To The Lebanese Parents Celebrating Their Children Passing Brevet With Gunfire

Brevet

Dear Lebanese parents that couldn’t believe their son or daughter passed their brevet exam so they figured the best way to celebrate, in between the ten kilos of baclava consumed, was to fire a few rounds of M249 up in the air,

Yes, your child is special. I mean, how could your child not be special if he or she passed 9th grade and will continue to high school? In Neanderthal times, that’s akin to your child being ready for marriage or leading a life of his own! Yes, your child is unique, him and the other 75% of applicants that presented this year’s exam and passed.

Were you firing rounds up in the air because you couldn’t believe your child passed? You do know that doesn’t really reflect confidence on your part for your child’s capacities? I bet your child is going to grow up into such a terrific young man or woman knowing that his parents never truly believed in him or her and were utterly dumbfounded, a few AK4 rounds-dumbfounded to be exact, that they passed an exam that 3 out of 4 of those who take it actually pass it. If more information is needed, let me refer you to some good psychologists who will work on mending your child’s traumatized psyche from having his own flesh and blood not remotely believe he managed to pass an exam.

But how does this whole celebratory gunfire thing work exactly? I mean, you people seem to do it at every corner. Your child passes an exam, you bring out the riffles. Your politician goes on air, you bring out the machine guns. You manage to pass stools after a serious bout of hemorrhoids, you bring out the guns. Is there an algorithm you follow to delineate the mechanism behind this enigma?

Is it two rounds, for instance, for a simple pass grade? Three rounds in case all those “rachat points” were used as an “allahou akbar zamatna” hail Mary of sorts? What about those coveted “mentions” that were all the rave back in my old days? Did he or she get “bien” or “tres bien?” Did you fire thirteen rounds instead of six because your child got 230 instead of 196 points? I’m a doctor here who is more confused by the way your brain works regarding this, than by the diseases I have to address on daily basis.

Now tell me, what if your bullets end up killing someone? Is it okay because “fida hal brevet?” Or is it also okay because if God didn’t want him dead, he wouldn’t have died anyway? How do you convince yourself that your summer rains of shells are totally fine, wholly acceptable and utterly, irrevocably awesome to do?

Or maybe, just maybe, if you were a parent who felt the need to celebrate, for instance, their child passing an exam as stupid as a brevet exam, then you shouldn’t be a parent to being with? Maybe it’s the perpetuation of those genes that have a big contributory factor to why this country is a hell-hole, one round at a time?

I have so many questions that I hope you answer. Until then, see you in world war 3 next June when your other child graduates from kindergarten.

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Let’s Help 30 Lebanese Children & Victims Of Abuse Get An Education!

In a study done by Kafa, in association with the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, this is the situation of Lebanese children in Lebanon:

  • 885,000 children are victims of abuse,
  • Of those children, 738,000 are also victims of physical abuse,
  • 219,000 are victims of sexual abuse.

These numbers are staggering, especially when the country is only made up of 4 million people, give or take a few hundred thousands.

If there’s any entity that can really and fundamentally alter the fabrics of Lebanese society, it’s education. All of us are where we are today because our parents were lucky enough to be able to provide for us the best opportunities that they could provide, the best education that they could afford.

It’s not unusual that Lebanon’s hubs of radicalism and of conflict are its poorest areas where children don’t get proper education and where the government doesn’t even remotely care that it can allow itself not to properly pay for school properties so they close.

School Tebbaneh Lebanon Closed

The situation is horrible. For a country with the best universities and schools of the region, the levels of illiteracy we have, especially of females, is unacceptable.

So because the government is too busy with garbage than to care about other important facets of our life, a couple of guys named Rami & Rayan Rasamny decided to do something bold in order to raise $10,570, which will help the Lebanese NGO Himaya provide education for 30 Lebanese children who have been victims of abuse for the next scholastic years.

To do so, Rami and Rayan are going to climb the “Mont Blanc” peak in France in order to fundraise for this cause. The amount they’re hoping to raise will cover tuition fees, stationary and transportation for these 30 children.

If you’re a parent, think of how important you providing an education to your child is, and then try to give to those who are not as lucky.

Even if you’re not a parent, think of how luck you are to be where you are today because you went to school and then university and made a thing out of yourself.

There’s probably nothing as important as this. Check out the fundraising link here.

 

The Perks of Being Lebanese

Back in December, I hosted a photographer who wanted to visit Lebanon in order to experience our on-the-edge diverse lifestyle. I showed him around as much as I could given the short time I had, taking myself to Tyre for the first time in my life. I had never been that far South before. I left him there in order for him to see life in that Southern city firsthand. A couple of days later, we met up in Beirut and somehow he started contrasting and comparing my country with his. He comes from one of the world’s biggest superpowers so it’s understandable that my country is lacking in comparison.

But I couldn’t take it. Snarkiness started to ooze out of every word I uttered like the sharp blade of a knife. Jabs here and there about how his country could never – ever – have the history that my country has started flowing. I even surprised myself when it comes to political declarations which would probably get any Lebanese who knows me turn his head in disbelief. Imagine me proclaiming support for Hezbollah and you’ll get the drift.

I felt it was necessary. It’s not about being politically correct. It’s this built in sensor inside my brain to defend Lebanon whenever I can to whoever I can. And it goes off at random times, despite the logical part of me telling me that I should probably stop. I can’t help it. My relationship with my country is that of some serious love-hate. And I can’t escape it.

Bref, I nag too much sometimes and I know it. I know some of you hate it – but living in Lebanon leaves you constantly angry, constantly furious, constantly edgy. We all deal with it with the best way we can and considering what we’re dealt with every day, I daresay we handle it really well. Most of the time at least.

To those who thought I’m being quite negative, you’re probably right. This one’s for you. Now smile and take it in because such articles will only come rarely. Let it sink in because you won’t hear me saying this very often – not that it matters since it’s now online for everyone to see – but here it goes: I probably wouldn’t trade growing up in Lebanon for anything else in the whole world.

It’s not about the copious amount of money I could have had. It’s not about super kickass passports I often wish I possessed. I think growing up here, witnessing the struggles of here, dealing with the hardships that here represents have gotten me to grow as a person in ways that any other place probably wouldn’t have provided.

In a way, growing up here has made me a person who is capable of standing on his feet wherever you throw him. It might sound cliche – positive vibes always go around clicheville – but it’s something that the past year has truly reinforced in me.

When I was in France, the French were shocked I could juggle three languages fluently without a hitch, something that was completely normal to me but seemed very odd to them. It is there that I came to appreciate exactly how thankful I am for the decent education I got here. The fact that I was able to keep up with more knowledgeable physicians at the hospital where I did my clerkship doesn’t only reflect on my mental capacities but on the way education in Lebanon shapes you up without you even knowing it. It is no wonder that with all the preparation we subtly get in school and later on in higher education institutes, we are able to excel when given room and opportunity.

That month I spent in France opened up my eyes to something else that I hadn’t really thought of: life in Lebanon does not go on in a protective bubble that separates you from everything else happening around you.
The aforementioned idea started to get formulated in my mind back in 2011 when I wrote a small article about 9/11 and some members of American family stopped talking to me as a result. I still don’t see anything wrong with my article. If anything, I stand by it more than before. But it’s the perception of the article which differentiates my American kin from yours truly. For them, I am being harsh and insensitive because I haven’t lived it and I am not American. To me, they are being very concentric and limited. But it’s no one’s fault really: my perception as a Lebanese of the world is and will always be of people whose fate isn’t in their hand, of a country which is always a part in a chessgame of bigger fish.
And while we nag about that as is our right, I think the premise of the life this sets is healthy: to know that there’s always another story taking place somewhere, to know that there is another side to us, to know that there is life form outside of the bubble that we love to live inside and to know that everything has a reference point to put things in perspective.

The photographer who came here back in December was more than interested in something that I not only took for granted but thought was beyond normal. My hometown coexists quite peacefully with a neighboring Shiite town. My best friends happen to be either Shiite or atheists or Sunni or Maronites. We differ politically, we argue more often than not. We come from severely different backgrounds in our own country. But we still find ourselves at one table having dinner as often as we argue about the backgrounds from which we come. The experience itself is one that we ignore because it’s never in the forefront of our thoughts. But to an outsider, the interactions we have and the friendships we strike are things that are beyond interesting. When that photographer pointed out how odd to him that dinner table setting was, I started to think about it more and I realized that I am what I am today because of those people that have come into my life from all those different backgrounds. And despite some eccentric bearded men from all sides wanting to tell us that our friendships are abnormal, our relationships still exist and they keep flourishing. The majority of us as Lebanese have friends who come from backgrounds that had, until quite recently in historical terms, been fighting against each other. Yet that’s never an issue. It’s not even something we think about. But imagine how bland our lives would be if the only people we knew shared our thoughts, our views and barely differed from us in the things that count.

And as I go back home every day from class or from those dinners with friends, another thing I take for granted is my family. The fact that the family unit is still very cohesive in this country is a treasure in itself. Child psychology tells you how important a tightly-knit family is for the development of a human being. But this isn’t about psychological theories. How often do we think about the warm meal awaiting us back home which our grandmother or mother more than willingly cooked for us, along with a warm hug because even though they had last seen us a few hours prior they miss us terribly?
And I don’t meant this in a sexist manner for those feminists gearing up for international women’s day. How often do we think about that awesome person we call grandpa who, as he grows up, becomes more kind hearted than a five year old boy? Or how about those siblings of ours that we love to hate but can’t imagine living without? Or those cousins we keep bickering with and the aunts and uncles who raised them? How about our fathers who, despite their strong facade, love us to the moon and back?
The family unit in Lebanon is not restricted to the parents and siblings. It transcends them to anyone who shares your family name. And we pretend that it aggravates us off when families gather in certain occasions. But the truth is that our family, including those extended members we don’t like to think about, act as a firm ground for us to stand in troubled times. And they do that without us asking for it.

Life in Lebanon sets you up to be a great individual when given the framework to allow such greatness to unfold. It makes you more aware of the world. It gives you a rich cultural experience to start from. It gives you a strong educational package to build a life upon and gives you a sense of belonging that makes you prone to find anchor wherever you’re thrown. It saddens me to say that I will probably leave this place someday because the future might be bleak. And I lose hope in it sometimes and I rekindle it at other times despite my better judgement. But it remains that being Lebanese is something that makes me proud. It is something that I believe has offered me the essential that makes human beings shine and make a life for themselves. That life probably won’t happen here. But that life will forever owe itself to here.

Cheers to all those Lebanese perks we keep taking for granted.

The Lebanese University… Of March 8’s Islamization

The Lebanese University in Al-Hadath has become a security zone for March 8’s political parties notably Hezbollah and Amal.

The entry to the university is filled with pictures of Hezbollah’s martyrs, Hezbollah and Amal flags and banners, pictures of Hassan Nasrallah and Nabih Berri. And the administration can’t do anything about it. They even have rooms which they only get access to for secret party meetings. Because Hezbollah and Amal need such rooms inside universities to control the future of the country – what they’re doing on the streets and in the government is not enough apparently.

Even the cafeteria at the university has been overtaken by known Shiite family “Zaaitry” who even run a cellphone shop from there, not allowing any outside food to be brought in to the cafeteria. They control everything that goes on inside the cafeteria, down to the overpricing of items and forbidding people from filming.

The cafeteria of the faculty of business was burned down and turned into a prayer room. And if you speak out against anything that goes on there, you are taken to a room that they call 109 where you are punished until you don’t dare to speak again. Praise Nasrallah day in, day out. Don’t you dare do anything else.

Their reach also extends from the logistic part of the university to its educational aspect. The liberal arts classes have been turned into Hezbollah’s Islamic arts classes. If anything doesn’t conform with Al-Khomeini teachings (he also has a picture at the university), it has to go. For instance, nudity drawing classes are absolutely forbidden because they violate “religion.” Drawing another human without something to cover them up is absolutely against the Sharia. Therefore, it has to go. Never mind that it is part of the official curriculum approved by the Lebanese state. Never mind that nudity drawing is an absolute necessity for any student who wants to to learn that art. No, it’s not acceptable for a woman to see a man’s private part. A female student actually dared to pose in a swimsuit for her colleagues to draw her. The teacher was punished. She was punished. And the students were also punished.

The administration sides with Hezbollah every time. They have their heads to keep. March 8 also has access to the exams that the university gets the students to sit down for – and they’re for sale. And don’t you dare refuse them when they’re offered or it’s room 109 for you.

There’s even a video and a whole article in Arabic about this, thanks to NowLebanon whose reporter was also threatened as she gathered her information to write this article. The threat is available on video too.

I thought the Lebanese university was for the entirety of Lebanon’s students. But it seems that it’s not the case. If you’re not a Shiite student who happens to be with Hezbollah and Amal, don’t you dare step there for a headache-free diploma. Even being FPM or any other March 8 party with predominantly Christian followers is not highly approved. Your liberties will be infringed upon. Your freedom will be limited. Your voice will be silenced. You won’t be able to speak up. Your body will be punished. Your intellect will be taken away… all for the greater anti-Zionist good.

Some people stand by Hezbollah because they’re supposedly fighting Israel. I wonder, how is it fighting Israel in a campus that has absolutely nothing to do with Israel whatsoever? How is this form of cultural terrorism against fellow Lebanese a form of resistance against an enemy we all agree upon? How is taking over a campus like this fighting the so-called Zionist project for the region?

And how is this part of the project of co-existence and protecting one self that some Christian parties, which are allied with Hezbollah, are championing?

If there’s any proof about the ulterior motives of Hezbollah in the country in turning this piece of whatever co-existence we have into an state where only what they say goes, it’s their behavior at the Lebanese University. It starts at a small scale that might go unnoticed. After all, the students don’t dare to talk about it and reporters are afraid to report it. The party officials obviously know of it. They obviously approve of it. And good luck to you if you happen to be born into a family who cannot afford to send you to a university where you will actually get Hezbollah-free education.

And some people are actually appalled that there’s a rise of extremism among Lebanon’s other populations. What other “natural” response could the different segments of Lebanon’s societies have regarding this obvious transgression to every single fundamental right and freedom we were brought up believing in?

And some people are appalled that some Lebanese parties demand the dismantling of the weapons of the party of “God.” What’s the only thing letting Hezbollah dominate the Lebanese University in such a way? Yes, those arms that are there to fight our big bad neighbor to the South.

The Lebanese University is now branded LUI – the Lebanese University of Iran. It even has the picture of the Supreme Leader of Iran there for blessing. You don’t get an education there – you get a crash course with how it is to be an outlaw and to have a whole arsenal to support you on your side – down to every single component of your governing body.

Welcome to the republic of disgrace where your government can’t even guarantee you a proper crap-free education away from Hezbollah’s zealots. Oh wait. They are the government.

Bullying in Lebanese Schools

When I was in my early teens, I was constantly bullied at school. It used to bother me at first. Those words hit a spot at first. And then that spot hardened.

And I just didn’t care anymore. The insults kept coming as I grew older. And I didn’t care even more. They eventually stopped when those “friends” decided they had better things to do. But I was lucky because some people never decide they have better things to do.

That’s what’s happening to someone I really care about now in his last year of school. The words keep coming and those classmates, with their better than thou attitude, keep going unpunished. And it has been going on for a few years now.

How long should we tolerate until our schools step their foot down in the face of bullying? Why is it that the person I care about has to consider changing schools to escape the toxic environment spread by two assholes while the easiest thing would be to expel those two bastards?

Why is it that the victim of bullying in Lebanon has to be turned into submission even by the school? Why is it that our schools, with their “we are such a good environment for you kid” attitude, don’t actually care about being a good environment for the kid and turn a blind eye to what’s happening in the heart of classrooms with their beyond docile measures if faced by the kid’s parents?

The thing people tell a bullying victim is that it gets better. You tell them that those kids will always be kids. You tell them they’ll soon change. You’ll tell them that they will find people who will see them for what they are: awesome people. And they won’t believe you. And they’ll think you’re just lying to make things better.

But it really does.

My uncle was a victim of bullying. He’s now a top shot doctor in the United States, making more money than his entire class combined.

I was a victim of bullying and I now write one of the most read blogs in Lebanon in between my studies at medical school. I can’t say the same for most of those “friends.”

My late uncle was bullied because an accident when he was younger led to him losing an eye. And despite him being a brilliant student at school – they even got him to skip one class – he had to drop out because he couldn’t take it anymore. And still he managed to do well with the little time he had by making a family and starting a business that is booming today.

I have a friend who faced the same bullying because of a medical condition during middle school. And things didn’t let down until he found a bunch of friends mature enough to understand what he was going through. He’s now a top notch architect.

And the person I care about? He’ll soon go to a university that those assholes would never dream of entering and he’ll become a success in the field that he chooses.

And we’ll all go back to our school reunions and tell those suckers: Fuck you. With emphasis on every single letter. Because, well, fuck them and their demented brainless heads.

And fuck those schools that never empower the victim for fear of losing the tuition of other students. Because that’s how you build a country: by letting the weak ones be weak forever and letting the “strong” ones feel strong. Always.

Congratulations Lebanese education, you teach people three languages and a shitload of math they won’t need. But you don’t teach them compassion or tolerance or anything that they would benefit from later on. I salute you and your teachers.

Sticks and stones can break my bones but names never hurt? Yes, it’s always easy to preach. But my advice to those being bullied is the following: don’t always turn a blind eye and deaf ear as you hurt inside.

The Lebanese Official Exams (SV/SG/SE/LH/Brevet) Results

It was a weird month this July. Apart from the unbelievable heat and the dismal electricity, among other things, my hometown didn’t have bursts of fireworks every 2 days starting mid July as students passed their official exams and either advanced to high school or to universities.

The official exam results were nowhere to be found. And I hadn’t given it much attention until I asked a friend whom I knew had sat for the exams back in early June if she passed or not and she said the results weren’t out yet.

But it’s August! I said. She shrugged. There was nothing the students could do.

It seems the teachers whose job was to correct the exam were on a strike. A strike against a government that refused to give them their lawful rights in wage increases whilst it gave those rights to the professors at the Lebanese University after they closed down said university for months last year.

This government – arguably the worst that has governed Lebanon in many years – apparently doesn’t care that there are students who don’t know if they can pay their enrollment at universities. They don’t care that there are students who might fail and with each passing day they lose hope of ever having a second round of exams soon. They don’t care that they’re literally ruining the life of teenagers whose only fault was to sit for an exam they were forced to take in this God-forsaken country.

The minister of education on the other hand apparently had the audacity to throw threats around. The fact that the results that should have been out early July weren’t out by early August wasn’t indicative enough for him to know exactly how horrible a job he’s doing. But no matter… the results will be out tomorrow, Saturday August 4th.

Starting in the afternoon, students can text their corresponding exam branch (SV/SE/LH/SG/Brevet) followed by their student number to 1070. SV (LS) and SG  (GS) results will be out tomorrow while the other ones will follow soon after.

So for instance if you are SV and your number is 20842 (that was mine back in 2007), you text: SV 20842 and you send it to 1070. You will get a reply with your result: whether you passed or not.

I have no idea if texting that number is free of charge or if it’ll cost students. I’m fairly certain it’ll the latter, adding insult to injury: they wait a month and a half for results that they will have to pay to get. Let’s jump on any way to make money off of people.

Good luck to all the students and for those who aren’t so lucky, it won’t be the end of the world.

The July 2006 Lebanon/Israel War: My Story

This is a guest post by my good friend Hala Hassan.

Hear it from those who were there.

A neighboring country at war, you sympathize.

Innocent civilians torn into pieces under the wreckage of their houses, you shed a couple of tears.

Frightened children and sick elderly begging for international intervention, you pray deaf ears listen somehow.

But what if you were that citizen in that country, held up in your house, scared like you’ve never been, reciting every single prayer that ever crossed your mind for those bombshells to stop and those warplanes hovering in the sky to go away…

Yes, it’s been 5 years since “July war”, “the 33 days war”, “the 6th Lebanese/Israeli war” or whatever they want to call it. But for that traumatized girl, it still feels like yesterday…

To survive a war is one supposedly satisfying ending. Not to have lost a family member is considered a blessing. But for a 17 year old, survival was not enough to overcome such an altering experience: A slamming door, a blowing wind, even fireworks… any sound still triggers her fearful memories and is capable of causing her a panic attack.

She still remembers each day and date in the intricate details of their events. She still remembers that Wednesday July 12th when her father called asking her not to be alarmed if she hears distant explosions. She remembers how he came back that afternoon ‘whistling’ trying to make her and her sisters feel like everything was just fine. She remembers how she had to share a bed with her older sister that night, freezing at instances and suffocating at others out of fear.  The warplanes had started violating her sky that day. They wouldn’t leave till late August.

She still remembers the following two days she spent in the supposedly “safest room” of the house – back then “safe” meant having a double ceiling, no glass windows and least furniture – and how she kept on squeezing her mom’s hand relentlessly all night like a 2 year old.

She still remembers the voice that emanated from the radio, her only way of communication with the world, asking her and other Southern residents to leave their villages. Or else. That radio also conveyed news about those innocent civilians, who got betrayed by their naïve expectations, upon leaving their houses thinking that a white flag would save them from being savagely murdered.

She still remembers that shelter in her grandparents’ house: a tight narrow tunnel lacking light and at some points oxygen in which she sought mistaken safety with other family members and neighbors. She still remembers the smell of those sweaty fearful souls and the cries of those frightened hungry kids.

She still remembers July 19th when her peaceful village was attacked by deadly showers of cluster bombs, those internationally banned bombs that kept on dropping like rain for hours during which she felt the epitome of fear, leaving behind a dead woman and many serious injuries. She still remembers that awful silence following the disaster, a silence which was not broken until a few of hours later by the siren of an ambulance that waited a long time to be given permission to come for rescue.

She still remembers July 21st when a vehicle of the Lebanese army was bombarded in her village leaving behind severely burnt soldiers, even though the army was left outside the equation back then.

She still remembers her 8-year-old sister hugging her physician father as he was leaving them to help in rescue efforts, begging him not to leave as everyone watched the scene and wept.

That day was her last in her beloved village because the citizens whose cars “survived” the attacks decided to leave. Food, water and medication had become scarce. And most importantly it had become obvious to them that they were targeted to be killed.

That day she saw her father covering their car with a big white piece of fabric. She saw frightened people struggling for seats in the leaving cars, which got stuffed with traumatized flesh and blood seeking refuge…. The last face she saw was that of her grandfather at the house gate. He refused to leave because for him life does not exist beyond that gate.

She still remembers that cursed journey to the Bekaa, every moment she spent looking through her window praying for that Apache not to show up in the sky and turn her and her family into pieces. She still remembers those endless days she spent crying and thinking of the life she left behind, wondering if she’ll ever be back.

Who said time makes people forget their previous fears and overcome past sufferings? Well, here is something that girl has come to learn: child or elderly, woman or man, illiterate or educated, everyone who survived that war has suffered and still is. They are all hidden victims that no one ever bothered to soothe their psychological needs and problems.

That 17 year old is turning 22 soon. She is a graduate of the American University of Beirut and planning a medical degree, which makes her someone who supposedly has been provided with the best education and environment to overcome whatever distress she has been through. And yet that girl is still held up in that summer. As a friend of hers always suggests, therapy might be the best solution for her condition. Therapy might put an end to the nightmares. It might alleviate the effects of the past pain… but the scar will always remain, carved with blood and tears in her memory.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. For that girl, this saying has become a belief. 4 days after the battles stopped, there she was, back in her village along with most of those who left, challenging all the difficulties and threats. Everyone had one common goal: rebuild the destruction, heal the wounds and restore life in their beloved South. After all, it’s Lebanese determination that was being tested. Who is better at acing such a test than those who have endured vicious wars throughout the years, one after the other? History will probably keep on telling their stories of glory and courage until the end of days.