sábado, 25 de septiembre de 2010


This morning I was woken up by a crazy thunderstorm. I didn't quite understand what those loud bangs were at first. Were those fireworks? At 7 am??

Nope, just the beginning of the rainy season.

I must say that Lebanon is a very "explosive" country. I have heard more fire works in the past two months than in my entire life.

Also, I have heard gun shots for the first time in my life, which by the way, sound a lot like fireworks, except there is - quoting my Lebanese friend- a different rythm to them (isn't this just a totally poetic view of life?).

Fire works go bang (count 1,2,3) bang (1,2,3), bang (1,2,3).

Gun shots go bang-bang-bang-bang-bang (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8) bang-bang-bang (silence) bang.

But the most common explosions are not the auditory, but the human ones.
Laughter, loud, sincere, unashamed laughter.
Anger, loud, aggressive, impulsive shouting, pushing, banging.
Kisses (3 loud ones each time to say hello and bye).
Loss, so deeply rooted and concelaed it is obvious, especially when vivid memories are recounted with hollow eyes, and a hole in the middle of your chest when you hear them
Pleasure, with eating, drinking and smoking, a lot and often

I am sometimes surrounded, engulfed, by these explosions of emotion, left sometimes a little disoriented, in my head and also in my heart. Such intensity of feelings. I need time to get my bearings. And then another wave comes.

In Lebanon people have seen horrors I can't even imagine. And their resilience is incredible. Someone was explaining to me the meaning of the Lebanese flag: red for the blood shed, white for the snow on the mountains, and a beautiful cedar tree, to symbolize resilience.

Sometimes I feel like a winy little kid who needs to get tough, so I get to play with the older kids. Or a naive little girl, who hasn't lived. My sorrows seems small. My concerns sometimes petty. What do you say when someone shares an experience? I haven't found the words. I just listen.

I have encountered in Lebanon a pride I have not seen often. A desire to survive and prosper, no matter what. And all these feelings too, on the surface, ready to explode, with just a scratch...

How do you keep your sanity, how do you cope? With explosions. Explosions of fireworks, parties, love, food, abundance, joie de vivre, intensity, intensity, intensity. To feel alive. To feel something.

martes, 21 de septiembre de 2010

The "right kind"

I am very pleased to find out that some Lebanese people are reading my blog. I even found out that one of my blog posts inspired another blogger to write something about kindness and how some think Lebanese are only kind to the right kind of people.

The "right kind" is a fascinating (not to say delusional) concept that human beings have developed to refer to the people that a) look like them or b) they wish they looked like them (i.e. we all agree Cristiano Ronaldo and Angelina Jolie are the right kind no matter what we look like).

Jokes aside, I have heard from my Lebanese friends and also from expats that there is a widespread racism among Lebanese against the "wrong kind": domestic workers, people who from South East Asia and people from African descent. Like a cast system. You look a certain way, you are not allowed some places, you are discriminated upon, you are treated like a second class citizen.

To comment on the topic, I want to highlight that in Mexico we have the same thing for anyone who isn't fair skinned, so the Lebanese are not really innovating here. And to be fair, this racism is not particular to the Lebanese or to Mexicans. Just ask a Muslim woman in France how she is feeling right now...

What I want to point out to in this blog is how ridiculous, subjective, and completely detached from reality the whole "right" and "wrong" kind is. To me, these categories are just the visible symptoms of the absolute insecurity and sense of worthlessness of the ones who made them (i.e. I make you little because I feel little). Plus, this putting people in categories business can make anyone go bananas, just by travelling across the world... No matter where I go, there will always be a wrong kind... But I was actually very surprised when I moved to Lebanon and suddenly became the "right kind" after living in the United States and being the wrong kind for years (I am a dark-haired-darkish-skinned Mexican).

What changed? I kept asking... Did I loose weight?? Is it my new haircut?? I am still wondering...

On a personal note, I can only say that this was a lesson for me to stop thinking about what people think of me. Who cares if they think I am the right or wrong kind anyways??

And on a humankind note, I would like to add that we, as people, should stop being so effing shallow. People look the way they look. I can't certainly help looking the way I look. Can you?
I invite us to just get over ourselves and focus on far more productive discussions. Such as: if you see someone being discriminated upon in Lebanon, or elsewhere, don't keep your mouth shut. It could be you next time...

miércoles, 15 de septiembre de 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

There is something very intriguing about hospitality in Lebanon. I mean hospitality here is taken to a whole different level.

I am sure I could do a historical, sociological, or psychological analysis of the whole thing, but I really don't feel like it. I have been doing way too much reading today. So I will just stick to my experience this time.

Since I got to Lebanon I have been surrounded my random acts of kindness. Here are some examples:
I am sitting outside of the building where my yoga class takes place. I am reading a book, standing by the door. The concierge approaches me and offers me to come in and seat on his chair. When I do this, he brings me a coffee. Then he leaves (this is without words, I don’t speak his language, he doesn’t speak mine).

Other examples: I am in a taxi; the driver doesn't have any change. He tells me I can leave, without paying (impossible scenario in NYC!). I am in another taxi, the driver asks me if I am comfortable, and whether I prefer window or AC (yeah right Boston cabs). I am out with friends, someone pays for my whole meal without me even knowing the person that well. When I offer to pay the person categorically refuses. I am in the street, waiting for a cab, next to a guy who is waiting for a cab too. A cab comes, he doesn’t take it but lets me go instead and helps me negotiate a price… I can go on.

The most interesting part is my reaction to the whole thing: first mistrust kicks in ("what do you want from me?"). Second, paranoia ("Am I about to get robbed?"). Third comes skepticism ('yeah, how much is THAT going to cost?"). Then comes doubt ("Naaaah, this is not right. Am I being too naive?"). Finally, vanity ("Is this guy hitting on me?")

When I think about it, I realize that I have become so accustomed to look out for myself that I find it difficult to accept with an open heart these random acts of kindness. Could it be that people are just being kind? Could it be that I could just stop "being careful" without fearing for my life?

I feel the barrier dissolve and me accepting this kindness. Then I get scared and I put it right back up. Then I relax, then it comes up...

But I can't simply ignore the fact that in Lebanon people are just incredibly welcoming and warm, regardless of what goes on in my head.

jueves, 9 de septiembre de 2010


I have found that as I get older, my ability to tolerate uncertainty diminishes. I want to know what the plan is, how long the trip will take, the time when we are having lunch, exactly how much is left in the bank account, stuff like that (my lovely husband made a little song for me called "OCD" recently).

In Lebanon, there is a high degree of tolerance for uncertainty, though. Or so it seems for someone who lived in boston for 6 years. There is a "we'll know when we get there" kind of mentality. In Mexico, this is called the "alli se va" or the "cuando lleguemos a ese puente lo cruzamos" mindset.

Recenlty, this was perfectly exemplified for me around a particular holiday. I was happily PLANNING my week on Monday, when a colleague brought to my attention that we would have a free day either Thursday or Friday. When I asked her what this depended on she answered with a perfectly serious face "it depends on the moon".
I wasn't expecting that one.

So, on Wednedsay night, around 9 pm, I get a text from my buddy from HR telling me that the free day was Friday, not Thursday. The message was appended with a "PS: pass the message along".

A gazillion questions came to mind such as how can you plan a vacation?, what happenes if you didn't get the text? If you show up and the office is closed? etc.

But now when I think about it (and as I prepare to take my long weekend!), ultimately this "uncertainty" didn't matter. No natural disaster. No tragedy. No major loss of any kind. I just couldn't plan my week. I just had to show up to work on Thursday...

On a side note: I must confess my absolute and total ignorance on the determination of muslim holidays, that do depend on moon cycles. Thanks to my knowledgeable colleague from work, I am better prepared for this next time. Here is a link if you want to find out more about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_calendar

domingo, 5 de septiembre de 2010


I had never lived in a place where religion was so ever present. For example, I was walking in the mall the other day, and when I looked at the store directory, I noticed there was a Praying Room. In the mall. From my office you can see the blue dome of a gorgeous mosque. In Hamra, men seating in the street corners gently pass their beads through their fingers. And when I walk around Achrafieh, on the Christian side, I see churches all over, cemeteries with huge marble angels, schools and parks named after saints and all this to the sound of bells ringing…

This is the month of Ramadan. During the scorching sun and heat of August some colleagues choose not to eat and drink the whole day. To be reminded of what’s sacred for them. Stores close, people take leave from work… It creates a very special atmosphere.

I must say my absolute favorite is the Call to Prayer. Every day, 5 times a day, the beautiful voice of the muezzin (the man whose voice leads the call) reminds you to pray.

Fajr, between dawn and sunrise.

Zuhr, just after the height of the midday sun.

Asr in the afternoon.

Maghrib, just after sunset.

Isha during the evening.

In Beirut, I am reminded of where the sun is everyday, and also, I am reminded that there is something much bigger than me and my mundane activities. And I can’t help but feeling grateful for being here and being reminded. It definitely puts things in perspective.

Where the streets have no name

After having lived in and visited cities around the world, I can argue that the layout of a city is a good representation of not only the personality of the place, but also the personality of the people who live in it.

And to find your way around Beirut, you just can’t use the same strategy you would use in any other city in the world. Way finding in Beirut is an art that requires observation, memory and creativity. It is spontaneous. Unpredictable.

A sign on the street corner will give you absolutely no clue as of where you are (unless you have memorized the numbers of the city sectors). And many times, the streets have no name at all. And houses sometimes have no numbers either.

“How do you find your way around Beirut?” you might ask yourself.

Through landmarks.

So naturally, streets have no name, but buildings do. In a system where you find your way through landmarks, this makes perfect sense.

“Take a right at Chilli’s, then go down, in the corner you will see a hair salon, then take a left and I am in the So and So building, next to the pharmacy” told me a friend when he invited me to his place.

“Drop me by the Starbucks in Hamra” you will tell the cab driver.

When I first got here, I was quite puzzled. “This can’t work, this is a mess!” I told myself. But then in conversation with a very wise Lebanese friend, everything became clear.

She said “ You see, in America, you are in your car, you have your map, you find your way by yourself. In Beirut, you have to ask people. So we have to talk to others, because we need each other. It forces us to talk”.

A place that forces you to talk to others. How beautiful is that?