One night, around ten years ago in Lebanon, when I was supposed to be deep in my dreams, I came across a picture of some street in New York on a stranger’s Facebook page. I ran to my mom, asking her if we could go there in the summer, and she kept nodding her head until it was convincing enough for me to go back to sleep. Ten years later, the New York City lights keep me awake all night long. I remain in a waking dream.
On my plane to NYC, I kept wondering why the Stanford in New York program would choose that our dorms be located in Brooklyn as opposed to Manhattan, the heart of the city. In my head, that only meant missing out on events, a longer commute and wasted hours. I was wrong.
Brooklyn Heights feels exactly like my hometown, Saida, while being nothing like it. It is close to the city but also far from it. Brooklyn Heights, just like Saida, is the best of both worlds.
The Stanford in New York apartments are next to the Brooklyn Heights promenade, which offers among the most iconic views in the city. You can see the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State building, the Chrysler building and even the Statue of Liberty while standing there. You can peek into the chaos and the rush of the cars while basking in the sun, watching it go down and making sure you take the right pictures so that you will not have to come back tomorrow, which you already know you will.
On Sunday, I sat there on a bench next to a married couple, with my favorite Montague Street Bagels, and I noticed how most people were silent, even though their footsteps were audible.
On Monday, as I took a lunch break from my work at the NYC Commission on Human Rights, I couldn’t even call my mom because I was distracted by the conversations around me, curious to know more, but also because I couldn’t hear a word she said.
Beirut has changed a lot after the August 2020 explosion, but it remains a lively city that blooms during the summers when foreigners and immigrants come back to celebrate togetherness and visit their old memories. Being in Beirut means hearing music from every corner, having to cover your ears when cars start honking at a minor inconvenience and listening to conversations of girls your age planning their weekend getaways because they wanted to “party the pain away.”
I’d spend my days in Beirut, hopping from one friend’s apartment to the next, eating take-out food and complaining about the skyrocketing prices. Sometimes, I was too enraptured in that chaos, thinking about relocating with no real plan or strategy. However, all I needed was a single voice message from my mom, telling me what my grandmother cooked today and how I should come back so we could watch “Olympus has fallen” for the tenth time together; telling me to come back to Saida.
Saida has also changed a lot after the Beirut explosion. People hide their trauma behind their smiles in the most noticeable way possible. What characterizes Saida is the people inhabiting it. Living there, you have to negotiate for thirty minutes before accepting a gift, try out every food on the table or explain to the host that it wouldn’t be personal if you fail and end every day with a coffee run with your favorite people, bumping into at least five of your least favorite people. Saida is more intimate. You spend your whole life dreaming of getting out and once you do, you start counting down the days till you’re back. While I enjoy traveling to new places, I’ve never met people like the ones in Saida.
Saida is the perfect balance to Beirut, but Beirut is not the same without Saida. The same way that Brooklyn Heights is the perfect balance to Manhattan, but Manhattan is not the same without Brooklyn Heights.