Amin Maalouf’s new book – The Disoriented – inspired me to write this post. In this fantastic book, Amin talks about a man who has been in exile for 25 years, until he decided to meet and reunite with all his dispersed childhood friends from the year 1970, before the Lebanese civil war, separated all of them. In the book, the principal character Adam narrates the personality, memory and life-story of each one of this circle of friends…
This actually made me want to write a piece about our circle of childhood friends. Even though most of us live in different countries, we always try to keep up to our Christmas dinner tradition, reuniting and gathering in Beirut over cheese and wine (and Tang for some) with themed nights that are related to celebrating our friendship.
We are a group of 7 slightly peculiar childhood friends. We all met in junior high school but it took us years to bond. We were not NIGHT friends (mostly because one of us did not consider us as such).
Our unifying element was not our common school really, but rather our feeling towards a certain literature teacher (Teacher T)…one of the most pathetic, sad, frustrated people with fruits and flowers-embedded sandals.
Teacher T was a single 60 year-old self-caressing woman with a habit of dying her hair greenish/yellow and of covering her mouth when speaking.
We were united daily by our mocking of Teacher T. Soon we found ourselves bonding over laughter and our mocking would get our creative juices flowing (caricatures, drawings, videos, photos, poems…)
In retrospect, that was the beginning of a group of teenagers starting to express themselves openly and with our group of friends our bonds grew stronger as we started navigating day-to-day issues like families, sex, drugs, arts, music, philosophy, politics and other topics youngsters use to form a point of view.
At this point, we should start introducing our group as we were when we all met in junior high school:
1- Mitch P
The first of us to have a car and date someone in a band. She would come late to school, stinking of alcohol and with very pierced ears. She was tough, intimidating and barely approachable (with a funny Arabic accent). When asked by our philosophy teacher what her aspiration in life was she proudly and confidently answered “a Formula 1 driver”. She decided by year’s end that she didn’t need to pass her baccalaureate.
An introvert, famous for being the behind the scenes operator of all terrorist activities in class without anyone ever suspecting her. During our oral exam, she was labelled by the teacher as “refusing to verbally communicate”. We bonded with her when we started our film making career (an ill-fated move, the sequel is still in the making 10 years later) where she became the conceptual artist, executive producer and main ( and only) film editor. At her peak in philosophical writing, she got a grade of 4/20. On the other hand, her tech savvy allowed her to be the only one to learn Photoshop and video editing in the span of 10 minutes.
Nicknamed as such due to the (lack of) sophistication of her jokes. She was the innocent, cute, sweet, well-mannered, shy girl but also the one with the most suitors in our whole class (mainly the typical loser/popular guys). Always smiley due to her shyness and with an impeccable American accent (we never knew where she got it from), she was once too embarrassed to claim one of her books back from a classmate… for a whole fucking year!! She used to wear her hair long, black, straight, mid-part (which she was not allowed to cut).
4- La petite fille aux allummetes (the little match girl)
Our typical beggar-dressed communist with untamed curly exploding hair (not common in our school) and a pierced nose. She would ditch school to go to the public library and choose her own reading, that suited her level and her intellectual look with nerdy eye-glasses. Yet she was not your typical nerd. She was smart and open to new experiences with a contagious laughter. The first of us to smoke (and to smoke up) and to experiment with all what we were afraid of. Philosophy and food were her BFF’s and sports was her mortal enemy.
Nicknamed as such due to her generous bosom. A born-leader, dedicated politics-oriented with a cause and the only one of us to be completely involved and active in a political party. Capable to shut the whole class up even when the teacher never could. She took school (even sports) seriously and always sat in the front row. Boubzi always drew Handala on the blackboard as part of her self-expression.
The nice open (and only) guy who would jump from group to group and was never perceived as a threat by anyone, even among enemy groups. Without any ill intention, he used to diffuse gossips to us and we would know everyone’s inside talks from him. He was the typical non-threatening, nice smiley guy who was a fanatical fan of Madonna’s and whose sexual orientation was a big mystery and a big question mark. This topic was always a hot topic among us. Never seen him date anyone from any gender. He used to claim to be asexual back when questioned about the matter. He memorized every single Greek myth, story, character, everything… if you’re asking about Zeus, he would name you his mother, father, sister, brother, life story and how many spouses and children he had. He is physically slim, frail, mini… and the most anal among us.
7- Mitch Q
Finally we get to me… which I had Bsein write: “Mitch Q was first perceived as this haughty pretty girl who was unapproachable. However as time passed and she gathered more friends, others saw her as a green-hair scratching monster. People always dismissed her as this ditzy girl however this was mostly due to her good looks, which her level of self-esteem never acknowledged. In reality, she is the carrier of the innocent truth as seen by kids’ eyes. She was very clumsy, the gatherer of many boyfriends and the scapegoat of all Batta’s evil plots in class. In fact our English teacher moved her classmates away from her seat as she was deemed as a negative influence to them. Eager participant in all class-disturbing activities and was always caught for the things she never even did.”
These 7, super different, very unlikely friends, steadily grew closer the more they moved on with their personal lives. The stranger we were perceived by others, the closer we grew to one another. Funny thing, for the fun of it, our favorite pastime was to rank each other from the most to the least disturbed or to imagine how each one of us might die.
We all had Teacher T as a common ground, but what others don’t know is that we all had strong family issues and problems (except for Boubzi). None of us had a typically normal, peaceful, warm or cozy family. In fact a common old joke among us was to gather our parents in a room, lock the door and place a 24 hours video camera… That would’ve made one hell of a thriller!
So, what has happened to us since high school,14 years later, now that we are in our 30’s….One thing for sure is that none of us is living the life that their parents wanted them to, with the best job and raising a family:
1- Mitch P, the F1 girl
Single. Currently living in Africa doing construction and hating every second of it. Her dream destination for vacation is always Lebanon.
2- Batta, the tech savvy
Single. Studied in France and moved back to Lebanon out of pride. While she was the first to reach the top professionally (she operates in her own digital world), she now works a frustrating job that is beneath her capabilities and not doing any effort to improve her professional life, waiting for the Canadian immigration visa.
3- Loser, the cute shy girl
Single. Living and working in Qatar in mum’s interior design business. Still has plenty of suitors and still keeps the same hairstyle (long, black, straight, mid-part).
4- La fille aux allumettes, the philosophical hippy
Single. Moved to Canada to pursue a life of hobo’s and philosophy. Only moved back to Lebanon after no longer having a house, money, clothes or any kind of belongings. She only started her career this year proudly working in an NGO.
5- Boobzi, the leader, the activist
In a long distance relationship. From studies in International Relations in Lebanon and in France to working in top companies in the UAE and Lebanon, she quit it all to pursue a life as a Zouk dancer. Currently lives in Erbil taking care of family business.
6- Bsein, the Madonna fan
Single. After all these years, we’re still not sure of his sexual orientation. Stuck in both Lebanon and in his banking profession, desperately trying to immigrate to Canada.
7- Mitch Q – me – the green-haired scratching monster
Single. Managed to run away to Holland where she discovered prison as well as her love for Lebanon. After coming back, she ran away some more to Qatar where she works in advertising but came back to Lebanon for an undetermined period of time. She will surely run away again.
So what do we make of all of this? After all these years, we still only have Teacher T in common, only with more stories, laughter and genuine appreciation for who we really are. So I say cheers to all strong, ever-lasting crazy childhood friendships, no matter where they are or where they come from (and where they’re headed). Cheers to all the people who still haven’t figured it out in their 30’s. Cheers to all the weirdo’s inside who want to put on a professional, adult face.
If you fell in love with all these characters as much as I do, we are offering 2 seats for fans who’d like to join us during our annual Christmas, Cheese and Wine/Tang reunion, in the most disoriented charming city of Beirut.