Why We Come Back to Lebanon

Last week, I gave a welcome speech at my company's new employee orientation. One girl about my age introduced herself as Lebanese-German, having recently transplanted to Lebanon from Frankfurt. A week later, we ran into each other in the hallway, and I pressed her for her motives in moving here. After some pause for reflection, she replied, timidly, "I don't really know." Her guardedness was evident, and after a bit more probing, I came to understand that her banking career abroad had been cut short by the European debt crisis. Family pressure to live in the country of her heritage also had something to do with her being back.

After work that evening, as I was strolling in Beirut Souks, I spotted our new Head of Learning having a beer at the local Irish pub. He motioned for me to come inside, and we got to talking about his move from Toronto to Beirut just six months ago. He'd left Beirut for London as a teenager, attended university in South Carolina, worked throughout Europe and the Gulf, raised a family in Canada, and all the while, the Lebanon of his youth adorned his fondest memories. He'd decided to come back to embrace that memory, and he couldn't be any happier. "Lebanon is so beautiful, and the views, tantalizing," he gushed. "I hate how the Lebanese don't appreciate what they have and fight tooth and nail to get out," he sighed.


So many of us come back to the Lebanon of our childhood. And that nostalgia, that homesickness, is understandable, as we are likely to be forever attached to the place we lived during the first decade of our lives. But what about others of us, like me, who were born and raised outside of Lebanon, perhaps spent summer vacations here, speak Arabic at best but whose first language is a foreign tongue? Those of us who were educated in top schools abroad, could easily pull six-figure salaries elsewhere, but instead chose to take a considerable pay cut, endure electricity and water outages on a regular basis, and accept, by our own volition, an abridgment of civil rights?


We have our reasons, whether they be comprehensible or just plain foolish to locals here. Most usually play to this beat: "it was my childhood dream", "the social life abroad doesn't compare," "I love the vibrant lifestyle here," "it seemed like the next natural step," and so on. But a deeper introspection will reveal that it's an inexplicable calling, a craving to live in a hotbed of activity, opinion, dynamism, and contention. A land where adventure is guaranteed, stability almost uncertain, and any notion of peace punctuated by erratic unrest. 


Lebanon is indeed a geyser, intermittently boiling and sometimes ejecting hot water and steam into the air. It's a country that packs more cafes, restaurants, and food outlets per square meter than anywhere I've ever seen, where creativity and hospitality are the name of the game, and where the facade of a street morphs from year to year. It's a place where people protest vehemently (right now, for example, one is taking place just outside my building at the top of Riad el Solh Street), where driving is an exercise in defense, and where the importance of the environment has only recently grown apparent.

But where else can you enjoy the coolness of fresh mountain air and half an hour later, be sunbathing on the Mediterranean shores? Where can you wolf down a street-side falafel wrap and then head inside a patisserie for a delicate tarte aux fraises? I live for that contrast: East meets West, modern married to traditional, conservative swirled inextricably into liberal.


Lebanon may do nothing for us in the way of the professional or career-building, but it does stretch our mind, our patience, and our tolerance in ways no place else can. Lebanon whets but it doesn't quench, and that's why we become hooked for life.

Comments

  1. Other than Paulo Coelho and Jibran Kahlil Gibran, I cannot recall being this mesmerized by the writings of anyone else! Hats off Dano! You manged to shift me into the picture and capture unparalleled attention despite my fatigue and the temporary A.D.D I've been suffering, an annual phenomena throughout the Muslim world during the holy month of Ramadan ..

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  2. You have no idea how much I can relate to what you wrote here, and in all your other articles. Many Lebanese expats, including myself, have this constant struggle about identity, about staying or leaving, etc etc
    But whatever happens, no matter how bad the situation gets, Lebanon is home, and home is irreplaceable.


    Your blog is great, and you got yourself a new follower! :)
    Mohamed (allobeirut.blogpost.com)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Mohamed--so happy to hear it!

      Delete
  3. Amazing quote: "Lebanon wets but it doesn't quench, and that's why we become hooked for life."
    Love it!

    ReplyDelete

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