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Off the beat: Home is wherever I'm with you

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JANUARY 27, 2015

For as long as I remember, every summer, my maternal aunts and all of my cousins would travel from wherever they were living at the time to settle in my grandma’s secluded, bright-yellow house in Al-Zabadani, a small town about half an hour outside Damascus, Syria.

It was during those summers that I learned how to make apple jam and tomato paste. I learned that the secret to amazing pickles was adding homemade vinegar and garlic cloves. I learned that one can never have too many types of jam in a household — which is consequently how I learned that one can never have too many Mason jars. I figured out the measurements required to cook for 20 people, how to clean a pool, how to cut lavender and dry the flowers and, later on, how to sew lavender patches to put in dressers with our clothes. My first backflip was in that yellow house’s pool. I changed a diaper for the first time there, and I made my first vow to never have children there, too.

But what made my childhood summers so memorable — the reason I would wake up every day and immediately jump out of bed, eager to start the fun as early as 7 a.m. — were my 10 cousins, specifically my cousin Mahria and her brother Mohammad. It didn’t matter that my sister and I only saw them for nine or 10 weeks a year: They were, without a doubt, our closest friends.

They were the reason we slept in the living room for 10 summers; we couldn’t bear being apart, even when we were asleep. They were the ones who stood beside me late at night, the four of us holding hands and shivering as we stared down into the dark pool, imagining that the liquid in front of us was not freezing water but actually hot fudge and caramel, each of us trying to muster the courage to be the first to jump — and all of us eventually jumping together, our hands still clasping one another’s long after we took the plunge. We shared more than just secrets and smuggled snacks: We shared the best times of our lives. We were the kings of summer. We were best friends.

For the remaining two-thirds of the year, I would spend time with my other 10 cousins: those on my dad’s side. We rarely ever traveled without at least one cousin; it felt like someone was missing otherwise. Most of us went to the same school; we had weekly family brunches and weekly family gatherings, and birthday nights were always spent at my uncle’s or dad’s house. We became close by fighting over whom Kate should end up with in “Lost”; laughing over pepperoni pizza, fries and disordered episodes on our incomplete “Friends” DVD collection; rewatching “Home Alone” and “Father of the Bride,” the only films my grandparents had taped for us; and learning, through trial and error, how to make pancakes — perfected only after about three years of failed endeavors and dozens of simultaneously burnt and runny pancakes.

Today, I am living about 7,311 miles away from home, and it has been 747 days since I’ve seen my city. Yet, there are parts of home scattered all around the United States. Two small parts live in San Diego, two others in San Francisco. There are three in Detroit, one in New York, one in Cincinnati, and one who just flew in last month from Saudi Arabia to spend her break with us. When we get together for burgers at Super Duper, it’s not just a fun dinner in the city. It is an act that revives a part of us that no one else can understand. It is familiar in a way that transcends comfortable friendship. It is my definition of home away from home.

Every one of us needs a support system, especially on a campus such as UC Berkeley. We are stressed when we find ourselves 300 pages behind when it’s only the second week of classes. We are stressed when we look at our schedule during midterms, exasperated and exhausted, wondering how on earth we were naive enough to sign up for seven different clubs, a law fraternity and that one internship that may, possibly, lead to a job in the future. We are stressed when we pull all-nighters in the dungeons of Main Stacks during dead week and rely on IVs of coffee for sustenance.

Our lives would be easier if they took the form of TV shows: 22-minute episodes that end with a clear solution to our week’s dilemma and someone making either a joke or a stoic face at the camera. But because we don’t live in Leslie Knope’s world, we have to rely on a support system to get us through the year: friends who patiently listen, fathers who give advice, mothers who send care packages. I am lucky enough to have my support system living in the same state as I live. Although we are scattered, our frequent visits and 17 group messages keep us connected, ensuring a lifetime supply of sympathetic listeners, loud fights and tangible pieces of home.

“Off the beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers are selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.

JANUARY 26, 2015