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.

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?

13 Lebanese That Made It Big In 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, and you are overwhelmed by end-of-year lists, the only list that I wanted to make, as I also did last year, was one commemorating Lebanese faces that I believe did something in 2016 that made them stand out. Whether them standing out is positive or negative, especially those whose work was of a more political nature, is up to you.

Consider it as one of my rare non-nagging posts of the year, fitting to end 2016 on a more positive note despite it being the year that it was, hashtag #GoAway2016. The names I’m about to mention are in no particular order, and are chosen without wasta so please spare me the “you didn’t choose X so you must be biased for Y” comments.

1 – Rouba Mhaissen:


I had the pleasure of meeting Rouba way back in 2007 when we were classmates in an English course at AUB. Since then, she’s gone on to conquer the world – almost literally – after founding the NGO SAWA For Development And Aid, which has been at the forefront of dealing with the Syrian crisis, notably with the refugees. From being one of AUB’s youngest alumni to be honored by the university this year, to addressing UN assemblies, the UN security general, Prince Charles and other politicians from all around the world, the world is a slightly better place for having Dr. Mhaissen in it.

2 – Jamil Haddad:


At a more local level, Jamil Haddad has helped put Batroun back on the Lebanese map, and in a big way, with Colonel Beer making it big onto the Lebanese scale in 2016. With it quickly becoming one of Lebanon’s top selling and best beers available, Mr. Haddad managed to maintain a niche for himself and his beer’s brand with a local brewery in Batroun that has hosted countless events over the years and has been a pilgrimage place for Lebanese mainstream and hipster individuals alike.

3 – Huda Zoghbi:


Huda Y. Zoghbi is a Lebanese-born physician and medical researcher. She is a professor in the departments of Pediatrics, Molecular and Human Genetics, and Neurology and Neuroscience at Baylor College in Texas. This year, apart from receiving the Shaw Prize in May, for her work in research leading to discovery of genes and proteins involved in Rett syndrome, she was also awarded the Breakthrough Prize, which amounts to $3 million, for her neuroscience research that has laid the groundwork for promising therapeutic candidates for Alzheimer’s Disease and autism.

4 – Walid Phares:


I may not agree with almost any of his politics and find his choice of presidential candidates in the US presidential race to be abhorrent, as well as the way he writes his last name (why?), but Walid Phares, one of Trump’s top advisors managed to get his candidate elected president of the leading country in the world. That has to amount to something, right?

5 – Jeanine Fares Pirro:


No, I’m not biased to people with my family name. Jeanine Fares Pirro is a Lebanese-American judge who has had an active political career with the Republican Party consisting of Senate and District Attorney runs during which she was the candidate of her party in New York state. In 2016, Jeanine Fares Pirro became one of the top influencers in the American Election through her Fox News TV show during which she was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump, leading her to become a household name across the United States.

6 – Beirut Madinati:

Beirut Madinati

Leading up to Lebanon’s municipal elections in May, there was probably no other political movement that got anyone as excited about it as Beirut Madinati. They were a bunch of educated people from all sectors, running to change the Beiruti status quo. Their great campaign was, sadly, unsuccessful in breaking Lebanon’s very decaying electoral system but their 40% vote share was a triumph in itself. Here’s hoping the change they put into motion can translate into results in 2017’s Parliamentary elections.

7 – Adeela:


There’s not been another social media figure this past year that has been as polarizing and omnipresent as the often-hilarious Arab satire on Adele. Adeela is inescapable. It’s become so influential in the art scene that its critiques and jokes have become material that newspapers and tabloids write about.

8 – Mawtoura:


The founders of Mawtoura and Adeela are not the same person, but they’re best friends in real life – and both are quite nice people once you meet them. With Adeela being the police of Lebanon and the Arab world’s music scene mainly, Mawtoura provides as funny and poignant assessments of the Lebanese social scene and, occasionally, political life.

9 – Nadia El Cheikh:


In 2016, Dr. Nadia el Cheikh became AUB’s first woman dean of the university’s biggest and founding faculty, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. A historian of the Abbasid Caliphate and Byzantium, she’s the holder of a Ph.D. degree in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University. Dr. El Cheikh’s research interests focus on women and gender.

10 – Jimmy Keyrouz:


Mr. Keyrouz is a young filmmaker whose movie “Nocturne in Black” was nominated and then won “Best Narrative Film” at the Student Academy Awards in 2016, organized by the same entity behind the Oscars. “Nocturne In Black” tells the story of a musician struggling to rebuild his piano in a war-ravaged Middle Eastern neighborhood. Keyrouz’s movie has already won Jury Selects at the Columbia University Film Festival, a National Board of Review Student Grant, the Caucus Foundation production grant, the Marion Carter Green Award and the IFP Audience Award. He was one of 17 winners out of a nearly 1800 movie selection.

11 – Charbel Habib:


A vintage car enthusiast, Charbel Habib owns over 40 classic cars. With Walid Samaha as his co-driver, the duo took on the epic Peking-Paris Rally that saw them race from Beijing to Paris, or around 14,000km in a 1964 Porsche 365C. I daresay the biggest hurdle was probably their need for visas going across that territory, but they made it to Paris in one piece and were winners of a Gold medal, ranking second in their class, and being the first drivers to get a Porsche 365C to do that route.

12 – Fayha Choir:

Fayha Choir ChoirFest Middle East

They started off the year with their situation being as precarious as it gets. They were in financial trouble and fighting tooth and nail to try and keep their choir, Lebanon’s best afloat. Lucky for us, they were not only successful but Tripoli’s Fayha Choir went on to win Best Middle Eastern choir at the Choir Fest in the United Arab Emirates. I bet 2017 will be a great year for them too.

13 – Michel Aoun:


After much debate, I figured the list can’t but be concluded by the man who, after more than a 2 year long presidential vacuum, managed to fulfill his life’s dream of becoming the Lebanese president. Sure, his election ceremony by parliament was as childish as it could get, but by taking up the highest governmental level in the Lebanese Republic, we can say that in 2016 Michel Aoun made it. He’s been in office for nearly 60 days and not much has happened (apart from a ministry for women’s affairs to which a man was appointed) but we’re still giving our president the benefit of the doubt to steer the country through next year’s parliamentary elections under a fair electoral law that could see those at #6 cause a dent.

Until 2017, everyone.

To The Lebanese Parents Celebrating Their Children Passing Brevet With Gunfire


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.

13 Lebanese That Made It Big In 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, and you are overwhelmed by end-of-year lists, the only list that I wanted to make, as I also did last year, was one commemorating Lebanese faces that I believe did something in 2015 that was great.

Consider it as one of my rare non-nagging posts of the year, fitting to end 2015 on a more or less positive note despite it being the year that it was. The names I’m about to mention are in no particular order, and are chosen in a non-scientific way of course.

1. Abou Ali Issa & Adel Termos:

In the depth of horror and chaos emerged the two stories of true heroism in the country this year in the form of two men: Abou Ali Issa and Adel Termos. Both of them lost their lives months and kilometers apart, but in eerily similar scenarios: to the hands of disgusting terrorists who know nothing but destruction and murder. Both of these men risked their lives, leaving behind their families and everything they had built up to for years, tackled suicide bombers and saved hundreds. If there’s anyone to leave 2015 remembering, it’s these two names.

2. Yves Nawfal and Georges el Rif:

In early 2015, Yves Nawfal was brutally murdered at the hand of thugs who thought they were above the law. A few months later, a similar scenario took place and Georges el Rif fell victim to a horrifying stabbing in broad daylight at the hands of a thug who also thought wouldn’t face repercussions for his actions. This is Lebanon after all. But the thugs ended up in jail, and for the first time in years there was a nationwide outcry for the serious need of accountability that overshadowed wastas and politicians trying to circumvent the law to protect their henchmen. May Yves and Georges rest in peace.

3. Tol3et Ri7etkom:

Protest YouStink Beirut August 29 2015 - 1

Speaking of accountability, the second half of 2015 was, at a certain point, the period during which a secular, non-partisan movement scared our government shitless because they put every person in power under the spot of their corruption and did so in such a glorious way (link) prompting our government to attack with tear bombs, anti-riot gear, build walls to barricade the protestors, etc…. Sure, the movement ended up fizzling out, as most things Lebanese end up doing, but in that moment, when over 100,000 people gathered in Downtown Beirut to shout for a new system, they were infinite.

4. Ely Dagher:

Ely Makhoul Cannes 2015 Waves '98

When it comes to Lebanese cinema this year, Waves ’98 by Ely Dagher takes the cake. This young Lebanese filmmaker not only did what many considered to this point to be near impossible for Lebanese cinema, but he did so with full acclaim, claiming the first win ever for a Lebanese at the Cannes Film Festival.

5. Rima Karaki:

Rima Karaki

There’s a lot to say about Rima Karaki, good and bad, but her shutting up the Islamist Hani Al Siba’i was definitely one of my personal highlights of 2015, and judging by the international response she received, the world’s. When Al Siba’i told her to shut up and that it was “beneath him to be interviewed by a woman” like her, Karaki cut him off air. She was the leader there, and it was glorious to see (link).

6. Karim Zreik:

Karim Zreik

Zreik is the man behind the latest Netflix Marvel sensation “Jessica Jones.” If you haven’t started watching that show, get on it. Zreik is a leading producer on “Jessica Jones,” a series that has been critically acclaimed and has gained a fandom in lightning speed. Season 2 is already on the way, and I bet his name will still be the one you see first as the credits roll by at the end of every episode.

7. Ziad Sankari:

Ziad Sankari

Founder of a pioneering medical technology called CardioDiagnostics to diagnose cardiac emergencies as they occur, Ziad Sankari not only paved the way of medical advances in 2015 but was also honored by Barack Obama as one of the year’s top entrepreneurs. As a medical doctor, I can’t wait to see what his invention can do in real practice and how it will affect our job.

8. Mia Khalifa:

Mia Khalifa

I debated whether to include Mia or not quite extensively. At the end of the day, how could I not? She single-handedly got an entire country either proud or massively riled up. She got so many death threats from a lot of people around the region who were offended by what she did, as if that pertained to them in any way whatsoever, and, at the end of the day, being the world’s top pornstar – even if the ranking is labile – is still quite the achievement. Mia Khalife made it big. Double D big, or something along those lines.

9. Gabriel Abi Saad:

Gabriel ABI sAAD

At an age of only 8, Gabriel Abi Saad managed to win the world championship in a math competition involving fast counting. It may not be a first for a Lebanese – Mohammad el Mir did the same thing last year in his category too – but an accomplishment of the sort cannot go unnoticed.

10. The NGO Kafa:


After years of campaigning, Kafa successfully got Lebanon’s parliament to pass a law protecting Lebanese women from domestic abuse. Recognizing that the law our dear parliament passed had massive shortcomings, Kafa did not simply stop. They kept their momentum going throughout the year, highlighting as many domestic abuse crimes as possible, culminating in a video about child marriage in the country that resonated all across the world. Here’s hoping the state of Lebanese women is better in 2016.


11. Mashrou3 Leila:

mashrou3 leila

Among Lebanon’s bands, Mashrou3 Leila were the frontrunners this year. After holding concerts across the world, from the US to Europe to the Arab world, they released their latest album “Ebn el Leil” not only to critical acclaim, but also to raves from The Guardian who called them one of the world’s next big bands.

12. Amira Kassis

Amira Kassis

A nutrition graduate from the American University Beirut, Amira Kassis reached for the stars in 2015. Literally. With her team at Nestle, she innovated a menu that will be used by two pilots who will fly a solar airplane around the globe over a period of more than 5 months. The food had to be preservatives free and still be fresh even after 3 months. The menu also included quinoa tabbouleh. What she did was never done before.

13. Our Vacant Presidential Seat:

Empty Baabda Seat

Because a list about a country who hasn’t had a president for over a year and a half cannot be complete without a spot reserved especially for that has remained spotless so far. We thought 2015 would be the year our political establishment finally found a president. The joke’s on us. Throughout the year, that empty Baabda seat has been an ever-present reminder of how dysfunctional this country is. Eventually, the vacancy became comical, so here it is, at #13, for the joke that this has become.