#35: The scaffolding around my life
Plus, my favourite books of the year, Farrah Berrou on legitimacy as a storyteller in the diaspora, and more...
The Greater Conversation is a newsletter from me, journalist and author Alya Mooro, honestly addressing all aspects of life through the eyes of a Middle Eastern / third-culture / woman / human. Each week, there’s some thoughts from me, along with a guest piece, and recommendations of articles, books, podcasts and etc worth consuming.
So we’ve just about made it to the end of the year, and what a fucking year it’s been. This will be my last newsletter of 2020. Thank you for letting me grace your inboxes every week, it’s not something I take forgranted.
I started this newsletter 35 weeks ago now, in the grip of the first lockdown. I’m far from the only one to have set one up this year, and, as one I read this week put it: "I had almost no expectations going into this newsletter and yet it’s somehow become the scaffolding around my life."
That very much sums up how I feel about this little offering, and the community its fostered and homed. Every week, when there were no other constants, no other certainties I could cling to (and oh how I love to cling to a semblance of certainty), I knew that I would be writing this newsletter and ushering it into inboxes. The consistency of that, and the pen-pal like correspondence that has followed, has brought me untold relief and kept me going.
A lot has happened this year, and yet sometimes, it feels like nothing has happened at all. The Year of Blur, the New York Times called it. Without the boundaries that normally divide our days like chapters of a book, the piece argues, time has become warped.
At this time of year, I always get reflective, but this year feels strange, for the obvious reasons. Is it time to look to the future, or to the past? Both, I guess. Although perhaps with slightly softer expectations, slightly softer focus.
This will be the last newsletter of 2020. As per your feedback, TGC will be landing in inboxes on Sundays as of January 10th. I’ll see you then, inshaallah and am sending love to you all in the meantime x
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Farrah Berrou, 32, Beirut
When I was just about to turn 13, my family moved to Lebanon. I didn’t know what it had to offer beyond sleeping in my dad’s childhood bedroom, and sweating for 6 hours when the power would cut. Coming from 7th grade in Southern California, where I was just barely starting to shave my legs, I worried I wouldn’t fit in at school in Lebanon, that I would be the foreign girl that needed to catch up to everyone else, as I was joining after the school year had already started.
To my surprise, I found myself in a classroom with other kids who had also spent their lives between worlds. It didn’t take long to find the beat, and to finally understand why I had felt foreign in California. There, a huge chunk of who I was stayed at home when I would ride the bus. In Lebanon, I found I didn’t need to explain the duality. I didn’t need to explain much of anything - except why my name had a double-r.
I quickly embraced Lebanon as my country. My younger sisters didn’t, and still don’t share this attachment to Lebanon like they do for California. Just like I rediscovered the missing part of me upon moving here, I feel they had that dormant-half of them reactivated, when they started re-visiting the US.
As I got older, I wanted to share the stories of Lebanon. But the more I came to understand them, I also battled internally with whether or not to stay here in order to tell them. I didn’t – I don't – have to be in Lebanon, but I repeatedly chose to stay. With that came a constant state of personal revolution, and the question: Are my stories only of interest if I’m here?
I find myself fearing that being away from Lebanon will come with forfeiting my right to comment on what happens here with the same fervor. It’s as if leaving would mean I lose that which makes my thoughts and words valid. Being on the ground is how I am informed and plugged in, and I wonder if that’s my greatest strength as a storyteller. Can it still be done authentically from the other side of the Atlantic?
After two decades of remaining firmly rooted in Beirut’s broken concrete, I'm cashing in on the option to return to the US, accepting that choosing either place comes with its own versions of shame and guilt.
If you stay, you’re shamed for not venturing outside of your comfort zone and you are guilty for accepting less for yourself. If you go, you are shamed for abandoning your country when it needs you, and you are guilty for seeking stability that is not available to those you will leave behind. They are both glorified options, but there is no glory in either.
There are internal whispers I hear when I make plans for my departure. They tell me that by not having my heels dug into Lebanon’s brick-stained earth, I will be disqualified from conversations about the region. But I tell them that growth also needs new soil, rich with nutrients and that I’m taking my roots with me. What a selfish lie you tell yourself, the whispers reply.
I want our stories to be told by us but I worry about doing it right if I can’t have my finger on the pulse here. But I’m going to try anyway, and hope my story is enough.
Farrah is a wine expert and podcast host of A Better Beirut and B for Bacchus. She is currently contributing editor of The Wine Zine and also volunteers for afikra. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter and find out more about her / her work here.
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This newsletter is sponsored by The Doe, a digital publication which shares unfiltered, anonymous stories in an effort to encourage conversation and engagement with new ideas. The narrative I want to share this week is White Supremacy Still Reigns.
The narrative shines a spotlight on the many ways in which the tech industry – what is so often hailed as a liberal bastion – has in fact replicated the many ills of a white supremacist world. As a piece on Instagram bias, linked below, by my friend Salma El-Wardany posits: "Our digital world has been created for and by cis, straight, white men.” The tech-insider who writes the narrative provides some actionable moves Silicon Valley needs to make in order to address this.
This year, I read almost 60 books. I’ve compiled a list of some of my absolute favourites on Bookshop.org, a new online platform that gives a percentage of each purchase directly to struggling independent bookshops.*as an affiliate I get a commission, too.
How low maintenance friendships came into their own in 2020.
“I want to show people that you can do positive things, but you can also be yourself... I like justice. I like to work and be creative. But I also like popping my pussy.” An interview with Billboard Woman of the Year Cardi B.
"This year, it seemed like no matter who you are, whatever you posted, you had a high chance of getting it wrong in some way, because many of the values we’ve come to expect (and enjoy) on Instagram feel incorrect for this moment." How Instagram hasn't been able to handle 2020 either.
"Our digital world has been created for and by cis, straight, white men... When they write the algorithms, they embed all their prejudices, biases, and assumptions into the programs, and now we’re all living in the digital world they created for themselves.” Salma El-Wardany on how Instagram's algorithms are biased against women of colour.
"With little else to do, celebrities have been showing their asses at every opportunity. Similarly, as we sit at home with nothing to do, we have been more than willing to hand their asses to them with newfound rigour." Yomi Adegoke on how 2020 is the year celebs lost their shine.
My old school-friend Caggie Dunlop hosts brilliant podcast Saturn’s Return. This episode with fitness influencer Shona Vertue was so so great (and ties in quite a lot to last week’s edition of TGC on boundaries, I think!) They chatted about how to establish and maintain boundaries within a relationship, how to de-condition ourselves from the things Disney has taught us, and more.
Enjoy this vid of me as Cleopatra using Reface app because why not.
Alya Mooro • عليا مورو @alyamooroNEW #TheGreaterConversation posing @mhayoun's question from #WhenWeWereArabs: "how to champion an ethnic identity without falling into the pit of tribal nationalism" + a guest piece by @charline_bm on interfaith relationships in a culture of tradition https://t.co/7gwMkxcvhB
Thanks for subscribing! I'm Alya, the person behind this newsletter. I am a freelance journalist and the bestselling author of The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes. You can follow me on Instagram here, and Twitter here.
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