Thursday, June 20, 2013
Posted by Ali at 6:55 AM
Monday, May 23, 2011
This morning I found the camel with my karma sound asleep in one of my closets. Mad at me. Again. It had taken me days, possibly weeks to notice he’d gone missing.[bxA]
“What are you doing in here?” I turned on the light.
“What does it matter?” his sulking eyes spoke.
“You know I can’t help this, right?” I defended. It was the first time in a long time I had a moment to catch my breath. I did not feel like having this discussion again. So I didn’t. He’s still hiding in the closet. Or resting, as he says. I’ve worn him out.
Acclimating to the plugged-in, high-tech, worker bee frenzy of American life is like juggling on a unicycle while peddling across a tightrope. I can’t remember why anyone would ever want to be so busy doing so much. But everybody does.
I can’t keep up.
Emails, Facebook messages, Wall posts, blog posts, Skype chats, and even good old fashioned letters in the post pile up with the simple loving inquiry: Where are you and what are you doing?
I rarely respond and never answer the question, but it’s pretty simple:
I’m in Grapevine, Texas, working at my new C R A Z Y job, settling into my apartment and trying to make amends with the camel with my karma. He wants to know why I ditched him in Beirut last August and what I was doing all those months he couldn’t find me.
It has all been such a whirlwind; I don’t even know where to begin…
Posted by Ali at 8:17 AM
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Posted by Ali at 6:32 AM
Monday, February 14, 2011
11 February 2011
It was rush hour at the airport and my brain was frazzled from my first week at my new office that overlooks a baseball field. I had my work laptop slung over my left shoulder, my personal laptop slung over my right shoulder, and the silver purse I bought in Kuala Lumpur strapped in the crevice of the arm holding my boarding pass and Texas driver’s license. [bxA]
When I finally got to the front of the long security queue, a smiling officer motioned for me to come forward.
“How are you?” He said while shining his little flashlight on my license.
“Great, thanks.” I tried not to seem exhausted.
“Here you go,” he smiled up at me, “see you next week.”
“How did you know?” I gave a perplexed smile. How did he know?
“I see you here every week!”
“Ahh, I see.” I walked away thinking he must be confusing me with someone else.
I took five steps to the x-ray table and realized he was right. Aside from last week when all the flights were cancelled due to the pre Super Bowl blizzard….
I’d been through this airport in this security line once a week for three weeks in a row. I’m already a regular. And I thought airports were a thing of the past…at least for a little while.
I’ll be making this weekly commute until I move permanently to the Dallas / Ft. Worth Area.
This gives me a few more weeks to work up the courage to tell the camel with my karma that we'll be moving again.
I think he’s still mad at me.
But that’s a long story.
Posted by Ali at 6:25 AM
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Posted by Ali at 6:48 AM
Friday, December 3, 2010
Speaking of ‘the Office’ and the tired topic of ‘do I dare?’ from my 2006 journal, I did dare and I’m done talking about the travels.[bxA]
I need a job.
Preferably in an office. Even better in the Office. Is Dunder Mifflin hiring?
In the months before I returned to the US, I seriously pursued a job I thought I really wanted. I got the offer. I turned it down. The timing was terrible. I would have had to move across the world almost as soon as I got to Texas. The camel with my karma was nowhere to be found and a move like that might have separated us for good.
Still, my camel would have loved this move if he’d been with me when the offer came in.
Meanwhile, I am officially kicking off the hunt for a job. So far it mostly consists of watching ‘The Office’ and socializing with people who have jobs. Today I stepped it up a notch and googled “best job on earth.” This is what I found:
The job I declined was in Sydney. So close! It was a banking job, so a bit tougher gig than the island blogger job.
Besides, I wouldn’t need six months to convince people to go to Australia. The two most immediate and irresistible reasons to go to Queensland are….
Posted by Ali at 8:17 AM
Monday, November 29, 2010
28 November 2010 - Houston, Texas
I had never seen the American version of ‘The Office’ until about a month ago, so that’s what I’ve been doing: watching every episode starting from Season 1, Episode 1. It is hilarious.
During the early days of my London Life, [bxA] I rented the British version of ‘The Office’. I’ll never forget sitting in my tiny 6th floor flat near Marylebone Station watching the first episode. I laughed until I cried, because that had become my life.
Eventually the laughter stopped and I just cried…
..because that had become my life.
* * *
Speaking of my London life, last week I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family for the first time in five years. Driving home afterward, I recounted where I was on each of those Thanksgivings that I missed.
It was just another workday in the UK so I was at the office. My American friend Kirstan and I made last minute reservations to eat the turkey dinner on offer at the Hard Rock Cafe .
I didn't remember much else so I went to my journal.
According to the journal, later that night I called Houston and my family passed the phone around the dinner table. My four year old nephew told me about Buzz Lightyear and Spiderman. I told my brother-in-law that during dinner at the Hard Rock everyone sang aloud when the sound system played 'Living On a Prayer' by Bon Jovi.
Over the next two years, I learned that any time a London pub gets really loud and crowded, eventually 'Living On a Prayer' comes on and everyone sings at the top of their lungs.
Later in my journal I wrote a long whinging paragraph about work, which made me laugh hysterically last Thursday, but I can assure you I wasn’t laughing when I wrote it.
At the end of my rant about intolerable life at the office, I said I wanted to quit my job and drive across the US.
Aug'09 - Roadtrip from Lattakia, Syria to Beirut, Lebanon.
The last line in that journal entry was, “Do I dare?”
Posted by Ali at 9:37 AM
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I spent today watching movers deliver the contents of my storage facility into my new apartment. It was like Christmas meets This is Your Life. Houston circa '06 meets London circa '08. John Lewis meets Crate & Barrel. [bxA]
The first few hours were fun. Big warm furniture filled empty spaces. Layers of packing paper revealed curious things from all over my life. I found an autographed photo of Stevie Ray Vaughn on stage at Rockefeller’s and a bathroom scale that measures weight in stones.
I was drunk on domesticity. My apartment has a dishwasher and garbage disposal and microwave and washer and dryer and ceiling fans and hot water and air-conditioning.
Watching the appliances fill up the kitchen, I thought this is what people do. We stay in one place. Accumulate stuff. Stuff that makes life comfortable, pleasurable. I imagined the possibilities. I could get a good job, a bigger place…even buy a place. I could entertain. I could be happy here.
I pressed back thoughts of recent invitations to return to Phuket, to sail Sirius in Malaysia, to meet Millennium in Barbados. That was then.
Around midday my parents brought me a turkey sandwich. We sat together in the crooked living room and agreed the scene was manageable. All the big furniture fit inside and now it was just a matter of the incidentals.
“Where are the movers?” Mom asked after 30-minutes went by with no commotion.
“Do you think they’re waiting for us to leave?” Dad wondered.
“No, no” I assured, “they’re just taking a break.” To be sure, I stepped out the front door.
I couldn't believe my eyes. I was mortified. The movers weren’t taking a break, they had been delivering what looked like another entire houseful of furniture to the patio landing outside my door. My apartment was already full.
I turned to my parents in horror. They came to see and burst out laughing, started contemplating ways to fit stuff in their garage.
“No, no. I cannot perpetuate this madness. If it doesn’t fit I need to get rid of it.”
They left. I slumped into a giant chair crammed in a crowded corner.
The boxes kept coming. A pit sunk in my stomach, a lump in my throat. Tears welled behind my eyes. What is all this stuff? What am I going to do with it? Two televisions? What was I thinking? Who was this person that needed all these things? WHY DID I OWN A PRINTER???
Just then I found a miracle on my mobile phone: an email from Sandra, the friend I met at a house party in Beirut and asked for packing advice last July. She said all kinds of accurate things that made me feel better including “are you going through all your sh*t and feeling happily reconnected with it, or do you see it all and think ‘why do I own this???’”
On settling back into stable life, she said, “freedom is a sweet nectar that one cannot really forget the taste of… there is no putting the genie back in the bottle.”
Yikes. I feel like a Jeannie. This feels like a bottle.
And yet I genuinely look forward to living in one place with my own things, going back to work, contributing to my 401k, saving for a rainy day.
But then there are the sailboats...
“We spend all our time
searching for security
and hate it when we get it.”
Posted by Ali at 5:00 AM
Monday, October 25, 2010
Another year, another birthday celebration….and another opportunity to ponder Life’s Big Question:
Do I want to have the cake? Or eat the cake?
Posted by Ali at 5:34 PM
Friday, October 15, 2010
14 October 2010 - Houston, Texas
I’m in Houston. There. I said it.
I’d say things are crazy, but [bxA] they’re not exactly crazy. I’d say I’m overwhelmed, but I’m not exactly overwhelmed. I’d say I’m trying to get myself and my life together for the imminent Next Phase, but I’m not exactly making a concerted effort at any one thing.
It feels like I’m snorkeling. I’m constantly moving and I’m in awe of everything I see. I have no idea which direction to go and every now and then I worry about where I’m going or that a shark is hiding behind a pretty coral, but mostly I’m just swimming.
As usual, I’m not sure about the blog. A few days ago Fiona sent me a link to an application that will remind me to blog. Well, I don’t need an application because so many people send me sweet and loving nudges. I love the emails, by the way. I’m always touched (and completely surprised) that so many people follow the blog and worry about me when I disappear.
During the journey from ‘Predicament in a Paper Cup’ to my arrival in Houston, I was on the road for weeks with plenty of time in hotel rooms but no internet access. I blogged a lot but never posted.
So much has happened. My head is still spinning. The camel with my karma has been missing in action for weeks – I suspect he’s still snoring in the corner of my flat in Beirut. Maybe I’ll try to post the forgotten blogs over the next few weeks while I wait for my camel to come trotting down Westheimer wearing a cowboy hat.
Posted by Ali at 4:48 AM
Thursday, September 2, 2010
8 August 2010 – Beirut, Lebanon.
I’m sitting in the Starbucks at Sassine Square drinking cappuccino out of a paper cup. A paper cup? It completely disoriented me when the barista handed me the flimsy to-go cup. I had forgotten they even exist. [bxA]
There was a time in my life when mornings were defined by coffee to-go. It was in London circa 2006 when I was handed my first cup of morning coffee in a giant glass coffee mug. It weighed down my hand like an anchor, tethering me to the coffee shop until I was finished. Couldn’t they see I was in a hurry?
Today I wondered can’t they see I’m not?
Waiting for my cappuccino, I perused the bin filled with those gigantic Starbucks mugs– the ones with enormous letters emblazoning country names. The first one I picked up said Kuwait, the next was Oman. Starbucks all over the world.
It reminded me of the new construction site at the opening of my tropical paradise neighborhood in Phuket. We eventually learned the massive bulldozed patch of dirt would soon be home to a shopping strip center.
One of my neighbors was devastated. I tried to appreciate the devastation but offered the bright side, “who knows, maybe they’ll open a Starbucks – there’s not one on this side of the island.” There’s a Black Canyon Coffee a stone’s throw down Chao Fah West, but it keeps Thai time and opens when the staff is ready for the 9am shift. This is sometimes as late as 9:20am. Mai pen rai.
Another temporary bright side to the paving of paradise was the band of stray dogs that played in the dirt every evening at sunset.
But I’m here now, sitting in Beirut having the same cappuccino I could order in Houston, London, Phuket, Kuwait or Oman. I could be anywhere.
Bob Marley is playing on the Starbucks sound system which conjures memories of Ska Bar on Kata Beach where I drank pina coladas with Fiona after the King’s Cup races and had cocktails with the Hucksteps traveling from London back in June. Is Phuket really so far away?
I sip my cappuccino and read Eckert Tolle’s ‘A New Earth,’ which I’ve borrowed from the bookshelf at my friend’s flat. Tolle says this on page 131:
“Franz Kafka, T.S. Elliot, Albert Camus and James Joyce recognized alienation as the universal dilemma of human existence, probably felt it deeply within themselves and so were able to express it brilliantly in their works. They don’t offer solution. Their contribution is to show us a reflection of the human predicament so that we can see it more clearly. To see one’s predicament clearly is the first step toward going beyond it.”
Posted by Ali at 10:00 PM
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
03 August 2010 - Beirut, Lebanon
I walked along the Corniche at sunrise this morning and was groggily contemplating the color of the sky when [bxA] I was reminded of the zillion cats in pursuit of scraps all over this city.
I made my way down past the St. Georges Yacht Club…
…and discovered a massive ad campaign on a long wall of billboards erected to conceal construction of a new marina. Giant photos of the sophisticated “Paris of the Middle East” version of Beirut back in the day are splattered between huge slogans like “Beirut is back on the map” and “revival of a landmark.”
Back on the Corniche I stopped to gaze up at the skyscrapers, many still under construction. An older man saw my wonderment and said something to me in French. I told him I speak English and he said, “Oh oh, English. Are you American?”
Down the Corniche a bit, Samer bought two bags of fruit from three men who’d set up crates on a stone bench. He held one of the bags open toward me. “Do you have these in America?”
“I’m not sure,” I took one of the little brownish balls that reminded me of a nameless fruit I’d eaten for the first time in Phuket a few days ago.
“They’re figs.” He divided one open and showed it to me.
“Oh, figs,” I wondered why I don’t know what a fig looks like. I bit into one. “They’re delicious.”
“They’re very good for you,” he tore into another one.
I grabbed another from the bag and started to open it, but he gave me a puzzled look.
“I opened this one for you,” he explained.
“Oh,” I put mine back and accepted his.
“Yes, you see this one has softer skin. It will be sweeter.”
We walked and talked and ate figs together. He told me his daughter teaches in the literature department at AUB (American University of Beirut) and his son works in Abu Dhabi. When I wondered which street would get me back to Hamra, he offered, “My car is just around the corner. If you like I can take you there.” I said I preferred to walk. We hoped to see each other again then went our separate ways.
This is how it goes in Beirut. The sky is blue, the fruit is sweet, the people are warm and generous. They offer food, rides, conversation – anything to ensure you enjoy their country. And then they are off. Even if you exchange phone numbers and make tentative plans, there is a good chance you’ll never see them again.
I love it here.
Posted by Ali at 11:05 PM