That Bloody Question

I found this in my drafts folder from last year. Like literally last year–I wrote this in October 2015. I haven’t been here in so long…but I think you may find this entertaining:

I’m twenty-nine years old and I still have issues with the question, “Where are you from?”

I feel like I have a limb in so many places that my brain refuses to settle on one succinct answer. After today, I decided that it’s high time I pick a city/country and just stick to it.

I went to HR earlier to ask a question, and she ended up mentioning how she was new to Arizona, and I had to go and say, “Oh that makes the two of us!”

Naturally, she had to ask, “Oh, where were you before this?”

My brain doesn’t know what to do with this question. Before this immediately? A tiny country in the Persian Gulf that I’m almost sure you’ve never heard of. (Unless you tend to read/know about mind-bogglingly rich Arab countries with a penchant for outlandishly expensive things).

I said, after a now-almost-characteristic pause, “Canada.”

“Oh where in Canada?”

“Montreal.”

“Oh, do you like it there?”

YES! She didn’t ask me if I spoke French! Good, good.

“Yes, it’s great!”

“What brought you down here?”

My brain is dumb. So dumb. So dumb in its unrelenting penchant for accuracy.

I paused again, motioned with my hands and said, “Aaaa…lot of things.”

Because I left Montreal in 2006. And I’ve been in two countries since. So, yes, a lot did happen to make me wind up here.

Now she looked confused. So I had to tell her that I’ve lived in a lot of places even though I was born in the US but I haven’t lived here. So when people ask me, “Where were you before?” I can literally say one of four different countries and I wouldn’t be wrong. I tried to be quick and simple about it, but after the hole I just dug for myself, there was hardly anything quick and simple to be found.

“Wow, that’s an interesting life story that came out of nowhere,” she said.

I wasn’t sure if that was a jab at my sudden idiotic rambling, or if she was genuinely interested.

(For what it’s worth, she lived in DC before coming here. DC is muggy and cloudy, and Arizona is not).

I wanted to kick myself as I made my way back to my desk. Why didn’t I say, “Canada. Montreal. I found a job here I liked, so I moved.”

For a fleeting moment I thought about picking a US state that sounds bland. Wisconsin. Nebraska. Idaho. I figure no one will ask follow-up questions on a state that sounds like there’s nothing in it. Then I feel bad because what if those states are awesome and I’m just sitting there judging them because they don’t have the enthusiastic marketing team that California and New York do?

Anyways, here’s to me being Canadian, born and bred, and please don’t ask me to speak to you in French.

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Um…Hi!!

I’ve been out of the loop while not being too out of the loop these days. Does that make sense? Probably not.

I guess I mean I’ve been connected to things happening here and in my homeland, but I haven’t been in the mood to talk about it much.

I’m sorry for being gone for this long. (I seem to be starting a lot of posts this way. I’ve read somewhere that one should never update with “sorry for not updating” but I can’t seem to take that to heart. I sometimes feel like my blog(s) are living creatures. Neglect, though unintentional, ought to be apologized for).

My days have been kind of busy. In April, I got a couple of promising job interviews, which went a long way in lifting me out of my stuck-in-a-rut phase. I’ve generally been trying to push forward with my life and, throughout it all, I couldn’t really think of anything pertinent for this little spot on the web.

To illustrate how bloody slow looking for jobs here can be: I applied for one at a multinational company on November 19. I got a reply yesterday. That’s almost six months. (It was a politely worded form letter letting me know that the position I applied to had been canceled. Imagine waiting 174 days to know that your potential job title went the way of the dodo).

Unsurprisingly, sending out CV’s and cover letters just to get absolutely zilch for months can put a rather large damper on your mood. But! It’s been quite a learning experience. At the risk of sounding a little cheesy, I’ve been working really hard on trying to change how I view my life, instead of waiting for things to change so I could be happy. It was a long and crappy process, but it did so much to get me out of the cycle of boredom and self-loathing.

(Admittedly, I began to change how I felt not very long before I started getting some replies to my many job applications. I don’t know if that was causal or a coincidence. Maybe a bit of both).

My daily life has me mostly spending time with my family. Sometimes I go out with friends, when we all have the time to meet up. I read, write a little, blog a little, draw a little and watch Game of Thrones. (Speaking of which, IT’S GETTING SO DAMN GOOD I CAN’T WAIT UNTIL NEXT WEEK).

I do have some stuff I want to talk about, and I have posts (or ideas) written up in my head. Just getting them out takes more effort, sometimes, than I’m able to give. I’m just trying to take things easy and ease myself into the idea of starting a working life again–something I’ve been needing since last August, really. (I haven’t officially gotten a job yet, but I’m getting pretty close. Just got to get some stuff finalized).

Wish me luck!

My Ramblings Are Nomadic Too

I’ve come to realize that almost every blog and social media account I’ve ever created was due to me either procrastinating or suffering from boredom.

Often it’s a semi-lethal mix of both.

My very first blog was something called Obscurity in the Land of Moonlight, which sounds like a painfully pretentious novel written by a bespectacled preteen with barely-legible penmanship. 

In real life I was a 20-year-old tween transitioning from a life in Canada to one in Qatar. I was floating around without the vaguest clue on what to do with myself. It was too late to register for college, and—on top of that—I wasn’t sure I knew what I wanted to do anymore. Fun stuff.

Along came my Canadian best friend, whom I affectionately call “Lebne”. We had made a habit of chatting for disgustingly long hours on MSN in spite of the time difference. (What can I say? We’re both verbose individuals). During one of these real-time paragraph-fests, she mentioned some of the stuff she liked to read on LiveJournal. (Remember LJ? It’s the MySpace of the blogging world). Since I liked to write, wouldn’t it make sense to make an account?

It didn’t take much thinking. After all, I already had a Tripod-supported website called Active Chicken (I swear there is a perfectly rational story behind that), so talking about stuff in my life wasn’t new to me. And, hey, it was something to do, right? I opened an account, blabbed up a first post and—voilà! Here I am.

I’m mentioning this because I’m always saying that I barely moved out of the Gulf/Middle East since the time I started blogging—which is true. But, you know what? Ever since I did, I never could stay in one spot. I didn’t make it to a year-and-a-half on LJ (where I changed my theme approximately 625 times) before I discovered the black hole known as WordPress.

I distinctly remember needing to study for one of my business courses that fateful night, but the procrastination bug had already burrowed a Texas-sized hole through what was left of my mind. So, what better way to deal with that than to make an entirely new blog? I’m nothing if not logical. So I whipped up an account, chose the first of what was to be another 832 themes, and lo, Grins and Clockwork was born! I even learned to export my LJ’s entries into it, which freed me to delete that account for good.

G&C went along a similar vein to Obscurity, but gave me more room to categorize my posts and generally talk about newer things that were going on in my life, like my college experiences and my friends. Sometimes the updating was enthusiastic, but other times a month would see one to three posts at most. Even so, I always made sure I stuck around it somewhat, just so people knew I hadn’t died.

Still, I started to get that…tell-tale itch. It’s when I realized I was starting to lose focus and none of my previous posts were remotely inspiring. I needed a fresh start to go along with the fact I had graduated with my business diploma from college, and was now studying English in AUB…in yet another country. 

I quietly set up a third blog, which I named The Crooked Trident. When I got a few posts in, and felt it was starting to look like home, I announced the closing of Grins and Clockwork after three great years. It didn’t take me long to permanently move my merry self to a brand new place.

Unsurprisingly, it took a mere year before a bout of “Let me try something else now…ooooh, how about a themed blog?!” to push me to create No Easy Answer.

I guess you could say that even if I’m not physically moving, my consistent need to ramble sure is. 

It also seems obscenely vain that I can talk about myself for this long.

Thoughts on Distance

Something different has happened ever since I came back from the US on October 28th.

Every time I was in Qatar, without exception, my friends knew I was in the country within hours of landing. (Sometimes I simply updated my Facebook status the day before I traveled). A plan to hang out would already be taking shape in the next day or two.

It’s one of the main reasons I liked coming here—the friends I made in college were around, and our history was the warm, familiar cushion that enveloped us during each reunion.

Camaraderie can only last so long though. This time I’ve moved back from a country I spent the last three years in. Though I said, time and again, that I felt stuck in a rut in Lebanon, it’s blatantly wrong to say that I haven’t changed at all. Time had done its job: I had leashes on the relationships here, but stopped maintaining them for all the wears and tears. Soon my grip loosened, and I saw the frayed leashes scattered on the floor before me. Whoever was on the other end was mostly gone.

What’s funny is that it doesn’t affect me much. I learned that everyone lets go when the paths you’re on have seemingly permanently diverged.

After moving away from Lebanon and taking the US trip…I came back to a feeling where I had no desire to contact anyone. In fact, I don’t think I would have minded if no one even knew I was here for weeks or months.

I think the only reason I contacted my friends on Monday was because I realized I wasn’t doing much at home. I needed a reason to go out and socialize a bit with people that weren’t related to me. It’s a change I need and, really, what’s the point of isolating myself? Didn’t I have enough of that in Beirut? Cutting people off on a whim was never a healthy way to live. (Plus I am still very fond of my friends, gap in communication or not).

Distance does things. It makes people stop caring as much as they did, even if it was a powerful bond. The further away you are, the bigger the gap is between your friendships. Your relationships, either consciously or subconsciously, conform into the “out of sight, out of mind” mantra. I reached out, every now and then, and conversations struck up…but always abruptly ended.

People are always busy. I couldn’t blame them. I was busy too.

It’s just…sometimes I wish it was easier. I wish keeping friends close and trading stories and updates all the time was easier, even if you’re on very different playing fields. It would be cool if I knew that both sides cared enough to do it.

If you have that kind of friendship in your life, please count it as a huge blessing. In the age where it’s the simplest thing in the world to stay in touch, it seems like no one ever cares enough to do it…and I wish I could say I was innocent, but I’m not.

I wish I knew what to think about that.

Aaaaah!!!

I’m going back to Qatar on Sunday!

I can’t believe it. This vacation seemed to be going along at an almost slow pace (in a GREAT way) and all of a sudden—we’re leaving.

It’s crazy.

For the past couple of weeks, Neo, Suijin and I have been having really long discussions about the future. For a while, not even going back was a real possibility for my little sis and me. (Neo already made the decision to head back to Qatar from the start).

We both feel like we could truly make California our home. It’s absolutely beautiful, we have family, and it’s an active and multicultural environment where we can feel we belong. The glaring problem in all of this was the fact that we came here with the intention of only checking the state out to see if we liked it. Moreover, and much more importantly, we were here to go on vacation.

It’s admittedly a very large decision to suddenly try to stay longer and go from “vacation mode” to “let’s actually live here, maybe even permanently”. It doesn’t help that we had planned to leave on October 27th from the minute we hopped on the first airplane out of Doha.

Sticking around California for a couple more months at least is perfectly feasible, if we think about it. However, there’s quite a lot to do and we don’t have all the means necessary to do it as quickly and efficiently as needed. (No driver’s licenses, no car—and that’s just for starters. My uncle works full time and we live in the suburbs where there’s little in the way of cheap public transportation).

So, for now, we’re heading back to Qatar. I miss my parents so badly it kind of hurts. So it’s good to go back to the comfort of being by their side once more before we plan our next big step.

Besides, we’re third culture kids…our lives are one big decision after another. We got this.

L’Accent!

Location: Montreal, QC, Canada (Atwater Metro Station) Year: 2004

A snippet of a conversation an acquaintance of mine, Alex, and I had while waiting for the subway to make an appearance:

Alex: “Oh wait, you’ve only been in Canada for three years?”

Me: “Yep. I used to live in Lebanon and, before that, Saudi Arabia.”

Alex: (In surprised disbelief) “But…your accent though. It’s flawless!”

Me: Oh, hah. Yeah,  I went to an American international school in Saudi. Hell, I had classmates and teachers who couldn’t speak a lick of Arabic.

Alex: Really? That’s pretty cool.

That was the first of a good handful of occasions where my accent—or lack of one—was a topic of surprise. Although it didn’t strike me as odd at the time, it did make me wonder if people honestly thought all Arabs sounded like the marketplace merchants in Aladdin. (I do love that movie, but it’s so overrun with cultural misconceptions that it kinda ruins the experience).

In short, my incredulity stemmed from this notion: Globalization has enough of an impact that it should be taken for granted that there are going to be people who never touched US soil that could speak just as well as any born-and-raised American. I went so far as to believe I would never judge anyone by the way they spoke.

HAH! Life, you know how to humble a person.

Fast forward to 2008 – Doha, Qatar: I’m sitting on the roomy windowsill in the Student Representative Council office, chilling with friends. Three feet away, a student I’d never met before was speaking in an accent so perfectly American one could easily assume she’d lived there her entire life.

People: I can’t deny that I became a replica of Alex that night in the metro four years ago. Why?

She was dressed like this:

Talk about jumping to conclusions. In my (somewhat lame) defense, I had twelve years of life in Saudi Arabia and a year in Qatar by then. Up until that moment, every Qatari I met who dressed that way spoke with a visible Arabic accent at best. (Doha has excellent American and British international schools, but those who dress this traditionally don’t make a habit of roaming their halls).

I had to ask, “Did you used to live in the States? Or…??”

She smiled at me. (What face coverings, called a niqāb, have offered me is a way to discern smiles, frowns and general emotion just by focusing on someone’s eyes). I knew from her expression that she had received variations of this question a thousand times but was still good-natured about it. “Actually, my mother is American and my father is Qatari.”

I hadn’t thought of that. I laughed shyly and added, “That’s cool. I’m sorry for asking but I really wasn’t expecting that accent to come out of you.”

I felt hypocritical for being shocked that someone who chose to dress the way she did would be able to speak English so well. But it did open up a conversation, and later, I got to know more about her tough and inspiring history. I was on the verge of sharing it here, but decided that it isn’t my story to tell.

I have to admit, it was a humbling experience to know that I was not incapable of surprise in these situations. I also learned, again, that I had to work harder on erasing my preconceived notions on a people I thought I knew because I’d lived in their societies for years. You learn that whatever fault (for lack of a better word) you may find in someone, you have just as much a chance of finding it in yourself.

What If??

This is “Episode V”  in the memoir I’m writing for my Creative Non-Fiction class. Previous installments are hereherehere and here. This one covers a “what-if” kind of thought.

What would my life be like if I never moved?

It’s a question that crops up almost every time I open Facebook and scroll through the infamous stalker-enabling news feed. I see several of my elementary school classmates sharing pictures of themselves as high school seniors, talking about the “good old days” and making plans to visit one another, wherever they may be.

It’s been fourteen years since the last time I saw any of them. These faces used to be those of classmates, friends, and acquaintances. Now they belong to kind strangers, wrapped in an aura of familiarity but nothing I can reach out and hold onto. They had all laughed, cried, partied, and struggled through their high school, and even college, experiences together. What can I, a faint memory of a quiet bespectacled 12-year-old who buried herself in storybooks, possibly have to say to them now? After a couple of failed attempts at a reconnection, I now simply content myself with knowing they are happy and successful.

I remember something a friend of mine in Qatar once said: “I was born and raised here, and even lived in the same house my entire life.” She was twenty-one at the time, and I clearly remember that the first thing that came to my mind was, “Oh dear lord, the THINGS you must have in that house!” (Anyone who’s moved at least once will know exactly what I mean). The second thing was, “Damn…that’s an insane amount of stability.”

My five years in Canada were spent in three houses. Even my first twelve years in Saudi Arabia had me living in two. If I wasn’t moving houses, I was moving countries. “Born and raised” is a term that I never used.

So, sometimes I sit back and think: What if, when I moved to Lebanon from Saudi, I never moved again? Would my life be better? Worse? Or just…different?  I’ve always felt that my experiences living outside of my home country made me a better person—and I still do. But at what cost?

When I was abroad, I was exposed to an incredible variety of lifestyles, religions, and people. I knew what it was like to be in a society that treated everyone as an equal, and demanded respect in return. The more I remember, the more I know just how vital these experiences are in shaping who I am today, and I try to never take them for granted.

However, as silly as this may sound, I’ve also never had the unique experience of having a childhood friend. I’ve never had people who stood by me as I grew and changed other than my immediate family. (Obviously, it’s hard to have that kind of relationship when you move every few years). I left Lebanon at fifteen and came back a full-fledged 24-year-old with my own worldviews, knowledge, social experiences, and life stories. It was nearly impossible to find common ground with those I left behind. Even cousins I called friends for years as a child no longer knew me, nor I them. A loss that I can’t deny was sorely felt.

In the end, my lifestyle left little room for fostering long-term history, connections and attachments with people I cared about. It’s probably what hurts the most on those quiet evenings when my mind is bored and starts to dig up an analysis of Life So Far.

If I was given a do-over, would I change a thing?

You know what? Probably not.