Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Around the world and back again...sort of

My life has come full circle. Seattle to Cairo, Beirut, Berlin, Paris, Geneva, Baitz, Johannesburg, back to Seattle. Coming back, though not for long, has its advantages. You can measure your own progress, like a yard stick, against the changes you've seen in the world. Like a mirror on the surface of a pond, you can see those changes reflected in yourself. Traffic is worse, but I'm more aware of the societal implications, tent cities abound, but I understand the context and how I can do my part to help, my parents are older, but so am I. 

Typically, returning to Seattle feels like arriving on the precipice of a plateau.  Or rather, the flat basin of a deep bowl. I take a step down from my life to stagnate. But not this time. This time I come back in celebration. I have finally accomplished the only thing there ever was on my bucket list: becoming a published author. My first book, Population, is a post-apocalyptic, science fiction, romantic, action adventure fest that was released in April 2015 by an independent press, Vantage Point Books. Vantage Point Books and its parent company, NubiTales LLC, specialize in the promotion of authors and characters of color (#weneeddiversebooks!). Vantage Point Books is also based in Seattle. 

Full circle. 

But it's not a circle is it? Because I'm not in a bowl, not on a plateau, even though I'm in Seattle. I'm continuing my life and for the first time in possibly forever, my own hometown fits into it as a positive force rather than a weight to hold me down. No, I'm not traveling a circle. I'm traveling a road. A road to nowhere and everywhere. A road through a Washington forest, through the South African sun, through a post-apocalyptic landscape. A road that never ends even as it is reborn as I am reborn again and again and again. 

A thousand lifetimes in one

For more information on my book see my website:, or purchase Population directly on Amazon UK or Amazon US.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Geneva Time

I'm back in Geneva. The sun is shining and it's freezing here. Life has settled into a quirky sort of routine and I'm begrudgingly becoming adjusted. I'm working now full time. To go from undergraduate to work is certainly a bizarre transition. Life is full of those though...transitions, I I suppose I shouldn't be too concerned. There will be plenty more to come and I'm sure few of them will be so seamless.

Working for a Geneva-based human rights NGO as a communications officer, dealing with visa nonsense, looking ahead, trying not to look too far back, missing friends, missing family, loving my rent-free-boyfriend-filled-Swiss-chalet accommodations, reveling in every minute of my financial independence which will be cemented in reality as soon as I finish paying all of my hospital bills.... hospital bills. Another surgery coming up, this one to take the plates out of my fingers. My scar is grizzly, but I've always liked scars...

They prove that you lived at some point or another.

The Seahawks won (Seattle pride!) and it was incredible to see how far Seahawk allegiances travel. Over two hundred people were packed into a tiny little space and no less than 95 percent of them wore Seattle Seahawks -- or better yet Seattle Geneva Seahawks -- tee shirts, brandishing that blue bird like a badge of honor.

Geneva is nice and calm but so much so that it leaves few things to write about. Now that I'm just here and hardly settled, it's hard not to dream of more. The world is big and the sun is shining and my heart is thump thump thumping, eager for the next chance it'll get to take a wild leap into the unknown and explore.

The world awaits.

From the hand of the weirdo and the wanderer

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Memo on Being Mixed

I recently read an article on a fellow mixed girl's experiences Coming out as Biracial. It was a great article, and much appreciated. She looks different from me, despite also being half-white, half-black, which sort of puts us in the same ethnic group while our races still remain divided.

Being abroad, I find that my identity is in constant transition. People never seem to know what to do with me. I dressed up as a Geisha on Halloween and over a dozen people asked me if I were Japanese, or tried to speak to me in an Asian language. I speak Arabic, so naturally people assume that I'm Egyptian or Syrian. When my hair is curly, most think I'm either of African or Latin descent, but when I straighten my hair I am suddenly from India, or the Philippines.

It's fun being mixed, causing people to question my ancestry, and I wouldn't change it for anything. But when over six million Americans are of more than one ethnic group, it still drives me to the brink of insanity when my nationality is doubted by people in other countries.

Someone will ask me where I'm from. I tell them the US. Ninety percent of the time, the looks that cross their faces are an amalgam of shock and horror. Then comes the inevitable curiosity. "Oh, but where are your parents from?" I explain that both are from the US. If you want specifics my mother grew up in Seattle, my dad in Wenatchee.  This never seems to suffice, so then I'm asked what my origins are - it's the polite way of asking why my face looks like this (though some have asked much, much less politely). I usually make something up in response to this question. Some days I'm of Egyptian and German descent, other days I'm Ethiopian and Irish, sometimes I'm Native American or Alaskan or Hawaiian.

I've had people on the streets of Paris assault me with criticisms when I'm too vague - "How do you not know where your ancestors are from? Your children will grow up with mental problems and depression because they have no identity..." - or use the N-word too liberally around me. I've gotten into arguments over the fact that there are - shockingly! - people of more than one ethnicity living in America while on the streets of Cairo.  And more than once, Ive been able to convince Lebanese and Jordanian taxi drivers that I'm Obama's niece - because after all, if I'm mixed and he's mixed we must be part of the same family.

The most recent of these criticisms however, came to me in Switzerland. A man asked me where I was from and I briefly explained that I was American with roots steeped in African and European ancestry. "What is with Americans and their 'roots'?" He chastised immediately. "I tell people I'm French. That's it." It was a fair point.  But didn't help him in the least.

I lost it.

After years spent defending my ethnicity, my nationality, my gender and my race, and of being asked why I look the way I do from almost EVERYONE, I had never once been attacked for being too specific. So I laid it into him, because after 22 years of perfecting my ethnicity's alibi, I am still riled up too easily.

And truth be told, the guy was right. I shouldn't have to explain every time I meet someone new that I have an ambiguous ethnic origin because slavery was a thing in the States and I am the bi-product of one parent who could pass the Paper-Bag Test and one parent who couldn't and as a result, I am mixed and mixed people all look so different that I don't really know why I look the way I do.

So now what?  What do I do the next time someone asks me where I'm from? People have a right to be curious. And most times I find that they mean well, and aren't attacking me for having brown skin, crazy hair, and high cheeks, maliciously. I guess I just look forward to the day that mixed babies become more accepted - if not the norm - and that people don't feel the need to question diversity so bluntly.

And until that day that hopefully my own mixed babies will see, I'll be Brazilian in the summertime, Lebanese in the winter, and whenever I'm back in the US, I'll check the "multi-racial" box on whatever form I'm filling out, proudly.


Forever, A Mixed Baby

My mixed cousin and I, respectively

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Go hard or the hospital.

Go hard or the hospital? Right? Is that how the expression goes?

Sitting in my hospital bed, typing with one hand while the other stands perfectly upright swathed in thick sheaths of plaster, cotton, and stretchy canvas-colored fabric, I'm not sure why I wasn't able to use the smarter half of my brain this past Halloween night. Go hard or go HOME. Go hard AND go home. Just don't go hard and try and squash three people on the back of a motorbike.

But that's what we did, my boyfriend and I. I'd like to blame him for it - really I would - but the problem is that I'm also an idiot and when we drink our separate stupidities compound and combine. We've gotten lucky in the past - been more responsible and less moronic - but Halloween cast a spell over both of us, and despite the fact that my second day strapped to this prison-bed is easing into my third, I still can't deny that it was one hell of a night.

We danced, we took shots off of skis, we bartered with the Gambians down in Geneva's infamous Paquis, we smoked, we boozed, we ran, we screamed, and then in the wee hours of the morning after we'd left all of our friends or they'd left us, my boyfriend and I found ourselves in an unfamiliar neighborhood with no working metro, and no taxis. So we got on the back of sone random kid's motorcycle and asked for a lift that he was reluctant to give and I was reluctant to take. We sped through the night on that rickety two-wheeled wagon and more than half a dozen times I anticipated us crashing, which is why I'm still surprised at how shocked I was when we did.

In moments of crisis and brutality, I've heard that time slows or that people see whit light or memories flare up in living color behind closed lids. I experienced none of this. I saw only the parked car we were aimed at, felt the wind on my face, and the sudden lurch of my stomach as it made a Kamikaze leap into my chest. The sounds came next. So loud - impossibly so. I was lying on my back on the ground and could feel a tightening of my chest as I fought to breathe. I heard Ferdinand moaning into the concrete and could see bits if blood and motorcycle debris scattered all around me. I sat up quickly and saw him on the ground while I distantly registered our driver picking up the remnants of his bike and driving off, fragments if red plastic fluttering in his wake. I shouted to no one for an ambulance and remember how, when Ferdinand sat up - alive - the weight in my chest became relief.

I don't recall when the women in the road found us, but it must have been minutes or seconds, maybe. I do remember the one woman, Myriam. I cannot see her face, but I can hear her still sweetly whispering my name in the softest, most comforting voice I'd ever heard and likely ever will. She was the one to convince both Ferdinand and me to lie down, to calm down - I didn't - and to breathe deeply. The women stayed with us, comforting us as a mother would her children until the ambulance came in a blaze of red and blue and sirens screaming.

And then came the pain. It's amazing what shock and adrenaline can do to the human body - what they can repress. I had shattered most if the bones in my left hand and still could not feel it for the better part of half an hour. We made it to the hospital. I had surgery, Ferdinand had a Deliverance-esque smile and a mouthful of missing teeth.

I'm still here waiting for release as I eat a plate full of something orange, hoping that this scenario will eventually be funny. Even the fact that we were found on the side of the road dressed as a clown and a zebra was made less funny when I saw how shredded the oversized blue shoes were the next morning. It could have been worse than broken bones and teeth. A lot worse.

And in thinking about how much worse it might have been I must acknowledge that this has been my longest, most terrifying dream. And one year from now, one month from, now - next weekend - I will make a different choice. I will choose home next Halloween.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


Leaving Beirut felt as if an anvil had been lifted from my chest. Despite missing Lebanon, the conflicts in the region and the ceaselessly escalating violence did not endear me to the idea of living there, or anywhere in the Middle East/North Africa, for the foreseeable future. Syria needs time, Israel and Palestine need time, Egypt needs time. Time, and a prayer to changing winds.

I stepped out of Beirut, six months worth of stuff in tow, and found myself easing into the surreality of Istanbul. What a step. To leave such chaos behind and take a great leap, I felt as if I had plunged from the clouds and ascended straight to Valhalla. Hot, rancid air was replaced by a cool Mediterranean breeze. Salacious stares were traded in for crisp clean nods of a much welcomed indifference as I walked down the streets. Deeply divided religious and ethnic neighborhoods collided in one brilliant melee of culture. Entering into the Hagia Sophia and seeing images of Christ and Mary hanging alongside the names of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs was enchanting and enriching and warmed my soul.

The streets smelled of spices, salt, and the sea and as I wandered the narrow cobblestone roads late at nights I saw young people streaming in and out of clubs, flocking to waffle stands for one last midnight treat, while above it all the eerie sound of the muezzin uttering the call-to-prayer rose up in the distance.  I fell into Istanbul and fell in love with it in the same step. Truly, I did not want to leave.

Four days blew by in a rush.  Again, on the plane, this time leaving the Middle East behind me. Left behind, but always remembered. The Middle East will hold a particular place in my heart forever.

Beirut to Istanbul, Istanbul to Geneva. Life slowed down more and more at each progression. I sit now in a little chalet with Moroccan carpets on the floors and exposed wood on the walls. The doors to the balcony are open and a cool breeze floats in that pulls all thoughts of sticky heat from my mind and Arabic from my tongue as French falls effortlessly from my lips. I sit in silence. Silence, which has been unfamiliar to me these past few months. I am new to silence and struggle at first to find a rhythm. Then after a while I stop trying, and sink instead into the beat of my own heart. Thump thump. Thump thump. Life is easy. Life is grand. I understand that challenges are what shape our character, but as I walk through the streets of Geneva looking for a job, I see a "wanted" sign in a Creperie storefront. Challenges are what shape our character, yes. But it is always important to stop every now and again, slide the stick shift back to neutral and coast. Because we only have one life, and will only ever be as happy as we choose to be.

I went from a UN career in Beirut to a job as a waitress at a creperie in geneva and I can say with absolute certainty, that throughout these past few months I have developed an overwhelming appreciation for life's little, simple things.

Transitioning to Happiness

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dear Beirut

Dear Beirut,

Despite everything, I'm going to miss you. Driving down the streets and zipping past all the luxury in the world juxtaposed against shell-shocked, bullet-strewn, rocket-washed buildings in varying states of inorganic demolition is somehow so quintessentially YOU and somehow so compelling, and riveting, and humbling and yes, beautiful too.

"Ma fii wasit", a taxi driver said to me today; "there lacks a center", an American tourist at one point repeated; "there is no soul", I said myself just days ago. And yes, all of these things are true. You hang on by a hair to this delicate balance of forgery and loss, trying to be better than the battery that so many years of turmoil and destruction left in their wake. And yet this is what defines YOU.  You are not defined precisely, nor are you defined by anything that I have the human vocabulary to name.  You are defined by YOU. There is nothing like you, nor will there ever be again. You humble those that approach you and you dare newcomers to enter - beckoning, and provoking them almost, with a sense of superficial glory. But this is not YOU.

YOU are constant indecision. As indecisive about your identity as any young creature, newly born. As indecisive as the rain. And this is what you do; you are undone and born again each and every day as I am undone and born again by you and all of your dilapidated enchantments. You are a city that reason forgot. Words like "allegiance" and "oneness" and "togetherness" don't exist here. Instead you are a beautiful disaster, for lack of a more elegant cliche. You are a monster in a dress, ceaselessly seeking redemption, or at least that is what you have made me. And as I aspire to you, I am left humbled in the end.

YOU are not a city easily destroyed - rather you are eternal and unflinching, forged from the fires of such endless cacophony. You bear with you countless battle scars from wars raged over you and with you and in your name. You are indestructible and I like to imagine that from your high perch, you watch the madness with a cunning grin. For this is what YOU are. Fire and ice and violence and inescapable wealth. You have lived one million lifetimes and you are reborn again and again and again. Like a desert flower - tough, strong to a fault and somehow also, like the desert flower, so delicate and disastrously complete.

YOU are ornate in your bullet-riddled throne and you are lavish and you are a tiger and fire and a hot desert sun and a gentle moonflower, forever in bloom. You will never be more intolerable than you are now, nor more intricately woven. You are a magic carpet of horrors and wonders and what you lack in "center" you make up for in your thick outer-skin. You are glass. You are metal. You are a young child with a coy grin and for all that I have suffered and loved through you and in you I can assure you that YOU are incredible and wretched and wonderful and you will never be forgotten.

At least not by me.

Your desert flower

Thursday, September 5, 2013

In the Hands of Hezbollah

It feels as if stability in the region is balancing on a hair.  The entire international community is holding its breath. Sadly, we all seem to be waiting for the US – will they act unilaterally in their interventions, and if so, what will be the scale, the impact, and the aftermath?  

On a micro-scale, I have seen my Shia neighborhood vamp up its security to an alarming extent. Checkpoints are now ubiquitous, dotting each and every block.  All cars are stopped regardless of the passenger – I’ve seen men in military uniforms humbled by 15 year old Hezbollah officers as they are forced out of their Humvees, which are then rigorously checked.  At the checkpoint closest to where I live, the officers in charge know me by my first name, they know my nationality, that I take sugar with my coffee but no cream, they know my boyfriend’s name, his profession.  They know me more intimately than any law enforcement officer ever has and I know them and despite this, I am still stopped increasingly more often.

My six foot seven Egyptian friend with a beard was my first experience with Hezbollah detention. We were trying to get through on a Friday evening. They asked for his ID, not mine, and then pulled us to the side of the road when he attempted to speak to them in Arabic.  The experience was jarring, yet far from frightening.  I sipped on black coffee that tasted like tar as they questioned my friend.  I made polite conversation with the Hezbollah checkpoint leader while he calmly and condescendingly blew cigarette smoke in my face and after 20 minutes (and after being yelled at by my landlord), they let us go. Khalas. The end.  And that was the worst that I thought could happen.  I was mistaken.
We are one Lebanese-American, one Lebanese, and two Americans as we enter my neighborhood in Southern Beirut, Harat Hreik.  We enter the same way I always have.  The men there know me, but they do not recognize the other faces.  We are stopped, as I suspected we would be, and are questioned for the better part of an hour – what are we doing in Lebanon, how long have we been here and why, why do we live in Harat Hreik, what are our religions, professions, hobbies, hopes, dreams and aspirations – but eventually, they see that we present no imminent threats and let us go. 
I am annoyed, but am convinced out of my irritation quite quickly.  The night is young and so are we and, without the presence of Hezbollah stalking our every step, we enjoy the rest of our evening.  After several hours, my American friend gets ready to leave.  I walk him out of the building and onto the desolate streets of Harat Hreik, to the second checkpoint nearest to me. I do not know the officers stationed there, but do not anticipate difficulties given that I have NEVER been hassled nor have I ever seen anyone else checked or searched – on foot or in a vehicle – in their attempts to exit through one of the checkpoints.  I see him to a taxi, wave goodbye, and walk back to my apartment.  My foot has barely crossed the threshold when I feel my phone start to buzz and ring violently.
I answer, “Hello?”
The American, “I got stopped.”
“Stopped?  Stopped where?”
His breathing is heavy.  For a big guy – over 6 foot 5, and 200 pounds of muscle, at least – hearing anxiety seep into his tone makes me apprehensive.  I stop in my tracks.  My roommate looks up at me and asks me what happened. I regurgitate the words the American just told me, my voice as stark and hollow as his had been seconds previous. “He got stopped by a group of Hezbollah officers about a block away from the checkpoint.  They’re questioning him and want to take him to a second location, but they won’t tell him why or where or for how long.”
She asks me to hand her the phone. I do.  Placing it on speakerphone I’m able to understand bits and pieces of the Arabic conversation that ensues.  The checkpoint guard clearly isn’t happy with her, and I hear him tell her that he can do what he wants when he wants and there is nothing she can do about it.  Throughout the course of the evening, I realize the stunning truth: he is absoultely right. After a few more words thrown back and forth meaninglessly, he tells us that our friend will be safe and will be released.  She asks when, but he does not give an answer.
Unsatisfied, we go down to the checkpoint. It is around 4am.  I shout at the Hezbollah police that I find, but they know nothing of the situation.  There is no dissemination of information from one gang of Hezbollah guards to the next – I am not sure, but believe this may be done on purpose, to make it that much harder for outsiders to gain entry into the vicinity.  I’m still furiously throwing around words like kidnap and illegal, but the officers don’t take me seriously.  My roommate talks me down.  With the last of the credit I have left, I call the American.  
“Hello?” He says.
"Where are you?"
“I don’t know.  I’m in a car.  They blindfolded me.” The line goes dead shortly after.  I call back, but get no answer. I call a second time, but the line is still empty, a blank void of nothing in which anything might have happened.
Sometime close to seven my roommate and I realize that there is nothing we can do. Hezbollah runs the streets – there is no army, no police to turn to – they are the law and order and everything else and we have run completely out of options. Dejected and defeated, we return to my apartment.
At 11 am I lurch out of my bed to the sound of a telephone call.  I answer on the first ring and I know it’s the American before he even says anything.
“Where are you?” I say. “Are you okay?”
“No. I’m not okay. They held me overnight in an underground Hezbollah jail cell. They interrogated me until 10am.”
I’m shocked, and quite nearly speechless.  After a few seconds I manage to say, “Where are you now?”
He tells me the name of a location just a few kilometers from my house.
“Do you need me to come get you?” I ask.
“No,” he says, “I’m going to go work out.”
Confused, I ask why.  He tells me that he needs to go work through some of his feelings.  I ask him to elaborate.  “Honestly, for a second I thought that was it.  I was blindfolded, forced into a car, and taken off the map.  They could have killed me and no one would have known about it for days.  I was scared.”  I can tell that this is hard for him to admit, and I don’t know what to say.  Sorry?  Apologies don’t come close to conveying my true feelings on the subject.  I’m horrified, but more than that I’m just confused.  In an area of the city where one group acts as the judge, jury, and executioner, I could not know what that might have felt like – to have my whole life in the hands of Hezbollah – and to be unsure of my impending sentence.
I apologize.  He tells me it’s not my fault.  I tell him I know, but that I’m sorry nonetheless.  And just before he hangs up the phone he tells me that he has a lot more respect for Hezbollah now, after they let him go and drove him back to civilization.  “They kept their word,” he says.
I laugh humorlessly and hang up, but I do not go back to sleep.  Instead, I stare at my phone, screen now blank, as I try and fully understand the precariousness of his situation.  I try and imagine what life would look like from the inside of a Hezbollah jail cell and remember what he said – they kept their word – but most of all I try very hard not to think about where the American would be now if they hadn't.

Ceaselessly Optimistic