All Night Long

This night I’m living a Lebanese version of an 1980’s Lionel Richie pop hit.

Travel has gotten me out of my comfort zone- even if it took a long flight and loud drummers to do so.

I had been awake 28 hours and had been on a plane or in airports for 24 of them.

Sadika says, “You must sleep in tomorrow, as we will be awake all night long from iftar (the sunset meal Muslims break their fast for Ramadan) to sohur, the pre sunrise meal Muslims enjoy before fasting all day.

Major problem, I’m not a night person. I go to bed early and wake up early. Jet lagged how will I get to sleep and how will I stay awake? I’m the houseguest from hell.

Then I start hallucinating. I’m hearing drums banging outside her resort.

“Oh that’s normal” Sadika says. They are just reminding people to wake up for the sohur meal.

I take a sleeping pill and sleep until 11am. I’m never in bed that late. 

Sadika directs me to the beach at her house and I start my Lebanese vacation with a warm swim in the Mediterranean Sea.  I stop for my first shanklish sandwich- an herbaceous yogurt, tomatoe, cucumber, olive combination. Yum, yum and yum.

We then sea some old and modern buildings in Tripoli.

I manage a short nap at Sadika’s son’s house while an Lebanese version of Family Feud plays on the television. I don’t understand a word, but apparently like in the US the host is funny.

We head to Sadika’s daughter’s Rana’s in laws house. Lebanese hospitality is insanely gracious. This is when I would curl up and say goodnight- but the night has just begun.

I tag along with Sadika and her husband, to a gala on an island. Traffic is snarky apparently the Lebanese Minister of Interior was attending. 

There is music and food, lots more food and drums.  Across the bay the skyline of Tripoli lights up.

“One of those guys was in our neighborhood this morning.”

We finish the day, or is it night or morning. I smoke a lemon nargilleh and sip tea with a new friend at a cute tea shop run by Sadika’s son.

The prior Saturday night I was asleep in bed getting ready to wake up early to watch Rafa demolish his opponent at the French Open.

This night I’m living a Lebanese version of an 1980’s Lionel Richie pop hit.

Travel has gotten me out of my comfort zone- even if it took a long flight and loud drummers to do so.

Love Love Lebanon All Night Long!

Finding Love in the Air

I originally started writing this 40,000 feet over the Hudson Bay with about six hours left on the flight to Paris from San Francisco airport, and eleven hours before I landed in Beirut.

The only delay was out Sacramento, but thanks to my fabulous travel agent Robin, who is also my Tech Guy’s wife- I had plenty of time for my connection.

I often fall-asleep during movies, which is why I’ve avoided going to any in a couple of years. I’ve also fallen asleep on dates- and coincidentally I’ve managed to also avoid those too. United has fabulous selection of movies and the three I watched were quite good. 

Since the third was an Indian film, where I was reading subtitles during the early pangs of jetlag, I will focus on the first two.

Spoiler alerts:

Bridget Jones Baby and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel both had common themes of finding love while getting old. 

Bridget Jone’s Baby was basic chick flick chocolate. I will turn 42 during this trip. Do I want baby? Heck to the NO. Babies scare me. I was contemplating buying expensive headphones at the San Francisco airport to avoid listening to the screaming baby on the plane to Paris. Three babies were even crankier and didn’t let me sleep on the four hour trip to Beirut.

I saw my five month old nephew for a family funeral. I held him for twenty seconds, enough for a photo and a near panic attack. I’ll see my him, my younger sister and her husband next month in Portland and my goal is thirty seconds- and also not to drop him.

Marigold Hotel was more dimensional, or I was more analytical. Like Bridget a couple of the main characters were looking for love in an older age, but it also dealt with medical tourism, homosexuality, and cultural biases.

More importantly after travel ing for fifteen hours, Marigold didn’t put me to sleep and I should have been sleepy. According to my phone when it finished it was a few minutes after 9pm in California- not too far from my usual bedtime- and another reason I’m a horrible date.

More spoilers alerts:I would love to find love in my forties, or fifties or sixties if I live that long. Unfortunately aside from my dog, or  rest in peace Hooka, or cat (who dislikes most people and  is probably mad but getting fed and checked on by my neighbor while in on vacation) familial love, or friendship- romantic love seems like fiction- like  Bridget or Marigold. 

I have experienced lust- as I call them to my close girlfriends- dumb crushes. They have ranged in height, age, race.

After a few weeks or months I realize the only thing these guys have in common is their lack of romantic interest in me. Some of these guys I’m still friends with- at least until they read this blog.

Two nights ago I had dinner with my married friend Uzma, who was telling me about her Lebanese friend who after returning to Lebanon, was singing the praises of Lebanese men. 

“Kristi she said, they are so chivalrous, they watch out for her.”

I don’t have the body of the pre-pregnant Renee Zelwigger in the Bridget Jones sequel, and who knows if I will ever survive into my later years to find love at a run-down hotel outside the United States like in Marigold.

But as it approaches my normal 5:30am wake up hour (at least Paris time), and the baby is still screaming, and  I ponder the vegetarian mystery breakfast the flight attendant gave me, this flight was a nice reminder that I can still find romantic love if only at the Movies. Heck this year, Roger Federer won the Australian Open and Rafa Nadal the French Open in their thirties, and tennis nerds kept iterating how old they were, maybe finding romantic love in my forties is not unrealistic.

I can be consoled with at least I found love in the air watching the movies.

Bam Bam Crunch!

A month later the sights and the sounds are still fresh.

Traffic home was heavier than usual on the surface streets. The local radio news reported a fatality on the freeway about seven miles away.

Suddenly the brake lights flashed in front of me- I hit my brakes.  Catching my breath I thought “Thank God I didn’t that grey car in front of me.”
“Bam!” The black car behind me slammed into me, as my foot sat on the brake.

“Bam! Crunch!” The black car pushed me into the car into the grey car.

The three of us pulled over onto a side street.  I felt fazed a bit disoriented. All of us were OK or so I thought.  We exchanged insurance information and I flagged down a police officer, who said she was actually heading to a different car accident.   She took our statements to write her report. Ultimately the person who hit me was determined at fault.

That night I woke up with a raging headache,  and neck pains. I felt dizzy getting up too quickly. Walking down stairs,without holding the arm rail made me nervous, which is problematic because I live in a two level townhome.

The following morning I called my insurance company and told them that I would be filing a claim not only to the damages not only on my 2006 Honda Accord, but also to the damages to me.

My seatbelt is locked my car looked uglier but was still driveable for short distances,  but almost a month later and quite a few visits to my chiropractor it is still painful to look over my shoulder or tilt my head to my shoulder, but I’m getting better.

I still feel anxious if I hear unexpected loud noises, and particularly while driving.

When friends or the used car guy asked,  “Aren’t you scared about traveling to Lebanon?”

“Bam bam crunch” reminded me danger lurks anywhere. This car accident happened three miles from home. I was driving at a slow speed in a “safe” car and I still was hurt.

Heading to Lebanon about 7200 miles away from home to learn about the people, the culture and history seems like a safer alternative.

And as a bonus for 19 days, I won’t be driving.

Stitch by Stitch 

A few days after my dog Hooka went to doggy heaven, I started a new project. I knew I needed to get away, but I wasn’t confident where.

I also thought it would be a fun challenge to crochet the flag of Lebanon into a blanket. I don’t have a pattern or instructions just an image of the flag. 

I learned crochet when I was a preteen, and picked it up again about thirty years later. Crochet keeps my hands busy, it takes my eyes off my smartphone, computer, or television.  Crochet is a nice way to fill the commute when I’m on the Light Rail to and from work. It distracts and relaxes me. 

Learning from prior projects,  I gathered my needed yarn and started. I checked with my friend Sadika who said she would host me. Crocheting this blanket gave me the confidence to commit to this trip. It also gave me the confidence to let my parents know despite their worries and the State Department warnings- this is the right decision.

I also told them I spent many hours crocheting and thinking about this and it was not a reflexive decision after Hooka’s death. 

Over twenty years ago I had a conversation over the dinner table when they vetoed idea of me going to college in Beirut.  Now I was having another conversation, over another dinner table on the same subject. 

Sipping a glass of red wine,  I offered up, “Did you know there are winemakers in Lebanon?”

The conversation went differently this time. Instead of an idealistic teenager, I’m approaching 42 years-old. I will be staying with Sadika, a storyteller and Toastmaster (like me) and a mother of an adult daughter (like my stepmom). 

My stepmom admitted as much,  “You are an adult. You can make your own decisions now.”

My dad was even more understanding, “You will probably get another speeding ticket before you get kidnapped.”

Finally I showed them the project I had finished that day, that I had worked on the past two weeks. 

Thank you to my parents for trusting me. Sadika I look forward to giving you this blanket soon. 

Stitch by stitch I grieve.

Stitch by stitch I weave.

Stitch by stitch I give. 

Stitch by stitch I live.

Travel and Trust

I trust Sadika- whose name translates to “friend”. When I travel to Lebanon, I will be trusting Sadika with my life as my best friend Hooka trusted me with hers.

Two weeks ago, I made the hardest decision when I put my dog Hooka, my best friend of sixteen years, to sleep.  She was refusing to eat,  she was struggling to walk and even stand. 

I have not gone a day without crying, without thinking about her.  She and my cat Habibi were named because of my travels to Cairo, first as a year abroad at the American University of Cairo from 1995-1996, then about a decade later to run a half-marathon in Luxor, then again as part of trip about two years to Turkey and Egypt for my fortieth birthday.

I’m not a smoker but I love the taste and smell of apple tobacco from the water pipe called a hooka and her fur reminded me of the white smoke that puffs from her namesake. 

Many of my favorite memories with Hooka involved us running together for the first twelve years of her life, or watching her run, sometimes joyfully in circles which she did up until a few months ago.  She always seemed to be a happy dog who trusted me with her complete well being. 

Five years before my first trip to Cairo, I read Thomas Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem an overview of the politics of the Middle East. A year later I mailed a postcard to the American University of Beirut, figuring it wouldn’t hurt to apply. My dad and stepmom intercepted the college application in the mail curtly vetoed the idea despite my plea of-

“Well their civil war has been over a couple of years.”

Since my parents were paying for college,  I trusted their judgement and attended UC Santa Cruz two hours away from their house in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I studied Middle Eastern politics at UCSC and AUC and continued to follow the (usually bad) news of the Middle East and North Africa. Over the last twenty years,  besides returning to Egypt- I visited Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. Lebanon was always on the back burner until two years ago at a Toastmasters conference in Las Vegas. A half hour after the World Champion of Public Speaking was named, I was chatting with a woman named Sadika as we were looking for Chelsea Avery, a great speaker herself, whose husband Ryan a prior World Champion of Public Speaking had spoken in Sacramento earlier that year. 

I thought she was being polite when she said, “Come to Lebanon and be my guest.”

If I said, “Come to Sacramento and be my guest,” it would mean helping them find a hotel a taking a day off work to show them the sites of Sacramento or maybe a weekend if they wanted to drive to San Francisco or Tahoe. I wouldn’t mean “stay with me.”Other than my cat and dog,  I haven’t shared my 999 square feet with anyone.  My guest room is my cat’s room,  office and a broken fold out sofa. 

Sadika, a teacher and public speaker, and I kept in touch on Facebook and I discovered she wasn’t just being polite,  I would stay with her and she would show me around her country- a country north to south is smaller hundred mile drive to Tahoe or San Francisco from Sacramento.

As officially I’m am analyst for a state agency, I did what any reasonable analyst would do and googled “Travel to Lebanon” and after the pretty pictures of Beirut and Baalbek the first link takes me here:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon because of the threats of terrorism, armed clashes, kidnapping, and outbreaks of violence, especially near Lebanon’s borders with Syria and Israel...

Or in short- non essential travel to Lebanon should be avoided. 

Lebanon has mountains coastline- so does California.

Lebanon has ancient Roman ruins and wine- so does Rome and Las Vegas- or at least a facade.

“What happens if you are kidnapped? Terrorism isn’t an issue in California.”

Well there was the attack in San Bernardino. San Bernardino scared me. 

The scariest thing I ever had to do was trust myself as I said goodbye to Hooka. I held and petted her, as they inserted the syringe and her heart stopped quickly. Up until her final days Hooka trusted me as I fed and played with her, when I walked  or ran with her and when she fell asleep near me.

I miss her so much.  As my travels to Cairo inspired her name.  Part of her legacy is learning to trust. I trust Sadika- whose name translates to “friend”. When I travel to Lebanon, I will be trusting Sadika with my life as my best friend Hooka trusted me with hers. 

I love you Hooka thank you for teaching me how to trust.