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.