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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

For the Love of Gossip

So I decided to come out of hibernation. I’m really riled up about this whole ‘Arabic is scary’ language drama that’s going on right now. Really? To put things in context: a guy was escorted off a plane a few weeks back because he was speaking Arabic on the phone. A passenger heard him say a common Arabic phrase ‘inshallah’ (God willing), misinterpreted it and reported the poor guy as a possible terrorist.

I’ve read several articles about the incident, but what’s really making me nuts is the ignorance over the language. First of all, Arabic is not an Islamic language. It is spoken by some Muslims but it is the language of the people of Arabia, who happen to also be Christian, Jewish, Druze, Buddhists, Atheists, etc and, in Lebanon at least, 18 different religions. The Arabic language pre-dates Islam, the alphabet was actually created by the Ancient Phoenicians. FYI: the first three letters of the Arabic alphabet – aleph, be, te – is where the word ‘alphabet’ comes from. 

Many non-Muslims, like myself, speak Arabic in public. I am really shocked by the idiocy of the people in the comments sections of these articles justifying the removal of this guy for saying ‘inshallah’, because it’s an ‘Islamic terrorist war cry’. I understand there is a lot of fear, but that is no excuse for such extreme stupidity. There is nothing remotely terrorist-like about the word 'inshallah'. In fact, the so-called 'war cry' these people are referring to is 'Allah wu akbar' (God is great), which is totally, completely different. Where the latter is indeed from an Islamic prayer, the former is a universal, pan-Arab saying.

I say ‘inshallah’ all the time and NEVER in a religious context. We use it whenever we are talking about a future plan. ‘You coming to dinner, tonight?’, ‘Yes, inshallah’. It is commonly used in the context of ‘hopefully’. In Lebanese culture, it’s said mostly out of superstition by all communities. You should never say you’re definitively doing something, because then you are tempting fate to stop that thing from happening. So, you always tag a ‘hopefully’ at the end, just in case. It’s also used when you want to avoid giving a definite answer: ‘You coming to my kid’s violin recital?’, ‘Um, inshallah.’

Now, of course things are different. I have to think twice about saying something in Arabic when in public to avoid Homeland Security detaining me. This is a problem, because you know, how am I supposed to talk about people when they’re right in front of me? I’m sure people are like, Oh, how can she be making light of this? People have died because of terrorists. Yes, people killed them, not a language. People can be scary, not a language. The fact that I’m ridiculing the vilification of a language is because the notion is entirely ridiculous. Arabic is not scary, but ignorance surely is.

And this is coming from a person who freaked out at a movie theater not too long ago because a dark looking youth left 10 minutes into the movie. I was convinced he left a bomb and was freaking out. I had to calm myself by rationalizing that the theater was far from crowded, so why waste a bomb on so few people? A few minutes later, the poor kid came back with some nachos. Then I was just annoyed at all the noise he was making chewing. And, on top of all that, I don’t even think he was Arab.

So, we’re all afraid. We’re all suspicious. We’re all secretly profiling people in our heads. We’re all in the same boat. But, let’s use some common sense. And, for the love of gossip, let me talk about people in Arabic in public without turning me in to the authorities!

Follow me on Twitter @anissarafeh

Friday, December 4, 2015

Blonde Ambition in a Mad, Mad World

In your resume, when there's a big gap in your work experience, you always have to have a good reason. When you're a blogger (or in my case, 'blogger'), you simply own up to being the world's worst. Where has the time gone? And, most importantly, did you miss me?

To be honest, with all that's going on in the world and a personal family loss, I felt I could not write about the trivial and inane. You know, I usually don't get political, but things are too nuts to not even mention. So, yes, pretty terrible things have happened around the globe since May. And also, Donald Trump is running for president.

I was waiting for one, tiny bit of news that would show me that the world isn't so doomed after all, and it finally happened a couple days ago in the homeland. Lebanese soldiers that had been held hostage for nearly 18 months were finally set free! It so gladdened my heart to see these brave men returned to their families that I thought, hey, it's ok to talk about dumb stuff now.

Now, let's talk. A lot has happened, so where do I begin? Since we're on the subject of how mad the world is nowadays, I should mention that since we last touched base, I dyed my hair blond! I know! And not Lebanese blond, either, but real bright, yellow Scandinavian blond. It was not a good look on me. My entire head glowed in the dark, even during the day (I know that doesn't make sense, just go with it). In some lights, it even looked kind of green.

I don't know what came over me. Like I said, the world is going mad, so I thought I should dye my hair to match. Reactions were mixed. Some people, like Miss HotStuff and, of course, Mom, thought it looked fabulous. Mad Glam said I looked 'pale and kind of tired'. She is not one to sugar coat things, like ever, which is why I don't really ask her opinion on my appearance. But I changed my picture on What's App for like 3 seconds and I got a message at 3am my time with the delightful comment above.

FFF was very diplomatic and said that it looked good but she preferred me with brown hair. Pixie likened me to a fluorescent bobble head, which you know, was not too far off, if I'm going to be fair. Mr. B saw the same What's App pic as MadGlam and simply said, 'You're a blonde!' He did use an exclamation point, though I'm not sure if that was in excitement/approval or disgust/horror.

It did not take me long to regain my sanity. A couple glances in the mirror and blinding my corneas with my now neon locks were enough to convince me to go back to brunette. But the whole thing reminded me of when I dyed my hair black when I was in graduate school. I had just moved to Beirut but was on Christmas break in RIC when I woke up one morning determined to look like Elizabeth Taylor (because when you're 21, you think anything is possible, even the impossible).

As a student, I was on a tight budget, so I just bought one of those supermarket brands that was supposed to be a temporary shampoo color. At the time, I thought it looked awesome. People back in the 'Root did not agree. One day, I was walking to class at AUB and a friend came up to me. 'OMG, what did you do to your hair?' she asked. I replied I dyed it black. Duh. 'OMG, all I saw across campus were these big purple eyes!' she said. Yay, I thought, mission accomplished. I totally look like Liz Taylor now. Then she finished with: 'You look like a witch.' Ouch.

The moral of the story is that I should stop dying my hair. And also, people should seriously compliment me more.


Follow me on Twitter @anissarafeh

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My Two Cents

Penny pinching has never been my thing. It is the most un-Lebanese thing you can do, but now that I have a mortgage, well let's just say that the honeymoon period of buying Prada bags at my leisure is officially over. (Insert tragic crying emoticon face here. Insert it more than once. And one more time for good measure.)

MadGlam would be (is?) horrified at my new frugal ways. We once traveled to Greece together and rented a quad, which broke down in the middle of the road... at the bottom of a hill. She sweet talked some young (Italian, I think?) teen to push it up the hill for us, but it still wouldn't work.

Much to my horror, she then attempted to get me to hitchhike with her back to our hotel. 'What? It is safe! Nothing will happen,' she proclaimed as she literally tried to shove me into a random pickup truck that pulled over. She thinks vacations are like Dirty Dancing with hot Johnny Castles picking you up. I think they're more like an episode on Discovery ID with Freddy Krueger lurking in the shadows. Anyway, we scuffled for a bit, with her pushing me by the shoulders to get in, me yelling for her to get off because I didn't feel like getting kidnapped by possible serial killers in a foreign country, thank you very much. The truck driver finally drove off. Either he understood the whole serial killer thing and got offended, or he just got bored. Either way, there was no hitchhiking.

We did not have our cell phones, but somehow managed to find a cab to take us back to the hotel. Once we got there, I told her to call the quad guy and demand her money back, since she's the one who rented the thing, and to ask him to reimburse us for the cab fare. Now it was her turn to look horrified. 'It's only five euros!' she said, too embarrassed to fight over what she considered such a small sum. This is, after all the Lebanese way. It is ayb, or shameful, to argue over money. But my American sensibilities would have none of that BS. 'It's the principle of the matter,' I shot back, reminding her of the ordeal that had just transpired. It wasn't the amount, I reminded her, but the fact that he cheated us and we shouldn't have to pay for that, no matter how little the sum.

So, she called the quad guy and he came to the hotel. I was with her for moral support. She agreed to argue over the five euros but not the cab fare. After some wrangling, the quad guy gave MadGlam her money back and she was ecstatic. She opened her palm to show me the money and there was actual glee in her expression. 'My mother will be mortified,' she said. 'Well, I'm proud of you,' I replied.

But now that I'm back living in the US, I may have taken that 'matter of principle' a little to far. I got my cable bill and it was up by two cents. Yes, I know two cents. But since the ad said that my bill would stay the same for the first year, I thought, you know, it's a matter of principle. I probably shouldn't be admitting this, but I called. And complained. Over the two cents. I didn't express outrage or anything - this is the same cable company that had sent out bills to 'annoying' customers with curse words in place of their names. I was super calm and explained the change, no matter how small, had messed up my automatic payment system.

Can you guess how this story ends? Well, I got my two cents!


Follow me on Twitter @anissarafeh

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Un-Princess Diaries

I think the daylight savings somehow affected my brain activity last week. I didn't even know it was daylight savings. I had brunch plans with NSS and her brood. I was in the kitchen, looked at the microwave clock and thought, wow, I have like 2 hours to kill, let's do some housework .

So, not to pull a Gwyneth Paltrow or anything, but I'm just not used to housework. I relayed this to my co-worker, who then put on a British accent (it sounded kind of Swedish) and said, "Oh, did you used to have servants do that for you?" And so I responded, "Um, yes." He was a little surprised, but you know, in Lebanon, many people do have housekeepers - it's not uncommon. Anyway, of course, in the past I have had to scrub toilets and do laundry and sweep floors, etc, but it's been a while. I have been doing just fine since I moved, though. There was hick-up with a blanket I put in the dryer that got a thick layer of lint stuck to my new sheets. But other than that, I have been managing.

That Sunday, after the blanket debacle, I decided to take care of an old cast iron skillet my parents had in storage and gave to me. It's been sitting on my kitchen counter top for weeks, waiting to be 'seasoned' to remove the rust. I looked up the instructions online and followed the steps: 1. put layer of cooking oil, 2. line bottom of oven with aluminum foil, 3. heat oven to 325 degrees, 4. place pan in oven upside down and leave for an hour. Fine, done.

One hour later, I go retrieve my DIY work and see that even though I used the aluminum foil, the oil had seeped through and now black gunk was super-glued to the bottom. I tried scrubbing it, but nothing came off except for my manicure (which I'm beginning to think are a waste money with all the manual labor I'm doing). I spied a self-clean button on the oven and thought, Great perfect. This should be easy. I pressed the button and went up to get ready for brunch. Five minutes later a loud, deafening noise goes off. I was a little stunned at first, but then realized, Oh, burglar alarm. And although I should have been panicking that there may be an intruder in my home, I was more concerned with the noise bothering my ancient neighbors.

I checked the alarm and it was fine, but I still had no clue what the sound was. Daylight Savings Brain. After a  minute, it clicked: smoke alarm. So I rushed downstairs and saw that the self-clean had totally stunk up my entire living area and caused the smoke alarm to go insane. How do I stop this? I asked myself. Believe it or not, some random movie scene popped in my mind of a broom being waved in front of a smoke alarm. See, you do learn stuff from movies!

So, I'm standing in my living room after opening the windows, waving this broom and gagging on the stench, and finally, finally, the ear-piercing alarm stops. Two minutes later, it goes off again. Back with the broom waving, and so I just turned off the self-clean. I looked again at the microwave clock with broom in hand and thought, Hmm, I still have an hour, so let's sweep the kitchen floor. I swept the floor and then mopped and felt very domestic and proud of myself. Then I picked up my phone to check my messages. I saw the time (which had switched automatically) and freaked out.

WHAT? I have 15 minutes to get ready and arrive at the restaurant for brunch! I immediately called NSS and said I was going  to be 15 (Lebanese) minutes late (i.e. 30 minutes in real time). I explained the whole smoke alarm and problem with the clocks and told her that I'm sure the power must've gone out to explain the missing hour. She then says, "Anissa, it's daylight savings, how could you not know." OMG.

To say I felt stupid was an understatement. I was starving, my 'clean' sheets were covered in fur, the house stank, and my oven looked like something from the Walking Dead died in there. But hey, at least my kitchen floor was clean.


Follow me on Twitter @anissarafeh

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Lebanese Princess

Sometimes, I really miss Lebanon. I know people reading this might get the wrong idea about me, but living here is definitely different from life in Beirut. Yes, Lebanon is behind in so many ways, but we live a pampered lifestyle, which I'm not saying is a good thing (so please, no hate mail). It's just that it is a big adjustment when you move. Even if you live alone there, you're never alone, alone. Car issues? Call dad or your brother to take care of it. Plumbing issues? Call dad or your brother, who then calls Abu Handyman to fix the problem.

I know, I know, but I am not a terrible example of a feminist. I am a staunch believer in equal rights, equal pay, equality in the eyes of the law. But does that mean that I have to shovel my own driveway from the snow? Does being an advocate for women's rights mean that I have to do manual labor?

This has been tough to get used to. I have always been independent, paying my own bills, etc, but when it comes to yucky stuff (see above), I always deferred to someone else to take care of it. Not because I'm incapable, but because I can't be bothered. I mean being alone, alone, sucks. In Richmond, you can't call dad to please call Abu What's-His-Name to come fix things. I have to do it myself, which - did I mention? - sucks.

For example, last week we had like eight inches of snow (we're getting more tonight). I could not get into my garage and I nearly broke my neck walking down the steps of my house to my car. I did not even have the foresight to salt my steps. I didn't even know there was special salt for the outside.

NSS called and asked where I was. I told her I was going to the grocery store to buy salt. She asked why, so I told her about my snow/ice problem and she started laughing. She was like, "Um, you can't just buy table salt." Oh. "Unless it's kosher," she quipped. "Really?" I responded, relieved. "NO," she said like I was world's biggest idiot. "Go to Home Depot."

So I head over to a hardware store and see giant burlap bags outside, praying this wasn't the salt I needed. How was I going to carry that to my car? It's not like Abu Somebody will do it for me. Luckily, they have small bottle sizes that even a wimp like me can carry. The guy there told me I would need two for my driveway. I gave him my Lebanese I-know-you're-trying-to-sell-me-something-I-don't-need side glance, convinced I only needed one. He shrugged, handed me the one and wished me luck.

So, of course, I needed two. But it did soften the snow a bit so I could ram my car into the garage. I drew the line at shoveling. I am not a prisoner in a Siberian detention camp! I was just so proud of myself that I got in with just the salt, until my car skidded and I hit a door in my garage. I still considered it a success.

I did manage to change a light bulb in my garage using a ladder all on my own. I was going to wait for the always reliable Dr JH to come and do it when he next visited, but then thought, nah, I got this. The glee I felt when the light came on was really undeserved. I felt like I was Thomas Edison. I proudly proclaimed to NSS, "I changed that light bulb all by myself," as if I had actually invented the light bulb. She wasn't impressed. "Now you need to change the filters of your air ducts."

Wait... what? Doesn't Abu Help-Please do that?


Follow me on Twitter @anissarafeh

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Fabulosity of Anissa

Mr. B inspired me the other week. He is great at combing through headlines in the local papers in the 'Root, posting them on Facebook and then slamming them. I particularly love the ones about Lebanese who have achieved a modicum of success in the arts and are completely in love with themselves. I don't understand why most of those people are born without the modesty gene. I guess the ego gene is just far too dominant. It made me think of how I would be if I were one of those people that thought that paid for followers and one newspaper article meant I was a 'star'.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy the article (that could have been) with Anissa the Fabulous.

Disclaimer: I realize people not familiar with the local Beirut papers will not get the sarcasm, so I just want to emphasize that this is a satire and I don't think that I am the world's greatest anything, except maybe worst cook.

Anissa Rafeh is a vision sitting on her comfortable sofa, the sun shining through the windows in her luxurious townhouse in the uber glamorous city of Richmond. "Do you like it," she asks me, as her fingers caress the lush white cushions. "It's Laz-eh Boiyh," she says with her upper crust accent that just drips with class.

We start talking about her great passion: writing. "Writing is my passion. I am so passionately passionate about it. I write passionately about passionate things because I am a passionate person who approaches everything in life with passion," she explains. "My life is writing; writing is my life. We co-exist in harmony in my soul and in my heart... which is full of passion."

Her phone then pings and she picks it up. It is a common sound for her, as she receives an endless (not really) amount of mail from fans (or her mom) each day, telling her how much they adore her blog and relish every word that emerges from her perfectly manicured fingertips.

She reads the screen and giggles charmingly, as if to herself. "Oh, this fan just said that my writing touches his soul. And that I am the mirror image of Elizabeth Taylor when she was in her 20s. Ha ha ha," she trills in modesty. "Surely he miss-typed and means when she was in her 30s." Yes, she is that modest. Such compliments clearly embarrass her (not in the slightest).

Her blog has recently caught on fire (she accidentally burned her laptop with a scented candle from Bath & Bodyworks). Just yesterday, it recorded five unique visitors. Yes, you read correctly, five. This, of course, is an amazing accomplishment. What other blogger can boast such phenomenal numbers? 

"Yes, it's true. My blog is just so popular. People stop me on the street all the time (to ask for directions). They could stop anybody and ask where the mall is, but no, they ask me. It's their way of saying, 'Hey, we recognize you but don't want to embarrass you, so we're using this excuse just to get to talk to you.' I get this all the time, but that is the price of blogging fame."

Writing about her amazingly exciting life of going to work, shopping at the mall and being in awe of Target (which she so classily pronounces Tarjeh) have made her an internet wunderkind. Not many bloggers can boast such a fascinating life. To prove her immense popularity, she has one million (minus 900,960) followers on her blog alone. She used to have a huge following on Instagram too, but a 'glitch' in the system brought down her 500k followers to five. 

"My (non-existent) followers were devastated when they were suddenly dropped from my page. I still don't understand what happened and I'm working to fix this horrendous situation. Luckily, I don't feel alone, because Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian have had a similar problem. Oh, the injustice of it all," she said, her eyes glimmering with unshed tears. 

When asked why she thinks readers are so attracted to her one-of-a-kind, unique, nothing like it at all blog, she pauses briefly and carefully ponders her well thought-out, original response.

"I think it's about my passion, which I don't think I properly emphasized before. My reader(s) feel it through my passionate writing, and this is what draws (all five of) them to my blog. Yes, it is all about my passion. Did I mention my passionately passionateness passionate writing yet?"

How eloquently said. 


Follow me on Twitter @anissarafeh

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ho, Ho... Huh?

'Tis the season to be jolly, at least that's what the song says. I actually really like how everyone is so into the Christmas spirit here. I know that a lot of people get stressed over Christmas shopping, but I'm not one of them. I am an expert shopper. This year was a world record, even for me. Black Friday, laptop... BOOM! All shopping done in two hours.

You can't really online shop in Beirut. There were about two destinations where I could do my Christmas shopping: ABC Mall and downtown. I do miss the tacky decorations along Hamra Street, though, and the smell of roasted chestnuts on every corner intermingled with shawarma roasting and manakeesh baking. I don't know if they still do this, but they used to play Christmas carols through loud speakers all down the main road as people shopped or sat in cafes. It was a nice counter-balance to the constant 'toot' of car horns and people yelling out of car windows because of traffic.

Over here, we get the Tacky Christmas Light tours instead. I have to admit, they are a lot of fun. The lengths people go to to make their homes look like the North Pole threw up all over the place just to blind your retinas is really quite extraordinary. As for music, there's even an incredibly annoying festive radio station solely dedicated to playing carols (no, it does not make me roll my eyes; no, I did not just roll my eyes thinking about it). And of course, every mall in the country plays Christmas music while you shop. (Side Note: Mariah Carey must get tons of residual checks this time of year. All I want for Christmas? Stop hearing that song!!)

Because I am so thoughtful and considerate, I pick out my own gifts and send the wish lists out so others don't have to stress about what to give me. These gifts rarely work out for me though. Although I am a great in-real-life-shopper, my online shopping persona is not so effective. I look at things online and think, Ooh, this would look so cute on me. Click, item put on wish list. I put so many things on my wish list that I often forget what I picked. So, come Christmas morning, when I open up the present and see what's inside, I'm almost always like, 'Oh... this is um nice.'

This year, for example, I got red pants. I opened up the box and inside there were red pants. They made me think of Mr. B and his red pants, for which I constantly made (make, he still wears them) fun of him. I think I must've been drunk when I was picking them out because, WTF, Anissa? Red bloody pants! Never Sits Still was like, 'But you picked them'! I did a quick recover and immediately professed my love for them while trying to remember what the hell other questionable pieces of clothing I sent out as part of my disastrous wish list.

I soon found out. A pair of still-can't-determine-what-color-but-could-be-some-kind-of-beigy-grey pants with giant pockets down the middle of the thigh with huge shiny buttons. Because, you know, my thighs don't look large enough as they are, so let's add more material and bling to accentuate them even more. Tres chic. Surprise, surprise, don't remember those either, but apparently, 'They were on your wish list,' said another gift giver, who shall remain anonymous because she is awesome, and I did pick the hideous thigh enlargers, so it's totally not her fault.

Ok, so the moral of the story is Christmas is not about the gifts (yeah right, but had to put that in there to stave off hate mail or any chastising about the true meaning of the Christmas spirit, etc), and also don't do your own shopping online.

In fact, if you're in Beirut, head over to Spinneys (or any number of official resellers and pubs) and get yourself a few bottles of this instead! (Shameless plug for J2 Vodka, but it's my blog!) The best present you can give and the true 'spirit' of the holidays!

Merry Happy New Everything!


Follow me on Twitter @anissarafeh