I Hate Being Resilient

Artwork by Adra Kandil of @dear.nostalgia

I used to say it was what made us skilled at maneuvering socially and professionally. I used to believe in that narrative too. That being resilient was a strength that made you innately resourceful because nothing worked the way it was expected to, because your baseline was a failed system you could not depend on. Being resilient meant you had a backup, you knew how to wiggle out of a jam, you knew how to overcome.

What you allow is what will continue.

How did they trick us? How did they convince us to take pride in this quality to the point where we use it in our elevator pitches and interviews on our questionable ability to succeed against all odds? How did they manage to flip their failure into something we excel in so well that we want to keep doing it?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we shouldn’t use adversity to our advantage. But why do we revel in the masochism and smirk at our unrelenting willingness to adapt?

The Lebanese take a certain sad pride in their fate, pointing out that no other country could take such a beating and still function, even in such an odd fashion. The paradox is that the qualities that enable the Lebanese to survive – the close clan ties and the unremitting ability to wheel and deal – are the very things that are tearing the country apart.

Life Among the Ruins in Beirut by John Kifner for The New York Times

That archived article from December 1981 cited the same romanticism of the past mixed with the awe of how the Lebanese manage to keep the engines running when all signs point to rusted gears. Just because we can find a way to breathe as the water fills the sinking ship, does that mean we let the captains steer us into every iceberg? Even when you know they’ll be the first on the life raft while you’ve drowned or you’re left out to sea?

Being resilient is the propaganda our government sold us for decades. They managed to get us to flaunt our ability to keep taking their shit and turn it into a phoenix rising from the ashes. We voted in the same parasites and sang about the country being rebuilt again and again and again. We applauded our expats abroad. We pushed our youth out the doors. We gave them away only to see what they could’ve done at home if they weren’t busy being resilient. We accepted less than we deserve as humans of a so-called nation and instead of asking them why, we said we are resilient.

Well, I am tired of being resilient.

This Space in Between

There’s a tightness in my chest. It’s not the virus (I hope) but more likely a cocktail of anxiety and allergies emerging as the weather shifts again. I spend my days drawing out the skeleton for the week. I fill the pages with golden eggs that seem to be popping out of me like a broken gumball machine.

The heartache of my early twenties taught me that my coping mechanism is to drown myself in work. It’s not a denial of emotions but a denial of their power. If I can keep my fingertips moving and creating maybe I won’t feel at every moment I am breathing. Maybe I won’t feel the intense claustrophobia where the walls are my country’s borders. Maybe I won’t feel the heaviness of my parents’ questions of what to do now that their sandcastles are being washed away. Maybe I won’t feel the impending hyperventilation that accompanies the need for more protests. Maybe I won’t feel the tightness in my chest.

I’m hanging on to this space in between, trying to stretch it out like proofed dough so that I can make more. There needs to be enough so that I am full for days, so that I am fulfilled for hours, so that I am satiated for just a bit longer. So that I am in control.

This space in between where there is no time, no goals, and no pants.
This space in between where screens are just another window with lifeforms on the other side. Can you see me?
This space in between a governmental’s collapse and its reincarnation.
This space in between my deodorant and the whiff of a stranger’s cologne.
This space in between every inhale and exhale.

Melvin Sokolsky

In this space in between, I watch Tim Burton films and let the Danny Elfman scores coat my consciousness. Misfits shrouded in a gothic palette existing in whimsical settings that don’t know how to hold them. I have felt detached from the ground, from the fight, from the belief that there still is one. I’m an observer in a glass sphere rolling over the streets. What weight keeps me here? Is the place out there still mine? Or am I trapped in the space in between? Is this where I’ve been all along?

Until I figure out the answers, I’ll sit here gazing through the looking glass.

In Isolation, I Feel Less Alone

Martyr’s Square, Oct 18, 2019

For the last 6 months, I felt like I was in a daze. From the economy to the lira to the environment to the emigration, every grain that fell through the hourglass was another piece of the country collapsing. Lebanon was disintegrating. It felt like we were suspended in gelatin, unsure of what was waiting for us after the new year, unsure of what was to come with every parliament meeting, unsure of where we were supposed to put our faith except in the hands of one another.

In February of 2020, I had gone for a walk in downtown. It dawned on me how my own feelings towards the beginning of the uprisings had shifted from that of euphoria to utter exhaustion.
I wanted to keep protesting.
I wanted to feel that high again.
I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t succumbing to the fake detente, the rain, the strain, all the impediments that the government was counting on. How I felt that first week in October was nothing like the dumbbell sitting on my chest. I didn’t know how to lift it for one last rep. I had fallen in the mud under the monkey bars and my inner coach was berating me because there was still the rest of the obstacle course ahead. I wanted to crawl away. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. Maybe I wasn’t an activist, I was a privileged fraud. Maybe the doubters who thought this was pointless were right. Maybe I didn’t know what we signed up for when I went to Riad el Solh on the 18th, that Friday morning that I wouldn’t believe happened if I didn’t have the pictures to prove it.

When we wore masks for different reasons
Downtown Beirut – Oct 18, 2019
Martyr’s Square – Oct 18, 2019

To go through my phone’s photo album is another obstacle course. It’s exercises for my emotions. I scroll through a sea of Lebanese flags that get thinner as the days pass and I lose more of the sense of control over the days that haven’t been logged yet. The more I scroll, the harder the wave hits. The crash of suffocation, of lost direction, of wanting to check-out without guilt.

With the virus taking hold of the planet, the limbo that Lebanon had been suspended in has become the global pandemic’s main symptom infecting our entire species. We are all crippled by anxiety and fear that someone we love will die. We are all learning how to cope with plans becoming a word we don’t use anymore. We are all taking it one day at a time and hanging onto whatever piece of normal we can find in the dark.

Still from Gravity

We are all just trying to adapt and figure out a way through. To where, no one knows. We just know that through is the only way forward. And, in a way, because the whole world is now somersaulting in this darkness with me, I feel less alone.

Mabrouk

I say “as a woman” when I can’t but you can
which makes me feel like I’m admitting
it’s because I’m not a man.


The only time I’ll get a “Mabrouk” is if things are entering or exiting the gap between my legs. The gap that keeps me from bringing home the bread, not the baked, but the dough that keeps me fed, that leaves me on read, that keeps me reaching for those Mabrouks that are given to him instead because they aren’t meant for women who talk about rights while shoving thighs into tights and I pluck and I pry and I cry and I dye and I die a little inside every time you look at me like I could be…more.

•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•*•
It’s an endless fight, this being-a-woman thing, but I’m so proud to do it with all of you. Happy International Women’s Day my ferocious & feisty ones ✊🏼#IWD2020

The Generation of Guilt & Glory

I haven’t given up. I believe change is here, this revolution will continue. But I didn’t discover my belief in Lebanon as of October 17th.

My belief is rooted in the little nothings. In “Allah!” when someone trips. In the “khalilna ndayfik shi” as you’re buying a kilo of cucumbers. In the “zeiteitna atyab,” be it from your Southern teammates or the Northern competition. Old houses eaten by moss and sunshine. The light. Oh, the light. In the “yen3ad 3aleikon” that means may you get to experience this again. It’s a wish for the return of an annual celebratory moment in time. As lives are often measured in milestones, it’s a veiled wish for longevity. What a sentiment to bestow upon someone so simply.

It’s not just the food, it’s the flavors in between. The taste of Fantasia 3a ketchup, the chili paste on the kaak with Picon, the radish slice in your hummus, the molasses on your sfiha, the crispy minced garlic in the batata b’kozbra, the toasted nuts in your rice, the grilled tomatoes on the skewer, kariche, the leftover sumac-dotted sauce of your fattouche, the cherries in fishna, the toum, the toum, the toum.

These little nothings have been my saving grace when I am sinking under the weight of what Lebanon fails to give me. They become more pronounced during the holidays and I’ve made an effort to mentally log them as I scramble to hang onto a handrail in our latest episode of uncertainty.

For every steel façade, I will give you walls of peeled paint and layers of torn event posters. For every shortcoming, I will give you an initiative to create A Better Beirut. For every paid-off voter, I will give you a volunteer fighting for the community in crisis. For every traffic jam, I will give you a side-street with walkable stories. For every hour without power, I will give you one at a table with such warm conversation that you won’t notice it’s by candlelight.

When our president dared us to emigrate, my reaction wasn’t an automatic, unwavering “too bad, I’m staying.” It was a whispered, “maybe I should leave.” The question of staying here is one that has simmered behind my eyeballs daily for the last decade. But now, with a new Lebanon on the rise while the current one is still digging its talons into our shoulders, thoughts of leaving aren’t voiced for fear that you’ll come off as a traitor to the cause or less invested in the revolution. Shaming you quite audibly, your internal voice of guilt chimes in: “You don’t want this badly enough to stay. You don’t care.

I feel forced out. Forced to be responsible with my potential and privilege rather than selfless yet unnecessarily sacrificial. The furious righteousness of those who stay is countered by the mumbled resentment of those who leave. Both are mechanisms to cope with decisions we take and feel the need to justify, either way. “How can I rebuild a Lebanon if doing so leaves me in ruins? I can make it, I can get by. But why should I actively choose that for myself? Who will that serve? The future generations! But what about mine?

I’ve typed versions of these words here since 2012. When the realization that our movement’s gestation would be closer to 9 years rather than 9 months, I had to revisit the words and consider what this national shift in consciousness meant for me on an individual level. “Do I need to hemorrhage during my prime to prove my dedication to the country I had chosen over and over again? Who am I proving it to anyway?

It feels like the regret of not leaving sooner may outweigh the regret of not being here to witness every part of the transformation even if I vehemently want this transformation to happen.

Lebanon is a young nation and she still has some growing to do. Unfortunately, so do I.

This Revolution Isn’t for Me

For the last few days, I’ve been experiencing what can only be called “total system shutdown.” All things thawra pinch me with annoyance. I still believe in it; if anything I believe in it more because there is no longer fear that I will wake up and find that it snuck out the window. After Sunday’s numbers, I’m confident that this will, at least, make it to Day 30.

So what is this feeling? This resentment? This guilt? At first, I thought it was coming from disengaging from the constant ebb & flow of the protests, for the need to momentarily come up for air.

“Look out for yourself.”
“Your mental health is important.”
“You have to have a life beyond the thawra so you know what you’re fighting for.”

But that isn’t it.

It’s because I realized that, even if the government were to fall tonight, even if we were given every human right scribbled on white boards, even if we were presented with the roadmaps to our utopian Lebanon, even if the blueprints were unrolled and the technocrats were getting every check on the ballots…I realized that all of it would not be for my generation.

I’ve been repeatedly saying that this is a long road, that these changes will take time, that patience and perseverance are the tools we need to sharpen to win this. But only now have I seen that that also means, as an almost-32 year old single female with just a cat as a dependent, all the battles we fight will be won for the generations after my own.

As a parent or student, it is easier to be filled with adrenaline for this. All you have to do is think of your child or of the next decade of life beyond graduation. It has been heartwarming to see tents filled with the proud, hopeful civil war generation and the determined, empowered Lebanese youth. But as someone in between those two phases, it is heartbreaking too. I am absolutely willing to fight but I am overcome with envy. I do wish the match was struck a decade earlier. There is shame in even admitting that I feel this way but I’m acknowledging how furious I am that those of us who have stayed here will have to sacrifice more when our friends have already left, when our elders are already sick, when our careers are already stunted. Hasn’t she taken enough?

But all these thefts only act as daily provocations that shove me to continue this revolution. There should be no going back.

This revolution is not for me but it is for my younger sisters. It’s for my aging parents. It’s for parents who have passed away too soon from illnesses they shouldn’t have had. It’s for every kid who was rejected from a hospital. It’s for my female friends who have married foreigners and want their unborn children to be seen as equals. It’s for the mountains, the tomatoes, the hyenas, and the olive trees. It’s for every word I have bled for this place.

It’s for my country. And hell, it’s for my cat.

And if it’s for every one of them, then I guess it is for me after all.

Lbeika ya Libnein

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October has always been my favorite month because it’s about change. The leaves, the costumes, the weather, the government.

What?

Yes, the moment we’ve all been waiting for is here. I have been wanting to put this all in words since Day 2 but I haven’t been able to peel away from what’s happening. Even now, I sit with the TV streaming MTV Live, my twitter timeline refreshing on my iPad, and Instagram is scrolled periodically on my phone. I thought yesterday was Monday as I’ve been counting my days in days of the revolution, or thawra. Today is Day 7.

I’m addicted to the Square and the thawra I thought may never come. I don’t know how to focus on anything unrelated to our revolution and I’m literally in it – I can only imagine how the diaspora feel as their adopted cities continue with their days, as usual.

I feel like a representative for my friends who are not here. I have walked down to Martyrs’ Square alone one too many times because those who would be walking with me are in another time zone. I have heard, “this makes me proud of Lebanon” with conviction from those who had long since given up on her. Their encouragement to continue and their desire to be here has spurred a statement they rarely ever say: “Neyyelik inte bi Libnein hala2.” You’re so lucky you’re in Lebanon right now.

Yes, I am. We’re making history.

But I am weary. I am exhausted. I don’t know if we’re being naive in thinking that if we just hold on long enough, the ruling regime will fall. The corruption is in every vein of an intricate system; it would be foolish to think that they would walk away and the clouds would part to shine on a utopia. They are waiting for us to lose confidence like we have done in the past. It is all so fragile. Another chance that, if lost, could shatter even the staunchest believers after so many false starts.

I am drained but it’s not because of walking to downtown or navigating through crowds for days on end. It’s because of the feels. It’s difficult to describe how emotionally taxing it has been to see the people, or the sha3b, unite through anger, pain, and joy.

giphy

I have been choked up a few times a day, every day of the thawra. Before I go to sleep, I worry it won’t be there in the morning. I worry it’ll collapse before it forms. Like a mound of clay spinning on a potter’s wheel, a revolution being molded by the hands of the people. Are we just going in circles or are we forming something beautiful? Will these hands stay steady? Will they bring their hand together to create a vessel that can withstand the pressure?

But the power of the people is real.

I want to go back every day because of it. Not just to make sure it’s there but also because it’s addictive. When I feel my faith is wavering, I go back to the street for another hit and it’s restored.

The power of the people is palpable.

It fills your lungs. And that’s just it: people are breathing. Something has been unleashed. The sha3b is alive and so is the country because, as a protester said, na7na kil shi bi hal balad.

We had turned more and more inward as the ruling class, or sulta, left us to depend on ourselves alone. After the fires tore through the Shouf last week, after the Minister of Environment spoke down to us like a kindergarten teacher, after they wanted to steal from the most basic method of communicating with all our loved ones who were driven to emigrate, after thirty years of a broken system, we have learned that we aren’t even an afterthought in their agenda.

But just as the community came through for the wildfires, they have come through for the revolution. We have each other. We have strength that is not only figurative, but it is also corporal. It seeps out of our pores and rolls down our skin in beads of sweat. The sha3b is full of fury but united in their healing. The sha3b who not only shake signs and wave flags but who wake up early to sort through trash left by the protesters the night before. The sha3b who block the roads with their bodies to shut down normalcy. The sha3b of Tripoli who chant for Dahiyeh, the sha3b of Beirut who chant for Tyre. The sha3b who grab hands with strangers to dabke in the middle of a protest. The sha3b who lie on the Saifi grass, who tear down the barriers to their downtown, who bring their man2als and plastic chairs to sit on the sidewalk. The sha3b who have brought back the souks. The sha3b who are making the cities theirs again. Reclaiming their space, their central district, their rights. The sha3b who have been through so much and are finally smiling.

There have been complaints that the revolution shouldn’t be a party. That we should stay focused or we’ll let this all slip away. This fear is valid and true. However, in the early stages, for this is a marathon, we must draw numbers. We must make the sha3b feel safe, empowered, and understood so they keep coming back. Meetings are being organized, demands from the sha3b on the ground are being noted, WhatsApp groups are being formed. And there are technocrats and activists that have been shouting from the sidelines before this (in)formal uprising began. They will be anything but still in this movement. Even the amenities in the Square have improved with each day – bathrooms, medical, food. It is not wrong for people to come together through happiness, harmony, and hope. We need this boost so we have staying power.

Join the party in the way that you want and do the work that you feel is needed. Help clean-up the streets in the morning, ask people what they want from this or what they’ve been through, change the chants you don’t like. Fear of this revolution being ruined is what, in actuality, will ruin it. It will cripple you. It will keep you at home. For once, the streets are yours. Take them.

And it is a marathon. When you train for one, a key to making it to the finish line is to set a pace. You can’t go full speed as soon as they blow the whistle. You can’t let the excitement gauge your energy in the first few kilometers or you’ll be spent before the quarter mark. In the thawra, you must also be careful to pace your participation. Egypt’s revolution was 17 days, Earth’s revolution is 365, ours will not be complete in a week. This will need time so take shifts, take breaks, take breathers. Take friends or family down with you so their mere existence reminds you what you’re fighting for. We need to stay fierce. We need to keep the issues at the forefront so we don’t forget what brought us here. We cannot go back to sleep. We cannot go back.

“The most important thing now is that we gain a victory in terms of people believing in themselves and the hope of people imposing change through taking action because this is what has been missing for so long.”

– Nizar Hassan, The Lebanese Politics Podcast

The unknown ahead is frightening but think of the last 3 decades. It will get worse before it gets better so we must sacrifice in the present to ensure the future. The power of the people is real and now we know it. Now let’s use it.

And since I’ve paid attention to the date, today will mark Teta‘s one-year memorial. I wish she could’ve been here to see my new Lebanon.