

The French Experience – Part 2

Soon after the Mass at Notre Dame de Fourviere, we were taken to St. Etienne where families were supposed to welcome us into their homes for our three day stay in France.

Naturally, I was quite anxious. After all, we, Lebanese, don´t exactly hear the fanciest of things about the French. Also, when the only thing you want to do is take a warm shower and sleep, it´s hard not to worry if those things would be available or not.

The family that welcomed me, with two other guys, was the Arnaud family that lived in St. Genest-Malifaux, a small picturesque town, 15 minutes away from St. Etienne.

Let me tell you this… the scene I used to wake up to every morning was so breath-taking, I used to simply stare for a few minutes at the forests mixed with green fields that extended beyond the horizon.

The Arnaud family ran a farm that extended over 40 hectares, which is a lot of land to manage. But the parents do a good job at it. Their oldest children are either working in Paris or married. Their daughter, one of the main coordinators between the Lebanese and French groups and one of the best people I met in France, lives a few minutes away and their youngest son still lives with them.

Their house was a typical French house in villages: bricks, walls made of stone, etc… They even had some sort of chimney, which, you guessed it, was turned on in August. After all, at 1300 meter of altitude and eight degrees almost all day, it sure is a necessity.

Remember my worries about being able to take a shower and sleep well? It turns out they were unfounded. Not only was the Arnaud family exemplary in their welcoming of us, but they were exactly what we – three Lebanese strangers – needed in a foreign country of which we only knew the language.

There were so welcoming in fact that they asked their son to drive us the following day to St. Etienne in order to get my French line fixed and then they took us to a museum where they refused to let us pay. There goes a stereotype about French people not being generous enough.

Also, since they run a farm, the food they make is organic and so healthy that you feel you´re eating – well, corny as it may be – health. Homemade butter, jam and bread for breakfast. Pepsi is something that is unheard of in their home. When I asked about it, the mother replied: “Why would someone want to get that in their system?”

No, dear readers who know me too well, I have not stopped drinking pepsi. Consider it one of my many flaws…

But our stay at the Arnaud household was quite awesome. They took us sightseeing whenever we had the time, and with the sun setting at 10:30 pm in France gives you lots of time. Their son also drove us to every single event the French group had set up for us.

I will never forget how the father took my suitcase, which had its zipper break down, and started sewing the part that wasn´t working anymore…

So if somehow the Arnaud family reads this (I´m not too sure since French aren´t really fond of English – yes, this stereotype is true), I just want to send them a cyber hug with a big THANK YOU 😀