I remember as a child playing with friends on terraced hills above my village in Lebanon, and we did this crazy thing of jumping from one terrace to the next (and these were high terraces), screaming something ridiculous in Arabic like: ‘my mother threw me and the Virgin Mary caught me’. We were very devout children trained well by aunts and grandmothers to fear a god who punished bad children and saw pretty much everything were did. So we trusted that if god or any of his saints were watching, then leaping was 100% safe and we would not break any bones.
Two broken bones later, I started to doubt this theory.
That feeling of invincibility that we all have as young children is certainly something to reconnect to when needed later in life. That faith that somehow all would be well and that sometimes a blind leap is exactly what is needed despite our great fear of the unknown.
This post today is about a life changing moment, one of those that we have at a certain stage of our lives and they end up lodging themselves in our personal history, refusing to fade into the dusty halls of our memories, and maybe just maybe they were more significant than we can imagine and they were meant to be with us forever.
One such moment was for me back in Lebanon at a very young age, maybe 8 or 9 years old. I found myself spiralling into a tunnel of thought about space. I was sleeping on our rooftop under a thin canopy of grapes on a warm summer night with my family; a huge treat and a special event whenever we were allowed to do that. I remember watching the stars glimmering in total darkness and wondering what was beyond them? Were we contained in a bubble of some sort? And how can I ever comprehend the possibility of nothingness if there is one? Everything is existing in something, isn’t it? What’s at the end of that?
These questions have taken me on a life quest of search, research, questioning and wonder. From religion, to quantum physics, to wise people’s writings and mostly my own search during those moments of quiet when the mind can travel towards space, inside of space and beyond space towards the unknown.
It’s a funny thing, time. I remember as a child not minding time at all; being and living in the moment; existing in a plane where time had no say in my business. Then slowly things begin to change. Time would no longer allow itself to be ignored. It wants to assert its managerial role in the affairs of my human existence. Freedom is replaced by deadlines, strict appointments and duties to be fulfilled on ‘time’. But little does time know that I remember what it was like to be free, and that I can escape to that place where I kept my childhood alive and well. Don’t tell time…
In the streets of old Kashgar I met so many children, playful, joyful, running here and there, but not this little boy. I had some candy in my pocket that I offered him and he just stood there looking at me then down at his shoes, then at me again until he summoned the courage to extend his had for the sweet candy only to drop his eyes back again to his feet. He looked so innocent and fragile with his borrowed woman’s shoe that I almost reached out to hug him… but I did not. He walked slowly away down the alley to found the door to his house and disappear into it.
Childhood is the most sacred part of life. We as adults are entrusted with it to shield it, protect it and allow it its full potential…
And yet, in places like Congo, children are forcefully taken from their families by armed forces, sometimes as early as 7 years old, forced into military training, a life of crime, drugs, war and are shoved brutally into an ugly adulthood robbing them of their gift, their innocent childhood.
UNICEF and other NGOs have been actively struggling to save these children from the grips of war, offering them temporary sanctuary in an attempt to help them kickstart their childhood again and reunite with their families or other foster families in the Congolese society.
With arts, some of these children told me that they are able to escape into other places in their minds, places free of their memories of war, of killing, of brutality. They can dream of a normal life, of happiness and of recapturing the freedom that is an integral part of childhood.
I don’t think I can remember a single meal at our home in Lebanon that did not include Lebanese bread. There is a saying in Lebanon “between us is bread and salt” which means that we are friends, we are close, we are on ‘sharing life’ terms. And as a child I remember that neighbors’ doors were always open and we children were able to just walk in and out throughout the neighborhood without any type of formality. We had a neighbor living right across the little road from us and she used to have a special old fashioned oven called saj outside her home where she made fresh bread. I still remember smelling the firewood burning signaling the start of the bread making process and running up to her home with wide eyes as she happily made us her special bread called “mtabbkah”. This was a flat loaf sprinkled with sugar and then folded to let the sugar melt inside and it was mouthwatering.
With the modernism of Lebanon, these types of ovens are becoming a rarity. I was so thrilled to see the special traditional market in the center of Beirut (souk el tayyeb) that celebrates old traditions and the best of homemade delicacies that Lebanon has to offer.
Have you ever experienced going back to a place you lived after years have passed? Have you gone through the stirring deep emotion that goes with such an experience?
This little street in a little village in North Lebanon holds so many life changing memories for me. It was along this street that I walked day after day alone but for my thoughts and a little stone I used to kick along the whole way from home to the little shop that sold anything, everything and my favorite 5 pennies ice cream cone; a 15 minute walk that took me more than an hour to complete. I remember walking along that road and letting my mind drift and dream in Arabic save for a single word that kept resonating in my mind strangely in English: ‘determined’!
It remains one of those mysteries of life, unexplained, strange and precious…
There are friendships that defy all odds because they were simply meant to be. Lea’s friendship with Laura is such a strong bond. Laura was born in Bangkok, and moved to China when she was less than 2. This is when her friendship with Lea started. They were inseparable even at that age and for the 3 years that followed. Then came the sad day that Laura had to move to Singapore and I imagined that things will settle with time and distance into a distant childhood memory. But no, they managed to stay in touch and strive to meet, connect and continue a powerful relationship as if they still lived across each other as they always did. Today, Laura who now lives in Hong Kong came to visit and Lea was in heaven as they are to spend a week together rebuilding and reinforcing their 6 year old friendship.
photo taken: Lea and her friend Amelie waiting at the airport with their welcome sign for Laura and Sophie