by Hussah Almalik
As the daughter of diplomatic parents, I had to adapt to constant change. Moving every four years and leaving people behind was a normal thing for me. Despite always packing up and leaving, I was able to think of my life as a still growing apartment. Although I am currently constructing the seventh, American floor, each of the other floors holds dear memories from the seven countries in which I have lived. The memories of my floors are still tied to activities that I do today.
I find myself reminiscing about My Apartment of Memories at any moment of the day, even if it is just a simple activity that I do. My mind becomes a projector screen playing these images for me. On my screen, the first floor is small and dark because I was so young that I don’t have many memories of the Philippines. The second floor holds my memories of Lebanon, which are rich in detail and love. The third floor holds my memories of Portugal. The fourth floor, my Saudi floor, is still under construction; I know that I will go back there one day and build my actual grown up life there in my parents’ home country. Someday, I will reconstruct the projections of my brain in the fourth floor to fit the memories that I make in Saudi Arabia. The fifth and sixth floors present Czech Republic and Qatar. I have fond memories of each, yet I do not reminisce much about them, since my stay there was short and did not impact me as much as the other floors in my Apartment of Memories, especially the second, Lebanon floor. The seventh floor is the floor that I am currently living in, which is my time in America. I do not look back to my time in America since I am still here.
In all these seven floors, my parents tried so hard to ensure that we were part of the community and that we were together in some way. This was most evident in Lebanon, where I felt as though we were such an integral part of the community, that we made one big family with the other people in the neighborhood. In my Apartment of Memories, the floor that I visit and reminisce of the most is the second floor.
In Lebanon, the apartment that we lived in was a community within itself. To encourage a sense of familiarity in an outside country, the Saudi Embassy bought the apartment building for the Diplomatic Saudi families living there. The apartment was located near the school as well as the Saudi Embassy, which made the location even more of a community than it already was. We all went to the same school, then went back to the same home. Our parents would go to the same work place, then go back to the same home. We would spend our Fridays at the mall down the street either watching a movie, going to the arcade, or sand-coloring cartoon drawings near the food court.
The Apartment had ten floors, each floor belonging to one Saudi family, other than the owner of the tenth floor, who was single Saudi man that filled his apartment with exotic animals rather than humans. We all knew each other and if any of our parents were having a house party, the kids would gather around with the housekeepers and go to the arcade down the street, the movies, the rooftop, or the skating rink. It did not matter where we went, as long as we went together we would be happy.
I was five years old when we first moved to Lebanon. The first floor belonged to the gatekeeper and his family. Whenever our apartment needed maintenance, he would bring his daughter, who was exactly my age, to play with me. I still remember zooming past the narrow halls of my apartment, pushing my sister’s pink doll cart with our gatekeeper’s daughter sitting on it. Today, every time I see a pink doll cart, I can hear my sister chasing after me, yelling that if I broke her cart, I would be in trouble. I can still hear my mother opening the door to our apartment after coming home from a house party. I can hear me and my sister fighting about whether or not it was me who had vandalised her toys.
The second floor belonged to Laura and her family. I met Laura at school and her brothers were friends with my brother. Every time my brother wanted to go play video games with her brothers, I would go to her room and play with her musical toys. Today, whenever I see a colorful xylophone, I can still remember the feeling of her beige carpet. I had spilt chocolate milk on it while playing the xylophone one day. I was so excited with playing the instrument that I hit it too hard and ended up spilling my milk all over the carpet. Laura’s mother was upset when she saw that huge, circular, milky-brown stain covering the majority of the beautiful, new and soft beige carpet. But, she took pity on me and still let me come over to play with Laura after the incident.
The third floor belonged to Rana. Her mother got me a toy kitchen for my sixth birthday, and Rana would always come to my house to play with it. I loved that toy kitchen because it was the biggest box out of all the other presents that I had gotten at my birthday party. I can still hear the tearing of the yellow bow and the red gift wrap covered with colorful balloons.
The fourth floor was one of my best friends, Ghalia, and her family’s apartment. I remember going to her house every day after school just to watch fairytales on her bed, while she was learning French from her nanny. My parents never considered to teach me French, however I surprised them by going back home one day and speaking French to them. It was already difficult for me to differentiate the different languages that I spoke with my family since I was exposed to Arabic, English, Filipino and now French. My favorite memory in Ghalia’s house was when we were sitting in her kitchen eating a huge pink watermelon, whilst her mother was rushing to get ready for the dinner that my mother was hosting that night. I remember the watermelon running down our chins and her mother panicking over not being ready on time.
Mimi and Reema lived in the fifth floor. I would go to their house just to bake cookies. I can still hear the loud and annoying beep of their oven, which indicated that the cookies were ready. I remember trying to find a way to stop that beep from occurring, every time I went to their floor, even though it usually meant that I would soon be eating delicious cookies.
The sixth and seventh floors belonged to my mom’s best friends who would always prepare food for us, especially during the dinner parties. We lived on the eighth floor. My other best friend, Nourah, lived in the floor above mine, the ninth floor. I would always go to her house just to sit in her room and stare at her Winnie the Pooh lights. I was so fascinated to see Winnie the Pooh on her ceiling rather than on a television screen. I always went back home to my parents wishing for Winnie the Pooh lights. They got me those lights. However, I didn’t know that once I got the lights I would not like the design. I ended up not liking Winnie the Pooh, so I ended up giving the lights to Nourah, who ended up with two sets of those lights. Even though I disliked Winnie the Pooh, I still went to her room to stare at those lights. It was our way of bonding.
I find myself traveling back to the second floor of my Apartment of Memories and remembering the door entrance to the main living room located directly after the front door. I remember the smell of the oud incense that my housekeepers would burn before a house party. I remember as a child how smelling that meant that my favorite dessert, Knafeh, would be hiding behind the kitchen door. My seventh floor neighbor would always make the dessert whenever my mom had a dinner party. My mother must always have one of the housekeepers hold me away from the Knafeh, until the guests arrived. I loved anything that she made since she was an excellent baker. Whenever I was looking for anything to eat, I would go downstairs to the seventh floor, just to see what our neighbor had prepared for us since she would make us food every day. When I was a child, if there was cake, that meant that it was my birthday – even if it was not actually my birthday. I remember the large cherry oak table in the dining area, where the housekeepers would set up the food for the house parties, and how if there was cake, we always had back-up candles, so that the guests would sing me happy birthday while I sat at the head of the table. My mother would bribe me that she would let me blow the candles, if I promised to go to bed. I would make my promise just so I could blow the candles. Then, I would go off to bed but I would fake acting as though I was asleep so I could hear what my sister and brother were telling their friends and eavesdrop on the adult conversations that were going on in the house. I remember one night my mother entered the room and I was standing by the door trying so hard to listen that I did not realize that she was approaching. When she found me I acted as though I fell asleep on the floor rather than my own bed. I thought I was coy but my mother knew I was not asleep before she even approached my room.
We had a lot of different fun activities to do in the apartment. It was like living in a big building with all your friends. The best part about living in a building with all your friends was that for the holiday season and for any celebration, we would all gather on the rooftop and watch the fireworks that our parents and older siblings would perform. The kids my age would play with the regular firecrackers. The firecrackers may not seem like much, however now when I see a firecracker, my thoughts immediately go back to my cherished memories of the rooftop building that I once called “home” in Lebanon. I still can hear the cackling and snaps of the fire crackers when I envision and project the rooftop of the second floor in my Apartment of Memories in my own mind. I still see the somewhat dark blue and black sky with glowing with red, green, yellow, gold and blue fireworks sparkling up the night. I can still hear cars honking in celebration when the fireworks would go off. I can still hear some babies crying because of the loud noises and cheers. I can still hear parents telling us to be careful not to get hurt from the spark. I can still remember when Ramadan ended and the Eid celebration came and the entire apartment celebrated its arrival at the rooftop. It was our final year in Lebanon so my family wanted to go all out and buy fireworks that made shapes such as hearts and other geometric figures. I remember how all of us were so happy to see the sky light up with a firework that made a heart and stars surrounded the heart. I remember telling my brother and his friends to do it again just so I can see the heart and stars spark one final time that night. They never sparked a second time, but in my Apartment of Memories, they spark constantly.
I remember us lying on the balcony of our apartment on the seventh floor with my uncle on his final night during his last visit to Lebanon, which was also the year that my family had to travel. I remember looking at the stars shining bright that night and wishing that my next journey would hold memories as beautiful as the ones that I had of Lebanon.
My next journey was in Portugal and I did enjoy it. However, it could not compare to Lebanon.
Because I pick up and leave every so often, I find that until this day, all that I look for in life is togetherness. I know that right now all that I should do is be content with what I have until I go back to Saudi Arabia, where I know that I will actually be starting my life. Until I go back, however, I will often visit the second floor of my Apartment of Memories. It always cheers me up to “go back there” whenever I feel nostalgic and wish to feel some of the togetherness of my big Lebanon family.