Thursday, December 30, 2010

This is not a Love Blog

This is not a love blog, bye bye baby

"I keep on waiting, anticipating, but I can't wait forever
You say you love me, you're thinking of me, but we're never together"

A lot of times we relate to so much in songs because of the way they were written, the images they reflect and the feelings they express. Songwriters are people like you and I, going through experiences like ours. Some of them have the ability to express their feelings artistically, with so much eloquence and sensitivity. And others, express their feelings with simple yet sensational words. And that plays a string or two or even six in our hearts, depending on the experience itself.

And baby, I'm a songwriter myself and I love expressing myself, this time though, I'm not going to write a love song, or a song at all. I'm going to tell you in a blog how much I love you.

I have expressed my love for you over the past year in so many ways. The amount of love I have for you hurts, it might take an ordinary man, but with extraordinary commitment to deal with that kind of experience. And even though the "Wanting you" that turned into "Needing you" that became "Yearning for you" hurts so much, it's a privilege to live and enjoy that kind of pain. And I want to thank you for the experience because now, if I die, I have at least known the taste of true love with you, if you only knew what you are to me. Oh But you do.

It’s true; love doesn't know time and place. I fell in love with you right before I turned 36 and right after I gave up on the idea of being in love. Your love took me back to being 16. The thought of you, seeing you, hearing your voice and spending time together were the happiest moments of my life. Your love erased all the hurt and heartaches of previous relationships. I stand naked in front of you, and no matter how many layers of clothes I wear, your love sees right through me. I refuse to compromise the integrity of our relationship or be less than a 100% with you. I loved myself through your eyes. I felt that I was born to love you, and that gave me a better purpose in life. Nothing else really mattered.

I know that I'm romantic, but when you came into my life, I turned from being just romantic, into being a poet, an enchanter, a philosopher, a dreamer and a passionate lover. I wrote you songs and I sang them declaring my love for you on every page and every stage. I wrote down my philosophy and I loved the depth and dimensions you added to it. I dreamt of you day and night and I lived the dream and cherished it in my heart. I fell in love and I didn't want to resist any moment of it because it felt natural, it felt right and real.

And baby, you ….. you are the sexiest, most intelligent, passionate, bravest, purest and most beautiful soul ever existed on this earth. You make a difference, you touch lives, and you melt hearts and lighten darkness. I want to thank you but I don't think the words "Thank you" or "I love you"  are ever expressive enough to what and how I feel for you.

Please believe me when I say this, having to go separate ways is the most difficult, painful, brutal heartbreak I will probably ever experience, yet in my heart I know that it's the right thing to do. The only way left to keep that beautiful dream alive is to end what we have. I don't think my life would ever be the same again. And with all the tears and hesitation, it is what should happen now.

You taught me to love myself with your generous love. And that love for me is what's ending our relationship. I kneel down and pray for your well being, for your soul to find a mate, for the world to taste drops of your love and I, I will always love you.

Next time you fall in love, and I know and trust that you will, I just hope that you would let your man into your world the way I let you into mine, because the distance you kept me at, was just .....
 ........  pathetic

This is not a love blog, bye bye baby ...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jesus

Jesus, a Hispanic hunched back old man with one eye, rides his bike to and from work every day and smiles to everyone he passes by.



One day I sat down with him at the bank where I work, after observing him making deposits for his boss on daily basis for months. I was excited to finally have the opportunity to get to know him and ask him about his story and the secret of his happiness. He told me, in broken English and thick Spanish accent, a heartbreaking story that started with his dream of going back to school to improve his English language then to learn the real estate business. He wanted to help the hispanic community find and purchase houses to make them home. Jesus, a name that sounds like Hesoos, had a lot of difficulties in his youth and on top of dropping out of school at a very young age to work to support his family, he got involved in some tragic incidents that cost him losing his eye, which in turn, cost him the ability to drive a car and limited his work opportunities to either walking distances or biking and riding buses. And since the day has only 24 hours and there was only so much Jesus could do, his dreams were crashed.


Jesus not only smiles to you whenever your eyes meet, If you happen to be behind him entering any place, he would hold the door for you without waiting for your "thank you". If you happen to arrive at the same time, he would not walk in before you do. He says hello to everyone, people he knows and people he doesn't. But the cool thing about him, he doesn't wait for you to greet him back. He will say hello whether you will meet his salute with kindness or with rudeness. Your reaction to his actions does not take away from the wonderful man he is.

I guess what's amazing about Jesus is his ability to accept his new reality and not taking his story and his past as an excuse to turn himself into a bitter man. Even though he looks like an old, tired, weak and broken man, he's not. His spirit is free, and that's what makes him soar above all the stress and meaningless battles that we think we're surviving.



After I gave Jesus a copy of his account information, I asked him about the future. He smiled and said to me that we worry too much. I said aren't you afraid of being alone. He said that being alone is not the worst thing that can happen. He participates in a lot of volunteer work for his community and he might be alone, but he doesn't feel lonely.

Jesus had to leave, and though my questions scratched only the surface of what I wanted to ask, his answers played on so many strings in my heart with music that was so deep and touching. I wanted to offer Jesus help, but instead, he helped me with the light he shed into my life in those 10 minutes I chatted with him. He wants nothing from anyone, certainly no pity. I felt inferior to Jesus, not because of anything he said or the way he talked, he was kind and humble, but because when I approached him, I thought I was being kind and nice to him and maybe I subconsciously felt superior to him in my health and my stable comfortable desk job, but his philosophy showed me his real strength and his ability to be over what I am slave to, that made me realize how weak I am.

Jesus, a Hispanic hunched back old man with one eye, rides his bike to and from work every day and smiles to everyone he passes by. It's true he sees everything in two dimensions, but his vision of life goes beyond all dimensions and penetrates all the fake layers that already blinded most of us. Jesus, God bless you, you are a true inspiration.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My December




Every year comes and goes with a little or no difference from the year before. And every year there are some great celebrations and some unfortunate experiences but ultimately, it's a repetition of a cycle that starts in January and concludes in December. And even though Spring is a promise of Hope, Summer is a birth of Energy and Autumn is a dream of Romance, nothing seems to come close to the way December stands out and makes every year so special, again.

December is the month that reaps the harvest of all 11 preceding months. But December is not an ending, it is a birth; a birth of realization and a start of new resolutions.

December is cold, yet it personally gives warmth to my heart. The thought of December puts a smile on my face and a look beyond the horizon in my eyes. In and right before the month starts, my family celebrates the birthdays of 5 out of 6 members of it.




December is Christmas, and Christmas is preparation and celebration. In December the world celebrates birth, the birth of a God to some, the birth of something special and personal to others and the birth of a promise that will be fulfilled the year to come for the rest. And regardless of the meanings we attach to the month, there's an undeniable joy in the air. Regardless of your faith and belief, December somehow feels holy.





And it could be the childish faith that became an inevitable tradition, or it could be the peace of mind that comes with prayers. It could also be a nostalgia for the childhood innocence through the street lights and through the music that's playing in every corner. But what ultimately makes a difference in that month is you yourself and what you do and how you contribute. A difference not just in your life, but in someone's life. And in today's world, reaching out and extending helping hands have become so much easier than it used to be, and the world around us can afford a lot of that. We don't need to look far away, there's someone within a stone's throw who needs our help, our smile, our kindness and our light in their darkness.




Whatever you do in December, make time to be with family and friends, and if that's not possible, visit the past and select those happy memories that would warm up your heart.
And whatever you do in December, don't forget to smile and send out positive energy with gratitude about the year that has just passed, hope for the year to come and faith in the moment, for the moment is what makes the past meaningful and the future full of hope.

December, my birth, not just 37 years ago, but this year and every coming year. I pray that your December gives you warmth, peace of mind and most of all .... Love

Friday, December 3, 2010

Walking the walk



Once upon a time in the summer of 1982 I discovered a straight path from Baghdad Station all the way to where Villat and Sleymaneih streets meet in a delta kind of way in Aleppo city. I started my very first job at the age of 8. I remember going to that car repair shop every morning with my tiny little steps that seemed to take forever. It was a hot summer and the Villat building entrances were my refuge from the blazing sun for 10 seconds with the shade and humidity they provided. The walk to and from work didn't take a full summer. I think I might have gotten fired because I was petting the cat they had a little more than paying attention to how a car was being repaired. Well, I didn't have to worry about it because I didn't have a social security number back then and it certainly didn't go on my record. (Did I mention that they didn't pay me unemployment too?) And that's how and when my story with walking started.

The following summer my walk took a different direction. I walked to Mnshiyeh through Azizieh to learn how to make outdoors business signs. I walked to the shop twice every day since all shops in Aleppo close for a lunch break for 2 to 3 hours. The walk was not too bad, I took shelter from the sun in the shades of the crowded tall buildings. However, instead of employing the early signs of sketching talent I showed within the sign business, I learned how to make coffee and mop the floors. When I finally gave up on the fairy to appear and change my fate like Cinderella, I stood up for myself and told dad that I didn't want to step a foot in that workshop again. Well, school had started by then, so dad didn't have much of a choice left.

Then the summer after, we extended the walk a bit longer. Dad insisted on making a man of me, so he had a plan; no lazy summers for Tony, no swimming pools, no hanging out or waking up at noon. I complained at the beginning of every summer. Never learned my lesson; complaints are heard only by God. So the next walk was to Baron street. Well I thought I'd be working at the Baron hotel and get to understand what Agatha Christie wrote about in there, but to my disappointment, it was at a car spare parts shop, that was a 25 minute walk from our apartment.

Enough about car and car businesses, this is about walking. And the fact that we never owned a car since dad moved us from Venezuela to Syria in 1974, made me wonder why he wanted me to work and learn about cars. The summer after, cars were off topic, I got employed at a make-up store that belonged to the girlfriend of my cousin (look at that random pattern). The walk was 25 minutes and yet again it was 4 times a day. I spent close to 2 hours on the road walking to Jabriyeh six days a week wondering as an 11 year old boy, where the world ended. I didn't believe that the globe was round, I thought there would be walls at one point. And as much as curiosity kills the cat, my walks left me with no more curiosity. Aleppo introduced itself to me every summer, with a farther, longer and stranger walk



After two more summers of working here and there, dad found me a career path for my high school summers (buy one get three, whether you like it or not). That career path was called "Hanin" which means "Nostalgia". I wasn't sure what the relationship was between the underwear produced under that brand name and the name itself. I could only imagine what kind of nostalgia certain people would feel when they wear their underwear (or someone Else's in that case). Anyway, Hanin took the country by storm. Within a few years it became # 1 selling underwear in Syria, thanks to my contribution of course. The first two summers, I had to walk 35 to 40 minutes to get to an area that seemed foreign to me at the time, it was called Souk Alhal. But I didn't mind since I worked one shift from 8:30 to 4:30. However when I finished my baccalaureate year, Dad and the owner who happened to be our neighbor, broke the news to me; I had the privilege to work in a basement in Suleimaneyeh and learn from the smartest, shrewdest, most talented engineer/business man/corporate president in the world (well, that was my dad's opinion of him, not mine). That time though, from 8AM to 8PM. I had 45 minute lunch breaks which I spent 30 minutes of, walking back and forth to my place to eat lunch with my family in 15 minutes. After 4 months I manned up and made my voice heard. I didn't want to work there anymore.

NOOOOOO Problem, the plastic factory was waiting for me. The factory was in Alaarkoob; an industrial area on the way to the airport that I had never heard of before I turned 17. Oh boy that was something I had nightmares about long after I quit. The walk again was 40 minutes, but one shift; 6 AM to 3 PM. I hated waking up before daylight and walking to work on those freezing depressing winter mornings. But what I hated more was, seeing how the workers were getting hit by the owner; fully grown men quitting one after the other till I became the exclusive worker, employee, slave, you name it, at that factory. I thought to myself that it was a matter of time before I get slapped on the face or pushed against a wall. Funny enough, I was referred to work there by a priest.

After six months, and out of fear and desperation, I planned my next plot. A plot that turned out to be one of the best moves I have ever made in my life. I secretly got an interview for a job at an industrial consulting company (AKA INCOCO) in the seven lakes area; a downtown where most of the government offices operate from. I got the job and I had the burden of breaking the news to the plastic factory surgeon, I mean owner. I remember standing at a distance from him trying to give him the keys and trying to avoid his anger and violence. He snatched the keys and said those words that I don't think I'll ever forget "Go wherever the hell you want to go, you think work would not go on without you?" I looked around and thought to myself "Ummm, no, I am your last employee dude, unless those machines know how to operate themselves, you got no work". But I remember how the length of that 40 minute walk turned into a 10 minute run. I was flying with so much joy. I, for the very first time, had chosen the walk myself. And it was a great choice that lasted 7 years. Had I not immigrated to the US, I could very much still be walking and working there today.



Tarek Oubari, my boss, changed my life. He believed in me more than I believed in myself. He trusted me with more than I thought I could handle. I walked happily every morning for 20 minutes to go to work at a company that got so much potential. Within couple of years I was in charge of a tiny little spare part department at age 20. Then I was sent as a translator for training courses that were held in English in Germany and Italy. Mr. Ouabri was so generous with me and allowed me to take time off every year till I finished my BA degree in Literature. I walked to INCOCO knowing that it was the right walk for me, my feet were not walking me to work, it was my heart. I learned so much and I made friends that, 18 years later, are still my good friends despite of the distance between us. Mr. Oubari helped me shape my life through what he saw in me. I don't think I would have the confidence to walk ahead to the unknown without his contribution in my life.




I came to Los Angeles in 2000. And no I didn't walk to LA, but I still walk in LA; a city that is not exactly meant for walking (well, that's a blog by itself)

One thing I know is that my achievements are pretty ordinary and that I'm not the first man who sought the destination of his walks far away from home, and I'm certainly not the last. Still, I'm bewildered by every step I took, every mile I walked, every new area I wandered through, every kind of work I had to work and every personality I worked for. I'm also amazed by the people I met, the places I visited, the knowledge I acquired, the music I heard, the food I ate and the cultures I got accustomed to. Sometimes I look back and feel that I spent half of my life walking, then I look at the future and smile, because as I breathe in, I feel that I want to spend the rest of my life walking, discovering what's beyond the tall walls by the end of the earth. I stumbled and fell so many times, but I got up and walked on, I'm not tired, they were all stepping stones. Today I'm walking with bigger steps than the 8 year old boy who was hiding from the scorching sun, yet with the same curiosity and passion for life and knowledge in his heart. I pray that I'll be able to enjoy all kinds of walks of life for the rest of my life. And I'm still walking ...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Facebook, how did we survive before it?




Around the last week of every year I write my annual email that I send to my friends and family. I used to look forward to writing my Annual email, put a lot of thought in it, attach pictures, maybe a song or a poem and talk about the blessings that year brought into my life.

That annual gave birth to my weekly blog. After sending many of them year after year, I was encouraged to start writing by some of those recipients and I wanted to give it a shot.





Then Facebook happened. And with Facebook my life became constantly on public display, by choice if I may add. I upload pictures, songs, poems, comments and share with … the world. I wish everyone happy thanksgiving and happy new year. I receive bunch of love on my birthday. A lot of uplifting comments when I'm sick or if I had a surgery, and warm thoughts to get me through some tough times. And as much as I think it's impersonal, it actually works and I have a love-hate relationship with it.



Facebook made it a lot easier to stay in touch with people; reminders of birthdays, events, fan-clubs, compliments, jokes, funny clips and you name it. But the one thing that it took away is the exciting intimate feeling of sharing something special with special friends only.

I started Facebook a few years back. I loved it at the beginning, I had 30 to 40 friends that I really cared about having on my friends list. I liked reading their updates and sharing mine with them. Then the friends requests got out of control. At the beginning I was kind of selective but then I might have fallen for the same meaningless popularity contest every teenager is going through; the "I have more friends than you do" disease. The number of friends I have suddenly increased to 75 then 100 then 300 and it keeps on growing. Some of the friends on my list are people who added me without saying a word, not even "Hello". The funny thing is that they're the same people who don't say "Hello" to me when they see me in public. After accepting some of them, I decided to clean up my friends list and keep it for "friends" so I deleted some of them. A few months later I received friends requests from them, again. I guess because of the number of friends they have, they forgot who they sent requests to.

Personally I hardly send friend's requests. The ones I had at the beginning were no brainer, they're my best friends. But after establishing whom I wanted on there, I mostly respond to friends' requests. Some of which, I happily accept, and others, I say "oh what the hell, I might as well" and I finally learned to say NO to some.

Discovering "Hide this post" and "Hide all posts by this person" Tabs was a gem. I found a way to stop seeing those certain posts like the never ending posts of those games Facebook has where people discover a lonely pink cow or expand their imaginary gardens or …… etc

And now comes the "Block this person"  tab that I never thought I would use. Alas I had to finally utilize that tool and block two or three people from seeing me after using their Facebook profile to promote religion and certain political agendas. And let me add here that every one is entitled to their own opinion and that's totally okay, but the ones I blocked were the ones who have the mentality of "It's my way or the highway" insulting anyone and everyone who disagrees with their posts.

Then comes the "Limited List", another great tool to keep certain things from certain ones and keep certain ones from accessing certain things. Go figure ....

So Facebook me and I'll Facebook you too, but neither of us can really blame the website, it's what you do with it and how you use it. It has all the tools to take you back to those special 30 or 40 friends you want to see. And it has the tools to keep it very special and private or make a whore of yourself. Use it the way you want or don't use it all. The fact remains, it made the world much smaller and a lot easier to communicate and share with.



Ye the fact remains and it's simple. Though it can get you closer to distant people whom you might have never even thought you would reconnect with, even reunite with, it distanced you from those you were close to, and it will distance you more, whether you like it or not, because after all, there's only 24 hours in any given day. Manage the time you spend on this addictive social network!


Friday, November 19, 2010

The Lock



Paris, the dream has almost come true, but I never thought that my trip would start with such a luck. December 2002, a surprise visit to Syria with a stop in France to fulfill an over 10 year-old dream so I can say I went to Paris in my twenties, late twenties, well, the very last year of late twenties, but still ...

I have arranged this trip with my friend Mike and gave him my flight details to pick me up from Charles de Gaulle airport, but despite everything I have planned to the detail, every thing that could have possibly gone wrong, did go wrong.

Starting with LAX, I was checking in on time to find out that I have too much extra weight in my luggage (my weight was just fine then). They sent me downstairs to buy a box and remove some of the gifts that I have bought for every person I knew in Syria since it was my first visit after exactly three years

I rushed downstairs and nervously bought the box to split my life in two and decide on what should go in the box and what should stay cozy in the luggage. I went back upstairs to stand in line all over again just to discover as I was checking in for the second time that I didn't have my passport. What? I swear it was just with me a moment ago, I thought I must have put it in the box by mistake so I opened the box and literally emptied its content to display my personal life on the airport floor, Ugh, it's not there (the passport, not my life, my life was sure there like a comedy that everyone was watching). Packing again what was left of my privacy in the box, I traced my steps back, looking at every single tile in the airport till I reached the store where I bought the damned big box from and voila, my passport was right there. I was so nervous, so sweaty and totally out of breath, I went back to stand in the long line only for a third time. As they say, third is the charm and it was.

I hate traveling long hours. Getting stuck in airplanes for over 4 hours is a torture that I dread. I also can't sleep, so my alcoholic friend gave me an advice "Drink red wine before you get on the plane, drink red wine with lunch and ask for red wine every time they offer drinks". And I did and those who know me well, also know that I have no tolerance for alcohol since I didn't train my body to consume it regularly. After the third glass of wine, I had the worst stomachache... ever. I went to the restroom and there I thought I was going to die, no no, I'm not kidding. I felt that life/energy/soul if you will, was leaving me. My upper body had no strength left, it just laid down on my legs and I couldn't lift myself up. I was in so much pain, I thought I wanted to throw up badly. I was too embarrassed to call for help so I took my time in that tiny restroom thinking to myself that if I die, my last sight would be a toilet in an airplane, what a pleasant way to go. In about ten minutes that seemed like a month later, I felt better. I gathered whatever dignity left in me and walked back to my seat like a drunk mess, too proud to admit that there was something wrong. Did I say that I still couldn't sleep? It was an eye opener; don't take advice from alcoholics.

Charles de Gaulle, here we are after 12 hours that felt like 12 days and what was the first thing we encountered? An angry French airport employee who yelled at us because we couldn't understand the French sign that said "this way" and we went the other way. I heard two passengers behind me laughing and saying "Welcome to France .... Americans".

It hit me there, I have no idea where Mike lives, I don't have his phone number, could I get any more stupid? I started thinking, what if he doesn't show up? Where do I go? Does he know which terminal I'm going to be at? All those thoughts ran through my head as I was collecting my luggage and the Box, but Mike was there waiving and yelling "Tony, I can't determine if you are deaf or blind" Yes, that was the second time I got yelled at in Paris within less than an hour, and mind you, I haven't yet left the airport.

When Mike saw the box, he couldn't help but wonder why I had a box with me. He asked me to pack back its content into the luggage because he didn't like the way it looked. I laughed thinking he was joking, but when I noticed that I was the only one laughing, I knew he was serious. Mike explained that he had just bought a brand new SUV and didn't like a box inside his car. I said to him "You can't be possibly serious, I went through hell because of that box" but he explained "Tony, this is Paris, we don't put boxes in our cars and drive around, this is a sophisticated city where fashion meets class". I sat down on the parking lot floor (how's that for a sophisticated look of class?) to empty the box into the luggage. I looked for a trash bin to get rid of that piece of shame that didn't belong in Paris and I thought to myself, something is definitely going wrong here. (and something definitely went wrong there, I lost my keys in the process but I didn't realize it yet)

I bit my tongue, swallowed my pride, drew a nice big fake smile on my face and got in the car. I was so excited to see Paris and spend time with Mike, but there goes the next surprise, Mike was not going to take me to his place, he wanted me to stay with his friend George. Sure I knew George, The last time I saw him or heard anything about him I was 17. Did I say that I turn 30 next year? "You must be kidding me, I hardly know the guy" But again, Mike wasn't joking.

George was waiting for us to arrive, I think I stood next to him first not even realizing who he was.
As I was getting my luggage out of the SUV, George approached and warmly welcomed me. It's weird how sometimes you meet people and effortlessly connect with and other times you make every effort to break the ice and you don't succeed. With George, things felt natural, I didn't feel that I was intruding, he made me feel at ease almost immediately. Mike had to leave and I said "Wait, I have something for you from the US as a token of my appreciation to your hospitality" (right!). I put my hands in my pockets, I couldn't find my keys, I searched myself over and over again, nope. Wait, no keys? how am I going to open my luggage and how am I going to change? the hell with Mike and Mike's gift, I need to access my stuff. Luckily I had a carry on with clothes. It worked out fine, Mike's token had to wait till I came back from Syria.

Three days of fun in Paris, lots of walking and Buses and Metros in that cold weather because Mike didn't want to deal with parking his SUV (or maybe because he thought I looked like the box that he didn't want in his car) and now I'm finally heading home, Aleppo ... Here I come again

I specifically asked Mike to book my ticket to Aleppo, not Damascus. I can't stand the idea of landing in Damascus and having to take a 6-hour bus ride to arrive to Aleppo. Now let me explain something here, it almost never, NEVER snows in Aleppo, but sure enough, my charming luck made me look down at a city covered in snow. I refused to believe the announcement I heard, I must be dreaming, this is NOT happening to me, No way. I closed my eyes and prayed that the airplane crashes and falls over Aleppo Airport, I was sure that the unwanted snow would have made enough cushion. But my prayers remained unanswered, maybe because I wanted to celebrate the holidays as opposed to get buried. I finally gave in and waved good bye in silent sadness on a silent night, I was almost there, yet not quite there.

We landed in Damascus because of the snow (Thank God, not in Jordan). We waited inside the airport for over 3 hours because they were not prepared to handle such a dilemma, I wish they had told us upfront how unprepared they were so that we would have shared a cab and taken off, but no, they assured us that it's their responsibility to get us home safe and sound. Long story short, I arrived home at the exact expected hour, just AM instead of PM of next day.

Home sweet home, I'm putting the keys in the door to open it at 6:30 AM and mom's voice filled the silence with "This is Tony, he's here for Christmas, I knew it" We hugged, we laughed and cried then talked and ate and it was time to unpack. Dad brought the tool box, with a big hammer and a screw driver and we broke the lock in less than 10 minutes.


Now if you think about it, what has anything to do with that lock? The lock happened to be itself, and happened to do what it does best; locking things up. It was all in the keys, the misplaced keys at Charles de Gaulle, on the floor of its parking lot due to an unwanted box in a brand new SUV. An unwanted box that traveled from one continent to anther due to extra weight. Extra weight due to lots of gifts and I can go on and on justifying why it was the worst start of a trip, but that all didn't matter.

A lot of times we encounter so many locks in our lives. And instead of searching for keys to unlock them, we make it all about the lock itself (AKA luck). Sometimes the key is right there in front of us. Sometimes the key needs replacement, and some other times the key doesn't exist. But there's always a way to open the lock, no lock is made to remain locked forever (and no such thing as a constant bad luck). I had all kind of locks in one trip from the minute I stepped a foot into the airport till I landed in the wrong airport, yet that trip turned out to be the most amazing trip of my life and I would do it all over again and not change anything about it (Not even the Box or Mike) 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

WE

I am estranged from my own home
With you I feel I'm more alone
What can I do when it's insane
Closure is done, what's left is pain
We're crying

I move forward, I hit the wall
I feel empty, and you feel small
It's awkward, I wish it comes to an end
We're family, but now I feel as friends
We're dying

I'm talking, please stop doing that
Long silence as if it were a combat
I wish we'd fight then let it go
You freeze a grudge that melts so slow
And deny it

We need to breathe, not count our breaths
We're lifeless, are we inviting death?
I can't help but wonder if it's all worth
Being estranged from mother earth
I'm flying

Forgive me; what I said was a must
We strayed somewhere, somehow we're lost
You want out, leave, and take a break
It took long and now our smiles are fake
We're lying

The guilt has consumed the best of me
I fight it yet I feel guilty
You mastered giving me the guilt trip
I wish I could say "I sailed that ship"
Good-bye

Saturday, November 6, 2010

You Worry So Much



What has essentially happened long time ago
worries you so much
What actually happens in your life today
worries you so much
What could potentially happen to you tomorrow
worries you so much
Your looks, your health,  your career, your wealth
worry you so much
What could possibly happen to the ones you love
worries you so much
Losing control, change, loss, relationships
worry you so much
The fear of eventually ending up alone
 worries you so much

And slowly you lose your ability to fly
And little by little your glow fades away
And your heartbeat slows down before it dies
And you wonder if it's too late to pray

That book behind your head had it all along
Look at the birds of the air, they don't sow nor reap
They fly and multiply,  they eat and sing their songs
While you worry too much and lose more sleep

Wipe your tears, yes you know that it can be worse
Wipe your tears, try to learn when you're not the first
Keep the faith in yourself, it's the master's touch
Lose control and smile, 
Hey, you worry so much


Friday, October 29, 2010

Sweet Little Stories




A young smart lady, her name was solution
came across the man of her dreams, his name was confusion
A once unknown street car named desire
drove up the street "immortal" and still drives with the same tires
An elderly lady walking with the help of a cane
Found home when she got lost on "happy memories" lane

And do you know what they all had in common?
They were hopeful that a sweet little story would find them


A lonely beautiful flower proudly called herself Gem
could not hold her head high without the support of her stem
When she realized that beauty is not the only power
Her stem lifted her up to belong with a big bed of flowers
Two strangers instantly fell in love over that scene
Gem is no longer a "one flower show", her pride is in her team

And do you know what they all had in common?
They were hopeful that a sweet little story would inspire them


But does this happen to you?
Hey, does it ever happen to me?
we're hopeful people too but the question is
do we believe that our dreams can turn into reality?
Yes we have hopes and dreams, but do we believe?


A broke ancient incomplete song started whining
Stumbled across an opportunity in "creative rhyming"
A broken hearted playwright wrote the play "love hurts"
Won the drama prize but his happiness came from a love bird
A happy ending to every story is not realistic
But we all know there's no hurt in being a little optimistic

And do you know what we all should have in common?
I say a hopeful approach to a sweet little story is a good omen


Sweet little stories have been coming my way
If I let them in, they would brighten my day
Sweet little stories have been coming my way
If I let them in, they would brighten my day

Friday, October 22, 2010

Four Blocks




It has been some time since I walked and now it feels like I'm learning how to walk using two legs and two feet instead of one with crutches. 

This morning, despite of the weather, I felt the need to walk into the Palisades park, which is four blocks away from where I live. 

The first block got me thinking, whom am I fooling? I can't do it. I should head back and wait till I get better. But I know that pattern and I know that feeling too. I reminded myself how hard it is when I swim the first few laps till my heartbeats and breathing get in sync. I'm no quitter, I kept on going.

The second block was even more difficult, crossing the street made me feel guilty about keeping the cars waiting while I'm slowly making my way. I thought I saw impatient looks on the drivers' faces. But as soon as I made it to the other side, I knew that what I saw was my need to create obstacles that would convince me to go back. No one complained, no one honked. It was me telling myself that what I was doing was wrong when there was nothing wrong about it, just uncertainly.



The third block had a voice, it said that I'm a little bit more than half way through and that It's not too late to go back and settle down with the experience that I had so far. But I kept on walking. As soon as I made it close to the end, the voice changed the quitting topic to "what was it that I was trying to achieve". I had to agree with that one, I was questioning myself " so once I make it to the last block, then what?" I knew that this was a pattern in my life, getting stock in the destination than enjoying the experience. What was it after those four painful block? Let it be whatever the hell it's going to be. I want to be open to possibilities or the lack of them.

The final block was a determination full of doubt. Making the same mistake was easier since the goal is now closer. The fourth block had a partial view of the ocean and the park, yet instead of enjoying that, I was attaching meanings to everything, to every step, "So now what!",  "Hello life, I know you, and you have disappointed me over and over". But it wasn't life that disappointed me, it was me disappointing myself by focusing on the goals I couldn't reach rather than enjoying the goals I achieved so far. I came to realize that it's not people around us, it's really not reality or circumstances that let us down, push us away and reject us. Even though they do contribute partially, however the most powerful obstacle in letting ourselves down is always US. And we do a good job at it. I'd say we're experts.




Here's the park and to my surprise, I didn't mind the weather at all. I forgot my disability of walking normal. I walked over 30 minutes not counting the four blocks. I walked with ease and felt good. I sat down for 15 minutes to watch the ocean. I loved every minute of it. People seemed happy or maybe it was my own feelings. I took many pictures, played some music and sang along. I lived in the moment without attaching meanings to the moment, it was a simple four block-walk that got me there and another simple four block-walk back that took me home. And home always feels good




Friday, October 15, 2010

The voice of an Angel

A few decades ago, on a quiet peaceful evening, my journey with music started in a forest that looked like a dream. There was one lonely rural swing in that forest. I sat down to swing and suddenly some kind of sacred music started pushing me. It pushed me hard so I could reach the stars in the sky. It pushed me gently, like a bird who needed to learn how to fly, and it pushed me to explore, like a mother who would finally allow her baby to become the son of life.





I was scared, yet there was some kind of mysterious excitement with that mystical power. I was laughing with joy and crying with passion. I learned what tears of happiness were as I was picking up the stars from the sky, one star with every swing, and planting them on musical sheets made of big leaves. I saw the moon right next to me, I think I touched it a few times, we became neighbors. I fell in love and I woke up to realized that my dream wasn't just any dream, it was musical, magical, and yet, real. The dream became a journey with no destination other than enjoying the pure sensitivity of a voice of an Angel.




That angel took the liberty of teaching me how to listen with my heart and how to go deeper beyond the beautiful layers of melodies. Her voice was mesmerizing. Her heartfelt singing made every word sound like soothing water coming out of the fountain of life. Reflecting upon the stories behind the music, made poetry, philosophy, and simple tales take different dimensions.

Her songs in the mornings were like peaceful whispers, gentler than the morning breeze. Her music at night drew her like a fairy, flying in a silky turquoise dress to light up the stars.





Her singing was like a prayer that felt natural to all traditions and religions. She sang to every one, from a toddler and a mother, to the oldest grandparent, from soldiers to lovers, from palaces to the plants growing on abandoned houses. She gave wisdom to philosophers, holiness to the houses of God, colors to rainbows, fragrance to flowers, thoughts to thinkers, music to lovers and love to the universe.

Sadness is always easier to capture in art than happiness, and she's famous for her sad work of art. But instead of making you depressed, her art elevates you to serendipity. She's quiet and shy, but when she talks, she uses jewels in her vocabulary. She sings her words and she's loved. "Adored" doesn't express the love she has from the world. And the love she has from the world doesn't measure up to the work of art she's given the world throughout her five and half decades of music.

Bigger than life, holier than Jerusalem, classier than queens, more peaceful than doves, with a presence that makes you kneel down and pray as if you're in front of a Goddess. A mother who lost a child, a mother who gave birth to a prodigy and a wife who trusted her husband's creativity; a true legend in songwriting. I'm talking about the sensational enchanter, the moon neighbor, our ambassador to the stars, Fairuz

 

Friday, October 8, 2010

While we're having sex you talk



While we're having sex you talk
Way more than the situation calls for
The things you say work like a chock
I let them slide so my wheels can roll

A one way conversation I try not to hear
So I keep my focus between the sheets
Cause your words work like an anti-gear
That once stuck, all it does is repeat

That baby language, you think is hot
just does not do it for me in bed
You open your mouth, but here's a thought
"Silence is gold" was not randomly said

The things you say I hope you don't mean
In the heat of the moment we might all do that
And once those moans turn into screams
I have to remind you, it's not a combat

Relax baby, I'm sure I'm not your first
Relax and remember, it's sex not love
I know sometimes the warm up hurts
But trust me, play along, I know my stuff

While we're making love could've been
A better choice of words, you said last
You act as if I gave you a ring
When we agreed on "No Strings Attached"

And while we're having sex don't talk
So we can do our thing, in and out
Try silence once, baby don't balk
Silence is the trance on which you're missing out

Friday, October 1, 2010

Righteous Mourning .... in Black


When my Grandpa died I was 8. I remember going with my family to my grandpa's apt and at one point we, kids, were left in the living room and wanted to watch cartoons. We turned on the TV and immediately got rebuked by my Aunt who was wearing black, like the rest of the women who were visiting to give their condolences. When we went back home, I asked mom if I could turn the TV on and she said that it was okay as long as it was not too loud.

Years later, my Aunt died, and mom had to wear black all over again. Wearing black in Syria is a tradition for respecting the dead. But wearing black for a whole year has been frowned upon by the older generation because it was too short of a period and disrespectful to the person who passed away. My friend George told me how he never saw his grandma in colored clothes because her husband died young and she wore black for the rest of her life. So now you can understand why wearing black for a whole year is an inappropriate behavior.



I turned 18 and my uncle passed away, he was only 52. I remember sleeping over at their place because his wife couldn't bear the idea of sleeping alone with her daughter without a man in the house. Boy I was the man of the house for three days till her son returned back. There was something in my pocket that was burning my skin for the whole three days and the minute I went back home, I had to take it out of my pants and play it. And if you think it's anything other than "Air supply"'s newly released tape, then shame on you. Anyway, I politely asked dad if it was okay to play music and he smiled and said "don't be selfish, play it here in the living room so we can listen too". Again, I was only 18, but I knew then and there that Dad was not like the rest of the grown ups. He was more open minded and he realized long time ago that if we stopped breathing every time someone died, we'd follow shortly. Dad told us that when his father died and everyone left the apt the very first day except for him and his siblings (who were all married and lived with their families close by) his mother, my grandma, asked them to play cards because it was something their father would have enjoyed. How disrespectful according to the customs in Aleppo!!!

Now Dad himself had passed away this year and it's been a struggle for us keeping up with the expectations of the society. So let me highlight a few pointers first so that you can tell how little we loved our father. According to the rules of mourning, men have to earn a living, so they don't need to do anything except visiting the first three days to pay their dues. Women on the other hand have a lot of rules to follow. If they were married, and one of their family members passes away, then they're supposed to wear black for 6 months only, now that we're in 2010. If they're not married, then they're supposed to wear black for a whole year. Once the period is over, then they should switch to black and a little white, like a scarf for example, a period of 2 weeks is served in black and white before another month or two are served in transition. That transition includes wearing dark colors, like gray, navy blue, and dark brown. In the old days women were not supposed to cut their hair while they're mourning. Now they can, as long as it's not too fashionable and as long as they don't wear make up or accessories. A full year has to go by before they can celebrate Easter or Christmas because celebration means happiness and they just buried a human being, not a dog.

If you think that's all there's to it, you're wrong. Women are not supposed to leave their place for a full month (it used to be a year but because we're open minded, we shortened that sentence). The first three days all the relatives and I mean all the relatives (with their kids) come to visit every single day and dine with the family. Something I call "Suffocating with love". After the first mass there's the 9th day mass, then the 40iest day mass which you would naturally think it would be left to the closest ones, but no, everyone who lives across the street has to come and socialize too. People then go to a hall where they drink black coffee. A certain kind of pastries is served with the coffee because candies and anything that includes sugar is a sign of happiness, now no need to remind you about happiness while grieving. Music is not supposed to play for 40 days and TV is supposed to remain turned off. Yes, you don't need any kind of distraction because distractions mean you don't love or respect that person who passed. The custom after that is returning those visits by visiting back, not for the purpose of socializing "God forbid", but as a token of appreciation. It's a gesture of "Thank you" for not leaving us alone in during those hard times and for not giving us any space whatsoever.

Mom went through a lot before and after dad passed. I wanted her to come live with me after a month from dad's death but she said it was too soon to travel and that she would prefer to wait a year so that no one badmouth her. Anyway with the help of my sisters she finally gave in and crossed the ocean four months later to spend 6 months away from the "He said, she said"-Society. Being away from all the sickness and ignorance of the tradition was not enough, she felt some kind of guilt and next thing I know, a woman wearing black was living with me. We talked, we talked again we cried, we argued and at one point she stopped wearing black. When I posted a picture of her wearing black and white during our trip to NYC, one of my family members made the call to give us the guilt trip. Mom COULD wear colors, but not advertise it.




So, I wrote this blog to say that I admire the western tradition when someone passes away. I call it "common sense". They actually celebrate the kind of life their late family member had. They mourn and they grief, and they cry over the loss too, but they know that life goes on. Be reasonable before you judge, and do not pretend that you're open minded when you actually live as a slave to your society. We do what we can to help move on, so if you imprison yourself in black, you are free to do what you want, and so are we because wearing black is not going to bring the dead back to life, and not wearing black does NOT mean we loved our late family member any less than you loved yours. As much as I love Aleppo, I have to say, there are certain things there that literally make me feel SICK to my stomach. Mourning is definitely one of them.



Let go, seriously, it's pathetic .....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Attitude


When I suggested to him to have his checks written to his business instead of to "Cash" and explained that it's safer in case he lost one of them (something we were taught at the teller school and were advised to tell customers), He did not get mad. He carefully selected the nastiest condescending expressions without any profanity or apparent anger. If you wonder what kind of language he used, it went something like "Oh really, how long have you been working here as a Teller, and what makes you think that a business man like me who probably makes in one day what you make in a year, would take an advice from someone like you?" I immediately apologized to the customer and gave him his receipt. He noticed that I was not responding to his rhetorical questions but finishing the transaction and asking if there was anything else I could do for him. I kept a smile on my face and didn't show him any of what was going on inside me. He asked me for my manager. It was the first time I was asked for my manager since I started working there, or come to think of it, ever in my life. My customers were pretty much happy with me. Some of them didn't mind the wait till my window was available to come see me. I immediately pointed out at her; a strong  experienced and very fair lady. He went to see her and I called the next customer. Thirty minutes later my manager came to my window and asked me this: "Did you have a nasty customer a little bit earlier?" I looked down at the stack of transactions I had that day and said that I hope I didn't cause any trouble or inconvenience. She said those words to me that I don't think I will ever forget  "Well, he sent me to apologize to you because apparently he is not man enough to come back to your window and apologize in person".

Couple of months later I had another customer at my window and I guess while I was giving him my undivided attention, everyone else at the bank was trying to get my attention to warn me. I greeted the customer and said to him "How are you today?" he stopped looking at his check and looked up into my eyes and said "None of your God damn business" my smile disappeared and a huge question mark appeared on my forehead, he saw that and continued "How I am doing today is a very personal question and I don't see a reason for you to ask me that kind of question. Whether I'm doing well or not, what would that change for you? you couldn't care less about my mood or health so why do you ask? You don't even know my name so what business do you have in my health" and the lecture went on. I wasn't mad or offended, I thought it was quiet original to see someone who would be so mad if someone else asked him casually "How are you". I admit that I asked the question casually, but I see over a 100 customer a day, and my intention is to make it light and easy by being friendly. My manager, the same woman I was talking about earlier, approached my window and stood next to the customer and asked me if I were okay or if I needed any help. I assured her that it's all good. I apologized to the customer and wished him a good day for the lack of better words. Oh boy, he went off on me as he was walking out because after all, what business did I have in the kind of day he was going to have…….. etc

As I was parking the car by the Palisades Park with mom and my friend John and his son, a man in his late 70s early 80s who was driving behind me, pulled next to me and told me "You're the worst driver I have ever seen in my life" I smiled at him and said "Thank you for that observation sir, you have a good day okay!" and continued parking the car which was not even mine. Mom was sitting next to me, Marco who was 7 months old was in the kids car seat, John was sitting next to his son and holding a big table that hardly fit in that SUV. I had no choice but to drive a bit careful and slow in a 25 miles speed limit street. I was at that speed but no one drives that slow unless they have a reason. I did want to tell him "I don't think I'm the worst driver sir since you're still loose in the streets" or something like "I don't recall asking for your opinion so why don't you keep it to yourself?" but I didn't want his comment to ruin the day at the park I was about to have, even though it did affect my mood a little at the beginning. Some older people feel entitled to say what's on their mind just because they're older and they think they earned that right. Sometimes I wish people would ask before they just declare their unwanted opinion. But aren't we all guilty of that?

Those are just three of many stories we all go through. I guess learning not to take things personally is a winning attitude. I'm still training myself to do that and It's hard. I keep reminding myself that those aggressive people who express themselves, are actually accusing me of things that are a reflection of who they are, because they don't know me. And if I respond back to them with defense, I'm creating a poison that's going to come back to me and I would be sending out negative signals that are going to create more friction. So I try to keep cool and sometimes ………. I don't succeed.

Even after a decade of doing it, and even though I pretend that it doesn't bother me, it does. Yes you learn how to handle tough people in your life and to stop taking their insults personally, and you do handle it in a way that a lot of times those people realize with your attitude that they're making a mistake in attacking you and pouring their anger out on you just to feel better, and they end up apologizing to you for being rude to you, and some of them even wonder how you put up with them. But will it ever be natural the pretense that it's not bothering you? is it a technique that will stay in process? I am doing it day in and day out, but inside of me, the words that I really want to express are so different from the words I utter.

So, how are you doing today sir? thank you so much for being such a valued human being, have a wonderful life :)


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gifts .........

Gifts ........ (exchange)







priceless when they're least expected

The year was 1996, the occasion was my youngest sister's acceptance into the faculty of art and humanities at Aleppo university, the English Literature division. We were so happy celebrating. Peggy approached me with a wrapped box in her hand. She immediately read my thoughts and without waiting for me to say "I'm supposed to get you a gift, not you" She said "You helped me get accepted by believing in me more than I believed in myself and I just wanted to say thank you". She handed me what I consider the most meaningful gift I have ever received, it's priceless.



Wait for something in return?

The year was 2001, the occasion was Christmas. Everyone around me was running around with their heads cut off while I was re-evaluating and reflecting upon the year itself and the lessons and blessings it introduced. I was so relaxed and people were stressed out. December is my favorite month of the year. Was it everyone's deadline to reach their goals from consuming less alcohol to losing some extra unwanted pounds? There were only two weeks left of the year, what could they have possibly achieved in such a short time? I found out that I was wrong when my neighbor revealed to me the custom during Christmas; putting so much thought into buying everyone they knew a gift, that thought was "What did they get me last Christmas?" That Neighbor was the same woman who usually announced her birthday, Her husband's, kids' and her sons in law's birthday, a month in advance, then again two weeks in advance, one week in advance, then of course just in case we forgot, a day in advance. And every time we celebrated her birthday, she acted surprised and wondered how on earth did we find out? "I'm so flattered that you guys remembered my birthday …… on your own, now let's open the gifts". Opening the gifts was usually by the end of the party. A time for family and friends to sit down and show off or get embarrassed. A fake smile was drawn on everyone's face and I had the privilege to see the drama that took place after certain guests had left. There was a tiny little scale in that woman's kitchen. She took all the gifts she received and weighed them on that scale to see if the gifts were lighter than the ones she had gifted. She managed to make a fuss about most of them with the exception of the very heavy gifts, those she would have gatherings over to show them off. That scale she used was a tiny little scale that fits into anyone's pocket, even into a small wallet. It was almost as small as a credit card. And it was the standards of evaluating her gifts..

An unwanted present

The year was 2003, the occasion was again, Christmas, the announcement was "I don't want to be part of that circus". After a number of anniversaries through out the year that were supposed to be celebrations and ended up being drama, due to re-gifted gifts, light gifts, inappropriate gifts and gifts with no gift receipts, I decided to inform everyone in advance that I will not be "Exchanging" gifts with anyone during Christmas . But some people did not feel comfortable changing their routine and habits, which is very hard to do when all you know about Christmas is that it's time to give and receive ……… gifts, so when I politely declined accepting their "Gifts", they were seriously injured and threatened to ...  and they did.

So ask yourself, before you buy "some" gift or re-gift those you were not happy with "what does the person you're taking a gift for mean to me?" and remember, your gift is a reflection of who you are, the gift, not the amount of money it cost you because….

A gift is priceless when it's least expected
A gift is an act of kindness, an act of thoughtfulness.
A gift is an unconditional expression; so when you wait for something in return, your gift has already lost its value.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Aleppo and the Eighties



Intro

"Living life is for the sole purpose of getting the society's approval, that's a life filled with rewards"; a quote from a very important yet unknown writer from Aleppo, whose books never really existed to sell out. But his legendary teachings survived time, and are passed on from one generation to the other in a city called ALEPPO.





A Life with a style

My Mother said that we couldn't go play out every summer day, or people would say we're homeless. So we played at the Baghdad train station yard with the other kids every other afternoon. We biked, raced, hid and sought something we were never able to find. But we felt very happy. There was joy in the air and in the simplicity of our entertainment as kids. Upon our return to our apartment, we were not allowed to the living room or our bedrooms, but instead, straight to the bathroom to wash our feet up to the knees. Bathing daily was not customary yet. But even when we got cleaned up, there was still that room in our apartment and in every apartment that kids were not allowed to. Rings a bell? Oh yeah, some apartments still have that room with its mentality till today, it's called "Salon". Salons were where people had their most expensive furniture and chandeliers. No TV but instead, some showcase antique cabinet where they displayed their valuable ornaments that are made of crystal, jewels, and gold. That "Special" room was for "special" guests and was opened once a week for deep cleaning, regardless if it was visited or not (if you lived in Soulaymaniyeh, cleaning day was every Friday). Then the doors were shut again in case God forbid an unwanted dust found its way there (and that was always the case).




Safety

We walked everywhere, it felt that the far end of the world was within the limits of the four walls of Aleppo. There were a few exceptions once or twice a year, or once every other year. It all depended on the financial situation, which we were not to discuss with anyone according to the book of law of Aleppo. Those exceptions were limited to Latakia, where we had summer vacations with our relatives. Or to one of the mountains, where we camped with either the scout, or one of the other numerous organizations we belonged to for a year, or two, or three. Other than that, everything was in our city; the big park, the swimming pools, the Aziziyeh and the Jala'a sports club. Nothing else was ever needed, ever.

The furthest we walked to was to our grandpa's apartment, and that was 15 minutes away. We all lived in apartments with the exception of uncle Joseph, who lived in an Arabic house with a yard right in the middle. It was kind of fun, but we never understood why his house was different. I guess that question mark on every kid's forehead pushed him eventually to tear down the house and build an apartment building instead, to finally live like normal people do, in an apartment with neighbors up and down socializing and borrowing sugar and rice.

Crossing the two-way streets was a matter of looking left and right then running from one sidewalk to the other. Waiting at the traffic light was unheard of (Huh? Why? What for?). But also cars were less, and they were luxury. Like I said, everything was within a walking distance, why have a car!

During summer vacations we went to swimming pools with other relatives and kids. We spent the whole day playing, swimming, eating the home made "Zaatar" sandwiches under the sun with no sunblock, we didn't know what those were.

We bought cold refreshing "Soos" from the random seller walking in the streets of Baghdad station, playing his sophisticated environmental friendly music, using mostly two copper bowls and his beautiful voice yelling "Soos ya Soos". And we bought hot "Sahlab" from the cart pushed by a hunched back old man in those extremely cold winter days. (no worries, no germs, or is it "no germs, no worries"!) "Kazzeh" had his signature Ice cream that no one was able to duplicate, especially the "Sahlab" flavor. Elderly people referred to ice cream as "Don Dermah" I guess the old Turkish influence had its own way of surviving. That extended conveniently to my grandparents. When my grandpa drank a little more than my grandpa cared for during dinners, she mumbled a few Turkish words and he immediately stopped drinking. But how many calories did we get from all that food and really late dinners back in the day? Oh please, who knew what calories were anyway? Everything was burned right away with the nonstop walking. Going to the gym was not necessary, the gym was a foreign name to us (Literally). Safety was not an issue too, I had to go the the bakery at 4 AM once a week to buy us fresh bread. I was 8 years old when I started that routine. (I hated it too).


Food

Let me just say that we used to get together for "Mooneh" during summers, to happily work and help our mothers get their food storage done faster (but more to socialize and meet as if we didn't meet just the day before). We used to work on artichoke, peas, lemon, and all kind of fruits to make jam and really sweet sweet drinks with. Our favorite get together was when all the family kids worked at Auntie Georgette's apartment on pistachio. We would be rewarded some promotional junk from her husband's store. We ate the most delicious food you can think of, Syrian cuisine with a hint of Lebanese and Turkish flavor. No other city competed with Aleppo when it came to food. And we ate really fattening food due to the surplus in butter production. It had nothing to do with the shortage of knowledge or with the fact that food was our favorite hobby. And with the extra attention you put to food, a feast was never a feast when it had all kinds of delicious hot dishes from Kebbeh, Kabab, Mahashi, fried food, salads, vegetables, cold cuts, fresh bread, and yet the table is missing its king, aka Homus.

Fashion

Hair-cuts were disastrous I admit. Girls competed in having the biggest hair. They had to use so much hairspray to look taller, and boys had one hair-cut style, yup, just one, combed from left to right. Towards the end of the decade a new style was introduced to us, it was initially inclusive to "Al Wisam"; a barbershop in "Souleymaneih" that made a fortune before other barbers learned the secret of that trade and started imitating him. I'm talking about having the sides of our heads trimmed so short and going gradually longer towards the center of the head. Yes, an invention. Still, the first time I had that haircut, my family was waiting for me on the balcony to see what that extreme make over made me look like.

The one style that had no gender discrimination was the extra high-waste jeans; a style that successfully made all our butts in the eighties look gigantic.




Entertainment "TV and Music"

Watching TV was limited to the only one channel we had. (just like school after baccalauréat was limited to the one university we had back then) Cartoon was from 3:30 to 5 PM. It included "Open sesame, Sindbad, Grendizer, Remi, Bell & Sebastian, Tom Sawyer, international tales and treasure island" Then mid way through the decade we had Channel Two, what a treat. It was mostly in English and its hours were even less. TV stations worked from 2 pm to Midnight, ending the day with "Tomorrow we meet". If you tried to turn the TV on before or after those hours, it was like "What's wrong with you?" unless you were trying to tune in a signal from Turkey. I had a friend who used to take me to his relative's place where the Turkish TV signal was stronger. It was located right on top of an ice cream store, how convenient! We both loved ice cream and since his relative, an older woman, used to go to visit his mom, we always shared 1/2 kilo of chocolate ice cream (an amount frowned upon by the society when consumed by only two teenagers). We bought that same ice cream over and over and ate it till one day we decided that it was not enough, so each one of us bought his own 1/2 kilo. We ate that ice cream till we bloated and never ever did it again.



Music was an important topic in every social circle. It used to be shortly discussed right after taking a break from some gossiping and immediately before starting a new round of fresh gossips. Fairuz was playing in every apartment in the AM hours. Sabah Fakhri and Mayada el Hennawi were the pride of Syrians, but kudos for them since they were specifically from Aleppo. When it came to western music, our thanks went to Mouna Kurdy, the host of "Stars and Lights" that used to be broadcasted every Sunday at 8 PM. Mouna played the Bonny M, Baccara, Dalida, mireille mathieu, and demis roussos every weekend with no failure, year after year, even after Sandra, Modern Talking, Samantha Fox, Madonna, C.C.Catch and George Michael were introduced to the world. She kept on playing Disco for us because the Syrian TV president told her that the tapes of the pop singers were not compatible with the hi-tech equipments they had at the station. Auntie Khatoon and her sister Maryrose Attooneh were the last two viewers who religiously kept on watching "Stars and lights", then their own lights were dimmed and they themselves became stars, shining in the skies of Aleppo. That was the end of our little window to the disco era.




My generation had a tape that was played (And could be still playing till this day) more than Michael Jackson's "Thriller" record. I'm talking about the first record of the one and only Majeda el Roumi "Khedni Habibi". That tape sums up so many memories and puts a smile on more than 80% of the people who were teenagers and young men and women back then. And when it came to pop music, we Aleppo people, had our own top ten that included "Hello Maria Magdalena! here's a Careless whisper: nothing's gonna change my love for you" staying at the top of the charts for at least 5 years. We did listen to other songs, but none measured up to the mentioned songs. Don't ask me why.




Technology

In winters, chimneys were the second source of heat, right after the "heat of faith". An average of one to two chimneys in each apartment. The one used mostly was the one in the living room. The other one used to be either in the dining room or in that very special room (Salon) kept for the show twice a year aka religious holidays.  But make no mistake, Chimneys had multiple functions. They were used as dryers (way before dryers were invented), as indoor "Grill and stove" to make grilled cheese or Castanea "aka chestnuts" and to boil beets and corn.

VCRs were introduced, Betamax then VHS. Shortly after, we had computers. No one knew what they were for, but you bought one because either a relative or a neighbor bought one, and according to the society, they're no better than you. Those devices were mostly used for playing games, and those games were so boring. Dad locked up our computer in a cabinet for over ten years, "the promise was till our grades improved, in other words, so it would remain brand new". Then he sold it at not even tenth of its price. He had no idea that there would be updates.

Ending

But the world was inside Aleppo. The future was there too. It was warm, friendly, quiet, religious, innocent, promising, and most importantly, happy. And as my aunt Janet put it "God's throne is in the middle of Aleppo city". And as my friend Sandrella put it "Aleppo, the mother of the world". Aleppo, and the 80s put together worked on graduating us. I mean if you grew up in the 80s, you're lucky to have lived during a simple and beautiful decade, so add on top of that being born and raised in Aleppo? you have to be genius, no!

Keeping all jokes aside (what jokes!) Aleppo, was and still is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It got culture, history, authenticity, and it got a dialect that I have to skip writing any kind of comments on that dialect other than saying it is so unique and so sophisticated and musical. It definitely sounds like, ummm, sounds like, well..... sounds like no other. Eshshi? Esh beddak?