Why We Come Back to Lebanon

The below post was originally written in the summer of 2012 and later picked up for publication by Annahar newspaper in the winter of 2014. I've reproduced it below because from time to time, I secretly reread it to remind myself why I elected to vacate the proverbial grassier side.

I often wonder how much different my life would be had I taken the job offer at Tesla in 2009. Back then, I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed grad student who craved adventure in an international setting. I fought tooth and nail to plant myself in Lebanon, when logic and sanity would have dictated otherwise.

The country's poor and ailing infrastructure paints a grim future for our progeny, and the polluted environment threatens to curb our lifespan and quality of life.

Can one ever truly justify living here when the opportunity to take flight abroad exists? Do our kids have a viable future in this shattered model of a country? Or has the sun already gone down on us? And will we continue to push our youth to pursue higher education and employment beyond our borders?

The longer I live here, the lesser I am certain of the answers to these unsettling questions.



Has the sun already gone down on us?



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Last week, I gave a welcome speech at my company's new employee orientation. One girl with a distinct accent 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. "Oh, this and that." Her guardedness was evident, and after a bit more probing, I came to understand that she was here because she’d always dreamt of settling in the country of her heritage.

After work that evening, I spotted another colleague having a drink at the local pub. We got to talking about his move from Toronto to Beirut just six months earlier. He’d come back to relive his childhood memories of a beautiful Lebanon. 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 rights?

We have our reasons, whether they are comprehensible or just plain foolish to locals here. 

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 uncertain, and any notion of peace punctuated by erratic unrest. Lebanon is a country that packs more cafes, restaurants, and food outlets per square meter than anywhere else I've been, 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, 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 into liberal.

Lebanon may do nothing for us in the way of the professional, but it does stretch our mind, our patience, and our tolerance in ways no place else can. Lebanon whets but it does not quench, and that is why we become hooked for life.

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