Your Healthy Dose of Lebanese Reality

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I submitted my papers to get the Schengen visa for a couple of weeks in June this morning. My appointment was at 8:30 so I went there early.
We stood in the cold, clinging tightly to a folder of documents that contained more papers than anyone would like to read.
We waited and waited until they were kind enough to let us in to wait some more before they called our names to have our pile of documents checked.

Check, check, check, check. All is in order. Or not – they need a couple more papers from my working friend to prove the company he’s working in truly “exists.”

Why would anyone not invent an entire company just to apply for a visa?

You pay $115 and leave. You are asked to go to the embassy the following day to have your fingerprints taken. Because the ones they took less than a year prior are no longer valid. Fingerprints change yearly in case you didn’t know.

This is your healthy dose of reality: walking the walk that makes you feel worthless just to have embassies consider letting you in so you can spend your money in their territories for a couple of weeks of tourism.

Feeling like third rate citizens of the world is a nice way to start your day. But it’s okay because we have “el Jabal el arib men l ba7r w trab l arz yalli aghla men l dahab.”

Meanwhile, my dual citizenship friend has booked her ticket for the summer. She doesn’t have to bother with all of this.

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Lebanese Anthony Touma Rocks France’s The Voice

Anthony TOuma The Voice France

Young Lebanese musician Anthony Touma took it to the stage of France’s version of The Voice – titled in typical French as La Plus Belle Voix – to become the first candidate of the show’s second season that gets the approval of all four judges, causing them all to turn their chairs to face him signaling them wanting him after his rendition of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. He was even introduced as Lebanese, his nationality front and center.

Apparently Anthony Touma had attempts at breaking into the Lebanese music scene but they weren’t very successful which caused him to leave the country to France where he pursued the dream. He is now the second Lebanese to be on the show after Johnny Maalouf (link) almost reached the quarter finals last year.

I will update this post when I stumble on a video of the performance that is functional in Lebanon. If you are in France, this will work for you (link).

Update: the video –

However, as a testament to how good Anthony Touma was, he trended on Twitter in France minutes after his performance:

Anthony Touma The Voice France Twitter - 1

And he eventually trended worldwide on Twitter as French people spoke about him him and Lebanese people gushed over how proud he made them:
Anthony Touma The Voice France Twitter - 3

Notable Lebanese journalists and entertainers also tweeted their support of Anthony Touma:

Anthony Touma The Voice France Twitter - 2

“Me who thought Billy Jean was American when it came from Beirut”

I’m really glad that Anthony got his break into the music business, something he would have never gotten had he stayed here. He now joins a long list of Lebanese shining abroad, bettering our image as a people and making us proud with what they do (link).

You can follow Anthony on Twitter (here).

When Lebanese People Shine In Foreign Countries

As we listen to muftis issuing political stances against civil marriage (link) and await our politicians to agree on an electoral law that will bring them back to power, as a casual bomb explodes in Hay el Sellom and murders get turned into an issue of sect, as we try to  forget about some of the wrong in our country that we can’t fix awaiting our chance at a one way ticket with the occasional round-trip back, some Lebanese are actually making it big. Just not in Lebanon. Can you blame them?

One French afternoon, as my friend and I finished our rotation at the hospital, we were heading back to our apartment blabbing in Lebanese. There’s just so much French that you can take in a single day. We were stopped by a very professional-looking man, suitcase and all. He asked us: “are you Lebanese?”

We said yes. He then asked: “And you’re medical students in France?”

We replied: “No, we’re just exchange students. We’re medical students in Lebanon”

So before he left, he introduced himself as the head of neurosurgery at one of Europe’s leading neuro-hospitals and told us if we needed anything, he’d be more than glad to help.

My friend and I were beyond proud at that point. So we gushed about him the entire way home. That man wasn’t a politician. No one in Lebanon knew who he was. No one in Lebanon knew his accomplishments. But everyone in that hospital knew he was Lebanese and they all had nothing but good things to say about him and the image that he gives us – his people.

Fast forward to this afternoon when another friend of mine who happens to be doing her PhD degree in Lille (pictures), the city in which I spent a month back in August, sends me a picture of a book she found at the city’s main library – a mutliplex called “Furet du Nord.”

The book is among the top sellers in its section. It is part of the curriculum in the fields it discusses. And, as usual, we’ve never heard of it. This is a picture of the book’s front cover:

Neurology book France Lebanese author A Itani E Khayat

Thank you Rasha Dernaika for the picture

Both of the book’s authors are Lebanese. And we haven’t heard of them before. Both of them are helping shape French medical students and education – this is not their only book. Is their neurology book even used in Lebanon? Nope.

This isn’t about the Amin Maaloufs and Khalil Gebrans who are so famous they eventually become unescapable. This is about the regular Joes – like you and me – who won’t become super billionaires à la Carlos Helou or churn out international bestsellers in the dozen. This is about all those Lebanese that make us proud day in day out by them doing their job and excelling at it, by them finding a firm footstep in their society and giving a shining image about every single one of us, regardless of our sect or region. This is about those Lebanese we don’t know and who are doing a much greater job at bettering our image than every single person in Lebanon today. This is about those Lebanese that Lebanon doesn’t even care about.

It’s sad when you realize that all these accomplishments are very much feasible for you. Just not in your country. I could be the one writing neurology books that are used extensively. Just not in Lebanon. You could be that top architect, drawing buildings for the whole world to see. Just not in Lebanon. You could be that top advertising agent, coming up with catchy phrases and pictures. But not in Lebanon.

It’s sad when you know your full potential as an individual when it comes to productivity and self-fullfillment cannot be provided by the confines of the 10452 km² that everyone muses about. It’s laughable when you think about how silly the things that are holding back here are. It’s also depressing when you realize you can’t escape them. Not in this lifetime at least.

So what’s the solution for us? Well, you could be foolishly optimistic and persevere over here because, you know, this is our land. You could know people who know people who make life here much easier for you. Or you could become one of those who constitute one of the few reasons to make us proud about our country – one neurology book at a time.

Cheers to all our expats that are shining bright abroad.

Lebanon’s Upcoming New 3G Plans

Minister of telecommunications Nicolas Sehnaoui alluded to a possible upgrade of Lebanon’s current mobile data bundles on Twitter last week.

Nicolas Sehnaoui 3G upgradeAs a result, this is how Lebanon’s 3G plans will be:

Lebanon 3G upgrade 2013

I asked the minister on Twitter about a timeframe for these upgrades. He didn’t reply. However, I personally expect such upgrades to be implemented quite soon, possibly before April which is when 4G LTE will have become commercially available (link).

The caps, when upgraded, will become comparable with abroad. However, we still have a long, long way to go until we can compare our mobile sector with abroad.

For comparison purposes, during my stay in France I had a subscription with mobile operator Free. For €19 per month, I got the following:

  • Unlimited texts and MMS within France.
  • Unlimited calls to numbers within France.
  • Unlimited calls to non-mobile numbers in 40 countries around the world.
  • Unlimited mobile data caps. Speed throttled after consumption of 3GB. (The speed I got on average was about 3Mbps.)
  • Unlimited access to Free’s Wifi hotspots whenever available – and they were available almost everywhere.

A lot of unlimited there, right? Will we ever see such plans in Lebanon? Honestly, I don’t think so.

 

Les Misérables [2012] – Movie Review

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As a person who grew up and went through a French curriculum with Victor Hugo’s novel as its centerpiece at many points, I’ve grown attached to the essence of the novel. I’ve also grown to understand it, know what it contains, understand the message that Hugo wanted to pass on. I’d even joke and say the novel’s impressive spine is a byproduct of Hugo being French – a lot of blabbing for nothing. I’ve taken some of that, as is evident by my wordy blogposts at times. This review will surely turn into one so just skip to the last paragraph if you don’t feel like reading.

My knowledge of Victor Hugo’s most famous 1500-pages novel has led me to conclude that it’s very difficult to turn it into a motion picture. If the previous attempts at this novel weren’t enough proof, Tom Hooper’s take on Les Misérables adds to the growing list of not-nearly-there trials.

The story is known for everyone by now. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is a French man living around the time of the French revolution and is forced to steal a loaf of bread to save a relative’s life. He is subsequently thrown in jail for 19 years at the end of which he’s released on parole. Valjean, however, breaks his parole and ends up making a decent life for himself as the mayor of a small French town in Northern France called Montreuil-sur-Mer. But Javert (Russell Crowe), the prison warden who was in charge of Valjean, appears back in his life during a visit to the factory run by Valjean, now working under a new name. In that factory works a single mother called Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who gets sacked from her job when her secret of having had a child out of wedlock, Cosette (eventually played by Amanda Seyfried), is discovered. Fantine eventually succumbs to becoming a prostitute and is saved by Valjean who promises to take care of her daughter as he runs away from Javert who’d do anything to catch him, to the backdrop of a growing revolution in the streets of the French youth.

Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is a full-blown musical. No, it’s not a musical in the sense of a talking movie with a few songs interspersed here and there. It’s a musical in the sense of three hours non-stop singing where even “thank you”s are sung, where reading letters becomes melodic and where, if you’re not a fan of musicals to begin with or not entirely sure what you’re getting yourself into, you’d end up wanting to pull your own hair out. Yes, this version of Les Misérables is definitely not for everyone. Even if you love – scratch that – adore music, Les Misérables might prove a very tough pill to swallow. And at times it really, really is.

Hugh Jackman, who can sing, ends up grating around the 120th minute mark. Russell Crowe on the other hand entirely sheds his Gladiator image for a singing Javert and with his not-so-pleasant singing voice ends up entirely intolerable a few minutes in. Russell Crowe even looks entirely uncomfortable to be there and it reflects on his character, making Javert – a central figure to the story – comical at times. Hugh Jackman has to be commanded for a job well done as Valjean. Few actors can say they can deliver performances as he did with the close-ups he got throughout the movie.

In fact, the actors and actresses in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables all performed their songs in the movie live. While a piano played in the background to guide them, they acted their songs instead of recording them months in advance and eventually lip-synching them to film.

The single acting performance in the movie that will absolutely blow your socks off is Anne Hathaway, who’s probably aided by the fact that her character isn’t there for long. Hathaway, as Fantine, is brilliant. She deserves all the praise she’s been getting. Her performance of the Susan-Boyle-made-famous song “I Dreamed A Dream” is gut-wrenchingly stunning. She brings the life into her character and gives Fantine a richness which other actors in this movie with more running time couldn’t bestow upon theirs. Hathaway steals every scene she’s in and ends up being the only reason you might walk out of this movie feeling like you hadn’t wasted three hours of your live. Just to watch her do what she does so beautifully. No one is raining on Hathaway’s parade come Award-season time.

Interesting casting choice include Samantha Barks as Eponine, the daughter of the Thénardiers, played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen whose only purpose was to add some comic relief to some tense moments. Barks sings her songs really well and gets you to relate to her character, despite the background. She delivers a nice rendition of “On My Own.”

Les Misérables does have its strong moments, notably the opening scene, Hathaway’s minutes and the ending, but the movie accumulates a lot of off-moments as well that make the result very lopsided. The movie is also extremely long. Thirty minutes (of wailing – singing) could have easily been cut with the story not be affected because few of those songs tell us more about the character and its story, an example being I Dreamed A Dream in which Fantine tells the story of how she reached the misery she was in. The overall result is a movie that feels very in limbo: okay, not great, this is awesome, this is horrible, goosebumps, kill me now. These are all things you will feel while watching Les Misérables.

3.5/5 – – new rating system.

Lille, France

I spent the month of August discovering the gorgeous city of Lille in Northern France. I went there for a clerkship at one of the city’s hospitals and I absolutely fell in love with its culture, its people and everything it had to offer. Lille is one of France’s biggest cities and yet it still has this rustic feel to it – especially in its older streets, aptly called Vieux Lille.

I made a lot of memories in that city. I won’t go down memory lane and enumerate them for you because I’m fairly certain you couldn’t care less. But I am thankful for getting the chance to go there and meet the people that I met and make those memories that I cherish now.

Xavier & Camille, our amazing French hosts and friends that made us feel at home – literally – for the entire month that we spent there, this is for you. Thank you for everything.

Here are some of the many pictures that I took of the beautiful city of Lille. I’m not a professional so these are not meant to be impeccable – but I do hope my love for the city comes across in them.

Palais des Beaux Arts

Palais des Beaux Arts

Another old street in the city

Another old street in the city

A parc bench in the city

A parc bench in the city

Rue de Bethune

Rue de Bethune

The city's opera house

The city’s opera house

Vieux Lille

Vieux Lille

The view from our apartment

The view from our apartment

A statue next to Palais des Beaux Arts

A statue next to Palais des Beaux Arts

A war monument

A war monument

One of the city's cathedrals

One of the city’s cathedrals

Lille France Street

Welch - one of the city's specialities

Welch – one of the city’s specialities

Lille France Restaurant Comptoir 44

Inside one of Lille's cathedrals

Inside one of Lille’s cathedrals

A mural found in one of Lille's subway and train stations: Lille Europe

A mural found in one of Lille’s subway and train stations: Lille Europe

One of the specialties of the North

One of the specialties of the North

Beer, another specialty

Beer, another specialty

Another street in the old parts of the city

Another street in the old parts of the city

One of the streets of Vieux Lile

One of the streets of Vieux Lile

The opera house

The opera house

Gargoyles

Gargoyles

The city's heart - place du General De Gaulle also known as Grand Place

The city’s heart – place du General De Gaulle also known as Grand Place

Lille doesn't like Sarkozy

Lille doesn’t like Sarkozy

Old Street Lille vieux Lille France

Another street in old Lille

These pictures were taken using a Nikon D5100 and edited using my iPhone 5’s Camera+ app.

22.

As my friends sat around me singing happy birthday to you on that cold Saturday night which wasn’t even technically my birthday, I felt happy. The rain glistened off the window in front of me, it was cold outside but I felt the warmth of the party that was celebrating me turning 22.

I wish I knew in that moment that some of those friends were not there to stay. I wish I knew in that moment what year awaited me as I blew off those candles and people applauded.

/Trust.

I was standing alone in a crowded room on a cold February night and I was just realizing I knew absolutely no one there even those people whom I thought I knew all too well. And they’re not speaking to me, pretending like they didn’t know me. The fake smiles, the fake truths, the fake nods, the contest of who’s acting like they could care less… I had gotten tired of them all. The amount of insecurity that people had was way too unacceptable for me to handle anymore. And as everyone smiled and hugged each other, I started wondering: what did I do wrong not to be the one being welcomed like this?

It took some time for me to realize that I had done nothing wrong at all. It took some time for me to realize that keeping your guard up is a necessity. Trusting people easily should never be a possibility because the amount of assholes in this world is way too high. I realized I shouldn’t be surprised to have been let down because your expectations out of others towards you are very rarely met. So you do your best because you hope that this would somehow return good upon you. But you expect nothing.

Even people whom you thought would never ever disappoint you end up doing so. And they throw around lame excuses to justify doing so but you would have reached a point where you couldn’t care less anymore.

The theory is easy. The practical aspect of it is still a work in progress.

The saddest part though is that for a while after that I had to fight the urge to pick up the phone and call.

Foreign Home.

Your home away from home where you are foreigner and yet you fit like a glove to your hand. The lack of complexity with people. The lack of the need to be two-faced in order to get ahead. I remember the great people I met all too well. I remember the good times I shared with them. I remember the places I went through. I remember standing in front of that Royal Palace and feeling infinitely happy. I remember sitting under the Eiffel Tower on a warm Paris night. I remember walking through a cemetery where people I could only dream of approaching were laid to rest. I remember being at the place where the world’s major decisions are taken. I remember Porte des Postes. I remember Cormontaigne. I remember the grey August clouds overcast on the city as I saw it from the ICU of the hospital where I had spent most of my time being treated like a colleague. I remember those walks I took just to be alone amid the greatness of the place whose air I breathed. And I remember her with her blond hair and red lips and that rainy night in the streets of Lille.

So Small.

It’s easy to get lost inside your own problems which always seem so big at the time they’re happening. It’s very easy to make them seem like they are the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. It’s very easy to over dramatize them: why me?

But on a Monday, in a waiting room at a hospital in France, I realized how pitiful it is of me to dwell on the friends that were no longer there, on the grades that weren’t that good, on the things that I could’ve done. I saw people trying to convince that twenty year old boy of the need to cling to life as much as possible as his body rejected the heart transplant he had spent the previous year undergoing. And I realized then, as I tried to get him to feel better, that my problems are just so small.

Diagnosed.

She’s not invincible. She’s not going to be here forever. She’s weak. Her own body is killing her. As you look upon the worried face of the woman who gave birth to you, it can’t but kill you inside to see her hurting and to know her thoughts are about the potentiality of her not being there for you anymore. And you go in with her to her surgery because you know that being there for her will make all the difference. And it almost kills you to see her there, a shell of the person that she is, because of the drugs they injected into her veins. But you know it’s all for the best. And your senses perk up when the surgeon is stunned to find the procedure he had thought would be fairly straightforward was not. And your worry increases when you find out that the cancer was not as localized as they thought it was. Then when she wakes up from the anesthesia and the first faint word upon her lips when she sees your face is “habibi,” and despite the severity of it all, your worries in the world subside for just one minute.

Even thought she might lose her hair. And even though she might lose her weight. You’d still do anything for her to be there for you. And it may be selfish but it’s really not because you know that there’s nothing more she’d want as well.

Life/

Despite your guard being up, some people roll Into your life who end up surprising you. And you feel happy about them being there. things end up getting better for you and you remember the good times you spent and you realize that you regret nothing at all. You find the family which you had taken for granted will always be there for you. You meet new family members who were taken away from you by life and and time space and you find more in common with them than you’ve thought possible. You grow, you become more critical, you stand up for what you believe in. You take things in and hope that your life isn’t going to waste.

At least now you know where the 13 in State of Mind comes from. And right now, I’m felling 22 one last time, one last day. And thank God for that. Hello November 13th. Hello year 23.