I don’t want to leave…
I don’t want to leave this place and add to the surreal number of Lebanese expats living abroad, scattered across the world. I’m not ready to be just another statistic. Not yet.
I don’t want to join the estranged 15 million of us that reside in strange lands.
I’m not ready to call these lands my home… Not yet.
But after all, what’s one more heartbreak in a mosaic of many?
What’s one more Lebanese citizen coming to terms with failure.
A failure not of his own doing of course, but a failure that will in fact lead to his undoing, nonetheless: The Failure Of The State.
Dear Foreign Embassy,
I hope my e-mail finds you well.
Please, get me the fuck out of here.
For those unfamiliar with the Lebanese Condition, it is worth nothing that there are 3 times as many Lebanese living outside of Lebanon than within its borders: 5 million indoors - 15 million outdoors.
So, to put it simply, I’m 3 times more likely to leave on a jet plane and not know when I’ll be back again than actually building a life in my own backyard… How’s that even possible?
Well it is… and lo and behold, everybody’s doing it.
Fine, I’ll humour the flight over the fight… Just for a moment.
Suppose I manage to muster up the few and the brave remaining dollars in my bank account to buy a plane ticket out of here. Where will I go? Who will take me?
1. I do not have a second, more exotic passport that will teleport me to an estranged yet legally familiar land, like so many of my friends.
2. My religious legacy won’t get me far either... I’m Shia. A de-facto follower of those guys with the yellow and green flag. Unanimously thought of as guilty until proven innocent.
Tell me how does one prove that they’re not a fan of the dark ages?
The truth of the matter is, even though the Shia community has done everything in its power to prove it is not a monolith, the powers that be remain adamant in their stance against it.
Frustrating but understandable. Funny, this kind of thinking that sounds eerily similar to the urban legend that claims all black people are fans of Barrack.
So, to cut things short: "No visa for You!”
The above fight or flight ping ponging occurs to me at least twice a week in the dark corners of my mind where hope has yet to reach.However, by the end of these cognitive gymnastics, my mind reaches a conclusion; an ephemeral one, with barely the legs to withstand maybe even counter an argument or two, but a one I can be proud of:
“I’m staying. Fuck! I’m staying”.
Disclaimer: The intonation on the word “Fuck!” varies depending on my mental state.
PHOTO BY EMILIE MADI
Mouin Ali Jaber 2019
Now, do not get me wrong. This isn’t a preachy puff piece about how one must remain in one’s country to support it, or how we’re “needed back home”. How it is our “duty” to throw our hard-earned cash into the blackhole we call our economy to pull ourselves out of this mess. That’s none of my business (and it’s nobodies but your own, by the way).
No, this piece is about the Stockholm syndrome I’ve developed with the country I hold so dear to my heart, and how it made me who I am today. How emotional ambivalence is now more than just a personality quirk. It’s a way of life…
What happened to me on the 17th of October 2019 (the day the Lebanese revolution started) was profoundly unique. It can’t be taught. It can only be lived. It is a simple event with a complicated backstory that brings the best and the worst out of any woman or man.
Since that faithful day, as people took to the streets, I found myself in front of cameras, cops, robbers and the army. I’ve been gassed, beaten and hospitalised a few times over, only to come back stronger. Relentlessly fighting for what I believe is right.
It seemed like with every nightstick bludgeon to my head and with every teargas explosion that choked and blinded me, my anger increased, and my resolve strengthened:
I was fed up.
I was fed up with living in a swamp of corruption and greed that handicapped an entire generation of hopefuls (80% of my graduating class has left the country for a better life). I was fed up with always second-guessing whether or not I could hold a candle to friends and colleagues living abroad because of where I was from. I was fed up with the cynical attitudes that rained down upon me whenever I suggested the country needed to change.
I was fed up of being 3rd world…
I know, I might be romanticising this…
But I’d rather be on the streets, fighting mercenaries and thugs camouflaged in state uniforms pretending to be protectors of the peace than to have kill-me-now conversation with Manal about the weather by the photocopying machine.
“…Does this thing have enough toner? What the hell is toner, anyway?”
But let’s be clear, in addition to striving for a better country, I do get something out of all of this… I do get a kick.
I do get the occasional adrenaline spike when charged by an ISF squadron in Turtle Formation on the streets of Beirut. I do get a Viking belly laugh when I spot my friend serve a tear gas canister back toward an ISF armoured truck with his tennis racket in the middle of downtown.
But that’s not what keeps me going.
What keeps me going is the love and the camaraderie I have forged with my fellow countrywomen and countrymen on the field of battle. From sharing Manakish Zaatar amongst each other at 5:00 AM as we blocked highways together on both sides to make our voice heard, to interlocking our bodies in a human chain to prevent one of our own from being abducted by the corrupt and sadistic security apparatus of our country. We’ve been through so much, but we’re battle-hardened together.
And make no mistake, it is a battle.
One of blood, sweat and existential dread. Some of us lost eyes and others lost hope.
The damage is very real across the collateral spectrum.
We’re now 9 months in, and I find myself calloused, both physically and mentally.
Even with all the yoga and the Sanskrit recitations, I find myself desensitised to violence.
Have I lost a part of me?
Suddenly, the escapist avenues my mind explored as I daydreamed for possible futures abroad were usurped by a stoic mental militarisation that prioritised marches, sieges and tactical operations to forge a better Lebanon.
My daily discourses are now filled with politics and existentialism to the point that last night I spelled out the preface of Taif Agreement with my tongue during a cunnilingus session with my beloved. I’m kidding… It was U.N Resolution 1559, which calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.
To be honest I can’t help but feel somewhat different.
Different from those indifferent to the cause.
Different from those who eagerly await my arrival abroad.
I feel like I had to lose something small to be part of something big.
Big enough to be felt but small enough to go unnoticed.
Am I a naive optimist? How long will that last? Is it just a matter of time before I join the ranks of disappointed idealists perfectly personified by my PTSD-stricken parents…?
I don’t know…
I must say that in these 9 months, I have gone from enduring a sheltered and shameful half-life of victimhood to living with giants who breathe red white and cedar, striving for a sovereign state.
I went from a journeyman, who longs for a different life with a more boring yet secure future, to a countryman who falls in love with his land more and more every day.
It’s now night-time. It’s been a long day.
I come back home to my startled cat (it doesn’t recognise me with my gas mask on), hang my teargas-soaked clothes out by the window and get under the ice-cold shower to wash the poison away (showers need to be cold so that the cyanocarbon doesn’t get absorbed through your pores and make you sick).
And when the adrenaline fades away, I feel hollow… and sad.
I find myself questioning again whether whatever it is I’m doing is even worthwhile.
I go through the aforementioned and now standardized mental gymnastics only to find myself back on the streets again the very next day; with a fresh new pair of underwear, ready to fight, one more time, with feeling… hoping that I do not lose myself in the process.
Mouin Ali Jaber 2020
Mouin Jaber is a media professional and activist fighting for freedom and basic human rights in Lebanon.