If you missed the memo, we, the people of Lebanon have been living in hell for the last few months. In the height of summer heat and humidity, Lebanon has run out fuel to operate its basic necessities and essential medication is nowhere to be found in pharmacies. Hospitals are on their last breath, the country has been brought to its knees. We spend most of our days in the dark, our food is getting spoiled in our fridges, people are getting food poisoning left right and centre, bread has become scarce, and everything is slowly grinding to halt.
Managing our lives in this nightmare has become an all-consuming task. You have to think about when to sleep and when to wake up, because you need to synchronise your life with electricity schedules so you can have the aircon on. Getting to and from work is another headache, most roads are blocked full of cars queuing to get gas from petrol stations that only open for a few hours a day, if at all.
If you don’t have any petrol, you wait in line for an average of 4 hours to get a little bit of gas to get your errands run for the day. You plan every trip, you rethink every food purchase because you can’t keep anything in the fridge. Your office isn’t guaranteed to have power, so you’re lucky if you remembered to charge your electronics the previous evening. Your mom has run out of her medication and you spend 3 hours running around different pharmacies to search for it, only to be told that they’re not restocking it. Your kids can’t do their home schooling because there is no power most of the day. You get the picture.
We are not okay, we can’t think straight, we can’t think beyond today, this hour, this minute.
Stop telling us how to live our lives
Yet despite this misery, we all seem to have expat family and friends who feel the need to tell us how to live our lives. Whether they came visiting this summer or they’re bellowing from the comfort of their foreign homes, it’s no surprise that their callous comments started grating on us. I get that they give us a fresh perspective, I get that they have unperturbed insight into what’s going on, but some of it is downright patronizing.
Here’s a sample of what we’ve heard so far:
“Lebanon is the land of contradictions, how can you party when the country is falling apart?”
“Stop posting yourself having fun, your country is in tatters!”
“How are you tolerating this?”
“Why are you still here? How come you haven’t left yet?”
“Why aren’t you on the streets?”
“You need to get an electric bike”
“Why don’t you buy solar panels?”
“Why don’t people read the news in this country?”
And more recently “all the brains are leaving the country, how sad!”
Let me address the cultural points first.
Why is it that we look down on the cultural experience of going out to a party to decompress, forget our worries for a few hours, enjoy community and listen to music; but we celebrate spending a few hours at the Baalbeck music festival? Why is Baalbeck a more acceptable way to use up fuel, spend our cash and use our time replenishing our energy? Is it because some of us deem listening to classics and Feyrouz a more noble way to spend our time? Can you see how condescending this is and how we like to impose our “refined” standards of a cultural experience?
Culture lives in the communities we build, it lives in the stories we tell, the art we make and the rituals we create. It is not limited to consuming highbrow media or being seen at a certain event. Culture is tolerant, culture doesn’t snob, it accepts the rich and diverse ways people choose to express themselves and manage their emotions.
Oh and does the expat police also deem that we are allowed to film and broadcast Baalbeck but we should keep our parties to ourselves? Last time I checked, you’re out there posting pictures of your Positano trips and Nobu dinners. So let me get this straight, Lebanese people outside of Lebanon can live freely and post to their heart’s content, but those in Lebanon, those already living the nightmare, are supposed to suffer, sit at home and feel sorry for themselves? Well isn’t that expat hegemony.
Let me tell you why I go out on a Friday night, or why I don’t read the news, or why I’m not on the streets. The simple truth is that I need to take care of my mental health. When your life feels like a tornado, when you feel like you’re falling apart, you need a release somewhere. I don’t watch the news because it’s adding more negativity to my already negative life. Most of it is an unnecessary sea of pedestrian political gossip. It’s a waste of my precious time and energy. And the reasons why I’m not on the streets protesting? Well that’s also obvious, nobody’s listening. I’ve written about that already in a previous article.
As for solar panels and electric bikes, I have colleagues who haven’t worn their work uniforms for days because they haven’t had power to put the washing machine on. I’ll just leave it at that.
And don’t get me started on that brain drain! There are some of us still here, still persisting, still fighting, still serving and still working to build a better country for all of you expats to return to. For all Lebanese people to continue to call home. So please don’t you dare dismiss the brains that are still here, by lamenting those that have left. We need every bit of motivation to keep going.
When you come to Lebanon for a few weeks a year to enjoy your time and see your family, you’re removed from the struggles of daily life, it’s easy to critique without understanding the hardships that we endure everyday.
The collective Lebanese grief
Truth is, we are all grieving. We are grieving the Lebanon we once knew. We are addicted to nostalgia, we wish things were different and we feel helpless. We are all fighting our own fights and mourning our identity. Being Lebanese, whether near or far, involves pain. If you’re in Lebanon you’re living the daily pain, and if you’re abroad you’re suffering your uprooting and you’re missing home everyday.
So I get it, I have empathy for them. Expats feel the Lebanese pain too, and they feel more helpless than ever. And when we feel helpless, we attempt to micromanage everything we possibly can to feel in control again. Expats want to act but feel shackled. They want to see us live well, so they can be at peace. For some, the only way they know to help is tell us how we can do it better. But we also need someone to listen; often we are just looking for pockets of comfort and joy.
And so let’s also have empathy for those of us in Lebanon; our energy is low and our vision is limited, we operate in survival mode. We run from one crisis to another in a perpetual state of panic. We are oppressed, we are humiliated and we are exhausted. Let’s learn tolerance, let’s celebrate the textures of our culture, let’s revel in the richness of our expression. Let’s allow people to process their grief, in whichever peaceful way they choose to. This is a time for understanding.
So my dear expat brothers and sisters, more than ever, we need your compassion, we need your motivation, we need to know that in the end, we, and our country, will all be okay.
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