Category Archives: Family

Fairuz in the Morning

Fairuz is a national living symbol in Lebanon which sparks Lebanese pride wherever and whenever heard. Growing up in Cairo with my mother and two sisters, I recall Fairuz playing across the house when we returned home from school. One year in the early 1990’s my mom and sisters told me that they had a dentist appointment to go to and since I had school the next morning that I was not to go with them and stay home with the babysitter – I still remember thinking they were dressed too nice for the dentist but I complied with the instructions as any 8-year old would do. Years later I came to find out that they went to see Fairuz in concert in Cairo.

I was able to see her a decade later in Los Angeles and I remember crying when she sang “Zorouni” (Translation: Visit Me, a powerful song that is sure to pull on any expatriate’s heart strings far away from their home. 

Fairuz’s short, sweet and authentically Lebanese tunes speak of everyday life: the mountains, drunken neighbors, and most importantly a unified Lebanon and sad stories of the war. I was surprised to learn that her music is for the most part strictly listened to in the morning amongst the Lebanese people while they’re getting ready to start their day. While flipping through the radio one morning on my drive to work I found several local channels playing Fairuz.

One of Fairuz’s great contributions to the music society is her son Ziad Rahbani, who I should probably write a whole separate post on.

Great NPR report on Fairuz.

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Family Time Before I go-go

I can’t believe I’m all packed up! I have come to love San Francisco to a point beyond description; it has a special place in my heart…a pretty big one actually, more like a king-size bed kind of place!

But now, I’ve made my way down south and I’m going to spend some time with the family before I head out to Lebanon. I’m really happy to be here with last few months being full of packing and organizing I didn’t have much time to come down to LA to see the family and the our newest addition, Eliana, my sister’s baby.

Today we celebrated Eliana’s arrival! The whole family got together and we had yummy Afghani food (courtesy of my brother-in-law’s mother), cake and lots of laughs. Eliana is now 2 months old and she’s so cute. My older niece, Sophia, is extremely close to her and wants to take care of her all the time. It’s super cute!

The family and I at Eliana's party

Moving to Lebanon, it’s official!

As I mentioned previously, I got accepted to the Kiva Fellows Program back in November of 2010. And today I finally found out where I will be going for the 3 months fellowship!

I’m moving to Beirut, Lebanon this summer! I have been to Lebanon twice in the past. Once back in 2000 and most recently this past winter (December of 2010).

View from my friend Edy's house in Jezzine - December 2010

I have a lot of deep emotional connections to Lebanon. My two sisters, and admittedly two of my favorite people in the whole wide world, are half Lebanese. Their father was born and raised in Tripoli, Lebanon and he met my mother when he was living in Egypt in the 1970’s. Although my sisters are half Lebanese, they have never visited Lebanon. Their father passed away in 1983, in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War, so they never got a chance to see their homecountry. In order to help them come to terms with this distant identity after the loss of their father, my mother decided to increase the Lebanese culture intake in our home while growing up. We ate Lebanese food (Tabouleh, Labneh, Ma’ne’, etc.), listened to Lebanese music (Fairuz, Wadih El Safi, etc.), and discussed Lebanese politics as if we were living in the country.

To say the least, I’m very excited about the opportunity to live in a country I feel so connected to! On another note, I’m really excited to be living in the Middle East during this historical time. Each Arab (and now even non-Arab) countries are rising up against inequality and dictatorial rule.

Now, the real details of this fellowship. I will be working with one of Kiva’s three Lebanese partners, Al Majmoua. They are based in Beirut in the Hamra district. Al Majmoua has been active as a Kiva partner for a few years and has issued over $3.5 million of Kiva loans. I’m super excited to meet the team.

Tales from Israel: Bus journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

(I wrote this on the bus)

My mother and I are sitting on the very last row on the bus (the last two available seats next to each other). Next to me is a Palestinian man, who has multiple mobile phones and literally seems to have not stopped talking on them since we got on the bus, and next to him a group of the most annoying and obnoxious Israeli teenagers (2 boys at the end of our row, and a boy and girl on the seat in front of them). The annoying group of kids are loud; one of them is playing the music on his phone and people all the way in the front of the bus could hear it. I just turned to him for the second time to ask him to turn down the music.
Two rows in front of us there are two Russian-looking girls, light skin, pointy features, dark black hair and striking green eyes. The girl next to the window has her shoulder-length hair in a ponytail with sunglasses fashionably resting on her head holding her bangs back. You can’t miss the shiny silver eyebrow piercing she has. The one in the aisle seat is wearing a white bandanna over her short black wavy hair. They look young; maybe in their early 20’s.
At one point, the girl with the white bandanna leaned over towards her friend and it seemed like she was examining the the pendant dangling on her chest. The look in her eyes made me think they weren’t just friends; it was more than an approving or complimenting friend’s look. And to my surprise, half a second later, my suspicion was confirmed by a loving, yet subtle lover’s peck on the mouth. It was so natural, yet so out of place!
What was about to come was what shocked me the most! The annoying teenagers caught a glimpse of that innocent kiss and quickly started tormenting the young couple. One of the boys shouted out: Lesbians?!?! They started making kissing noises and calling them names (all in Hebrew, but I could detect the tone). And then they started calling the girl “white bandanna” hoping that their annoyance would pay off and she would turn around and say something. I was shocked, saddened, and above all happy for the young couple for being courageous about showing their love to one another!

Walking the streets of Jerusalem you cannot escape the magnificent Dome of the Rock

Tales from the Holy Land: The Welcome

Step to the side, Miss:

I arrive at the airport at a little past 6pm on Thursday evening. In my backpack, I have a folder stuffed with letters – a support letter from Google stating my position at Google and why I was visiting. Along with that, my friend at the State Department sent me an official state department-issued letter for American of Arab origin. Although many told me to be too worried about entering the country, I definitely had the feeling that it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but I kept telling myself that if anything it’s going to be great story in retrospect (as my friend Tim would say). Ok, so back to Thursday evening – I get to the immigration line, I confidently walk up to the Foreigners line, and hand over my passport to the young-looking immigration officer. And this is the conversation that went on:

 

Me: Hi
Officer: Hello. Passport please.
(I hand her the passport open to the personal details page)
Officer: What’s your name?
Me: Hebatallah Gamal (dying to tell her that it is right in front of her)
Officer: Where were you born?
Me: (again thinking – it’s freakin’ right there) Cairo, Egypt.
Officer: Why are you in Israel?
Me: Business.
Officer: Where do you work?
Me: I work for Google.
Officer: in Israel?
Me: No, in California, but I’m here to visit the Tel Aviv office for some meetings.
Officer: Do you have a letter or something?
Me: Yes, sure. There you go.
Officer: Can you please wait here (and she walks off out of the booth with my passport)

I then get asked to step to the side, where I was escorted to waiting room with a TV, vending machine and handful of other foreigners, who looked like they have been waiting for a while. I immediately open my laptop and try to go online in hopes of catching anyone from the Tel Aviv office online, but who was I kidding I was sure no one would be online – it was Thursday evening (the equavilant of our Friday in the US – end of the week). Of course, internet wasn’t working and my laptop was being slow. Ten minutes later I was asked to come into an office, where another officer lady asked me to sit down at a desk across from her and her big black computer monitor. She then started asking me the exact same series of questions the first officer asked. I answered politely and was again asked to go wait in that room. Another 20 minutes later or so, a nice looking man came into the waiting room and gave a young group of 3 (2 young guys and a girl) their passports back and wished them a nice time. He then returned less than 5 minutes later and asked me to follow him. He then brought me into yet another office and started asking me the same questions, although he was a bit more detailed and definitely tried to ask me “tricky” questions, like: What do you do for Google?What’s your title? Little does he know that my freaking title at Google is a mouth-full and a little hard to forget :) What I thought was extremely funny is that at one point he said: You are not a trouble maker, are you? I don’t think you are who we’re looking for, but we have to do this to be sure!

So, I never felt more dangerous in my life, but like I said in the beginning – a story worth telling at the end.