Tag Archives: Lebanon

When Being Lebanese is an Insult

It’s Thursday night in Beirut, Lebanon: the beginning of the weekend. Or maybe just another day of the never-ending weekend we live in. I’m at a pub in Mar Mkhayel catching up with a friend. While inhaling three packets of cigarettes, none of which I inhale by choice (Did the ban on smoking in public pass? And if it did, are we abiding by it?), I notice the usual crowd. The same faces, and if not the same faces, then definitely the same types of people. Mostly foreigners, the NGO-working/article-writing/third-world-saving/cigarette-smoking/scarf-wearing foreigners who, of course, enjoy the “authentic” experience they’re having in a country that’s not quite as dangerous as Syria, but not as safe and sterile as the UAE. The foreign men dance in flip flops, backpacks on their shoulders, either exoticizing the Lebanese women or considering them beneath them.

Of course, there’s the Lebanese crowd as well. The men who live for this kind of experience, hoping to charm a foreign woman by showing her how “liberal” they can be. If the gods are not generous that night, they would settle for a Lebanese woman to dance and flirt with. The story is the same, told by my friends, heard in restaurants, witnessed in bars and experienced with anger. The ladies dance with the men, closer and closer as the night passes and the drinks accumulate. The man is encouraged, he leans in for a kiss, and the time passes. He thinks there is a good chance to take this woman home, but the woman might either be uninterested, unable to stay out till morning that particular night, or just not a fan of going home with a man she barely knows or doesn’t know at all. Of course, he is offended, but really, he is just frustrated, and out comes the typical response: “You’re so Lebanese.”

There it is, everyone, the insult of the bar scene in this country. We, Lebanese women, how dare we be so Lebanese? How could we be so conservative? Suddenly, we’re in the grade school of pubs, with a flag pinned to our shirt, backs turned to the class, and punished in the corner for being so Lebanese. We turned them down because WE’RE Lebanese, not because THEY’RE not interesting. Who can dispute this logic? Later, these men will meet at the “Chauvinist Convention of Lebanon” and pat each other on the back for such sharp observations and comments, they will applaud each other for discovering the reason behind the lack of sex in their lives, which of course, is not them.

Good job guys, you really pinned the tail on the donkey on this one.

 

Dima Mikhayel Matta

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There is no Dignity in Being Lebanese

There is no dignity in being Lebanese. There is no pride or honor. Telling people where we’re from sounds more and more like an apology and hearing where we’re from sounds more and more like an accusation.

How can we even begin to address unity when we’re killing people who live in our neighborhood and belong to our own country and our own religion? How can we discuss improving way of life when we can’t even depend on affording bread? How do we envisage the possibility of being “more green” when we are on the streets burning tires? How do we talk of having independence and autonomy when we’re surrounded by countries who wish us ill and who want nothing but to see us fail and crumble?

There is no dignity in being Lebanese. There is only fear for not knowing what the next hour holds. There is only amnesia because we never learn from our mistakes. There is only meekness because we always follow and never think. There is only hatred and spitefulness because we never really solved anything and we never forgave.

Lebanon is stuck in one scene: Fairuz and Majida el Roumi playing in the background, families gathered around TVs and radios, listening to which part of the country is going up in flames and talking about the days of shelters and demarcation lines.

The rest is intermission.


Let’s sit while Lebanon turns to rust.

Visiting Mar Mkhayel’s abandoned train station as well as others around Lebanon for my play “Aya Se3a Byousal El Tren?” (When Will the Train be Here?) (For more information about the play, click here) was a thrill for I learned so much about our history, our past… But it also filled me with dread and anxiety.

It’s all rusted.

NOW Lebanon couldn’t have said it better: “The abandoned train station in Mar Mikhael is a decaying testament to a long-gone era in Lebanon; a romantic remnant of a past increasingly overrun by sanitized conceptions of the future.” (for the full article, click here)

I don’t know when it all happened. When some of the best things that happened to this country started getting rusty. Trains, a way of transportation that could’ve saved us from so much traffic and pollution, are rotting in abandoned lots. The “toot toot 3a Beirut” has been silenced. When did we become so careless about things that characterized us as Lebanese?

“Sorry, my Arabic is a bit rusty”… WHAT?! We’ve been living right here, why are we speaking, or more importantly, why are we, why am I, writing in another language? When I was researching comparative literature programs abroad, Arabic was cited as a dead language. If only they knew what was happening to it in Lebanon.

Our own history is going down the drain. Some of us graduated from college and we still don’t know when our civil war started. Most of us become silent after the second verse of our national anthem because we forgot the words or never even bothered to learn them. How many of us were killed during our wars? We seem to develop the memory of a gold fish when it comes to our own history.


I love the times I spend with my parents around our dinner table when they would tell us stories of when they were younger. They’re my source of history, my fountain of memories that will disappear if they remain unrecorded.

What’s in your fountain of memories? What would you like to see revived here in Lebanon?

Photos taken by Dima Matta.


Waiting for Godahraba: Lebanese Electricity, The Company’s Sense of Humor

At 11pm, while I was studying for my GRE and my biology final… simultaneously, the power went out. Sure, it happens quite often, often enough that it doesn’t really surprise us. Our Lebanese post-war reflexes kick in: open the front door, press the elevator button to see if the entire building is also in the dark (because surely you don’t expect to have the AC, washing machine and dish washer on at the same time and STILL have power!). Then you go to the kitchen and retrieve alternative ways of illumination. Candles. For the more sophisticated people, rechargeable neon lights. Then, you wait. Sometimes the power goes back on a few minutes later, and it would’ve been a little wink from Electricité du Liban, making sure you stay on your toes. If you’re in the dark for more than this time interval, you assume the worst: “3otol”… Houston, they have a problem! Then, it becomes a matter of gauging how long it will take for them (we don’t really know who “they” are) to fix it. For those of us who maintain the will to live in the AC-less heat, we go to the phone and call this so-called Electricité du Liban. A building that, if drawn by a modern painter, would boil down to an empty canvas. You dial, 1707. You hang up then dial again, and again, and again. You get busy signals all the time. You then devise a clever system of redialing by just pressing two buttons, to minimize movement and therefore maximize ventilation… a strategy that got us through the war. FINALLY, the heavens open, the angels gather and sing, your exhausted sweat glands perform little cartwheels: THEY picked up!! *waiting music* Of course, you should’ve known better, they put you on hold. Now, this is where it gets interesting.  After a while, you realize that you’re listening to the music of Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way”. Yes, the “on-hold music” of Electricite du Liban is “I did it my way”. An omen? A sign foretelling what is yet to come? THEY answer: “Fi 3otol.” (DUH!) “ma mna3ref 2emtan bi zabtoo” (min henneh?!) “ma 3andeh 2ayy fekra shou 3am bi seer” (join the club and thanks for nothing!) “Allah ma3ek madame…”* (MADAME?!!! Sure, add insult to injury, to sweat, to despair and darkness).

* “There’s a malfunction” (DUH!) “we don’t know when they will fix it” (who are THEY?!) “I have no idea what’s going on” (join the club and thanks for nothing!) “God be with you madame…”


Lebanese Train Stations: It’s Not a Train, it’s a Time Machine.

I received the wonderful opportunity to be part of a play that is to be performed at old abandoned train stations around Lebanon. It is set in the 50s, back when trains were still running across our country, back when people got on and went elsewhere, mainly to Damascus. This project is organized by Books in Motion, an organization whose mission is to make theatre accessible to everyone around Lebanon.

For more information about the play “Aya Se3a Byoussal El Tren” (When Will the Train Be Here?), go to the Facebook Event Page.

It is not a train, it is a time machine. Lebanese abandoned train-stations, where railways have been buried, whistles have been silenced and the workers dismissed… and dead.

Walking around what is left of it, one can easily revive bits of the past. The remnants of white tiles with blue patterns, a sink was probably there. Stairs with missing steps, they led to another waiting room. A rusted cistern, provided water to the station. They all seem to be begging for revival.

My great-grandfather was a train driver, he took his granddaughter from her boarding school in Beirut to her home in Damascus. The train would leave at 10am and arrive at 6pm… people seemed in such less of a hurry back then. Trains were the stuff of dreams. Lonely women dreamed of being whisked away on a train by a handsome foreigner, men dreamed of making their fortunes elsewhere. They all seemed so eager to move forward and now we are at an age where it all never stops. How did that woman swiftly hop on the train with her elbow-length gloves and hat box and came back to live in an apartment, all alone, praying to die in her sleep?

We are too angry, too anxious to go places, the train can no longer carry us, we are a burden on a time machine that moves at its own will, because this time machine knew all along that what we were all hurrying to was not worth all the haste.

Photos taken at Araya Train Station by Dima Matta


Thick Glasses, White Socks, Knee-Length Dresses and War

The war took it all away. Things didn’t go out of style. War happened. Big, thick glasses, white socks and knee-length dresses and a time when each picture was art because you had to make it worthwhile. Then war happened. A picture of my mother and father during their wedding day. Cars aligned and drove to my father’s village while Beirut was being bombed. My mother only had lipstick on. There was no time for such luxuries.

Their honeymoon lasted forty days. They toured Europe, the States and even Canada. There was no war there. There, people still smiled in pictures.

The war happened and there is a picture of me being bathed in a little tin basin in a remote village where the bombs hadn’t reached yet. In that small house in that small village, “ ’Ersel ”, there was a well, or rather, a hole in the ground from where one could get water. Water so we can wash the dishes and the floors, water so we can bathe, water to drink.

Pictures of people that are now long gone, my mother pointed out each one: “God rest their soul” she said after every name.

War is so selfish. It made my sisters, when they were six years old, get out of bed, drag their pillows and sleep in the corridor as soon as they started bombing the city after nightfall.

The pictures became less and less. There was no time. Photos developed from being predominantly red to having distinct colors as Beirut turned gray.

Dima M.