Dec 2, 2013

Sinusoidal Surplus

Sine Wave

"When you reach to your very source of being, where you are completely in the mood of the spring, and the flowers are showering on you, you suddenly feel a gratitude not directed to anybody, just like a fragrance arising out of you, just as incense brings ripples of smokes and fragrance, moving towards the unknown sky and disappearing"

Left the taxi heading back home, it was only a couple 100s of meters and was totally worth the walk, yet all of a sudden I get this instant urge to be thankful.  And there I was, foolishly singing my thankfulness along all while not being able to resist smiling and waving my hands up in the air. Weird eh? I’d definitely point at me by calling myself a lunatic if I ever bumped into me, but I was happy, who cares then?

"A sine wave is predefined, pre-programmed and pre-destined.
It's the symbolism for life, ups and downs. And it is found to be the base harmonic for literally everything in life.
And we, humans, are no different.
You dig deep In misery and sadness till the day you start walking in the street, all alone, laughing and smiling and thanking god or jesus or buddha or whatever for the things you have. It's that spontaneous moment where a sine wave was at the negative side and suddenly it reaches the null, the void, to go back to positive again. All until it's time to be down again.
The funny part is that you can't control it. And that's partly why I'm happy :)"
It’s honestly not the first time it happens to me, I used to behave like this tons of times before, but throughout my out-of-nowhere thankfulness process, I’d usually get tired easily, and would feel like I just had enough for today. But not tonight, in fact, I challenged myself to make it till the end, for as far as I could; but I couldn't. I started with my feet, saying “thank god I’m able to walk”, then moved to my ability to see, my ability to smile and laugh, my ability to walk, again, and it's when I giggled; I noticed how important walking is to me and to have my legs there for me. How crazy is that? Yet then I had to dig deeper and avoid being so shallow, what else should I be thankful for?

“Thank god I could still love, thank god I know what hate is, thank god I can wave my hands, thank god I am still able to think, thank god I have clothes to wear, thank god I miss people and thank god people miss me”. It didn’t stop there though, the recognition seemed never-ending, with the peeling of every new layer. It’s not about god though, it’s not about Jesus or Krishna. Call it nature, call it Buddha or call it karma, it’s only a matter of letters and names, what matters is the gratefulness, the state of being thankful, enjoying it and learning to remember the little blessings.

Hence this blogpost, you guys know how I put to use everything that I could spread positiveness with. It’s time for you and I to be thankful. I allowed the Anonymous profiles on this post as well, but I’d definitely be happy to see your names down there. Hit me with the best thanks you got, you never know, they could easily be of benefit to somebody else and make someone's day :)

Dec 1, 2013

Walkabout Drum Circle at EM Chill

It is not usually that hard to remember the bits and details of an overwhelmingly happy night. Walkabout Drum Circle and friends gathered the night before at EM Chill pub in Mar Mikhael for yet another outstanding African rhythms performance, and to bid farewell to Tom Harris, therapeutic drumming instructor and veteran Djembe player, who came all the way from Atlanta to share along his deep knowledge. It was the night I was at my happiest.

Allow me first to break the common rule of spreading out thank yous at the end (don’t get me wrong, I’ll do it eventually), but it’s just that I really feel so grateful at this moment. Thank you Jade and Walkabout Drum Circle for one unforgettable night. I still am not able to remember a single dull moment, a detail that pissed me off, a thing I didn't feel comfortable about. In fact, my day yesterday was so dreadful I couldn't’t smile all day long, yet, there was the night with the Walkabout. You guys made my week!

Alright, time for some bits and pieces. Made it there at around 8:00PM, gotten so late for rehearsals which were scheduled starting 6PM. To my utmost surprise, there were more than 16 drummers, other than the instructors, formed in one of the biggest drum circles I ever saw*, it felt so refreshing I gasped instantly upon opening that clunky basement metal door. Being able to take part in this breathtaking group is a thrill by itself, I was never both happier and more proud my entire week. I loved how everybody was so welcoming, smiling and cheering, all while closely and carefully listening to both instructors’ tips and hints; brought warmth to my heart at a certain point. It was this unity that rhythms were extruding that got so much to me, I just love when people are untied.

It seems that Jade was more relaxed than usual with his teacher next to him; with all the pressure and weight of responsibility before any show, they were stronger together. Tom surely contributed in lifting some of the weight off Jade's shoulders. No wonder though, crowds started pouring in right at 9:00 when doors were open, all until it was 9.30, there was literally not a spot to stand or walk in by then. The place was officially packed, all ready for the drum circle to roar.

Greeted my friends and went to take my seat and djembe among the drum circle; It was in these 2 short minutes that I had to recap all what Sandy had taught me right before the concert, I was to play two pieces, Bouchée and Balakulanjan. As usual, and failing to organize my thoughts, I left it to both my instinct and the group energy to be able to pick it up and make it through. No surprise though, it worked pretty damn well and the crowd was going crazier by the minute. La Rumba, on the other hand, was their third piece for the night, and their first time playing it in public. I took the chance of not being familiar with it to get a hold of my Nikon and shoot the piece on video (found at the end as well). I felt the earth shaking beneath my feet of all the outstanding drumming; I honestly couldn't stop swinging at some points, hence the instability of the video at certain times :)

A note on the side though, and being so inadequately never-ending seeker of what “happiness” means, I took the risk throughout my performance to check out the faces of my fellow drummers. Those who were experienced drummers, just like Jade, Corinne, Marie Lise, Tofy, Youmna and Nath were pretty much relaxed and enjoying the moment to the max, you could easily recognize it was what they did best. Their hand gestures and facial expressions were simple another show on the side.

All while at the same time, I kept browsing through the faces of others. Take for instance Ramy, Houssam, Rita or Christabelle. Their figures were smiling non-stop. Each and every single person in that drum circle was as joyful as can be; most of them had their faces smiling wide open, the remaining few were just having their poker face out of total concentration, especially during solos. And then it hit me, for a moment I decided to look at myself, and it came to me, I was happy. I was satisfied, ravished, energetic, extremely delighted and totally joyful. I couldn’t believe I could move from tension and being all edgy, to a state of mind where all is supremely beautiful at the time. It didn’t matter the dark colors, the closed space, it all is unnecessary. All it took was some fine wood, some skin, really talented djembe players and some extraordinary group energy to plunge in a world of continuous pleasure. All in all, the drum circle was glowing with positive vibes, the thing they successfully transferred to their audience and consequently to everybody nearby.

Later on, and right after La Rumba, it was time for our first break and for the novice djembe players to sit aside and watch while both instructors, Tom and Jade, and their experienced fellow drummers take over the stage and enrich EM Chill with what everybody thought was something out of this world. The music and rhythms were so stimulating it made nearly everybody dance and move to the beats, all unless they could reach the center, where they would join others in accompanying the drummers with marvelous bodily motions.

Being there would definitely mean you had noticed AT LEAST Maguy and her ravishing dances, I saw both happiness and pride in her looks towards her son, Jade. She hugged first thing when she came in. Everybody loves Maguy to the point she’s mom to everybody there, including me and the newbies. Tony on the other hand was hiding back there until he eventually joined his son’s band at the center and opened the dance scene for everybody else to join afterwards. The cheers all through the night were unbelievably energetic; I’m sure though the cheering was mutual :)

Walkabout Drum Circle are real artists to me, fighters as well. They struggle really hard to be present and make it wherever possible. A month ago they were in both Tripoli and Tyre, each at the farthest extremity of the country, having to carry around their utterly heavy luggage wherever they are. I still can feel the stench of their night at Tripoli’s Beit El Nessim, it was the night I had seen my regular friends emanating with good energy for the first time.

Ladies and Gents, I give to you, LA RUMBA!

For more info, Jade can be reached on his facebook account for group or one-on-one sessions.

* The Walkabout Drum Circle had had much bigger circles and therefore an amazingly larger number of attendees. Largest Drum Circle I know of had more than 50 drummers, all in one circle and run by Jade himself.

Nov 25, 2013

Mission Accomplished: TEDxAzmiSt and Red Bull SoundClash Lebanon

The only fact that I spent last night with my all-time favorite Lebanese underground band, Mashrou’ Leila, is enough to get my hyped for the coming month, well how about meeting one of the most impeccably attractive voices of all and not recognizing her until the day after? Yes, I met Hindi Zahra and I couldn’t even recognize her then.

However, my morning was totally different.

A team of photographers had invaded the corridors of Al Safadi Cultural Center for the occasion of covering TEDxAzmi main event on November 23rd 2013, and I was to coach them throughout the day. 

They received well my hints and tips and therefore were more than ready to cover the event. We shared lenses and we exchanged batteries, I saw every one of them putting effort into getting those shots and making history until next year where the event’s assumed to get bigger and better. I never felt any prouder to have been the one to cover such an event from A to Z, with the help of my fellow photographers who were stars of the night.

“We act like ninjas” I kept telling them, and our black TEDx Tshirts served us well in this aspect. Rim, Rym, Farah, Lina, Fawaz, Abdallah, Rouham and Leila were the ones in charge of snapping those precious moments, for all the TEDx enthusiasts out there to enjoy later on and to share along. Having successfully gotten through with the event and having finished with collecting their photos, it was time I hit Beirut, again, to make it to the Forum De Beyrouth for my first professional photography job ever, covering the Red Bull’s SoundClash event hosting both of Mashrou’ Leila and Who Killed Bruce Lee.

The taste of Tripoli, TEDxAzmiSt and my fellow friends and colleagues back there was still in the back of my mouth, the faces I had met, the emotions we shared, the enthusiasm I was enthralled with, the happy faces and the gorgeous smiles, they were all put on hold for it was time to be disciplined. I had to be there to “work” for an organization, for a company. They had expectations, they had rules and they assumed I would do a good job, based on my portfolio. That certain issue left me all uncomfortable throughout the event, I felt all tied up. Yet, here’s the fun part.

The night started out with myself and the three other photographers gathering out in the middle of the arena, overlooking both stages where bands will be fighting off. It was time to put up a plan and assign roles in order to cover as much as possible. In the end, the event was extremely huge. More than 2,500 registered attendees, along with the invitees and the bands. With the entire rumble and the overly sized stages, it felt nearly impossible for me to cover such an event, even with all the gear we had. Decided to suck it up, and take it easy as I always do. Little by little, things started to work out pretty well.

Knowing I had already been with Mashrou’ Leila, it was more than obvious that I’d stick with the band for as long as possible, since they were already used to me and they were somewhat familiar with me. And that was totally true, Haig and Firas were so relaxed they actually started posing for me sometimes, all while Hamed was busy memorizing the lyrics and using Yamli every once in a while. A bit later it was Carl and Ibrahim who joined along, Hindi Zahra, whom I never had even slightly recognized that night, the thing I had regretted the most even with the tiniest fact that I was a few INCHES away from her, and them, Zahra was already there was enjoying the band’s company as well. Not to mention Karim of course, the band manager. Right after I had enough with the intimate personal shots of the members prior to the actual performance, it was time for a group photo.

The band was up in no time, and I did my best to catch the best shots I could ever take, god be my witness. It was the gear I had that forced me to stay in that corner of wide angles and Hi ISO for the entire night, which got me so frustrated I couldn’t even pull it up together and go through the night without resting every 15 minutes and taking a sip of water here and there. Yet, and with all the fatigue and the pressure I had, I assume I did a good job. In the end, I was chosen for a reason, and no matter what had happened earlier that day, the reason remains valid no matter what.

The moment it was all done with, and right after handing out my photos to the communication team, I felt extremely happy to bump into a taxi at the door that happily drove me home, where I had thrown my stuff around and flew right in bed. It was those few seconds right before I totally fell asleep where It all came back to me. I wouldn’t forget the chicken sandwich I snatched right from between the band’s boxes, I would never forget Elie, the Strobe operator who offered me his seat on top of that pillar where he was working, the morning brief for the photography team at TEDx, my breakfast that day which was nothing but two pieces of “petit four”, the amount of times I had to lay down whenever possible to ease my back pain a little bit, the light setting at Safadi that almost ruined all my photos up from the stage, the children’s faces staring at my lens whenever I jumped out in front of them, the way we gathered in the center of nowhere inside the Forum for not being able to find any decent seating, the thrill of being there among 2,500 more people and surrounded by such a humongous sound system that would shake every cell in your body. It was all but a dream, a dream that needed to end and call it a wrap.

This is to all of you, Mashrou' Leila Fans and TEDxAzmiSt enthusiasts :)

All pictures above are taken by me, Natheer Halawani.
All pictures related to SoundClash event are courtesy of Red Bull Corporation.

Nov 17, 2013

What Happened at the Tripoli Film Festival

The Tripoli Film Festival Committee representatives welcomed us at the entrance of the city complex venue, where [Journey of stars into the dark night] by Arnel Mardoquio was scheduled to play as part of the film festival that day, Friday November 15th 2013. The place was packed, friends have come over together in groups, families as well, couples and enthusiasts from all around Tripoli only for the sake of watching that renowned 117-minute movie. It was the free entrance that I found most serviceable, for it was convenient and an added value to the residents of this poor town.

How lovely would it be to read this kind of review about the film festival in Tripoli? First paragraph is a lie, oh no wait, I’d better say It was my personal vision of what I had wanted to see, my own aspiration, my expectations toward the event the moment I knew about it, regardless of my frustration at the organizers and the absolute lack of coverage and exposure for the festival. In fact, what happened that night was the total opposite, went as follows.

It was during that same day that I had heard of the Film Festival in Tripoli for the first time, at first I thought it was a joke, a tentative by some cinema students probably to push things into really happening maybe? But apparently, there was indeed a film festival that set the different venues in Tripoli ready to be showing a collection of movies that were announced on the festival schedule earlier apparently. Went through the whole thing to find out that, in Tripoli only, there would have been 30 movies playing in the city, spread over three major venues, offering over nationalities and the whole spectrum of genres as well. Failing to have seen any prior marketing or advertisements about the event, and knowing how the organizers have messed up in that direction, I did my own share of exposure and decided, at the same time, to take part as soon as I reach Tripoli that night.

All it took us, me and Naji, was a 5 minute bike trip. The place was practically empty, in fact, at 22:00 the movie center would be usually getting ready for wrapping up and calling it a day, but then that night, a movie was about to start, of a two-hour duration. Besides the crew who were easily identified by their uniforms, and who were all a bunch 6 to 8 employees, there was this young guy in casual standing up against the ticket booth, having this little and fast argument with one of the customers.
-          I’m sorry buddy, I don’t want the ticket no more. Is that of a hassle to you?
-          No problem, I’ll just cancel it, 3adi, it happens.
In the process of figuring out what was happening, I told myself the customer was obviously an unsatisfied customer, who got annoyed and decided to not watch the festival movie, all while that guy, whom I thought was one of the organizers (at least) was dealing with it. In fact, the guy decided to leave once he knew there was a 4$ charge, and the guy in casual was the theatre manager. There was nobody from the festival committee, not even a teenage desperately looking for some cash in and totally willing to wear a costume with a badge and stand there for a 30 minutes. But no, there was nobody.

Still wanting to encourage the initiative, I paid the 8$ and went in, all with my photography gear on my back, thought of covering the event and writing something about it. To my utmost surprise, the place was empty, literally. Add to it, and I apologize beforehand for not being the best critic there is, the movie sucked. Filming was awful, camera shaking and little to no dialogue was there. In short, I spent the next 30 minutes between the camera tripod testing and playing with my camera, trying out different seats at the theatre (WHAT? It was my first time being there with no other people, gosh..) and of course a good time watching both women’s flimsy acting throughout the movie. Thirty minutes later we were out. The staff were surprisingly happy, it seemed the group of 10 employees was working overtime only for the two of us, and decided to wrap things up once we left.

Fast forward 20h afterwards, I found myself with my two Beiruti friends rushing to watch the [The President's Last Bang] which was playing at Safadi Cultural Center, free of charge. A text message from my friend who was already there, saying the movie was in Korean with French subtitles, made it definitive that we’re going somewhere else instead of running around to catch the movie.

Tripoli International Film Festival Logo -
A couple words could summarize what needs to be said: the festival could’ve been the hit the citizens of Tripoli have been waiting for, not to mention the growing number of cinema and movie enthusiasts, film makers, producers, actors and energetic audience, waiting the littlest spark of ingenuity and novelty around town. Media coverage could’ve been drastically larger than what was done, broader, better. I mean, Tripoli’s got a huge collection of bloggers, activists, journalists, interested individuals. I’m more than certain a couple more shares on facebook and a handful retweets here and there at some point last week could’ve filled these theatres at least with 20 more people each play. Too bad for what happened, yet cheers go to the organizers for their efforts.

That was my own experience, with only one film. Care to share what you witnessed? Throw in a comment and let us know what happened as well.

Oct 24, 2013

Unearthing hopes in Eid

Takbeerat March, Photo by Ahmad M. Halawani
I would never forget her when she followed our trail when leaving the khankeh, begging us for some diapers for her child, thinking we were some sort of an association, and not knowing that every lira was either donated by people who never knew each other, and by our own pocket money. That was more heartbreaking than anything else that whole time.

I'm talking about the time we visited the "Khankeh", a place well known to old Tripolitans. It's the place where widows gather and are sorted out in a room each with her children, and sometimes more than a family need to fit inside the same room. I was explaining to my dear friend Soha, who came all the way from Beirut to Tripoli to celebrate Eid our own way, and cheer up the kids of Khankeh. I was explaining to her the history of this place, and how it was established and treated during the ottoman empire, and how it eventually ended up a worn out shelter for a bunch of helpless widows, who rely wholly on aid and help from their surrounding to survive. The day nobody offers them food, they won't be having any piece of it that day, all 30ish souls of them.

The day started out by leaving Beirut early morning, reaching Tripoli at around 10, and then heading straight to action. I already had a set of coloring pens donated by a friend of mine, my little brother Naji donated the elastics and hence we were making sets of 4 coloring pens, 12 sets in total. Next was to decide what to get them with the money we had. We already had gathered a little from donations basically, which we had topped a bit more from our pockets, and put up a plan. Twelve kids in khankeh were about to receive a goodie bag each in the occasion of Eid, hopefully to brighten their holiday.

I won't ever forget the enthusiasm Souha showed. We started out in an old library inside the old market, managed to bargain for some coloring booklets with stickers inside, some blank drawing pads, and eventually a bag of colorful balloons. The old guy was kind enough to help us out even though he was grumpy at other customers, I bet he felt the Eid spirit somehow!

Next was the bags we're about to fill with the goodies we got. 2 sets of 6 red and yellow bags each were enough to help really get that kick and feel what we're doing taking shape finally. Soon after the bags were there, the most glorious wave of rain was waiting for us there, cheering and wishing us good. With some help of the kind owners, we managed to pack 12 bags with the coloring pens, coloring books, drawing pads and balloons so far.

Mourad Getting Face Paint in preparation for the Clown Walk in Jabal And Tebbaneh.

Not far away, and beneath the heavy yet blissful rain, we spontaneously decided to bring in some maamoul! I mean, what is eid without the Maamoul? Souha kept telling me she felt as if she went back to the days of the red cross, where charity was all they did at the time. Soon after, we both had this insurmountable joy when our search for some candy and juice led us to that tiny internet cafe, whose owner was incredibly happy to sell us all his stock of wafers, bonbons and juice. I threw away a word of "sorry", feeling bad for wiping out his merchandise in Eid, replied with a wonderfully happy "not at all! NOT AT ALL!".

It was bliss and happiness the whole time, even the sky was shedding a smile upon us. The rain wasn't too heavy, better yet, it stopped the moment we were ready to visit the khankeh. And in fact, right after crossing the old market and the Hanged Mosque (jeme3 l m3alla2), there I was, giving Souha some instructions and tips on what to do and what not. I bet she had no idea what we were about to encounter there inside, standing on the edge of that damp staircase, leading to the infamously poor "khankeh".

Screaming out "ya allah" when going there is a must for me, a sign for all women to wear their veils upon me coming inside. But all in all, I asked Souha to go ahead in front of me just in case. First thing was greeting them, and of course, they intuitively gathered in front of our eyes, little by little, knowing there will be some sort of a giveaway. Turned my head for a bit to chill things down a bit, and said hello to the oldest woman in there and checked up on her. I knew them all, except for two new faces in there, I bet they are syrians for they didn't want to go out until we were about to leave.

I failed to keep an eye on Souha, who was holding 6 bags meant for girls, while the 6 bags of mine were obviously meant for boys. Anybody who has undergone such activities knows how hard it is to keep things in order. Took them only a split second to create the most annoying havoc ever, even though I was screaming out loud to send in their children only, priority to the youngest of course. But no, poverty and need has gotten to them to the point their way of treating us was ridiculously selfish, aggressive.

We Love Tripoli at their visit to the elderly shelter in Abu Samra for Eid.
Pictures taken by Randa M. and others, compiled by me.
 It killed me, the fact that some women are willing to make up lies to be able to get another goody bag, while others have the dignity to hide away and not ask for anything unless served. I pushed away the two annoying women, and made sure the youngest children got their bags. In a matter of a couple seconds, the bags were totally gone, and the old woman in the room behind me, with all the hideous stench coming out of her room, she was still calling out for us to hand her a bag, no matter how many times I explained to her that this is only for children.

Poverty at its worse indeed.

We excused ourselves, and left. Not a single word was said, we were both at the edge of crying. I had my eyes filled with tears the moment we were taking that dirty staircase back up, and I was sure Souha felt the same too, all until we noticed one of the women calling out for us and begging us for a bag of diapers! This is where I couldn't feel my legs anymore. Enough said.

I don't have any pictures of the thing, I don't have any sort of footage, no photos of the children, no recording whatsoever, nothing. Yet I believe what we did has changed the day, or at least two hours, of those poor kids, who didn't have the chance to feel Eid like they are supposed to be.

What is Eid to you? Doesn't it bother you to be wearing new clothes in Eid? Doesn't it the least hurt you to be having 4 sorts of main courses on the first day of Eid knowing such people are fighting over a piece of bread?

#basme_tayra Photo by Salam Fawwal
 I know I celebrated Eid my own way. Souha did the same, Mutaz, Mourad, Khaled Hassan Yahya Jihad Foutoun and Maya did the same as well. All of the initiatives that took place before or during Eid leave me proud and speechless. Who had heard of the Clothes Collecting Campaign my friend Reine launched for Syrian Refugees? Ever saw the #basme_tayra hashtag along your social media timelines? Did you stumble on the photos and the smiles they were spreading out? Did you hear about the famous Takbeerat march that took place in Tripoli, where more than 300 people gathered eventually in a huge square releasing lit balloons over Tripoli under what was known as #Mentaad2?. We love Tripoli had done also a wonderful job, so wonderful it brought me to tears while sitting on my desk in beirut going through the Facebook album pics. They made sure to spend the days of Eid with the long forgotten elders at the famous shelter in Abu Samra, a renowned hill in Tripoli. They sang along, listened to their stories, hugged them and even played with them, such an initiative that would put us in front of huge responsibilities from now on.

I remember a graffiti on one of Beirut's old walls, turned into a masterpiece when an artist beautifully put up a message over there saying: "Make somebody happy today" in arabic, with a HUGE yellow smiley face. What about you then? How far would you go to brighten one's day? What about providing relief to your needy neighbour? What happened to taking away grudges and egos and be humble to other people's trouble? Where did all the compassion go to?

I'm no saint, neither is any of my friends or those who wish to remain anonymous, we just did what we felt like and I would never feel any satisfied until it becomes a common culture to help others and wipe away poverty. After all, if this is not Eid, what is it then?

As my friend Reine used to say, "It is not about giving, it is about doing something better than just feeding a person. We need to teach the person how to fish for example instead of giving them a fish".

شي بيبيّض الوجّ

#Basme_Tayra. Photo by Hassan Osmani

Oct 20, 2013

Nath at the Cirque Du Soleil - Dralion

Now that the Cirque Du Soleil has ended their series of shows in Lebanon, Beirut, with their phenomenal act Dralion, I thought it was time to let go of the photos and tell a bit of how I managed to go there, watch the whole show, free of charge.

It wasn't until a couple night earlier that I got that message asking me if I would be interested to shoot the show at the Forum De Beirut, on the opening night, October 10th 2013, for it was the only night photographers were allowed. With no hesitation whatsoever, and after checking my schedule, there I was, booked for the show on a Thursday night. It was then when I met Rana, the curator of the agency I'm cooperating with, the Lebanon EGuide travel and tourism agency, who therefore led me inside the premises of the Forum.

I was surprised yet relieved of the amount of measures taken against photographers and videographers, a signof unmatched professionalism I must say. I had to sign a paper stating (generally) that I won't be using the photos for personal purposes, and never use this year's footage for any event next year. I wish I had the time to read the whole thing that I had signed upon, it was already too late to be doing that.

Having been escorted to the media corner, I was greeted by the European supervisor over there. I remember her name was Gretta, her whole job was to monitor our screens and make sure we abide by the rules, rules such as not recording any of those parts where clowns involve the audience withing their show, and prohibiting any kind of footage recording upon the end of the first three shows. Additionally, I was shocked to know we were to shoot only from the same spot! That was my first time ever to be faced with such a challenge, I kept thinking of how all my shots would look alike, all taken from the same angle, something to be really worried about when thinking of media and covering a show.

Eventually, I took decent pictures, not many, but decent they were indeed. I kept looking around at Stavro and the other guys with their super fancy 400+mm lenses worth alone more than double of all my equipment, yet I was able to snatch some beautiful shots with the help of my secret weapon, as cliche as this may sound.

With all three mishaps that happened during the show, I still can't seem to forget the fantastic show the crew have put together. From that flying couple performing that remarkable love story, to the glorious music accompanying all of the shows, to the winning performance of the clowns and their supporting actor in normal clothes. I'm not so good in words, it was purely glamorous to the point that first thing I said after leaving was "I wanna watch that AGAIN".

Shukran Cirque Du Soleil.

Another set of pics can be found on the Lebanon E-Guide site.
Full album can be found on my Facebook Profile.
Another copy of the blogpost was published on the Lebanon E-Guide website.

Oct 15, 2013

Adha For A Cause

One of the most beautiful pictures I ever seen. The clown mob in Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen

I wonder how easy it is to make somebody's day. Now that I and some friends had brightened the day of more than 200 children at least, I can simply ask myself what would stop me next from bringing joy to somebody's heart. I and everybody else have heard a handful of "You're the first ones to visit us in Eid", how could that be cold-heartedly overheard anymore?

All it took was Mu'taz's message last night, inviting a bunch of local friends for a gathering the next day morning. Point was to visit the two most damaged and violent areas in Tripoli: Jabal Mohsen and Tebbaneh. The resonance of both names in the back of our minds was an alerting sign of a bad thing to happen, only for a split second. But in fact, several got the kick to declare their participation and say "I'm in".

Although rumours were spreading around yesterday in town (as they always do) of a decision to start the fight the day afterwards (today), and ever since the town was under havoc once the gen. Rifi appeared on TV, the decision to go through the activity remained standing, and Taz in his message made it more than clear that "everybody's responsible for themselves".

Taz painting on kids faces and arms in Tebbaneh
The idea was pretty simple: A rather miniature flashmob or clown walk, where everybody dresses up as a clown, with facial paint and props everywhere, a barrel of sweets and a LOT of joy. Taz had also invited us to feel free to inform the children of how mischievous the toy guns are whenever there was chance.

Gathering was as agreed, waited a bit more for Yahya while we tied up the balloons and got our make up ready. Once everybody was ready, two cars were heading for our first checkpoint: Tebbaneh. I don't hide the fact I was a little worried of the outcome, but I had told myself on and on that, no matter what good I try to offer my community, no matter what activities I take part at to make people happy, if I can't succeed at this, I'm not really good at anything. And there we were, trunk open, props spread out among us and we're set on the very beginning of Tebbaneh.

Several young boys had gathered around us intuitively asking us of what we were doing there. Little did they know, as well as ourselves, that this little gathering of a bunch of Tripolitan guys and girls would turn into the wildest and biggest Eid celebration gathering in town in a long time. All I generally remember is the horns, the soap bubbles, the laughing faces, the startled parents, the curious neighbours and my lovely friends everywhere. We tried as much as possible to stick together at the beginning, soon to be ignored once we got so comfortable around the kids.

I personally have been to the place before, and trust me, today was nothing like before. The cooperation, the happiness and the overjoy was unbeatable. It's even the adults who made it better, they were offering us whatever they could to make it easier for the group of clowns to bring joy to the largest count of children ever. I can never forget the faces of all the grown-ups who thought we were funny and, unexpectedly, were laughing with us instead of at us.

Soon after the dabkeh has ended, the sweets have vanished, all faces were painted, smiles everywhere, not a single neighbour remained inside and the whole Tebbaneh has heard of us, it was time for us to pack and leave to our next destination: Jabal. Note to self: whenever in Tebbaneh and want to leave, leave silently. Running out chased down by the whole tebbaneh kids clan is not the highlight of my day :)

Soon after all preparations are done with, it was time for us to move to Jabal Mohsen. First thing I noticed there was the attitude of the kids and of course the adults there. The faces were more comfortable yet a bit more shy. It was something you could never easily let go of. I had the feeling that the people there felt as if they were unwanted, unwelcome or simply rejected by the town. And I don't blame them.

It only took me one chance to paint a child's face until the whole street wanted me to paint their faces and fronts as well. Had I been through it all, I couldn't but be amazed of the difference between kids here and there. All they wanted for drawings and symbols was flowers and butterflies for girls, and name initials for boys, compared to the fighter looks the Tebbaneh kids wanted, with the brows and under-eyes black paint, that's IF they ever agreed to be face-painted.

It wasn't long before we heard a shooting somewhere around us, and I've been told too we were on a demarcation line between both areas. To those who are unfamiliar with the place, that demarcation line was the most exposed street in the whole region, being beaten down the most whenever there's a fight. Knowing that we had done what we wanted to do in there, it was time for us to eventually leave. It was the thirst that took me to a nearby store to buy some water, gave him 2000LBP for two bottles of water. Got both bottles and he returned a 1000LBP, when asked why he answered with "half on you, and half on me, kel 3id w entou bkheir".

Maya can't breathe anymore!
 All of what I witnessed today left my heart so warm I felt I needed to do even more of what happened. The compassion my friends showed, the enthusiasm and the dedication are what kept me moving. I made sure I kept checking their faces throughout both flashmobs, I hadn't seen any bit of discourage or fear in their eyes, all there was is the courage and determination.

Khaled right after the mobs ended

Taz's message to the group
Finally, here's some of what we had done today:
  1. We celebrated Eid with kids from both Jabal Mohsen and Tebbaneh
  2. We broke the barrier of fear
  3. Both areas' citizens have witnessed a loud day like no other
  4. Children have now the chance to memorize at least one day of what happiness and tolerance mean
  5. Kids have laughed and they have seen how it's possible to enjoy something besides the toy guns in Eid
  6. Many of those who have flipped over the pictures now have more guts to do the same
  7. People there knew that there's at least a bunch of guys that haven't forgotten them

Thank you Taz for the initiative, thank you guys for the help, the rides, the shares and the spirit all in all.
I apologize for most of my friends and family for not being there, this has been really important to me, among many other things as well.
All I wish right now is to wake up one day and see new faces taking another step in that afflicted part of Tripoli doing one other activity to make these people a bit happier. Love you all.

Oct 7, 2013

A Monday Like No Other

I am happy. It was the bird's chirp that got me that boost of energy to get up and go out. I've been sick for the last 2 days, the flu has taken its toll on me to the point I was literally powerless, all until that bird came up to the window next to me. In fact I didn't see it yet. What's so special about that chirp is that it's been seriously forever that I heard birds chirping in Tripoli.

My first stop, the book seller.

My bike was already waiting for me downstairs, ready for our usual tour around tripoli, but not this time though. Everything was so slow, well at least slower that usual. I'm known to be using my bike whenever I'm in Tripoli, very few are the times I "walked" over there, yet today was this very few. I had never realized how much I'm missing out on.

I was happy, even with the littering all around, I was happy. I had the chance to walk around tripoli, in its old rotten alleyways. I was able to slowly grasp my surrounding, whether that be in the town center, at the gold market, or even at the oldest pharmacy whose owner's sight is so terrible he cannot see unless there was pure sunlight.

Little activity in the old souks, used to be much more than just this.
It was as if it's been so long since I've been there, even though I visit the town every weekend. I did my best to pass by every street there was, and made sure I don't hit the same street twice. The kind guy selling books right on the edge of Tall square was my first stop. I took my time to look around reaching out for photography books. Upon my insisting there were no good photography books, he, with his cultured temper, asked me to feel free to find the books myself.

It wasn't until I had finished with the book guy, I found myself standing on that same corner admiring the entourage, the people, the cars, the faces, the noise, the anger, the frowning. Yes indeed, everybody was scared, they were terrified for no particular reason. I guess it was the fear of the unknown, the future to come.

Kept going all the way to the old Sultan pharmacy, owned by the two brothers, among which is Dr. Nabeel, a 60ish year old man that I really admire. The amount of people in there was unbelievable, filling that tiny space inside the old dusty pharmacy leaving no room for the employees to move around.

Next was when I decided to buy some socks, socks in tripoli always have that one and only image in my head: the Sharamand shop inside the old market, right by the intersection of the gold market and the vegetable souk. Was a funny moment there when the new employee had to deal with a woman from shekka, whose accent was pretty foreign for the guy, but at the same time she was the friend of the owner. She kept pushing this little guy's buttons with her unfamiliar vocab until the guy lost it, that's when I and the old owner, who were both watching the scene, burst in laughter and giggles, all while noticing her evil look she had.

The simple act of climbing the old staircase right by the shop to somewhere below the castle, was enough to make my day. I never was able to climb a stair when riding my bike, such a shame because of all the small details I kept memorizing. It was all until I spotted that tomb behind a hidden mosque. The grave belonged to one of the many old islamic researchers in Tripoli, back in the days where it was "city of scientists". It took me back to the time where I had made this deal with myself to visit every single mosque in Tripoli, one by one. It was then when I had stumbled on this "jewel of the souk". Something to add on the dose of happiness all in all.

Eid Preparations, as cheap as they may seem
Tripoli has honestly become the city of several things. One who lives there could easily tell it's the city of "old mercedes taxis", or as for what I tend to call it lately, "city of gutter and meatless motorcycles". It's kind of unfortunate yet miserable to see the escalating amount of poverty around. There was not a single sign of development and prosperity. Everyone is either smoking or simply grumpy, tossing a word here and there, complaining, cursing or better yet, doing nothing, nothing at all, which is a lot worse.

It was the Monday I had the chance to walk in my old Tripoli, and it's getting old indeed. One more reason to reminisce on the mondays to come.

Sep 26, 2013

Colorful Pensiveness

نِمشي ونِمشي..
Isn't it surprising this shift to the blog back again instead of posting on Facebook? I wonder what's the reason that pushed me this morning to fill that white emptiness of my blog, growing molds all around from all the drafts thrown away on the side waiting the day to be published.

My morning was extremely emotional, with no specific reason, and No, it's not my period, yet.

Could be the grief over the few people we lost this week, even if I never had met them. The feeling of sorrow to have heard this morning a close friend of mine was threatened with murder and now is leaving the country with all means. The feeling of despair over myself with all the personal challenges I'm facing and the endless errands I need to finish.

Could be the insurmountable joy to see friends achieving their dreams, growing up and becoming better people. To feel a pulse of creativity upon meeting an artist with an impeccable work last night. The joy and anticipation of hosting a dinner tonight at my place and meeting my friends again after a long time. The thrill of seeing my todo list shrinking in size. The warmth of having friends ready to stand by me whenever needed, the joy of receiving compliments whenever needed. The fact that a person or two might be enough to keep you going. The pride I'm taking in my photography skills.

Could be the small details I was memorizing today in what concerns my colleagues. The touches, the handshakes, the laughs, the annoyances, the jokes, the faces, the colors, the gathering, etc.. I know something is about to change sooner or later, and I will miss this. Gosh I hate this..

Today was the first time somebody tells me I've changed, in a way that touches exactly what I've been telling myself lately. It was the cleaning lady at my company, or in fact our company-mom, who's been around me for the last couple years. She has come to me to drag me away of my excursion in never-ending thoughts, my 15-minutes daydreaming break whenever the kitchen is empty. It was her question that shook me, "what's wrong Natheer?". I replied acting as if I didn't get what she was pointing out, she replied with "you used to come joyful and greet people". My answer was "well I guess I got tired of greeting people". She smiled.

Sep 11, 2013

Corporate Blasphemy

I broke down this morning. I cried in the toilet. So what? I came to a point where I seriously can't take my job anymore. I thought staying there for a year or two would get me used to the fact that I'll be working for people, play by their own rules, eat and drink when they think I'm allowed to, sit with people I never chose and have to hear all about their stories, become sociable to be able to mingle and avoid social neglection, etc.. Fact is that it's been three years now, and it's getting worse.

I thank god for the fact that I work in a good company, and the people I work with are some of the best people I met in this country. The conditions I work in are some of the most prosperous ever, I'm given the freedom to come a little bit late in the morning and take enough time to enjoy my lunch, instead of having to be punctual in time. Better yet, my company actually has clubs, I recently was the one who launched the photography club, which was added to the existing sports club, alongside with the current activities such as the bake sale, recycling projects, internal newspaper, etc.. But in the end, this is as far as a company can do, reality is much broader than just this.

Nothing happens by accident.

I was reached out just today, among the misery I was feeling, by one of the kindest friends I ever had, and to my surprise we haven't even grown up together, better yet he's much younger than me. He instantly felt it was something with my job. Once I told him and let it out, the littlest feeling of regret hit me. I suddenly remembered where how worked, and the conditions he's forced to live and work by over there.
"I desperately want a solution
Friends tell me to be grateful that I have a job at a time like this
as if I'm at fault for feeling the way I do. It's just not worth it. they suck my soul for 9 hours, for what ? 550$.
I'm better off working in a dekken or driving a service car and earn the same
I don't want to see fluorescent light. Manipulative bosses. Tons of papers. Tons of people shouting their lungs at me."
He broke my heart, left me speechless. I didn't know what to say, it's right when they say "once you see other people's problems, yours seem to fade away". He was totally right, if it weren't for the type of life he's living, he would've easily lived off something he loved, something that would make his life richer by the day. On the contrary, he finds himself forced to fake sickness only to avoid going to work and being bullied both physically and emotionally. How sick is that?

People are ready to do whatever it takes to make more money, waste a numerous amount of weekends away from their families, hang up on their loved ones, lie and cheat, make up instantaneous fake rules that would straighten their mistakes, all in the sake of cashing in more money that would be eventually spent on earthly material desires, instead of the benefit of all and the good will that goes with it.

I spent too much time in corporate systems to know that this is not my place. I wonder most of the times what would be the reason behind this obviously uncontrollable urge to leave, the itch to find my place, the constant discomfort I live with each and every single day. I try to teach myself some discipline and rules to abide by until the day I leave this whole thing and find myself doing the things that make me genuinely happy. The treehouse design is already there, I'm simply waiting for that tiny piece of land I'd be having anywhere around the world, where building a treehouse is the most feasible.

During last year's TEDxBeirut's main event at UNESCO center, a new saying was unconsciously engraved in my heart, said by the renowned Dr. Charles El Achi, director of the NASA propulsion laboratory, a man who worked a lot in his lifetime, when said the following: "Do what you love, and you'll never be working". I adore that, and I think everyone needs to be given the chance to choose whatever they would love to be doing and spending their time and energy on.

one of the things you learn in companies, loving Saturday and Sunday all while hating Mondays (?!)
I have nothing but total resentment to the rules imposed by the standardized corporate systems onto their employees. I still remember that time in my first job where I was told that Thursday was the casual day (Thursday is weekend in KSA). Couldn't wait till my first Thursday there to wear my shorts for work. Everybody were bedazzled thinking I was lunatic, I really didn't understand them: When did shorts stop being casual no more? Or that time I was given the meeting room because the desk I was using needed to be emptied for its original occupant is back from his vacation (yes, I was a temporary tenant). I actually refused to go up to my "office" and stayed in the lobby, that was until I got my own desk, well after apparently forcing the whole department to move to the new building.

I simply hate being employed, it's never gonna work. My job's taking away everything I ever loved to do. Gaming, reading, writing, photography, bike riding, well basically everything. I demand freedom, can't wait till the day I have my own treehouse and live by photography and travel where I decided what weekend is and what work days are, where I get to pick my employer and how wealthy I want to live at. Isn't it too weird how hard for me it is to find another job in engineering whether in Lebanon or abroad, all while at the same time I'm experiencing a rush period in photography, and i'm being praised basically everywhere I shoot?

Aug 14, 2013

Creed, Man2oushe and a Schizophrenic

What's happening this moment is just stunning to me, riding the bus back to Tripoli is officially the only me time there ever was recently.

Bus ride back home, Beirut towards Tripoli

I once criticized a friend/manager I worked with in the past for being himself and having some personal time only on the airplane, all while traveling to another busy destination with the same hectic schedule as ever. I never thought, at this age at least, that I would turn the same, exactly the same. It's come to a point where my friend recently jokingly called me schizophrenic, for failing to remember an appointment we had in a couple days and having spoken about it the day before. Little did she know that I totally lost it: the ability to concentrate in details is having a picnic, far away from where I am.

Taken at Istanbul airport
What makes it worse is the fact that my character forces me to be somewhat passive, which automatically drives me to avoid activeness as much as possible and trying to be secluded for as long as possible, all while noticing the smallest details and surfing through the thoughts of others and collecting the tiniest events that happen daily, like the amount of times I rub my eyes or the way I brush my teeth has changed over the years. I actually enjoy this, unlike the always-busy mode I find myself at.

It's pretty usual to me to be asking myself about the reason behind getting so busy, letting go of family for a moment, dropping my dearest hobbies and forgetting about my closest friends. What is it that I'm getting busy for? Is it the money? Is it the reputation, the public relations, the benefit of knowing a lot of people? It's all bullshit to me, as my roommate used to express her feelings towards the free hugs, bullshit. But eventually it's definitely a no to all of the above.

Is it for the sake of self relief? It might be. Or might it be the fact that I was never used to having my days filled days ahead and relying on my blackberry calendar to know where I have the time to eat? All in all, this is not good.

I remember all the times I traveled lately, especially the last one for it was the hardest. I had to fly four different trips, spent more than 14 hours in airports and ended up falling asleep in the taxi most of the time, all for the sake of a silly meeting that didn't last more than 25 minutes.

This blog is the only space I got left to vent off and let it out, and I've been noticing lately that it's getting driven somewhere else. The blog was the window through which I tell people about the latest events with a twist, my own. But to be honest, this is only working for everybody else but me.

Iran from a plane's window
It's become a ritual lately, a habit, to pickup a man'oushe (traditional Lebanese snack) from that place on the corner in Dawra, where it sells for a striking 2.5$, but the taste is really incomparable, and eventually take a bus, a comfortable one, and enjoy my little warm snack resting on top of the bags laying around me, all while watching city lights flying by me. Call me insane, but that's seriously one of the reasons I don't think of leaving the country.

I mean, what's better than munching on that piece of dough for more than 40 minutes while watching passengers in cars right across my window? In fact, I just saw a bow hopping over to his father's side to sit in his lap, too quick for me to know what happened later on. Too many syrian car plates and a drowsy woman right on the edge of cursing her heart out is leaning on her window driving her car in the middle of slow traffic. Some broken neon lights here and there and the sound of cheesy music being played in the background emerging in between the "Creed" tracks my phone's playing. Isn't it fascinating how so many people with different aspirations, different mentalities, backgrounds, history and emotions are all driving the same route, heading the same direction most probably for the same goal, to hit back home and relax one's feet and neck. Isn't it absolutely dazzling how the city I always speak of being ugly and resentful to end up being the dearest to my heart?

My man'oushe is almost finished, my trigger to say goodbye and try to close my eyes for some moments by the tunes playing in my ears, I might end up getting some sleep and recuperate some of the energy I desperately need.