The Two Brothers Who Will Make You Dance

How’s the self-isolation and quarantine going?

Going out of your mind trying to juggle work, bored children, your own existential impeding sense of doom and anxieties? Staring at the forbidden outside for so long your eyes have started to tear up? Missing hugging your friends and your loved ones, having a newfound respect for walks in the park, smells of the spring?

Or is it just me?

Regardless of how miserable this confinement is making you feel, remember that each minute you stay at home you’re helping not overburdening health systems, straining nurses and doctors and a medical workforce who was already strained to the point of breaking before the COVID19 crisis. You’re supporting the absolutely crucial workers who are making your confinement possible and comfortable by continuing to go to work (and who are not being supported by governments, or given any protections, or additional raise). And remember that some women are staying home, when home, to use Warsan Shire’s image, is the mouth of a shark, facing domestic violence and isolation. I’m not trying to make you feel bad for feeling bad about this mess, just sharing a reminder that we’re not all equal in this situation, and the reason why is because capitalist interests and neo-liberal policies have worked hard to dismantle social protections, marginalizing scores of individuals.

Most of all, remember all of that when this is over, and vote and support parties and candidates who will not slash health and public service budgets, who will give a fucking raise and meaningfully value workers and stop supporting bankers and their ridiculous bonuses and salaries. The communists do that quite well I’m told. Just something to be looking into.

Stares in Marxism.

But I digress. We were talking about confinement and your mental health.

If there is something that diasporas know how to do, is to alleviate the soul-crushing effects of exile by maintaining connections across oceans and time zones. We are good at social media, good at using every tool under the sun to keep in touch with friends and families, good at finding ways to make the sour taste of isolation and loneliness a little sweeter. Come to think of it, we are also quite good at anxiety, having been raised in often volatile contexts (again, maybe that’s just me?).

It’s therefore no wonder that we put these skills to good use when a massive mutant virus came knocking at our doors and forced us all back into our homes.

Enter the tale of the two brothers.

Like all good stories, this one starts in a kitchen.

Frustrated by Whatsapp’ limitations (‘we were more than four’, ‘we wanted music’, you know, just your usual men moaning about the world not being exactly crafted to suit their needs), Farès and Karim Damien decided to move their friends’ virtual hangouts to Zoom. It allowed for more people. It worked fine. They could play their music. All was well. As Farès puts it ‘if whatsapp had allowed for more people to participate in calls, we might not have had the parties at all’. Thank apps limitations I guess.

Then their friend Emile Sfeir, a DJ, started playing his set just for fun. Split between Switzerland, Germany, Lebanon and France, the group of friends just got into the habit of meeting up, sharing music (with the notable hindrance of Lebanon’s adorably quaint yet are we done with this shit yet power cuts around midnight), and started sharing the links to their calls with friends.

And friends of their friends.

And friends of their friends of their friends.

Until it kind of took a life of its own and The Quarantine Parties were born.

Now boasting sets from DJs like HEAR, and with significantly increased participation, the parties are open, kind of come as you are. Some dance their asses off, others listen to the music and read Gloria Steinem books (who, me? What can I say, I’ve always been useless in clubs) and others just enjoy everyone’s presence, cutting into the quietness and monotony of confined lives.

Great ideas often seem to originate with groups of friends just hanging out. This idea is one of them.

It can seem evident in its simplicity, yet at a moment where every piece of news seems to level up your anxiety, where uncertainty has never been more tangible, where we miss holding close the people we love, sharing music and laughter the only way we can, virtually, seems like a pretty fucking decent way of passing the time to me.

Expressions of solidarity come in multitudes: they can be a whole neighborhood singing Bella Ciao, an older Italian man in a wonderful velvet dressing gown singing opera, people cheering medical personnel on with clapping and pots and pans. They can also come by creating virtual spaces to come together. Music has this power: sharing generosity and humanity when everything else seems to be crumbling. Music truly is magic, it’ll break your heart open.

Join me there if you will, I’ll have a book in hand but I’ll wave and smile. Who knows, I might even dance.

 

 

Magic

My friend has lost her mother too.

Not that we’re particularly happy to both belong to a club we can’t ever remember applying for, but the shared pain creates a bond of understanding between us. She, too, understands how you can break down in public spaces over seemingly mundane things. When I tell her I like crying in the privacy of my car, music blaring and make-up running, she takes it in stride. ‘I broke down while filling out a form at the doctors’ she tells me evenly, and I understand and I let her be. We are emotional ticking time bombs, and we’ve stopped trying to apologize for it. She, too, sometimes needs to create silence within herself to quiet the raging grief within, needs to make space for feelings that are way bigger than our frames.

She gets the rage, and the longing.

When we meet at the beginning of the year we speak about what intentions we want to bring to the next months, as if the mother-shaped gaping hole in our lives can be filled with flowers we’re planting through the cracks, not quite filling it, yet blossoming despite the pain into something radiant. The triumph of life and love, if you will, or something to that effect.

We speak about food and cooking, and about the joy it brings. We both want to start documenting the recipes we got from our mothers, and laugh at the synchronicity. Cooking has always been a way to convey love, and in this platitude lies a lot of truth. ‘Here, let me feed you’ is pretty much ‘I love you and will take care of you’ in human language. Cooking is very similar to magic: spices, ingredients, flavors, none of it comes together without a small spoonful of magic, or nafs el akl as my mother called it. She was a fabulous cook and I have learnt from her how food can say more than words, how lovingly preparing a meal for people can bring them, and you, joy, comfort, feelings of love, warmth, affection and solidarity.

When a friend was going through the heartbreak of her life, I spoon fed her lemon rice, until the tangy comforting flavour warmed her insides and allowed her to let all the tears that needed to be shed flow. When I am struggling with anxiety my friend sits me down and forces a snack down my constricted throat. I resist out of principle, because she wants to care for me and I won’t let her, wrapped in my own distorted understanding of what it means to be a strong woman. She doesn’t give me a choice. Cooks can be very stubborn. Accepting what she gives me is accepting to be loved, to be vulnerable. I equally hate and love it (as much as I like to write about feelings, I actually can’t wait to be a robot).

My mother taught me that the kitchen is a sacred place, where people who cook together share more than recipes and suggestions for improving the taste. I find it easier to talk about feelings while cutting up vegetables, find it easier to listen, really listen to someone when we’re in the kitchen together. Cooking gives me focus, and a kinder, more patient heart. I have friends with whom I cook and we yell at each other over cooking space and pots ans pans and taste each other’s dish, and in the middle of this fragrant chaos our friendship comes alive, and some secrets are shared.

Cooking in the diaspora also goes beyond sharing love and flavours: it’s a way to recreate home even if you’re not sure where home is. Home becomes the smell of your teta’s kitchen when she expects you for lunch, home is your plate lovingly arranged by someone who loves you at the end of a long day. Cooking in the diaspora is also eminently political: it’s a way to resist appropriation (all the Karens of the world will never have me accept the defilement of hummus), and a way to assert our presence. Nothing gets racists riled up like the smells coming out of our kitchens. Add another clove of garlic please, watch them wither. Diaspora cooking is us trying to remember a feeling of ease and belonging, where abroad doesn’t necessarily mean foreign, easing the feeling of exile and otherness into familiar flavors, our complicated and hurtful relationships with families and the very concept of home tamed if only for a moment.

Since my mother died, cooking is not just that any more. It’s not just about sharing, or about making a political statement, it’s become a work of love in a different way, a work of love dedicated to her, where recipes bind me back to her, where her voice comes alive in my kitchen, even her strong opinions about my cooking, especially her strong opinions about my cooking, it’s become an exercise where I can remember her and be filled with joy, and laughter and love. Where grief needs to shift and move away for a bit and make space for a tiny bit of peace. Since she left, cooking is a way of honouring her legacy, and through her, of honouring the caring strong women that came before her. Keeping their recipes alive links me back to her, and to her mother, my teta, and feels like a never chain of witches brewing magic, one garlic clove at a time.

My friend who has lost her mother too gets it. She gets it so much that back in October when my country started revolting against oppression and she knew my emotions were all over the place, she baked something in her New York kitchen and dedicated it to me. I didn’t need to be there to taste it. I felt her love reach out across an ocean. That’s how magic works.

I didn’t have the right words to thank her properly at the time. I hope I made up for it.

 

Quarantine

It’s only day 1 kids.

  • Number of times I heard ‘maman’: possibly infinity
  • Number of fights between two daughters broken up: approximately one thousand two hundred ninety-two
  • Topics of aforementioned fights (non-exhaustive, just the ones I remember):
    • She took my scooter
    • She hugged me and I told her ‘this isn’t your body, leave me alone’
    • She played with me
    • She didn’t want to play with me
    • She won’t share her stuff with me
    • She shared her stuff with me
    • She called me a potato. I’m not a potato (I mean, no truer words have been spoken)
    • She said I was poopoo
    • She scratched my eye
    • She scratched my face
    • She pulled my hair

 

 

  • Fix Barbie’s outfits (multiple times, Barbie has a whole fucking lot of outfits and an apparent compulsive need to change them often)
  • Look for things (where’s my toy where’s my doll where’s my dress where’s my underwear mama mama mama mama where’s that tiny little piece of plastic that is vital to my existence and without which my life has no meaning?)

 

  • Look for things, including my own mind: all day

 

  • Answer and send whatsapp messages: what are you? The surveillance police? The Fascist State? Big Data? Get the fuck outta my phone

 

  • Drink home-made ‘lemonade’, made of water and shredded coconut, pressed on me by youngest child: mercifully, one

 

  • Number of Constantine Cavafy poems read and analyzed: about ten but the day is young

 

  • Number of poems written: two, actually quite happy about this one

 

  • Number of times I have lost my will to live while asking my children to please stop trying to kill each other for the umpteenth time: 347, give or take

 

  • Number of times I have lost my will to live while making my eldest child study: one, but the angst was so strong I don’t think I’ll ever get said will to live back

 

  • Number of times I have thought ‘Fuck, what if Ruth Baden Ginsberg gets the virus?’: unhealthy amount

 

  • Number of messages I have sent advocating for the closing of my child’s daycare: several. One to the direction of the daycare (to wit: close your fucking facility and protect your staff you greedy capitalist fucks), several messages of solidarity to the staff (UNIONIZE) and to other parents (are you sending that little brat of yours to daycare Carol? The fuck didn’t you understand? STAY HOME AND DO REMOTE YOGA. You’ll get insta likes I swear)

 

  • Number of times the Rev looked at me and told me ‘it’s only day 1’, ‘We will prevail’, in French, English and Arabic like some kind of broken revolutionary polyglot record: about 20 times, until I told him everything was his fault anyway and could he shut up

 

  • Number of times I have received messages and phone calls saying ‘I love you’, ‘Can we organize online aperos/coffees’, ‘how are you doing’: actually quite a lot, feeling quite grateful right now

 

  • Number of times I thought ‘people are actually pretty fucking amazing’: quite a lot actually, which hadn’t happened in a very long time.

Stay healthy my beloved ❤ and drink wine