Back in 2011, I had the chance to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds. Greeks, Pakistanis, even Amish… We were placed within the same organization in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, as part of a high school foreign exchange program.
That’s where I met Rebecca. A German girl filled with exuberance at any time of the day. Rebecca and I got along well compared to the rest of the group. We were expedient on making the best out of anything and everything that comes our way. We wanted to discover and grow.
Becca a couple of years later moved back to Nashville, Tennessee and I moved to Sydney, Australia for grad school. We didn’t see each other for around 6 years or so.
To my surprise, and pleasure, of course, she took up an exchange program to Melbourne and half way through her stay she came up to Sydney for a brief visit. I was exasperated as I should be.
We went out to Newtown in the city and enjoyed a really good dinner. The restaurant was quite hipsterish with crayons next to our utensils so we can freely express on the tables as we devour our meals. We didn’t though because we were too busy discussing foreign affairs.
Rebecca and I realized that yes the world was small enough for us to reunite years later but not small enough for her to know what is going on in my home country Lebanon, let alone the Middle East, besides the obvious “oh Trump hates you and ISIS is like inside your homes”. The world is big and the media is even bigger with so much information out there that the people choose to consume so little. The basics.
I don’t blame them. I am that way in a lot of affairs as well. Everything happening in places not related to me are stagnant images in my mind until something major happens and I read about it. Britain was just a country my cousins enjoy going to and my friends brag about shopping in. It was the Big Ben & Simon Cowell until Brexit happened.
Lebanon would be a country threatened by Islamic extremists for my German friend. It would be a dangerous place to visit let alone live in.
After our dinner we had a long stroll through Newtown. For those who don’t know Newtown it is filled with ethnic cuisines, hipster bars and really rad shops to look at (one of my personal favourites is a shoe shop for men that makes them taller by installing invisible heels inside the shoe).
We stopped at a Lebanese restaurant, “Yalla Habibi”, where I introduced Rebecca to our famous Baklava. She fell in love with it.
As we were about to give up on our walk and head back home, we accidentally ran into a treasure. A full-on two story large vintage bookstore with books that date back to the 1850s. Not just written back then some even printed back then. It even had vinyl records and porno magazines from the 60s. What’s even more interesting was the way it was organised. The shelves were categorised in the most unorthodox and random manner: Buddhism, Communism, Eastern Women, Media & Journalism, Witchery, Israel & the Middle East etc.
It had books about everything. It was a mere representation of this big world all stored in a small place. A representation of what we spoke about, of what I mentioned above. There is so much going on in this world that even if you wanted to, you wouldn’t know where to start looking.
We spent around an hour in that place trying to choose which things we really wanted because if we could buy the whole place, we would.
We later headed back home to continue our stories of our home countries while we sipped on Indian tea in my modest Australian flat.
The next day my 24 hours with my old friend were over. We each parted our separate ways in hopes of meeting again in some other place on this earth.
The way she listened to me as I told her stories about Lebanese wars with Israel & the spillover of the Syrian war & stories about our nightlife and cuisine made me see the reason behind what I do. What many of us should do. We should inform. Report what’s going on. Open the eyes of the world to the things that happen around us. Tell people about your grandma back home & the way your neighbor always makes sure to make you some of that Kebbe you like when she cooks it.
Inform. Not just about your home country. About your families, your stories. People should know.
Cultures are a beautiful thing with their differences. Experiencing other cultures while helping others experience yours is by all means what I think people should be doing in this short life of ours.
Feel free to suggest why – or why not – you feel the urge to communicate your culture, traditions & history to others.