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Lebanon; Extinguishing Fires and Fears

Looking through a microscopic lens, one cannot but witness the rapid transformation of the supposedly invisible particles. Hopefully, in time as we allow nature to take its course, what is considered invisible transforms the greater entity.

FEAR, once conquered, becomes an opportunity. It defangs the monsters and the risks become more bearable. Once we overcome the terrible and crippling ideas, we gain insight and our brains work as one with our hearts. We become more prepared and therefore we become less likely to trip and fall.

I am big on metaphors so here is my take on the events taking place in Lebanon over this past week and likely into the future. 

Fires raged across the country during the second week of October destroying houses and greenery and pummeling through mountains. Volunteers rushed to the fires extinguishing as much of it as they could until rains finished the job. Pictures of exhausted firefighters spread among people, causing waves of criticism for the political leaders who had mismanaged money and had failed to implement a disaster mitigation strategy.

The governing elite did not expect what was about to follow.

The government was oblivious with disregard. Their obnoxious and insensitive unresponsiveness to the wild fires catastrophe was swiftly followed by an equally idiotic announcement that they were to increase taxation on citizens.

Perhaps it was the close encounter with environmental catastrophe coupled with the untainted disrespect and negligence of the government that pushed people into instinctual survival mode.

The real threats became all the more exposed. People started to speak and then scream out against the injustice and offensiveness of the governing elites; and to their very own surprise their screams all sounded the same. Regardless of gender and socio-economic class people started listening to each other for the first time instead of listening to the leaders. People came to find that they all had the same problems dressed in different slogans and promises. No promises were being issued at the moment along with zero dollars.

Who has ever managed to survive off of promises alone without bread and money?

Like wild fires, protests started spreading and growing. Anti government chants and slogans that explored Lebanese unity for the first time without political backing were being sung in the streets. Nobody saw it coming, and that is the beauty of where we are today.

Roaming the streets, we joked that it felt like a merger between Coachella and Egypt’s Tahrir Square, it felt like an alternate universe where hands only carried Lebanese flags and families from different walks of life walked side by side. Young men, some dressed to the nines, and others shirtless sang on top of their lungs. It was a vision, Lebanese people seeking definition in themselves rather than in those they follow.

We get to romanticize this experience because it feels foreign and it plays like a dream. Most people don’t practically understand how the transfer of power could occur and perhaps underplay its immense difficulty. Some of us also acknowledge it is shy of impossible. It doesn’t matter however, because the hard part, the almost impossible thing is happening now. People are experiencing a unified identity possibly for the first time since civil war broke in the 1970s. So in a time where impossibility renders itself possible; one can only be hopeful that people’s demands are within reach.

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Arab Pigeonhole Communities: Havens for Young Women, Feminist Men and LGBTQ

I can tell this will be a long but necessary post. I rarely put on this “Arab” young woman hat; but I choose to wear it for now, and see where it takes me and you dear reader.

I raise the volume of my instrumental music so I cannot hear myself think; when was that ever such a problem? When was it ever a problem for a woman to think too much? {Haha Yeah I know… the drama! the irony of our destinies} We were always considered too fragile or too strong, too eloquent or too silly… the list of antonyms and descriptions can continue on…

But here’s a Beyonce Gif to get you through this word mountain.

Believe it or not, growing up I never viewed myself as a girl in contrast to boys; I viewed myself as a person thanks to my wonderful well aware parents. Except, you cannot but face the labeling and the judgement, you cannot understand the differences set forth by a regressive “Arab” society until you are fully immersed in it. This is not to say that all the micro communities are the same; people vary in opinions and practices like night and day, but one must take a look at the majority. People tend to prefer you in a certain way; thinking certain thoughts, behaving in a particular way and wanting familiar things. So where does that leave a modern young woman in pursuit of so much more than what her gender grants her in “awards” vs obligations?

I find that the journey is particularly interesting for young Arab women simply because of the tidal waves of expectations, traditions and norms laid upon their fates. A modern woman hence finds herself not just trying to figure life out as any person ought to regardless of gender or sexual orientation; but also trying to balance social, religious and cultural duties along with her education and career. She either becomes an example or a warning depending on the perceived lines she crosses. I do nevertheless realize that this might not just be an Arab women thing, but a gender thing.

Where does that leave us? Where does that place the young and modern Arab man?

Well, to say the least, that is where the mini communities play their undeniable part. That is where a young man can express his feminist thoughts without being stared down by peers as weak or as a sucker for women. In those mini communities where young people are attempting to become more human and less bias is where young modernists find themselves in more comfortable settings. You find people from different walk of life all gathering around a unified understanding that we need to work together and accept one another to make it through, to create a more positive life for those around us and those coming after us. The mini communities are small for an unfortunate reason however; that is, that most young men and woman with the ability to leave the larger community simply get on that flight and rarely ever look back. They take an observant attitude and only indulge virtually until maybe someday they could become included in the larger communities. Not to mention, that such communities are able to coexist with their larger ones because they are not posing any threats or imposing any practical change to systems and thoughts. Politically, those communities are in their earlier stages, still ruled by fear, misalignment and inexperience.

So the young Arab woman who stays, shuffles through and finds some balance if fortunate. If unlucky however, she might just find out how harsh and unforgiving society can be. Outside of the carefully niched boxes, she might become a witch. Surely, the image is bleak from a singular perspective, but one must paint the bleak in order to qualify and determine the extremities of the issue. So it could be THAT bad, but it’s not always so. Then again, I was well educated in diplomacy and social sciences, so one must never be an absolutist because then it is not a true portrayal of the world.

You still hear tragic stories of lives put to end because of social, religious or cultural norms. You still learn how dangerous it could be as you grow up, but then again there remains hope in the pigeon holes of the larger community. Love and inspiration and yogic values arise in the midst of unpleasantries despite the cat calling and shaming, in spite of the difficulties and bad experiences. The smaller communities are still young and inexperienced but they are still there and that is the point; that is where change begins.

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The Planet’s Lungs Are Burning and Why We Don’t Care

I remember being in class during my NYU Master’s program and thinking to myself, almost everything I am learning about environmental policy is relative to where one lives.

That was 5 years ago, and today the Amazon burns and my opinion hasn’t changed. We all like to think that logical theories and practical solutions can be blanketed over the globe’s different populations. We want to believe that what works in the US will work in Europe and might even work in India or a Middle Eastern country. The policies protecting our planet can be global and those feel so good to hear about. Yet, when one looks at their own local government and finds that little is being done, the macro picture stops mattering as much; not because of its reduced effect but on the contrary due to the clear lack of accountability people feel towards the pieces of earth they inhabit.

This post is not about arguing for global warming or about what industrialized countries have contributed and where each country finds itself at fault.

This post is about the human factor in all of this. This is about doing something out of love and not out of fear of extinction and desertification.

Surely, I can understand that people’s lifestyles and relationships to nature differ immensely and sometimes even in unrecognizable ways from one neighborhood to another. Except compassion must find its way back into our lives even if in the smallest incidents.

Then again, sometimes it seems that compassion and kindness towards the earth are really big asks. We work endless years until we annihilate ourselves, and we simultaneously lose consciousness of anything that surrounds us. We self sabotage, and we put so much effort into becoming kinder to ourselves, and still we struggle. Perhaps we must first understand that one big challenge to the environmental problem is not that we don’t care about earth and nature, but it is that we don’t care about ourselves.

The Earth’s lungs are burning, but so are our lungs; so where does that leave us? If nature is a representation of our spirits, then the abandonment of our spirits is the problem.

So reconnection is essential. Rebuilding a relationship with one’s direct environment is important, because if you don’t care about watering the tree in front of your house, then you wont care about the bigger problem; and it is immensely bothersome to force you.

That is where local policies come in place, that is where parents come into action and people with any kind of authority become the little workers for a much bigger cause. It surely requires more than just second thoughts, but it requires some dwelling on the subject, some education and wide awareness about our parts in nature. Logic seems to help in creating solutions, but logic has rarely convinced anyone to do something differently.

We are emotional creatures driven by some loathing a lot of hope, so what can we do with that? How does this mix bring forth something good?

Hope is good, but the loathing needs to end. Eventually, those among us who manage to drop the loathing suddenly find immense power in spirit and a connection to the environment.

I end with the beginning; what kind of loathing exists locally around you, and whom or what is it directed towards? That is the distraction, that is where we begin to care.

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The Lebanese Game of Thrones

I recently finished watching the entire Game of Thrones series, and if you are wondering, that consists of  more than 50 hours of immersion into George R. R. Martin’s world. However, I would not let 50+ hours of my life pass by without learning something, so then it hit me. We live in conditions so similar, although visually less appealing, with characters immensely worse looking than the original cast, we are enduring a Lebanese game of thrones.

Count with me, and there is no particular order here, but these are the country’s most powerful kingdoms:

Amal, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Future, Lebanese Forces, Hezbollah, Kataeb, Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)

Generations have lived and died under the power of those SEVEN for decades.

throne-game-of-thrones

They want the throne, they conspire, they share the feast and poor people of the seven kingdoms are locked out of the castles and the fortunes. They roam around the realm, and allegiance is sworn just to save lives, because well you never know who might stick their sword in your back if you support the wrong king.

People live in dirt and among trash, some own slaves, while the majority are slaves. The feasts continue, and the little kings save their best tricks for the people’s most important and empowering event: National Elections.

So, what do they do?

They open their castle doors a few days before the ballots are cast and close them a few days after. People start rushing to allegiance, because their mouths are fed, and their streets are cleaned. They are conditioned so drastically over generations to wait for the crumbs, because they have lost all faith in their actual power, and forgotten that the only salvation they have left are the elections.

Except, what better drug is there than to make helpless people believe that they have a choice, when truly the kings are rigging the game?

Lebanon always belonged to one of the kings, yet since the last elections the kings decided to rule together. Let me tell you why, because they are getting old and weak. They are afraid of children, they are afraid of women, they are afraid of youth and strength, they are afraid of being over-thrown by people not even playing their old and withered game, they are afraid of the new that carries hope, acts rightfully, and gives justice where necessary. They are terrified of political dragons, flame throwers, freedom seekers, ones they thought didn’t exist, ones they thought they had crushed under the rubble of civil war.

The old kings dwell in their thrones, some in the north, others in the south and people rush about carrying their expensive stuff, and fresh haircuts waiting for the palace gates to open wide.

Except, what happens if someone comes around and tells them: you do not have to suffer anymore, you don’t have to protect your back, you no longer need your leash. You will get the life you want without falling at their feet, without fighting their wars, all you have to do is not enter that castle gate, cast a different vote!

A slave can pretend to love their chains, they can even pretend to wear them by choice. When given power with a piece of paper, what will the slave do?

In my opinion, A Game of Thrones is fiction for a reason, a slave who has been born and raised into slavery learns to serve not herself. A slave will not use the paper to free themselves, because the fear of living without chains is far greater than the fear of living with them.

So then, here is your choice: Vote wisely, or don’t vote at all; and if you do decide to fall for their tricks yet again, don’t start wailing when you get kicked out of the castle and into your reality again.

 

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Fresh Lebanese rant: the old man and my brand new bicycle

Is it really not Europe? Because when I got on this bicycle I thought I was going to Rembrandt square, how the hell did I end up in Verdun?

Oh hi, I’m sorry, does my face look poor? Oh or maybe because I’m using my legs to walk and not driving a fancy car? No? Oh this thing? Yes it’s called a bicycle, nope it has no relationship to my wealth or my social status.

Why?

Well I don’t like traffic, I don’t like to get angry for stupid reasons, only important ones. I also really like the environment, and trees and oxygen. You could say I’m a moderate person who tries to do what they could.

Where do I think I am?

Beirut, why I can swear it too.

This is not Europe?

No! Really? Don’t say that, don’t crush me like that. Pardon my French Mr. Francophone man, why are you stating the obvious and hating on this really well made, and actually quite good looking bicycle?

People especially those who bellow at the top of theirs lungs: do you think ur living in Europe? (مفكرا حالك بأوروبا) are the exact and utter reason why we have not yet evolved. They hide behind their embarrassing ideologies, they repeat non-sensical sentences, and hide behind The man, the establishment.

They think that they deter the younger generation from rising into the future by reminding us and projecting their own insecurities at us, they keep telling us just how irrelevant we are as a community let alone the deep and pathetic inferiority complex they want us to inherit. It is not my fault that you accepted your living conditions old man, so you do not get to lecture me.

So no old man, I’m not living in Europe, I’m living in Beirut, f u and all that you stand for, if riding a bicycle and all of the freedom that it entails threatens your inability to be original or crack the ceiling of fear and oppression that you operate within, i feel bad for you.

You know what, just move over, and let me pass, my friends and I will take it from here.

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Wonder disclaimer rant: The Lebanese edition

Welcome to the country of loss. We lose people, and honor here, we lose brilliant brains, and integrity. We lose sight and identify with a continuous fear of loss. We are terrified of the notion, yet we accept it taking over our lives and our country. If you were lucky enough, you know that the first thing we are taught here is how to pretend. Playing pretend is not problematic as long as you are able to identify your reality and its qualities. Pretend becomes problematic when you believe the act, your own act and everyone else’s.

Liberals

What does it mean to be a liberal here? Does it mean that you are agnostic? or does it mean that you have a less than harsh opinion about women? Does it include acceptance of sexual fluidity? or is it solely bound by your weekly practice of yoga at your local gym to blatantly identify as a seeker of inner and outer liberty and peace?

Conservatives

Are the practicing muslims the conservatives of this country? Don’t the latte drinkers, club goers, luis litton wearing gossip queens and kings not count here? Do you become a conservative person when you refuse to pull off that crop top, or body con dress? Or is it a political statement, one where you worship only one blood lord, and not the others? Are the liberals more convenient and generous in hosting leaders in their lives?

Where does money stand in this situation? Are the rich liberal or conservative? If they drive a brand new range rover, does it make them less conservative because they like cool and expensive cars?

Rant Alert

I attempt to excuse myself from this experience as often as possible. Advanced degrees in politics taught me one major lesson:

Don’t believe anyone in politics, and when you find yourself believing in them, know that whatever plan or policy they are preparing for is probably targeted at people like you. You are the audience. The labels don’t matter, those are audience selection tools. Those are summoning strategies and have been used for too long to swiftly gather the attention of “seemingly” like minded individuals.

Don’t believe them when they refer to “others”. Don’t believe them when they refer to “us”. It’s OK to live in the country of loss, just don’t believe the acts around you; but control one thing if you can: Your own reality.

The reality where you do not have good access to water and electricity, as any -liberal or conservative- does in any other state. You do not have a sustainable, consciensous plan for waste management, and soon enough this will affect you personally if it hasn’t yet. You do not have a working political system, a Democracy that has lasted since 2009 without elections. You do not have politicians or leaders looking out for your public good, depending where you stand on the spectrum, you are either a self hating Lebanese, who wishes you were French, American or anything else (western), or are living the life of a soldier ready to give your life at any given que.

It is quite dis-heartening to admit this, while I try to write stories to uplift you to your higher selves, seeking the innate good in myself and everyone else reading this. See, the essence of your goodness is there, but as long as you refuse to stop the act, there unfortunately will be little wonder for you to uncover in this world.

 

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To run from peace

I woke up one night and i decided to leave. I did not speak, i did not listen, i forced the bravery out of me and i walked out. I gave up on the causes that chained me and i let go of faith. I left peace in bed and i took off with war. I betrayed ideals and i broke out.
The road ahead of me was so long, more than i had ever imagined it to be; almost endless. I started my car and i opened my eyes. Music played louder than my thoughts, and it woke up peace. Then as i went forward i could see peace through my rear view mirror banging at the that door i locked. It didnt break my heart, that is where it belonged. Peace lied to me, it slept with me and it cradled me when war was always at my door. Peace made everything quiet, it even showed me beauty. Peace began taking me one breath at a time and i let it. War always watched and it was so shameless.
Peace was a hypocrite and a fraud. It had so much to lose, it was a coward and it convinced me never to leave its side.
Today i leave peace, i break peace and i turn my back to it. I grab war by the neck and ask it to lead me to where all the truth lay. I scream at war and demand it tells me why it wanted me. Why has it always sat at my door, why it watched, why it left traces of doubt over my porch…i had so many questions.
As i drove, war would run along wanting to show me its world. And so i drove over bodies and ideas, i saw limits and they meant nothing. War was illeterate and blind. War only acted it never looked back. I drove and the road wouldnt end. People cursed war and i was surprised. I used to think big of it, but it turned out to be a humiliating friend. I had to watch my back and twitch with fear as war introduced me to its friends. Everything was blurry and truth lay nowhere but in red puddles. That was the only color i saw and it was repulsive.
War finally asked me to get out of my car to watch it dance. I had never seen war in daylight, and so as day broke, i watched disaster and destruction prevail. Every time war swayed i saw its real colors. Under the light war was ugly, it was deformed and stained with defeat, it had no arms or legs it creeped and lurked; there was nothing alluring about it and its stench was nauseating. It asked me to join but i couldnt, because suddenly i had so much to lose. Suddenly i missed peace and its beauty. I missed peace and how it looked at me, how it sang me to sleep and faded into hope every morning.
Except war wouldnt let me go, it pulled me in and i fell as all its friends joined. I had willingly left peace for this. For that horror and pain. For the puddles of truth stained in red. I left peace and i believed war would solve all my problems; except it didnt.
I wept as the very truth i was looking for slowly seeped out of me and to my surprise it was colored red. I knew what i had lost and i longed for the first time that peace would find me.