Dear Britain: An Alternative Reply from Lebanon

our Banksy replica, Mar Mikhael

our Banksy replica, Mar Mikhael

Dear Britain,

We appreciate the letter and thank you for the Independence Day wishes. Coming from a country that is fully equipped with a public transport system, functional infrastructure, as well as separation of church & state – well, we’re grateful for your advice.

It is true, we need to stop listening to everyone else and focus on ourself. However, maybe we can learn from each other. The fact that you have a reputation for raising our youth (the school systems, the language, and eventually adopting them when they arrive on your shores for graduate programs) is just one of the many things we could try to implement in our own way. If we invest in our rising stock of brainpower, we may have a fighting chance at becoming a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, we are good at networking in a world that will be built on networks but this cannot be used to allow a mass exodus of an intelligent and capable workforce. Unfortunately, one of our best exports is our bright minds and so many of our neighboring countries are benefiting from that.

Like most countries, we have many people that are not as privileged as others. These are the people that need the most empowering, employment, and empathy – such things that are out of reach because our government is in limbo and crippled at its best. Perhaps we are “so much better than we admit” but, in all honesty, being humble is not one of our strong points. You are right when you say that we should prioritize Lebanese interests and demand more from our leaders. That’s not a statement coming from a “higher power”, it’s common sense; yet another thing that is not our specialty.

Although we are aware that your motives for writing such a letter may be also in your best interests, as a population, we should learn when to embrace any form of support when we are on our knees and in need of someone in our corner.  We know how the public scene works and how difficult it can be as a foreigner who tries to appeal to the masses. We know your a busy-body that gets a lot of attention on social media. We know your representative donated blood on the day of the Bir Hassan explosion. We know you reach out to our youth and have conversations with them, making them feel like their opinions matter; this is something we have yet to master. Regardless of why, thank you for setting a good example.

Anyway, thanks again for the letter but we have to wrap this up – we’ve got a lot to do and tomorrow’s the first day of our new chapter.
Allah yberek fikon w kilkon zo2,
Lebanon

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Using achievements of the past or petty remarks about dental hygiene is no way to justify any form of condescension. Just be thankful and continue to work hard on your own efforts toward making Lebanon better.

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#70ActsToUnite

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In light of all that has happened this year, I don’t think celebrations should occur to commemorate our nation’s 70th Independence Day. However, since it is a day that is supposed to be a symbol of patriotic pride and a reminder of national unity (both of which are things we always need more of), there are things you can do to celebrate in a way that gives back.

In the past few years, I have read about many instances where people have decided to “pay it forward” in honor of someone’s passing. “Paying it forward”, made popular by the 2000 film, is the act of spreading kindness that will cause the recipient to do another random act of kindness to someone else as their form of “payment.” As a result, you have a snowball effect of good deeds.

Lebanon is in need of random acts of unification. We are walking on a tightrope while blindfolded because we don’t want to acknowledge the reality or because we have become too numb to a stable level of instability. It is our differences that make us Lebanese and it is our differences that makes us beautiful. The forces that are creating this fear and causing this destruction are not Lebanon. The people who want to enjoy a barbecue at their grandparents’ house on Sunday are Lebanon. The people who want to build a future are Lebanon. We are Lebanon.

In honor of the lives lost, let’s start acting like a community that has a common fundamental belief:

My family and friends deserve to lead a happy and safe existence.

Hopefully, these acts will catch on and inspire others to do good things to their fellow Lebanese for no other reason other than we are one. On the larger scale, maybe this will not make a difference but you will be spreading the idea of unification and brightening at least one person’s day. That, in a country that is so infused with worry for what lies ahead, is priceless.

Examples:

  • Tape a dollar to a vending machine with an anonymous “have a break, have a KitKat” note
  • Donate blood with DSC Lebanon
  • Suspended coffees or meals (or leave money for the next person’s parking tab)
  • Buy a falafel sandwich for a homeless person
  • Leave a nice note/doodle for a stranger on their windshield, they’ll think it’s a ticket so it’ll be a great surprise
  • Ask someone about their holiday traditions
  • Pull a Jerome Jarre on a stranger (just make them smile)

You get the idea. Let’s get something going – share your deed on Twitter/Instagram and spread the love #70ActsToUnite #Lebanon

The Everlasting Question

Honestly, I started writing this post a few days ago hoping it would be ready by Independence Day but after today’s events, it feels more appropriate to post immediately. That, and I’m not a fan of celebrating after tragedy.

It seems that whenever a disaster occurs in our country, the youth is divided in their reactions based on where they stand in the daunting question: should I leave/stay/return-to Lebanon? This is normal considering how many issues we deal with on a regular basis besides the tragic things that also plague our unstable state. Maya Zankoul’s comic teased it but the problem is not just how we react but how we react to each other’s reactions.

The scenarios are split between the 4:
1) Lives abroad and doesn’t want to return
Many of our peers live abroad because of jobs, higher education, or family. They have set up a life in another country that provides for them; it is possible that the ties that once connected them to Lebanon are gone. Maybe they have found someone special in this other land. Maybe they’re starting a family of their own. Maybe they’re happy there, maybe they’re not. Either way, these people have created a new bubble that they call home and would prefer not to return to a place that is constantly rebuilding after another wave of destruction. It’s not betrayal, it’s just part of moving on and deciding what works best for you at that moment.
Usually, this group is defensive when confronted about their decision to stay abroad. They shouldn’t have to be because some of their arguments are valid. The confrontation from others comes from frustration and a smidge of jealousy – we’re aware that living abroad has its perks and we’re aware that living in Lebanon can be too much of a daily battle. Having said that, for those abroad who have a “good riddance” attitude about Lebanon – you are the true one’s betraying your country. You can live abroad but you don’t need to hate on those who don’t or assume you know better because you left.
2) Lives abroad but wants to return 
A large percentage of our peers live abroad for the same reasons as those above but still have a yearning to be here. They stay abroad because the opportunities are better, the pay is higher, the future is brighter. However, they wish they could have that at home – in their mom’s kitchen and not just at Christmas time. They may have also built a life in this other land but it feels fleeting and temporary. The relationships they form with others are merely for the sake of company- guilt eats at them because these “roots” they make are too superficial. If they could be offered the same financial/educational package and come home, they would.
Usually, this group is very patriotic and heartbroken when events like today’s occur. I understand that it is tempting to say “you’re not here, you don’t get it,” but it is also difficult to feel helpless when those you love are/could be in danger. Don’t be angry with them for being abroad or rob them of their legitimate worry. If horrible things happen, they will weep just like you will regardless of where their geolocation tags them.
3) Lives in Lebanon but wants to leave
Another large bulk of youth are those who want to leave. This group want to do so for the reasons above too but they have hurdles in the way. Visas, money, no employment prospects abroad- who knows.
Usually, this group is quick to express their desire of greener pastures especially during times of distress. Besides the fact that no one enjoys acts of terror, there is nothing wrong with wanting more for yourself and we can all agree that Lebanon is to blame for its own brain drain. There just isn’t enough to go around for the ambitious, creative, and talented population. However, if this population does choose emigration as their game-plan, I hope that they will not resent their country for it. If the red dirt could talk, I think it would beg you to stay and save it or, at least, come back when you feel you have the power to make a difference.
4) Lives in Lebanon and wants to stay 

I feel this is the smallest group of them all. They are here and they are trying. It’s that simple.

Usually, this group is criticized by others for sticking around. It is as if choosing to stay is done out of naivety when, in reality, it is about more than nightlife, manoushe, and tawlet at Falamanki. It’s about building their career, family, and ultimately, their life in their country.

Nasri from Our Man in Beirut said it best: “On a personal level, away from the newswires, it is absolutely terrifying how desensitized to violence everyone around me (including myself) seems to be, judging by our reaction to this, which is more rational sadness for the dead, concern and worry than pure emotional fear.” It is true, perhaps we have lost a bit of our humanity after enduring so many heartaches but the rational sadness is the only defense mechanism that hasn’t failed us yet. Carrying on after an explosion is not a crime. As long as they’re not complaining that other’s misfortunes inconvenience them, no one should feel guilty about fighting back by living.

It seems that a fifth scenario is forming, splitting from the 4th and rising from the ashes: those that live in Lebanon and want to stay but are losing ground. They find it more and more challenging to justify – to others but mostly to themselves- why they choose to remain in a volatile place when there is so much at stake. Why wait until the unthinkable happens?
Like Robert Fisk said, “Lebanon is like a Rolls Royce with square wheels…it has a lot that’s worthy of praise but it doesn’t run so well.” Don’t judge your fellow Lebanese for why they stay or go. They have to do what’s right for them. With that said, in whatever context, don’t turn your back on your country either. We have to do what’s right for it. It’s not about where you are, it’s about where you’re from.

May the victims of the Bir Hassan explosions of Nov 19, 2013 rest in peace. God be with their families and loved ones.

Bambi Recommends: The iPhone Doctor

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My precious iPhone had been malfunctioning for the past few days leaving me with a black screen. It was still operating but having a dead screen means you have a smartphone that functions like a home receiver from the 90s. Touchscreens need illumination and Siri’s voice dialing can only go so far; she called my friend in England by mistake. My tech expert friend told me about an iPhone guru in Sin el Fil so off we went. In a side street in Horsh Tabet is Amer & Raed, a sales and repair shop specializing in Apple products.

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Upon entering the shop, Raed, a George Khabbaz doppleganger, sat behind a Macbook surrounded by the remains of iPhones and other wrapped patients (sick phones are rubber-band-wrapped in white paper containing the contact info of the owner). I handed him the phone and he dissected it with ease. He carefully removed the chips and pieces, stripping it down on the table in front of him. It was like watching a  cardiologist behind an operating table. He used nail pliers to pinch circuits and sprayed a toothbrush with cleaning fluid to wipe away residue – the same residue left from months before when my phone took a dive in my Nescafe. He has a microscope that he uses to inspect the nanobits that come together to create this device that we are all addicted to. Once he figures out the problem, he re-fuses circuits using needles that look like phone defibrillator pads. I had the urge to yell out “clear” during the revival.

At one point, an older man came in with his daughter’s iPhone that had drowned in water. The phrases that were used were as if they were discussing a patient that needed surgery. He asked if it could be saved to which Raed replied, “inshallah kheir.” We asked what we should do if we ever dropped our babies in water after hours. This is how we learned that Raed takes emergency calls too; saying he’d come in and open in the middle of the night if necessary.

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The good thing about Amer & Raed is that you actually watch them try to figure out what’s wrong with your phone. Other places I’ve been to jump into how much it’s going to cost and try to sell you a newer model instead – before they’ve even looked at what could actually be wrong. Besides that, they overcharge for slow work that has poor results. Raed fixed my phone in under 30 minutes, in front of me, and didn’t over charge. In fact, he didn’t charge at all. Ma btehrouz. (it’s not necessary)

Now that’s a doctor who isn’t working for the paycheck. That’s a doc who’s saving lives.

How to get there: the road that heads towards the Mkalles roundabout disaster [on the same road where Marky’s is] take a right where the big black globe sign is and Amer & Raed will be up ahead on your left.

Contact them at +961 1 494 303