As a dual national, I am frequently asked why I’m still here or why I haven’t left yet. You have a second passport, work experience, and degrees – what’s keeping you here when you have a way out? Didn’t you leave? Are you back?
“I’m here until further notice” has been my automated reply.
I am trying to shy away from pouring out more words that hit high on the dazed & confused scale. When I had returned to Beirut in April of this year, after a couple rounds of Pong between here and SoCal, it felt as if I had unlocked the next level of young adulthood at the ripe age of 30.
Being in the USA was an eye-opener: I didn’t have a problem with Lebanon. I had a problem with my living circumstances in Lebanon. Having a separate living space in California allowed for mental somersaults and brain foam rolling. Why did I need to travel over 7000 miles for +20 hours to get it? Without feeling like settling or assuming the big fish, small pond title that accompanies residing in comfort zones, there must be a way to have that within your own city; the same city you’ve invested so much in, socially and professionally. The city you feel you can actually do something for?
I came back with the thought that moving out of my parents’ house was the last ingredient necessary to cook the cheesy casserole and build my fempire, using my own Tupperware and feeding my own cat.
Then the three E’s swooped in and were like oh, you’re figuring it all out?
Let’s fuck some shit up.
The three E’s being Environment, Elections, and Economy.
The country has been treated like a massive wasteland for a couple years now. According to Newsroom Nomad, there are hidden agendas behind all the beach propaganda but that doesn’t erase our trashbag rivers and lack of existence/respect for public spaces. I admit, I had become accustomed to Lebanon morphing into a cesspool and had allowed this to be swept under the tattered Ajami rug. Ultimately, it wasn’t a lost cause and there were plenty of groups with private projects attempting to reverse the damage. Could they turn back the clocks and stop the introduction of incinerators?
When Beirut Madinati lost, it was an inspiring failure. But then the parliamentary elections came. I knew the independents wouldn’t win but when public apathy has reached the stage where people are amused by your belief in the power of the vote, you feel defeated. You feel like the patina of patriotism is chipping off the walls as the mildew creeps through. You feel like you don’t belong here. You feel like you’re the minority and hope is a form of self-sabotage.
And finally, the economy on the brink of collapse, once again. Paying double for utilities can make for killer overhead for any business, particularly one that deals with temperature-sensitive merch (or depends on any form of electricity and/or water). Salaries and cost of living are atrocious and the market is crippled. Property prices are outrageous and housing loans will rope you in for decades even though you can’t imagine where the next 12 months ahead are going. In between all the ghastly, ghostly towers, our ecru stones and cement tiles are being rolled away in wheelbarrows.
Downward-spiral aside, I have moments where so much love fills my lungs here. When I see grandmas on balconies, when I meet a family growing wine in the mountains, when I’m vegetating on giant pillows under the trees, when I share a meal with an Argentinian chef who’s here to rediscover her Lebanese roots, when I meet expats who are here for a quick dose of kibbeh and the Mediterranean, when I hike with a group of people older than my parents and they use my father’s village as my nickname, when I see Beirut through the eyes of a flabbergasted tourist, when I’m involved in creative work that ties into learning with and about my people, when I’m talking to strangers who instantly become wells of emotion. Lebanon can give and give and give.
But oh, how she can take too.
The short film above (Mounia Akl’s Submarine) resonated with me because, as much as I’ve tried not to, I do have a problem with Lebanon. That question of whether or not you will leave seems to have lost its polarity. For those trying to lead an adult life, leaving has become a question of when because, lately, it feels inevitable.