Bi Sarahah, That “Sarahah” Website Is A Waste Of Your Time, Sanity & Well-Being

It happens every now and then, on various social media platforms, that websites wanting their users to engage in answering questions submitted anonymously become super popular.

As a Twitter user, I’ve been exposed to such websites for a long time now. A few years ago, it was ask.fm that had everyone up in arms. Over the past few months, another website called Curious Cat took the cake. Today, Facebook users across Lebanon and the Arab World are discovering a website called “Sarahah” – Arabic for honesty – that does the exact same thing: you set up a profile, advertise for it and whoever wants to ask you or tell you anything can do so anonymously.

The idea may sound tantalizing at first, but anonymity has a way to bring out the worst out of people and you don’t want to submit yourself to that willingly, just because it sounds cute or it’s what everyone else in doing.

I’ve never used those websites, but I’ve seen what my friends and other people I follow get asked. While they might get the occasional adorable message from Mr or Ms. anonymous saying they have a crush on them and it stops at that, more often than not the messages verge on the vitriol and the hurtful and do not involve any of the “constructive criticism” that some people think the website will offer them. I know this firsthand from the comments I get on this blog: the personal attacks are mostly from people under fake names and fake emails.

Exposing yourself to anonymous criticism is not the key to become a “better” person. Computer screens and keyboards give people the ability to say things they’d never tell you to your face. On the contrary, it will only serve to bring you down. Your actual friends would tell you when you mess up or when you have to fix something about the way you’re handling things to your face and don’t actually need a platform for them to do so anonymously. If they don’t do so, then perhaps you have to reassess the sensibilities of that friendship.

On the other hand, strangers whose opinion of you is based on what you post on Facebook or what you tweet are those whose criticism you should take with a pinch of salt. They don’t know you. They’re only sending you those messages because that’s what being anonymous allows them to do.

Moreover, don’t think that these websites are exclusive to your family and friends: anyone with an internet connection can access your profile and submit anything they want to say about you. This opens all the abuse doors you can think of. We might act all macho and non-caring, but we’re all affected by what others say about us to some degree. Do you really want to be willingly bullied by anonymous cowards online who are drowning in their own insecurities and see you as easy submissive prey for them to lash out at?

Don’t waste your time on useless websites which will give you more of a headache than anything else. Use that free time you’re using in thinking such websites can be good for you in things that can actually make you a better person: read up on the world, see what’s happening around you, hang out with your actual friends and ask them their opinion over dinner.

Simply put: if you want honesty, have those who actually know you tell it to your face. Ask your friends to send you messages or texts or Instagram DM’s with that same criticism you’re trying to get from people who may not know you. Don’t think that validation or improvement can come from those who don’t have the guts to tell you, to your face, bi sarahah, whatever they want to say.

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13 Middle Eastern Immigrants Who Made America & The World Great

With Middle Easterners becoming the boogeymen of the world, it’s worth remembering that, despite all the mayhem ravaging their countries and the extremist movements that kill them on daily basis, many of them have used their talents for the greater good and contributed to the betterment of humanity and made America great in their own way.

1. Gebran Khalil Gebran:

Gebran Khalil, who has a monument commemorating him in the heart of Boston, is one of the most celebrated writers in the United States. One of the most influential and top-selling books in the world, The Prophet was written by the Lebanese immigrant from Bcharre. It has been translated to 40 languages, has never been out of print, and has been the center of multiple adaptations the last of which was an animated movie by Salma Hayek.

 2. Tony Fadell:

The name may not be a household item for many, but what Tony Fadell has created has not only revolutionized the way we look at music, it also changed our relationship with our own homes. The iPod, that device with the click-wheel that, only a decade go, changed the entire music landscape was his creation. He later on founded Nest Labs, which created the Nest Thermostat. He’s Lebanese.

3. Michael DeBakey:

Dr. Michael DeBakey, who passed away a few years ago, was a true medical pioneer for the entire world. As medical students, we memorize his classification of aortic aneurysms and use it as a standard. He created a multiple of medical devices that have become essential in cardiothoracic surgery. He was also one of the first physicians ever to do carotid artery bypass grafts, a surgery which was revolutionary at the time and is still cutting-edge today. He was also Lebanese.

4. Donna Shalala:

Mrs. Shalala was United States Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001. She was the president of the University of Miami, a private university in Coral Gables, Florida, from 2001 through 2015. She is, until now, the longest running secretary of health and the first Arab American to be as such.

5. Shakira:

One of the most successful female singers around the world, and arguably the most successful latino singer is Shakira whose hits “Whenever Wherever” and “Hips Don’t Lie” have made her a household item is originally Lebanese. Her father is from Zahle and her maternal grandmother from Tannourine. Hashtag Batroun pride.

6. Edward Said:

The late Edward Said was a professor of literature at Columbia University, a public intellectual, and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. A Palestinian-American, his father was a U.S. army veteran. Known for the book Orientalism, a critique of how the Western world perceives The Orient, he transformed the academic discourse in Middle Eastern studies and in the studies of cultures.

7. Reem Acra:

Reem Acra is one of the most important fashion designers around the globe today. Based in New York, she has become one of the most awaited on any red carpet. She lately made headlines by dressing up First Lady Melania Trump for her pre-inauguration dinner with her husband, U.S. president Donald Trump.

8. Zaha Hadid:

The late Zaha Hadid was an Iraqi architect whose works have spanned the entire globe. From football stadiums to parliaments to university faculties, she is as controversial as she is iconic. Zaha Hadid was one of the top architects in the world and the leading female architect at that.

9. Charles Elachi:

Mr. Elachi is a Lebanese professor of electrical engineering and planetary science at the California Institute of Technology. From 2001 to 2016, he was director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and vice president of Caltech as well. He was one of the key figures in NASA’s space explorations from the 1990s onwards and has been inundated with more awards than one could count.

10. Ilhan Omar:

On the day Donald Trump was voted president, Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American person (and woman) to win a legislature seat. She was born in Mogadishu, but her family fled after dictator Siad Barre was toppled in 1991 and Somalia collapsed into violence, famine and religious fanaticism. She fled to a Kenyan refugee camp, from which she was resettled in the U.S. four years later. Soon enough, she moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she now serves in the state legislature.

Twelve-year-old Omar knew little English and grew frustrated that teachers continuously overlooked her in class. She once showed pluck when a maths teacher ignored her raised hand when asking pupils to solve a number puzzle.

11. Helen Thomas:

The child of immigrants from Tripoli, Lebanon, Helen Thomas was an American author and news service reporter, member of the White House press corps and opinion columnist. She was a columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. She covered the administrations of eleven U.S. presidents — from the final years of the Eisenhower administration to the second year of the Obama administration.

12. Whoever Created Hummus:

Yes, seriously. We gave you hummus. Have some respect. You may have ruined it with celery (don’t do that), but you still got it from us no matter what the Israelis do or say.

13. Steve Jobs:

A little bit of a stretch, but Steve Jobs is technically the son of a Syrian (Muslim) immigrant who, under Trump, wouldn’t have been born given that his father wouldn’t have been allowed into the country. Lucky for the world, that did not happen back then. Steve Jobs went on to found one of the leading tech companies in the world, which gave us the Macintosh, the iPhone, iPad, and a slew of other devices that have become the benchmark of technology today. Period.

Bonus – Jesus:

Jesus was a Middle Eastern man, whose mother was veiled, and who probably wouldn’t have been allowed entry to the countries banning people on their place of origin. It is through him that Christianity was given to the world. As such, Christianity is a Middle Eastern export. You are welcome.

Food for thought:

Great people come from all places. Where you come from has no bearing on the kind of person you will end up becoming if you are given an equal chance at making it. Let’s not put people in boxes based on where they come from, ban them from fulfilling their true potential out of fear and cower away in bubbles because we’re too comfortable there. The next big thing could be in the mind of those we hide away.

Arabs Should Look In The Mirror Before Criticizing Trump’s Travel Ban


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Over the past few days, I watched Americans old and young protest against their president’s travel ban. It was a sight to behold – those people who were taught all their lives to fear Arabs, Muslims and to have all kinds of negative connotations with them were standing up for human decency.

The protests haven’t been exclusive to the United States. London and other European cities have had their own share, culminating in an fiery discussion between British PMs about Trump and his policies.

Meanwhile in the Arab world, crickets.

Not a single Arab country had anything to say about the ban. They couldn’t even muster the guts to stand up with their own. I guess that whole “Arabism” theme is only nice when used from Arab Idol and The Voice podiums.

What some countries did was the exact opposite: Kuwait fortified travel bans against 5 Muslim countries, including Syria. The top Emirati diplomat came out in support of the travel ban. And these moves are not without context.

The two Arab countries that have taken the most refugees are Jordan and Lebanon with 1 million and 1.5 million officially registered refugees, respectively. Gulf counties, all of which are not affected by Trump’s ban despite them being the biggest exporters of Islamic terrorism, have taken in a total of zero.

As a side note, that is also the exact same number of Americans that have been killed by terrorist attacks from the countries Trump has banned, while the number is 2500+ from the Gulf countries that he has not banned and who haven’t taken in any refugees.

In fact, Gulf countries have made their visa requirements for other Arabs so disgusting that no one dares speak up against it. I personally have no intention to ever work or live there, so I suppose I can speak up.

KSA has increased its visa price to $1200 for Lebanese nationals in an attempt to curb the number of Lebanese coming in for work, and as a political retaliation at the country not giving it the blowjobs it always needs.

The UAE has made it near impossible to obtain work visas for it as well, and depending on the Emirate you’re applying to work in, you could be rejected entirely despite having proper paperwork. Moreover, the UAE has made it near impossible for Syrians whose families are in the country to get visas to visit; case in point: a Syrian friend of mine who was born and raised there couldn’t go see her family since moving to Lebanon for university studies, but was able to get a 2 year US visa (prior to the ban).

The UAE’s situation doesn’t stop there. They’ve been systematically targeting people for deportation based on their religious affiliation. If the Lebanese state had any decency, they’d publish the list of Shiite nationals who were deported just for being Shiites.

As mentioned above, Kuwait has enforced a visa ban on 5 Muslim countries, including Syria. But this isn’t new for Kuwait. In fact, the country is known for its derision of foreigners coming in, however they are, except if they are Westerners of course.

As a Lebanese, I need a visa to enter every single Arab country even if for a visit except Jordan and Syria. The rest of those countries don’t have a straightforward process either and for some of them, I have to provide the same papers demanded by the US or Schengen visas. And my country isn’t better either. Yes, we have 1.5 million to 2 million refugees, which is probably more than what the country can handle granted, but few are those who are happy with having the refugees here and see them as anything more than a burden in the best of cases or treat them with all the xenophobia they could muster on average.

In fact, it might be hard to believe but Lebanon has strict visa requirements toward certain countries as well. For starters, the criteria we’ve enforced towards accepting Syrians in are hell. Many are turned away at our borders because they can’t tick off the checklist from hell we’ve started to enforce a few years ago. We also enforce inhumane visa requirements on countries we deem as “lesser.” Refer to how Deepa Dermasiri, Malek Maktabi’s New Year Eve gut-wrenching story, couldn’t get a visa to come see her daughter in Lebanon and passed away before she was able to.

What’s worse, the story doesn’t just stop with visas. While Americans protested against a ban that doesn’t even affect most of them, has there been any protests in the places we come from? In the grander scheme of things, has there been protests against the horrendous visa requirements we have for each other to begin with?

Do Lebanese dare to speak up against the rules the Emirati government humiliated them with? Or Saudi visas? Or any Arab visa?

Do we even stand up for minorities in our countries? When was the last time we had protests for some parts of our societies that were oppressed? When did Muslims have mass protests for the persecuted Christians in some Arab countries? When did we have mass protests for women rights? LGBT rights? KSA has Muslim only roads. Just saying.

Yes, those of us who stand up are courageous because it’s so difficult to do so in the first place, but the rest are complacent and satisfied. With what? Religion, money, lack of education… you name it.

Yes, Trump’s ban is all kinds of messed up. But then again, aren’t we all kinds of messed up too? Let’s take a hard look in the mirror at how we treat each other before panicking about how others are treating us, because the fact of the matter is: we treat other Arabs worse than Trump could ever do.

So thanks to the Americans protesting for us. You’re greater than even I thought you were.

To The Americans Fighting The #MuslimBan, A Middle Eastern Thank You


Dear Americans standing up for human decency,

Thank you.

As I saw the thousands of you gather around airports in the country, chanting against a ban that sees only hate, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how wonderful you are as people who care about others who are being targeted for things out of their control, for standing up to those of us who are weakened across the world.

To the protestors who stormed city squares and airports in a completely spontaneous manner because they couldn’t sit by and be complacent to such injustice, thank you.

To the translators offering their tongues and time to people whose voices have been taken away from them, thank you.

To the lawyers and the ACLU offering everything that they can give to those who have nothing to offer back, thank you.

To the army veterans, whose chests are adorned with Purple Hearts, standing at airports because this isn’t what they fought for, thank you.

To those who have defied their parents, friends and comfort zones to stand up for what’s right, thank you.

To the employers making sure their employees know their workplace is a place of inclusion, not exclusion, thank you.

To the hospital program directors who are making sure to reassure residency applicants, that are needed by America so, that their programs don’t look at country or race or visa status, thank you.

To the celebrities whose views have been chastised for so long, who have painted their bodies and advocated from the most watched podiums for those whose entire lives have been uprooted because of a signature, thank you.

To the taxis of New York, who risked their livelihoods for humanity, thank you.

To those applauding at airports as detainees were let free, for bringing tears to our eyes for your solidarity, thank you.

To the American companies, like Starbucks and Lyft, who want to hire refugees and are standing against oppression, thank you.

To the conservatives who voted for the man causing this, and who are now shell-shocked about what is taking place and refusing to stand by it, thank you.

To the Republicans who are not represented by this man and who refuse to partake in this, thank you.

To the Christians in America who know their religion is about love and acceptance, who know that Jesus wants them to turn the other cheek and not cower away in fear, thank you.

To the wonderful Americans who are spending their days and nights and all their free time shouting to whoever could listen that there are values in this world that are more important than politics, thank you.

To the ones who see us as people, not as baggage with frightening connotations in societies they don’t understand, people who should be given the same chance at a better life that their ancestors got, thank you.

Over the last few days, you have shown us an America that is, truly, a beacon of hope for the world, and hope is the weapon that scares those who feed on hate the most: to know that despite everything that they do, there will still be people who will not stay silent or complacent or succumb to fear.

I’m typing this today on a New York subway, in awe of what you are accomplishing and humbled by the outflow of compassion you are showing people you’ve ever met, that you’ve been taught all your life to fear and believe they only want what is bad for you. 

The freedom which you are exercising is the embodiment of the foundations your great country was built upon, that which entrances anyone who sees it, that which welcomes in all the weary, the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses waiting to breathe in that same freedom.

You are showing us every day that, in a world overtaken by darkness, that ideals can overturn tyranny and that it is okay to still hope in the face of such atrocities.
To paraphrase J.K. Rowling: “[hope] can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” Thank you for shining bright. 

 

Why Those Who Insult Istanbul’s Victims Should Always Be Challenged, Not Ignored

I never thought that we, as a country first and foremost and as a region in the grander scheme of things, would so grossly disagree about our characterization of the victims of the Istanbul attacks. I’m not talking about whether they are martyrs or victims, but about people who are so full of hate that not only do they not mourn but believe others should not mourn too.

Those people have forsaken every ounce of humanity and turned the barbaric deaths of innocents as yet another event to correlate with their religious, sectarian or even political discourse.

Ramzi El Kadi & Huffington Post Arabi:

Earlier yesterday, I posted screengrabs from a Twitter account by someone named Ramzi Al Kadi on my blog’s Facebook page. Soon enough, the story was picked up by news outlets and it went viral.

Within minutes, Al Kadi was being called all kinds of names as if he were the only entity in this country and region regurgitating that horrifying word-vomit. Some were attacking the way he looked, digging through his entire online history and bringing it back to haunt him.

El Kadi had said he did not want to mourn the victims. He thought what happened to them was well-deserved given that they were at a night club, which is in his opinion is a disgrace of a place. To him, the victims – Rita, Elias and Haykal – were nothing more than sinners who had it coming for wanting to have fun at a “whore house.”

Unfortunately, Al-Kadi isn’t a lone example. You only need to head to Huffington Post Arabi’s Facebook page to see the exact same rhetoric being spewed by Arabs in the comments section. In an article posted by the page about Lebanese victim Rita El Chami, the comments ranged from those who were sympathetic to her sacrifice, calling her a hero, to those – like Al Kadi – who saw her as nothing more than – again, I quote – “a whore” for partying the end of the year away, wishing that she’d “go to hell.”

The debate in Saudi Arabia about the Istanbul attacks isn’t about their dead, but about whether they were at a nightclub or a restaurant, because that makes a difference in how their death is perceived. Palestinian victim Leanne Nasser is suffering from the same discourse back home: whether it was appropriate of her to go party the night away. It was her first trip abroad.

To note, Ramzi Al Kadi is saying his Twitter account was hacked. I don’t see why given there’s no value in hacking an account with 200 followers, but it’s a statement to be conveyed. Ramzi has since been arrested in order for his tweets to be investigated, which – regardless of how disgusting what his tweets were – is not something we should accept. Being an asshole is not a crime.

Hassan Hamzeh & Politics:

 

Al Manar reporter Hassan Hamzeh decided to insult the victims of Istanbul’s terrorist attacks from a different perspective. To him, this was pure politics. Being a Hezbollah supporter, he saw the attacks on Istanbul as nothing more than a chance for him to gloat in revenge and spite.

“Istanbul is paying the price it should pay” he tweeted. He then followed it up with: “Istanbul should pay more,” before concluding with: “Erdogan, you reap what you sow.”

To Hassan Hamzeh, the victims from all backgrounds are nothing more than pawns in his party’s political game, their entire lives and families and loved ones be damned as long as he can be satisfied that a city and a country he despises are being broken like this.

Other politically-charged social media users were annoyed at how the victims of Istanbul’s attacks were being called martyrs compared to others who “didn’t sacrifice their lives at a nightclub,” as if the location of where you are brutally killed has some bearing over the worth of your life and death.

While the Lebanese government flexed its muscles with helpless people like Al-Kadi, Hassan Hamzeh – with his political backbone – is still at large, free to roam and tweet more hateful things because he’s untouchable.

Why We Should Speak Up:

Regardless of where people die because of such vicious attacks – whether at a club, a brothel, church or Mosque – the sanctity of death should be respected. You have to be at a whole other level of deplorable to disrespect the passing of people whose only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time because you don’t like where they were or what they were doing.

When I first posted Ramzi Al-Kadi’s screenshots, people said that giving people like him such exposure makes them feel important and gives them power, that their negativity had no place in times of mourning. I disagree.

The best way for hate and bigotry to prosper is for them to run unchecked for a lifetime. The more we stay silent, the more we let such horrors fester in the minds and souls of those who are most susceptible, and the more Ramzis and Hassans we will have to deal with later on.

Our bubble as millennials or liberals has gotten us to think that the majority of people share our views and as such most will find the words of Ramzi or Hassan as abhorrent as we do, and that might be the case with many, but today’s world is far from being one where we can remain silent to people who insult victims just because they can.

Staying silent to people like all of those who insulted the victims of the Istanbul attacks in LaReina has a lot to do with why we are dealing with entities like Trump, Le Pen, Brexit and a rising trend in right wing extremism all around the world, why we are reeling from the effects of living in a post-truth existence where facts have become matters of opinion for many.

There remains a huge populace that lives among us that believes in what Ramzi Al-Kadi said, without them proclaiming it. We live in a conservative Arab world where it’s very easy to forget, as the only people we talk to are those who think like us, that there are those beyond our walls who believe that nightclubs are abominations, that those who frequent them are sinners and that those who die there should not be mourned.

Those people you want us to ignore are voters, influencers, mothers and fathers. We can’t repress them into a basket to be tucked away just because we feel like the higher road is the better road. To drive our society forward, those people’s ideas – not the way they look as many have criticized Ramzi – should always be challenged. We can’t shy away from the ideological debate taking place wherever we roam for fear of the challenge, or of upsetting others and ourselves.

Ramzi Al-Kadi and those who think like him think their ideas and beliefs are as valid, and should be applied on a more grander scale than just tweets or Facebook comments. To better our societies, we can’t just dismiss those ideas outright just because they’re horrifying. We have to listen, criticize, challenge the core of their thoughts.

The cycle of us versus them will never end if we stay silent and let the cycle perpetuate without breaking it. It’s easier to imagine “them” as enemies who hate the way we live no matter what. But “they” are victims of ideas that have been entrenched in their minds for years, and those ideas can be beaten if we take up the mantle of the fight.

Wadi Rum: One of Arabia’s Most Gorgeous Places, And A Must Visit For Lebanese Who Like Adventure

As far as other Arabs are concerned, Lebanon is considered to be the greenest of the region’s countries, and despite rampant deforestation and grossly non-environmentally friendly governmental policies, this is actually the case for our little country. Our biggest asset in bringing people to visit us from the region isn’t, therefore, only our “joie de vivre,” nightlife and awesome food, but the fact that we offer them eco-tourism that their countries can’t match. Alas, Lebanon tends to take its tourism for granted.

I was recently in Jordan for a few days during which I had the chance to see some of the country’s main touristic attractions, including their 7 wonders of the world site Petra, and the place that stuck in my head to this very day and the place that I would want to visit again as soon as I can and recommend that everyone do so: Wadi Rum.

Wadi Rum is not unfamiliar with many of you. You’ve actually seen it plenty of times before but didn’t know it was the case. It’s featured heavily in the latest Star Wars movie “Rogue One.” It was the filming site of Best Picture nominee “The Martian.” It was also where parts of the second Transformers movie, Indiana Jones and Lawrence of Arabia were filmed.

Simply put, Hollywood and Westerners know Wadi Rum exists and flock to it in droves. For other Arabs and Lebanese, however, the place remains near-fictive. When I mentioned that I’d love to visit the place a few months ago, the reply I got was: “what’s there to see in the desert?”

The answer is: quite a lot.

The reputation that we, as Lebanese, have when it comes to our tourism style is that we’re not adventurous. We want good food, nightlife and shopping. To me, that reputation is horrific. I asked many travel agencies about that reputation and all of them corroborated it: this is what they sell. I guess this doesn’t apply to a newer generation of Lebanese, and many of this blog’s readers, but I daresay it’s high time to change that.

  • How To Get To Wadi Rum:

A new travel path between Beirut and Jordan was launched last week, offering direct flights between Beirut and Aqaba for $212 round trip. This path is better than Beirut – Amman because Aqaba is much closer to Wadi Rum than Amman (70km versus 300km).

Once you get to Aqaba, it’s quite easy to rent a car. Your Lebanese driver’s license actually works, or you can have an international driver’s license done to be on the safe side. Oil prices in Jordan are much cheaper than their counterpart back home and car rental prices are super cheap too.

  • What To Do In Wadi Rum:

The Wadi Rum reserve is huge. It’s around 700km2. I daresay there’s no way that anyone can do the whole thing in one stay unless they stay there for a couple of weeks, and that’s not ideal because it’s a physically demanding visit.

Gorgeous scenery: While we, as Lebanese, completely disregard the jewels we have interspersed in our country and don’t bother in their upkeep, the Jordanians have done the total opposite with Wadi Rum: it is a natural reserve that is so clean, so neatly kept and so beautiful. Wadi Rum is the total opposite of the kind of eco-tourism that we can offer in Lebanon: it’s a desert, filled with gorgeous sand dunes, high limestone mountains, sitting on one of Arabia’s biggest aquifers, and is as authentic as a desert experience can be. Your instagram posts will be ace, trust me.

Safari rides: Forget safaris in Dubai. I went on a 4×4 truck ride across the area and this is the real deal. You sit in the back of the pickup truck, and a skilled driver takes you around gorgeous scenery that will leave you dumbfounded. Refer to pictures below.

Bedouin life: Wadi Rum is also home to many Bedouin tribes that still live there. Those tribes will open their arms to you and host you for lunch or dinner. Their cooking style is very interesting in that, to save up on wood, they bury their cooking pots in the sand with the burning embers and let the meat and vegetables slowly cook. I had the pleasure to sit with a Bedouin tribal chief who told us stories of life in the desert, played a little on his rababa and invited us to share a meal with him.

Camel Riding: Western countries also stereotype our countries as the places were camels are the go-to mode of transportation. They’d be disappointed, I suppose, to find out that the first time I’ve ever ridden a camel was in Wadi Rum.

Hiking: I didn’t have the chance to do a lot of hiking at Wadi Rum but there are trails all around the place that vary based on difficulty that those who like hiking will find to be exquisite. My fair share of rock climbing and hiking that I did there was unforgettable, although my legs would probably ask for a break before I do that again.

Sunsets: There’s something to say about the beauty of sunsets and desert sunsets have their own taste that I’m super glad I got to experience. I was able to sit atop one a high rock with a view, look over at a huge landscape in front of me as it turned into hues of gold and orange.

Star Gazing: After the sun set, I was treated to one of the most beautiful starry skies I’ve ever seen. Entire constellations spread in front of you. Just lie there, and enjoy the gorgeous view.

  • Where To Stay:

You don’t need to go back to the city in order to enjoy Wadi Rum for more than a day. The place has many camping sites interspersed here and there, with prices for the night being around $20.

Why It’s a Must Visit:

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing the place is. I spent an entire day there – from 8AM till around 10PM – and left feeling disheartened because I wanted to spend more time and see more places. Apart from it being historic with it being one of the places that Lawrence of Arabia spent a lot of time and its rocks having many ancient inscriptions on them, Wadi Rum offers you quite an experience that Lebanon doesn’t have and I daresay other Arab countries of the region can’t match. It’s unfortunate that this jewel in the Middle East is discovered and used quite often by Hollywood and Europeans but not by the locals or those from neighboring countries like us. It’s cheap, quite accessible with no visa requirements for entry for Lebanese, and you’ll go back to Lebanon with many a chance to tell wonderful stories of your desert excursions. Go there!

The Day I Disappeared: Remembering The Lebanese Who Have Been Missing For Decades

Photo via ICRC.

Photo via ICRC.

Yesterday, August 29th 2016, I disappeared for a day. It was part of a campaign by the International Committee of the Red Cross that I felt compelled to be part of, almost no questions asked.

It started with one simple picture, on a white background on which the hashtag – both in Arabic and English – was emblazoned: #TheDayIDisappeared or #يوم_اختفيت. I shared that picture on my various social media platforms (example) then went radio silent for the most part of the day. 

A couple of hours later, my friends and family members began to get worried. What was that image I had posted? Why wasn’t I replying to their messages? Why wasn’t I chastising that Aounist video all over social media over the past two days?

The calls started pouring in. Is there anything wrong? They’d ask. We’re worried, they’d tell me. In that moment, it’s really beautiful to feel loved. But the fact of the matter is that I wasn’t in any danger. I was just going offline for a day – something that many people do frequently – trying to erase any trace of me from how people expect your behavior to be modeled in 2016.

I was not missing or disappeared. I was pretty much around. I was accessible. I was not an entity with an unknown fate. I was sitting in my office, working, willfully pretending not to exist for a day.

This simplification of what it is to be missing is a gross understatement of the lives of thousands of Lebanese families over the past few decades.

At a time when our war is over, theirs continues. They are at war every day: at war with their beings that long for their family members about whom they’ve heard nothing for tens of years, at war with the semblance of hope that rejuvenates in their souls every single morning, at war with a government that doesn’t care, at war with a country that more than readily wants to let go.

Over the weekend, I spoke extensively with a thirty two year old man named Jalal Kobtan whose father went missing at the same age Jalal is now thirty years ago. You can read Jalal’s story in my article for Al-Jazeera at the link (here).

There are many things we take for granted when our loved ones are around, the least of which is how they shape us. Jalal, for instance, never had his father teach him how to drive, or ride a bike or even swim. He told me how longing he was when he saw all the other kids with their fathers learn all of the things he had to rely on himself to learn.

Sometimes, you don’t know how big of a rock some people are to you until they’re gone. Thousands of Lebanese families haven’t only lost their rocks, but their entire pillars. Today is the day to tell them that we are here, that we care, and that their lives are more than just a hashtag and a Facebook profile picture.

There are fewer things in life that hurt more than the pain of not knowing, which I dubbed the pain of ambiguity. This is the daily life of all those families whose loved ones went missing without a trace all those decades ago. To wake up every single day not knowing what your father or son or daughter or mother’s fate is, to realize there’s nothing you can do but pray to whichever entity is listening, to have your soul torn apart by the fact there’s just so much you can do. There’s nothing worse than this. This is life to many of these people.

In the coming years, many of the parents of the Lebanese who went missing will be no more without finding any semblance of closure. Today is the day to remember those parents, those mothers who have kept their sons’ rooms as they are all these years, those fathers who long for the day when they can hug their flesh and blood and tell them that everything will be okay, even if everything isn’t. Hemostasis, however, is not in sight.

To Lebanon’s families of missing people, today we share your pain. May it not be ambiguous anymore.