Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bey(ru)t byout: A sense of home

Photo credit: Colors Magazine issue 27


You know, lately it seems everyone is agreeing of how bad the country (Lebanon) has become. No safety, no security, no respect for institutions, the army being assaulted by citizens, explosions, attempted murders, and so on and so forth, without even counting corruption or the “traditional” plagues ravaging the country – sporadic electricity, water rationing, clientage (that's the technical word for "wasta"), etc…
Solution? Let’s all immigrate!
As of late most of the conversations which rotated around me were why-not-immigrate-to-another-country or apply-for-immigration-and-get-a-super-salary-abroad…. Not sure why this is getting repetitive, and of course, people telling me this are people who – not only never applied for immigration but never even traveled in their lives.
I have. Traveled that is, not immigrated.
Sure I was already 25 when I first boarded a plane, but I did a lot of homework and caught up with the lost time. Not sure how many times I have travelled, but boy have I done so! Lately I was more grounded I admit, but I did have visas in the past which allowed me to be in the US and in Europe and actually be able to work.
But immigrate I did not. Maybe I am a coward, maybe I am too patriotic for a nation that does exactly give a damn about my patriotism, maybe… I have been through so much while travelling that, facing this on a daily basis as I immigrated was not what I wanted for my life.
Let’s see some of the things I experienced. I got stuck in Stockholm with the equivalent of 6 USD for a whole weekend. Don’t ask me how it happened but it did, so I spent the whole of Saturday comparing prices at fast food chains to see how far ONE Dollar would get me.
Oh yes, when I was in Italy, in Venice no less (I think I am the only human being in the world who got there by mistake), I was heading to a business meeting when a finger touches me from behind, I swiveled to see my worst nightmare: Two men in leather jackets, straight out of a Hollywood mafia casting, menacingly talking to me. Luckily what one of the men said was “sir, you lost your wallet.” Which had slipped from the pocket of my blazer mounted atop of a heap of business documents I was carrying.
Oh, have you tried, for once – to get through Frankfurt airport on time? I know this has to do with travel much more than immigration but transport is one of those things that will freak you out when you travel. Be it trains, planes or automobiles. First of all, no nation in its right mind accepts the Lebanese driving license, so be prepared to do an oral and written exam and to actually pass it. You have to catch trains on time – they don’t wait for you like “bostet el day3a” (the village bus). And yes, no smoking is allowed – something Lebanese tend to do wherever they go in the world.
You also have to adapt to new rules in taxation, in formalities, in car seats. I kid you not, you cannot fix your own car seat to the car yourself in the US, you’d have to go to the police station for that. Listen to this: As we were touring an empty – and I mean EMPTY island in Sweden in a huge Pullman bus, the driver kindly told us, “please keep your seat belts fastened at all times.” I gently pointed out that there was – apart from the howling wind – no breathing soul on the island. The reply came as Scandinavian as it could be “but these are the regulations.”
I am also reminded of the time when, attending a writers’ conference in the US, the 2006 war broke out. There was no way for me to come back home, and so the two weeks of my trip got transformed into two months. But the worst part was the apathy. When I told my fellow conference attendees I was stuck in the US, one of them answered “oh and did you like the reading yesterday?” – fearing he has not heard well, I repeated that there was no way for me to go back home, to which he replied “… but it was Michael Ondaatje!”
One of the people in that same conference simply said “oh let’s just nuke the whole area!”… I kindly suggested that “before nuking the whole area, it would be gentle and thoughtful to take my family out first.”
So yes, the dream of my life is actually to shovel snow from my driveway in Canada. Or even better, to go there and do my “landing” and then come back to Lebanon through the US all while the “immigration counter” is still ticking for me to go back there and eventually get my nationality when the time comes. A Lebanese doctor I know did exactly that, and lately told me “I am a proud Canadian and I am ready to disavow my Lebanese nationality.” Yeah right, getting the Canadian nationality while playing tricks on the system – isn’t that the epitome of Lebanese behavior and mentality? There’s nothing Canadian about that.
Sure, when you apply to a job in the Gulf (Gulf does not mean permanent immigration by the way, it means extra weight for overindulging in cheap food) as a Canadian national, you get double the offer you get as a Lebanese. Why? Because you beat the system by being in Lebanon when you were supposed to be in Canada (shoveling snow from your driveway).
I hear Australia is nice for immigration. A friend of mine did go to Australia and yes, he did get the nationality as well. When one night his neighbours’ house was on fire, the man intrepidly went there and got the two women out. The next morning, when he said good morning to them, the women dutifully ignored him.  Yes, this gives a totally new interpretation of the theme song from "Neighbours" (that's when good neighbours become good friends).
Do not get me wrong, I am not defending Lebanon. We suck here! We’re in bad shape and I am trying to finish this post before a power outage hits (have you even tried uploading anything bigger than a few hundred Kb? Have you been desperate to do a Skype session with a think tank all while praying to the IT God for not letting you down either on power or on connection?)
But then, maybe immigration is not always the solution. I remember an issue of Colors Magazine (as published by the United Colors of Benetton) and which treated the topic of “Home”.  Some of the sentences that stuck to my mind were “home is where you change your clothes between parties”, or “home is where my mother is”… Whatever your notion of home is, whatever you feel is where you belong (and for a while because of some odd circumstances, home for me was my gmail inbox!), even it is just a "beyt byout" (the make believe game played as children) - just remember the grass is not always greener on the other side.
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