words rawan hadid
Ahmed Shihab-Eldin was in the city for about 48 hours–since leaving HuffPo Live in the spring, he is constantly on the go. Maybe he wasn't hopping from country to country before his departure from New York, but the very-recently-turned 30 Ahmed is always likely to be moving around. He spends as much time with his phone as you imagine. He carries himself frenetically- you can tell that there is a lot going on in his head, but his actual demeanor and conversational pace are calm & comfortable. He's comfortable juggling a lot of balls, refers to his ADHD and seamlessly weaves the conversation from topic to topic. He may not know what the plan is right this second, but he's definitely in control, and very comfortable with this electronic march towards the future. All he knows about what he wants to do next is that it should be a challenge. And why not? Before turning 30 he had launched two television shows that are intrinsically linked to social media - The Stream with Al Jazeera and then he was part of the founding team at Huff Po Live. He taught as an adjunct at the Columbia School of Journalism, and was recently named one of Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30 in Media.
His Instagram feed has been a stream of Beiruti beaches, Viennese coffee and obligatory quick-stops in Doha & Dubai. We sat down to chat at the aptly named Why Not on Orchard Street where he briskly mentioned that he has been in 12 countries over the last two months - several of those places, he has visited more than once. The whirlwind has not weighed him down - yes, living out of a suitcase is a challenge but he is enjoying floating around while he figures it out - and why not - he has floated his whole life. His twitter bio states that he is "palestinian by blood. american by birth. kuwaiti by nationality. egyptian by upbringing. austrian by adolescence. curious by nature. a lover by design." How does he feel about this? "I've never known a home in the conventional sense. So for me, the older I get, the more I take great pride in having so many different identities. It means I have a home away from home, perpetually, and I have friends all over the world. A lot of my close friends have close-knit groups of friends or communities that they know intimately and that they're extremely dependent on and that breeds a beautiful interdependence. And I don’t have that, but I have many little pockets of the world that make me feel at home."
He goes on..."And I think culturally, because of my career and my craft, it's allowed me to–I've never ever understood the paradigm of what it really means to be foreign, because I've never felt like a national. I'm constantly treated as a foreigner in a lot of different situations and environments. Because, when I'm in The States, of course, I'm American, but I'm not conventionally American. When I'm in Kuwait, I'm not conventionally Kuwaiti, but I have an affinity for Kuwait and an understanding and an intimate relationship with the country. When I am in Egypt, I don’t seem like I'm Egyptian and yet I feel and breathe and I adapt whenever I go. I think it just teaches you how to adapt to various situations and environments and mentalities, and I think that that’s a huge advantage of mine."
And there are benefits to being an outsider - on the margins - and embracing that sense of difference with no negative connotations. "I've been so lucky to have a certain intimate relationship with so many different cultures and countries, that to me the world – and also because I lived in New York–I don’t see the world in its reality. I don’t see the world in its boundaries and in its divisions and this paradigm that’s governed, the US relationship with the Middle East, of us versus them. For me being Arab and American, people always ask you, "What's it like? What's it really like? Is that hard? Is Arab the new black?" And for me, I don’t know how to differentiate, even though I recognize all the different identities within me. "
When it comes to packing, Ahmed seems to have learned how to pack light. He thinks it's a function of his inherited refugee status but I, and anyone who has ever had to help me with my suitcases, can attest to the fact that the pendulum swings both ways - nomadic life does not necessarily a light packer make.
where do you live On the internet
favourite neighborhood dinner Palmenhaus, Vienna
gadgets Macbook air
favorite accessory Jack Spade bag
favorite charity Electronic Frontier Foundation
favorite hotel The House Hotel Galatasaray, Istanbul
favorite apps Twitter, Soundcloud, iAlien
favorite airport Istanbul Atataürk
favorite airline Virgin Airlines & Qatar Airways
home is...hard to find
how many trips to you take a year? 30
how many of those are vacations? 10 - Always sneak a vacation in
without traveling, you relax by? Sweat
won't board the plane before/without? The Economist and a large bottle of water
indispensable to your carry on? Argan Oil
take off routine? Straight to the inflight magazine to rip out or screenshot places I want to go
first thing you do after landing? Post a picture to Instagram
where would you like to live? Mykonos
where when were you happiest? Summer 2013 in Mykonos
what do you consider your greatest achievement? Having the conviction to be true to who I am
what is your current state of mind? Reflective & eager/anxious