We recently watched Lucien Bou Rjeily’s Heaven Without People and one line keeps playing in my head since: Lebanon changes you. And it wasn’t said to refer to the obvious ways living in a particular country affects you. Lebanon changes you because you become too resilient. Too malleable. Too resourceful. It becomes your default. It sinks your standards. Your baseline for the bare minimum morphs into 3al 2aleele 3aysheen.
The rot is so much deeper than the sulta alone.
It’s us too. It’s become our factory-setting of how to maneuver, how to bribe, how to cheat the thieving system that owes us. The end justifies the means and the green that lines the pockets of those who taught us how to sew them. It will take generations to unravel that thread when we haven’t even stitched the wounds. We are not a nation. We, the youth, are no different than the war generation when there has been no healing. We have inherited that brokenness and pain. Don’t you feel it?
At 32, my ambition has calmed just in time for me to find out that, as we approach the economic bottom, I am not self-sufficient and my independence was a facade that has burned away like a nitrate filmstrip left in a hot room with no generator in August. I worry that leaving would require breaking ground on an open dig site while I’ve spent the last 10 years building my Cinema Paradiso here. But it is being demolished and I’m questioning where the Nuovo should be constructed. I keep thinking I can make it work here but then I have to ask myself how and the answers feel like cement blocks tied to my ankles. I love Lebanon so much that it makes me grind my teeth when I break down in tears but anything that could anchor me here instantly makes me feel like I’m swimming to the surface as those same cement blocks sink.
If x is the effort you put into a project, x in Lebanon will equal 1 whereas x elsewhere will equal 12. My friend tells his wife, “wanting to stay, it’s emotional” when she says she doesn’t want to be away from her parents. Reason will point you to immigration papers. To the airport. To somewhere you can build. Somewhere with no guarantee but somewhere you can have a chance.
Why do I want to stay here? So I can out-weasel and distrust anything that is supposed to serve me? So that I don’t just expect disappointment but feel discomfort without it? So that I can watch my home disintegrate from inside a see-through shell? So that I age faster and live lonelier for the future family I cannot fathom? That I cannot find? That I do not want because the existence of anyone beyond myself means I cannot be here?
What is keeping me here?
What has kept me here?
Was I wrong to stay?
You don’t need to make me an offer I can’t refuse. It’s not about greener grass when we have no green and no grass. But how do I walk away? How do I not apply pressure where the bullet went in? How do I let her bleed out? Can I save her? Why do I think I can?
Is she the one who’s dying?
Or is it all of us?
I’m not sure but 3al 2aleele 3aysheen.*
*At least we’re alive