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Spring 2008 Vol. VI, No. 3

Three Words...

Musings on a Weekend with WAAAUB

The traffic was so bad on Abdul Aziz Street leading to Bliss Street that I decided to get out of the taxi and walk briskly towards Campus. I had but a few minutes to spare and wondered if the heavy security/military presence outside the Main Gate was now a constant feature given the world outside this Gate. I cleared the security and hurried down the steps without the luxury of a moment to stop and be nostalgic - the Committee (for Chapters) was to start meeting in a few moments in the lower level of College Hall, below where the Registrar's used to be so many years ago.

It was almost dark when a small group of us walked the familiar grounds towards the Medical Gate and out below the adventitious roots of the banyan tree towards our hotel and a reception a short time later. The military presence outside this Gate was even heavier than at the Main Gat but, curiously, it was also reassuring. It was then that I learned that the Student Representative Council had been elected that day. I recalled the relief with which President Waterbury relayed the denouement of the same elections last year at a reception in New York, and was equally relieved that the day had ended uneventfully. We had a full day ahead of us on Saturday, January 12th, 2008.

Early the next morning, looking out the picture window on the fourteenth floor of the hotel, the Clock Tower was to the left, and to the right, Sannin, luminous and white with snow were reassuringly familiar. I am home. I started my short walk to the Medical Gate and wanted to enjoy the calm refuge of this lovely patch and what it meant to me. I recalled the time I punched the air when I knocked down an exam and the time I regretted staying up the night before another one only to squeak by. We all learned how to manage our time, how to set priorities, when to apply ourselves - valuable lessons all. It was on this bench that I sat on a warm and quiet Sunday morning many years ago with the "pock ... pock" of a tennis game just below; fifteen-love. I recalled a sense of equanimity as I gazed at the greenery and the azure Mediterranean and the mountains beyond.

After all the speeches and presentations, after all the heated debates, forceful representations and disagreements about this new creature we were in the process of bringing into existence, after the fancy dinner at Mandaloun Sur Mer, after the Sunday morning reports from all three Committees, I mused over three words that summed up the weekend for me. Armed with not more than the three words, I slipped a note to Professor Nabil Dajani asking if I could address the meeting for two minutes. He nodded his agreement and I was on the hook.


First, a German word, heimweh (heimlich fühlen, literally, to feel home-like, is a less elegant expression). Heimweh implies a sense of connection to a place that far exceeds the inadequate English translation, home sickness. Whereas the latter can be private, particular, perhaps even maudlin, heimweh has a collective and abstract dimension. Think of Fairouz and what she evokes, especially the mind of the Lebanese and you get close to the meaning of heimweh. We came from as far as Pakistan and North America and all points in between to this cherished patch on the Eastern Mediterranean because we are connected to it collectively by a sense of a past that goes back 140 years and hope for a bright future.

The second word, wabisabi, is a Japanese one that I encountered a long time ago when I read books by Alan Watts and tried to learn about Zen Buddhism and things Japanese - I was also practicing karate at the time as well. It is actually composed of two words, wabi and sabi and difficult to translate, but I tried in my impromptu performance. The combined word can connote a quality of austere and serene beauty expressing a mood of spiritual solitude. It can also mean simple, as in not particularly gorgeous, but also special and dear. An extension of this meaning is valuing the imperfect or appreciating imperfection. It is a complicated, nuanced and context sensitive word that can only be genuinely understood by the Japanese. Certainly the WAAAUB we were trying to create was less than perfect, which, paradoxically, is good. We need to embrace and appreciate our imperfection because therein lies the potential for continued improvement and adaptation. There really is no point in being hard on ourselves and each other trying to create a perfect organisation from the very beginning.

The third one is not word but a phrase in Latin. Nunc est bibendum, literally, "now is the time to drink", is an invitation to celebrate - as in "break out the champagne!" And boy did we celebrate! You just had to be at the Mandaloun Sur Mer on that Saturday night to feel the collective and infectious exuberance there.

So, in conclusion, let us continue to cherish this beautiful campus of ours and what it stands for, let us appreciate our imperfections and move on, and let us celebrate our accomplishments.

Elie Moussalli

Thanks to Tony Moussalli and Kaija Metuzals, both fluent speakers of German, for correcting me (heimlish by itself, I am humbled to say, has nothing to do with heimweh. Mea culpa). Thanks are also due to Arabella Barbir Bohsali of the Japanese Embassy in Beirut, and a fellow alumna, for expanding my understanding of the wabisabi.