The cedar inside

It takes distance to realize distance isn’t what we longed for most. Leaving my country for another was my childhood dream, recurring throughout my teenage years and most of my twenties. I wanted to leave, to go far away, to contemplate my old world from behind a long telescope and smile at the achievement of becoming an expat. The dream seemed much different than what reality turned out to be.

I always knew I loved my country, even though I bashed it often, even though I felt better once on a plane, spending months away from it, escaping all its troubles. I knew I loved it, but I didn’t comprehend why exactly, or that this distance I so urgently needed to take wasn’t from the country itself.

Lebanon has always been tagged with both beautiful and terrible labels, always described but never really understood. It is the land of the millenial cedar trees, the party country par excellence, there are beaches and ski slopes thirty minutes apart, and oh, have you tried the food? Try the food. All of it. Our stereotypes so dear to our hearts we repeat them incessantly to whoever is willing to listen, because they’re true but also, to some extent, because they calm our insecurities and give some sense to the blind love we have for Lebanon. For you see, it is also a land that suffered war, repeatedly, is situated in a strategic location amidst conflict zones, lacks proper…well, everything, and if those weren’t reasons enough to flee it, many students graduate with no job awaiting them outside school doors. Nonetheless, I wish the news told it all, how Lebanon bravely survived its wars, all of them, how the partying goes on no matter what, because hope is what we are made of (aside from hommos), how peace is maintained in the 10452 square kilometers that are home to seventeen different religious denominations, how our people are among the best and brightest wherever they go, becoming CEOs of huge companies or Brazil’s president or Selma Hayek, and how the undying pride of both those who stayed and those who left makes our country shine everywhere despite its minuscule size and its inherent mess.

I do miss my country, much more than I imagined I would and for reasons other than those I had anticipated. I miss its resiliance, its strength, its pride even during moments of strife or when there’s little to be proud of. I miss the smiling faces of neighbours who’ve seen me grow, the exclamations of strangers when they notice they know one of our family members that we barely know ourselves. I miss beers on the seashore even though I don’t like beer and watching the manoushe lady poking my pie with her fingers without hearing someone ask her to wear gloves because we all understand that’s not how it’s done. I miss the simplicity in a country that is everything but simple, and absurdly, I somehow miss its absolute absurdity.

Before leaving,  I knew I loved my country, but it took just a few months in a foreign land for me to become a true patriot, to know that we can count all a country doesn’t give us, but it’ll never outweigh what it does, the sense of belonging, the culture that none other will match, the history that only we understand fully because for a while we were part of it. No country is perfect and Lebanon certainly doesn’t come close, but perfection is a boring quality after all, offers no excitement and stirs no feeling below the skin’s surface. My Lebanon, I now get a new kind of goosebumps at the thought of you, one I don’t mind at all.

For a friend

I know not how to make my voice say

That my heart cries for you today,

And I know not how to comfort thee

With much more than an earnest plea;

Today I ask all angels in the sky

To turn each gasp and every cry

Into beds of roses for her to sleep,

And may your soul learn not to weep

For we’re all but visitors doing time

Till those promised bells begin to chime.

We are so near the sweet departed

Who want us not so broken-hearted;

Despite the void and all the pain,

Remember not these days of rain

But count the days of sunny splendor

Given to us by ones so tender.

It is not far, this new hello

Though hours seem to pass so slow,

We’ll see their bright faces again

So keep in mind that until then

If your strength begins to sway

I am only a few steps away.

Past salad

I was born nostalgic, for things I had never known, for moments I had never lived, constantly harassed by recurrent images of what never was. As time passed, I couldn’t manage to shake off the lingering itch the past liked to cause, and after a while, I grew addicted to its presence I many a time tried to ignore, unsuccessfully.
I miss everything, all the time, even the things causing me displeasure or discomfort, and I can’t help but feel ripped of all that time leaves behind. The many tribulations of being unapologetically nostalgic have unmistakeably left deep marks all over my being, psychologically, physiologically, in ways I can’t even begin to describe, without however refraining my thirst for more. Today, I remembered my first steps on computers and the internet, getting accustomed to the likes of MSN and the strange chatting habits the new generation would never understand, finding songs on Limewire and co. and waiting five hours for them to finish downloading their sad two or three megabites of sound. There were games like minesweeper and solitaire, replaced today by loud mind-numbing graphically enhanced ones, and ridiculously fun programs in “accessories” like paint, today supplanted by over-the-top phone apps. I’m aware that I sound like a geezer sometimes, talking about the present like this destructive phenomenon governed by silly technological advances, but that’s only because I believe it is so. I miss the genuine authenticity of what we famously call user experience, how things were used according to an emotional jump of the heart, or due to little brain tickling innovations, and not ever-so-quickly changing fashion dictations. Unable to let go of anything rendered obsolete with time, I still store items like floppy disks; those little plastic squares that could only store three word documents and a few low resolution pictures, predecessors of the almighty usb. I am also fond of VHS tapes and radio cassettes, the fact that we could stop and continue where we had left off, or manually rewind and fast forward with a pencil making the listening experience all the more valuable and deserved. I still wait for the scratching sound a vinyl makes as the player’s needle delicately makes contact with its rugged surface… I love rusted metal and peeling paint, worn out clothes and faded armchairs, the smell of how things used to be and how things lived. Today, we sit on chairs to watch television or play video games whileas my grandmother sat down to rest and observe the world we have grown used to ignoring, making room for useless activities and shockingly stupid pleasures.
I miss the past but I somehow live in it, refusing to let go of the genuine experiences we’re nowadays deprived of or too demanding to appreciate fully. Nostalgia, forever my bread and butter.