Dear Lebanon (A Must-Watch!)

This is something I think every Lebanese (and even non-Lebanese) should see. These are eight Lebanese teenagers, from different sects and backgrounds, all coming together with the passion for change. They’re eloquent, intelligent and unwilling to be another statistic in a broken country. (Found first on Gino’s blog, who wrote a full post that’s definitely worth reading!)

It’s a little over thirty minutes, but you should watch it all. You won’t regret it.

There may just be some hope for Lebanon after all.

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Well…It’s Come to This At Last

(This is something I wrote last night, but didn’t get around to publishing it until now).

I look around my room and it’s still pretty much exactly the same as it’s always been. I haven’t touched it yet.

Anyone who knows what’s happening tomorrow would tell me to get off my lazy bum and start doing something. Except tomorrow’s events aren’t sinking in just yet.

I’m leaving Lebanon…and it’s for good this time. No more visiting Qatar for a few days or weeks and then coming back. My base will be elsewhere. Could be Qatar, could be the US or Canada later…I have yet to decide. But Lebanon will no longer be where I live the majority of my life.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time–I mean a really long time. A glance over the last few posts would confirm that to a blind person who’s been dead for years.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had been working on getting my CELTA certificate from August 5th to September 5th. It was an insanely hectic ride, full of stress, laughs, tears, joy and–best of all–some serious inner growth. I didn’t understand just how much I needed that experience until I was in the thick of it.  Diving into that course provided me with fulfillment that I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I met some wonderful people who, through their warmth, kindness, humor and encouragement, re-ignited that spark inside of me that had been waning over the past several months. 

(Seeing seventeen people from every kind of background all come together and mesh the way we did was truly something. I’ll definitely be blogging a lot more about my experience in the next few posts).

For now I gotta swing into the next stage of my life. First step? Pack up this damn room.

Wordless…

A rather popular and prolific blogger I recently happened upon wrote a post about writing, which I suggest you check out.

Now I know there are a million-and-a-half blog posts out there that talk about the same thing, but this one stuck with me because of this particular image:

I don’t think I can adequately describe just how badly I want to do this—to feel this. Instead, my words are crammed down into the bottom of my chest, just below my heart, and encased by a gnarly prison of ribs. Unable to move, scramble, scatter, escape or congregate in even the slightest semblance of coherence.

There’s a dull ache of confusion and sadness balled up in a giant clenched fist, rooted firmly where my heart is supposed to be.

I don’t know if this is depression…and I’m pretty sure it’s not. I’ve felt depressed before, and it wasn’t like this. (If anything, this is great news).

I wish I knew how to fight my way out of this constructively. No matter how good I feel in the daytime, the still hours of the night bring with them a fog of fidgety annoyance that expertly strangles my thoughts and clogs my emotions.

All I see ahead of me is an intricate web of roads, and I can’t make heads or tails of any of them.

Where do I go from here?

In Line With My Previous Post:

My sister Neo (“Moi” in the comments) wrote a wonderful reply, and I think it’s worth sharing here:

“Beautifully spoken, your frustration is quite tangible. Coming from a country that has so much potential, yet an equal amount of self-destruction, carelessness, and corruption…it is indeed sad to see. But the ad promoting tourism is doing just that…promoting tourism. And Lebanon is (quite frankly) a nice place to visit on vacation. Even I, as a Lebanese, enjoy my short visits to Lebanon. I handle the insanity, traffic, and electrical woes easily, because I know soon I’m off again. And others who may see it as an exotic locale will have a nice time beaching, hiking, and checking out ancient ruins all in the same day. The people are friendly, the food is awesome, the nightlife is solid, there is enough natural beauty to get you out of the city. It’s not paradise…and you really have to be a certain type of person to live…no, survive…there permanently. It is a country of many faults…and those who love it are the ones most frustrated.”

Can’t say I agree more with her statement, and most especially the last line. Although I know it seemed like I was ranting against those who do love it, it wasn’t quite what I meant. When I criticized the ad, I did not take into account the context of the question it asked in the end. This is because it hit a nerve with me the night I wrote the post, since so many people truly see Lebanon as the best country in the world and have the “love it or leave it” mentality. It’s okay to love my country but criticize its many shortcomings, you know?

I realize there is much to love about Lebanon, but it’s not enough. The problems here are as varied as they are nearly insurmountable, and they only seem to increase by the day.

We talk about it until we’re blue in the face, but what’s to be done? How do we make a change—a real change?

Yeah, I don’t know either.

Elie Fares, from A Separate State of Mind, talked about the ad as well and it’s worth a read: What’s Greater Than Lebanon?

Fi A7la Min Libnan?

So…I realize this video is meant to promote tourism, and God knows Lebanon’s economy needs that to thrive, but do you really want me to answer “Fi a7la min Libnan?” (Is there any place better/greater than Lebanon?)

Um…yeah, actually?

Beaches:

I’ve seen beaches all over the world (most in pictures, a handful in real life) that would stun you speechless. Just look at these pictures from the Maldives alone. Utter magnificence. We have plenty of wonderful beaches here, and if we hadn’t trashed them to bits, this would be a great thing to promote tourism on. Too bad we don’t give a crap about our environment. 

Food?

I’ll give you this. I’ll give you this and a half. Lebanese food is all kinds of awesome, and I defy anyone to diss it. It’s probably the one claim to fame we won’t mess up because we love our bellies so much.

Clubs? Parties? Nightlife?

Yes, I’ll give you this too. Lebanese nightlife lives up to its reputation. You want to get dressed to the nines and dance your life away in one of the countless nightclubs in Beirut alone? No problem! Rules concerning legal age and how much you can get trashed are lax—if non-existent. Party all night, get so drunk you can barely move, and hope you make it home alive because people here can’t drive worth anything. Nightlife, check.

Endless debates? Politics out the wazoo? Check!  Democracy??

AAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Ah, you li’l jokester you! I’m in stitches!

Oh wait, you’re not kidding. Wow. Okay.

Well, my apologies for the rather blunt news, but it’s not much of a democracy when we’re “voting” in the same people year after year for decades. The heads of the million different parties have been around for at least a decade, and usually it’s far more than that. Sure, we have presidents and prime ministers resigning faster than Sarah Palin, but the bulk of the politicians have been stagnating before our eyes for as long as I can remember.

(One random but prominent example: Nabih Berri has been Speaker of the Parliament for 21 years now. No joke).

Democracy indeed.


You may think I’m extraordinarily unpatriotic—a “Westernized Lebanese” who should just go back to whatever country I got another passport from because I don’t deserve to be here. Maybe. And you know what? I’m all for seeing the positive in your country—and I have done that. You can’t say the Lebanese are anything but resilient, funny, hospitable and clever people. Our cities have been crushed time and again through increasingly devastating wars—but we rise from the ashes and build anew each and every time. If we didn’t have such an indomitable spirit, we would have crumbled to nothing long ago.

But how many times do we rise again only to live worse than we did before? To have bigger prejudices and value pettiness and superficiality above everything else? To have an economy which leaves precious little room for jobs, and salaries that are only good if you still live with your parents? To have a government so criminally corrupt we might as well be arrested for sharing the same air as the people who run it? To have a healthcare system so flawed that doctors insist on being paid before even throwing a Band-Aid in your general direction?

Why is it that when someone is referred to as “so Lebanese”, it’s never a compliment? We have a fighting spirit, but we use it to bring one another down: Sweet-talking them to their faces but tearing into them like hyenas on a carcass once their back is turned.

Not to mention the countless activists and NGO’s out there that are struggling tooth and nail to make a difference in this world. But where’s the community spirit and support? Good luck finding it, if it even exists. It’d take an act of God to get our jaded selfish selves to care for longer than it takes to listen to a 30-second PSA.

Is this what I’m supposed to be proud of?

I came to live here in October 2010, and never in these two years and nearly nine months has it felt like Beirut was my real home. (And I’ve had several of them!) Ironically enough, Lebanon—the land of my ethnic roots—has managed to stump me.

“Heads Will Roll” May No Longer Be Just a Figure of Speech

You know, when your mom tells you that there’s a real danger of the takfiriyeen wreaking havoc in Lebanon, it’s not supposed to sound as if it’s just a matter of course.

(I’m not saying I truly see it that way, because I think that would be insane).

But for some reason, it’s also not surprising. It was only a matter of time before the truly crazed fundamentalist nutjobs got to this part of the world. They already left their blood-soaked fingerprints all over Afghanistan and Iraq. Syria’s increasingly ferocious civil war is an open invitation for them to embark on a proper infestation, made ever more enthusiastic because Hezbollah, an archenemy, is involved.

Because, you know, it’s not like we don’t have enough sectarianism of our own, what with our fifty-two (slight exaggeration, maybe) political parties and several religious sects. It’s not like we’re not dying for jobs no one will give us and salaries that suffice for more than a hand-to-mouth existence. And it’s not like Lebanese aren’t literally killing each other in Tripoli, where there’s a widespread infection of the “Pro vs. Anti-Bashar” mindset that’s driving them to murder.

Nope, we need maniacal subhumans with too much power to come on in and do their thing. (Which is gladly take a sword to your neck if you’re not Muslim or just not “their kind” of Muslim. BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!)

Ah, Lebanon. You’re such a speck of a country that your name on the map distinctly dwarfs you. How can so much conflict, instability, bitterness, bigotry…and the everyday almost carefree perseverance in spite of it all…fit in your tiny little borders?

It’s truly a wonder.

Speaking of Movies…

The Attack (الصدمة) is a Lebanese film made by popular director Ziad Doueiri (West Beirut, Lila Says).

Dr. Amin Jaafari is an Arab surgeon who lives with his wife in Tel Aviv, Israel and makes a seemingly comfortable livelihood as a surgeon. A sudden and devastating suicide bombing in a restaurant leaves seventeen people dead–including eleven children. In the midst of the chaos, Dr. Jaafari is summoned to the morgue where a horrible discovery viciously turns his life upside-down: His wife was the bomber.

Fascinating, right? It’s based off a novel of the same title, by Algerian author Yasmina Khadra. The fact such a plot is told from the point of view of a Lebanese director (especially one who has made great strides in his field) is a breath of fresh air. Doubtless, he would bring something far more different to the table than anyone you could think of in Hollywood. I’m not sure what other people would believe, but I think this is a film worth giving a good and fair chance to view.

Except it’s banned in Lebanon—the very home country of the director himself. Oh yes. Because it was shot in Israel and employed Israeli actors.

Never mind the actors were Israeli-Arabs. Apparently the ban is in place thanks to the Arab League’s boycott of “Israeli companies and goods”. What’s funny is this:

While a number of the 22 Arab League member states have peace treaties with Israel, other countries circumvent the different boycott levels by circumventing the rules and trading goods via third-party countries such as Cyprus…The irony of course is that Doueiri’s latest film is a nuanced exploration of identity among Israeli Arabs. In one of the film’s more memorable moments, for instance, as the secular, assimilated Dr. Jaafari is tearing down “martyrdom” posters of his late wife in the West Bank, a voice-over taunts him, “The bastard isn’t the man who doesn’t know his father. It’s the one who doesn’t know his roots.”

Source

I will not pretend to be adequately knowledgeable about the ins and outs of Israeli-Lebanese relations, and what constitutes a product worth boycotting versus something that isn’t…but this is a Lebanese director telling an Arab story that is based in Israel. It has the potential (I haven’t seen it yet, of course) to explore the many intricacies of identity in a sensitive, complex and highly volatile area of the world.

And yet it’s banned, even with the Lebanese name at the helm of the project. Where is the sense in that?

I’m Not Sure What to Think…

Although…I suppose it would be kinda cool if it actually happened.

Behold: Cannon Fodder. An indie Israeli horror movie that has IDF soldiers and Hezbollah forming a highly unlikely alliance…to fight zombies.

No, really.

I’m still wondering if it’s some kind of spoof, but apparently it isn’t:

I probably wouldn’t mind seeing it either…

(A short but interesting commentary can be read here).

Adventures on Beirut Sidewalks

I gave my ankle a really good sprain late Thursday morning, causing it to swell worse than Octomom in her third trimester.

(That may be a slight exaggeration. But my ankle did a pretty damn good imitation).

I had stepped off a sidewalk that I’ve been on a thousand times before. For some reason, my brain had chosen that moment to sorely miscalculate the height of the curb, and I executed a near-perfect loss of balance. I landed full force on the side of my right foot, stumbling so hard I would have fallen on my face if I hadn’t managed to catch myself on one hand. Even though I easily sprung back to my feet, it didn’t take more than a second for the dull empowering pain to grip my entire ankle. My first thought was a very eloquent, “Oh crap. Something’s wrong”.

But because denial is a talent of mine, I quickly tried to reason it out. And by “reason it out” I mean, “Use BS excuses to conveniently continue like nothing happened”:

“Owww! Wait, maybe this pain is just shock. I’ll walk it off and it’ll be like nothing happened. It can’t be that serious. My pain tolerance sucks, so obviously this is nothing to worry about. GAH, friggin’ hell this hurts! Screw it. If I can put weight on it, I’m good to go.” 

Throughout this genius line of thinking, I was leaning against a parked car and holding an “Are you okay?” conversation with a fellow English Language major and classmate. (She had coincidentally been there at the exact moment I had nearly acquainted my face with the asphalt). B.B was, unsurprisingly, worried because not only did she witness my fabulous display of grace, but my thoughts and feelings were painted on my face in huge brush strokes. (Stoic isn’t a term anyone would use to describe me).

Also, no one who is constantly keeping one foot gingerly held in the air is going to fool anyone into thinking they’re doing that just for fun.

She stayed with me for a few minutes as we tried to figure out how bad it was. I didn’t even try to take a look at it, opting to save the visual assessment for when I had a place to at least sit comfortably. (I was on my way to the AUB art gallery for a shift. It wasn’t far, and I knew there was a quiet place and a soft roomy chair for me to use for when the time came).

B.B advised me to walk on my foot a little to see if it would bear my weight. Happy that she was around to help, but realizing she may have places to be, I asked her if she was headed anywhere. She said, “Yeah, I have class but I don’t have to be there…”, which was just really awesome of her. But I didn’t want to be a burden if I didn’t have to, so as I was about to take my hand off the hood of the SUV I was leaning on, I glanced inside.

There was a young man sitting in there the entire time.

I mean…the entire time. He saw me fall, get up, limp a little, use his car as a crutch and vocally assess the damage.

He stayed in his car and just watched.

The moment I saw him, I immediately took a step back in surprise and apologized. (Because apparently I fell in front of his car on purpose? I’m weirdly sensitive to all the wrong things). He wasn’t reacting negatively to me at all, and even gave me the “Oh it’s fine!” gesture when he saw my awkward reaction.

It didn’t dawn on me until later that he saw everything and didn’t even deign to at least roll down the window and ask me if I was okay, or if I needed help.

The more rational part of me chalks that up to him seeing that B.B was there and figuring he didn’t have to do anything since someone was obviously checking on me. But still, man, was that an AFV pratfall moment to you?

What was more hilarious-in-a-weird-way was what happened next. I realized I could walk on my foot okay, and figured I could make it to the gallery. B.B wished me good luck and went to class while I continued up the road. My first few steps were very uncomfortable, and I found myself limping visibly before I could find a less stressful walking rhythm.

A man, who had been chilling outside a store nearby, saw me and called out loudly, “Why are you limping?!” to which another man immediately replied, “I don’t know!”

First, he was asking me, not you dude. And secondly, why the hell else would I be limping? Oh it’s just a limpin’ kinda day, you know. Something about this street inspires the excited limper in me. Ain’t nothin’ like a good hobble to get your heart rate going, ya feel?

I fell, you moron. Also, thanks for the sympathy, I guess?

Anyways, I went to work (where, upon inspection, I noticed I was growing what looked like the beginnings of a lovely tumor) and my classes the rest of the day. Before anyone bites my head off, I’ll have you know that if it was an earlier time in the semester, I would have skipped. Three weeks away from finals though? There was no way.

Unfortunately, the pain was only worsening as the day went on, but I didn’t take another look at it until I got home. I understand that it was quite dumb of me not to go to the ER, but despite the pain and stiffness, I was convinced that it was just a sprain. Nothing elevation and an ice pack won’t fix. Why wait in the ER for potentially hours for a doctor to tell me what I was pretty sure I already knew?

Five hours later, I had peeled off my sneaker and sock and was met with a slightly discolored ankle that had gone from “weird little tumor” to “carrying twins, and due any day now”.

My mother was not too pleased with my decisions that day. Nor was she pleased with the malformed limb I was calling a foot.

I went to the ER on Friday to “make sure” that it was just a sprain.

Thankfully, it was.

Moral of the story: Don’t be flippant when a part of your body is starting to Hulk out. Also: Random Lebanese passersby/onlookers are probably not the most useful bunch to have around when you’re in pain.

Government? What Government?

Imagine this little scenario:

The elected leader of a country (i.e: Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, David Cameron—take your pick) steps down from office with little to no advance notice. Just decides he can’t do it anymore, and so please hear my sincere apologies and lovely good-bye to you all.

You’d probably say that it would be quite a shock, sure. On the bright side, however, the system is set up so that there will always be someone to take the president or prime minister’s place, at least temporarily, until a new government is properly formed.

To you I say: Indeed—that’s how it’s supposed to work. That’s why, most of the time, saying “I give up” and walking away from your position as the freakin’ leader of your country would be pretty damn difficult to do.

And for good reason.

Want to know what goes on in my little corner of the world? We can go without a president (or any form of a fully functional government) for months. In fact, our PM stepped down over a week ago and, so far, we don’t have anyone to take his place. This is mostly because our leaders’ talents are limited to arguing, finger-pointing, and flip-flopping on anything and everything.

It’s freaking ridiculous and it only goes to show how useful the government here really is. When our heads of state disappear, it just makes people iffy and/or angry, but day-to-day life resumes as usual.

Meh. At least it gives people another thing to argue about over hookah.