From Bikini To Burkini, Or Why Lebanon’s Tripoli Is Awesome

A picture of two veiled burkini-clad women, and another bikini-wearing on one of Tripoli’s popular beach islands is going viral today across Lebanon’s internet-sphere. The last time this many people were interested in the city was to berate it for the way it voted in an election, but that election is now long past and so has those people’s attention from this great city up North.

In that picture, the two stark opposites represent this city that I love more than anything else. So I figured, in this small space that I have, that I’d try to tell you – kind reader – of why this city whose picture you’re so eagerly sharing is worth your time.

1) Bikini versus Burkini:

Bikini:Burkini Tripoli

Picture via @JadGhorayeb

Over the years, many Lebanese have come to associate an image with Tripoli as that of a city that is ravaged by war, where Islamists reign supreme and where seculars – or anyone who does not want to live by the Sharia for that matter – is not welcome.

The constant and progressive decimation in the city’s reputation is slowly being reversed as of late, with many flocking to its pristine beach islands, to the growing safety of its streets.

The above picture, however, is not an anomaly. It’s the culmination of years in which the city’s varying components co-existed calmly, away from politics and hateful rhetoric, and here they are in all their glory.

2) Beirut’s food prices will have a seizure:

Hallab

You’ve all seen that infamous “Grand Café” picture over the past few weeks and the comparison (although inaccurate) to potential trips to Istanbul that that same bill would’ve covered. Many of you have complained about the price hike in diner chains you’ve loved for years. Now let me tell you a short story.

Yesterday, I took a group of my friends who hadn’t visited Tripoli but to do some necessary paperworks that people of the North have to do in it to one of the city’s restaurants. Their first reaction scanning the prices of that menu – one of Tripoli’s more expensive places, may I add – was to ask one question: how?

Four main courses, drinks, and appetizers later, our bill was less than half of what we would’ve paid for the same combination at any given place in our country’s capital. And the food was great.

In fact, the food is great everywhere. From the restaurants offering Lebanese to those offering mixed cuisine across the city, to the vendors selling cheese and kaak, to the many coffee places many of which I love – Ahwak for the win – to the sweets places and palaces that the city have become synonymous with, you can do no wrong.

3) Lebanon’s biggest old souk is there:

 

Everyone loves to go to Jbeil to see its “authentic” great souks. And while Jbeil’s old sector is awesome, it is dwarfed by what lies in Tripoli’s old city.

Not only is Tripoli’s souk one of Lebanon’s biggest, and is relatively well-kept, but it has retained a flair of authenticity with it being a melting pot of all of the city’s inhabitants, across their sociopolitical status.

The old souks are still divided based on the different services they offer, from khan el saboun to khan el dahab, to the many Ottoman-styled hammams inside them. They’re a must-visit if you’re in the city and in the mood for some meet up with Lebanese history.

4) Citadel St. Gilles is awesome:

Built by the Crusaders, Citadel St. Gilles in Tripoli’s Tebbaneh neighborhood is an extremely well-kept fortress that, because of its location, is rarely viewed as a touristic destination. But it is, and you’d be missing out by not checking it out.

It’s almost 900 years old, has been morphed over the years by the many occupiers of the city into what it is today, and the place being almost always not crowded gives you a visiting experience that view other touristic spots in Lebanon offer.

The entrance is also a simple: 5,000LL.

5) Rachid Karame Forum is spectacular:

Designed by the late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the Rachid Karame Forum at the entrance of the city is a vast space that’s probably the most accurate representation of the wasted potential of the city.

Intended to be the hub of an economic forum as plans to turn the city into a Lebanese economic capital were underway, the place is now almost a ghost-town of modern unfinished architecture and landscape designs that will surely blow you away.

6) The Palm Islands are amazing:

Pic via The Daily Star

Pic via The Daily Star

A natural reserve set forth by the Lebanese state, a section of the Palm Islands has been made available for beach-lovers to visit in order to exercise their favorite hobby. From clean sands to pristine waters, the islands are near-free to get to – unlike all the resorts in or around Beirut and its greater area.

Fun fact: the Arabic name for the Islands is rabbit islands. It is as such because during the period of the French occupation, rabbits were let loose on the island. What were two soon became hundreds, and therefore the naming occurred.

7) Timmy’s in El Mina is the pub to go to:

IMG_6535

When I say alcohol, Tripoli is probably the last place you’d think of. But there’s a pub in the old neighborhood in El Mina called Timmy’s that will help you change your mind a little. It’s an old traditional sea-side Lebanese house that has been turned into a massive space for those who feel like they need to wind down after a long day or week.

From sand-stone interior, to chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, to doors manned by a camera based on which the owner decides which clientele he wants to admit or not, the only adjective that could describe the place is exclusive but approachable.

When I was there, I had a discussion with the owner about why he adopted such a policy. He said that he wants to keep the place at a high enough level to attract people to his city. And attract people he does. For the moment, most of those who flock to Timmy’s are either from Tripoli or from the neighboring areas of Zgharta or Koura or sometimes Batroun. But that could change.

8) El Mina’s corniche is one awesome walk:

The same night when I had a few friends try out one of my favorite restaurants in Tripoli and they got shocked with how cheap and good it was, I took them on a drive around the sea corniche in Mina. Stretching for more than 3 kilometers, it is one of Lebanon’s longest and more authentic.

From vendors in small kiosks on the side, to kids flying around kites, to men praying in the heat while they fish, on that corniche you’ll see all kinds of kinds, in a city that has everything you’d see.

9) The people are the most kind-hearted you’ll find:

From close friends, to the people that would give you money for park meters when you’re out of coins, to the hefty portions you’re served anywhere you go, to the overall sense of welcome they infuse in the air of their city, the people of Tripoli are some of the most kind-hearted welcoming people you’ll meet in this country.

I’ve had the pleasure to know many of them, some of whom were like my family at a certain point, and I call myself lucky for doing so.

10) Life exists North of the Madfoun:

The Lebanese border does not end sligthly north of Jbeil. Venture out. Explore a little. Odds are you may be surprised – even if for a picture involving a bikini and a burkini. Suck on that Cannes?

When a Berri “Journalist” Covers an Anti-Berri Protest

Throughout our careers, whether advanced or just at their beginning, we are all exposed to scenarios which challenge everything that we know. How we deal with such scenarios defines whether we can actually be deemed professionals in our respective fields or not.

For instance, as a physician, I am responsible to treat every single human being, within the confines of my capacities, regardless of who that person is, what atrocities they may or may not have committed, the insults they’ve hurled at me or their overall demeanor. All of this becomes second-rate information next to the job and vocation that I’m supposed to accomplish.

Journalists and reporters have an equally important job towards people: theirs is to educate, expose, inform, and shape opinions in a way to challenge the status quo. It is not ironic, for instance, that the more American culture veers towards what is more viral and what is more eye-catching, that more people are infatuated with a creature like Donald Trump.

But I digress. Today, Nawal Berri, you have failed.

Yesterday, supporters of the YouStink movement were commemorating the one year anniversary of the protests that rocked Beirut last summer, got the government to come down on us with guns and tear gas bombs, and led to Downtown being blocked for almost a year from Lebanese.

The protests, which aimed at getting the government to tackle a growing garbage crisis which they have failed to do to this day, morphed into something bigger and ultimately beyond the capacities of such a movement leading it to succumb under its own weight, much to the pleasure of someone like Nawal Berri who sees the current status quo, where her family’s patriarch has been the head of Lebanon’s parliament for more than 24 years, as a status quo she would very much love to maintain.

So while “reporting” from the protests, Nawal Berri had slogans targeted against Nabih Berri, the patriarch and speaker of parliament in question, leading her to decide that she couldn’t cover the protests anymore saying: “Since they have no respect, I won’t be covering this anymore, and they call themselves a civil movement. Thanks.”

The chants that upset her had said: “The head of the family starved us; he robbed us; he’s a thief.”

 

She then proceeded to leave the camera’s frame before taking it to her Facebook page where she had the following masterpiece to provide the Lebanese population with:

“What happened is something silly. I got around 20 individuals without manners or culture berate me about “the head of my family” being a thief. So of course I decided that giving their airtime was too much for them. What is this civil movement that knows nothing about segregating journalism from personal issues.”

When one of the protestors approached her to say that the chants don’t represent the movement, her reply was: “I will bury anyone who talks about the head of my family. He is the crown on their heads.”

I’m not a reporter nor am I a journalist. But I am under the understanding, Ms. Berri, that those in the civil movement are not exactly supported to segregate journalism from personal issues. The person who is supposed to do so is you, and you’ve utterly and irrevocably failed.

Reporting from the scene of the protest, your job is not to editorialize, it is to carry over the information as it is occurring for the viewer, such as myself, to be exposed to the most information possible in order for me to formulate an opinion. It is my right not to have you censor the information that I can receive, whether positive or negative, just because you were personally offended. Your feelings have no bearing on a national issue. You are not covering your family’s newsletter, you are covering a Lebanese protest.

It is clear that Nawal Berri’s priorities are not to do her job, but to keep her feelings intact. If she’s this upset by a chant, then how am I supposed to trust her in reporting bigger, possibly more controversial issues that may arise later on in her career? Clearly we can’t, but she has the biggest of wastas so no one cares. No one else would have dared to do what she did on air. Let her check her privilege.

Was chanting against Berri in front of Nawal Berri the most mature move by the YouStink protestors? Probably not. We need to rise above her pettiness to show her that the narrow-mindedness she is exhibiting only exists in the confines of those who are too insecure to deal with it. But that doesn’t matter, because those protestors were silenced anyway, regardless of what kind of image they were portraying.

MTV, you have an obligation towards your viewers to make sure such things never happen again. Until then, provide your most sensitive reporters with the best anxiolytics around.

 

American Xenophobic Racist Murders Lebanese Man Because He’s “Filthy Lebanese Ay-rab”

Dear American media, I’ve fixed the news title for you. I mean, why not call things the way they are, instead of beating around the bush of trying to lighten the news in proportionality to the skin color of those making them?

I know it’s hard to think of someone whose genes gave him less melanin as somehow possible of being evil. I shudder at the thought as well. But it might happen – unlikely as you think it could be.

No, Vernon Majors did not kill Khalid Jabara because he had an “unusual fixation” with his Lebanese neighbors. He killed them because he was a xenophobic racist terrorist murderer.

If the tables were turned and Khalid had been the person to whom all those criteria apply, you wouldn’t have hesitated to apply them. You’d have even decided what his entire background was judging by his name, the color of his skin, and the country where he came from.

That’s not different from what Vernon Majors did. It’s not “unusual fixation,” it’s him making sure Khalid’s family knew they were: ‘dirty Arabs,’ ‘filthy Lebanese,’ ‘Aye-rabs,’ and ‘Mooslems,’ as he told them repeatedly to make sure they knew their place in his world. Not that it matters in the grand scheme of things, but the Jabara family is Christian.

The story goes back to last year when Vernon Majors willingly ran over Khalid Jabara’s mother trying to kill her. Unfortunately for him, she did not die, and he ended up in jail, but like the good white American that he is, Vernon Majors saw himself out of jail a few weeks ago, back to the same streets, neighboring the Jabara family, and wanting to take out his revenge on them.

Picture this: a man who willingly ran over a woman trying to kill her ends up in jail for one year, with no conditions on his bond — no ankle monitor, no drug/alcohol testing. It was as if he never entered.

The Jabara family learned of his release. They also knew he had a gun. They also notified the police who informed them they couldn’t do anything, because second amendment and all. Minutes after the police left, Khalid went outside of his house to get the mail, and he was fatally shot by Vernon Majors, who has since been apprehended.

All of this was an “unusual fixation” at his Lebanese neighbors, according to the Tulsa police department, a fixation that goes back to him complaining to that same police department that they were “Ay-rabs, and Mooslems and filthy Lebanese.”

I wonder, how many racial and xenophobic and Islamphobic slurs does a white man have to do to in the United States to cross from “unusual fixation” territory into being a downright disgusting space-occuping lesion of a creature who also hated black people and other foreigners?

If the tables were turned and Khalid had been the person to whom all those criteria apply, this wouldn’t have been someone with an “unusual fixation.” The limits of “unusual fixations” stop when someone’s skin ends up in a different shade of blonde, and when their name maybe just maybe indicates them not praying inside a Church.

Khalid’s sister, Victoria wrote the following Facebook post, and the only way their story made it to the media in the first place:

I ask that you share this FB post throughout the community for the murder of my brother, Khalid Jabara so you can be outraged, just as we are outraged. I want to shed light and bring awareness to the negligence that occurred from the first moment the neighbor..this monster.. called our family ‘Dirty Arabs’, to the time he ran over my mother with his car, to the two Protective Order violations,and our constant vigilance to communicate and be proactive with the DA’s, to the fact that they let him out of jail after 8 months, to the fact that my brother called the police to explain to them that we were scared because we heard he had a gun, to the fact that the police left, saying they could do nothing, and, 30 minutes later….the fact that the criminal walked up to my brother and shot him on his front porch.

At the end of the day, my beautiful brother had a heart like no other. Sensitive to the core, he loved others so much and wanted to be loved back. I’ll miss his jokes (I stole all my jokes from him!), his love for all things electronic, his love for my mom and dad, Rami, and his tenderness towards his nieces. This angel will be missed. Love you, Khalid.

This is the vermin Majors:

Vernon Majors

How many more of “filthy Lebanese” is the diaspora supposed to handle? This is the tip of the iceberg. How many more hate crimes are Arab Americans, be it Muslim or not, supposed to withstand before someone – anyone – realizes that this is just not right, that this is exactly how you push people away, that this is how minorities get radicalized?

This is nothing but a specimen of Donald Trump’s America. So dear Lebanese Americans, this is what you get when you help perpetuate the mere idea of an entity like Donald Trump. There’s no beating around the bush here: his message of xenophobia, hate, racism, Islamophobia includes you too, whether you like it or not, whether you think you’re at a whole level of immigrants or not, you will always remain just another immigrant group that people like him, and those that think like him, can do without.

You will be people they can dispose of, call filthy and end up as nothing more than people with “unusual fixations.”

 

Hypocrite Israel: Being On The Same Olympic Bus As Lebanon Was Not a Coincidence

Everyone and their mother is talking about how the Lebanese delegation stopped the Israeli one from going on the same bus to the Olympic opening ceremony a few days ago.

Naturally, Westerners and many Lebanese who reside in fictive lala land are finding the behavior of our delegation to be abysmal, as are the Israelis of course who are – gasp – extremely shocked that such a behavior could occur.

While Ray Bassil was competing in the women trap shooting qualifications on Sunday, the only way for us as Lebanese to follow her progress was to check Twitter. As I scanned tweets from all around the world discussing the Olympics, the common denominator between them was how “unprofessional” many thought the Lebanese delegations was.

To many, politics had no play at the Olympics. To those many, of course, the notion of two countries being at war, their interaction being illegal, and one of those countries constantly violating the other are foreign notions. But what do they know, I suppose, and explaining that will only fall on deaf ears.

The fact of the matter is, it would have been nice if the Lebanese delegation just didn’t care. But we don’t have that prerogative. We can’t not care given that it’s illegal for us not to, as per the laws of Lebanese-Israeli interaction, and we can’t not care because Israel remains, until this day and every day, an entity that has: occupied our South for over two decades, waged horrifying wars against our own people – politics aside – over and over again, committed massacre upon massacre (Qana rings a bell?), and continues to infringe upon our airspace daily.

Between foreigners thinking we are anti-semitic and unprofessional – typical Arab behavior, they’d say – while always thinking Israel is the entity receiving the short end of the stick, only one side always ends up in a positive light.

Well, no more.

Israel may have its biggest delegation at this year’s Olympics, but that delegation, for instance, has no Arabs. Did no one find that odd? In fact, in its history of participation at the Olympics, Israel has only had two Arabs ever represent it. Isn’t it the forever-villifed country of acceptance? I guess not.

Israel may be upset that the Lebanese delegation stopped it from going on a bus, but they don’t seem to horrified by the fact they’re doing way, way worse to the Palestinians they’re occupying and oppressing. Ignore politics, and let’s talk sports.

  • On February 10th, 2016, the Palestinian National football team was detained for over two hours before traveling to Algiers for a game. Where was the outcry then?  T
  • On March 3rd, Palestinian footballer Fadi Shareef, a 19 year old, was detained and arrested at the Beit Hanoun checkpoint after returning from a hospital in Al-Quds. No one knows anything about the charges.
  • On April 28th, 2016, the Israeli army threw gas canisters at the offices of the Palestinian Football association. This was unprovoked.

You can find more instances such as the ones above at this link.

But let’s talk about more travel-centric bans that the Israelis have done. This is what Israel did to the Palestinian delegation at this year’s Olympics:

  • Banned the head of their delegation, Issam Qishta, from traveling with them by not issuing him a permit.
  • Prevent the entry of the needed Palestinian sports kit to their territory, forcing the Palestinian delegation from buying its equipment in Brazil all over again.

This was reported by Al-Jazeera 6 days ago, but obviously few cared.

israel-palestine-olympics

So let’s put the transgressions of Israel against Palestine, even in sports, aside for a second and go back to the Lebanese-Israeli bus incident in the first place.

Didn’t anyone else find it weird how both countries were on the same bus to begin with? Think about it. If they’re sorting the buses by alphabetical order, there are more than enough countries between the two to place them on different buses. Even if it’s a random assignment, the Olympics organizing committee would have made such a “random” match up no more.

Or maybe it wasn’t so random after all?

On June 19th, 2016, Haaretz reports the following in its prideful “Jewish news” section:

JTA – Mazel tov! That’s perhaps how the big shots in charge of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, the first to take place in South America, will toast victories when the competition gets underway August 5.
Three of the top officials of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, including its president, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, are Jewish.

[…].

One of Brazil’s most prominent sports figures, Nuzman, 74, is a former president of the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation and has been president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee since 1995.

[…].

Nuzman’s father, Izaak, presided over the Rio Jewish federation, the Hebraica Club and the local Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal.
“He was one the greatest leaders of our Jewish community. He brought [David] Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir to Brazil,” Nuzman boasted, noting the late prime ministers of Israel.
Nuzman relies on other prominent members of the local Jewish community as deputies. Sidney Levy, a business executive, is the Rio 2016 committee’s chief executive officer and has a $2.2 billion budget to manage. Leonardo Gryner, a communications and marketing director who was part of the Rio 2016 bid, is deputy CEO.

So when Israel-associated figures are organizing the Olympics, would it be far-fetched to assume that those figures would want, in any capacity that they could, set up scenarios in which trouble can be stirred, such as on a bus, by placing the Israeli delegation with that of a country whose citizens they definitely know cannot and are not allowed and would not interact with Israelis in any capacity?

There’s a lot to be said about whether it would be better for Lebanese to compete (and beat) Israelis. The whole interaction issue is vast, and has been discussed before. But the conclusion is the following: when you’re a country with a constellation of war crimes and horrors under your belt, when you’ve done worse to the people whose land you’re encroaching on than simply being taken to another bus, and when your entire existence in drenched in hypocrisy, you don’t get to cry wolf.

Lebanon At 2016 Rio Olympics: Our Athletes, The Possibility of a Gold Medal & Fighting With Israel Over A Bus

Lebanon Olympics 2016

Rio’s 2016 Olympics had their big opening yesterday, or as the joke goes it was similar to an average Lebanese wedding. Critics are hailing Brazil’s celebration of its history without shying away from the bits that are usually covered up such as slavery, and thirsty people are drooling over the flag bearer of a Tonga, which is a country of 169 Polynesian islands.

As it is customary, Lebanon has a collection of athletes – nine – that are representing the country in Rio. Those athletes are:

  • Ray Bassil – Shooting,
  • Mariana Sahakian  – Table Tennis,
  • Ahmad Hazer – Athletics,
  • Chirine Njem – Athletics,
  • Anthony Barbar – Swimming,
  • Gabriella Doueihy – Swimming,
  • Elias Nassif – Judo,
  • Mona Sheaito  – Fencing,
  • Richard Mourjan – Canoe Slalom.

Chirine Njem will be the first woman to represent Lebanon in a Marathon race. Richard Mourjan will also be our first time participating in a Canoe Slalom.

Of the nine aforementioned athletes, Ray Bassil and Mona Sheaito participated in London’s 2012 Olympics.

The last time Lebanon won a medal at the Olympics goes back to 1980, at the Moscow olympics, where Hassan Bechara won a bronze for Greco-Roman wrestling.

In total, our country has a total of 4 medals to its name, two silver and two bronze, divided along the following manner:

  • 1952 (Helsinki Olympics): Zakaria Chehab (silver medal in men’s wrestling); Khalil Taha (bronze medal in men’s wrestling)
  • 1972 (Munich’s Olympics): Mohamed Traboulsi (silver medal in weightlifting),
  • 1980 (Moscow’s olympics): Hassan Bechara (bronze medal in wrestling).

The country has never had an athlete win a gold medal. I guess this is not exactly shocking given how little investment our governments put into sports in general and into nourishing the many athletic talents that our country has. Even sending athletes to the Olympics has proven, over and over again, to be “complicated” for our government. Those that went to London in 2012 reportedly had to finance a big chunk of their participation.

So it’s to that backdrop that it seems unbelievable that Lebanon may have its first shot at a golden medal. As reported by CNN, since her disappointing start in London back in 2012, Lebanon’s Ray Bassil has been working really hard, despite the obstacles set forth by her own country, to get better at what she does. She has since collected medal upon medal, rising to become the world’s #1 female trap shooter.

Ray will be competing on Sunday August 7th (tomorrow) at 3PM Beirut time.

Ray Bassil Olympics 2016 Rio

The schedule of Lebanon’s athletes is as follows, as sent to me by a friend:

Saturday, August 6th
* Mariana Sahakian – Table Tennis.

Sunday, August 7th:
* Ray Bassil: Shooting.
* Gabriella Doueihy: Swimming (women’s 400m freestyle).
* Richard Merjan: Canoe Slalom Men’s canoe single

Tuesday, August 9th: 
* Elias Nassif: Judo – 81 kg elimination round of 32

Wednesday, August 10th: 
* Mona Sheaito: Fencing,

Thursday, August 11th:
* Anthony Barbar: Swimming (men’s 50m freestyle).

Sunday, August 14th:
* Chirine Njem: Women’s marathon.

Tuesday, August 16th:
* Ahmad Hazer: Men’s 110m hurdle race.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Lebanese if our participation went drama free. Lucky for us, the drama started on day zero with the Lebanese and Israeli delegations nearly fighting over being assigned the same bus to be transported to the opening ceremony.

Lebanon - Israel - Rio 2016

The Times of Israel were the first to report on the issue (link), before Lebanese media picked up on the news. Israelis were appalled – gasp – and found the precedence to be “dangerous.” Meanwhile in Lebanon, the news is receiving more comical responses.

There’s not really much to read into it, and the only entity to blame for assigning the same bus for the Lebanese and Israeli delegations is the organizing committee that figured putting two enemy countries that recently commemorated the ten year anniversary of their latest war together on the same transportation vehicle was a good idea.

The Israelis can go on and on about how being blocked by the Lebanese delegation from accessing the bus is “unsportsmanship” behavior. And we, as Lebanese, will have differing opinions about this depending on where we fall on the political spectrum. But the fact of the matter is and will always be: it’s not unsportsmanship to protest Israel’s violations of our land, our people, and the land of the people that have been forcibly made refugees in our country. The Olympic games have never been devoid of political tone, and this is just another manifestation of that.

The Lebanese athletes sharing the bus with the Israeli delegation would have also had repercussions in Lebanon, as it is illegal for us to have any sort of interaction with Israelis. Or have we forgotten the international selfie scandal?

So in summary: we have nine athletes making us proud, one of them might make Lebanese history, and we’ve already fought with Israel. Just another typical day in Lebanon.

Meet Jess Rizkallah: The Lebanese-American Whose Poem On Being Torn Between Being Arab & American Will Blow You Away

I’ve been into slam poetry for more than two years now and Button Poetry is one of my favorite YouTube channels. I love it so much that it’s the only YouTube channel for which I’ve enabled notifications.

Late last night, Lebanon-time, I get a notification that a new poem by Jess Rizkallah has been uploaded. Intrigued by the name, I open the YouTube video to find one of the most enriching, gut-wrenching poems I’ve listened to on that website in months.

In three short minutes, Jess Rizkallah was able to convey the struggles that she, a Lebanese-Arab-American woman in the United States goes through trying to juggle her Arab side with her American side, in a culture that is increasingly putting both of her components at odds. I mean just look at a creature like Donald Trump existing and at people, many of whom are Lebanese unfortunately, applauding him.

Jess Rizkallah is a Lebanese-American woman who’s trying to find herself in the dichotomy of cultures in which she is stuck. She is light-skinned enough to pass as white, but brown-souled enough for white people to call her on it and make her question who/what she is, and question she does: From the injustice her family went through, to the change of beauty paradigms in the United States that now include her and her sister (thanks Kim Kardashian?), to the politics in general that make her people feel like lessers.

The poem may be Jess Rizkallah’s personal experience, but I find it’s something most of us as Lebanese, who have been outside the country at certain points, who are immigrants, who might immigrate soon, have to deal with or have dealt with at a certain point: this need to assimilate while also wanting to maintain the semblance of who you are.

Find the transcript below:

i am but i’m not

white man says to my brown father

go blow up your own country i’m not buying a car from you

fires my father replaces him
with another white man.
the first time i hear my father cry,
my grandmother says a hail mary.
& he smashes the statuette of white jesus

we still brought it with us when we moved
to the white neighborhood where the children
broke eggs into our living room named us loud & dirty and the white father smiled at us
the next morning
as he mowed
his lawn.

& now white man leers at my brown sister
who no one believes is my sister he likes how exotic & kardashian she is all bellydancer hatching
from double apple smoke something entrancing
in the way she talks / way she walks
white man better keep walking say the Lebanese men who say they will protect my sister
they say they are her Big Brothers
i say No, actually I am her big brother.
I am all of her big brothers & I am her big Sister

so they tell me my problem: i’m too White
for them too loud & dirty won’t shut up, but they like the way i wear my shorts
& my arabic is too dull of the knife
my tongue could open them with so i let them
drive me home

then white man asks to use my phone
tells me i look like a Nice White Girl
not like those Not White girls winks. do i know what he means and suddenly
i hate him it is so easy to hate them

but it’s midnight by an alley on boylston & a strange man has
my phone so I just tell him No, I don’t know what you mean and suddenly I feel very much like a white girl because I am.

But I’m also not but when I’m scared
& I want to be, it’s not impossible it’s actually really easy.

but white girls still ask me where I’m from.

no, where are you really from? when you go back do you have to cover up?
& their boys love middle eastern girls
but oh man, all that hair would have to go

so i don’t shave anything for weeks because fuck you

then an arab man tells me he loves a woman with body hair
and i fantasize about setting fire to every individual hair on my body because fuck you

and my mother tells me i’ll never find a man if i don’t get rid of it

but she also tells me to be less american so less white? but i am white. so is she but she watched people die & still, white people called her the smelly immigrant

but white people invite me to their potlucks.
ask me to bring my mother’s food. they like me. except when i’m angry and they don’t like me. or when they don’t like my brown family.
i don’t look like most of my family.
i look like the people that hurt my family.

the census classifies middle eastern people as white but if we can be called terrorists and white people can’t then are we really the same?
is the distance between guantanomo and an acquittal just a pair of parentheses?
i’m safe in spaces others are not but invisible when my white friends make bomb jokes
when they say we deserve it
maybe i am the insurgent that hollywood says i am maybe they’re not safe from me from my tongue from its rage living in the space between
all my loud & my too much

& it’s funny
that’s the only thing white people and my people agree on
when they look at me

Lebanon Successfully Turns Army Day Into A Mortifying Freakshow

I get it if it’s Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day or any other day that has become, over the years, synonymous with commercialism and ways for advertisers all around the world to sell their products.

I get that 2016 has been proving a tough year so far. Our economy is going downhill, if that’s even possible. Inflation is going up. Roadster diner changed its menu. It’s a tough year out there to be Lebanese. And it just got tougher to swallow.

The horrors of 2016 continue today with Lebanon’s Army Day, celebrated every year on August 1st, becoming our new Mother’s and Father’s and Valentine’s Day. For lack of other words, bel lebnene: 7alabneha.

Ad agencies across country decided Army Day was yet another opportunity not to honor the army, but to pitch their new product in a way to sell it riding our army’s back. So everyone and their mother decided to do Army Day ads, of which this is a sample:

And just when you think that this would be the end of it, the yearly social media gaffe occurs with Virgin Megastores deciding to honor the army in their own way:

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Awesome, right? Except that picture is of an Israeli soldier. You’d think that such a mistake would not occur on Army Day, out of all days, let alone on any other regular day. You’d think a campaign such as this would go through several people before surfacing online, but guess again I suppose.

After posting the above screenshot on my blog’s Facebook page, Virgin were quick to take down the post and decide that pointing out the fact they were using Lebanon’s only enemy country to “give respect” to our army was us leading a “campaign” against them. I’ve begun to realize that this is the Lebanese way for companies to deal with backlash: it’s always a campaign, and they’ve never actually fucked up. Even if it’s a picture of an Israeli soldier.

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And if you thought this was the end of it, you thought wrong.

Because this is the country of “la joie de vivre” and this is summer, and as we all know, you can swim and ski in the same day w hek, a Lebanese overpriced resort decided to flaunt its army love in the only way it knows how, other than parading its own overcrowded facilities of course: half-naked bodies dancing in a pool to a semi-remixed version of the Lebanese National Anthem.

I swear, you can’t make this stuff up:

Many may not see anything wrong with such a display, but I find it hard to find swimsuit-sporting half-intoxicated bodies prancing to your country’s national anthem as anything remotely approaching paying respect for your country or your army.

2016 will officially go down as the year when Lebanon commercialized its Army Day. It was probably a long time coming, but we’re officially there. I wouldn’t be channeling my inner Layla Abdul Latif much if I predicted next year to be worse, with more ads, more products that want to be sold, more people paying money to sell their products than actually contributing to the army in the ways that it can benefit from, all to the backdrop of a country so buried in the sand that Army Day passes by every year without us having a proper discussion about it.

You see, would ad agencies find Army Day to be such an enticing opportunity hadn’t we, as Lebanese, put the army on a pedestal beyond reproach?

See you next year. And happy Army Day. Ba3d fi Exotica ma 3emlet di3aye.