Posts

My 2022 Outlook

Image
I held off writing this piece because I wanted a little whiff of 2022 before hastening to assign any labels or meaningless wishes to the new year. It's the same song and dance every end of year, isn’t it? The year comes to a close, and we almost too giddily sweep it out, as though it should be discarded with the rubbish in our dustbins. Then we proceed to usher in the coming year, imploring it to "treat us well," or to "behave." Because, you know, that personification boosts our chances of negotiating assured success. If I'm being honest, 2020 and 2021 just blended into each other, like one indistinguishable continuum. In fact, my perception of time over those two years is very wishy-washy. In my mind, 2019 still seems like last year, and everything that's transpired since fell into the span of one seemingly endless, hopeless, wretched annum.  I attribute it to simply how bizarre this epoch of the pandemic has been. Covid's hold over the world, ove

Seven Shelves Culinary Boxes: Bringing World Flavors (Including Lebanon's!) Into Your Kitchen

Image
Saint Augustine once said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” But during this unusual era of the Covid-19 pandemic, our collective mobility as a society has been severely impaired. Face it. When was the last time you traveled carefree? When was the last time you were able to board a train, or hop on a plane, or embark on a ship, to transcend country borders? Can you remember when you last ambled about freely and explored an exquisitely different culture and cuisine? Acting upon this realization, the savvy gourmands behind Key 16 – a Belgium-based enterprise that organizes culinary trips, events and tastings – launched Seven Shelves . The idea is rather simple. If you can’t roam the world for new tastes and flavors, why not bring the world into your kitchen? No need to sail the seven seas. Just tap into a treasure trove of high-quality products sourced from farmers and producers in adherence with fair-trade practices. And thus were born the Seven S

Retail in Lebanon: A Never-Ending Tide of Scams

Image
It seems to me like every day, the Lebanese are put through a charade of scams intended to test (1) how vigilant they are, and (2) how unabashed they can be when it comes to calling out the perpetrator. If you live in Lebanon, you know exactly what I’m talking about. False advertising? Rampant. Just go inside a "dollar store," and you'll notice that nothing is actually for a dollar. Fine print? There’s always some of that, but rarely is it printed. Shortchanging? Would it really be a Lebanese enterprise if it didn’t condone this? In the span of just one week, I’ve seen it all, and it sickens me now more than ever before. Why? Because the Lebanese people have been stripped naked over the course of the past two years and suffer from overnight theft of their bank deposits, a failed state, a corrupt government, hyperinflation, acute unemployment, lack of basic necessities, and an onslaught of every conceivable bane in the book. So now is not the time to push their buttons.

Al Wadi Al Akhdar: 42 Years of Authentic Lebanese Food and Specialties

Image
As a Lebanese-American who called Southern California home for two decades, access to anything from the motherland half a globe away was absolutely sacred. My brothers and I would squeal with delight whenever we’d visit the Middle Eastern stores in Anaheim and Orange County. Scanning the aisles, I remember ogling products that had been crafted in Lebanon and exported to communities across the world dense in the Lebanese diaspora. One of my first and fondest recollections is the pistachio halawa by Al Wadi Al Akhdar . That circular tub with the forest green lid is forever seared in my memory. My parents always had two or three stocked in the pantry, alongside bottles of Al Wadi’s fragrant orange blossom and rose waters that Mom reached for regularly throughout the year, whether for baking maamoul (stuffed Lebanese semolina cookies) or concocting lemonade from scratch. Al Wadi Al Akhdar’s pistachio halawa is crafted from 100% pure sesame seeds tahini, sugar, and halawa extract. In 20

What's Life in Lebanon Really Like At The Moment? Here's The Non-Media Version.

Image
I'm certainly no famed columnist, but I'm framing this blog post as such. Lately, a number of my readers in the diaspora have been probing me in their attempt to make sense of the situation in Lebanon. It's no enigma that the media (and social media to boot) highlight a narrow view of present-day life in Lebanon, while the reality is often starkly different. Here I endeavor to illuminate how things are on the ground, and how our lives have genuinely been impacted by the various crises gripping the country. Dear Beirutista, I just want to understand how you -- and the folks living in Lebanon -- are coping during these austere times. Having lived there for years with my husband, we tried to hold out hope for months into the revolution, but after the August 4 [2020] explosions, we deemed the situation too dangerous and resettled in the United States. I know it’s so stifling with the banks stealing everyone’s savings. I find it weird that no one seems to be mentioning the real

Who Remembers the Lebanon of the Not-So-Distant Past? Let Me Jog Your Memory.

Image
Lebanon has arguably never seen worse days than those we’re weathering now. Constant electricity outages; a seemingly unresolvable fuel shortage translating to long lines at the pump; rampant hyperinflation; poverty engulfing three-quarters of the population; rising unemployment; the depletion of medicine; oversaturated hospitals and healthcare facilities…all impetuses propelling the mass exodus of emigrants who will go literally anywhere to escape the trials and tribulations of home. Where were we just two years ago, and where are we now? Ever see those memes split into two columns, juxtaposing “How it started” and “How it’s going”? Yeah, well, in Lebanon’s case, it just isn’t going. End of story. No doubt many of us find ourselves reflecting on the not-so-distant past, nostalgic for the golden age we didn’t even know we were reveling in until the rug was violently pulled out from under our feet. Here's what I've been missing most. 1. Who remembers when Anthony Salamé an

Abysmal and Inconsolable: A Day in the Life of A Lebanese Resident

Image
Reader, brace yourself. I’m about to push you beyond your comfort zone. You’re being warned: the following sequence of events is not for the faint-hearted. Prepare for a freefalling nightmare of evils and darkness, a bottomless pit of misadventures. This story is about agony, grief, humiliation, inhumanity, and curse after curse after curse. After all, every day -- and not just today -- is now Friday the 13th in Lebanon. Imagine waking at half past 02:00, in the dead of night, choking on the insufferable Mediterranean heat and humidity of a treacherous summer. The air conditioner is off, the room is pitch black. You get up and fumble your way to the light switch, only to find there’s no electricity. You slide the window open, praying for a sea breeze, but the air is flat, dead, unforgiving. You’d been hearing all along about the state’s impending fuel shortages as a result of its inability to pay suppliers with its dwindling foreign reserves. But as with everything in wretched Leba

August 4, 2020: A Day That Will Forever Live in Lebanese Infamy

Image
Every morning, my Google Photos app depicts a memory from the archive. Today, it was this capture from August 4, 2017: on the left, St. Georges Maronite Cathedral neighboring Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, nestled in the heart of downtown Beirut. We often say that the beauty of Lebanon is in the peaceful coexistence of so many faiths, creeds, and sects, and this is one symbol-laden image. St. Georges Maronite Cathedral (left) and Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, downtown Beirut. Three years to the day after this photo was snapped, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in the history of the world detonated in the port of Beirut. Annihilation doesn't begin to describe the aftermath: hundreds of lives were obliterated; thousands more, injured; hundreds of thousands, displaced; and large sections of the city and neighboring regions, completely leveled. Beirut was gutted, and its soul cast into an abyss of tribulation and mourning that continues to scale deeper and deeper fathoms as the days tran