The U.S. embassy in Lebanon is in Awkar, a town tucked in a mountain, with a great view of the sea, might I add. I have never walked into a place in Lebanon that demands the same stringent security – no phone, no bag, multiple body checks. The staff is alert and efficient, persistent in their demands. This is refreshing, as a resident of Lebanon, land of the free – free to not bother following any rules or laws, free to walk away from blowing someone up at rush hour, free to fill government coffers while… I’m digressing. What’s important is I submitted my vote for Barack Obama and left feeling clean and proud – one of those rare moments after voting in an unpatriotic person’s life.
5 years ago, I came to Lebanon. It was the Bush days: the “I’m bushed” days; the “I’m so sickened by my president” days; the everyone-hates-Americans-with-more-passion days. And I was so happy about fresh-squeezed juice. It was near midnight and I swung by to pick up a glass of pomegranate, when I had yet to learn that asking politics-based questions in this country wasn’t the right type of asking. Not only because the reality is less than desirable, but so are most of the opinions.
“So you think we’ll have a president tomorrow?” I remembered to ask somebody on the eve of the first scheduled election day of the president of the Banana Republic of Lebanon. (I think back to my newbie self: I was bright-eyed, overly-optimistic — and obnoxious). He’s a short fellow in frumpy clothes. He would (still) stand at the door of his juice joint, people-watching and pestering from under his mustache, “Juice, it’s good for you.”
As he manned the register and took my faceless liras, I wondered if he remembered me from the time before when I bought a few cups of pomegranate juice and he had asked me where I was from, my accent and broken Arabic betraying me. The big man behind the glowing glass case of fresh oranges, mangoes, kiwis, and pomegranates, had clucked his head cockily and interrupted with a guess, “You’re mom is American and your dad is Lebanese.” I corrected him, and he seemed surprised, “Where are they from?” I told him my parents’ southern Lebanese hometowns, which seemed to have also scraped his preconceptions.
“So you think we’ll have a president tomorrow?” I asked again. “I wish we would, so we can be done with them!”
“Done with who? Done with who?” The frumpy fellow wanted to know.
“All of them,” I replied. He fished for my allegiance: East or West? Big man eyed me with dark eyes, one hand on the juicer. “Both,” I said. “Both!”
“With who? With who?” the weasel persisted.
“All of them!”
Big man pulled the juicer’s crank down onto a half pomegranate. “We need to be done with America. America is Satan. I noticed his hands, his thumb flat and wide, his nail just a small piece against the ample flesh.
“The Americans ruin everything. It’s their fault we’re in this mess.”
“It’s everybody’s fault,” I said.
“America and Israel need to leave us alone. Do you see what they’ve done to Iraq? They destroyed the country.”
“I’m with you, I’m with you.”
Anger spewed from his throat as I became mute. “All we need is for America to drown into the sea,” his hand rose flat in the air and slammed down.
Since Bush got the hell out of office, after he was an accomplice to hundreds of thousands of murders, anti-American sentiment has been reserved more often for the zealots and fanatics, versus your everyday juice vendor. I don’t know a single Lebanese in Lebanon who wants Mitt Romney to win this election. Isn’t this something to think about? Aren’t Americans curious as to why 1) People outside of the U.S. care who Americans elect as president and 2) Why most prefer Obama over Mitt Romney? I think there’s one major answer to both questions: Mitt Romney is another war-monger and religious fanatic in this world. King Kong in a suit.
This summer, while I was in the U.S., in Illinois, my friends – all 30-somethings – each had something to say about the current state of things. While I have become accustomed to people talking about the “situation” in Lebanon, I had not yet heard so much griping about the “situation” in the U.S., and particularly in Illinois, the state that takes the prize for government corruption and debt which is at $139,829,215,000 and rising by the second. I couldn’t believe that the road tolls had more than doubled. I complained to the tollway attendants as I drove through, who just shook their heads and said, “I know, I know. But what can we do?” Also a familiar sentiment in these parts. I began to think that voting for Obama in 2008 was a waste. Taxes are sky-high, Chicago is a murder capital, welfare has increased and become mainstream (“I Am Julia” – where did it vanish?), and still there’s no peace-steps in Palestine/Israel – nor any part of the Middle East – far from it.
And my friends, many of them, were talking about leaving Illinois. If they weren’t talking about leaving Illinois, they complained how they were living check-to-check. At least two of my friends or their spouses had been laid off in the last year. Things have become expensive. Sales tax in Illinois is at 10%. On everything you buy. People are feeling it. Property has plummeted due to so many foreclosures. The Chicago Public Schools went on strike for the first time in 27 years because of the cuts in spending on education.
The situation is shit, but it’s because this is where his-and-her-story brought us. Before-before-Obama. We, as Americans, have been greedy, wasteful, short-sighted, haughty, big-headed, ethnocentric, racist, gluttonous, vengeful, hopeless, tunnel-visioned, apathetic, stingy, unsympathetic, unempathetic, ungracious, unholy, un, un, un. And then we rant and yell about one man who comes along and asks us to change these ways – to bring soldiers back home; to share the wealth; to build our country rather than dominate others; to hold banks accountable; to give everyone an opportunity, not just the privileged, to “make it.” I know it doesn’t feel this way. And maybe I’m too hopeful, but if nothing else, his words inspire me, his logic inspires me, and to hell with it, his “otherness” inspires me. I voted for his brain, and hope that his plans have longterm gains.
And that’s why I voted for him and pray to the heavens that Romney — who uses God and his privilege as a tall handsome wealthy white man as reasons to manipulate the rights of women and the poor and people who he cannot see “over there” for his own personal beliefs — does not win, does not win, does not win, does not win, does not win, does not win, does not win, does not win, does not win, does not win…