Saturday, 6 July 2019

Birthday Letter 2019

Hi Baba,

Happy 69th birthday. 

If you were here, we’d probably go up to Baakleen on your birthday. Laith is walking now, he’s 13 months old, and he’d probably be wreaking havoc while you chase after him amid the oak trees, making sure he doesn’t trip and fall flat on his face. 
We’d probably pass by Saadi’s farm, check it out, and there would be a debate where we would have a BBQ, our place, or there.
Truth is, that could all be wrong. How would I know? I don’t remember the last time we celebrated your birthday. How did we? I really don’t remember.

This year has been an interesting one. Laith’s first year with us has been so full of lessons and experiences, and it has been non stop. By his first birthday, Louis and I looked at each other and were wondering how the time flew by. And to be honest, when it’s about something wonderful, we ask that question like we expect time to take, well, it’s time. We want to savour every second. We wonder so naively, so nonchalantly. 

And then when I think of the 12 years since you left. They feel enormous. You seem so far, far behind, at the back of the theatre, while we continue to do our thing on the stage, under the spot lights, while you are in the dark, far from sight.
I can no longer see your face, unless I squint into the aisles, and when I do, it is unchanging, it has been the same face for 12 years. 

I can’t decide what is harder. That I miss you, that you are not here, or that you have not moved forward. You are the same, you are not in all the new vignettes, none of the new scenes. You are static, glitched somewhere in the time line, while our life gathers sunshine with the birth of children, is seasoned with new people, and is punctuated with all sorts of memories.

I think this is the hardest thing of all. 
I now feel like most of my letters are so similar, they all express the same frustration. The same obvious frustration nonetheless…

My life is so different now, from what it was when you were here, that I can no longer fill in the blanks with past conversations or interactions… What I could imagine as your advice for a bad day at work, or a decision that needs to be taken about a friend no longer applies to my life as a parent.. We never had conversations about that part of my future.. How can I summon your wisdom for something so different?

I try and imagine you as a grandfather, I find it hard at times. Had I ever really seen you around babies? I don't think I ever did… The youngest children I ever saw you around were probably Samih and Rami, and by then Samih was 5?
What would you think of me as a mother?

Hold on. I need to ask that again.

What would you think of me, as a mother?

I dreamt of you a couple of times at the end of my pregnancy, and during the first few months of Laith’s life.
In both of them you appeared after having to hide out for a while, having to fake your death for some reason or another… Having had to keep it secret.
In one, I distinctly remember you walking into the door of our house, with big bags of shopping, Vape mosquito repellent mats in bulk. It was around the time Laith was being bitten by mosquitoes, and obviously it translated into my dreams. You were trying to protect him from all the bloodsucking mosquitoes. Of course you were.

You were thinner, and had a longer neck, and were wearing a velvet or corduroy jacket. 
I remember reaching up to you for a hug, with some desperation, a “where have you been??” sort of hug…
But since then, no dreams. 

Sometimes I have to pause, and tell myself to think of you very, very hard. Having a child, your day gets eaten up with everything having a child entails, and you realise at the end of the day, you having had much time to think of much else.
I remember the little panic I had the first time I noticed that I hadn’t consciously thought of you for quite a few days. I felt terrible, like I was forgetting you, like now that I had a child he was replacing you in my life. I felt guilty, and twisted, and promised myself that I would drag you out of the past by the sleeve, and bring you here, with me, and Louis, and Laith and Mama and Saadi, so you can see me as a mother, see your grandson, be a grandparent. 
At least, as much as I realistically could. 

So I opened up the photo album I hadn’t opened in a while, with Laith in my lap, on the quest to see if he resembles me in any way (the forever ongoing debate…) and to show him Jiddo Mohammad. To point at Jiddo, so he knows Jiddo. See here? That’s Jiddo and mummy when she was only a bit bigger than you. See there? That’s mummy on Jiddo’s back, Jiddo being very silly

See that? That’s Jiddo’s face. It’s loving, and warm, and he’s looking at a baby mummy, with so so so much love. Thats the love Jiddo has for you, Laith. Maybe even more. Probably even more. 

So I may have bigger breaks between thinking of you consciously. I may be busier. I may have to think harder to conjure your face and presence sometimes. 
But the love is the same, the longing is the same. 
No, the longing is greater. And more concentrated. 

I promise to do what I can, to make sure, Laith knows you. At least as well as I do. 
It is the greatest loss he’ll have, but he’ll never know it, and as horrible as that can sound, there’s a bit of solace that he doesn't feel the loss like we do. 

So happy birthday Jiddo Mohamad. 

We all love you so much. 

There’s now one more person who will be sure to remember you somehow, we will make sure of it. 

Bintak, Im Laith.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Birthday Letter 2018

Hi Baba,

This year, this year is special.

This year, your birthday gift is more than this letter.

This year I gave you a grandson. Laith.

He was born the 28th of May, (ten years and ten months to the day you left) and it was love at first sight for me, for Louis, for everyone who laid eyes on him actually.

In the few hours after his birth, when we finally decided on his name, (we were teetering between Yazan and Laith) I sat in the hospital bed holding him in my arms, lost in his soft featured face, and I heard you say his name, in a happy voice, welcoming him: "Laith! Laith!" and I knew I'd made the right choice, and I knew that you could see him.

In the months leading up to his birth, I wondered how you'd be as a grandfather, I missed you, and thought of my child missing out on you. And to be honest, after a while, I had to stop thinking of you that way, missing out. It made me very sad, not only because it would never happen, but because I couldn't even imagine it. Every way I tried to, it didn't feel like I got it right. How could I anyway? The closest reference is how you were a father to me, but then again, grandkids are different...
In fact I don't think I remember you around small children..

The only thing I can imagine is the amount of love you would have had for him, that you have for him.

I imagine you in your stillness with him. Almost meditative, not really paying attention to anyone else but him. Perhaps you'd bring the harmonica out of retirement? Perhaps history could have repeated itself?

Now begins the long road of being a mother, and all that entails of challenges and questions that really no one has the answer to. Already the challenges have begun in his five weeks of life, between sleeping (or the lack there of) and breastfeeding, and managing life around this creature that existed and became the gravitational centre of us all.

Except you, and that saddens me, breaks my heart completely.

The closest I can get him to you, is through me, through photos, and videos, and talking about you, and telling him all I know, all I remember.
I can't tell if I look forward to that, or dread it.
I would look forward to him knowing you, to keeping you there with us, to pass on your light and your song to him.
But I dread facing all of it too. What if I don't remember enough? What if my sadness stains it? What if I don't do you and your memories the justice they deserve?
And most terrifying of all, what if it isn't enough?

A question I, sadly, already know the answer to.
It will never be enough.

But it will have to do.

This letter shouldn't be sad, we have Laith! You have Laith! A little lion with boundless potential and promise!
So I'll try and end on a better note.
I'll end by saying, you'll be there all the time. At his first birthday, at his first Christmas, the first time he trips and scrapes his knee and cries out for comfort.
You'll be there for every candle blown, every bedtime story told, every family photo,  every "first", every teenage outburst, every graduation, every everything.
Every milestone, minute, second of Laith's life, you will be there, as long as I breathe.

Because you are with me.

And he may not know it yet, he might never really truly know it, but he is as lucky as he can be to have you.

Happy birthday Baba.


Bint Mohamad, Em Laith.

Birthday Letter 2017

Birthday Letter 2016
Birthday Letter 2015


Thursday, 6 July 2017

Birthday Letter 2017

"Now for ten years we've been on our own,
and moss grows fat on a rollin' stone, 
but thats not how it used to be..."

Hi Baba,

That lyric has been stuck in my head since this year started.
It's been ten years already, and I can barely believe it. It's like time is playing a trick on me where it keeps rolling but I don't feel it anymore. I still miss you as much, if not more. The seconds and minutes and hours ticking by don't sooth or comfort or ease that feeling, in fact feelings grow around it (perhaps like moss I guess).  I find myself angry at times, more often than not, with more questions and more needs. I'm trying to reconcile with my feelings, with my loss, and death is pesky like that, not giving any help, just being there, with all its emptiness, being but not, keeping me stuck staring at a hole to shout at and cry in and talk at. But never to. Just at.

Pretty dramatic start to your letter this year. I'm sorry. That bloody lyric, from one of your favourite songs, the song I listened to on my walkman over and over, wearing done the tapes you gave me.
That song that when I play when DJing, I take a shot in your honour, to the faithfully departed, the long lost, the missed.  It's just been playing in my head all year.

A decade dad. I know time has been a theme in nearly all our letters, but I can't shake it, it won't shake. It stretches and contracts and lulls me into a sense of security before once again sneaking up on me to remind me that it's there, and so is all the baggage I carry.

I'm now married, and hitting milestones that now make less sense in your absence. So many talks I would have liked to have, so many conversations, so many silences.
I made sure you were at the wedding. I had a couple you know, one in Northern Ireland, and one here. And I made sure you were there. I tried to make you proud, and be happy and remembered you at every toast, and every pause, and every mention of family. I made sure you were there with what I had, which will never be enough.

Mum misses you. More now, with more time (again.. that element of slight) on her hands. I worry about her, you know how her emotions and her thoughts can swirl and cloud up, and I feel there is nothing I can do. How can I help her when I can barely help myself. This world you and I share in-between life and death, that gap, it's a very private place. I share glimpses every now and then. I do it sometimes in fear that the here and now will forget you, if I don't mention you, out loud.
Time does that to memory.

Once, this year, I mentioned you to someone who was supposed to know you. Or knew you. But perhaps not well enough, and they hesitated in recognising your name and your face, and to be honest it wasn't clear in the end if they did remember you. It wasn't someone I knew, or personally even, but I was told you knew each other way back when.
And they didn't seem to remember you, not the way people remember someone like you: instantly, with love and admiration, and a hint of sadness.
And I found myself holding my breath, and holding back my tears, as I rushed to a corner, realising how much I missed you, and how unrealistically scared I was that you were slipping from collective memory. You see, this world you and I share, this gap of darkness in-between life and death, it's ours, and private, but I know there are other gaps with other people, lots of people. And the thought that our gap might become the only one, as unreasonable, and ridiculous as that sounds considering all the people who love you, scares the holy shit out of it.

I guess you can see, I've been trying to deal with this gap. I'm working on it.

I'm working on a lot of things since last year. I'm working with Saadi a lot more, doing my part there, while also trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. That whole existential jam is just one of the many things I wish I could talk to you about. I've been trying to get healthier, basically nearly quit smoking, which I'm sure you'd be happy about. I still sneak some every once in a while, but it's progress. Even more progress is getting mum to quit! Well. She's nearly there too. The time for her to take her health and her being seriously is now more than ever. She has to think about me, and her grandkids... Well, her potential ones.

There aren't any yet, but we're planning it. A whole new page to turn, an adventure, an apprehension, a whole knot of feelings to unravel and discover.
And that stupid death, tainting it. With every joy I can imagine, a sadness to pair it. Where will you be, to have them ride on your back like I used to, to tell stories to at bedtime? Where will I get to see the past in the present, from a whole new angle, and appreciate it so much more?
I don't know how I'll deal with that, I'll have to deal with it when it comes.  Mama will have to do double the loving, and Saadi will have to tell stories, and your friends will have to help fill in blanks that even I can't fill...

I also started doing yoga, which is funny, because you know me and any sort of physical activity. But it sometimes reminds me of you. Your morning routine of breathing and stretching, and jumping jacks. But mostly the stretching.
The last few years I don't remember you doing it as much, you were more tired, and more distracted. But your routine of fresh orange juice and stretching always comes to mind. There's a song we listen to when we're winding down from that day's practice, and today I heard it, like many times before, and suddenly felt it was a song I would've shared with you. And the reality of not being able to hit me again. So close to your birthday, and with "Now for ten years..." echoing and bellowing and reverberating in my head with all the cheesy sound effects of an 80's movie flashback.

And all of that, just to say I miss you.

The day the music died isn't one easily forgotten.

And you know what, that song that I wanted to share with you, that I finally got the name of, today of all days, and has a bittersweet irony to it's name, I'm going to share it with you.

I'll put it here for you. A gift, on your birthday.
I know you'd like it, so much, I can see it now, in our little world.

So much more I want to tell you, but it'll wait till next year..

Happy birthday Baba.
Keep an eye on us, on mama, on all of us who live with the in-between.

Love you kteer.



Birthday Letter 2016
Birthday Letter 2015


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Birthday Letter 2016


I'm getting married.

There, it's out there now.
I've been rattling my brain thinking how I'm going to start this years birthday letter. This is probably the hardest one to date I've had to write. Actually, this is definitely going to be the second hardest I have to write that I can think of.
I'm getting married. And you're not here.

I need you.

I don't know why exactly, or how, I don't have a specific reason, but I need you, just to be here. Every time I think how you won't be here, how there is no father daughter dance, no happy tears from your eyes, or mine, it breaks me a little. Or that I'll glance over, and not see you sitting at a table, with your legs crossed, leaning back and absorbing it all, it tugs at me. Every time.
I'm so lucky to have Mama, Saadi, and all these friends.. My family. But it's just not the same. No matter how you try to spin it, or what order you put things in.

Every time I imagine a situation where I need a second opinion, to decipher a man action, and the way their mind works, I hesitate, I linger on the hypothetical replies that would reach me if you were here. I try very hard to conjure your words, your face, the cadence of your voice.
Your voice that I'm still holding onto. I can still hear the words "Shou ya hayati", "Shou ya ghandoura" and "Karma!" being shouted from another room, clearly. And of course "Makarem!". But I'm struggling more and more to thread together much else, and it terrifies me. I've said it in previous letters, and I''ll keep saying it: I'm scared of you fading.
In fact I'm running out of photos to use, even on this goddamn blog. There are no new photos. No "selfies" with you at a bar, or in the car. Or somewhere new.
I'm stuck with the old. And as much as I cherish the old, I really really would like something new!
I'd like photos of us after I've taken vows, photos of you holding me while I adjust a heel, because yeah, I still can't walk in them. I'd like a photo of you, and me, and Mama, and Louis.
Something new...

I want photos of me in the girl-iest dress I've worn to date, next to you. As you laugh and tell me how pretty I am, but how funny I look struggling with it
I'd like to look funny to you, struggling with it. Instead of just, well, struggling with it.
Struggling with it all.

And you'd like him. He's the quiet kind. A bit like you in that sense. And he's a good person, honest, and kind. He's loyal and respectful. All the things you'd want in a son-in-law. And I'm taking this journey with him now. I'd be lying if I said I couldn't use some advice, I've been needing advice along the way for a while now anyway.

I don't think you ever stop needing advice. I just think the way you take it changes... Although to be fair, I have your voice in my head always, indirectly giving me advice. Even through dying, you've managed to be a great father. My voice of reason, the one I go to in my head. Who needs Jiminy Cricket?
(Were you telling me to buy a lottery ticket that day last, year by the way? I'm sorry. I didn't. I should have.)

I've gone through so much, I'm faced with new situations all the time, some very hard, and my only comfort is that I'm doing the best to make you proud. I'm trying to do what is right, even when it's hard on me, or it complicates things. I have to do what is right, regardless, because it's all bigger than us.
You radiated that when you were here. It's not just about us. It's about everything. It's about how you fit into the gears in motion, do you keep them moving or do you stop them.
And can you look yourself in the mirror in spite of it.

Meanwhile, everything here is moving and changing. What do I do in this world as it is today? The country has changed so much, I find myself having that stereotypical, lame thought, "I'm so happy he's not here to see this". As if you had a choice.
But it's true. The country has changed, the people have changed. The whole world has changed! I don't know where the tunnel ends and the light begins.
I find myself more anxious, worrisome. The big decisions about the future loom over me all the time. And I can't figure out if I'm looking in the right direction (there I go, needed your insight again...)
Where do I go from here? Do I leave? Mum keeps saying "just give it some time", but how much time can you give before you realise you're too late?
I guess there are limits to Jiminy Cricket after all.

 Priorities are starting to shift, and with it horizons and outposts.

I guess this is a discussion for another time. For now, the reins are tethered to the same outpost.

It's you're birthday today. You are 66. I am turning 31 in 9 days.
And I'm getting married 20 days after that.
And I'm going to conjure you. The best I can, the hardest I can try.

Please be there.

Till then, I'll see you here, in this safe corner of the internet, my little sanctuary, my garden of letters.
I'll see you everywhere.

I love you Baba. So very much.



Birthday Letter 2015

Monday, 11 January 2016


I read the worse thing on Facebook today.

"David Bowie, 69, Dies of Cancer"

I felt numb all over. A contradiction of not wanting to hear it, know that it's true, and the need to run around and grab everyone and tell them "BOWIE'S DEAD! BOWIE'S DEAD! HOW CAN THIS BE??" perhaps with a hope that someone will turn around and tell me the internet lied. That it was a stunt, a typo, a prank. 

When I got to tell Louis, over chat of course, his answer was : "Yeah. Strange. He's always been there. :( " 

And I realised he was so right. 

He was there when I was growing up, hearing my parents mention his music, play it sometimes, Let's Dance and specifically Ground Control to Major Tom, where my dad and mum would sing to it, and I would find it so very very sad that I couldn't understand why they liked it so much (something that would change as I grew older) . 

I remember Heroes from a Q magazine CD compilation when I was a teen, and becoming enthralled by his make up and get ups.

He was there when I was told that the Nirvana tune I was hypnotised by was originally his, and I started to put pieces together and look into him more and more.

He was there as a soundtrack to our class video at university, a video aimed at the new recruits, to introduce them to us and to the design department. "Under Pressure" fit the bill perfectly when it came to describing the lifestyle of graphic design students..

He was there when I started to DJ at local bars, in all shapes and sizes, when I wanted to groove, or when I was angry, bitter, needing to take a stance, and would spin "I'm Afraid of Americans" featuring NIN, stamping my foot to the beat and feeling the rage. 

I still can't believe David Bowie has died. 
Someone that size can't simply disappear, can they?

On, a website that tells you what David Bowie was doing at any age you enter, if you punch in 70, you get this : He’s probably an astronaut. Or an extraterrestrial being. Or something we can’t comprehend.

How damningly fitting.

I like to think he's gone home. A starman back to star dust. Always a star. Always. 
David Bowie died today. He was just always there. 

In fact he still is.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Birthday Letter 2015

Hi Baba,

Another birthday, another letter, another year.
Again, I haven't written anything on this blog since last year's letter.. Perhaps this blog should just be for you now.. I don't know.

I feel like I repeat myself when I say a lot has happened since I last wrote...  But, that is how years are I suppose, full of days where things happen, and full of days empty of you.

I finished my MA from Kingston in September, passed with honours, with a project that inevitably brought me back to Beirut.
3 posters that encompassed the past, the present and a hope for the future. I think you would have liked them.

And now I'm in Beirut. I know I said I would go to the Gulf, but I'm not going to spend time explaining.. I think you know more than I that it wasn't meant to be. I'm back in Beirut, in all it's chaotic glory, but at least I'm near mama, and near Saadeh.
Saadeh, who joined us for Christmas at home this year. He was in Beirut alone, and I insisted he joined us, threatening him with silent treatment if he didn't (this, I heard, was one of your tactics with him...)
I know he finds it hard coming to the house since that year... and I understand, but I wouldn't let it ruin Christmas. We had a great time, masked at times by alcohol and exaggerated laughter, and even though his eyes never wandered through the house, for fear of seeing you in tucked away corners and memories I imagine, I was glad he came. I know you were glad too..

But I'm here now, I'm trying my hand at a job, leaving the full time freelancing for a while, trying to settle and find a place, and trying to see what the near years ahead hold for me. I go about it with as much thought as I can...

There's an unwelcome wisdom that comes with losing a father. I find myself looking at things differently, balancing the things that happen in life with a different scale, a different point of reference.. And as much as this has helped me along the way, I'd part with it in a heart beat if it meant things would be different.
Even through dying you'd succeeded as a father. I'm only stronger now, as much as I hate to have to be. And you are my Jiminy Cricket, my conscience, always allowing me headspace to think about things, and look for the best route through all the ups and downs..

I have to try harder and harder to see you, you know. Mum has an enlarged photo of the both of you in her room. It's relatively new, a photo a friend gave to her recently. Every once in a while I look at it, try and bring out the other images of you in my head. You're still there, fighting against the fading only a nuisance like time brings. I try and fight it with you, drawing you in my mind, and hearing you say "shoo Ghandoura?" over and over. I'm trying.

My friends are having babies now. And I see their fathers' faces light up at the sight of their new grandchildren, and automatically that window I look in from the outside forms, and I see the scene unfold in front of me, almost feeling invisible. And I am alone in my thoughts of you as a grandfather. And my heart pinches. And for now, I try really hard not to think of it because it could almost make me break. The things you could have taught them, read them.. I don't want to think...
I can barely keep it together at the thought of mum being a grandmother.
She's not being healthy, and it worries me... I want her around for that... I need her around for that. I can't not have you both, my children can't miss out on you both. I know life's unfair but surely there's a limit?  I don't want to think of it anymore..

It does remind me of something else that happened this past year though, probably one of the most incredible things, actually: Graham de Schmidt (now a grandfather himself...), and how we finally got to meet..

After you left, I had an urge to reach out to people who had been a part of your past, like Michel, and Graham had been one of those people who was on my mind.
I had tried finding him on Facebook a couple of times, but whether it was misspelling his name, or just too many options and not much certainty, I never found him.

Around my birthday last year, Louis and I went to a Pearl Jam concert in Milton Keynes. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that they were playing a gig in the UK, and both Louis and I being big fans, bought tickets straight away and planned our weekend getting from Surbiton to Milton Keynes and staying there the night and all that entails.

It was an incredible three hour concert, where not only did I fall more in love with Eddie Vedder, but acquired a new found respect for him and the stances he takes. The war in Gaza was raging that summer, and during a point in the concert he let loose on how American taxes pay for a war that kills children and innocents. I started screaming and cheering and I wished I had figured a way to get a Palestinian flag to the gig as I had intended to. You would have been proud if I had I'm sure.. And you would have loved Eddie Vedder too.

After the concert, as we walked along highways in Milton Keynes (not a really nice place to visit.. ) looking for a taxi, I checked my email and found one titled "Old friends..".
It was from Graham.
He too, over time was curious to see where life had taken us, and had googled your name looking for you. He didn't find you, instead he found my letters to you.
An emotional evening of Pearl Jam bled into an evening of nostalgia and memories. I couldn't help the tears that ran down my face as I stared at the light of the phone, reading Graham's words about you and mum, and how you met and lost touch. And how sad he was to read my letters, and to realise why he couldn't find you earlier.
And I remembered mum's words when she spoke of people who still were yet to know of you leaving... "Lucky them..."

 But lucky me, I got to meet Graham, and Leila, now with her own family. An automatic kinship, and a feeling of belonging that only old genuine friends could give, only your relationship and history with them could give.

With every person I connect to, I feel closer to you, adding more colour to the image I have in my mind. But with it comes a sour realisation that this is only because I have lost you..
You're not here, in full colour.

I think I will leave you this song by Pearl Jam, called Release. When I first heard the words, I choked on how similar I felt, on the emotions..
These words could easily be mine. Sometimes they are.

Happy birthday Baba.
Miss you so very very much, all the words couldn't describe.


P.S. In the photo I used this year, we were in Scotland, and I took the photo of you and Mama.
I'm not in the photo, but my shadow is.
So even though I'm not there, I am.
Did you learn that trick from me? xx

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Birthday Letter 2014

Hi Baba,

Well, the year has passed so quickly, as you can see I haven't even posted a blog between last year's letter and this year's. At the same time it feels like a millennia away.. Time is pesky like that.

I can't believe it's been 7 years. It feels like nothing. And also an eternity. There goes time again. Being pesky.

I think the most annoying thing on this day is not having new photos to share of you. I think that gets frustrating. I keep recycling photos, and it annoys me. Hell, it hurts me.
I see my friends posting photos with their fathers, trips, or graduations, or weddings...
Speaking of weddings, I've been to a couple this year, and every time I see the bride walked down the aisle, or whatever venue with her father, I find my heart being squeezed tightly, even when I don't know them that well. It's something that I know is coming one day, and the idea that I can't have that dance or accompaniment into a new phase of my life breaks my heart..

I think fatherhood is something I tend to observe these days... I watch the fathers of friends,  I study them. See how they interact with their adult children. I try and talk to them more, and gain their friendship. Almost as if I'm searching for you in them, almost as though they represent the elite club of fathers, and if I am in their good books, and I can gain their affection and friendship, I somehow have achieved a tiny bit of what I could have with you.

It's a bittersweet thought. Then again, all of this is.

There's so much to tell you this year.. I've finally met Michel. He came out to Beirut and stayed quite a long while. It was interesting to see this part of your life. Once again, I felt like I was representing you, that I was an embodiment of you. I remember picking him up from the airport, having only ever met him via a warbled Skype video call and a number of emails, and feeling like I know him. Or maybe I did, because I was more you that night than me.

I remember on the drive home to mum (I had decided that if things were going to get emotional, it was better in phases as opposed to all in one go...) how Michel got the elephant in the room out of the way in a few words, that I can't remember accurately. But the sadness that had to come out came out very smoothly and softly, like a mouse enticed out of it's hole only to be recognised before vanishing.
He's quite the character, and the more I got to know him and hear his stories, I saw what you loved in him, and imagined how you would glance at him while sat around talking and discussing all the things you talked and discussed. I learnt a lot more about you, and what a good soul you are, and although it was lovely it also hurt because I wanted to find that out myself, and reap the reward of being your daughter myself.

I think that is the hardest thing to overcome from all this.
I think it will always be so very difficult.

Speaking of difficult, I'm a a couple of months away from finishing my MA. Yep.
I promised you I would. And I'm nearly there. I've been in London doing my MA in Communication Design at Kingston.

It was not easy to knowingly and voluntarily put myself in the position of being assessed, and in academics. I have had to overcome so much on a personal level, and what I learnt from my course this year is nothing compared to what I learnt about myself. I think that in itself was worth all this...
To re-learn the value of making mistakes, and actually making them without fear is a lesson that I will keep on learning, and will need to remind myself.
It's still scary, and I have come to realise I worry a lot, but I kept soldiering on, and will continue to do so. I feel I have to do the best I can, to make you proud, to make sure that this decision was not taken lightly, and to prove to myself that I could do this not just for me, but for you.
In my moments of weakness and self doubt I found myself missing you a lot.
Looking for assurance and tender encouragement from someone who was there in a way, but not the way I selfishly needed. And I know I have mum, and she has been so supportive of so many things, but it's different. I need both. But oh well. What more can I say...

But enough about that. Life is good on the whole.. It's getting better. The phases of my life seem to be moving at a steady pace, I can see them now, and although not everything is known, the path is less ambiguous, and there are plans to move forward. It seems I'm going to do what you tried to avoid all your life, and move to the gulf for a while. I need to start making a living that I can fall back on, and it's not going to happen in Beirut. And if this means I have to compromise and walk to the desert, I guess it'll have to do till I can do it differently..
Beirut is heartbreaking, and even you with all your love and faith in it would be pained to see what is going on today. And everywhere else around us too.
Parts of us are moving forward, while the others drag us back, and we are stuck in this unsynchronised, incongruous body that is starting to tear at the seams and bleed.

It's a ghastly thought. And I wonder what you would say... I wonder sometimes how our life would have been if we never left London.

Saying that, big cities scare me now. I feel overwhelmed by London, and annoyed at it's size. I like to keep things closer to me, to have a base that has everything within reach... London is somewhere I will always feel home in, but I wonder if it's somewhere I could make a home in anymore.

I guess I'm looking through different eyes now. A "grown up" life is not so far away. The prospect of marriage and children is not something to roll eyes at and scoff at. I now have friends with kids, and friends planning kids.  Ha, next year I'm turning 30 dad. Not bad for your little girl, huh.

Wishing you were here more and more every year. Hoping that somehow you stay close, and resonate clearer in my mind. Nothing scares me more than the thought of that distance...

We have these letters though, despite my never being able to squeeze everything I want to write in them, at least that's something.

Happy birthday ya bayyi. Love you so very very much.

Till next year.



P.S. Please help me make sure mum takes better care of herself. It doesn't help my compulsive worrying. x

Birthday Letter 2013
Birthday Letter 2012
Birthday Letter 2011
Birthday Letter 2010
Birthday Letter 2009

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Birthday Letter 2013

Dear Baba,

Another year, and another promised letter on your birthday.
So many things are happening these days, and I find myself looking forward to this hour I get with you, where I tell you what's been on my mind.

I have to mention at the start of this letter that I started today with an appropriate homage to celebrate your birthday (I suppose I can call it that!), a breakfast at Sousi. I still tell people the story you loved so much to repeat to our friends about my sudden black hole of knowledge concerning "sheep eggs". And you'll be happy to know everyone still finds it funny... I see you laughing now. Stop it.

I am in a state of missing you quite a lot in the last few months. It's weird how grief changes over the years, and the longing for someone shifts. There are days where I don't think of you, and sometimes I wonder if those are wrong days. But I guess you are always there, and I make up for it the days where I find myself wishing I could have a talk with you, ask your opinion about decisions in my life, big ones, and a lot of which are coming up these days.

I'm a lot happier than I have been in a while. Things seem to be stable, and on the right path (I know I mentioned this a lot in my last letter, I guess it's a good sign that I still feel that way up till now.)

I am en route to fulfilling my promise to you of continuing my education. I saw how much it frustrated you that after all those years of work, a simple title and paper would have made things so much easier for you. And I remember your tone when you told me that it should not be a question for me to pursue a masters. So after months of applications and running around and essays and portfolios, I've been accepted at Kingston University in London, in the Illustration masters programme. Now I'm on the last leg of the pushing, and hopefully it'll all work out and I''ll be back home in September, ready to start that adventure. I'm anxious about it all, but I guess that's normal. A lot of changes, leaving Beirut again for a year of school, reconnecting with my friends there, meeting new people, working hard to achieve the best that I possibly can. It's different than an undergraduate degree. Now I know what I want, I'm not too concerned with socialising. I am armed with determination and want to take the most out of this year... Wil kheir la eddem.

After that year, it's all open. I'd like to come back to Beirut, but that depends on a few factors, a couple that are close to my heart. One of them is the state of the country.

Akh, dad, I don't know what to say about Lebanon and Beirut. I wonder so much what you would think, you being who you are and raising me the way I am. It has become a full time job living day to day in Beirut. Things are a mess, ignorance is everywhere, corruption, political mayhem, lack of ethics and civil conscience.

I've defended Beirut so hard in the past, to friends, acquaintances, everyone. I came back while everyone was leaving and not looking back. People thought I was foolish and naive to come back, and yet I planted my feet in the ground, and fought back all their concerns with excuses and excuses and excuses... But I've had enough. It's painful, so very painful to see it this way. No one cares about anyone but themselves. A kind word is hard to come by. And most importantly, making a comfortable living, with not much more than necessities, is a luxury. It really, really upsets me. All of it. The country and it's "rulers" and it's people have let me down enough times that I see very little light.

I still have the sea.  At least I have that.

Speaking of the country, I am finally going to meet Michel.  He's finally visiting Beirut after many years of telling mum and I that he would. And unfortunately a bit too late to see you. But that's ok. Right?

We've developed a virtual relationship via email, and only recently Skype and Facebook. Crazy how easy it is to get to anyone these days. (Technology these days would really blow your mind dad. Ouf!)
He emails me often to ask about us and emails me photos and stories and music, and I look forward to meeting this part of you. I can't really express the feeling, and it makes me feel bittersweet, so I'd rather stop now. I know it will be good though, that I know.

And on that note, I'll leave you till next year. I hope to have so many good things to tell you then.

Miss you very much. More than you can comprehend.
And the love goes without saying.

Happy birthday Baba.

Bintak Karma.

Birthday Letter 2012
Birthday Letter 2011

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Putting a deaf ear to the ground

So Friday night marked the release of Fareeq El Atrash's* second album. The guys held an event at the Sunflower theatre, featuring two other acts, El Rass, and Latlateh. 

I first got introduced to the hip hop culture in Beirut a few years back when I was putting together my own sort of event, a hybrid of free style rap and pictionary. (I'm not going to go into much details, but check out Omar el Fil's review of the second edition of the event here.. it should do the trick).

I never was one for hip hop being more of a rock and indie music sort of girl, but through the crowds I met and the introduction I got, I quickly became a fan and bred an overall appreciation of the wordmanship and lyrical dexterity that went into hip hop culture in Beirut. I had an even bigger respect for old school instrumental composition, such as that of Fareeq Al Atrash, who really do put the extra effort into making their music and ultimately their live shows about the music as well as the words, bringing in solos and improvs and guest musicians. 

The supporting acts cannot go unmentioned, I have to put a word for Sayyed Darwish (part of Latlateh?) whose full on poetry was heart warming, touching, and truly performed with a tone that went right to the heart. The production sampling old Syrian songs and poetry was all too good at bringing it all close to home, reminding us that our neighbours, the people of Syria, are just over there, bleeding in a war in which no one will be a winner.  Al Rass was also astounding, his eloquence and delivery was impeccable, and his puns and play on words clever and piquant. I couldn't help memorise the last line from his song "The Penguin", where he says (roughly translated) "I've got my feet on the ground, and if I want to fly, all I have to do is swim in the ocean that reflects the sky". It's translation does it no justice. 

But this post really isn't just about the show, or the Fareeq guys who happen to one of many homegrown bands that I am proud to call friends, proud to say come from this city. It's more about a revelation I had while watching the performers.

In all honesty, hip hop and rap doesn't really go with the grain in our culture. It's a style more known to the west, sung more in English than anything else. But it's managed to transcend the language barrier, and bend into our letterforms, and cut up to measure, making it congruous. We've made it work. 
But I don't believe that's why it works.

In a country lacking modern history (actually any record of Lebanese history since 1975 to be exact. Check your official history books) hip hop artists have become our historians. 
It's not about the bling or cars or bitches on the beach. It's about the current political strife, the ills of society, the issues of our generation. It's about the war in Syria, the Palestinian cause, the Lebanese corruption. And that has taken it to a whole new plane of thought.

Hip hop in our culture is nationalist poetry put to a beat. It's the voice of the layman, the sound of the streets. And the artists know it too. And that's one hell of a responsibility to carry. So kudos to those who use that power respectfully, who do not fuel or feud, who ask for what everyone at the end wants. Stability, honesty, a future. 

It's the subject matters that are tackled that bring out in me a support and an appreciation of this music. I find the beats to simply add an organised support of what is being said, sort of like a unanimous head bob to the right message, and put to music (what could be better). We, the people, get to agree in our own simplified way. United we stand, under the bass line, and to the beat of the human beat machine.  

It's at these concerts, and to these lyrics I wonder where our politicians are. Actually, the politicians are brought down to our level. They're not any more powerful than the guys mentioning them in their lyrics. In fact the contrary is true, I see the power of the people, and it's way stronger than theirs.

This is our history. This is what we are. And all the babble in the background on the news is just noise, just a diversion, just a distraction to what is happening, to what is needed. 

So all you political analysts, news reporters, expat journalists assessing the situation, telling us what to think what to see, it's time to turn your deaf ear to these voices and hear the future, hear the truth, hear what we hear, hear what we mean.

You won't get a read on the situation from the suits behind the doors of parliament, not through the microphones of the tv stations. 

You'll get it from the streets, and through microphones on a theatre's stage in Tayouneh. 

* Fareeq El Atrash translates literally from Arabic into "The Team of the Deaf", hence the blog title.

P.S. Please encourage homegrown bands like Fareeq El Atrash, Lazzy Lung, Mashrou3 Leila, Wanton Bishops and all the other great talents coming out of Beirut these days by buying their music and going to their concerts. Thank you.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

I once heard ... About the time healer

I once heard about a remote town in Switzerland that was home to a clock maker.
He had a small shop neighbouring the newsagent, and two doors down from the local butcher.

It was said that this clock maker was different.
He was not frequented for his meticulous clock faces, or for his dexterity at oiling clock gears.
His intricate cuckoo clocks were beautiful and delicate, it was said, but people came to him for something else.

He was an oldish man, with round spectacles that shielded his small eyes, and a face that could tell you a lot more than he ever did.
His hair was silver and wiry and scarce on the top of his head.
His suspenders were worn out red, with brass clips that were monogramed. 

I once heard that this clock maker, clock mender, could heal the bent, the broken, and the shattered with time as a cure.

"Time heals all wounds" was a science he had perfected and managed to master. Some say it was more a witch craft, others say it was a blessing, a gift, but no matter what anyone thought, everyone found themselves walking across that cobble stone street and opening that red wooden door with the circular window at one point or another in their life.

They say there was a different watch for everyone that came to him. The broken hearted wanted nothing but to forget their lost love, the mourning wanted nothing more than to forget the pain of loss, and the damaged wanted to forget their fears.

One by one they would come to him, and he would silently listen, and silently turn to the walls of his small shop looking at all the ticking clocks in all their shapes and sizes and colours. He would silently find the right one, go up to it and turn the hands of the clock around and around. There was never a specific number of turns anyone could figure out. Or any specific clock.

He knew which and how many.
And he would make the time it took to heal what hurt pass with a swift circular movement. Silently.

But as the days went by, it was said the time healer realised that his "customers" were repeating.
The same woman, from a few months ago would come back again to mend her re-broken heart with the passage of time, her pain being worse. The same man would come back again to mend his damaged pride, having fallen just as badly.
It is said he realised he was not really helping these people. But harming them.
While it was painful for them to go through what they were going through, in doing so they built a layer of armour against whatever else will inevitably come their way. They were learning from what they had been through, having become slightly bruised, or even scarred with the experience.  They were healing themselves with immunity and knowledge.

I heard how he realised he was not a healer. Silently.
And sadly.

Then there was a night a racket had been heard in the street. But no one had paid much attention.
It was said that the day after, the door to his shop was ominously ajar.

Upon entering, the townsfolk found all the clock faces broken, shattered, some even bloodied.
the cuckoo clocks had their little wooden birds hanging out of their little doors.

On the floor was a pool of blood. Nothing else.
He was gone.

I once heard about the little shop and it's time healer, and how he disappeared in a stain of red.

Some say he was murdered, some say it was an accident.
Others say he could not take the repeating pain anymore. That he could not take harming by healing anymore.

But everyone agreed on one thing:
Only time would tell.