Monday, 6 July 2020

Birthday Letter 2020

Hi Baba,

To be honest, I don't think I've ever dreaded writing you your birthday letter before.

I get sad when I do it, sometimes I wonder what I need to write, whether or not I'll be repetitive, or just not have much to say.

But I've never dreaded it. 

Today, I dread it. So much.

I sit writing you, out my window, most of the city is black with night, plunged into darkness with very few lights to break it up.  I'm lucky enough to hear a droning hum of a generator which keeps our building powered, our air conditioning on in this muggy weather, our fridge cold, our internet running.
Not many people are that lucky these days.

I'm dreading telling you the sorry state we're in, as a country, as a world, as a family trying to survive what seems to be one of the worse periods I've ever experienced.

All the mess and dirt and corruption that hasn't really changed since we moved back to Beirut has finally caught up, and the country is crumbling. The currency is 5 times less valuable than it used to be (and falling), half the country is under the poverty line, people are angry, sad, depressed, people are dying by suicide in broad daylight, making their last breath on earth a statement against the reality the country has been forced into... And to add a surrealistic macabre twist to it all,  there's a global pandemic that is paralysing most of the world, putting lockdowns in place, causing fear and anxiety, dangling the threat of death in front of our eyes, making things so much harder on so many levels that it is suffocating.

But the country Baba, the country... What can I say about the country?

I don't know if there are enough words, or any words to describe the feelings, emotions, realities we find ourselves in. We wake up every day feeling we've hit rock bottom, only to realise it's a false ceiling and we crash into a further depth, and it's on repeat. A sadistic Ground Hog Day that just won't give. The lies, the stealing, the hypocrisy, the depravity, the constant insult to our intelligence, to our pride, to our humanity... It's all too much!

And we had a glimmer of hope. Between last year's letter, and this one, I saw a spark leap from the embers on October the 17th. My countrymen and women seemed to wake up, to realise the tragicomedy that had become our state, and they shouted ENOUGH! كلكن يعني كلكن! We wanted them all out, all gone, we were fed up and we united under the flag, and for the first time in a long time I felt so proud! I felt empowered, invigorated, justified! But always cautiously.. I remember telling mama "this is the last shot. I can't continue like this. It has to be now or it won't be at all. It's now or never." So many felt this way.

It seems like never baba.

Part of me is relieved you're not here to see it all crumbling. I'm relieved many of you aren't. Did you and Teta Zaza cross paths somehow? And if you did I hope she told you how we are...

I don't know when it will be better, when it will be the Lebanon you and Mama hoped for when we moved back, the Lebanon we deserve, that is deserving of us. I hold on to that hope deep, deep inside. For me, for Laith, for Mama, for Saadi, for you.

That small spark that managed to free itself from the embers under the ashes, we lost it, we can't see it in all the darkness anymore. I hope it's still there. I hope that if it's not, another one will liberate itself and ignite an explosion of fireworks that will make us all stand in awe, mouths agape, laughing at the colours and lights and sounds. That our hearts will skip a beat but in excitement and wonder. Unlike these days where our hearts skip beats at yet another piece of news that spells more disaster, more hopelessness.

There doesn't seem to be an end to the tunnel, it's so dark that I can no longer tell if there is no light at the end of it, or just that the light is so infinitely far that I can't see it for now. I'm holding on to the hope that it's the latter.

I don't know if I can bear the dark while I wait for it anymore.

I'm so sad these days Baba. I wish you were here to comfort me, to reassure me. I think of you a lot. But the fear that even if you were here you would not be able to, adds to the relief that you're not witnessing this. One less person to agonise.

I'm worried for Mama, who even with all her stubbornness and determination is losing sight of the light at the end of Lebanon's gaping hole of a reality. I worry about her, and with her. 

The only joy, that I thank the universe for every single minute, every single second, is Laith. Laith! The lion who is but a cub right now, roaring his presence and laughter and soul at us, giving us so much purpose and life and light! When I delve into the dark of our present reality, he is the torch that reminds me there must be a way, even if it isn't what we wanted.

And with that I know it's time to leave this sinking ship I call home. I tried to scoop the pooling water out, we all did. The whole country was cupping hands and scooping and scooping and scooping. But the water is faster, and we're watching as it's reaching our ankles, and shins, and thighs... And as much as I love the ship, I have a family, I won't sacrifice it. I can't. I refuse to let the water reach a lick of a flame of my torch.

Some things you do not compromise. 
I have a solid suspicion if you were here, you wouldn't question this difficult decision... Perhaps you would have reached it before, who knows...

So we have to leave. I like to think it's not forever. I like to think we'll be back, when the light is flooding all the homes, coming through the windows and the open doors, instead of water.

We'll be close by, always close by.

I read somewhere that grief is merely love with no place to go. And now I think I'm grieving a life I wanted to have here. I'm grieving a homeland that should be loved, and not mourned.

But it pales in comparison to the overwhelming grief at your loss...

I think I have to admit that your leaving has traumatised me in some way.

All these letters over the years with an underlying feeling that there was a missing link between you and me. One that made me doubt what I remembered, and how our relationship used to be. I always saw myself in motion, and you still. 

There was always this passiveness in my memory so far. Photos I talk to that don't talk back.

And then one day, before all the shit hit the fan here, I accidentally went down a rabbit hole, cleaning out my email.
I typed in “Karma Computer” (what you named yourself on outgoing emails...) into the search bar.

And suddenly you had a voice again. I could see the words talking back to me, I could hear the voice, feel the warmth even in black pixels arranged on a screen. 

I heard it, and I fell apart.

I could only read a few, before I decided the love that had no place to go was overwhelming. And I stopped. 

But I heard you. And I'm glad I did. 
And I'll hear you again. You aren't just a photo, you're in binary, and in my heart. 

And I can take you wherever I want. You're coming with me, my home comes with me. 
You, and mama, and Louis, and Saadi, and most importantly Laith. You are my home now. You are all the driftwood that I'd choose over a million, a billion, an infinite fleet of ships. 

You're the home washed in light, and warmth, and joy. 

I hope next year's letter will make a joke out of this one. 

Happy Birthday to you. My home. 

Bintak, bint il balad

Karma Im Laith

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