Why Lebanon Will Always Be Home to Me
As a child who earnestly anticipated her summers in Lebanon, I remember distinctly praying each night for weeks leading up to trip departure that our two-leg journey from Los Angeles would go smoothly and safely. Should a crash befall us, may it be on the return from Beirut, I pleaded with my Creator. I wanted so desperately to spend a fun-filled vacation in the Land of the Cedars.
Reflecting on that memory now as an adult, I’m baffled at how willing I was to embrace the worst, so long as it presented itself aptly in the sequence of events. Yes, folks. That’s a gauge of how enamored I was with my ancestral homeland. Chilling? Or just plain foolish?
As many of my readers already know, I made Lebanon home in 2011, a full decade ago. I was a fresh MBA graduate and in between jobs and world regions. I found myself in the Levant on an ambassadorial mission for my alma mater MIT. When it ended, I decided to linger and look for work. I was fed up with hearing that as a summer tourist in Lebanon, I had in fact never experienced the real Lebanon, the Lebanon deflated from throngs of greenback-brandishing expats and artificially frequent family gatherings that rarely occurred during the other seasons, while we were away.
My CV landed on the desk of the CEO of Bank of Beirut who, a staunch proponent of higher education and young talent, personally met with me before extending an offer. A position was carved out according to my background and interests, and I was staffed with an intelligent and friendly bunch in the Strategy & Risk Department reflecting my generation.
From day one, I felt a sense of belonging I’d never felt anywhere else. As far as I could see, I could have justifiably been shrugged off as an outsider. I’d been born and raised in the United States, where I’d lived a little over two decades. Thereafter I’d studied and consulted in Paris. Abu Dhabi was a brief stint I refused to extend beyond two months. The reality is that I’ve had so many beginnings. I’ve been immersed in a plethora of novel environments and scenarios where I might ostensibly be considered an intruder. But in Lebanon I never once felt as such, even though to date I had merely been a summer tourist.
Make no mistake, people can oftentimes pick up on my “exotic” Lebaneseness. I insert more English words in my spoken Arabic than the person next to me. I’m atypically patient, atypically composed, in comparison to the archetypically frenetic, frustrated and gregarious true-blood Lebanese. I’m transparent and can’t pull a Poker face for the life of me. I wear my emotions on my sleeve rather than tuck them away beneath my façade.
And yet I was embraced warmly by my co-workers. Yes, I was barraged with the classic question of “why are you in Lebanon when you can be anywhere else?” But at the delivery of my response, that there is no country on God’s green Earth as dynamic, vibrant, resourceful and hospitable as Lebanon, I immediately won favor with my audience and perhaps awakened a dormant pride in their roots.
A few days ago, I quietly celebrated the Fourth of July – American Independence Day – from our home in the northern suburbs of Beirut. My close friend, a fellow Lebanese-American who recently relocated from Beirut to LA, was texting me about a gathering she was attending. Fellow attendees were probing her as to her family origins, which might be well received if tactful, but those queries underscored a certain annoying ignorance of Lebanon and of life overseas in general.
As humans, we look for validation and relatability in others. That’s what cloaks us with a comforting feeling of belonging. When instead we are met with furrowed brows, lack of understanding, and myopia, we feel left out, or judged. We start to miss the notion of the familiar, of home. We start to miss being among people who get us and empathize with our plight.
Lebanon is and always will be home to me, even if in the physical sense that ceases to be. You can pluck me out of this Mediterranean bastion, this tiny little plot of 10,452 square kilometers, this miraculous country with more faiths, creeds, and nationalities than any country of equivalent size can aspire to squeeze in. But you can never erase the impassioned Lebanese identity that burns fiercely within me.
|On the shores of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, days after my arrival in January 2011|