Mexican burger but hold the burger

I have spent more time on this vacation explaining my choice to be vegetarian, than how America voted for an admitted sexual predator and Islamaphobe to be our current president.

Food is important when traveling. Although I have been jonesing for a Starbucks since day three- OK day two I have managed for the last eleven days to eat local thanks to the incredible hospitality of Sadika and her family. 

I landed in Lebanon with about a week left of Ramadan left.  My hostess and her adult children fasted during daylight until June 25 this year. Food wise it was a breeze for me since I wasn’t fasting and even in predominantly Muslim Tripoli, my hostess found gems like this downtown on a Saturday afternoon when everything else was closing for the Eid al Fitr holiday.

Ramadan iftars- the meal where Muslims break the fast were also easy for vegetarians as I always had a delicious lentil or vegetable soup, hummus, mutabul (babaganoush), and baked cheese and spinach pastries and always huge assortment of desserts.

On my first non-jet lagged night in Tripoli, Sadika invited me to an iftar hosted by her daughter-in-law’s parents. I think I heard a version of someone asking Sadika, why didn’t you tell us she (me) was vegetarian. I was confused because my Arabic stinks and there was so much food I could eat.

Bahia’s father of Sadika’s daughter asked me directly, “Why vegetarian?”

Simply put: I avoid food with a face. It was easy to give up fish almost twenty-five years ago, since I still hate the smell of fish and seafood. A few months later giving up meat was when I went to college at University of California  at Santa Cruz (UCSC), which was vegetarian and vegan friendly. I still eat eggs and cheese, and one of my favorite jobs at UCSC was making omelettes.

While I have yet to try any of the omelettes here, I love the cheeses. From Kashkival, haloum, to cheddar to gouda to feta. I even had a piece of American cheese today.

On the Eid al Fitr in Lebanon when all Sunni Muslims are done fasting, Sadika and her husband visited extended family.

I’m chillaxing at her beach home in Tripoli; reading, crocheting, swimming and floating in the adult pool and blogging.

I’m still recovering from the screaming kid bounce house trauma from last night, and Sadika said chillaxing on my own while she and her husband met up to 40 or 50 family at once might be too much.

Great call Sadika.

In a weird irony, today while Sadika and her family feasted during daylight, I had no appetite until about 3pm after I found my happy place during an hour long relaxing swim-float in the Mediterranean. Then I was hungry.

Walking back to Sadika’s chalet I found this burger place whose menu consisted of this.

 

I’ve been away from California for about eleven days. My last dinner before flying away was nachos from my favorite cheap Mexican chain Aldabertos. So of course I ordered: a “Mexican burger, but hold the burger.”

One of the two young men working in the hut, that was not much bigger than a food truck responded, “I’m sorry we can’t do that. It’s a burger with cheese, with special sauce, jalapeno, lettuce and tomato. We don’t have a burger substitutes. It may not grill right.”

I responded, “I’m hungry. I’m craving Mexican food, I haven’t eaten meat in almost twenty-five years, I’m not starting today.”

“Fine but it will be same price.”

I agreed and about ten minutes and $10 later. I had my not so glamorous grilled cheese sandwich, fries and a Sprite.

While not the best grilled cheese ever, I may be inspired to try a new version of Mexican grilled cheese at home when I get home.

Bon appetit or as they say in Lebanon when finishing a meal sahteen.

Stitch by Stitch 

Stitch by stitch I grieve.
Stitch by stitch I weave.
Stitch by stitch I give.
Stitch by stitch I live.

Stitch by stitch I grieve.

Stitch by stitch I weave.

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.