Razanne Jammal - Actress, Beirut
It’s been a while! Remember me? I heard you were going through tough times... and I just wanted to remind you that I’m here for you.
Maybe I don’t say it as often as I should, but you are my waking up and seeing my mother’s face. You’re my riding behind my father on his motorbike to school. The sunsets at Sporting. Sitto’s mloukhieh. Mum teaching me how to belly dance: “Put out the cigarette with one foot and change the lightbulb with your hand!” You’re my sister jumping on our bunk bed. My Manousheh jebneh and zaatar. The late-night Kazdoura. Jiyyeh beach on a Sunday. The strawberry and vanilla ice cream on Bliss Street. Climbing trees in Broummana. Fishing at the Riviera Club. Henry J. Beans after school. Hardee’s on a Friday. Birthdays at the Hard Rock Café. Learning how to drive in the ABC parking lot. The “Hi, kifak, ca va?” cliché. The skiing and swimming in the sea on the same day. The waves hitting Sakhret el Rawsheh. Dancing the nights away and falling asleep on the beach the next day. The stray cats meowing. The sound of the shawarma wrap. The Bonjus being crushed on the concrete floor. The traffic jams. The taxi drivers honking: “Where to, pretty?” The grocer’s “Marhaba!” The stranger’s “Ahla wo sahla”. The smell of fresh knafeh. The evening breeze on Sitto’s balcony. The endless mezza. The inappropriate conversations at the family table. The doorbell when there’s a delivery. The taste of everything familiar. Peanuts or carrots? Grilled chestnuts or grilled corn? Watermelon and halloumi. Or is it Bulgari? The smell of my grandmother’s chest: lavender. The sound of church bells. The mosque’s call to prayer. The Easter, summer and Christmas holidays. My mother’s “Yalla!” My father whistling from afar to signal that he’s “watching me”. My name being pronounced right! My girlfriends singing in the car. All that, and so much more.
B, you are a more than my community. You are the Mecca of my memories. The faces of the people that shaped me. The joy of reunion and the pain of separation. Weddings and funerals. Births, deaths and everything in between. A place where you meet people everywhere and all the time. Where you can have 20 people over in less than an hour. Where random strangers are there for you. Where you can always buy something and come back to pay the next day. Where people are genuine. Where generosity knows no bounds. Where kindness prevails and foreigners are welcome. Where I feel I have 500 mothers looking out for me and another 500 feeding me. Beirut, you are your people. And we are you. You will forever be our heartbeat.
So, smile my friend, don’t be blue. Your people have finally awakened to fight for you! And you’ve never looked so pretty.
PS: I love you.
Marriam Mossalli - Consultant and Journalist, Jeddah
Dear Grandmother, Grandma, Situ; JEDDAH,
Since I only do voice notes, and you only written emails, it’s been longer than usual. But I wanted to write to you to thank you for always being there – the only constant in my nomadic life, the wholesome retreat for me and my siblings, come every summer.
And while you are changing with the seasons, you remain the matriarch of all other cities; the first capital of our Kingdom. A silk route of hidden treasures from around the world, you smell of frankincense and mirth, and house the home of Islam within your warm reach.
Your wisdom is as complex as the ornate roshan windows that decorate Al Balad. You’re a fertile oasis; a humid juxtaposition to the barren sands of the East, yet you never make anyone feel less than for it. You gave birth to my parents and the Hejazi style – a melting pot of cultures wrapped in beautifully dyed Shalky fabrics. Much like the waves of your beloved Red Sea, you bleed creativity of an unseen world not yet tainted by the outside.
Regardless of what changes are happening within the Kingdom, you remain the womb of our Bedouin culture and will never be replaced regardless of how modernity tries to transform you. You are set in your traditions and that is why we all love you so much.
With all my absolute adoration... your granddaughter,
Roudha Al Marri - Writer, Dubai
You know, when I think about it, we are so much alike yet so different. I grew up believing that there is no limit to my sky. I didn’t know that you were the sky. You have created your own universe and became the most magical, beautiful thing I have ever seen.
So many souls have wandered and you led them to you like a magnet; drawn in like sailors who were lost at sea for too long, getting their first glimpse of land. There’s nothing that can stop me from loving your twists and turns, your highs and lows, and all the waves that crash on your shores. No matter where I go, I leave my heart with you because you are made of everyone’s dreams. You are the story of a nostalgic feeling of home. What makes you special is that feeling when I come back to you – and an even better one when I remember I belong to you.
My city, Dubai, I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather be born. The place I call home and the stories I have collected in your streets and alleys – the backdrop of my first bicycle ride, where I imagined I was flying to the moon. My Dubai, I didn’t know you were shooting for Mars.
I have seen you grow; one of the lucky ones to witness your enormous transformation. Back when neighbourhoods had 4x8 metre grocery shops, we were in heaven shopping with friends for chewing gum and ice cream. We never imagined that so many would make you a dream destination to tick off their bucket list. But here we are, and here you are, my beloved city. Making magic happen and being part of us all. Because as much as we belong to you, you belong to us too.
I love you forever,
Noutchka Karaguezian - Freelance Writer, Cairo
Mother of this world,
I look at you from the hidden hollows, fearing the awakening of those who have peacefully slept for the past 7,000 years under your scars, now cracks in the pavement of the place we call home.
We can’t help but smile as we walk past quaint little shops, with their intricate etchings on the wall a kind of architecture you cannot find anywhere else in the world. It captures all that Om El Donia has seen through the years, its history seeping through the walls and the streets. We walk past the Yacoubian building, a symbol of the elite core, and down the Franco-Italian architecture on Hoda Shaarawy Street, majestically portraying what is left of this refined era. We can’t help but be in awe of your diversity, of how beauty is everywhere but not everyone can see it. You make us smile so effortlessly because you withstood the test of time, never complaining once.
I lead you to a room that remains cool in the hot summer sun. We soak up the sight of the old buildings, our footsteps echoing. I buy you a khamsa from the silver shop, one that would protect you every time I forget to hold your hand. I take you to Café Riche, declaring my love for you whilst a furry friend greets us. Its fur is dull and unwashed, but we can tell it needs our affection, even for a little while.
I take you on a Feluka during sunset, where heads sway, garments flutter and veils hide features, yet showing flashing eyes beyond. We admire the blues and oranges of the sky battling the greyness, pushing it away with arms, shining its depths on the Nile. I stay close to you, listening to the lyrics that are my soul’s sweet vibrations. I could sing these poetic words of Abdel Halim Hafez forever.
Onward to the underground scene, where live bands shatter the night like a hammer on delicate glass. It’s past midnight now and darkness comes. We leave the bustle of the city and the only thing that lights the valleys of the Sakkara desert is the silver moon high in the sky, making the sand look like endless seas.
Even past midnight, the city is still awake, reminding us there’s a place for anyone and anything. The doors never close and the lights blink on, telling us we are never really alone. Home of the Nile; the entire world in my soul.
From Harper's BAZAAR Arabia February 2020 Issue
Illustrations by Nour Flayhan