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.

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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.