I am taking an exception and publishing this today as a bonus for all of you and in celebration of my extraordinary return to beautiful Beirut! I do not know when I will publish the next two articles about Beirut, perhaps when I manage to park my overflowing emotions somewhere!
(First Article out of Three)
They wickedly detonated the first bomb almost before I landed, and the second one almost as soon after that. Welcome home, Hala, to a Beirut that is still writhing from a never-ending war planned, ordered and executed by evil conspiratorial foreigners and their collaborating local hoodlums! Within my first few days I reconfirm that the “one percent,” whether in the US, China, Europe, Russia, the Middle East or anywhere else they may reside, are oblivious to the pains and chagrins of the “ninety-nine” percent. Attesting to that are – as an example – the multi-million dollar apartment buildings rising taller and more architecturally stunning all over this city; most built with Lebanese local and immigrant inherited or well-earned capital; some with dirty laundered money, with blood-soaked dollars from the sale of lethal weaponry and drugs; most unaffordable. The reality that greedy bankers, wicked politicians and unconscionable multi-national corporations are hard at work all over the world, to remake and reshape it to their advantage, while, not giving a rat’s behind as to how their malfeasance is upending entire innocent populations, again hits me in the face even more starkly in tiny here than it does in vast Virginia.
However, none of that dampens my high spirits for one second! I am, after all, a seasoned veteran of this war-ravaged, still beautiful capital. I come here on this trip a free spirit and not the young mother scared by the moral dilemma of remaining in a city where killing had become licensed, running away to buffer her children from an immoral landscape. No, this time around I am older, wiser and unfettered. All my senses seem to be acutely aware of every fleeting moment. I am no more the despairing and helpless on-looker viewing my life as it acted itself out. I am now, and at this fantastic age, the star of the show, sensually abandoning myself to pure joy; immersing my whole being in every scene; every sound, every smell, every face, and every utterance!
The Customs Officer at the Rafik Hariri International Airport greeted me with “Welcome Home, ya Sit.” (Lady) Everyone echoes that phrase as I reconnect allowing its undeniable magic to hug me close. Walking away though, I can hear the Customs Officer at the Dulles International Airport in Virginia greeting me similarly with “Welcome Home, Ma’am” on my many return trips over the years from London reminding me, once again, that I belong in both worlds, that I straddle both cultures, that I am so privileged to be able to call two such incredibly different countries my “Home” and to belong so easily in both. The question “where is home?” that had confounded me for so many years is no more that. Home is – and ever will be – Palestine, Lebanon and the USA. All three are now coursing through my veins and nourishing me with their olio of sights and sounds, with their widely different cultures and histories sometimes clashing, at others in harmony, sometimes ranting and raving, at others enjoying the same human similarities, frailties and foibles. Ah! What a delight it is to realize that this, my identity, who and what I am, is a rarity which I wasted so many years searching for in the ravages of my war-torn soul and couldn’t crystallize, but that now it so eloquently manifests itself!
Unfortunately, the same does not apply to poor Lebanon who has lost her identity. She does not know, at this time in her sad and turbulent strife history, who or what she is anymore. Is she the capricious “Paris of the Middle East” that she once prided herself on being, or perhaps the Arab version of laissez-faire and decadent Hong Kong? Does she have a religious, or a political identity? Is she the financial capital of the not so long ago, or the bawdy whorehouse, drug souk and arsenal? Is she the sophisticated, cosmopolitan and intellectual hub of the region, or just another mundane and irrelevant failed state? At this moment, she is not quite clear. She is certainly suffering from a major identity crisis. Her rich pre and post-Biblical landscape, her unique status of the eclectic fifties, sixties and early seventies is lost somewhere in the throes of her recent bloody, criminal and tragic history. All indications seem to say that she will be suffering through this for quite a long while yet!
For those of us who had abandoned warring Beirut, and who have now reclaimed our residency by coming back to live here, or have adopted other citizenships and are residing elsewhere, identity issues have been part of our challenges and struggles throughout these long years.
Unlike poor Lebanon though, many of us who had immigrated to the United States especially, have realized that our identity, which we have so painstakingly evolved into, is a delightful amalgamation of the five thousand year history of our ancestry and belonging in the Middle East combined with that most recent history of our presence in the New World. It is a unique identity. Asserting it, while realizing what a terribly criminal, naïve and screwed up foreign policy the US, Israel and all their supporters have been enforcing on our people and native lands, has become one of our proud and enduring lifetime missions. Meanwhile and at some point, the bloodletting will end, the bombs will stop going off, and the evildoers will withdraw from our streets and alleys. Moreover, Lebanon, like me, and notwithstanding the severe and heartless battering it has taken, will reclaim her very special and unique identity because, despite it all, she still has flair and élan, a je ne sais quoi that no other neighboring Middle Eastern or Arab city can ever replicate! The patient, amazing and beautiful Lebanese people know that. They just do! Oh, yes! They certainly do!