Creating Balance

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: Canaanite.org 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…

Glossary

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!

8 Responses to “Creating Balance”

  1. Maroun says:

    Wlik ya Rima,

    I would even take it a step further. I think that the traffic system in Lebanon is the root of all problems. If the government can fix the roads and implement the laws on the road, The country will be back to a much lawful state. This is because you encounter the law when you first step outside your house. the moment you get on the road, it is your first encounter with the law.

    Right now, Lebanese feel like they own the country, because there is no watchdog We have a Lebanese saying that goes like this:

    Rriz` sseyib bixallim nnes l ḣaraam.

    Which means:

    Unattended property teaches people how to steal.

    Road rules or mayhem. As it stands right now, “mayhem”.

    By the way, you should use the Lebanese Latin Letters system to express the Lebanese language, it’s much better than using numbers in words!

  2. Posh says:

    Ahhh, you are so right… The list is so correct haha ;)

    I am in the states now… I guess until late June. But I am craving for Lebanon. I see photos, photos of Hamra, of Beirut, and all the other places, and it feels like someone squeezed and squished my heart.

    But, you’re right. Something needs to be done and I agree with Maroun.

  3. Jenny Sarraf (Sarrafieye) says:

    Rimer!!!

    I was literally laughing out load when I read this. The list is great. And I especially enjoy #5. I’m glad that the worry behind this issue was the charge of 2000LL & not safety!

    I agree with the traffic system. In the Shmal (North) & specifically by Kousba and the neighboring towns, there is 1 stop light on the main road. When I drove for the first time on my own last summer, I would stop when the light turned red (duh) but I would get YELLED at by the people behind me. And I’d ask myself, “Why am I getting yelled? The light is red!”

    Didn’t make too much sense to me, but I usually just waved and yelled “Sorry I’m from America!” It made sense to have a soldier there to monitor this area, but I never saw one!

    Hope all is well :)

  4. Hady Abi Abdallah says:

    *clears his throat*

    I HAVE PHOTOS OF YOU!

    *makes as though he did not read a thing*

  5. Rima

    I just discovered your blog through Fouad’s The Food Blog; I love it! can’t wait to read more and leave you more comments!

  6. Rima says:

    thanks for reading! and your blog is quite wonderful!

  7. Simon says:

    Rima,

    i just started to read your blog…

    as a person who lived for years abroad, so who can compare different systems and countries; and as one who understands the importance of complaining to correct and improve things, society and the world, I can’t but agree on the value of complaining :)

    one of my favorite mottoes is this:
    “Restlessness is discontent; and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and I will show you a failure.” (T. Edison)

    halla2, on the traffic thing – sigh !!! – that is disastrous. ok, to create balance, i have to admit that there have been major improvements in the last 2-3 years, but it still is a serious problem.
    i think the success of traffic, as of any organizational system, depends on two things: coercive policy and individual values. with the absence of one of these two, it can’t work; and as we all know, there is no law enforcement on lebanon roads.

    on a lighter note, your lists of common complaints is very funny; i vote for No. 1 because i can’t help shouting every time why the driver think this is his father’s road. :D

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