I live in the oldest building on my block. It’s yellow paint is chipping, giving way to a whitish-grayish base, and sometimes while I’m half asleep in the morning I feel like the building is every so slightly swaying.
A few buildings have collapsed around the city in recent years, and every time I feel the swaying this comes to mind. Instead of getting up however, I lay in bed with my eyes closed. Anxiety dances around on my chest, but sleep holds down my shoulders.
When I wake up, I’ll try for a shower. Sometimes, if fortune smiles on me, there will be water. Often, there will be none. This is not where the struggle ends. This is just the start when you live the way I live in Beirut.
It’s hard to say what is a normal existence here. The socioeconomic and cultural bubbles leave everyone to believe they live the authentic experience of what it truly means to be Lebanese. In fact, the only thing I’m sure of is that I am not the typical Lebanese.
Here is a list of reasons why I am not a typical Lebanese person.
1 - I was not born here
2 - I didn’t grow up here
3 - I do not hold the passport
4 - I am not fluent in Lebanese Arabic and only learned it as an adult
5 - I am a young unmarried man and I live alone (well with other young unmarried men for roommates).
That's all my cards on the table. My claim to this country is that my dad grew up here. But even he doesn’t claim to be from here. In that sense I’ve always felt outside the inner circle. And to some people, because I don't meet their criteria I will never really be Lebanese. And honestly, I'm cool with that. But what I don't like is the question.
If you're reading this, you've likely asked or been asked this question: Why did you come here?
The thing is, this is a rhetorical question. And there are only two possible answers:
a - you’re crazy
b - you’re a spy
I’ll just respond to that by saying I am definitely not a spy. The real response is a mix of reasons. I was bored, I didn’t feel at home in the US, I wanted to learn a bit more about my convoluted identity, stories romanticized it, etc etc.
So I came here. At first, I really liked it. And when I realized I wanted to stay I found one of the few jobs English-only speakers can do in Lebanon, which is journalism.
Now, I explore a society and culture that is sort of my own but always feels slightly out of grasp. It’s an adventure for me, but one which carries heavy ambivalence for me. I’ve never been or felt fully American, so my work is a way to not only tell stories but examine myself.
This is not something most people deal with. Have you ever 'othered' yourself? I try to discern what an individual is, what impact society has on a person, and what prevails when one leaves said society. I often find myself orientalizing my own lineage.
In a sense I feel this culture is my own, but at the same time I’m a fraud, associating myself with something only slightly familiar to me. Who gets to define it, do I get a say if I can be Lebanese or not, and, in all honesty, is it worth the bother?