SHISHA

Shisha

Could there be anything more annoying than shisha?! Hold your horses! Don’t start to list! But really… Our most successful export by far… How useful it is to humanity is a different story.

As I sit there observing people smoking their shisha, I really wonder what the big deal is. I am in a nice café by the beach. Tables are filling up quickly. It is a heavenly place, a heavenly view.

A couple sits at a table beside me. The woman looked in her late twenties, had long brown hair, parted in the middle. She wore natural make up, had the fashionable eyebrows, nose job and collagen lips that are very much in trend these days in the Middle-East. She was wearing a short black dress with flower patterns and light beige sandals matching the colour of the flowers.

The husband, a young man in his thirties, was wearing a light blue shirt with patches on the elbows in a stripy multi-coloured pattern,  royal blue shorts, and navy plimsolls. Effortless chic as you do in Lebanon. Mind you everyone around me is Syrian.

The couple sat down and did what everyone does nowadays, they picked up their mobiles and stared at their screens. A waiter came and took their orders. Soon after, a shisha arrived for the Mrs. She finally left her mobile and started hubbling bubbling and talking to her husband! Hurray! Shisha brings people together. She used the nozzle to gesture and emphasis what she was saying. It became an extension of her ego. The man listened quietly. A few minutes later, his shisha arrived and soon they were engaged in a dual of smoke and talk. They were now on equal footing. However the puffs took over the words and silence fell.

I looked around me, and everyone was doing the same. If only people could speak their hearts, but they can’t. What they can do though is smoke Shisha. Long puffs of smoke are let out. Most people are doing it, staring at some distant point, huffing and puffing, engaged in a muted  conversation, on the mind of every Syrian. Every exhale is an attempt to release all the frustration of those unspoken, heavy suffocating words. A litany of  smoke as powerful as the sound it makes, falling on deaf ears… I am starting to develop some empathy for the shisha now. I get it. It is a form of therapy. Death is so incumbent in the region. We are all going to die anyway so why die healthy. Die slowly… Smoke shisha! The extension of the battered egos and helpless souls. The voice of the voiceless and most of all, the killer of time. When the whole world is trying to kill you, and you cannot kill anyone, you just kill time… An indirect form of suicide. As I develop these deep thoughts about the essence of this trivial pastime, I can now say to all you shisha smokers, I now understand you!

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Another Tale From the Sea

 

 

The master of the sea rose angrily on a tidal wave. But nothing would phase the tyrant King. Their dispute came to an impasse. The master of the sea was raging, “You have soiled my sea. There has to be a tax from now on!” “A tax!” Laughed the King. “I will not pay you a penny! Do as you please.” The master of the sea said, “So be it. From tomorrow, there will be no salt in this stretch of the sea and see if you can live with that.” The King turned his back thinking, “What a fool. That’s even better, drinking water is scarce. Does he really think he is punishing me?!”

The King gathered his people and said, “I bring you glad tidings, by the power invested in me by the gods, I shall turn this sea into a river of sweet water. I am your lord, I am the greatest ruler of all times.”The people hailed in their accustomed manner. Then the crowds dispersed. No one said anything, people had stopped speaking a long time ago. The King knew best.

The next morning, true to his word, the Master of sea had taken away all the salt. The King rejoiced in his own astuteness and carried a smug smile for most of the morning. People were amazed. Had they misjudged the King? The water was really sweet. However, by midday, a strange smell started invading the city, and by the afternoon the stench became unbearable. The King was horrified. It was the stench of death, the stench of all the atrocities he dumped in the sea, all the dead bodies, all the tortured prisoners, he knew that smell.

The children were looking at me with big round eyes, Sara then said, “Guys let’s go play by the pool…”

I managed to clear the beach. Finally I could sit peacefully and enjoy a quiet morning on the seafront. It was just as well, it would have been too much to tell them about the king’s devious idea to salinate the water, how it turned the stretch into a dead sea, how the waves carried the bodies to shore… It was really a gruesome ending… Maybe if they come back tomorrow.

I gazed at the extent of the vastness of the sea… A gloomy burial place, a majestic kingdom, a world within a world ready to swallow it at any time…

I picked up my  snorkeling gear and made my way to the deck. I needed to wash off those dark thoughts. A simple gaze into the colorful reef restored the hope that was eluding me. The healing power of all that is natural was as disarming as its wrath was disabling. A vibrant colorful living universe was unfolding indifferent to my pain. That night, I bowed like never before to the Lord of all this beauty and was grateful for that moment when I was able to see Him in the magnificence of His creation.

 

Let’s talk

Let’s talk

 

Thank you every one for coming. This is the first lecture I give here, but before we start, I would like every person to swap seats with a person they don’t know, say hello to the person next to them and stare into their eyes for thirty seconds…

How did that feel?

Did it take you out of your comfort zone?

I would ask you to keep note of that feeling.

 

I moved here three months ago. It is a very busy city, a very hectic life.  I often sit on my balcony and observe my neighbours. I tried to meet them… I invited them for a coffee as a friendly gesture, a sort of social exercise. The couple on the ground floor couldn’t make it. Their Saturday is packed, they have to take the kids to football, then piano, then Kumon, do the weekly shopping then God knows what. We managed to agree on a date in  a month and a half.

My upstairs neighbour is a middle aged man, single. He also couldn’t make it for some polite excuse. I suspect he has a crush on the lady on the ground floor. Every time she takes her dog for a walk, he happens to be going out, and Seizes the opportunity to talk… Not to her of course…but to the dog, then complement her on his cuteness. I don’t know when he will actually build up the courage to ask her out on a date. My next door neighbours are a high flying carrier couple with very demanding jobs. I am not even going to go there, or maybe I will… Every conversation is about their achievements and successes. They don’t know that their son has joined a cult and is planning to leave school. Don’t get me wrong, I am not being judgemental, you just learn so much about people when you observe them… Maybe more than what they know about themselves. All my  neighbours are kind and lovely people, easy to chat with- online that is… They are the new “new-age” fibre of our society, keeping to themselves, and just doing… After all who knows what danger lurks next to you, in this metropolitan melting pot, we are all strangers to one another.

 

I open the newspapers, watch the news, listen to the radio, the message is clear, “You live in a dangerous place. Let me tell you what, who, you should fear.” A culture of scarcity and engineered phobias… Every nation has to have its Gruffalo, or they can borrow a universal one to feed their anxiety. People don’t make eye contact anymore. What defines man as a social human being is now being stripped away from him. The question is who are we becoming?

 

So today, our lecture will address a new topic. I want to talk to you about the new social dis-ease, spreading wildly in societies populated by human-doings rather than human beings, it is what I call social autism…

Diaries of a horticulturist

Did you ever touch an orchid? If the answer is no, quickly go grab the nearest orchid plant close your eyes and feel its velvety petals and dream of a soft encounter, a heart-warming whisper, a gentle touch, or just think of a chocolate Florentine drink served at Carluccio’s; probably the closest thing I could think of to that ecstatic velvety feeling that an orchid can conjure. Then, gently open your eyes and gaze at the beauty, elegance, and solemnity of this plant. Minimalist in appearance, abundant in presence, yet aloof… An orchid doesn’t say much, doesn’t feel much. It has taken a vow of silence, it will not tickle your senses with aromas and let you dream. It is there to instill awe.

Orchids, however, were never my first choice. I had to settle for orchids, you see, after I failed at growing gardenias… Now, gardenias are the real deal. They feel! They are needy, they are human. They get cross and sulk. They reward you on warm evenings with a beautiful sent. They command your attention, love and care. And if you fail them, they will frustrate you by refusing to flower. You can consider yourself lucky if all the buds blossom at the same time. More often than not, you would do something wrong and suffer their wrath; they will blossom one at a time and sometimes die without unraveling their beauty. You see, gardenias are born to be free. They can never forgive you for bringing them indoors. They will wait for the slightest mistake to let you know how unhappy they are. They want a scorching sun, a blue sky, and the loving murmurs of evening gatherings on balconies or summer gardens. They are dense, the darkest green and purest white, the softest feel and strongest scent. They are effervescent yet mystical in their beauty. And if you feel a gardenia’s petals, they are as velvety and soothing, but if you smell the flower, it carries the intoxicating flavor of your deepest longings.

I had to settle for the orchid. All it needs is some water every two weeks, half decent shade and to be left in peace… Alone, lonely and proud. Too much nurture will only kill it. It is everywhere! A mass subliminal message: Just be like the orchid! Be like all the fruits and veggies in the supermarket, that look amazing but taste like cucumbers. Just be self-sufficient. Be like the orchid, it doesn’t need much. An orchid is the mirror of today’s society. A gardenia is its soul. It has felt the heat, absorbed the joy and sorrow. It is a labor of love, a meaningful relationship, it is human. The orchid has managed to grow on foreign land. Cloned in abundance, it has lost its mystic status, lost its exotic touch; it is just everywhere. An orchid is a maimed gardenia that refuses to bow in the face of adversity and stands tall, in all its majesty and silence, waiting…

 

 

Once upon a dream

It was a sunny afternoon, we were playing in the sand pit. Finally it was time to go. I looked for my shoes, they were gone. I had left them at the edge. I looked everywhere. I couldn’t find them.  But I had to leave.  I looked around, and bravely decided to go.  I had to go bare foot.  My shoes had this strange habit of disappearing. They left me once in the supermarket, another as I was going out.  Every time causing a churn in my stomach…

Suddenly, the atmosphere changed… I could sense danger. What was I doing among those people? I didn’t like what they were doing. I had to get out. They wouldn’t let me. A few fake smiles and brief exchanges got me closer to the door. What a nauseous feeling.  I managed to get out… I ran! They ran after me! They were gaining on me. Where do I go? I waved my arms and started levitating.  I was slower this time, I needed more elevation. I kept flapping my arms. Finally I was rising above the crowd. Their arms were stretched towards me in a final attempt to get hold of me, but I was gone.  I was still feeling uneasy,  I was not high enough, if I extended my arms downward I would have been able to touch them. Finally they disappeared. Not many people have this gift… But I can fly…

I took a break. I went for a walk. It was a day like any other. I looked over my shoulder.  That dreaded feeling was creeping back. Danger.  I had to fly off. The edge of the cliff was not far, I ran towards then took off, or I thought I would, but I was falling.

It was a short shriek… I was right at the edge of my bed, I almost fell off… It was the spring of 2011. I had enough.  No more flying. It was time to face the music… And dance.