From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lebanon Won't Let Me Go

Here's (probably) my LAST POST before returning to the States. It was fitting that yesterday was an INCREDIBLE day in Beirut. It started with turning in an awesome final portfolio, and checking my final grades: A in الفصحى , or modern standard Arabic, and A+ in عامية, or Lebanese dialect. Just thought I should brag, because I did absolutely work the bum off here to learn and do well. After taking a deep breath and finishing my last course, I walked down to LAU's lower gate, where I climbed into a black Cadillac with tinted windows and drove to a fancy Lebanese restaurant for more lunch than I could handle. Okay, background story. Dr. Nancy Jabbra, Chair of the Women's Studies Department at Loyola Marymount, is the wife of Dr. Joseph Jabbra, President of Lebanese American University, where, you guessed it, I have been studying for the past six weeks. She was the one who alerted me to the existence of a "fantastic program" called SINARC, so she's technically the reason I am here. Every summer she flies to Beirut and receives queen treatment, as the president's wife. So knowing her, and being "her girl in Beirut," I got the perks on my last Thursday. I thought we'd take a sleezy service (public taxi) ride to a diner. Nope. The Cadillac was driven by two 6'3'' Lebanese bodyguards with baldheads and sunglasses. They escorted us everywhere, and she paid for everything, making sure to smile manically when I took any bite. "I am a true Lebanese; I like to see Americans eat our food," she said. She's totally Caucasian, but it was a complete princess lunch. Next, I met my الفصحى professor, Maha Demashkie, at LAU's upper gate. She walked me to her 6th floor Beirut apartment, where my 25 classmates and I treated ourselves to lounging amid plush yellow sofas, chandeliers, ice cream (booza!), lemonade, and Arabic dancing. I had a fantastic time winding down the six weeks with my peers, and I am not exaggerating when I say my professor is made of sugar. She is forty-six with two married sons, but looks like a thirty-year-old beauty queen. She is patient, goofy, motivated, and has an incredible heart. I can never repay her help and generosity. Shkran Kteer ya Ustethe! (Thank you so much, professor)

Six or seven of us took a slow walk back to the other side of West Beirut, where I returned to my apartment, brushed my hair, and hurried downstairs again, to pile into a service to Gemayzeh, the affluent night-club street in Beirut.

At Glass Cafe, Gemazyeh, I had a night that made me never want to leave Lebanon. 20 of my Sinarkies sat at a long rectangular table right in front of a drum and an aoud player, who entertained us for four hours straight with Arabic music, from Fairouz to Mabrouk (you'll have to check out the videos on facebook to know what I'm talking about).

Oh, but that's just a portion.

We all danced. Before a full room of joyful, smoking Lebanese, the American tourists danced to the trills and cries of the aoud. I had more fun than I had ever had in Lebanon, and perhaps in Spain, and perhaps in the USA. NO JOKE. In the meantime our table was full of--yeah, see above--fatoosh, kibbeh, hommos, babaganoosh, khubz arabiye, khudra (vegetables)--a bunch of things I hadn't the stomach to be able to eat because of my face-stuffing day, but ate anyway, because it was my last party night in Lebanon.

Friday (the day of this blog post), I woke up early to sulk to class one more time, sad I had finally fallen in love with Lebanon and was set to leave. It's always the music and dance that does it. Now, I'm off to do some last minute shopping, pack, read about tomorrow's destination (LONDON), and sleep as much as possible before my 4:00am flight to Heathrow. Which is Heather + ow. So this is bound to be a great final weekend.

Then--you guessed it--Monday 6:45pm I return to a little ole place called

You know, I think I've done it good.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Chaotic Mind Bids Goodbye

Things. are. happening. I'm going back to the States. We're moving to Oregon. One of my best friend's younger sisters died, and so did Dave Donlon, my cousins' grandpa on the other side. To abruptly change the mood, I picked a major I don't like at LMU, and now that I'm graduating I'm getting a lot of couldas picking at my brain. What the heck do I want to do after I graduate? My heart and mind are utterly conflicted on this point. I'm drowning in Arabic, last minute gift buying, and Lord of the Rings, the only English book I brought with me, which I foolishly left til this week to read and am now trying desperately to finish so I don't lug it to London. Oh yeah, I'm going to London. That too. Just two days, but this city has captured my heart without my ever seeing it...obviously I'm ecstatic.

Anyway, good luck comprehending all that. I certainly can't. So in effort to somehow process all this elation, sadness, confusion, screaming, dancing, numbness, I'm turning this post into a journal-like collection of thoughts, which the unfortunate reader will have to dig her way through, though I hope it's worth it.

First, the move. Came as a surprise. One day my mom sent me an email, "I'm in Oregon right now. Was offered a job. Gonna seriously consider moving this weekend. Have to talk to you about it."


It's cheaper there, and my mom would be better paid, and better able to provide for us. It's also closer to Jeanine and Teddy, my mom's sisters (and my crazy aunts), which is a support system my mom needs, as I cut the umbilical chord more and more. Those are the major reasons, I believe.

The dealio is that I had exploded my image as the California girl while abroad...I began to realize SoCal has my heart and some of my identity. And then I suddenly we're leaving. Somehow I knew it was necessary. With me going globe crazy and financial issues in our family, living in the single most expensive region in the US just won't fly.

This move thing, I think, is a metaphor for everything else: all good things come to an end. Study abroad, college, romance, life. Did I think I could avoid it? I accepted depression as a possibility upon leaving; why am I so reluctant to pass through all of this, knowing full well it would hit me?

Trinity, I don't know if you're reading this. With what's happening to you now, I doubt it. But this is for you. My thoughts are with you. I love you very much, and pray for your strength through this difficult time.

As to abroad ending, the strongest feeling at this point is, as I have said, elation. It's a temporary joy, for sure...but the thought of passing through customs at LAX, hugging my dog, finally seeing people I love, eating food without fear of indigestion...these things make me shiver in my pants. It's funny, I mentioned this to a fellow Sinarky (cute name eh), who said, "Oh yeah. Well, that will last a couple weeks. Then you'll be wanting to leave again. Sorry, but that's how it works."

I believe him.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Hike of My Life...and a Giddy Top Fifteen

My apologies for not blogging; it seems that when life is at its fullest, I haven't the time to breathe. Such has been the case these past 3 weeks. And when I do have time to "stop and look around," as Ferris Bueller pleaded, I don't want to breathe, I want to sleep. And even cry, deep down. Okay, time to revive the mood of this post.

Here I am at an overpriced Italian place with Wifi on Hamra street. Ibamos a explorar Downtown Beirut today, but I was the only SINARC student to show up at the lower gates of the university at 8:30 this morning (after a night returning at 2:00am, thank you very much), so they canceled the trip. Actually, I have liked today, and the relaxation it provided...including reading Lord of the Rings, which I brought to Spain six months ago in hopes of finishing it there. Oops; I have just reached the flee to Helm's Deep. I fully intend on finishing it before my Aug 1 return....I also have the chance to blog! Which will include a description of the highlight of Lebanon, for me, so far: the hike up El-Rahal!

So our weekend excursion on July 11-13 involved a small group--the 15 of us who elected not to go to Syria that weekend (out of 100 total SINARC students), all comfortably spread through an air-conditioned bus, driving to Tripoli on Saturday, and staying in the cedar "forest" Saturday night and Sunday. Tripoli was, sorry, forgettable. It was Beirut but less organized and more poor, though I did enjoy the sweeping boat ride through the island chain off the coast of the city. But that evening we drove up and up until we reached the scanty cedar forest at the base of a rim of snowy mountains. It was at first painful entering the region. Of a once cedar-covered country, which even sports the tree on its national flag, the three-square-mile circle of magnificent trees is all that is left in Lebanon. I found myself reminscing of Maui, Gaelic, the Amazon, perhaps even Euskera--all the tidbits I have come across that may soon disappear forever. But after a relaxing walk to the top of the circle, where I swear there was no sound at all, and the sunset was taunting me through the pine scent, I forgot the sadness. 'Twas almost as fantastic as the French Pyrenees :).

(Interlude...Bing Crosby's "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" definitely just started blasting at this Italian restaurant in Beirut. In July. I love this country.)

We stayed a night at a simple wooden hotel five minutes from the forest, receiving a free five-course Lebanese dinner and breakfast, and woke early to take the rickety ski lift halfway up the third highest peak in Lebanon, El-Rahal, to reach the summit, we crossed through a snow drift. Arg, California girls don't do snow drifts. I remember one time I tried in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, with my super-skiing cousing Jill, and she couldn't stop laughing at my knack for slipping. This time around, my butt hit the ice seven times. We next trekked through a few hundred meters of bee territory, where random brush with purple flowers attracts all the stingers in the area. This was my least favorite part. I haven't been stung and intend to keep in that way. We finally summited after struggling up a loose, rocky slope, which an Italian named Filippe had to tow me up, basically. At the top, a human-sized, simple wooden cross was waiting for us, along with a view of almost the entire country (I got a great pic; Pido paciencia con el upload). The only thing that ruined the moment was an ill-timed "We hiked all this way to see a cross?" remark, from a skeptical Muslim.

Let it be sung through New Zealand, Mongolia and Scotland: I am in love with you, nature, and intend to get to know you better, In Shah Allah.

Here comes the million-dollar writing moment: I am less than 3 weeks from home. You can expect a dazzling report of my 2-day layover in London, where I will be meeting Marie-Helene, a SanSe Erasmus friend from Quebec, who magically happens to be in the most expensive city in the world on the same weekend. To be honest, however, I'd be just as happy flying straight home. It is time. I don't know why I'm so dead-set on exploring Peace Corps Jordan/Morocco options after college, cuz they stay away 2 years, and 6 months was hard (and fantastic) enough. In hand-wringing anticipation, and the resigned knowledge that after 2 weeks in good ole Ventura I'll be itching for el exterior again, I announce the

Top 15 things I'm excited to do upon returning home:

15...hear American English everywhere. Ouch, how easy it will be; I can't wait. horrid processed food, like oreos, Kraft cheddar singles, and Ritz crackers with cheese.
13...learn to cook a Spanish tortilla, Lebanese Fatoush, and Hawaiian pizza, in my parents' kitchen.
12...stuff my face with frozen yogurt, at Joe's across the street from my parents' house, and at Penguin's once school starts.
11...renew my wardrobe with help from Salvation Army, Oxfam Fair Trade Store, Goodwill, and other (infrequent) places where not everything's made in China.
10...embrace my doggie. I can just see her elated confusion when I greet her in the car at the airport. WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?? Sorry Kix! some of the Pacific Coast Highway with my dad. Just a small bit. No hills or traffic. HA, yeah, that's possible.

8...bother the my fellow Ventura LMU friends, Katie and Liz Manning, at Barnes and Noble, where I wanted to work, and they got the jobs. No hard feelings REALLY. ;) And that's why I'll be bothering them. Also because I like them.
7...walk the Camarillo trails with the Lower sisters. I recalled my first time doing this on the hike up El-Rahal. Okay, so Camarillo's not as exciting as a cedar forest, but those Lowers make everything a party in Narnia!
6...have some long-awaited phone conversations with incredible people (Joey, Alex, Derek, Ohemaah: beware).
5...have a pizza/movie night with my best friend. Already set for August 5. We will be making cookie dough and drowning of gab in her pool.
4...make an Erasmus poster, full of pictures of me with my favorite Europeans, to put in my dorm room in the fall. Countdown to senior year: 6 weeks!
3...continue surfing in my native land (with my birthday present: a longboard).
2...turn 21 and celebrate it with a family boat ride, a trip to an Irish pub, and some salsa dancing.
1...plan my next trip to Spain! Possibly as an English teaching assistant, or student at University of Granada? With Molly? We'll see...

I'm off to find a new cafe on Hamra, and then to go to sleep very, very early, after a couple hours of studying. Asalam Alaykum; Peace be upon you!