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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The Humiliation of Entering The United States As Arab

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters as he takes the stage for a campaign event in Dallas, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters as he takes the stage for a campaign event in Dallas, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

I was rejected the US visa for the first time when I was fifteen. I remember standing there, in front of the Embassy Consulate, unsure as to why I was being shut away, as just a young boy, from spending a summer abroad with his family. I was told I didn’t have an “extended enough travel history,” because as you know most 15 year olds have probably been around the world.

Ten years later, after months of back and forth with the Embassy and papers flowing in and out, I was finally given a visitor’s visa for 5 years on my third try, routine for Lebanese citizens who were granted the document as far as I know. A few months later, I visited the United States of America for the first time ever.

On my second visit, the border control officer said his system “couldn’t process” me, so I was taken into another room where, an hour and another interrogation later, I was permitted entry to come into the US to do my medical residency interviews. This happened again on my third entry, with longer waiting times. Entering the US has been the most invasive thing to my being, and I’ve survived medical school.

It’s also what has been happening to many of my colleagues and friends: doctors, scientists, researchers, humans. Just because they were unfortunate enough to be born in countries that are not worthy of enough of having their citizens treated with the minimum of human decency. I can tell you stories about physicians who were kept in those rooms for four hours, waiting for who knows what. It’s never easy to sit there and not know what’s going to happen to you, just because you dared seek entry of a foreign country that you’ve already been thoroughly vetted to be given a visa to.

This process that we go through every time we want to come here, that we know we have to willingly subject ourselves to in order for us to visit New York or some monument or even see some extended family is, apparently, not “rigorous” enough.

Today, on my third visit, with the news of president Donald Trump stopping visas and entries from countries he doesn’t like and even though my country isn’t on the list, I’m the most scared and the most unwelcome I’ve felt in a country whose history celebrates its diversity and its enabling of people from all kinds by giving them a chance at making it.

Not if your kind is Arab.

You’ll read plenty about illegal immigrants, but the fact of the matter is the United States scares me too much for me not to abide by its laws. It’s not about how it cracks down on illegals or how it’s managed to change the course of my region for centuries to come. It’s about how humiliated I’ve felt every single time I’ve applied for that visa.

Many of you wouldn’t think twice about the notion of a “tourist visa.” To most of you, the term is as foreign as that of the person demanding it, but every single time we apply for one – be it for the United States or any other country – we have to subject ourselves to the most rigorous of checks, be ready to provide every form of documentation imaginable. Just for a visit.

And this isn’t rigorous enough.

For a refugee to be granted entry to the United States, they must first apply through the UNHCR, which conducts its own interviews and documentation collection process. Those selected for re-settlement in the United States have their files referred to the State Department which puts the refugee through screening by the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI and DHS. More anti-fraud agencies come into play later as well as the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration services (USCIS), which interviews the refugees, fingerprints them, and runs those fingerprints through the FBI, DHS and Department of Defense.

If a refugee passes through all of that, they are given health screenings to make sure they’re not bringing in any diseases to the US, while being enrolled in cultural orientation classes as they wait, while their information is checked constantly against terrorist databases. On September 15th, 2016, the US House of Representatives also voted to add further screening steps that require the FBI director to sign off on every single refugee.

Over the past 15 years, the United States, also the world’s third largest country in size and population, has re-settled only around 780,000 refugees.

And this isn’t rigorous enough either.

The fact that my friends have to be told by their employers not to go home for fear of their visas not getting renewed, and have their families not be able to visit them because someone out there is so afraid of them existing is 2017’s reality for many. But we can’t say anything about it, because it’s their country and we’re just parasites in it.

Growing up, America was always a place of hope for me. It was from where, as a kid, my relatives visited with gifts. It was the place from which, growing up, my favorite musicians, series and movies emanated. It is the place, today, that I’m working diligently as a graduated physician to come train in. Today, that place gives me anxiety, just for coming from a certain country in a region whose entirety is on a blacklist, knowing that the most illegal thing I’ve done in my life was break speeding limits.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that selective targeting is never a good thing nor does it build better societies nor does it contribute to the betterment of countries. After all, isn’t one of the most shameful events in American history were the Japanese internment camps around World War II?

With every passing day of Trump’s presidency, and at this rate it is daily, America’s image is getting distorted. Perhaps that is what those who voted for him want: for it not to remain a country of inclusiveness, and become a walled – literally? – state. But it’s also my belief that no country can ever truly be great through hate, fear, the refusal of anything that is different and the denigration of a people. A few decades ago, Anne Frank and her family were denied American visas. How many Anne Franks will be refused away because of fear today?

Simon, The Boy We All Helped Fight Leukemia, Has Passed Away

It seems like it was just yesterday that Simon’s story became a Lebanese headline story that got people from all over the world to help him reach the $60,000 goal needed for his bone marrow transplant in less than 3 days.

It was a glorious moment. I remember how proud I felt that I had helped. I remember how happy his brother was when I spoke to him afterwards to see how Simon was doing. His brother was given hope. We had given his family hope. Simon, the brave Red Cross volunteer who, in spite of his illness, always worked to save lives, had a fighting chance.

There’s nothing that’s 100% in medicine, we are taught. You can never tell a patient they will be cured. You give them percentages based on studies done by people much bigger than you to inform them of their chances. A surgery is never 100% risk free. A cancer is never 100% curable. Some people fall through the cracks of the numbers, of the drugs, of the scalpels and of what we know about the human body.

On Friday, January 30th, after several weeks of being at the hospital, Simon Badaoui passed away.

I often hear that reasons are multiple and the end result is always the same: death is omnipresent. Today, Simon is being celebrated by his family and friends for the brave fighter that he was, for the courageous man that he is.

Simon will never die as long as there are people who remember him. He leaves behind the memory of a young man who rallied an entire country to help him. He is remembered as the young man who didn’t spend his nights partying but who worked tirelessly to save lives that would have otherwise perished. He is remembered as that man who was given 8 months of hope that he would have otherwise not had. He is remembered as a friend, as a son, as a brother.

All of those are memories worth leaving behind.

May he rest in peace. My condolences to his parents, siblings and all the people that held him dear.

 

A Lebanese Tragedy: The Devaluation of a Life

Who gives a fuck? was the first thing I heard today when we were made aware of another Beirut explosion. It was just a bomb all over again. And people were dead, as usual, all over again. Typical and warranted was what I had heard.

On the other side of the room, a frantic woman was calling her parents to see if they were okay. If their house was intact. If she still had a roof to return to. Then she drew a sigh of relief. And I was relieved for her. But I was also disgusted.

There I was in a room of supposedly intellectuals with two drastically different reactions to an event that should have, at least, gotten everyone to feel sorry and disgusted and horrified. Pity the nation that was more upset at a cat being microwaved or a concert being canceled than at its own children, men and women getting blown to pieces because of retarded and narrow political calculation.

This is a reply to Qalmoun versus the reply will be in Qalmoun. Are you serious? Lebanese were using this tragedy to give some credibility to their demented politics, as mothers grieved their sons while sifting through the remains that our media were more than happy to show on their screens. Look! I’m holding an arm! Pretty cool eih? 

I guess it’s too redundant to talk about media professionalism, about not jumping to conclusions when news first start trickling in.

There’s a time and a place to die. But 2013 Lebanon on a random Beiruti street, due to a cowardly act of terrorism isn’t it. 2013 Lebanon where your death is meaningless, another figure in a growing number of casualties who will soon be forgotten is not it.

Do you know what the saddest part in all of this is? There are those who believe such deaths are “fida” whoever it is they follow. Perhaps I don’t get it. Perhaps I don’t understand how it is to be part of such a sociological following. But I’d hate for my life to be wasted for someone who couldn’t care less, sitting in a bunker twenty feet under or in a fortress in some mountain throwing accusations here and there before proceeding with la dolce vita once the poison stops dropping.

I’d hate for my life to end and be called  a martyr by entities who cannot not be politically correct in order for my mother to feel better about it while I’m just a victim of this country where everyone does as they please without any ounce of calculations of possible ramifications on all those people, like you and I, who don’t get a say in how things in their country should run, in their safety (or lack thereof) and in the way they should die: not in bits and pieces on a desolate Beiruti street.

Our lives are more important than to pretend it’s okay for us to die as a “sacrifice” for someone, whoever that someone is. My life is not “fida” anyone. Your life should not be “fida” anyone. Thinking that it’s okay for a life to be dispensable for someone is not okay. Thinking that it’s okay for your life to be dispensable means such tragedies will keep on happening as long as there are people who are willing to be collateral damage in a war that isn’t theirs, that doesn’t involve them and that doesn’t infringe upon them except in death.

There is no ulterior purpose being served. There’s no cause being championed. There’s no heavenly place awaiting the victors. There’s grief-struck parents being left behind. There’s a deeply split nation whose divide is growing wider. There are nauseatingly political individuals who have begun milking this for whatever purpose floats their boats. And there are those who are awaiting the next opportunity for their lives to be “fida” someone.

Our turn is next week, a friend of mine from Tripoli said. I couldn’t tell her she was mistaken.  

Meanwhile, life around where I was went on normally. People had no worries on their mind as they shuffled through their daily motions, seemingly indifferent that the other part of their capital was going to cry itself to sleep tonight.

Rest in peace to all those wasted and forcefully devalued Lebanese lives we have lost and we will lose to bombs, explosions, suicide bombers and ruthless politics, those lives that are more important than to be wasted “fida” anyone.

23.

I turned 24 today. And it was a horrible day.

I woke up feeling I couldn’t breathe, feeling like it was just another day to get through the motions. I went to the hospital. I took care of my patients. I did what I had to do but not more like I usually do. I smiled as people wished me happy birthday. I had yet to see the happy in the sentence. I didn’t know what else I could do. 

Perhaps there was nothing really wrong about today. But I didn’t see it that way all day. Call it overt-anxiety. Call it over-scripting of things and dramatization. But that’s how it was. My head told me today was a bad day and I didn’t try to tell my head it was wrong.

And then when I got home this evening, exhausted and feeling mentally drained, my little brother surprised me with a piece of cake on which he had lit a candle. And I hugged him as he sang me happy birthday. There was nothing else I could do. I thought that would be it until my parents called and my mom sang me happy birthday over speaker phone. And my grandparents called to wish me long life and the only thing I could do is wish them health. Their calls filled me with so much joy that the only thing I wanted to do was go spend my day with the people who made it as such. 

Then, as I headed to the dinner my friends begrudgingly dragged me to, I realized that many of the people that made 23 the year that it was were around that restaurant table, had called or texted me earlier that day. Those people had changed their pictures into a collage of their memories with yours truly. They were really, positively happy that this was my day and they wanted it to truly be a happy birthday.

This post may not mean much to most of you. But, as I turn a new page, my thoughts turn to family and friends – cliche as it may be – in order to tell them thank you for being there and I hope they’ll keep on being there.

Here’s to all the people that made me. Here’s to all the people that make each of my days worth living.

I turned 24 today. And it turned out to be a good day, indeed.

My Mom, The Woman Who Beat Cancer

There are a lot of things that one could wish in the days leading up to their birthday. Mine is tomorrow. People tell you the best thing you could ask for is health. I got the best early birthday gift today.

My mom, Jinane, is officially cancer free.

It was a long and winding road that I saw her take. And she has reached the finish line. It was one tough year.

I saw people talk around the disease like an entity whose name shouldn’t be mentioned. And I saw her hurting every time they did.
I saw people look at her with pity and I saw how it killed her every time they did.
I saw her lose her hair and still fight.
I saw her become bed-ridden after chemo.
I saw her become one of those people you see in movies with a scarf around their heads.
I saw her face next to a bucket for more days than I can count.
I saw her look at herself in the mirror and reminisce at the woman she was.
I saw her fight.
I saw her never lose hope.
I saw her keep that spark in her eyes.
I saw her pray. I saw her love. I saw her become more amazing, more beautiful.

Breast cancer awareness month is in October. But cancer is a year-long disease.

There are a lot of things that make me proud about having that woman be my mother. But if there’s one that beats them all, it’s the sheer courage with which she faced her predicament and the bravery with which she came out triumphant.

Mom, I love you. I wish I were home to hug you. Now I’ll just have to wait on some neighbor to read this and go down to tell you how lucky a woman you are to have a son who loves you. That’s not true. I’m lucky to have you.

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This is for Lucy who lost her cancer fight today. May you rest in peace you brave, brilliant woman.

Would You Wait for a Miracle?

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I have a two month old patient, whose bed is way too big for and who hasn’t cried in my presence once. She has blue eyes, which I could barely see through her constantly dilated pupils. Her skin is whiter than snow and colder than ice. She’s not responsive. She has more peripherals connected to her body than a body of that size should handle.

My two month old patient, precious and young as she is, is brain dead.

For a while, my friends and I lamented her young life. She is a person who will never live. She will never utter the words mom, she will never walk, she will never ride a bike. She will never even have solid food. Why was she being kept alive? Why  was she being put in such pain?

The medical aspect in us couldn’t understand the point of keeping life tethered to that girl. It didn’t make any sense. There’s no way she will wake up again. There’s no way she will recover. For all matters and purposes, that girl who has lived for two months exists no more.

But still, her parents kept her alive adorning her bed with rosaries and religious icons as they prayed by her bedside.

“I know it’s over,” I overheard her mom say while crying. “But I’m hoping He’d look down at her and see how such a precious creature she is and help her.”

And the mother would ask us: what will happen if things worked out with her? What will you see? Isn’t she snoring? What is that sound?

We’d answer in a way to stay true to the medicine without squashing her hopes. Hope, in this case, is a double-edged sword.

They were waiting for a miracle. My friends would even chuckle at the thought. But even though I also thought it was absurd, I just felt terribly, terribly sorry for what that mother had to go through, seeing her daughter’s shell in front of her: alive but not.

I’ve been thinking about miracles ever since I was allocated that little girl. While they round on other patients and they reach her case, I often find myself thinking about the miracle she is waiting for. I don’t get miracles. I don’t know if I believe in them. I think I don’t. But if there’s anything about miracles that I’m sure of, it’s that they are unjust.

Then I thought about what I’d do if I had been the father whose daughter was in my patient’s bed, with tubes going out of her in order to keep her alive. My answer would have surely been a resounding: turn it off. Purely medical. Pure electrolytes. Pure CT scans. Pure EEGs. Pure data. Or so I thought.

Today, as I saw that woman crying over her daughter, I didn’t pity her. I was utterly shocked that what she was doing didn’t feel odd. It didn’t feel weak. It didn’t feel like something I would remotely try to ridicule, like many people I’ve encountered would. Because the shocking revelation was that I’m not so sure I can turn it off, in spite of al the data.

Would you?