For being a coastal state that believes so strongly in flip flops, not enough Californians believe in pedicures. I’ve yet to figure out the 405’s mood swings or how to properly hydrate for an expedition across the traffic of the freeways without needing to find a Starbucks restroom. I’m getting excited over finding a $12 tub of laundry detergent that can do 205 loads, checking the physical mailbox every morning, receiving the orange-wrapped LA Times Sunday paper (with coupons!), and making trips to the grocery stores. That last one could be an occupational hazard; what can I say, I was born to discover food.
As a kid, I could not grasp why we had to spend all day in the kitchen sections of department stores. My parents would peruse the shelves of pans and pressure cookers with awe (another clue to our future in retail). After spending 35 minutes in Target looking for a food processor because I got tired of washing garbanzo beans out of the Vitamix blender whenever I make hummus, I understand the obsession. Maybe it’s genetic but apparently, I have an affinity for small cast-iron skillets.
Without noticing, I’ve been away in LA for a month.
I feel like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None character, Dev, who went to Modena, a small town in Italy, to learn how to make pasta except I’m in Simi, a suburb of Los Angeles, learning how to make kibbeh. And then, I read the stories coming out of little Beirut: Roy Hamouche’s death, the Nader Saab scandal, female protesters being beaten by the army, the new electoral law, talks of enforcing the death penalty, the death of the environment.
In all that darkness, the light that emerges comes in the form of Cannes wins for a Leo Burnett campaign that was fighting Article 522. The irony that the only positive I see is that of raising awareness of our own country’s shortcomings is not lost on me. This is the point though: the pushbacks are the only positives. Even Facebook pictures of the latest night at Decks on the Beach don’t evoke any FOMO but rather, an eye roll. The positives are not the parties, the Jounieh fireworks, or the wineries, they’re the baby steps made to pull us out of the drudgery.
I don’t want to be an expat that takes a figurative shit on Beirut just because I’ve left it. However, in the last few years, I’ve seen even the hardcore believers in a better Lebanon start to buckle under the weight of the place that doesn’t want to climb out of the sewage-ridden gutter. I’d like to think that getting older has a lot to do with that because time becomes a main concern. The time you’ve invested in trying to wade through the trash-infested waters and the time you’ve got ahead that seems more fragile than when you were a fresh AUB grad. Priorities shift to the concrete: making a stable living, creating a safe home for your parents and future family, and, at the simplest level, being happy with what that home can give you. The more time you put into Beirut as you mature into a somewhat stunted adult due to a comfortably sheltered existence, the more you are drained and left to question: can I build my life, one like the one my parents provided for me, here? More importantly, should I?
Marie-Rose Osta’s short film, Status Quo, made it into the LA Film Festival. Considering what a moment that is to a young, aspiring Lebanese filmmaker, the US embassy felt it was not necessary for her to attend and rejected her visa. Her short was a vignette focusing on the absurdity of the Lebanese and their surroundings. While the TV is reporting ISIS border incidents and actual threats, her oblivious characters focus on the trivial worries of typical Lebanese daily life like a cockroach in the bathroom that is lit by a flashlight because the power is out. Pointless arguments between the lovers are illuminated by the TV screen’s light as the audio continues to drone on as background noise becoming just a hum. If it weren’t for the subtitles, I wouldn’t have paid attention to the juxtaposition at all. How true to reality is that? When I was speaking to her about my impression of the film, she told me that foreigners picked up on the dramatic insight more than the Lebanese viewers that it was based on. Foreigners see it because the fear that is a cast member for us is a cameo in the sitcom that is their life. It’s still palpable to them while we are so numb to our status quo that we don’t even see it when watching it unravel on screen.
If you’ve left, it means you’re fortunate enough to have that option but it also means you’re fed up. For me, it means I’m a little heartbroken. There is guilt for walking away from someone you love, like you’re abandoning them when they need you but their uncertain salvation is only done by dragging you down too. Leaving is a gross, reluctant form of self-preservation. My expat friends and the last ones still standing on Lebanese soil, who are planning their subsequent moves in the next 18 months, have all said different versions of the same thing: Lebanon is home but I can’t be there anymore. The only thing that brings me back is my parents.
It’s true, the formidable pull for me is the parental unit especially when I imagine dadboss as Atlas, cradling the Wesley’s world on his shoulders. Everything else does not seem worthy or permanent.
I attended a friend’s family iftar a few weeks back and it was like being inside a Lebanese enclave in the heart of SoCal. It started to feel like you could have that dose of home while still being in a society that was made up of humans of all shades, without the accompanying condescension that comes from growing up in a homogenous village by the Mediterranean. America has its fair share of racism but at least here, there is a spectrum of people.
It could be the current sociopolitical climate but there is something about being in the US that makes you want to either assert your ethnicity or completely ignore it. Beirut, I may be making my own labneh, hanging a map of you above my bed, and playing Arabic songs for my American relatives but those are signs of gratitude for how you’ve shaped me. Like every love that comes into my life, you’ve left your imprint on who I am but I’m on the other side of the earth and I don’t miss you the way I thought I would.
As much as I love you, maybe you don’t care.
Maybe convincing myself of that is my way of coping with this sense of betrayal for wanting to stay away.
Maybe you don’t want me back,
maybe I don’t either,
maybe that’s okay.