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.