I was coming back from a weekend with some friends in the south of France. We had rented a car for the trip for the seven-hour drive separating us from Paris. Since my friend and I were the only ones with driving licenses, we decided to take turns behind the wheel every 2 hours, give or take. After my first shift, I sat in the copilot seat and started scrolling down my Facebook feed, slowly waiting to fall asleep. Suddenly, a post caught my attention: a friend of mine had shared an article written in French that was published in the Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour. The title read:
“Partir, mourir, ne plus revenir…”
[To leave, to die, to never come back again…]
Revolving around the title of the book A Game For Swallows by Lebanese author Zeina Abi Rached, the article is actually an open letter a mother writes to her son who is about to leave Lebanon and go live abroad. Throughout her letter, the mother tells her son what will happen when non-Lebanese people will talk about Lebanon around him, as well as how her son will react to these claims. Initially, she referred to Abi Rached’s book and how it compares Lebanese people behave exactly like swallows when they fly south for the winter: they leave the nest they worked so hard to build after an unexpected event destroyed it; they leave a part of themselves there – in other words, a part of them dies there – and finally come back home. However, as the letter continued, the mother’s tone started to change. In the end, she tells her son that although they both have the same story, they will not have the same ending. In the boy’s story, he will leave, he will die, but never come back. The boy will be living abroad and might come to Lebanon on vacation to see his family and friends. He just might.
“I have often regretted my speech. Never my silence.”
When I read the letter back in the car, every sentence made it harder for me to keep the tears from falling. As I write this article, I feel every single emotion and reaction run through my veins all over again. Every sentence was more accurate than the previous. I should know. I experienced them all. I still experience them every day, combined with the same feelings boiling in my gut.
I feel sadness. I feel anger. I feel pain. Sometimes I even feel ashamed to say that I am Lebanese. Think about it, how can I convince my friends that the beautiful country I come from, this piece of Heaven on Earth as I like to call it, is the exact same country that is being torn apart and destroyed by an economic crisis, fueled by a flawed federal system and egocentric politicians? When I try explaining to my friends or colleagues at work what has been going on since October 2019, I struggle to keep a straight face and not become emotional about it.
It hurts to talk about my country like this.
It hurts to have to just nod my head down and agree with what others are saying about my country.
It hurts to talk to my parents on the phone and know that they are not okay although they insist on the opposite.
It hurts to talk to my friends who are still in Lebanon and have to witness firsthand everything that is happening.
It hurts to be powerless and unable to do anything about the current situation. I can only resign to establishing my life abroad in the hope of bringing my parents over to live with me.
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what is not true; the other is to refuse to accept what is true.”
– Soren Kierkegaard
I would love to develop this part with you, but I will refrain from doing so in any written way in spite of every fibre within screaming to do the opposite. I cannot even state the reasons as to why I cannot develop this last part. However, if you are interested, I would gladly discuss it with you over the phone if we are not in the same country, or face to face if we are.
“Leaving your country is like dying, and when you come back you are like a ghost returning to Earth, roaming around with a missing gaze in your eyes.”
– NoViolet Bulawayo
So yes, there is a war going on between my head and my heart when it comes to Lebanon and what I personally think. It is a never ending war. I can only hope that it will end one day. Until then, I will keep on doing my best to make sure that my parents never have to relive certain parts of the War of Lebanon (for the last time, it was NOT a civil war). For now, my head is winning.