You Have Your Lebanon

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And I have mine.

Sietske, a Dutch blogger who’s been in Lebanon for ~20 years, recently posted about the tendency we have to sulk about our “situation.” It is a topic that I’ve discussed with my friends on multiple occasions: how there is an inclination for some nationals to diss Lebanon, be it from home or abroad.

Well, guess what? I can’t have that. You may have your Lebanon and I may have mine but, to the outside world, they are one and the same.

By being Lebanese, or a citizen of anywhere, you are effectively a representative of your nation. This does not mean that you gloss over its problems, pretend that it’s perfect, or downplay the serious obstacles that are incessantly popping up there. It does mean that you put these problems into their historical context, that you try to create understanding with an audience that may be misinformed or not know enough to pass judgment, and that you contribute to the inspiring image that your country can have if you let it.

Part of why Lebanon’s golden age is considered the 60’s is because that period’s been praised and talked about so much since then. How about instead of focusing on a time when Lebanon used to be glorious, we put the same amount of energy into portraying the greatness that Lebanon has today?

When someone asks you about Lebanon, if you answer with all the negatives and are quick to deem it a sinking ship, then you are choosing the easy route. This place can be difficult to defend and there is resentment. You feel that you should not be expected to be loyal to a place that never did anything for you but give you severe road rage, an overpriced lifestyle, and a useless passport.

I can sympathize with those who tease our system, our politics, our obsession with religion. I’m entertained by it just like anyone else who understands how aggravating these things can be. It’s comforting, in a way, to laugh it off when it feels like that’s all that can be done. On the other hand, when you nag just for the sake of it, you are filling a cesspool that does not need replenishing. If you are not satisfied with what is happening (or what isn’t happening) in the country, then there are three options: take action, stay silent, or leave. However, if you do leave, try not to trash the place that shaped you as an individual.

If you are abroad and you’re talking smack about your country, painting an ugly Monet of what we are, then you are being ineffective as citizens. You are lucky that you had the option to pursue other opportunities that may not have been available to you in Lebanon but you are not better than any other Lebanese person just because you left. Leaving does not mean that what you’re saying about the country has no relation to you. You are still Lebanese.

The more you insult your place of origin, the more you give others the right to do the same because it clearly doesn’t bother you since you agree with them. As a result, you’ve perpetuated the Let’s Take a Crap on Lebanon trend.

Let me put it like this: it’s like when you rant about how annoying your sibling is. Only you can complain about her annoying dietary preference for gluten-free no-wheat-flour falafel. As soon as your audience joins in on the bashing, it’s suddenly not okay anymore. It’s also similar to how some girls allow themselves to be called “bitches.” You using the term does not mean that you claimed ownership and made it empowering. It means you’re okay with its use, its derogatory connotation, and you’re indirectly saying “I’m fine with you using this term to describe me.” That’s exactly what you’re doing by allowing someone to call Lebanon a failure. You’re saying you’re okay with them calling you a failure. Should you be critical of its development, its government, its progress? Absolutely, but it should be constructive criticism and come from a place that hopes for more. Is it cosmopolitan, organized, and solid? No. But what you say about your own country, the place that is intertwined with your identity whether you like it or not, is a reflection of your character.

You are an ambassador of Lebanon to the world; after all, the best byproduct this country ever produced was the people that came from it. If the country has not made you proud, then prove that you are worthy of something better. Show others that this place that “still suffers from the echoes of civil war” is not a place that births damaged people. Change what it means to be Lebanese by being successful regardless of what your country couldn’t do for you. Prove that being from Lebanon is a strength, not a curse. Tell Lebanon’s story. Doing otherwise just makes me (and the rest of us) look bad and I won’t stand for someone falsely representing what I am. Stop associating my country, my heritage, and my identity with everything you (and I) don’t want it to be. Start embracing who you are or should be: a member of the community that is pushing back.

For the Love of Airports

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Although the 3-hour cab rides through the heart of Moscow and the layovers in Istanbul are not always thrilling (not to mention the malfunctioning digestive system side effects of cabin pressure), there was one aspect of travel that you admired in a detached way as if you were a narrator of a Woody Allen film. An outer-body experience that made it feel as if this was the kind of thing you would be explaining to your grandkids one day because they would be of the public space-shuttling generation and they would find these transatlantic journeys so primitively historic. Then again, you were supposed to be of the flying-car generation so who knows what travel will really mean in the decades to come.

You want to roll through an airport and have the narration in your head begin as you people watch, where are they from? Where are they going? A father asks you to photograph him and his daughter in Frankfurt Airport. The little girl has a fabric bracelet with the Jamaican flag colors. What language are they speaking? It’s not French. Where is her mom? Maybe they’re divorced. You try to go Sherlock on them and read their story through their mannerisms and nonverbal behavior, appearance, and clothing. A group of high-schoolers are lining up. Their teacher is screaming who’s on the waiting list and passing out passports to kids in oversized hoodies emblazoned with various college acronyms and university crests. What a strange and fascinating place an airport can be. A stopover where all people abide by a system as if there is a guidebook of rules as to how one is to internationally travel. It’s the one ritual that all citizens do in the same way: carry-ons, portables, chargers for our devices, check-in counters, baggage claims, money exchange. Don’t even think about packing the cosmetic scissors.

And then you observe a foreign city from the air. Residents going about their days because your existence does not relate to theirs. Where are they driving to? All these people living their lives completely unaware that you’re flying over them heading to some plant nursery in Bucharest. I wonder if the driver in that white sedan on the highway is happy. I wonder if he looks up at my plane climbing overhead and thinks, ‘I wonder where that plane is heading. I wonder if the girl on that plane is happy.’ Lives continuing simultaneously while we throttle across the sky and into the clouds. Parallels physically and figuratively.

You spend hours next to strangers, at gates or in lounges or even onboard budget flights that make you feel like you’re flying in a recycled Pringles tube with wings. You judge your neighbor by whether or not they’ve heard of your home country, the notorious troubled Lebanon, that exotic sliver of hedonism and resilience hidden in the bosom of the Arab and thus, conservative Middle East. Beirut usually gets more recognition, although not knowing that it’s a capital (not a country) doesn’t exactly sedate your fears of where the education system is heading. Either way, bonus points if they show geographical knowledge not just polite interest in your brief exchange before either one falls asleep or puts on headphones. Another internationally recognized symbol for travel for please leave me alone, thanks. 

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You find yourself missing cities as if they were people you know. With all of your friends relocated to opposite ends of the earth, you’d think you were not looking for more to miss – the roster should be full by now. And yet, you are longing for breakfast on Brooklyn rooftops, a walk through Gorky Park, and a lazy cappuccino before the Dubai Mall fountains start their sunset dance. You’re homesick for places that were never home and wishing that you didn’t find comfort in those washed-out Tumblr photos with the word wanderlust scribbled in handwritten font across the center.

But maybe, it isn’t wanderlust. Maybe it’s just curiosity and the need to see beyond your balcony or border. Maybe it’s embracing another place’s magic and your own home’s chaos. Maybe it’s just about feeling like you’re part of humanity. That every place can be part of your story that some other person at an airport is trying to read off of you.