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.

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Beirut, this is not the end.

What saddens me most today is everyone’s reactions to the preliminary results of the municipality elections polls. All I’ve been seeing since last night’s scandalous pictures and videos is negative and defeatist posts on how Beirut’s future is now plunged in a gloomy pool of uncertainty and how our city is doomed and done with. Has the wind of change rushed elsewhere because of one (possible) loss?

The results may have been tampered with and Beirut Madinati’s support may have been spat on by chaos-loving imbeciles, but that doesn’t change the fact that everyone’s support is requested and the city’s still in dire need of everyone’s help no matter the idiotic income of yesterday’s voting mess. We all knew the probability of Beirut Madinati not making it was high, the dream was too grand for a country so used to betrayal and conservative foolishness. As a big part of the population strives to keep things ludicrously the same even after watching their beloved country crumble more and more with time, there’s an even bigger part that dreams of making a difference, a huge chunk of people who dream of more than the undefining mess we have been reduced to. Where are those people, those dreaming spirits, those optimists that only seem to surface when others take the lead, when others venture in complicated manoeuvres in their place? Why does everyone go into hiding when their voice can summon so much good? Beirut Madinati started as a group of determined individuals with enough hope to sell those who had stopped believing things could change, and they succeeded in challenging the status quo of our sinking ship. If they could scare them all into cheating so openly, then why can’t we all rise against them once more, and once more after that, and as many times as it takes to make a difference and get our ship sailing steadily and proud once again?

Defeat doesn’t suit you, Beirut. Defeat doesn’t define you. You have risen time and time again, and even though you’re weary and exhausted from all your failed attempts, there is no limit to hope, and as long as everyone keeps their faith in a brighter future, nothing will kill our dreams, not even their defective money-craving souls. Beirut will rise once more, brighter than ever.

I dip, you dip, we all dip for change

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Today I voted. I usually abhor the simple idea of politics, but today wasn’t about politics for me, it was about my city, the one I grew up in, the city I walked around a million times, sometimes half-heartedly, sometimes reluctantly, but it is still where I’m from, and that was what drove me to dress and dip half my thumb in stubborn purple ink.

First of all, it was probably a bad idea to wear white with all the ink my clumsy self had to keep from my clothes. On a more serious note, as I said a few lines earlier, I have often looked at my city in a negative way, almost disgusted by what it has managed to become compared to what it used to be; maybe that’s the problem. No, that is exactly the problem. Beirut is my city and I should love it, I should cheer for it, and most importantly, we should all stop whining about the current situation and the many years Beirut has been condemned to endure with no improvement to its situation and shake things up. Well, obviously, we don’t all have solutions or the right voice to fix things, but a group of people, with the mindset many of us have been lacking, decided to take matters into their own hands and push through the black hole that is our hand-me-down municipality to give us all a chance to see things change, to hope, and to stop repeating the same bloody mistake of re-electing incompetent self -loving individuals. Things can change, but only if we allow them to, and only if we work towards improvement. There is no such thing as not loving one’s city, even if elsewhere seems nicer, even if the city has done you harm or anything that would make you not care for it; each city should be respected and loved if just in remembrance of those who once made it great,  of all those who on a daily basis still strive to make things better, in honor of a land that hosted us even though we managed to sabotage it daily with our unconscious neglect. Beirut rose 7 times, Beirut survived several wars and countless idiots, and that alone should push us all to care enough to fix it, give it a chance to become once again a city to be proud of.

I voted today, because I have undying hope in my heart that some day soon, the city I keep trying to run away from… will have me running back to it.