How I finally got it

She had this Nigella Lawson thing going for her, but not as posh and a little angrier. It was sexy. She had breasts like marshmallow.

She kissed like a vacuum cleaner and it was so bad it was funny. She kissed like a teenager with middle-aged lady lipstick.

Her engorged clitoris looked like a flower. When I told her that, she laughed and said she was glad I was a vegetarian, because it made me sweet.

When we were done and she was playing with my curly hair, she was glowing and I was smiling until forever.

That’s when it hit me, that’s when I finally understood the stupid proud smile I had seen men smile before. I got it now. How absolutely great it feels. To make a woman squirm in delight.

Advertisements

The man with freckles

This place you say you love so much, it’s honey, you say.

Stars, incense, sunshine sweet like honey, you say.

This dream you think you know,

How does it end?

 

You say nectar, and you say lust. Sweet mediterranean honey.

How you mix Beirut, Sanaa and Tangier. All the same isn’t it, honey?

Jasmine and AK-47, you make a place I’d love to see!

So many thing you say you see, but sometimes it’s like you don’t see me 😦

 

You do fantasize me well but I don’t care for myrrh or mint tea.

Agraba is not real, I’m real!

I’m eating pasta, not spices nor honey, and I’m waiting.

 

I’m waiting for the stories to end, for your Arabia to die.

For the novelty to fade out, for clichés to run dry.

I should have left long ago but I’m waiting.

 

Miss G.

Nous nous sommes rencontrées un peu par hasard, surtout par erreur. Je n’aurais jamais du postuler à ce poste, Miss G. n’aurait jamais du m’engager, mais voilà, ce genre de choses arrive, et c’est comme ça que je me suis retrouvée employée dans une institution financière…ça a duré un mois.

Un mois entier dans un bureau où il ne faut pas de mettre de jeans, un « vrai travail » comme dit ma mère, et comme j’en ai rarement eu par la suite. A imprimer chaque email et à les classer dans de grands classeurs qui iront récolter la poussière dans de grandes armoires…parce que Miss G a peur de perdre ses emails. Un mois à faire des photocopies de pubs de magazines et à les ranger dans d’autres grands classeurs a coté des magazines eux-mêmes au cas où Miss G voudrait revoir l’original.

Miss G et moi, on se serait jamais comprises de toute façon. Elle refusait d’appeler ses collègues par leurs prénoms, regrettait le temps des secrétaires sténos-dactylo et détestait devoir composer ses emails elle même. C’est pour ça que quand je ne faisais pas de photocopies, je l’aidais à rédiger ses mails. Elle aimait réfléchir à haute voix avant de décider quelle tournure de phrase serait plus convenable, et me regardait de travers quand je n’avais aucun avis sur la question. La boite venait de se faire acheter par une société étrangère et il fallait faire bonne impression face aux nouveaux directeurs! Elle voulait même que je réponde au téléphone mais je n’ai jamais appris à transférer les appels et Miss G a du se résoudre à répondre elle même quand elle en a eu marre que je raccroche au nez des gens.

Oui j’ai très vite décidé qu’on ne pourra n’aurait jamais s’entendre. De toute façon, j’étais beaucoup trop prétentieuse à l’époque, du haut de mes 22 ans. En fait je n’ai pas fait grand-chose la bas. J’ai du passer 4 semaines à imaginer l’ébauche d’une idée de roman (comme il y aura des douzaines dans les années a venir) et, sous prétexte d’analyser des stratégies de comm en ligne, je profitais de l’un des seuls ordinateurs de la compagnie à avoir accès aux réseaux sociaux. Le reste du temps, c’est Miss G qui l’envahissait. Elle posait des questions auxquelles je ne savais jamais répondre, me donnait à lire de la paperasse toute moite tellement elle aimait abuser des marqueurs roses et jaunes pour surligner de paragraphes entiers. Elle se méfiait d’Internet et quand, prise d’un accès d’ambition professionnelle passager, j’ai proposé un plan de restructuration des activités numériques (avec présentation Powerpoint imprimée et surlignée) elle m’a conseillé avec un sourire condescendant de mon concentrer sur des choses “sérieuses”.

Je ne voyais que des habitudes de dinosaures dans une entreprise calcifiée par une bureaucratie étriquées et un paternalisme de la variété la plus idiote. Ce que j’oubliais de remarquer, c’était que Miss G. était la seule femme de la compagnie à avoir son propre bureau et un poste de direction élevé, mais comme je me noyais dans la paperasse à imprimer et à photocopier et à classer dans les classeurs, je ne voyais rien de plus que son verni à ongle marron et moche.

J’ai présenté ma démission après 2 semaines de travail, ça l’a beaucoup choqué, elle qui n’était que détermination pour le meilleur et pour le pire. Elle m’a demandé de rester 2 semaines de plus pour réfléchir à ma décision et j’ai immédiatement regretté d’avoir dit oui. Quand, cette période écoulée, j’ai confirmé que je quittais, elle m’a dit que plus tard je regretterais.

Miss G, je ne regrette vraiment pas d’être partie mais je regrette un peu mon manque d’intérêt pour votre personne. Le reste de mon parcours professionnel s’est déroulé dans des environnements autrement plus paritaires, que cette compagnie débile mais j’ai quand même trouvé peu de femmes qui ont su s’imposer comme vous. J’aurais du poser des questions, demander comment vous avez fait, et, en échange, j’aurais pu faire des efforts pour vous apprendre à aimer l’informatique…tant pis.

Havana rum rum rum

Havana, March 2015, the Yankees are coming! In a few month the American embassy in Cuba will raise the Stars and Stripe, restrictions will be lifted and the cruise ships will anchor!

Well… not quite. At the time of writing, CNN tells me that “Travellers should be able to show their visit helped the Cuban people or had an educational component to it.” So grant money first AND THEN unbridled wild tourists spending green gringo dollars…

The Canadians have been coming for years, in grand resorts where reception can book you tickets to see the Buena Vista Social Club Show. The Europeans are here too, mostly Germans and French, but I’m pretty sure that it’s because of Americans that I see renovation works all over the city.

So anyway, it’s 2015 in Havana, the Americans are coming and Carmen doesn’t care. It’s all good as long as there is rum, as long as she can dance in her kitchen at 3am with her boyfriend the dance instructor, as long as her swollen arthritic knuckles can still hold the cigarettes she chain-smokes all day long. All day long, every day, always a celebration.

It’s women’s day today and she explains that the government makes a big deal out of any random holiday because that’s how you keep people busy. Flowers will be distributed to women on the streets, speeches will be made for the women of the revolution and socialist gloriousness will ooze off every word. Whatever, Carmen has seen it all and she doesn’t care. Her boyfriend doesn’t need a special day to go down on her and celebrate the phenomenal woman that she is right there on the living room floor. We know because we almost walked in on them one night as we left our room to get a glass of water…

Carmen has been renting out rooms in her casa particular for decades. Even before 1997, when it was still illegal, she just had to tell her guests to stay away from the balcony so the neighbours wouldn’t denounce her.  You do what you have to do and you keep going. Glorious Carmen, the more she drinks, the louder she gets, announcing she would have been a billionaire in a capitalist system! Let the yankees come and she’ll show them!!

We just got back from an evening of touristy exploration and she’s just getting started. Her guy, the one who never spends the night but always seems to be around, gets another bottle from the fridge; he tells her she smokes too much and makes us coffee as we listen to Carmen’s random stories. Occasionally, she remembers to slow down to make sure I understand everything because I’m the only one who’s not fluent in Spanish.

There’s no place like Cuba she tells us, she’s been to Italy where he daughter lives, ridiculous place! People don’t know how to party there. It’s was someone’s birthday, they cut a cake, had some wine and by 11pm people kissed goodbye, wished another Auguri and all went home!!! That’s so wrong and so sad! In Havana, Carmen tells us there’s always music, always good cheer, always another drink. Best schools in the world, top notch healthcare; It’s all good, nobody starves in Cuba, and there’s work for those who want to work. Even the government is getting better. Carmen doesn’t mind communism, it’s not as bad as religion. She can’t stand the catholics with their crosses, and distrusts the Santeria crowd with their dolls and their colourful pearls, but she’ll do business with all of them, with Jews and Muslims too she adds looking in my direction. Carmen doesn’t mind. Carmen doesn’t care, Carmen’s had a good life she tells us.

Now capitalism is coming and maybe she’ll see something new. If Cuba goes capitalist then she will be a billionaire because she’s smart and nobody can fool her. That’s why she has nicer curtains than her neighbours, that’s why she got new furniture last year. And if it doesn’t work out? If Raúl Castro is leading them straight to hell by shaking hand with the devil? well Carmen says she’ll just sell her curtains and buy another bottle of rum, then go dancing with her guy at the neighbourhood social club.

Doing nothing: The lost art of a lazy afternoon.

I’ve spent endless days perfecting imaginary conversations with strangers. Having real adventures with a book so good I forget to see people for a whole weekend. I’m a lazy woman with a lazy life and that’s how I like it.

People don’t seem to get it when I’m basking in glorious idleness.

I hate pretending I’m doing things. People think I’m busy because I don’t go to brunch with them, then get upset to find me in a coffee shop reading a book instead. Silly people. I never said I was busy, what I want is to stay un-busy! I don’t want to commit, not even to brunch. Especially not brunch.

I want to preach the happiness of walking out the door with no plans, the special delight of owning your afternoon!

Go to the movies alone, take notebooks and a laptop to your favourite cafe if it helps overcome the weirdness as you sit and stare at people. Let a frothy cloud of blankness gently massage your brain cells. Embrace the adventure of idleness and let yourself daydream to endless possibilities.

I miss summers when I was a teenager and nobody expected me to do anything anyway.

I miss that brief moment in time, somewhere in Tabarja, in the late 90’s on a Sunday afternoon. I was still learning how to befriend hangovers with huevos rancheros and beer at noon in one of those ugly chalet-complexes built like a pox on the Lebanese coastline. I didn’t know there would come a time where I’d miss my polluted Mediterranean so, instead of enjoying the beach, my friend and I wore flip-flops and crossed the road to the cyber café.

I’m not sure how we started going there, or why even. Maybe for the weed, or to meet that guy she was seeing without her parents knowing. Maybe he had the weed and that’s why the parents didn’t like him. Anyway…. It was one of my first ventures out of the boring greyness of school and family where nothing interesting ever happened! In that joyful microcosm of useless Sunday afternoons, I discovered my thirst for other people’s lives.

It’s a shame I was so shy, I could have had some nice chats but instead I sat in a corner, terrified every time people came my way because that meant I actually had to interact with them. The girl who worked there didn’t seem to mind my mutism and in between naps she’d sit next to me to smoke cigarettes and tell me about her other job doing night shifts as a nurse in the nearby hospital. Basically it was shit pay and crap hours so every now and then she’d get me to help edit her CV so she could apply for nursing jobs in the UAE. Her boyfriend would sometimes visit, he wanted to go to the UAE too and was always afraid she’d get a job there and leave him behind. Occasionally they’d fight.

The cyber café was really more cyber than café. Just a room with long rows of desks and old computer laboriously connected to the wild wild west that was the web back then. People didn’t have laptops so we’d all have to use the same sticky keyboards with piece of cheese puffs stuck between the keys, making sure we avoid the weird stains on the space bar. Armies of loud scrawny boys would come together to play those violent networked games boys like to play. They kept running next door to buy supplies of snacks and drinks and always got yelled at. If the door was closed and the AC was on, the kids got told off for letting the heat in. If the door was open and a kid slammed it shut on his way back in, he’d be cursed till eternity for wanting us to choke in cigarette smoke.

The place was a fucking cancer aquarium alright. Everyone over the age of 14 chain-smoked. Especially me, mostly as a way to fight social anxiety. The older teenagers at the café smoked as they typed away dramatic love stories on MSN, all of them lucky Casanovas virtually dating tall thin hot blondes in Canada or Sweden. There was also my friend and her guy, occasionally disappearing for hours. Sometimes, a taxi driver would come in for his afternoon break, a sweaty stressed man who smoked Viceroys, He’d take a computer at the very back of the room, near a corner so he could enjoy his porn in peace. Outside, also smoking cigarettes, there was a guy and his guitar who was waiting to become a star. Even back then I think we all knew he’d make it, he had that glow. Sometimes he sang, once or twice he tried (hopelessly) to teach me a few chords. Most of the time he just played and smoked.

The nice thing was that I didn’t have to pretend I was busy or doing anything. Nobody questioned my right to just sit there and look around and even if we never spoke much, that’s exactly why I liked everyone there. We were all just there, getting through Sunday afternoon, and that was bliss.

In transit, washed ashore

A few months ago, Europe noticed people taking the most perilous of roads towards the hope of something better because it couldn’t be worse; embarking on crazy journeys because staying would be crazier still. Tiny bodies washed ashore, families facing closing borders when only death is waiting back home. It has brought up the best of humanity in beautiful acts of solidarity, but also sometimes, the worst of the worst in idiots with their fantasies of inbred nations.

They deserve so much better. All those students and doctors and carpenters and musicians whose lives have been put on hold as the world pretends it was an unpreventable fatality. As if we didn’t know about barrel bombs; as if Asma al Assad hadn’t graced the pages of Vogue; as if peaceful protesters were ever given a fighting chance; as if Da’esh appeared out of nowhere and without warning.

Every time I see a face in the news, I can’t help wondering if it’s someone I know. A Syrian friend with whom I lost touch, someone I crossed paths with in Hamra 3 years ago, or maybe in an airport, somewhere in transit since their journey started so long ago, when the world wasn’t looking.

Spring 2012:

The sulking teenage sitting next to me on the Beirut-Cairo flight had the same name as me. I found out because her father, mother, grandparents and 3 little brothers kept trying to talk to her but she was insisting on being a sulking and decidedly unhelpful teen, despite the fact that her parents looked like they would really like to take a moment for themselves and have a good cry. Instead, they were shepherding the whole family away from hell. The adults looked so tired, so overwhelmed, the kids were being loud and had way too much energy, so she just decided to ignore her family.

Still, she was a teenager, excited and anxious about her first time on a plane! That made it hard to sulk too much, especially when the pilot turned on the engine and she started praying in whispers as she clicked on her Tasbeeh tally counter. A pink bedazzled child’s counter that matched her veil.

You were ignoring your parents but seemed happy enough to chat with me. You told me how you left Syria and how Lebanon only provided a short respite. You told me that Egypt will be better because it had to be. That you had visas and relatives in a town with a name you couldn’t remember. You were curious about everything, asked me where I was going, why I was travelling alone, and how old I was. I found the attention flattering but would have liked to hear more about you instead. You had little to say about Syria, said you hated politics and that was that.

During landing she panicked a bit, grabbed my hand and we laughed together but only for a moment. Back on solid ground, time was in motion again. Travellers grab their bags and must get going. The family had a long bus ride to their final destination, I was waiting for my connecting flight. I only had a small carry-on for a 3-day business trip, each member of your group had a big backpack and several carrier bags. Standing up, they all looked even more tired, even the kids appeared worried and thoughtful. This is when the father whispered a few words to his daughter who then asked me if I would like them to wait with me until my next flight. Now I was the one overwhelmed by his thoughtfullness when their own road was so hard. In contrast with their worries, their kindness, the ordeal they were not done facing, the burning uselessness of my own lightness felt like a hundred stabs in my gut.

Smile, say “no thank you”, say you’ll be fine. Wish them godspeed and be on your way.

Christmas 2013

I never saw man looking so exhausted, so ready to just shut down. Sitting behind me at the boarding gate, waiting for a flight to Beirut, I heard him repeat the same story again and again, at least 3 times in the span of the same phone call, trying unsuccessfully to end a never-ending conversation on the absurdity of passports. On the other end of the line, I imagined half a dozen relatives passing the phone around, all asking the same questions and hoping for a different answer. So he kept repeating:

He tried everything he could, there’s no point trying again.
They’re not letting Palestinians into Jordan.
He’s on his way back to Beirut, no he doesn’t have a plan.
He really wants a good night’s sleep and a shower, no he doesn’t have a plan.
He’s tired, he’ll talk to them when he sees them, back in Lebanon, he’s tired.

It’s a story easy enough to guess. He tried to enter Jordan but that’s not happening for Palestinians from Syria so he’s going back to Beirut. It’s a disappointment for the whole family waiting at the other end of the line.

Summer 2014

K is quite possibly the smartest young man I’ve met in a long time. He’s a fighter with the energy only young people can have and judgemental ruthlessness as a survival skill.
In a matter of months, he could speak Turkish fluently and didn’t understand why his fellow countrymen couldn’t.

He got a job and wonders why other Syrians are taking so long to adapt.
He’s already thinking of his next step and despises those who still dream of going back.
His mother and siblings also left and are scattered around the globe.
He is young enough to survive and can’t afford to empathise right now.

K says there’s nothing to go back to, if only his father didn’t cling to the dream of country and nation. His father who stayed in Damascus, alone in the big family apartment, eating frozen meals and watching state news on TV. This is the saddest part. He hates remembering that part.

At some point, between sips of beer and tequila shots on a Monday night in Istanbul, I thought I saw a little boy whose only wish is to be back home, at the family table, sitting with the people he loves. With a strangled sob he only said:

My relationship with my family is sponsored by Skype.

We’re still in touch, he’s thinking of hitting the road. He deserves so much better but the world sucks right now. They all deserve so much better than our inaction.

La vie est ailleurs

Selon Theda Skocpol, une révolution est “la combinaison d’une transformation culturelle profonde et d’un bouleversement de classe massif (Skocpol, 1979).

La Révolution. On n’y est pas encore mais il s’est passé quelque chose, un changement dans les mentalités, l’idée qu’un autre rapport de force est possible. Pas de gros bouleversement, pas encore, mais l’idée d’une possibilité c’est déjà énorme.

Il aura fallu que la pourriture se pointe aux portes de chacun, que l’odeur engouffre les cerveaux pour que le peuple se lève.

La mobilisation sociale pour occuper l’espace publique, les institutions, changer le système, c’est souvent et avant tout un jeu de hasard. Dans son étude de la révolution iranienne, Charles Kurzman souligne qu’au moment où ils choisissent de descendre dans la rue, les manifestants ne savent pas à l’avance s’ils seront nombreux ou seuls. La décision se fait dans un contexte d’incertitude, de rumeurs, de chuchotements. Oser s’exprimer, oser exister, c’est le premier obstacle à franchir dans un régime ou la structure isole et sépare les gens.

Bref, mademoiselle a des lettres. C’est que l’ai théorisé ad-nauseam ce matin du grand soir ! J’ai lu les livres, j’ai rédigé mes dissertations et, dans ce qui semble déjà être une autre vie, j’ai passé des heures, des nuits et des weekends a imaginer mon pays en mieux, a réfléchir a la méthode, a discuter comment et par qui!
Mais mes nuits d’étudiantes sont loin, moi aussi je suis loin du Liban, je suis ailleurs, dans un pays ou je ne suis pas non plus vraiment présente, et il y a de quoi se sentir bête. Je ne me sens exister nulle part.

Alors je tweete, je vis au fil des photos que mes amis partagent sur Facebook. Chacun apporte avec lui son dégout de la pourriture, dégout de la corruption, du racisme, de la bêtise, de la peur. Eux, ils sont sur place et debout sur la place qui leur appartient, ils sont beaux. Leurs slogans me font rire et je les partage avec d’autres qui eux aussi vivent leur Liban a distance imposée. J’attrape des bribes et je partage comme je peux et c’est tout.

Ca aussi c’est dans mes dissertations du temps ou je passais trop de temps dans des cafés! J’ai disséqué Charles Levinson qui voyait un mégaphone virtuel pour l’opposition dans la blogosphère égyptienne, j’ai bu d’innombrables études sur les samizdats et je pensais que ca me servirait, de savoir parler de media et de Révolution.

J’étais à Londres en 2011 et sur l’écran de mon laptop je voyais les arabes se réveiller. C’était l’Egypte, la Libye et la Tunisie ; même pour la Syrie nous avions eu de l’espoir.
J’étais à Londres et mes amis anglais, polonais et irakiens me demandaient « et le Liban ? ». Et le Liban quoi ? Et le Liban rien!
Je me rappelais une révolution manquée un lendemain de Saint Valentin et j’avais mal.

Trop de pourriture, de celle qui se cache derrière des déclarations idiotes, de la pourriture qui fait peur aux gens en brandissant le salut des chefs de guerre, de la pourriture à nettoyer de toute urgence. Ca pue tellement, on ne fais plus semblant d’être mieux que ce que l’on est et ça fait du bien. Il paraît que même la nature se révolte, qu’il y a une tempête de sable pour bien remuer les ordures, pour que personne n’ose oublier la merde qui s’engouffre dans nos narines. Et c’est horrible. Et ça fait du bien. Et il n’y a pas d’autre solution parce que le pire arrive de toute façon et il faut se réveiller. Jamais je n’ai autant eu hâte de rentrer chez moi.