I am local. I am multi-local. My childhood is a collection of short stories that flit between Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Australia. Never quite there long enough to remember everything, yet just enough to trigger nostalgia for the sound of the muezzin, the crackle of fireworks trucked from China and the smuggling of coins to the milk bar next door in exchange for Prima juice and Sandboy chips.
I used to see living in Melbourne as a canyon; daily rituals once followed in Lebanon eroded by the busy flow of coffee and work. I now awake to the rituals of pilates and meditation but mention God less frequently; I sometimes forget to pray before I eat; I don’t light candles during Eid al Adha and I rarely ever attend community events. It is hard to make time to call relatives dispersed around the world all looking for the one thing we take for granted.
Though I am not a fan of the current discourse around ‘privilege’, I know I am favoured by nothing more than luck and timing. Compared to most people in the world, I can pick between economic opportunities in Australia and abroad as if they were fruit at a supermarket. My Australian passport is a first-class ticket that lets me into places my un-touched Lebanese passport never could.
Yet still, Lebanon lingers within me. I always flip the shoes downwards whenever I’m at a friend’s house, and inwardly say ‘ynawwer 3alayk’ when someone switches on a light. Years of practice in the ancient arts of Lebanese generosity mean I rival the best épée fencers when it comes to foiling opponents through quick forward thrusts of debit cards in return for the triumphant Paypass beeping (I promise I’ll let you pay next time). Not a week goes by without calling my mum or visiting my parents’ home. Every visit – without fail – involves spirited trade negotiations on the length and timing of future visits, and the number and contents of Tupperware that to and fro between the suburbs of Melbourne (don’t forget to bring your own next time!).
Nearing thirty, I’ve grown to realise I am both water and canyon. With every erosion, I grow deeper and wider, allowing all that came before to flow through me. When I go back home to my Lebanese village, I am still recognised by the colour and texture of my hair as belonging to one of the ‘Beaini’ women at the hairdresser’s. My accent traces the geographic footsteps of my history; foreign yet with a strong tinge of the local ‘qaf’. In my grandfather’s groves still, there stands an olive tree named after me.
When I come back home to Melbourne, the security guards at work look out for me, ask me for juicy details from my holidays and interrogate me if they notice me staying back too many days in a row. ‘Who do you want me to speak to?’ they ask, with a meaningful look to rival Al Capone (in my imagination, anyway!).
Along the way, I’ve made life-long friendships that rival the chambers of the United Nations. My sisters joke that I collect friends like fridge magnets: watching movies on Rabbit across the Tasman sea; Skype conversations with my older sister and my niece; endless voicemail exchanges of poetry and sass with my Canberran bus buddy Sarah; nights out dancing with Ava and Rafah. I find and make time for each and every one of these bonds.
I am happy where I am, and no longer in a rush to think of where I need to be. I may live local, but my love is multi-local, and that is enough for me.
This article was first published on 9 November 2016.