The Day I Immigrated: There Are Homes Better Than A Home in Lebanon, Which Is Why Lebanese Expats Are Expats

Today is the day I become a Lebanese expat and my country of residence, in all those forms that we have to fill, becomes something else than the home I’ve known for all of the 27 years I’ve existed so far.

On my possibly last drive to the airport as a Lebanese citizen permanently living in his home country, I was thinking about how sad my mother was next to me, as she prayed her rosary, probably for me to have safe travels and a beaming future in the United States, the country that’s offering me a home.

I was also wondering if, in the upcoming few months, I’ll be one of those Lebanese whose entire purpose in life is to sell the country they’ve left, hiding away all of the flaws that made them leave it. Then I realized, I’m probably already the target of those videos, such as that Byblos bank ad that went viral about two days ago, titled: There’s No Home Like a Home in Lebanon:

I will miss my grandma’s cooking, but most of all I will miss her and those sweet teary eyes that bid me farewell, in a hospital room this morning, as I said goodbye to my sick grandfather before heading to the airport.

I will miss that man’oushe, those Sunday lunches with my family, road trips to areas I haven’t yet discovered with friends who mean the most to me.

Yes, this is the country where I was born, where my family and friends live, where I’ve had my first kiss and my first heartbreak, and in whose airport I’m currently writing this post as I look on a whole bunch of other people like me leaving, in planes carrying my national symbol.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tearful and grateful for what I’ve been offered as I write this. But on that last drive to the airport, I realized once more that emotion and reason can’t mix in determining the future that we ought to demand for ourselves, starting with myself.

There comes a time when hummus and man’oushe over sensational music isn’t enough anymore to sell a country, no matter how many times the same disc is spun. I’m sorry to say, that disc is broken – nay, it’s shattered and there’s no coming back from it.

In this past week alone, a 24 year old named Roy Hamouche was killed in cold blood because some guy was angry. Another person was also attacked by a police officer because of road rage.

In this past week, a physician coerced the judicial system into helping him commence the cover up in a possible malpractice lawsuit, and we can’t but sit by and watch.

I’m leaving a country as a 27 year old citizen who was never allowed to vote, and whose voice has to always be self-censored as to not face the wrath of the multiple sensibilities we have to consider in saying what’s on our mind.

I’m leaving this country as a doctor who has to fight a mammoth of a system entirely geared at making me feel like I’m always a bug up the echelons of my career, no matter how much I try to thrive.

I’m leaving a country whose beaches are dirty, whose sea is toxic, whose forests are being dismantled, whose elderly are being turned down at hospital doors, whose mothers and their children are being evicted from houses and forced to live in construction sites even in the heart of Beirut, whose garbage can’t be sorted or addressed, and whose people – most of them at least – are still ready to offer their necks to the same politicians who have turned this country into what it is today, as they drool over any video or international article that says their country is a nice vacation site, and whose children are forced to beg in the streets to make ends meet.

A nice holiday destination doesn’t make a good index of life.

I’d love to say there’s no home like a home here. But the truth is that is far from the truth. There’s a reason why Lebanon has expats who visit every once in a while and return to countries they’ve chosen to turn into their homes.

It’s because in the republic of wasta, you can only make it as far as your strongest connection. It’s because in the republic of waste, you breathe cancer.

It’s because their children can die for angering the wrong person on the street, because this country ranks among the highest in corruption, the weakest in passport strength, and is on the lower side when it comes to international indices of life.

Remember this when you support sensational bank ads or articles or lists of why this country is the best ever. Remember that falling to delusions of grandeur will never advance this country, and that being content with what we have will never give us what we need.

Never forget where you’re from, but always remember why you left. I love it here. Correction: I loved it here. But today, I pack my life in 3 suitcases, and leave all of it behind because here is not where my future lies.

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A First For Lebanon: Crepaway Features Same-Sex Couple In Their Beautiful New Ad

Make sure you download this blog’s iOS app to stay up to date! (Link). 

Earlier today, Crepaway released a new ad to celebrate them turning 33 years, along with their famous tagline: #ComeAsYouAre.

The ad is exactly what you’d expect from the phrase “Come As You Are,” except it’s taken to a whole other level with some Lebanese taboo-breaking as Crepaway features a same-sex couple for the first time ever in an ad made for a Lebanese company. It’s also just in time before Lebanese LGBT NGOs start a week-long campaign to fight homophobia in the country.

Some people might gullibly think that the two women in question are just best friends and brush it off, but it’s far from the case. The voice over says: “And here’s to never hiding your love-bites,” as two women cuddle by the sea, come sunset time.

I was completely taken off guard by them including such a moment. I never expected a high profile company like Crepaway to go there, but I’m glad they did because it raised the quality of their ad’s message so much more.

The ad itself is as “woke” as that moment which is bound to have some people talking in the next few days: it is inclusive, features all kinds of kinds of Lebanese people you’d encounter on a daily basis, and celebrates all those differences that make each one of us, us.

Crepaway, I salute you for the courage you’ve put forth into making and approving such an ad to be how you represent your message in 2017, as you turn 33.

Check out the ad here:

Make sure you download this blog’s iOS app to stay up to date! (Link). 

Rymco’s Big Twitter Mistake

We’ve all used our Twitter or Facebook accounts to communicate with some brands, restaurants and whatnot. The idea of that brand being a few characters away and possibly getting feedback from them is one of those paradigm shifts, at least in Lebanon, when it comes to the relation of companies with their customers. As a result, most of the country’s firms that want to keep up with the time have upped their social media presence and most know that there’s an etiquette with which you should abide, one that doesn’t apply to end users like us.

Patrick Chemali was one of those people contemplating buying a car. He had been considering the new Nissan but didn’t like the ad Rymco, the car’s dealer in Lebanon, had done, as is his right obviously. If you haven’t seen the ad, here it is:

So he took his dislike to Twitter and called the ad lame. Instead of having Rymco inquire more about why he thought the ad was as such in order for them to “improve their services” later on, he was basically told they didn’t care for his opinion while being called an attention seeker. Professionalism much?

Who knew not liking an ad could generate such a response from a supposedly professional firm?

Of course, you won’t find all the above screenshot tweets on Rymco’s timeline now as they have been deleted.

Instead of absorbing a customer who simply did not like the ad, not the car, and tell him that the car was still great or to inquire about what he didn’t like in the ad, Rymco went on the attack and lost him in the process as well as many other clients he would have referred had he received a decent service for the money he wanted to invest in their product. Big mistake.

But maybe they were just drunk on a Friday night?

Update: Rymco apologized and are saying the entire thing was staged with them aiming at bad publicity to get publicity. They’re now offering Patrick a car for the weekend. 

What’s Greater Than Lebanon?

You can’t really blame the ministry of tourism for keeping its hopes up against all odds. After all, the country cannot function without a summer of tourists. They have, therefore, launched a new TV ad, enlisting the help of several Lebanese celebrities, to help boost tourism, gloriously titled: What’s Greater Than Lebanon?

Come on people, we have awesome food and awesome nightlife and beaches… Why wouldn’t you want to come here?

So just because you may have not heard of those touristic qualifications several times already, here’s how a trip to the great land of Lebanon can go:

  • Land in Beirut and keep yourself busy as you course through Beirut’s Southern suburb and its slogans.
  • Marvel at the wonders of Downtown Beirut only from afar. It’s unlikely – unless you’re super rich – that you’d be able to afford anything there. But isn’t that Rolex store beautiful?
  • Wander around Achrafieh. If you start to wonder why a lot of people are speaking French, don’t worry – that’s what happens around that place. Look at the beautiful Lebanese mansions while getting lost in the narrow streets that will soon be no more. Then, when you’re bored, do as everyone does where you come from and go to ABC.
  • You can also visit Hamra, which can also be called Beirut’s hipster central. Activists, militants, politics, hypocrites… You’ll find it all there. You can visit the local universities there for your daily dose of Lebanese elitists as well. Visit one of the pubs – they’re more expensive than where you come from, if where you come from has alcohol, but aren’t they just unique?
  • Your second day should include a visit to the South. Be careful not to cross the Litani river or you might have to answer to Hezbollah militants who get offended by your existence. I’d recommend visiting Saida but you cannot be certain clashes won’t kill you there so no Saida for you. Bummer… That marine castle is beautiful.
  • I hope you’ve been saving up money because today is beach day! Hurray? Well, we cannot go to any public beach because they are a reflection of how people act in this country: garbage everywhere. Odds are you’d get septic shock. So private beaches, which are also illegal, are where you’re supposed to go… Except entry will get you broke. Manage the pros and cons and decide as such.
  • Or you can use beach day to go North. The beaches are much nicer there and much cheaper. But I could be biased – that’s where I come from. You can visit the Cedar mountains and see our national symbol – all 20 left trees of it. You can listen to your friend or guide tell you about how this proximity between the mountain and the sea is unique and about how it actually snows – it’s best if you pretend to be super shocked by now – in winter here.
  • While up North, visit the Qadisha valley. Lebanese Christians use the remnants of this valley as proof that they were the original inhabitants of the country. So if your guide or friend is Christian, be prepared for a round of religious pride. But don’t worry, it’s not the kind with which you might end up dead.
  • You can visit Tripoli as well. They are the most underrated city in the country. They have a Crusade citadel, cheap and awesome food and several hundred bearded men roaming the streets to express their Sunni anger at the current situation of their compatriots in the country. But they’re going to heaven anyway because they don’t eat pork and drink alcohol. No Tripoli for you too… And don’t you dare go more North than Tripoli. Akkar is not a place we want tourists to see… Poverty, poverty everywhere.
  • Don’t worry though. It’s not all morbid. We have super awesome food. The tabbouleh they do where you come from is obviously subpar. How could it not be? The parsley we use is grown in trab el arez yalli aghla men l dehab.
  • You can visit the epic ruins of Baalbeck. The area is being bombed by the Free Syrian Army but don’t tell them I told you that. So instead of going there, just stay in Zahle and call it a Bekaa day. It should be enough.
  • Don’t forget to visit Harissa. The area sure is over-urbanized going up there with all those ugly buildings eating the mountain away but isn’t the view majestic? And make sure you drop by Jeita – our current national treasure, obviously robbed for the 7 wonders of nature.
  • On your last night here, you have got to go party. Don’t look at me – I’ve never been to Skybar. But there are plenty of decent (and expensive) places where you’ll dance the night away. Don’t get your hopes up for sex though. Our women are all sex but no sex. If you’re a woman… Good luck. May whoever you believe in be with you.
  • The greatness of a country isn’t in its mountain being proximal to its beaches and in the awesomeness of its cuisine. The touristic greatness of a country is in what unique aspects it can provide its tourists.
    Say what you want about Parisians but their food and city are brilliant. Turkish people may be the most non-hospitable I’ve seen but I was told they have mountains plunging into the sea as well. And they’re a stone’s throw away. Americans may be the big bad devil but they can probably throw better parties than us.

    You want a great touristic season? You need less political hypocrisy, less half-assed security measures, more stability and less pretentiousness when it comes to how valuable touristically Lebanon is.
    Until then, we can keep begging for tourists to come us much as we please. As it stands, we are giving them absolutely no reason to come…. But our ministry of tourism is in touristic Lala land anyway.

    And yet, despite it all, we are still expecting tourists to grace us with their presence in the Great Republic of Lebanon.

    The Cost of Running An Ad on Lebanese TV During A Lebanese Politician’s Interview

    MTV hosted Michel Aoun on Walid Abboud’s show “Bi Mawdou3iya” yesterday and he discussed the current debacle in the country regarding the electoral law and whatnot.

    So because we live in extremely sensitive times, Lebanon’s main political foe for Michel Aoun is, naturally, going to seek out airtime as well. Samir Geagea will be on “Bi Mawdou3iya” as well tomorrow, all to MTV’s delight.

    This isn’t about what both politicians want to discuss (or not discuss). It’s not about their propositions and constant tug-of-war leading nowhere. In order to announce the episode, I stumbled on the picture that follows.
    The most interesting part of the picture to me was the cost to run an ad on MTV during Samir Geagea’s show. Two 30 second ads can cost you up to $5000.

    20130521-122129.jpg

    Every single second of commercial break is probably sold by now. This is how much audience our politicians bring in. Too bad there’s absolutely no tangible and efficient measures that are brought with them and the income they bring to the TV stations they appear on.

    Roum Catholic? – The First 2013 Elections Ad

    The ministry of internal affairs has started its preparatory campaign for the 2013 elections by telling people to check their name on the voters lists before March 10th, which I told you to do a few days ago (link).

    As part of its attempt at getting the Lebanese voter to feel more involved, especially that it pertains to bureaucratic stuff most people don’t want to feel concerned with, they have launched the following funny ad, which plays on the different types of Lebanese people who might be “violated” by errors on the lists:

    The last 2 seconds of the ad are beyond hilarious, which is probably what might get some people to go to this website (link) and check if their name is correctly listed.

    And if you thought the Roum Catholic part is far-fetched, just check out this screenshot (link) from the lists of my hometown.

    PS: They are brothers.

    The Most Sectarian Ad On Lebanese Television

    OTV is currently running this Election Law promo ad in support of the “Orthodox Gathering Law” championed by the political party running OTV, the Free Patriotic Movement.

    Here’s the ad:

    I know firsthand that many people think this way – but to turn shameful political gossip that goes on behind closed doors into an ad that’s supposed to convince others of the same rhetoric is taking it way too far. This ad disgusts me.

    But let me do what the ad does and say the following:

    My name is Elie. I’m a Maronite from Batroun. At least that’s what my ID says *flashes new ID to the camera.* No matter what I do, I’ll be voting for Maronites. I don’t want to vote for Maronites only because I don’t believe they represent me.

    You didn’t expect that now, did you?

    There’s a fine line between proving a political point which I’m sure Aoun’s many MPs and politicians (à la son-in-law prodigy Gebran Bassil) are more than capable of doing and what the ad is all about. After all, part of the reason why I changed my opinion regarding the Orthodox Law (click here) was seeing an FPM MP named Simon Abi Ramia go on and on for ten minutes about how the Sunni vote is “killing off” Christians by drowning them out and choosing MPs that do not represent them. Such sectarian messages from MPs and TV promos such as the one in this post should not and will not be tolerated on any form of television.

    Here’s a word for the politicians who believe that MPs selected by Sunnis do not represent me:

    I, a Maronite Christian as we’ve already (and nauseatingly – because that’s a point that resonates apparently) established feel more represented by Nabil De Freige, Atef Majdalani, Samer Saadeh etc.. than by Assad Hardan or Emile Rahmeh.

    You know what’s ironic? The FPM is supposed to be a “secular” party. At least that’s what my FPM-supporting friends kept shoving down my throat when I expressed discomfort with their party. “Oh you’re just being a Christian extremist” they said. “We embrace everyone,” they said.

    The way I see it, the only thing the FPM is embracing lately with these disturbingly bad ads, with their horribly divisive rhetoric is a rising bout of Christian extremism. And Christian extremists today do not represent me.

    Enjoy the ad by the only people in the country who care for your rights as Christians. Because, you know, Lebanon is made for you and no one else.

    “Aux-armes, Chrétiens! Formez vos bataillons! Marchons, marchons! Qu’un sang impur (those darned Muslims) n’abreuve pas nos votes!” (this is a play on the French national anthem and translates to: to your arms, Christians. Form your battalions. Walk on, walk on so that impure blood doesn’t water down our votes.”) – this is the new slogan for the 2013 Elections.

    Be ready for a lot of “we tried to restore your rights but THEY *points finger* didn’t let us” speeches over the next few months.