Writer, journalist and blogger Anissa Rafeh was all smiles on Thursday, January 19, during the launch of her second book “Beirut to the ‘burbs”, a recollection of her journey from the hustle and bustle city of Beirut to a new and adventurous life in Richmond, Virginia.
Relatives, friends and fans gathered at Aaliya’s Books in Mar Mikhael, enjoying complimentary cocktails by J2 Vodka as they waited in line to get their signed copies of the book.
Rafeh is a Lebanese-American who spent most of her early years in the United States with her close family. After graduating with a Political Science bachelor’s degree, she decided to pursue her PSPA Master’s Degree at yours truly, the American University of Beirut.
In her second book, Rafeh colorfully compares the life and services in Beirut – such as food delivery – to the difficulty of staying fit in the United States, where you’re surrounded by Twinkies and savoury sweets.
Between kisses, salutations and hugs, the writer took the time to talk to Outlook, offering AUB students advice based on her own personal experiences with moving to the United States after graduating from university.
“It’s a country where your dreams can literally come true but you have to prepare to do a lot of hard work,” Rafeh said, “It’s not going to come easily and having an Arab background and being proud of that is going to be another hurdle that you have to overcome.”
She added that making the move requires a lot of strength and the ability to let go of the security provided by the Lebanese family, which may take some time. However, enough emotional support from family will help in times of rejection.
“I was really lucky because when I moved back I had two sisters that lived in Richmond, which is what the book [Beirut to the ‘burbs] is about,” the writer explained.
Being away from the culture of close family in Lebanon may be a bit difficult at first, but is easy to overcome once the person is settled with a job, home and recurrent schedule.
“I think the education provided by AUB prepares you really well for that and I think any AUB graduate would excel going to a country like the United States in the profession which they got their degree in, whether it is Architecture, or it’s like me, PSPA, or even English Literature,” Rafeh said.
Despite her age and Lebanese background, Rafeh had to face tough times in the United States in order to reach her endgame, which is why she believes the key to success is hard work and the willingness to start from the bottom up.
“It’s not like what you see on TV coming to America with everything falling into your lap. So, you have to have tough morale and you have to have had enough savings to support yourself until you have found a job as well,” Rafeh discussed.
On the bright side, she confirmed that the United States is a place where you are rewarded for the efforts you put into your career, which gives a feeling of fulfillment in return.
She also credited her educational experience at AUB with giving her the needed skills to excel in her career.
“I think that it gave me a lot of skills,” said Rafeh, “The education that I got from there, I am so proud of it and so proudly put it on my CV and I think it is a huge asset for any Lebanese moving to the United States.”
One of Rafeh’s Political Science professors helped her get into writing after he encouraged her to work at the writing center of her undergraduate university, the University of Richmond.
The young Rafeh was the first Political Science major to break into the environment of English majors in the writing center at the time.
She then fell into journalism while working at AUB, which is when the editor-in-chief of the Daily Star of that time recruited her into the profession.
The humorous author then got the idea to write her first book “MissGuided: How to Step into the Lebanese Glam Lane,” during the 18 years that she spent in Beirut after graduating from AUB. In the book, she expressed the expectations women have to fulfill in order to be glamorous in Beirut.
Both her books were published by Turning Point Books, a renowned Lebanese publishing and distributing house.
Turning Point’s director Charlotte Hamaoui also shared a few thank yous to all the contributors and organizers of the book signing.
“It’s a big thrill for us to be publishing Anissa’s second book, always publishing a second book is even more exciting and we’re also very happy that Anissa has made the effort and time to come to be with us this evening, which is extra special,” Hamaoui expressed.
Aspiring writers need time in order to create great pieces on their paths to becoming successful, mentioned Rafeh.
“I worked full time when I put this work together and I worked fulltime in the states, which is not like wasta, where you get days off and the holidays,” the author said, “When you want to write, you find the time to write no matter what, you’ve got to discipline yourself.”
When asked if she preferred to stay in Lebanon, Rafeh said, “of course my first preference will always be to stay here in Lebanon but I know financially that is not an option for a lot of people and the United States is the land of opportunities.”
She continued to thank AUB for unleashing her skills and potential, which she shares with many students at the university.
“It’s unfortunate that Lebanon cannot offer you what you deserve because I think Lebanese talent is amazing, especially the AUB talent and I am so proud to be a graduate,” expressed Rafeh.