12/52

New York

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This is my bag. It has been my most trusted travel companion ever since I bought it in the old souks of Damascus, back in February 2011 when things were still normal. Drinks have been spilled on it, the belt is starting to wear out, but overall it has aged with grace (thanks to the wonderful handicraft). The leather tells its own story now, in different shades and scratches, softened by time and the miles we have covered together.

These days as we are feeling rather settled down and sedentary, it feels almost surreal to think back to the adventures my bag and I had not so long ago. Perhaps this is amplified by the fact that the world we knew, and the places we saw, have changed so quickly. I hope one day we can revisit some of our experiences together like going to the fish market in Aden, buying sugarcane juice in Cairo, sneaking through with two passports at the Allenby crossing from Jordan to Palestine and of course to the old souks of Damascus where the yummiest and cheapest falafel shop stands. By that time it is very likely that my bag will be too worn out and etched with too many memories that I must go and buy a new one from the same man in the same stand. But until then, we will continue together.

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12/52 Bag

Beirut

Even though I started writing this in the sky, somewhere between Lebanon and Italy, this post belongs to Beirut, my last one from the city.

Its title was chosen one evening last week, sitting on my sofa surrounded by suitcases and boxes- half empty or half full- pausing for a moment in the midst of packing. My eyes landed on the bag below (waiting to be folded not filled)- a gorgeous goodbye gift from a friend, bought from the market we met at every Saturday morning for more than a year, made from recycled market stall table cloths and advertising banners, one showing my corner of the Corniche by night.

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In the end I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye to the market.

I wanted to pretend that I would be back next week.

In the end I never made it to the museum.

I wanted to leave something unseen, another reason, as if I needed one, to return.

In the end I bought a silk scarf instead of a painting from the corner shop.

I wanted to wear my memory of here, lightly and often, wherever I go.

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As I leave Beirut I keep thinking of the words on the cross-stitch picture, in another shop window in my neighbourhood that I never managed to visit:

And they lived happily.

The first time I read it I laughed to myself, thinking they had forgotten the ‘ever after’. But actually, now I think it was intentionally unfinished, and I like it that way, reminding me that in life I can’t read ahead to find out the ending.

I don’t know yet how it will end with Beirut. I don’t know yet when I will be back. But I like to think that if someone were to ask about us after we’ve gone, our friends here would say:

They lived happily.

Which we did.