Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Realizations And Resolutions From 2013

It's December 31st, 2013, just minutes to midnight and as I sit on the same couch in the same house as I do every year to write my resolutions, I can't help but think of how repetitive, broad and generic my so called resolutions have been over the past few years (herehere, and here): Pray more, Work harder, take better care of your Health. And of course, spend less time Online. Fast-forward 365 days, not much of a change, same realizations and same resolutions. But I wanted to give this year more consideration. I wanted to be more specific, more goal oriented. So after giving it some thought, I want to focus this on WORK and SOCIAL LIFE…

WORK: 

Ok, can I say this? Because I really want to get it off my chest: I want to teach the world about good service! And its a huge challenge, a concept most people I know just don't seem to get. What it means to put your client first, and to give him/her more than what he/she asks for. At the same time, I want to teach the world about ethics and how everything that comes out comes from within. How focusing on internal employee satisfaction resonates into external customer satisfaction. I want to teach the world my version of Business. And I want to learn from it too (because there's still so much I need to learn for myself)… The problem is that I've been "fire-fighting", spending most of my time solving other people's problems, trying to put out the fire instead of investing time in strategic thinking and development. THAT is what I want to work on. Time Management (You Don't "Find" Time, You "Make Time"). Organization ("Everything In It's Right Place"). Development ("Never Stop Learning"). 

In turn, I'm on the right track on my MBA. By next month I should hopefully be finished with 21 Credits, and hopefully be one semester away from graduating in 2015 by this time next year... 

Which brings me to THE BIGGEST part I've neglected in 2013…

SOCIAL LIFE: 

On the rare days that I do have free time away from work or school, the number of close friends I have in Lebanon, let alone in Tripoli, can be counted on one hand. The number of outings I've had with friends, the number of gatherings and reunions, the number of WLT's "Shoot As You Walk" Events that I've participated in, have hit an ultimate low in 2013. So to everyone I didn't make enough of an effort to keep in touch with, I sincerely apologize and promise to go back out and get back in contact soon…

So on those rare occasions, where did I escape to? Well, I travelled. In March, I went to Jordan to one of my best friends' Nadine and six months later in September, Nadine and I took a wonderful vacation to The USA. Going alone and for the first time to a country I've never been before made me feel alive. Like there's an entire world outside of the bubble you put yourself in… In 2014, I want to travel more. I want to go again to places I've never been before!

I've learned that these are the rocks, the building blocks around which you make your life. And then everything else just falls between. Take a moment to watch "Jar Of Life" to understand what I'm trying to get at:

So with regards to these "in betweens", I've still got the same hobbies as I've had before: Reading, Writing, Music, and Photography. But the thing is that they don't need to be resolutions because they're not something you "work" at. No, they're just there to give your life a little balance, to give you a high when you're feeling low…

So I dedicate the year 2014 to self-development. It's not going to be a year for wishes or waiting around for someone/something or making life-altering decisions even though I'm honestly sick and tired of life in this city and country (which is a topic I'm not even going to get into right now). But those who know me know my positive spirit in the midst of negativity, and my big belief in God and loyalty. And I'm in a relationship with my work and my friends and family and my country. And like all relationships, when they get weak or broken, you don't just give up and let it go. You try to fix it (at least that's what I'm trying to do). And I've got a lot of fixing I need to do in 2014. So here's to 2014, and another chance for us to get it right! ;)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Our Lady Of Light

I've driven past the green mountains of Chekka a countless number of times before, on my routine city escapes to and from Beirut. And with each time I passed, I'd look to those mountains and wonder what lay on the other side, that looked out to the sea. "Our Lady Of Light", they'd all tell me, breath-taking views overlooking the coast. And it's in the North, "my North"...

So with each drive to and from, I'd look and long to go up those mountains, and finally see what they'd all been talking about...


Last week, I promised myself I'd finally make the drive this weekend. And Mum promised she'd be the one to go with me. And so, after a pancakes Sunday breakfast and a few chapters of "The Forty Rules Of Love", we set out. I had checked for directions online, all we had to do was take the side road just before the infamous tunnel of Chekka, and drive up to Hamat. It took about 15 minutes to reach the monastery, where people were just finishing up their Sunday prayers. We walked on towards the blue we saw right behind the convent, which turned out to be one of the most breathtaking sights I've ever seen in Lebanon... 

 
 I also learned of The Lady Of Light's legend, where "It is believed that two sailors built the shrine in the 4th century. One winter night, on a very stormy sea, the two sailors found themselves in peril. They began praying, and the Virgin appeared to them as a light and guided them gently to the shore of Theoprosopon near modern day Chekka in North Lebanon. The grateful sailors carved a cave in the cliff and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary, and called the shrine, Our Lady of Light. A Greek Orthodox monastery was built in the 17th century. The miraculous icon of the Theotokos has been venerated for centuries for having glowed with light to attract wayward ships."


Lebanon really is full of hidden wonders, and if you haven't visited The Lady Of Light, I encourage you all to do so. As for me, I'll always be on the lookout for the next hidden gem... stay tuned! ;-)

Friday, October 18, 2013

I Wish You Enough...

(Written By: Bob Perks)

I never really thought that I'd spend as much time in airports as I do. I don't know why. I always wanted to be famous and that would mean lots of travel. But I'm not famous, yet I do see more than my share of airports.

I love them and I hate them. I love them because of the people I get to watch. But they are also the same reason why I hate airports. It all comes down to "hello" and "goodbye." I must have mentioned this a few times while writing my stories for you.

I have great difficulties with saying goodbye. Even as I write this I am experiencing that pounding sensation in my heart. If I am watching such a scene in a movie I am affected so much that I need to sit up and take a few deep breaths. So when faced with a challenge in my life I have been known to go to our local airport and watch people say goodbye. I figure nothing that is happening to me at the time could be as bad as having to say goodbye.

Watching people cling to each other, crying, and holding each other in that last embrace makes me appreciate what I have even more. Seeing them finally pull apart, extending their arms until the tips of their fingers are the last to let go, is an image that stays forefront in my mind throughout the day.

On one of my recent business trips, when I arrived at the counter to check in, the woman said, "How are you today?" I replied, "I am missing my wife already and I haven't even said goodbye."

She then looked at my ticket and began to ask, "How long will you... Oh, my God. You will only be gone three days!" We all laughed. My problem was I still had to say goodbye.

But I learn from goodbye moments, too.

Recently I overheard a father and daughter in their last moments together. They had announced her departure and standing near the security gate, they hugged and he said, "I love you. I wish you enough." She in turn said, "Daddy, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Daddy."

They kissed and she left. He walked over toward the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see he wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on his privacy, but he welcomed me in by asking, "Did you ever say goodbye to someone knowing it would be forever?"

"Yes, I have," I replied. Saying that brought back memories I had of expressing my love and appreciation for all my Dad had done for me. Recognizing that his days were limited, I took the time to tell him face to face how much he meant to me.

So I knew what this man experiencing.

"Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever goodbye?" I asked.

"I am old and she lives much too far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is, the next trip back would be for my funeral," he said.

"When you were saying goodbye I heard you say, "I wish you enough." May I ask what that means?"

He began to smile. "That's a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone." He paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, he smiled even more."When we said 'I wish you enough,' we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them," he continued and then turning toward me he shared the following as if he were reciting it from memory:


He then began to sob and walked away.

My friends, I wish you enough!

(Taken From: http://www.bobperks.com/wish.htm)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Meeting Orlando Bloom!

I was telling Nadine how much I loved musicals, ever since I saw my first in Her Majesty's Theatre: The Phantom of the Opera. It was in London in the summer of 2005 and my parents were booking tickets to go watch it. They asked me and my brother if we wanted to watch it with them. My brother, who was 15 at the time, wasn't in the least bit interested and I was in the middle of yes and no until I thought I'd give it a try. And when I did, I fell in love with it…

Fast forward to 2013, when I find myself on broadway, with a another chance to watch a live musical. I was looking at all the options I would have loved to see... until Nadine pointed out what was playing in Richard Rodger's Theatre: "Romeo & Juliet". Now obviously, R&J isn't a musical and it's a play we've all read and seen a hundred times before. And honestly, I never would have even considered it if it weren't for one tiny little detail… it was starring Orlando Bloom! In. The. Flesh! 

Now let me tell you something about Orlando Bloom. Back when I was in high school, I had a huge B&W poster of him hung on my bedroom wall. In university, I had his pictures taped all over my dorm, I had him as my desktop wallpaper, and I even got him on my surprise birthday cake! THAT is how much I loved Orlando Bloom! So, I forgot all the musicals and opted to watch his debut on broadway... 

Live, he's a brilliant actor. He makes the play, and from the first moment he appears on stage on his motorbike, I just couldn't take my eyes off him. But, not to be biased, the play wasn't all that great. Or maybe we're just sick of Romeo and Juliet. But either way, I got what I went for: Orlando! 


When the play ended, I snapped a few blurry pictures of him and we went outside to find a small group of people waiting with cameras and the play's booklet. There was a metal bar setup in front of a back door and I couldn't believe my eyes that Orlando Boom was going to come out for autographs! It didn't take too long for the door to open and there he was! Nadine and I took about 150 pictures of him in 5 minutes, and here's the autograph I got from him:


P.S. On his way back in, I screamed "ORLADNOOO! CAN I TAKE A PICTURE WITH YOU?" He turned around at the sound of my voice, smiled and said "Thank You" before going back in. Oh well, maybe next time? ;-)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tripoli In The Sky...

I was having my hurried mid-day snack in the kitchen when I saw him coming out of the washroom. A minute later, someone else came up to use the washroom after him. They were making ablution (“wudu”) I realized, getting ready for Friday Prayer. The bank closes for an hour during Friday’s noon-time prayer and so I went back downstairs to finish the pile of work pending on my desk. I was so wrapped up in reading an email on the computer that I merely heard the glass next to me shake. “Was that an explosion?” she asked me from the other side. “No,” I said mindlessly, and carried on. My phone rang, “Nour, did you hear the explosion?!” it was Mum. “What, Mum? I felt the glass shake but…” Seconds after we hung up, an even louder one exploded, this time shaking the entire bank. I froze…

It didn't take long to get news of the twin explosions, and all I could think about was the proximity of Al Salam Mosque to my house. The phone lines went dead, no one could get a hold of another, and the panic began to rise. Me? I was still frozen. It still hadn't sunk in, how could an explosion have just rattled my hometown?! Yes, we've had gunshots and bombs before, but this one had hit closest to home…

I don’t know where I get it from, but I have a tendency of remaining calm in chaotic situations. I don’t panic, even when everyone around me is, but my mind was blank as ever. I started mindlessly packing up the files and papers on my desk, filing, locking up. I didn't leave until after most of the bank had emptied. I knew they were alright, I felt they were alright, but that was my heart working, not my brain…

When I stepped outside, the streets were half empty. I walked to my car which, that day, I had found a parking place for in the backstreet. It was on an intersection that was now sealed off by the army’s barbed wires. One of the army men, who know me because I walk that street daily and ask me about interest rates almost every other day, came to pull the barbed wire aside, “Allah Ma3ek,” he waved me off. I rushed home, and when I saw the television screen, I felt a sting in my heart as tears began to well in my eyes…

Photo By: Mustapha Hamoui

This is only at the far end of the street parallel to ours. 200 meters away, that’s it. That’s how close I lived to the mosque, the stores, the café shops, the buildings. But I was one of the lucky ones, because our building was just tucked away from the devastation. People I knew well had their homes shattered. Car parts had flown 10 stories up and into some people’s bedrooms, glass everywhere, balconies collapsed…

And then the heartbreaking stories of those people, like the grandfather who went to pray, asking his three grandchildren to wait for him outside, and how he came back to find their fumed corpses. I knew people praying inside, people living outside…

But again, I was a lucky one. I was a lucky one because I wasn't there at the time, because I didn't see the smoke and the people dead and dying and crying, but my heart is burning. Because as much as I hate this city, I just as much I love it. And I'll always read your name in the sky Tripoli, won't I? All I have left to say about yesterday’s tragedy is God bless all the innocent souls, heal all the hurt, and protect what’s left. Tripoli & all Lebanon, always in my prayers… 

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Magic of My Tripoli...

It's been a while since I've written anything worthy of my city. Over the past few months, I've kept my head low and my expectations lower with all the shenanigans and trouble that's been cooking up in the city. I didn't recognize it anymore, and if I called it by name, you'd only hear it a whisper: Tripoli…

Two weeks ago, the holy month of Ramadan graced us. With it, the gunfire quietened, the burning tires and blocked roads stopped burning and opened up, and a fresh breath of faith breezed through the city. In this light breeze, I heard a voice. It sounded familiar, from not so long ago. It was my city, Tripoli, calling again. It was barely a whisper, but I heard it, I listened. And I answered... 

This calling was from a group and event I oh so love, We Love Tripoli's "Ramadaniyat" Shoot As You Walk. Every shot of every corner, street, place, and person in this city, every new lens test, and photographic learning experience, I am forever grateful to this group, esp. to it's head, Taha Naji. Our latest meeting was last Sunday, after the Taraweeh Night Prayers. Taha had decided we gather at a new checkpoint, The Municipality of Tripoli (i/o Nawfal Palace). It was quite a crowd; some there to socialize, some to walk, and some to take pictures. When we started, as we do every time, I like to make my way to the front of the group. I think you get better pictures of the streets and spirits as they are from up front. And that's where it all begins...


We walked as we always do, and I always start off frustrated with the difficulty in taking good night photos. After several darkened and blurry snapshots, I finally find an acceptable camera setting and scout my eyes for "moments". I sometimes don't have words to describe what I see and feel. But when we entered the old souks, to the children, that's where my heart started beating for Tripoli again. From the drummer kids in the street, to the children playing with fireworks, to the mischievousness and carelessness on their little faces, that was their real life, raw. And for a moment, I was a part of it. See there's a quote about photography which speaks from my heart. It reads: 

"WE ARE PHOTOGRAPHERS. We are not here to show people what they can already see. We are here to give them experiences they would otherwise never have experienced. We are here to preserve moments that otherwise would have been forgotten. We are here to capture things which have no words to describe." 


And then, I saw him. I hadn't seen him since last Ramadan, at this exact same location in Moussa's Cafe. I wouldn't mistake his cute face anywhere, and God, how he'd grown... 


I don't think he remembered me, as the only words I've ever told him year after year were "can I take a picture of you?" And he'd flash me his cute grin and enjoy the spotlight I'd give him. I later learned that his name is Omar. Omar had grown up so much since I first met him in 2010. He'd also gotten his hands on a motorbike, which he seemed to be enjoying more than anything. And his beautiful smile never left his face...

Omar in 2013
Omar in 2010

We walked through the crowded cafe, bustling with hubble-bubbling locals, kids with toy guns, and of course, Omar circling around on his motorbike. I knew when we reached this point it was the end of our tour.  But it was in that moment that I found it, I found that though I love shooting people candid, I loved shooting children candid even more. The souk kids, all of them, they just stole my heart. And I just can't wait to see them again!


So if you're still reading this, then with all my heart, I invite you to join me on some of the most beautiful experiences anyone can go through in Tripoli, and that's "Shoot As You Walk". And for double the magic, join a "Ramadaniyat" event because I still haven't shown you how beautiful it is… :-)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lana Del Rey @ Byblos International Festival 2013

Yesterday was the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. It was also the first day of my TQM summer class at school. It was also the long awaited night of Lana Del Rey in Lebanon for the very first time! I barely had time to breathe yesterday, running from work to school and then off to Jbeil on an empty stomach. But wow oh wow, what a night!

I've always had a soft spot for Jbeil. The old souks, the beautifully cobbled streets and sidewalks, the vibrant night life, just walking through it is magic…

The opening act was for The Wanton Bishops, a local Lebanese band which I really wanted to like but it just wasn't music to my ears. There was then about an hour interlude, but from the moment she came on stage, till the moment she said goodnight, it was the most brilliant I've ever seen of Lana Del Rey. Her electrifying voice, her down-to-earth personality, being with my friends, the night… it was perfect!  Here's the recording I took for Blue Jeans, the song that introduced me to her and my favourite song of her's since:


ATM, I can't help but wonder what performance I'll be looking forward to at next year's festival… Thank You Byblos & Good Night! :-)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The House on 66 Houlahan Street

There is a house in a neighborhood called Barrhaven. It’s a quiet two-story house, in an equally quiet neighborhood. And if you look close enough, you’ll read the number 66 on the top right corner of the garage door. That used to be my house, my 66 Houlahan Street.

Throughout the years I've lived in quite a few different houses and places. Some of which I remember, some of which I don’t, some of which I've lived in for longer periods of time than others, but I guess in the end we tend to remember the house we grew up in, the house that we had our first memories in. And for me, it was the house on 66 Houlahan Street.

The reason I’m remembering is because my parents are currently with my younger brother in Canada. They traveled for his graduation. I’d obviously loved to have gone with them, but I had classes, projects, and exams due, the last of which I finished just last night. So while they were there, on the other side of the world, they took a road trip to Ottawa, and they passed by our old house and they sent me this picture:


My entire heart smiled at the sight of that house, with its front door and porch, bright green grass lawn, evergreen pine tree, and wooden fence around the backyard. I could tell you of the smallest things I remember, like accidentally dropping a loonie underneath the front patio when I was little, and almost crying that I couldn't get it out so Dad gave me another one. Or like the lemonade stand I set up at the end of the lawn in an attempt to collect money to buy a Kitty Kitty Kitten from Toys’R’Us for $29.99. I remember that sweet moment when I made my last dollar, and how excited I was for Dad to come home from work so he could take me to go buy it. I still have it in my room today. Now imagine the entire lawn covered in snow, and how my little brother and I would put on our snow suits and build snow men and snow forts, and throw snow balls at each other. Of course, I was always tougher than him, and I usually managed to make him cry!

I also remember my next-door neighbor and first friend, Amanda. I remember when she and her family had moved in right after we had, and Dad made me go outside and introduce myself. We instantly became friends. It’s been a long, long time since I've heard from her and I’m not sure if she even lives there anymore. But I’ll never forget her as being one of my very first best friends.

Oh, I could go on and on about this house, all the way up until the day it broke my heart to see we had hung our “For Sale” sign at the end of the driveway…

Looking back, all I remember are the sweet childhood memories I had here. It feels so nostalgic, looking back at your old house and the street and neighborhood you used to live in. Especially knowing that a new family is living in your old house now, and that new faces fill your old neighbors’ houses, and new shops and establishments have popped up in the once quiet neighborhood (they've told me it’s grown so much!).

But no matter how many thousands of miles away I may be, I’ll always have a soft spot for this place. So God Bless this house and the people in it, in 66 Houlahan Street. It’s my favorite house in the whole wild world… :-)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tickets to Lana Del Rey @ Byblos International Festival 2013

"Video Games". It was her debut single, her claim to fame. It was the first song I heard and fell in love with for her. Swinging in the backyard, pull up in your fast car, whistling my name...

Throughout the year, I got introduced to more of her music and I especially loved "Born To Die", "Blue Jeans", "Summertime Sadness", and most lately, "Young and Beautiful". Lana Del Rey has definitely made it to the list of my top artists of all time. And, I still can't believe my eyes, she's coming to Lebanon's Byblos International Festival on July 10th, 2013! 

I remember my first Byblos International Festival in 2010, I went with Toastmasters to see the famous local Lebanese Band Mashrou3 Leila. Two years later in 2012, I went with my brother and cousins to see Snow Patrol (a band that I am absolutely in love with, and what a was a perfect night it was!). And now, just when I thought I'd seen the best, Byblos International Festival outdoes themselves again and brings Lana Del Rey (along with a brilliant lineup you can see here!) 

I know I'm a few weeks late in writing this post, but thank my lucky stars I'm not late in getting tickets (for me and two of my very best friends)! The very moment I found out she was coming, I booked! The only difference between this year and last year is that this year I decided to go seated because standing kills! And I'm too old to be standing these days! :-P Ahhh, and as of this moment, exactly one month remains till Lana lands in Lebanon! Can't Wait!


Till then, I leave you with one of her lesser known, but more upbeat songs (which happens to be my song of the week), PARIS:

The Halo Lifts...

There is a concept that has always fascinated me, about souls and angels and our human connections to one another. About how we can feel so close to some people, and about how long it can last until we grow apart. Because no matter how close, we always grow apart in the end, don't we?

I believe in soul friends and soul mates. I believe in angels too. And I believe that sometimes (though rare), you find these blessings in people. Its quite hard to describe these people, because while many will see them as normal human beings like you and I, to others, or to a select one, this person will be seen as something more. I'm not sure which term I can use to coin them, but heaven-sent to say the least...

This person will be your shining light, your protection, your shelter from all harm. This person will be by your side whether you need him/her to or not, whether you're right or you're wrong, looking out for you, your inner voice, your conscience, again, shining a light in the dark, knowing when it is dark (without you having to say a word), and never breaking that promise, that connection. It could be for just a moment, for days, weeks, months, or years, maybe several years. But eventually there will be a separation. And for the life of me I still can't understand why…

I can't tell you that I've changed or that the other person has changed either. Maybe the times have changed, maybe the winds have changed. But the beauty I used to see in some people is gone, just gone…

That halo that I used to see above your head, its been lifted, its no longer there. The light doesn't shine from you anymore. Why? Has it been transferred to another? Can you not have more than one special soul or angel in your life? Because the amount of love we have, can we truly distribute it among others or is it reserved just for one?

In the end, we don't belong to anyone. We are only temporality placed in another's custody for a short or a long period of time. And no rings or words make you another's.

Though it breaks my heart, your halo has lifted. You have taught me and given me all that you could, little or great as it might have been, and I'd like to think I've done the same for you. Because I love you, I love you so much but I just don't like you anymore. And I think you love me but don't like me anymore too. And I think its at that moment, that moment of "love without like", that's the moment the halo lifts…


I think i've found a new soul/angel now...