Caught In Between (Part IV)

This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series narrating Beirutista's upbringing abroad and her wrestling between different cultures.
See earlier posts in this series here: Part I, Part II, Part III

After Paris, I flew on a one-way ticket to Beirut, where my mother met me. I recall assuring her that Lebanon was my motherland, that the time had come for my permanent move to the country, and that I could no longer deal with the tainted breed of Lebanese expat living on foreign soil. I'd had quite enough of their antics--their claims to being smarter, prettier, and more cunning than those in whose countries they were now making residence. In fact, according to Lebanese ideals, somebody cunning and sly is usually hailed for his ability to cut corners and get away with it, all while coming out ahead. In the Western world, we call those folks scumbags.

I thought that in Lebanon, I'd finally discover the unadulterated Lebanese, gushing with warmth and chaleur, eager to help, the incarnation of sincerity. My parents often reminisced about the Lebanon they grew up in, and this was the very image we as children naively assigned to all Lebanese. I wanted to have access to that world, those people, the alternate reality that had so deeply formed my own childhood and given me an adulthood to look forward to.

So there I found myself, the summer of 2010, my graduate education behind me, the professional world in front of me. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I thought I'd immediately land a job. I started jostling the MIT alumni network in Beirut, seeking like-minded people with similar academic accolades, international exposure, and a dream-big, think-big attitude. Who better to appreciate my endeavors than those who had gone before me?

The interviews came readily. Sometimes within minutes of dispatching an email, I'd get a phone call arranging for a next-day rendezvous. Often I'd meet a series of executives during these interviews, all inquisitive and eager to meet the young rebel who dared swim against the tide and struggle for a life in Lebanon. But while each admired my rigorous educational training and achievements, no one was even remotely supportive of hosting my professional debut in Lebanon. One man, the CEO of a very successful real estate and land development company in Beirut, rather bluntly handed it to me: he feared I'd threaten his office dynamics and that his employees would be intimidated by me, so offering me a job was out of the question. Many other firms I met with worried I'd grow quickly bored with their job proposition, and still others who thought they had gauged my price tag simply felt they couldn't--or wouldn't--meet it.

I was baffled. All of the companies where I'd put in my CV were very large and handsomely profitable, some their revenue in the billions of dollars. Yes, they lauded my accomplishments, often expressing surprise that I'd done as much as I had and was not even in my mid-20s. Yes, they were all admiration for a girl born and raised in the West yet had a masterful command of the Arabic language. And yes, they couldn't believe I'd forego a six-figure salary that I could surely fetch abroad in favor of a fraction of that, all in the interest of coming "back" to the land of my heritage.

So why wasn't anyone making me an irresistible offer? For the longest time, I couldn't put my finger on it. Wasn't I a top-notch engineering and business school graduate who could provide a bridge between both East and West? What was fair pay next to an energetic and pumped up kid whose merit could add a fresh new flavor and savvy to their team? These executives and their groups could undoubtedly afford it. Decked out in Canali designer suits with Mont Blanc pens tucked inside their shirt pockets, they drove Aston Martins. Money was clearly no object. In fact, they were likely reeling in far more than they would be abroad in equivalent capacities. See, in Lebanon they could relegate their subordinates to reprehensibly low salaries and get away with it. Payscales in Lebanon explain polarization of the classes. But to these company heads, to secure my talent and compensate my worth would disrupt that sick scheme, and they dared not venture into those waters. Here I was, yet again, caught in between. I was desirable yet forbidden. Promising yet out-of-place. Rather than welcome me to the shores of Lebanon, where the brain drain is perpetually lamented, these executvies were driving me away.

I was put in touch with a few management consultancies in the Gulf. Ever since I'd learned about the big MBB (McKinsey-Bain-BCG) consulting firms and the miserable hours they imposed on their staff, I vowed I'd never apply. I could never embrace that kind of skewed work-life balance. I'd always been a disciple of moderation. I spotted a small niched Boston-based consulting group that'd recently launched an office in Abu Dhabi. They flew in two consultants to Beirut simply to meet me, and after an hourlong discussion with the company's partner over the phone, I was swept away to Abu Dhabi for an all-expenses paid preview weekend to make my decision. This caliber of treatment was tempting, especially after the ambivalent reception and tacit rejection I'd witnessed on my own turf, in Lebanon. I'd tried to find a way back to the motherland, but the timing still wasn't right. I was too young and paradoxically over-qualified. In September, just a few months after my arrival from Paris, I packed my bags and flew to Abu Dhabi, embarking on a two-month trial period to get my bearings about me. I wasn't 100% convinced I was making the right decision, and in the deepest recesses of my mind, I knew I'd be back in Lebanon soon again. Very soon.

Because a dream deferred can shrivel like a raisin in the sun. And I refused to let my dreams shrivel.

Comments

  1. Great, been waiting for this! Reading about other people's story is always inspirational. So you did get back to Lebanon very soon. Should we wait for a part V ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Mohamed! Yes there will be a part v, and I hope you won't have to wait as long...

      Delete
  2. Loved your history.... In some ways is similar to mine, but Im not so clever to go to MIT

    ReplyDelete
  3. Loved the story.. surprised to hear about the employer's reaction though..

    ReplyDelete
  4. You are a brave woman and a fantastic storyteller! I can't wait to read Part V.

    ReplyDelete

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