The air raid

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“We have to stay quiet now,” my grandfather said, switching off the light of the living room. Israeli jet planes were flying menacingly low over Beirut that night.

In the room were my maternal grandparents, my aunt, mother, my three-year-old sister and myself, aged five. We had all gathered on the floor in the center of the pitch-black house, a safe spot farthest from the windows.

We sat in a circle, holding our breaths, but I couldn’t keep still. Harder yet was to remain quiet. I had many questions and didn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation.

My grandfather, the only man in the house that day, ordered me firmly to be quiet but I couldn’t abide. I kept talking and he, probably nervous and afraid for our lives, slapped me on the face. It worked.

This memory, still as clear as the day it happened, has been with me since then. I always wondered why my mother let it happen. Why she didn’t stand up to him or at least comfort me.

A few years back, in casual conversation, I asked her about it. I recalled the entire situation, but she couldn’t remember it. I gave her every detail.

“Your grandfather never visited us in that house,” she said. “Your grandfather was out of the country by then.” I then searched online and all records of Israeli air raids that year show that they happened in the daytime.

Wow. This lucid, detailed, and emotionally charged memory of mine was not true. Most probably it was a dream or something.

I learned that I must question everything.

May I have this dance?

This morning at 4AM, Leil decided that he wants to continue the rest of his sleep next to us in bed. No problem, Leil, you’re always welcome here.

He settled down and fell asleep immediately. I, on the other hand, had big trouble getting back to sleep because my brain had an urgent question that couldn’t wait till the morning:

“Remember that song? That on? What’s the name of the singer?”

Well, I knew the song, alright. And I knew that the singer was called something and the somethings. But that’s all.

So, my brain, in an earnest attempt to assist me, played back the entire music video. “remember that actress?” Yes, I do. “What about this car?” Yup.

Ooh, it’s something And the Lights. Give me more, brain. Give me more.

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“Here, remember this scene where a woman’s face comes out of a pool of golden paint?” Oh yeah! She’s from the other video clip, from his other song!

It was by 6:30AM (and I know this because Noha’s alarm had just gone off) that my brain said “Yes! It’s Francis And the Lights! Good job! You just won yourself some sleep until 7:15!”

But I had a bigger problem now. I remembered Francis And the Lights, and I knew that the song was called “May I Have This Dance?” Great.

I also knew that it had a beautiful verse by Chance the Rapper, who I was thinking about at bedtime, which probably triggered the entire episode at 4AM. Perfect.

But all the clues… WTF brain?

The music video for this song doesn’t have anybody but Chance the Rapper and Francis. No actress, no car, and definitely no one coming out of a pool of golden paint. She didn’t appear in his other music video from the other song, whatever that is.

The entire fight scene between the two Latin American guys never existed. And neither did the scene where one of them became paralyzed.

My brain made up all this fiction to remind me of a fact.

This morning, I invite you to listen to “May I Have This Dance?” and watch the music video. It’s a great song.

Let me know if you catch something I didn’t. and if you remember the name of the actress, do share it with me.

Left from right

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At the tender age of six, my mother signed me up for ballet classes. I guess it was always her dream for her son to have been raised a daughter. I don’t know.

Anyway, in one of those classes, the teacher, whose name escapes me but whose compassion will be forever etched in my memory, wanted me to help her demonstrate a position called the Arabesque. She asked me to step forward, stand with both legs straight, and then lift my right leg behind me.

At that moment I realized that I didn’t know my right leg from left. And here I was, the only boy in an all-girls class, dressed in a black unitard like the rest of them, on the verge of adding one more humiliation to the list. I froze in my place, unable to risk lifting a random leg.

Noticing that I wasn’t following her repeated instructions, she approached me and kneeled down to my level. “Are you ok?” she whispered in my ear. And there it was! My opportunity!

I pretended to be sad and said, “I’m sad. I don’t want to do this,” and started fake crying. She patted me on the back and said, “Don’t worry, you can do it,” and grabbed my right leg to lift it! Yes! I now know which one was my right leg!

And that, ladies and gents, is how I learned right from left forever, while also discovering that I have the capacity to cry on demand.

Lord of the ants

In Grade 7, our all-boys school took us on a field trip to a sports complex that was located just outside Riyadh.

After playing a bit of football, a small group of us decided to detach from the class and walk back to the central office of the complex instead of waiting for the bus to come back and pick us up. This journey required us to cross a vast plot of desert at midday.

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As the six of us walked across the desert, with no water, no compass, and no common sense, one of the boys stepped on a nail sticking out of a piece of wood. The nail pierced his shoes and punctured his heel. He fell to the floor in pain.

At that moment I decided to take charge of the group. I was never the leading type in school, but I had seen a similar situation take place in an episode of one of my favorite cartoons: زينة ونحول (Maya The Bee). I knew exactly what to do!

In that episode, a group of ants were being attacked by a spider, and the arachnid had closed in on one of the weaker ants.

With confidence, I repeated to my friends exactly what the leader of the army of ants said: “Let’s leave him behind. Better to sacrifice one of us than to endanger the entire group.”

It was at that moment, as the words came out of my mouth and I saw the horror on the faces of my friends, especially the one I suggested we sacrifice, that I realized what makes a shit leader.

We made it through the desert, helping our friend hobble on his sore foot. The next day, the six students with the sunburned faces knew that we were forever united by our mutual adventure, and by our silent understanding that not all life skills can be learned from TV.

Yawn if you’re happy

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Around the end of 2018 something strange started happening whenever I’d send voice notes on WhatsApp.

If the note was longer than a few words, I would yawn in the middle of it. In longer voice notes, the yawns were more frequent.

At first, I noticed the yawns in the voice notes because it’s really the only time I’m consciously paying attention to the act of talking.

But as soon as I picked up on the yawn, I noticed it was everywhere. Not just during voice notes, but also during longer conversations throughout the day.

Being a father of two, including a 1.5-year-old back then, I attributed the yawns to the lack of sleep that comes with the privileges of parenthood.

Two things caught my attention though:

First, no matter how much I slept, I still yawned. Even after Leil started sleeping through the night and all.

Second, I wasn’t yawning at night, when I should be my sleepiest. Only in the daytime.

After a year of this, I finally decided to read a little bit about the causes of excessive yawning when I found out that it’s a side effect of SSRIs. I’d been on those since June 2018.

What a peculiar side effect. It’s like life is a little more boring without anxiety, and we’re going to make you yawn to prove it.

Apologies to anyone whose face (or into whose ears) I’ve yawned mid sentence. It’s not you, it’s me (minus anxiety).


Here’s a sad story from 2019.

One morning I was at the supermarket buying a few random things. Among them were some grapes and a box of raisins.

After I finished paying, I was helping the cashier lady place the items into bags. All the fruits went into one bag, with the grapes going in last (and so were on the top of the bag). The rest of the items went into another bag.

She was left holding the box of raisins and was about to get a new bag for it.

It was a waste of a bag, so I wanted to tell her, “Why don’t you just put them on top of the grapes?”

But instead, and without missing a beat, I said, “Why don’t you just put them with their younger cousins?”

I smiled big because wow, look mom, I made a funny! But the cashier didn’t even as much as smirk.

In 2019 I learned to choose my audience carefully and to never waste a great pun on a mediocre crowd.

I’m ready for you 2020!

Driving myself crazy

There’s me, and there’s me behind the wheel. These two have nothing in common. When I’m driving, I’m the angriest most foul-mouthed version of myself.

Here’s a short story. Rewind to 2010. October. Jeddah.

My flight to London is tomorrow. My passport was still in the UK consulate, no news about my visa. An entire 20-week vacation hinged on my being granted this visa. And if that failed, I don’t even have my passport to make any changes and go somewhere else.

My nerves were worn down thin by the time the call came, that afternoon, that my passport was ready. But I had only one hour to pick it up.

The UK consulate is on the other side of town. I leave my office and drive rather erratically to pick it up. All goes well, my passport is with me, I phone my then-wife and tell her we’re going to London.

And then I head back to the office, in terrible traffic.

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Someone cuts me off, and when I honk at him, gives me the middle finger, triggering maybe the worst meltdown I’ve ever had in my driving life.

Just how bad was it?

When I reached my office, my colleague asked me why my eyes were bloodshot. I got so angry that some of the tiny capillaries inside my eyes had flared up so badly my eyes looked as if I had an allergy.

A few minutes later, I noticed some blisters had appeared along my waist and wondered what insect had caused them. But those were actually shingles.

I had gotten so angry I lowered my immune system enough that it was no longer able to fight off the shingles virus, and it erupted on my waist. Immediately.

But by far the worst thing that happened that day has actually lasted with me to this day.

My stomach would never be the same. That night I had my first acid reflux incident and have been living with GERD ever since.

I’ve never been as angry as that day and hope to never be again. But I learned a lot about anger and stress, the hard way.

Anyway, the moral of the story is: I aspire to reach a place in life where I can have a chauffeur. That’s my goal. To never drive again.