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.

A Pink October Diagnosis

She was sitting in the doctor’s clinic waiting. Who knew it’d take that long… and who knew anyone could be that nervous. She was transfixed by the tiles in front of her. She never thought she’d be in this situation. It had been three years.

The doctor called her name and she slowly walked the few steps to the door where she knew her life might change in a heartbeat. She sat down with her husband by her side. She grabbed his hand. She had never been this afraid. Not when her brother was killed. Not when she got the news that her father had died, back when she was a new nineteen year old bride.

She remembered that day two weeks prior when her sons nagged her head off to go to a hospital and do a test she was putting off for three years now. She remembered how she nervously received the results that said further examinations need to take place. She remembered how she had booked a biopsy appointment and how afraid she was when she went inside those surgery halls and waited for something she never thought she’d do.

The doctor approached her then and administered an anesthetic. He asked her to look away. But it was too late. She had seen that gun and that needle and they were going to go in there and she was going to suffer like she never did before. The pain was tolerable. The idea of it was horrible. But she survived. What she didn’t know however was that the ten days she was going to go through in order to get the results were going to be worse.

She didn’t eat. She didn’t drink. She didn’t sleep. She’d wake up early on some days and sit in the living room to cry. She didn’t think anyone would know. But her son did because he’s as light a sleeper as she is. She wasn’t convinced that the reassuring words the doctor had given her were genuine. She wasn’t convinced by the pep talks her family was giving her. The only thing that would give her a peaceful state of mind was a piece of paper which held that sentence she longed for: Negative. And she was never happier about the prospect of hearing the word no.

The doctor spoke and she was unwillingly tuning him out. She had known it wasn’t good news when her husband called a couple of hours earlier and shouted at the secretary in order to get through to him after he had seen his wife go to hell and back waiting for the results that they both knew were available, only to see the look upon his face change for a fraction of a second before he regained composure and tell her that they need to go see the doctor. Why would the doctor want to see them if it weren’t bad?

And she cried without wanting to. Tears streamed down her face and she couldn’t stop them. The doctor uttered those two words. “Breast cancer.” And she felt her whole world tumbling around her. Her husband, her three boys, her mother, her sister…. They would all lose her. But then the doctor asked her to regain composure because it wasn’t all bad. The cancer was still in a very early stage and perfectly treatable. The few cells that threatened her life had a treatment course to them that could be easily planned out. She needed to stay strong in order to beat them.

So she decided that being afraid and weak wouldn’t get her anywhere. She decided she wasn’t going anywhere and she was sure as hell not letting a capsule containing a few malignant cells stand in her way.

I’m not sure where my mother would have been if I hadn’t convinced her to do a mammography this year. I’m not sure what would have happened if she had waited one more year. Odds are I wouldn’t have had a mother that wanted to hug me whenever she saw me, despite my efforts not to let her, if that had happened. Odds are I wouldn’t have had a mother constantly worrying about anything and everything every single waking moment of every day. Odds are I wouldn’t have had a mother who loved me unconditionally and never saw anything wrong in me. Odds are I wouldn’t have one of the few people in this world that mean more to me than this world itself.

I will not bore you with science that you will never care about. Knowing that women over the age of 30 have an increased risk of breast cancer especially if they had never had children is irrelevant. People fall through statistical cracks all the time and they’re gone before you know it. You never think that something like this would happen to you until it does. You hear those stories about other families having family members getting these cancer diagnoses but you always have the idea that you live behind a protective capsule that will never be broken by those deadly cells. Until it does. And that’s what I’m sure my mother thought long before she was diagnosed.

The only thing I ask of you is to get your mother and loved ones to see a doctor this time of year. Getting a mammography is an examination which would be uncomfortable for only a few minutes but it may save their lives.

Here’s to our mothers being there and staying next to us – despite their ungodly stubbornness and their resiliency to never take care of themselves the way they’d do of us. But we love them anyway because there’s no one else in the whole world who will love you like your mother does.