Coming Together To Celebrate Being Lebanese.

Being Lebanese is not just a nationality to me. It tends to define who I am, how I see the world, and much of my ideas. I have no problem flaunting it or just happening to drop “I’m Lebanese, so” or “In Lebanon/Beirut” in every sentence, regardless of how annoying it sometimes gets.

But one thing I’ve never done? Celebrate the country’s independence day- which falls on November 22 . That is until I came to Maastricht and found myself hosting that particularly themed eve.

كلّنا للوطن , للعلى للعلم
كلّنا للوطن , للعلى للعلم

Since coming here and having people figure out quite quickly where I’m from, I’ve had plenty of requests to make authentic Lebanese food. Apparently, even if they haven’t tried it, my friends and acquaintances here all seem to agree that our cuisine is delicious, and I  couldn’t agree more. 

But I was a bit hesitant about pulling the whole thing off. First of all, I had never really cooked for myself before coming to Maastricht, let alone for 20 people. A second point of concern was how much time preparing everything would take, especially when you consider that Lebanese food is all about the mezze. I’m a self-professed perfectionist/organizational freak, so hosting any event requires a lot of planning to make it come across as the best thing ever, but given that I’m also studying, I would have to exercise the powers of time management. The third was managing to fit everyone in the combined living room/dining room of my flat.

I'm happy to report that they all did manage to fit due to some creative rearrangement of the flat's furniture

Yet, despite my initial hesitations, and with a lot of help from my dear friend and co-organizer Lina, I found myself shopping for all the needed goods at the Turkish supermarkets around the city, writing down a full menu, decorating the apartment, and asking Lina to make a playlist of only the best Arabic party songs (an area in which I have zero expertise).

After two days in the kitchen and filling up the mini-fridge, and a lot of worrying if the quantity was suitable and if the food had enough flavor, I was beyond relieved to know that very few had to be actually packed up in Tupperwares  and that everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Everyone seems to be so happy, and full

On the menu for the evening was: hummus, baba ghannouj, tahini, fatteh with hummus, mini zaatar man’ouches, cheese rolls, stuffed vine leaves (waraa enab), tabbouleh, potatoes with corriander, white rice, shish taouk, kafta, and lahm meshwe.

Yes, I made everything that's on that table. Except for the vine leaves which were store-bought.

Then came the best part of the evening: all the dancing.

Normally, I would be the last person to hit the floor when Arabic music is playing, but given the circumstances, I had to take off my cute heels and show off my very uncoordinated moves to get everyone up from their seats. Lina, on the other hand, seemed to have no problem, instantly taking out her belly dancing waist wrap (I have no idea what it’s called in either Arabic or English, so I do hope you get the point).

Look at her go!

It took some time, and I can completely understand that. I mean, if I were invited to do the traditional dances of any of my friends’ native countries, I wouldn’t be too excited about it, no matter how much I like learning new stuff.

Thankfully though, some of the guys began to humor us, joining in for some popular songs by Amr Diab and others whose names I seemingly can’t remember. I don’t know about them, but I was really having the time of my life, as determined in all the pictures where my smile is stretched beyond normal proportions.

Also beyond normal proportions, the volume of my hair.

And what kind of Lebanese party would it be if it didn’t include the dabkeh?

That’s right, not a Lebanese party.

I’ve always loved the dabkeh, and just something about it’s music and seeing people moving together to the same beat and the same time, makes my heart just jump in excitement. But of course, I barely know how to execute the steps myself, so sometimes I join in timidly or I just observe.

But in the comfort of my own home, surrounded by people who wouldn’t laugh at me for that epic failure, I was ready to just jump in and teach whoever wanted to learn.

By that time, the heels had long since disappeared.

Even as the evening progressed, the energy and joyful mood didn’t seem to die down- I really don’t know what exactly it’s due to but I really didn’t spike the food with any insta-happy pills. Many seemed to want to try Lina’s wrap, leading to some hilarious moments and pictures.

Come to think about it, I’m just really glad that the neighbors who’ve been living in my building for a long time didn’t decide to kick us out or call the police by the end of the evening.

So, I know writing this post is almost two months late, but I still would like to send a huge thank you to everyone who came and shared this event with me. I’m really glad that coming to Maastricht has allowed me to share my culture with others, as well as getting to know theirs.

Happy people!

Given everything that’s happening in the world right now, I think the first step we need towards moving forward is understanding each other and celebrating our differences, instead of fighting to become clones and losing what’s really important: our heritage.

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