On growing Up (Not Old)

About a week ago, I turned 26.The first year after the major landmark that is 25. Meaning I’m now the proud ticker of the 26 to 30 box. Until now, I never really paid much attention to the issue of age or growing up. Years passed, and yet I happily somehow stayed stuck at 16 in my head, blissfully oblivious that I was growing up, that is, blissfully oblivious that people expected me to act as an adult.

Now that 30 is no longer an abstract number calling to my mind ANCIENT people (that was the ageist minute of the day) and tired mothers overwhelmed by screaming toddlers, I have to reconsider my beliefs and prejudices.

Before, at the blissful age of 25, whenever 30-something people would tell me they were still young, I’d snigger. Poor old souls! I’d say. Ah, let them fool themselves! Them! Young! Ah!

Then my sister turned 30, and didn’t have the decency of fitting into my prejudices against 30 something people. A new mother, she does not seem overwhelmed by my niece’s screams. In fact, she looks more serene than ever, and even her child is plotting against me by refusing point blank to be a screaming brat, but rather a lovely smiley baby, both mother and daughter reflecting each other’s mood. My sister is still working, she’s recovered her petite figure, in a word, she doesn’t look like an exhausted 30 something who’s having no fun, looking smug pushing her pram (I hate when mothers do that, they push their prams against you while walking down streets, as if to say “Move you useless childless piece of work! I have a Child in my Pram, move away from my path”. I’m a mean young woman wearing 10 cm high heels, I usually won’t budge).

Anyway, then it was my turn to have a birthday, and I turned 26. Suddenly, something in my head screamed: 26! But that’s only 4 years from 30! Why GOD why???

I’m really feeling ambivalent regarding this age business. On the one hand, I’m quite looking forward to becoming older, when experience and maturity will finally do their job and calm my anxieties down. On the other hand, I still feel like the teenager admiring from afar women in their late 20’s, envious of their posture, their allure, their shoes, their confidence (not necessarily in that order). It’s taken all my will power to realise I was this woman now.

Sort of.

I may have the job, the shoes, and a resemblance of maturity that prevents me to turn everything into a Greek Drama like I used to do in the tormented days of teenage angst, but I do still have a suspicious fondness for little bows, I still drink my coffee in a Cinderella mug, and my 14 year old crush on Liam Gallagher STILL hasn’t faded.

Blowing the candles on my chocolate cake, I sat and waited for adulthood to finally kick in, but could not feel the hit. Instead, it just crept in on me, taking the form of small day to day changes, like realising I actually prefered having a quite night in a bar or at home with my friends when I could actually talk to them rather than going out clubbing, or being suddenly conscious that depsite my best efforts to spend my way through shoes, I somehow very weirdly managed to put money aside.

Sweet Jesus, what have I become? I’m scared, but I’ll get over it (more maturity, that’s just wonderful)

27’s glaring at me, but I feel no fear. Bring it on I say, the best is yet to come.

Happy Birthday.

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On the Road Again…

Right. So, we wanted to be good and travel from Aleppo to Damascus by train, using the rare opportunity to use public transports for once in the Middle East. We thus went to the Aleppo train station, all proud and happy with ourselves, only to be told that the train was leaving at 5:45. That’s in the morning. That’s NOT a good hour. Not if you don’t want to be murdered by me anyway.

So we took a car (yes, yes, the pride subsided, but wait, if we hadn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this post, and admit it, you’d be bored right now.)

Driving towards the capital, we made a little detour and took the opportunity to visit the christian villages of Maaloula and Sadnaya, where Aramaic is still spoken. The scenery was simply breathtaking. Imagine acres of ocre land, spotless blue skies, age old rocks where cave dwellers used to live. You’d honestly think you’ve gone to another age. Crosses lining the horizons, with the odd minaret keeping them company, Maaloula and Sadnaya are places of pilgrimage for people from throughout the world. I mean it. People do literally come from throughout the world: Shi’a Muslim women from Iran wearing the full chador patiently climbing up the stairs leading to the Sadnaya convent, Lebanese who just crossed the border to pray, Chinese, Italian, French, Spanish and Russian tourists kneeling and praying. The atmosphere, far from being severe, is of joyous piety. At the Mar Takla Convent in Maaloula, the holy tomb of Saint Takla gathers both Christians and Muslims coming to address their concerns to the saint and to drink the blessed water from the grotto spring. White tissues and wool bracelets freely float around the bell towers of the Sadnaya convent, whispering to God decades of prayers and asking for solace.

The energy coming from Sadnaya and Maaloula is sweetly compelling, and praying in such an atmosphere is easy.

So we did, just before taking with us blessed oil and incense (bakhour) and hitting the road again towards Damascus, paving the way for new adventures.

But this, my friends, is a whole other story.

Road Trip

Travelled yesterday morning from Beirut to Aleppo in Syria. Willed with all my powers (yes, I do have super powers, I’m a woman) for my driver not to be a member of the We Like Talking gang, as my pre-coffee morning mood usually oscillates between simply murderous to Hitler meets Pol Pot on a bad day.

I like the road. Maybe not in a Jack Kerouac-y fashion, drunk, high and with barely shoes to walk in, but rather in a contemplative way. I love watching people passing by, seeing landscapes moving from one Lebanese city to another, to finally arrive in a kind of no man’s land by the sea, with only one or two cows peacefully eating away their day. Leaving the luxury shops on the “autostrade” (word used by the Lebanese for “highway”) for the unbelievable beauty of Jbeil, to finally reach the busy, poorer city of Tripoli, sporting in all their glory humongous sized posters of political figures of the region, I lost myself in thoughts (and in writing notes for the post I m currently writing. In the words of the immortal Pheboe from Friends “Isn’t it too spooky”?). I also love observing people on public transports in Geneva, but this is a whole other story, not to be told with my Middle Eastern tales (Is that why I never learnt to drive? Definitely something to be looking into, and way more romantic than the plain psychological explanation of “maybe i’m too scared”).

Finally reached Lebanese boarder of Arida. Laid back atmosphere, manoukches and Pepsis being passed from one soldier to another, quick, efficient passport checks, a hint of flirting. Am I coming back to Lebanon? Why didn’t I stay longer? Do I know Jbeil? Yes, I’m coming back, Promise I’ll stay longer, Yes i know Jbeil, Officer does my closed face doesn’t give you a clue that I did not have time to get my coffee this morning? Do you really want me to break down and cry right this minute?

And on to the Syrian side. Dozens and dozens of drivers drenched in their sweat, trying to get all their passengers the stamp that will enable them to carry on their journey. Tired fans moving hot damp air in a vain attempt at refreshing even more tired officers who seemed to be drowning in official documents. “Get OUT!” bellowed one of them at the small crowd that was happily gathering at his desk. On his desk. Around his desk. Two seconds more, and he probably would have to ask for oxygen just to be able to actually breathe properly. Speaking of breathing, the syrian authorities seem to take very seriously the health of their people. A non smoking sign at the border alerts you that smoking is forbidden, and to make matters clear, it is specified that you’re not allowed to smoke a) cigarettes, b)cigars, c) pipes and d) hookahs. Geddit? You. Are. Not. To. Smoke. Of course, haven’t seen anything like that in Lebanon.
The music of stamps being slapped on passports, the rows and rows of men trying to get through as fast their bakhchich would enable them, the blend of coffee and sweat and cologne, the odd tourist looking absolutely terrified in their shorts,pressing a Lonely Planet or Guide du Routard on Syria against him as if his life depended on it, I was back in Syria.

And when I saw the white city of Aleppo lazily basking in the glorious sun, quietly baking under the 44°C , I couldn’t help but smile. After all, who am I, if not another Lebanese having yet another love-hate relationship with the Land of Zanoubiyya?