Archive for March, 2010

Johnny’s Life

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

My new favorite blog, Johnny’s Life, is written by a 10-year-old Lebanese/Swedish/American boy (who also happens to be my, like, 3rd cousin) who goes to the American Community School (ACS) here in Beirut. I have to say – I am impressed almost to tears. Perhaps, at 30, my perspective is shot, but I just do not remember being concerned about the environment or using semi-colons perfectly at 10 years old!


This blog gives us a peek into a a fresh mind belonging to a writer who is bright (he believes his dogs have ‘a right to freedom’), critical (see “Un fair”), descriptive (plenty o’ adjectives and even a keen eye with the camera), sensitive (‘Have you ever experienced the beauty of walking in the beach on the big rocks?’), and culturally aware (‘I am so happy that some people offered to clean the beach in the Cornich in Lebanon for free’). Besides an eagerness to reach out to the world through his blog, he also seems to have a special fondness for hamsters…

Creating Balance

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

One of my students and (loyal) reader of this blog complained that I complain about Lebanon in the same way his cousin from the U.S. does. You’ve been a little harsh about Lebanon. What!? I’ve been balanced, I thought! I’m not a Lebanon-hater! On the contrary! I can hardly pull myself away from this precious place (acadinyeh drip from the trees now and the coffee vendor needs to finish the story he started this morning…). I can hardly pull myself away even though impatient car horns invade my apartment just after sunrise; even though I am prey in a jungle of men; even though I don’t have equal rights; even though

I said, “I mean, for example, we all know that driving 100 km per hour down a side street is wrong and dangerous. But here the common attitude is ‘What are we going to do? It’s always been like this…’ and I just don’t believe in that.”

“Yeah, actually, this morning I was in a service and the driver complained about the car in front of him that climbed up on the trattoire to get around the traffic: ‘Leik, leik heda shoo 3am ya3meel… Hed’el baled…’ But then, after a few minutes, my service driver did the same thing,” he said.

We laughed at this. This is something my grandfather does all the time. So what does this mean? We all complain about the same things, but the possibilities seem different. Whereas in Chicago I would most likely get a ticket for climbing the sidewalk with my car (either a policeman or a traffic surveillance camera would be around the corner), here I don’t have to worry, because there will be no consequences. If there is a policeman, he will ask, “Why are you in such a rush?” and then go back to his text messaging. Just more of the same ol’.

EVERYONE complains about traffic – it seems to be the one common complaint all Lebanese can agree on. It’s exemplary. Without enforced rules of the road, we are the kings and queens and lawmakers: I’m first! I have the right of way at all times! Move it!!! The road seems to be indicative of the failure of the adage, It’s always been this way

I guess I’m a diehard optimist – I believe in change, ok? And you know how that begins? With a critique… And eventually…?

But what else did my student witness me complain about? Sexism, macho men, mistreatment of maids, defacement of public property? Where am I being harsh? Why is he defending things that we know are wrong… and are alive and well in this country? What about self-critique?

One of my friends, who lived his whole life in Lebanon before moving to New Jersey in his late twenties, and who is an architect, so pays keen attention to his aesthetic surroundings, said this once: “Why is it when Lebanese leave Lebanon, they can be organized?”

We had just picked him up from the airport and he was soaking in the surroundings of the drive to the village, which included abandoned bent-out-of-shape highway railings, teetering signs, a mountain of garbage. He’s the guy who started a Web site for our village years ago (when only a few people had Internet); he steps up onto his rooftop and paints the landscape of what is Ain el Delb, Abra, and Mieh Mieh. He is obsessed with starting things that are in honor of Lebanon – check his Web sites: and LebRecord. But he complains. And it’s because there’s an ache – that throbs in the knowledge that there is so much possibility.

Recently, my American coworker and office mate confessed that she’s ready to get outta Lebanon. She’s only been here since September. But she’s had her run of distasteful experiences, the latest being trampled by a mob of people outside of City Mall. But she seems to fail to remember that she is not in the U.S. She is consistently astonished by the way things work here and the absence of the cushy, overabundant life so many of us enjoy in the States. Just the other day, in the middle of her complaint, I told her to stop. I said, “You’ve been complaining ever since you stepped foot in Lebanon.” And then I went on my “This is a wonderful country if you allow it to show you its good side” spiel and pontificated, “You’re not in America! You are a foreigner in a foreign country, so you go by the rules here.” She said, you’re right, you’re right. I should give it a chance.

Two days later she yelped one of her exclamations from her desk. Apparently, someone had left her a gift. She said that just a few days earlier she had told a random girl on the street how much she liked her scarf. In her characteristic overly friendly way, my co-worker shamelessly introduced herself by name and place of occupation and told her that if she could find her one, she’d pay her back. In all her politeness and characteristic Lebanese generosity, the girl came by and left her the scarf that she had admired. And I thought, should I say something? Of course. “See…” and she laughed and said, “I know… I’ve gotta remember that there are good things…”

I was perplexed. I defend it to those who complain and complain to those who defend. In both circumstances it is automatic and sincere.

It is good to maintain balance…

10 Common Complaints by Foreigners in Lebanon

  1. I almost get killed 10x a day on the road!
  2. I walk through AUB because it’s the only green space in the city.
  3. I’m only buying organic fruits and vegetables!
  4. Ugh, I was writing an e-mail! I always forget that the electricity goes out at 12 (and 3 and 6)…
  5. The taxi driver hit on me and then put a gun to my face and took my 2000LL!
  6. My housekeeper puts my utensils in strange places!
  7. I can’t pay my student loans on this salary!
  8. I wish we had a Walmart… or a Target…
  9. Iran (and affiliates)
  10. The government…
  11. Lebanese are so…

10 Common Complaints by Natives in Lebanon

  1. Does he think this is his father’s road?!
  2. Beirut is a garage. This is why I live in the daii3a.
  3. Organic fruits and vegetables are a ghalwajeh! And who knows if they’re really organic…
  4. Yil3an saheeb el motor…
  5. Chauffeur el taxi saar 3am byakhoud 2000 LL!
  6. My maid talks too loudly to her friends from the balcony.
  7. I can’t even pay my wife’s coiffure on this salary…
  8. We wish we had Shebaa Farms back…
  9. Israel (and affiliates)
  10. The government…
  11. Foreigners think they can…


acadinyeh: a small oblong yellow-orange fruit that tastes like a peach and a lemon and a bumblebee had babies. you pluck them from the tree and deposit directly into your mouth and spit out one or two marble-smooth brown seeds.

Leik, leik heda shoo 3am ya3meel… Hed’el baled: Look, look at this guy what he’s doing… this freaking country…

daii3a: village

ghalwajeh: a rip-off

Yil3an saheeb el motor: Damn the generator guy

Chauffeur el taxi saar 3am byakhoud 2000 LL!: The taxi driver is now taking 2000LL!