It’s a daunting task, blogging. What’s the point of it, really? Keeping a diary? Then why make it public?And if you make it private, then why not keep a diary? What makes us different as bloggers is what makes us different as people, I suppose. I’ll be telling what story there is to tell for myself, because it needs to be told someday and today is as good a day as any, and for anyone who would like to embark on this journey by my side and help me get to the end of it.
Like every journey, this will begin at one.
I touched down at the Rafic Harriri International Airport on June 14, 2006, my off-white hijab wrapped reliably around my head the same way it had been when I’d taken to the skies from JFK the day before. My flight from Queens, connecting in Geneva and landing here, was my first international flight and most certainly my longest. The arrival was all so textbook, in retrospect, the way that day played out, perhaps the only textbook day I’ve ever had living in Lebanon:
A veritable entourage composed of my father’s family crowded at the arrivals gate with a bouquet of flowers waiting for us, grins plastered from ear to ear on sweaty, suntanned faces; stepping out of the airport into the smutty late afternoon air, so different in Beirut than in Brooklyn; the drive in an oldish Mercedes-Benz to my grandparents’ apartment on the eighth floor of a building in Salim Sleim; cousins, aunts, uncles, my grandparents not themselves there because they only stayed there in the winter, KFC, perspiration, my stupid swollen right eyelid which I only now remember in vivid detail that to this day makes its home in my face about once a year when I am particularly stressed; finally(!), a shower in an unused bathroom, feeling human again, kicking out the company, resting my unwrapped head on an unfamiliar pillow (the left one in the bedroom that always smelled of dust until the very last time I was in there, last October, and where I’m sure I will never step foot again).
Early the next morning was gray and calm and I was jetlagged. There was a tiny square of balcony in that bedroom where laundry was hung and you could see your little polygon of Beirut, framed by the backs of other twelve-or-less-storey residential buildings with their balconies and laundry lines and potted plants. I woke up and stepped out onto the balcony.
I’d found out less than a month before that we would be going to Lebanon to stay. I don’t think my parents would have told me or my siblings this decision had I not overheard them speaking about it in the kitchen the month prior.
My first morning here. Even now I remember that thought verbatim. It was the first day of the rest of my life and despite the tears and dread and hugs goodbye and letters from friends and gifts goodbye, this would work because Baba promised it would work. Perhaps I really would feel at home here in Lebanon, surrounded by family, not singled out because of my religion and dress the way I had been in a post-9/11 New York. Come to think, though, I didn’t experience that very much, or at least not that I can remember. Possibly because I didn’t become mhajabe until I was 10, probably because my parents liked sheltering me from that and I went to an Islamic school to boot. I remember experiencing profiling (is that really the word? How odd to think of it as applied to myself) only twice of note: when I was getting my passport earlier in the year and I had to give an explanation, in writing, as to why I wore a hijab, and the second when I was at JFK passing through the security checkpoints.
But in Brooklyn I had always had an affinity for areas like Bay Ridge with a denser Arab/Muslim population, where you could buy cheesies on the way to the beach (which really is what we called mana’eesh) and Arabic sweets and halal Chinese takeout and hijabs and abayas. So though I had never been to Lebanon before, I must have experienced it in some shape or form with the way my parents had raised me until that point.
The air wasn’t even hot yet. It really was very early. Nevertheless, I decided to get the ball rolling and start my day.
For some reason, only now do I remember the World Cup flags flying all over town.