Summertime Sadness: I Grieve for Lebanon

It’s hard to stay positive in the midst of all that’s transpiring in Lebanon. For those reading from abroad and unfamiliar with the current state of affairs here, let me pull you up to speed. Two weeks ago, the central landfill that buries most of Lebanon’s rubbish was shut down to the tune of local citizens marching in front of its gates and calling for an end to the unsightly, toxic mound polluting their environs. Indeed, the landfill had been designed as a temporary solution to the waste management problem riddling our country. It had certainly overstayed its welcome by years, and understandably, residents in the area had had enough.

With the landfill cordoned off and unable to accept or process any more garbage, Lebanon’s streets morphed into veritable mountains of trash. The stifling days of a historically hot summer became laced with an unmistakable stench in the air, and with the dank humidity, dumpster sites fostered brewing grounds for mosquitoes and other pests. Visiting Beirut, Achrafieh, Hamra, and Verdun, you could start to stomach the grave magnitude of the situation, as whole sidewalks were piled high with refuse. Imagine the hazardous liquids seeping into the ground and soil and posing a new threat on the environment for years to come. Horrifying. 

Photo by Joey Ayoub.

As if to add insult to injury, temperatures across Lebanon have taken a hike toward infernal. Of all the summers that I have spent here, both for vacation as a child and in my adult years as a resident, I have never witnessed such treacherous heat coupled with humidity in the 80th-percentile. It feels like you’re baking in an oven, beads of sweat forming within seconds of going outside. And the mountains provide no escape, as they too are summits of hotness.

In case I forget why I willfully moved to Lebanon in early 2011, I have everyone around me—at work, in my social circles, and even complete strangers—to beleaguer me with that enigma. More recently, I myself have been wrestling with my demons.

Don’t get me wrong—it was of my own volition relocating to the land of my parents and ancestors. Growing up, I’d known Lebanon in the capacity of a summer destination. I yearned to experience it on a more permanent basis, to ingest its culture and quotidian life, to animate those fond images my parents ingrained in me and of which I dreamed night and day.

Four and half years have elapsed since I planted my roots here. But as time wears on, it seems the spell Lebanon once cast over me is fading. The electricity shortfall, the limited water supply, the reckless driving uncurbed by any clear traffic laws—all of it we were accustomed to and may have silently frowned upon, but we accepted it. 

Those problems however have taken a back seat next to the new lows Lebanon suffers from today. Today, we have different behemoths to battle, namely the absence of any real waste management and recycling system and thus an unchecked endangerment of our lives and well-beings.

Last weekend, I went to the airport to welcome my sister-in-law from a month-long language program in Italy. As I stood in the reception hall amidst throngs of folks and families waiting eagerly to embrace their kin, I tried to remember how it felt to be on the opposite side of the plastic divide. 

Photo by Marwan Tahtah

It was a moment I would prepare for and replay again and again in my head on the long journey from Los Angeles to Beirut. The rush of expectation and excitement I can never fully articulate in words. We'd hasten to get through passport control, collect our luggage, and then triple-check our appearances before turning that final bend, when we’d come face to face with relatives not seen in a year, sometimes two. 

My grandmother waited unfailingly at the front of the crowd, having elbowed her way to the best vantage point. Next to her stood my aunt and cousin with their beaming grins. My heart would skip a beat as a big, irrepressible smile stretched across my face. Mom would dig her face into Teta’s neck, pulling away after nearly a minute to reveal wells of tears in her eyes. Dozens of hugs and kisses later, we would make our way to the car.

Outside, the warm, humid air was a harbinger of the Mediterranean stronghold. The altered infrastructure--transforming year after year--proved that Lebanon believed in progress, believed in rebuilding and reclaiming its seat as the Paris of the Middle East.

Fast forward to 2015. Are our aspirations still intact? Is the country evolving for the better? Are we gaining on the heels of our first-world peers? Are we restoring sacred Lebanon to its immeasurable potential?

For the first time, I struggle to see it. 


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