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Anything But Ordinary

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Anything But Ordinary

I am far from normal. I am shattered to pieces, nothing like what I was when I was at my prime. I feel like I have been stitched together by a distracted tailor. I am broken; I am falling apart. And I am scared, beyond regular fear. I’m scared that the badly done sewing made in an attempt to repair me is slowly fading, slowly dying. I’m scared that I won’t be able to do it anymore; I will fall through the cracks in my tattered walls. But most of all, I fear disappointment; I don’t want my people to look down at me with disgust, because they are more than my people. They are my friends.

I have one major problem, which I’ve never been able to get rid of because of my rocky start. From the first moment that I was independent, I made mistakes. So I have gained a reputation that I am to be steered clear of. People think I am the original definition of a mess, in every way. But that’s far from true. I am not financially wealthy, or extraordinarily strong or smart. I am stubborn and I don’t forgive easily. I am naïve, and I feel like I am just a bundle of mistakes tied together with good intentions. I am known for my excitement, my energy, and my sheer strength. I have been able to face many difficulties, overcome many problems. I’ve been through my fair share of issues, but they have only made me stronger. But through it all, my people’s devotion to me has only proven rivals wrong. My best quality, the only thing that has kept me standing, are my people- for they are one, united and strong.

In my many years of observing my people, I’ve realized there is a tradition they possess that nobody else does. That tradition is hospitality, and friendship. A typical example of this is when a man goes to a “Kaake” stand. “Kaake” is Middle Eastern bread, usually served with yoghurt or a herb called “zaatar”. It seems like it’s always the same guy who owns the “Kaake” kiosk. He’s always a fat, older man, with a bald head. He’s usually wearing a white tank top with an apron wrapped around his waist. His face is usually unshaven, so you can see his small white hairs across his face. It sounds like a dirty man, I understand. But it’s rare for you to ever receive an unclean “Kaake” despite the hygiene of the man who’s serving it to you. I guess the fact that you don’t get poisoned is a mystery. A man goes to a Kaake stand and he is a complete stranger to the proprietor, but by the time he leaves, they have formed a type of friendship. Now, every time the two men meet, they bond over how fast their kids are growing up, or how the weather has been acting schizophrenic. Just the other day, I witnessed a car bump into another one. The owner of the cars jumped out of their seats to check if there was any damage caused to their vehicles, and to yell at one another. Not only was there no damage caused to the cars, but there was no damage caused to the drivers either, because by the time they had climbed back into their seats they had called each other ‘my love’ (or ‘habibi’) three times. My people are not only friendly to tourists and newcomers, but to each other as well. Because with the situations they’re always living in, they have to stick together. I am not a place of political stability. I regularly have times where my people find it difficult to remain with me. I have not failed in disappointing them; I have been too stubborn at times and too lenient at others. But my people have remained reasonably stable, always sticking together. And I think the reason behind this is fear. Because of me, and my numerous errors, we are always scared. And when we are scared, we are united in our fear. And as I said before, our unity is the only thing keeping us alive.

When my people hear news of death, whether it is someone old or young, they deal with it exactly as they are supposed to. From the minute the sad news is announced in the newspaper, they join together like a family. People must immediately give their condolences. We would never leave anyone in times of grief to be alone. Giving our condolences actually becomes a social gathering. Instead of being together to mourn the loss of a loved one, we find it to be just as good a time to gossip about that divorcee who has a girlfriend so soon after moving out. I personally believe that my people may even somehow enjoy funerals, for they get an excuse to see everyone they know. But if you were to ask one of my people if they secretly enjoyed the social gatherings that happen in a funeral, they will be shocked and deny being anything but empathetic towards the grieving family. That, I can guarantee.

We are so united as people, even our cigarette breaks are enjoyed together. I see my people, every day, enjoying a cigarette together on the street. “Please take a cigarette with me!” I hear my people urge to one another, as an excuse to remain in whatever conversation they are having. Anywhere else in the world, forcing someone to take another cigarette in order for discussion would be absurd, but some of the most important conversations have taken place over a cigarette break here.

Cigarettes seem to be synonymous with coffee, so my people are almost always having a cigarette with breakfast. Somewhere along the way, they decided to do it together. It’s not uncommon for my people to just knock on their neighbors’ doors and join them for a cigarette and breakfast. I heard of a woman recently, who flew to America to be with her son who had just moved there. He had done everything he could to make her feel at home, trying to get every custom down so she would be comfortable. She awoke the morning after arriving, knocked on her neighbor’s door, and asked to have breakfast with them. They thought she was a psychopath; but my people would have welcomed her with open arms.

I am the couple that is disgustingly affectionate in public. I am the policeman who hits on the lost woman instead of helping her. I am the woman who’s perfectly made up and manicured to go to the supermarket. I am the old women who have coffee and gossip over breakfast. I am the old taxi driver who has over seven kids with the rotting car and bad breath. I am the in-laws that don’t need an official marriage to become a family. I am anything but ordinary. I am Beirut.



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This article has 27 comments. Post your own!

rashcar said...
Feb. 24, 2011 at 9:21 am:
Hi Maryam, This is Celena's dad.  I have proudly shared your essay with my friends and the reaction has been overhelming.  From "OMG!!" to "Simply Amazing!!".  Every now and then a movie, a book, a song come out and takes our breath away.  Your essay has done that to me and many others.  Great writing skills, particularly in keeping the reading interested and puzzled.  Bravo and keep it up.
 
Maryam replied...
Feb. 24, 2011 at 9:38 am :

Thank you so so much! I really appreciate your feedback, I'm so glad you liked it.It's overwhelming how so many people have liked my piece, I was really not expecting these reactions when I submitted it

Thank you again so much :)

 
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Hassan said...
Feb. 23, 2011 at 2:47 pm:

Ya Maryam:

My name is Hassan Elkhalil and I am a lawyer.  There is a preception that lawyers do no run out of words. In your article, you made me believe that they, sometimes, do.  I am speechless.  Good work. am sure we will hear from you again.  With people like you, I do not think we should have a reason to be concerned about lebanon. 

 
Maryam replied...
Feb. 24, 2011 at 7:25 am :

Thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate it. I really do hope your last sentence is true ;)

Hope to hear from you again, thanks again for your feedback.

 
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Mrs. Chalhoub said...
Feb. 9, 2011 at 1:34 am:
Great job Maryam.  Keep up the fantastic work!
 
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Teta Randa said...
Feb. 5, 2011 at 2:02 am:
Brilliantly written. Beirut couldn't have expressed itself more honestly or more elegantly.  Congratulations Maryam
 
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Laptoop said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 1:39 pm:
Miryam i i have no words
 
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Taghridcv said...
Jan. 26, 2011 at 10:32 am:

Beautifully written! Akh ya Beirut!

 

 
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