Beirut’s drummer started grinning the second he set foot on the stage of their Boston concert. He did not stop until the end. Neither did I.
I remember eras by the music that permeated them. “And in a year, a year or so, this will slip into the sea” was the musical carpet to Cairo and novelty, to young love and friendships that grew in alleys. Beirut’s music was the soundtrack of arms sticking out of car windows in Lebanon and Syria, of cheekiness and youth, of an unbridled desire to breathe in the world in its entirety.
“Good evening, Boston!”, said Zach Condon into the microphone.
“That’s us!” I told Elijah in a fit of obviousness. This is our city in which he is performing, our home point to which he is referring. In the disorientation of transitions, I have forgotten that we are not transient here. We are budding Bostonians, just as we once were aspiring Cairenes.
It feels like Beirut and our love provide the only consistent narrative threads between then and now. In late summer of every year, I think back to those firsts… the first day of Ramadan, my first day in Cairo, my first time working with the UN, my being every shade of beginner there was. Our chance encounter on a boat on the Nile that very first day, the day that became the first chapter to a story longer than a moon cycle of Ramadan, longer than our time in Cairo, longer than that UN placement. It feels like many selves ago.
The selves we are now walk along the Charles River, instead of floating on the Nile. We listen to Spotify, not an infinite loop of Cat Power-Beirut-David Bowie-Amr Diab. We drink chai with milk customized to a flaw, instead of “shay masboot,” the only option of (excessive) sweetness that ever felt available. All of Cairo was masboot to us.
We have counted many clocks of love, but this one is new to us: we have never celebrated our anniversary together. He in Kentucky, I in Kosovo. He in Israel, I in Greece. He on a plane, I on a different one. In a fit of synchronicity, we are moving into the place we will call home for the next few years on the same day we celebrate years of love. This anniversary will taste like U-Haul and sweat, cardboard boxes and parking permits. Neither of us quite knows how to be here; permanence remains an elusive concept and Boston feels like a curiously foreign home.
I have felt the need for a digital away message to explain my absence from this space, like the ones shopkeepers in Greece scribbled on lined paper to let aspiring tyropita-buyers know they will be back in ten minutes. Except on mine I would scribble something like this: I am in between stories at the moment. Between the silvery fluorescent lights and the forms with new logos on them, I am squinting to take in information. I am squinting for my place amid all the change. I am learning in leaps. I am learning giddily, learning and forgetting. Forgetting names, forgetting what I thought would be and learning what will be. I am overwhelmed and inspired, depleted and energized, ready and vulnerable.
On the morning of the Beirut concert, I was a beginner again, seated among other newcomers at my graduate program. The Academic Dean was explaining the curriculum with an exuberance more often associated with leisure, not academia. “Start with what you want to learn,” he counseled, “and you’ll figure everything else out. You’ll figure out how it fits with the requirements, you’ll find your way into the system. But start with the learning.” Rarely has the learning itself been so alive, so full of possibility.