A Proud Lebanese

When I get asked how it is to live in a country on the precipice of collapse, I often answer that I wouldn’t know. I guess I have to reconsider as the places I once called home are making me increasingly claustrophobic. I don’t fit. I don’t even know if I belong. And with each passing day, I fit and belong even less.

People in Tripoli couldn’t sleep last night due to the fights taking place there. I thought I was being made fun of as names such as “Allouki” and “Abou l Jamejem” were mentioned in front of me, but those were real people with real power and they were keeping an entire city on edge. Why? Who knows. We share the country with Alloukis and we can’t do anything but sit and watch as they do what they please in defense of their twisted ideology.

What was happening in Tripoli yesterday had been taking place for more than a year now for those keeping track. Schools have been closed, their students stranded. Businesses are closing. People are narrowly escaping sniper fire. This morning, for whatever reason, fights in Beirut broke out too. Let’s not even forget about the fire coming in from the Syrian side, one that we don’t condemn, one that we deem friendly. Where exactly is the line that delineates a country at war actually drawn?

We call ourselves a country of diversity, of 18 different sects that blend together to form a mesh of beauty – or whatever formulation we are spoon-fed. Never mind that it’s religion that’s the basis of the mess we’re in to begin with, but what’s there to be proud of when it comes to having 18 different sects of which we have next to no idea about? We pretend it’s nice to have them. We are born in regions that are so uniform that us getting exposed to those who are different is entirely contingent upon us branching out. Many prefer not to. Diversity isn’t only a headline, it’s a practice. And it’s non-existent.

I’ve seen people who hate others just because they were belong to a certain sect, wishing them death. Those people, as far as I know, were not as numerous and vocal a few years ago. I never thought I’d have to worry that someone would hate me just because they don’t agree with practices I didn’t even choose. How despicable is it for people to wish you death just because you happened to be born in a random area to a random family who sporadically happened to pray either at a church or at a mosque, believes in resurrection and is either waiting for the Mahdi or not?

Governance isn’t better. We’re in a country that took 10 months to form a governmentwhich then almost collapsed because it couldn’t agree on semantics that have no bearing to begin with. People, resistance, army. Who cares?

How could we hope for any form of governance when we can’t even agree on what we want to govern? Walk around Achrafieh and you’ll find graffitis encouraging Christians to wake up and smell the Federalism coffee. Go to the South and you’ll see countless posters of dead people who sacrificed their life for this cause or that. Christians don’t view those causes as worthy. The Southerners view Federalism as an imperialistic attempt to dismantle the country, while the Sunnis scramble to find a leader that would keep them in check and as such, Tripoli has become Rifiville. Behold our identity crisis. Our demarcation lines are apparently political but inherently sectual. Don’t be fooled. So long for our state of apparent fictive unity.

Our MPs care less about legislating than about proving religious points in parliament. That building is where our MPs compete to show God (and their followers) who loves him (and wants popularity) more. Meanwhile, the rest of MPs who aren’t busy yawning their day away are playing Candy Crush, reading a book on their iPad, complaining about fasting, a religious choice that they willingly took, taking pictures inside parliament to share on their instagram account.

We also have presidential elections coming up soon, as people scurry to secure as much support as possible to their theoretical bid. I’ve received text messages to go and vote in online polls for whom I want as my next president. It’s not desperation, per se, that pushes parties to such acts. It’s them flexing their muscles, doing what they’ve been doing for a long time: getting stuck at the superficialities of Lebanese politics, never getting knee-deep in the swarm that desperately needs cleansing.

Our job prospects are not good either. I keep hearing from people how, in a couple of years, I’ll start ripping them off with consults, in typical Lebanese-doctor stereotypes. What those people don’t know, however, is that when I graduate with an MD degree next year, I’ll start with a $700 salary. And while my example is probably skewed and well below the average, I have to wonder: what is the actual average of Lebanese salaries? And how does it compare to the rising prices all across the country that many people can’t even afford anymore? What hope of a decent lifestyle can we aspire to without resorting to our parents whenever the need arises?

Even our liberties are being compromised. This blogpost might get me in jail because who knows who will end up reading into it and getting offended. A publication wonders where a sizable amount of public funds went and they get sued by the minister who’s responsible for the funds. A blogger criticizes a minister’s henchmen and he is summoned by our bureau of cybercrime for investigation. A teenager kisses a statue of the Virgin Mary four years ago and some news service digs out his Facebook profile, diffuses the picture and gets him in jail. A twitter user uses the most vile of languages to address the Lebanese president and the next thing you know, he’s facing a possible jail sentence. Ladies and gentlemen, our country’s entire security and well-being rests upon the transgressions of those people.

I watched “Waltz With Bashir” recently and found it to be utterly fascinating. I also found it depressing, not only because the history it portrayed was sad and that we, as a nation, will not recognize anything of that era anytime soon. It was sad because we, as Lebanese, will never be permitted to tackle such issues in the way that they do. It’s not only a manifestation of artistic license and whatnot. It’s a manifestation of opinion within the legal framework of our country – the line runs very thin around treason. Who would dare?

I’ve been wondering if living in lala land is what we all require at this point. But that’s not the type of life I can lead, nor is it the type of life I think we should lead. It’s not okay to be disassociated from everything taking place and pretend all’s okay when nothing is. It’s not okay to be blindly proud of the homeland just because it’s our homeland. This is the homeland that is, today, pulling you back just because you exist in it. Should I be proud? Should I be thankful? Should I be content? Should I be passive and take it?

I feel powerless and useless and that is not something I’m used to feel. I’m lost for words when friends reach out, exasperated at how things turn out. I’m lost for words when foreigners ask me what’s happening in the place I call home. I’m also not used to being lost for words. I don’t even defend my country the way I used to do when someone would dare confront me about it. What’s there to defend anymore?

I’m tired of the superiority we exhibit towards other countries and nationalities who probably have it better than we do. Where does this whole “I’m better than you” attitude even stem from? What do we even have to show for ourselves? Gebran Khalil Gebran does not count.

Today, I look at around all the familiarity that once comforted me and all I see is desolation that diverges from everything I believe in. I’m one of those people who are trying to remember why they were proud to be Lebanese once upon a time. My friends are leaving. Those who are here are preparing to leave. Those who are not preparing to leave are not people with whom I can establish rapport. We go about our daily lives like zombies whose only purpose is to exist. We live on the ruins of glory days that have long gone, days that have been buried and whose graves have been ransacked time and time again. I try to find reasons to belong and, apart from family, I can find none.

Lately, when someone tells me how proud they are of being Lebanese and how beautiful this country is, I just shrug as my mind goes: get real. This is not a reality to let anyone be proud.

ضاق الخناق

The following is a guest post by my very good friend and colleague, Ms. Hala Hassan. 

بليدا 19/02/2014

أن تستيقظ في سلام شمس شباط الدافئة فهذه نعمة. انّها لأيّام جميلة من شتاء جنوب لبنان الهادئة التي لا يعكّرها سوى بعض المناورات الاسرائيليّة في البعيد وهدير الطائرات المعادية تلوّث زرقة السّماء تغطية لجنود حلى لهم التمختر على الحدود لانتشال ما تبقى من طائرة استطلاع تحطّمت منذ يومين.

ليس بما ذكرت ما هو خارج على ما اعتاده جنوب لبنان. أحداث عرضيّة بين الحين والاخر، لكنّ الهدوء صلب ومفروض.
لا يصب التوتر في هذه البقعة من لبنان في مصلحة أحد في الوقت الحالي.
إن أرض المعركة ليست هنا، ومن الغباء أن يظن البعض اننا نعيش في زمن السلم. ليست هذه الأيام أيام سلم. اننا نعيش حرباً بغضاء لا يعرف فيها العدو من الصديق، لا أحد يدري أين ستضرب يد الغدر هذا الصباح أو ذاك، وعلى من سيكون الدور.

“سماع دوي إنفجار في….” إملأ الفراغ بالمنطقة المناسبة، فليسرع الجميع إلى الهواتف المحمولة، إلى الأخبار العاجلة ومواقع التواصل الإجتماعي، فليتصل كل باحبائه واصدقائه. “زمطنا”، أصحيحٌ اننا “زمطنا”؟

لا استطيع أن أحصي عدد التفجيرات في الأشهر الماضية، ولا أقدر على تسمية اللوائح الطويلة الشابة بأسماء الذين قضوا “شهداء”.
أنا لا أوافق على هذه التسمية؛ ليس شهيداً من يقضي غدراً، لا هو بحامل قضية ولا مدافعٍ في أرض الوغى.
على كلٍ، ليس الخلاف على التسميات والصفة، فقط ألمٌ على أحلامٍ تدفن هنا وبريق يخفت هناك.

لي في حارة حريك منزلٌ اشتراه أهلي منذ 3 سنوات. لا نسكنه ولكن نتردد للزيارة بين الحين والأخر، خاصةً انني اقطن في الأشرفية بهدف متابعة الدراسة في كلية الطب في جامعة البلمند والتدرب في مستشفى القديس جاورجيوس الجامعي.

لما كل هذه التفاصيل؟ في الواقع هذه تفاصيلٌ مهمة. لم أترك منطقة الاشرفيه متوجهةً إلى حارة حريك منذ أكثر من ثلاثة أشهر. كيف اذهب وأنا أعي خطر التفجيرات الذي يحوم في الأجواء.

حسناً، فلننسى أمر البيت في “الضاحية الجنوبية”، هذه العبارة التي تكتسب الدلائل والإيحأت يوماً بعد يوم. فلنعد إلى 19/02/2014.

دوي إنفجار في محيط السفارة الكويتية. السفارة الكويتية في بئر حسن.
لمن لا يعرف هذه المنطقة، أو للذي لا يسمع في هذه العبارات سوى “كويتيه” و-”حسن” (شبيهة بلاد الواق واق) فليعلم أن في محيط السفارة تتجمع الباصات والفانات التي يستقلها كل ساع إلى جنوب بيروت. من خلده حتى بليدا، من صيدا إلى الناقورة، من الجيه إلى النبطيه، وأذكر هذه المناطق أمثالاً لا على سبيل الحصر.
مئات من طلاب الجامعات والموظفين، من الكهول والنساء والأطفال، مسلمون ومسيحيون، مدنيون وعسكريون ( اسألوا أبناء عكار الذين يخدمون في ألوية الجيش الجنوبية، اسألوهم عن “فان السفارة”).

عودةٌ إلى الواقع. الذهاب من وإلى بيروت أصبح “خطراً” الأن. فلأقضي عطلتي السنوية في المنزل وامتنع عن سلوك طريق “بيروت- الجنوب”. هذا ما سيقوله الأهل وستقنعني به صور الأشلاء والخوف.

لقد ضاق الخناق .

في الحرب، في حرب لبنان الحالية، في هذه الحرب النفسية النجسة لن أدخل الضاحية، ولن استقل فان السفارة، على الأقل في هذه الأيام….

 ما هي هذه اللعنة؟
أهي لعنة أل”حسن” في إسمي؟ أهي في “المسلمة الشيعية” على إخراج قيدي؟

أنا أحب الحياة. أحبها لي و لغيري من مواطني هذا البلد، لكل من يستيقظ سعياً كل صباح لعلمه أو عمله، يركض وراء كفاف يومه، يلقي التحية على أخيه اللبناني، يدعو له بالعافية وبخير الصباح والمساء.

 فليعلم القاسي والداني أن في لبنان من تتخطى رؤيته للواقع حدود ألدين والطائفة، حدود المنطقة واللهجة، حدود الجنوب والشمال (تحية حزينة للشمال المعاني)، حدود سورية وإسرائيل، حدود التكفير والتجريم.

 سنبقى نحلم باليوم الذي تسقط فيه التهم عن الأسامي ويتوقف فيه الخوف من الإرهاب الإنتقائي الذي لا يغتال سوى البراءة والأفكار العزّل، وتصبح ” الحمدالله على السلامة” مجرد عبارة.

الأمن فالأمن وثم الأمن.

أمن اليوم، لا البارحة ولا المستقبل، لا أمن الاف السنين الماضية ولا أمن الحياة بعد الموت. أريد أمن 19/02/2014.

هالة حسن
بليدا في 19/02/2014

23.

I turned 24 today. And it was a horrible day.

I woke up feeling I couldn’t breathe, feeling like it was just another day to get through the motions. I went to the hospital. I took care of my patients. I did what I had to do but not more like I usually do. I smiled as people wished me happy birthday. I had yet to see the happy in the sentence. I didn’t know what else I could do. 

Perhaps there was nothing really wrong about today. But I didn’t see it that way all day. Call it overt-anxiety. Call it over-scripting of things and dramatization. But that’s how it was. My head told me today was a bad day and I didn’t try to tell my head it was wrong.

And then when I got home this evening, exhausted and feeling mentally drained, my little brother surprised me with a piece of cake on which he had lit a candle. And I hugged him as he sang me happy birthday. There was nothing else I could do. I thought that would be it until my parents called and my mom sang me happy birthday over speaker phone. And my grandparents called to wish me long life and the only thing I could do is wish them health. Their calls filled me with so much joy that the only thing I wanted to do was go spend my day with the people who made it as such. 

Then, as I headed to the dinner my friends begrudgingly dragged me to, I realized that many of the people that made 23 the year that it was were around that restaurant table, had called or texted me earlier that day. Those people had changed their pictures into a collage of their memories with yours truly. They were really, positively happy that this was my day and they wanted it to truly be a happy birthday.

This post may not mean much to most of you. But, as I turn a new page, my thoughts turn to family and friends – cliche as it may be – in order to tell them thank you for being there and I hope they’ll keep on being there.

Here’s to all the people that made me. Here’s to all the people that make each of my days worth living.

I turned 24 today. And it turned out to be a good day, indeed.

My Mom, The Woman Who Beat Cancer

There are a lot of things that one could wish in the days leading up to their birthday. Mine is tomorrow. People tell you the best thing you could ask for is health. I got the best early birthday gift today.

My mom, Jinane, is officially cancer free.

It was a long and winding road that I saw her take. And she has reached the finish line. It was one tough year.

I saw people talk around the disease like an entity whose name shouldn’t be mentioned. And I saw her hurting every time they did.
I saw people look at her with pity and I saw how it killed her every time they did.
I saw her lose her hair and still fight.
I saw her become bed-ridden after chemo.
I saw her become one of those people you see in movies with a scarf around their heads.
I saw her face next to a bucket for more days than I can count.
I saw her look at herself in the mirror and reminisce at the woman she was.
I saw her fight.
I saw her never lose hope.
I saw her keep that spark in her eyes.
I saw her pray. I saw her love. I saw her become more amazing, more beautiful.

Breast cancer awareness month is in October. But cancer is a year-long disease.

There are a lot of things that make me proud about having that woman be my mother. But if there’s one that beats them all, it’s the sheer courage with which she faced her predicament and the bravery with which she came out triumphant.

Mom, I love you. I wish I were home to hug you. Now I’ll just have to wait on some neighbor to read this and go down to tell you how lucky a woman you are to have a son who loves you. That’s not true. I’m lucky to have you.

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This is for Lucy who lost her cancer fight today. May you rest in peace you brave, brilliant woman.

Would You Wait for a Miracle?

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I have a two month old patient, whose bed is way too big for and who hasn’t cried in my presence once. She has blue eyes, which I could barely see through her constantly dilated pupils. Her skin is whiter than snow and colder than ice. She’s not responsive. She has more peripherals connected to her body than a body of that size should handle.

My two month old patient, precious and young as she is, is brain dead.

For a while, my friends and I lamented her young life. She is a person who will never live. She will never utter the words mom, she will never walk, she will never ride a bike. She will never even have solid food. Why was she being kept alive? Why  was she being put in such pain?

The medical aspect in us couldn’t understand the point of keeping life tethered to that girl. It didn’t make any sense. There’s no way she will wake up again. There’s no way she will recover. For all matters and purposes, that girl who has lived for two months exists no more.

But still, her parents kept her alive adorning her bed with rosaries and religious icons as they prayed by her bedside.

“I know it’s over,” I overheard her mom say while crying. “But I’m hoping He’d look down at her and see how such a precious creature she is and help her.”

And the mother would ask us: what will happen if things worked out with her? What will you see? Isn’t she snoring? What is that sound?

We’d answer in a way to stay true to the medicine without squashing her hopes. Hope, in this case, is a double-edged sword.

They were waiting for a miracle. My friends would even chuckle at the thought. But even though I also thought it was absurd, I just felt terribly, terribly sorry for what that mother had to go through, seeing her daughter’s shell in front of her: alive but not.

I’ve been thinking about miracles ever since I was allocated that little girl. While they round on other patients and they reach her case, I often find myself thinking about the miracle she is waiting for. I don’t get miracles. I don’t know if I believe in them. I think I don’t. But if there’s anything about miracles that I’m sure of, it’s that they are unjust.

Then I thought about what I’d do if I had been the father whose daughter was in my patient’s bed, with tubes going out of her in order to keep her alive. My answer would have surely been a resounding: turn it off. Purely medical. Pure electrolytes. Pure CT scans. Pure EEGs. Pure data. Or so I thought.

Today, as I saw that woman crying over her daughter, I didn’t pity her. I was utterly shocked that what she was doing didn’t feel odd. It didn’t feel weak. It didn’t feel like something I would remotely try to ridicule, like many people I’ve encountered would. Because the shocking revelation was that I’m not so sure I can turn it off, in spite of al the data.

Would you?

 

Confessions of a Control Freak

It’s my way or the highway. And it has always been that way. Sometimes, the highway part happened literally. I don’t know when it started. I didn’t even know about it until recently.

Hi. You probably know my name since most of you have been reading this blog for two years. But I’m Elie Fares. And I’m a control freak.

You know those friends who always choose a restaurant and wouldn’t go except to that restaurant? Well, I’m one of those people. Annoying, definitely. But you can’t escape them nonetheless and frankly, I have no clue why. My plans have to go through all the time. It’s not because I’m bossy and I like to lead groups, which I like to do. It’s because, in my head, my plans are always the ones that should be going because, well, I planned them.

The above, ladies and gentlemen, is part of the diagnostic criteria for obsessive compulsive personality disorder. The silver lining is that I don’t fit enough criteria to be diagnosed. No mental illness for me (for now).

I never noticed this part of me until it was pointed out to me by someone whom I’ve hurt deeply: events where I’d be in total control, have people do my way and not even notice it. Slowly, a pattern emerged. Without me even noticing, I’d build a plan. I’d get people on board my plan. The resistance to my plan would be sweet-talked into getting on board again. And I have my way. Everyone should be happy, correct? Well, not quite.

How long has this been taking place? Looking back, I believe it has been taking place ever since I can remember. My friends and I never go to the cinema unless I’m choosing the movie. There were times when we’d go to the cinema and we’d go into separate theaters. Excuse me, but I’m not spending any money on an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick.

In other instances, when I wouldn’t get my way I’d simply cancel being part of an outing altogether. It’s better to stay in, I’d say, watching movies and series. Who needs people anyway?

I always failed to see humor in a situation. If it doesn’t go according to plan, there’s obviously nothing good that can come out of it. I couldn’t lighten up. It just didn’t come naturally to me.

Even the times I traveled were full of me ordering people around without noticing. At the time, I thought it was a necessity at the time. In retrospect, I should have let loose a little, been more at ease and had more fun. But I just can’t help it. It’s either I get to have a tight hold over things or things don’t go well at all and I figured people will eventually come to terms with that.

I was mistaken.

Over the past weekend, I decided that I should see how I would function in a setting where I didn’t have to plan out everything. So I went out with my friends and, hard as it was, I had no say at all in the restaurant pick. They chose somewhere in Jbeil. I obviously disapproved. The place was an open space, arguile and smoking included. I disapproved as well. I also disapproved of the menu. But I didn’t say anything nor did I make it known. I tried as much as I can to enjoy the company in spite of the loud music. Yes, I disapproved as well.

Shock #1: The food wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Shock #2: The place was still too noisy, too loud, too not up my alley. But I had fun anyway.

Shock #3: It was a relief not to have to worry about having chosen something and others possibly not liking it.

Even being at the hospital has proven more difficult for my personality type than my other friends. I couldn’t stand things being utterly disorganized, people doing whatever they wanted and me being in the midst of it having no idea what to do. And I got in trouble because of my “attitude.” There was nothing I can do.

The people I don’t see often don’t have to deal with this aspect of me because it’s not that apparent. But through being a control freak and all the perks that come with it, I’ve made the life of very close people a living hell. I’d say I’m sorry again and again but it wouldn’t suffice.

I’m not sure if I can completely become the person that I want to become. It’s just so easy to fall back on what I know. Sometimes I think if I want to change for the sake of the people I’ve hurt. But that’s not true at all. I have to change for me.  I don’t want to ruin friendships that have changed me and hurt people who mean the world to me. I’ve hurt them enough. There’s a limit to how much people can love you unconditionally. I have to become more vulnerable and let go. I’m working on it. I need help.

I wish I could go back in time to change things.

Hi. My name is Elie Fares and I’m damaged and I’m sorry to those I’ve damaged. Now you know.

It’s Just A Bomb

I was watching a movie today.

What a mundane and worthless sentence to start anything with. But I was watching a movie today.

It was a quiet afternoon. I had seen a dear friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while. We spoke about our lives. We didn’t talk about politics. I drank minted lemonade. She drank coffee. The time passed.

But yes, I was watching a movie today. And it was a theatre full of people who were watching the movie with me. And less than five minutes from where the movie was taking place, part of my country was getting blown up to pieces, people were getting blown up to bits.

And there I was, watching a movie.

The theatre doors closed behind us as we made our way out of the complex. Look, an explosion happened nearby, my friend told me. Make sure you make your way out calmly. I looked around and people had no other care in the world. Those who were shopping were still going about their chores meticulously. The people hoarding the escalators were still doing so extravagantly.

And there I was, pissed beyond fury, trying to see if my other friend was home and if anything had happened to her.

She is 23. In statistical terms, her life is well ahead of her. In real terms, she is terrified by a window slamming, fireworks going off or anything that reminds her of the bombs she has endured for years. I was relieved to know she hadn’t gone home today. I was glad she was okay. What a fucked up country, I told her. Yes, she replied. Is there anything more redundant to say?

I checked the news on my way to my car. Many were dead. Many more were injured. No officials were targeted. It was an attack simply against people like me who decided to spend their afternoon off, courtesy of the Virgin Mary’s ascension, to shop with their kids, with their mothers, with their families or friends, just like me.

The drive home was uneventful. People were still going around their afternoon business like it was nobody’s business. Life was sluggishly going on. It was bound to pick up its pace tomorrow. I was sure all would be forgotten by next week. This is our span. I guess that’s how it rolls.

As I neared residential areas of my country’s torn capital, I could hear the news blasting off balconies as people huddled next to their TV sets. Tripoli was joining the game as well because that city doesn’t like to be left out of the big celebrations. Politicians were salivating over their upcoming TV opportunities to express their condemnation while secretly insinuating that this party’s interference here and there led to this or that other party’s condemnation of some party’s actions has led to this, while people’s flesh still burns on the asphalt and cement. But don’t you be mistaken, sympathy supersedes policy.

The people were expressing sympathy. There was a tinge of unity as so happens in the face of true national tragedies. I figure it would only be a matter of time before someone parades this. Those who wanted to express sympathy figured stating their sect at the start of their sentence would give it some credibility. Others were more worried about the potential day off tomorrow. It was, after all, a day of national mourning. Aren’t those getting way too many and springing up way too often? But what would a day do to the mother who will mourn all her life?

It’s just a bomb. We tell it to ourselves like it’s nothing. A bomb. An explosion. Destruction, rubble, death. We’re getting way too used to it. We’re getting too comfortable with the way we live around it. We’re getting too subdued in the way we just take it, brush it off and long for the day when we forget. It’s just a bomb.

The New Brand of Lebanese Threats: I Will Shoot You

Things have been calm in Tripoli lately. There have been no mass shootings for Lebanese media not to report. Ramadan had been a more or less safe month on the city and Lebanon as a whole despite some irregularities here and there.

Yet there was something rising to the surface during those days that has apparently become so redundant that the people of that city had become used to: individual shootings.

Two people had a fight or a quarrel in the street? Their natural reaction was to draw weapons at each other. In case weapons were not available on them, their verbal threat to shoot the other person sufficed.

Meanwhile, passerby just passed by.

It’s easy to dismiss Tripoli as something out there in the North which many of you don’t care about.

This “I will shoot you” mentality, however, is not exclusive to there. It’s present in areas and settings where you’d expect such threats never to be issued, let alone possibly carried out.

It is probably my luck for Eid to fall on the day I had chosen to do my hospital duties. As I awaited the X-ray results of a patient with some breathing difficulties, the phone next to me rang. It was almost midnight so I answered out of courtesy as no one was around.

“Are you serving on the obstetrics floor?” The man asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Can you tell the man who just showed up on your floor to come move his car? It’s blocking the hospital’s entrance.”
“Yeah, no problem.” I hung up.

How problematic could such a request be, I figured. Guess again.

I knocked on their room door, got in, introduced myself and relayed to the husband what the security personnel asked of me.
“Can you call them back and tell them to fuck off?” He replied.
“Excuse me?” I said, not quite hearing what he was saying.
“Yeah, call them back and tell them this car belongs to the president.”
“What president?” I asked with a tone of obvious sarcasm in my voice.
“Tell them I’m not moving my car and if they ask again, I’m going downstairs to shoot them all.”
He had a gun on his waist and a Kataeb wallpaper on his iPhone. I simply looked at him sideways, rolled my eyes and left.

I will shoot you has apparently become the go-to threat for a Lebanese who doesn’t like what he’s being asked or getting exposed to. Nothing can justify this man’s outburst. I’ve seen countless women in labor pain. I’ve seen countless men who are standing by their wives supportably, obviously worried but holding it together.
This was a man, a sample of many others in this country, who are armed, brainless, moronic and ready to act out on it. And yes, we are all used to it.

Next time a psychologist wants to give you some tutorship on how to deal with shooting threats, tell them as Lebanese, we simply walk away and shrug our shoulders.

Breaking News: I Almost Died

Well, not quite.

I was in Tripoli when Saad Hariri’s long-awaited Ramadan speech was taking place. I couldn’t care less about what he had to say so I just sat with my friends on a porch, enjoying an afternoon August breeze.

“He’s ten minutes in and we haven’t heard bullets yet,” Ismail said jokingly. And, as if on queue, the bullets started getting fired up the air.

So as we discussed some inescapable politics through the distant shots, we heard something ricochet off the wall and land immediately next to us. We were four people. This surprisingly heavy bullet could have hit anyone:

Bullet tripoli lebanon

I’m not the kind to immediately freak out so we simply retreated inside as they cursed the morons shooting on the streets in celebration. The shooting soon ended as the speech died down.

Then I wondered: what if this actually hit one of us?

Any kind of injury because of this bullet would necessitate hospital attention.  What if we can’t afford the hospital? What if there’s no hospital around? What if the supposed injury was life-threatening? Why is my well-being contingent upon the odds of ricochets?

Till when should we be satisfied that this is simply a “what if” scenario?

The worst part of it is that we have all become so used to this, even those of us who don’t come from a city that has become far too acquainted with such incidents, that the logical thing to do was to simply change rooms and wait it out because we knew there was nothing else we could do and that no entity whose job was to prevent such things from happening would actually do its job.

However, I’m not full of negativity. I can see the silver lining in all of this: they were firing bullets not rockets.

Ramadan in Tripoli

A friend of mine was sitting in a restaurant in Tripoli, waiting for the Iftar. At the first day of Ramadan, Iftar is a big deal. It had been a very tough day of fasting in the scorching July heat. The restaurant he was sitting in was abuzz with talks about a little girl named Jana. Everyone wanted to make sure she was doing well, that she was eating, that she was well-seated, that she was well-taken care of.

My friend, who wasn’t from Tripoli and was visiting the city oh so cautiously, was intrigued. He started asking who Jana was. She was the homeless girl selling flowers to the people having Iftar on the first day of Ramadan. As he told me the story, not knowing whether it was true or not, I decided that I must try and live – to the best of my capacities – parts of Ramadan in Tripoli.

My best friend being from the city made this quite easy. Soon enough, his mother was asking when I’d come visit. I very gladly obliged. So on a Saturday of Ramadan, I was standing at the doorstep of one of the kindest and most hospitable people I know, breathless as I was racing against a sinking sun, worried I wouldn’t be there on time. We sat on a breezy balcony that overlook a desolate street.

Tripoli might as well have been a ghost town at that point. Everyone was busy eating. I was served some soup, followed by fattouch then some mloukhiye the likes of which I had never had before. I daresay the food passed by quite fast for what I had in mind but I didn’t mind. The mloukhiye was coupled with some rice and chicken and other Lebanese mezze items. Soon enough, we found ourselves drinking jallab and other kinds of juices while the smokers puffed on that cigarette that had been sitting in their pockets waiting for such a long time. The chit chats grew louder. The conversations veered toward the medical as my med student status was revealed. The women started asking me questions about C-sections and normal deliveries. Cake was served. I didn’t feel like an outsider at all. In fact, I might as well have been part of the family, all to the backdrop of the tarawih chants emanating from the many minarets surrounding us.

A few minutes later, I found myself at the footsteps of a shabby bakery that did what I was told was incredible nammoura. “How much is the kilo for?” I asked. “6000LL,” the old man replied. He then took a sealed box, weighed it, looked at me and smiled: “It’s 1.5 kilos, but it’s okay – 6000LL it is. Have you tried the coconut-based pastry?” I shook my head. So the next thing he did was take one that was freshly baked, handing it to me to taste. I tried to decline. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. I smiled as my teeth sank into it, taking pictures of the place in the process while one of the employees pointed out to things I should include in my frames.

After buying enough sweets to last our household a month, we walked around the busier streets of the city towards my favorite cafe, Ahwak. The place was unusually empty. We ordered some oreo cheesecake and carrot cake while we forcibly listened in to the conversations taking place around us. Two guys were discussing politics fervently, which is quite normal for a city whose entire current strife is based in those politics. Two girls were discussing keeping their figure with Ramadan fasting. We spoke about how things could have been in the city, in the country. Nothing like demotivating conversations to take you through the night, which was ironic given that the cafe we were in was pillaged a few days earlier by Islamists who accused its owners of serving alcohol. Then we saw her, a little blond girl in a blue dress, holding flowers in her hand.

A couple of friends then decided they were craving some Hallab sweets. So we walked to where Hallab originated, the only place where I find you can get the authentic experience of those Arabian sweets. We don’t take any of those Jounieh wannabe franchise places and their ad wars. The place was busy as well, though nowhere near as busy as in years past. Those friends had some ice cream and mafrouke.

The clock was ticking the night away as we made our way to Azmi street. I was told about its shops opening way past midnight to allow the city’s residents to buy all their Eid’s new clothes and gifts. As we got closer, the music grew louder. I jokingly said this was obviously emanating from a convertible 1980s BMW. I wasn’t mistaken. After all, who else would blast some horrible Arabic music at near 2AM?
The shops were open but mostly empty. The streets were stuck between wanting to be lively and succumbing to the reality of a city that is coming to terms with how economically dead it’s being forced to become.
“I expected more,” I told my friend as we walked past the coffee sellers, clinking their cups to attract those passing, and impromptu stands selling cheese kaaks hoping the smell of their sandwiches would bring in some hungry people in for an early Sohoor.
“I expected the same,” he replied. “But I guess this is what happens when a city has had the year Tripoli had.”

We made our way up the street, wondering what to do next. It was around 2:30AM and nearing the Sohoor time for the city’s residents. “Do you wanna go to Bab el Ramel for a typical Sohoor setting?”
I shook my head. My circadian clock was nowhere near equipped for the rhythm Ramadan required. I was getting tired. So we returned to my friend’s house where we saw his mother sitting on the veranda, quietly looking over the city as she was waiting for dawn to break.

As she offered us tea to get time to pass, we told her about how Azmi street was much different than the year before, how Ahwak had much less people than when we went last, how it didn’t really feel like Eid was approaching, only eleven or twelve days away. So she told us about the city she once lived in, where she had a Christian friend who used to be closer than a sister to her. We spoke about how things changed from my mother being able to go to Bab el Tebbane alone a couple of years ago to how the city feels today. We spoke about the politicians of the city who couldn’t care less. We spoke about the Syrian civil war/revolution whose hold on the city seems won’t know an end. She told us about how she fears the Islamists ruining her city more than everyone else. She told us how she is considered a kuffar because she’s one of the many who don’t agree with what they do. She told us how she is ashamed of the reputation they have forced on her and her family and the people she holds dear. She told us how she is worried about the future of her children in the city she can barely recognize. We spoke about life in general, our families, our aspirations, our hopes for the future.

It was then that we heard a faint explosion sound. I looked around, intrigued. “Don’t worry, they said. It’s the madfa3 announcing dawn getting nearer.” A few minutes later, an ominous voice rang across the city to tell the people to stop drinking water. Soon after that, the minarets started chanting again.
“Here we go again,” she said before going up to her feet to go to bed. “Do visit again, okay?”

I nodded. It was the first time I attended all Ramadan-related proceedings. We talk about how we are a country of coexistence and whatnot, but how many of us have truly attended another person’s religion-related practices? Almost no one. “I would love to,” I replied as the first streaks of sunlight slithered over the concrete walls.