Ungrateful, Beirut

Beirut never asks you to come back to it. It entices you to and makes you come back out of your own volition. If Beirut were a person, it would be irresistibly charming, more than anybody you would ever meet. Someone you would keep falling hopelessly in love with, even though you’d always know it would be a tumultuous, love and hate relationship with no future whatsoever. If Beirut were a force of nature, it would be a glorious sunset after a furious storm, though you’d always be left guessing when the next storm will hit, because it always does and stronger than the one before.

Beirut never asked me to come back, but I did. Like many others before and after me. The reasons that kept us away and the places we happened to be in were different. But at the end, we all succumbed. If we didn’t come back, who would? If this wasn’t going to be the the place we ultimately made our home, where would it be? If this wasn’t going to be the place we lived to the fullest, pursued our dreams and built our futures, where else in the whole wide world would it be?

Credit: Marina Chamma, 2019
“Revolt” written in Arabic on a wall in the Hamra neighborhood in Beirut. Credit: Marina Chamma, 2019.

Some of us came with the only purpose of wanting to be here, what we would make of our presence only developing with time. Some of us came because we wanted to be part of this outrageously comforting place our parents taught us to call home, to console it and heal its scars after years of senseless wars. To give back if only part of what it gave us, in the pride we felt every time we proclaimed, in every corner of the world, that we were a special species of survivors, that we were Lebanese. Deep down, I think many of us wanted to be here just to not regret it later on, to leave our mark and one day tell our children that we were here when Lebanon wanted and need us, but was too proud to ask. We simply did what we had to do.

Beirut never asked us to come back. It may deserve some acknowledgement for our successes, but cannot be blamed for the hardships and heartbreaks, for the struggles and failures faced in the process. But Beirut cannot blame us either for questioning – and sometimes regretting – having heeded the soundless call.

                Ungrateful, Beirut.

                We wanted you to change for the better, but the only revolution we managed was the one we wrote about on your bullet-ridden walls.

                We wanted you to be our source of life and hope, but the only life you gave us was the air filled with your garbage and diseases that you expected us to live on.

                We wanted to keep on fighting and were willing to never give up, but we kept on dying on your roads and killed by your stray bullets.

                We wanted to believe you had learned from your past, that you would start valuing us for our humanity and what we stood for, but instead you kept judging us by our family names, religion and confession, until you forced us to rejected faith altogether.

                We wanted to believe you were the only place in the Arab world that would protect women and defend her rights, but you kept on discriminating against her, objectifying her, your husbands’ kept on abusing her, and even killing her and got away with it.

                We wanted to believe you had finally understood that love was blind to your stereotypes and unspoken rules of who could love who, but instead discovered that your medieval prejudices had become stronger than ever.

                We wanted to believe you had suffered enough from your bloody civil wars and criminal warlords who led them, but you kept on following them and their sons blindly, because you were afraid of a better future without them.

                We wanted to believe that for once, you would stand on the side of the poor, the weak, the humble and modest, but all your laws and policies proved that you kept siding with the powerful, the rich, the crooks and the gangsters.

                We wanted to believe you would not be afraid of justice and the truth, but instead you preferred to ignore or hide it, promote a convenient lie because you were afraid of handling the truth.

                We wanted to believe you would help us channel our humanity and solidarity for the good for our country, but we kept being faced with people’s arrogance, spitefulness, insanity and vengefulness on every corner. Maybe you pushed them to be like that.

                We wanted to believe you would do your part in providing us with the basics of a decent life, that is all we asked from you, but instead you left us to suffer alone, scrambling to get access to electricity, water, education, healthcare and decent jobs.

                We wanted to believe your politicians and policymakers were just as others anywhere in the world, that they would be corrupted by power but would give something in return, but instead discovered your politicians were worse than the rest, they took everything and gave almost nothing in return.

                We wanted to believe you wanted us to live proudly, our heads held up high in front of each other and the world, but your corruption turned us into a country of beggars, our burden of debt cemented for generations to come because of your greed.

                We wanted to believe you would do everything to keep us here and make it impossible to imagine our futures anywhere else, but instead you kept on doing everything to make us want to leave, run away from you, and never want to look back.

This is an ode to a heart that beat faster at the mention of your name and maybe still does. But it is an ode to a broken heart, a weary soul, let down by its own hopes and dreams for you and me.

Beirut never asks you to come back to it and will never ask you to leave. But it somehow makes you want to leave and never look back, when it keeps on taking everything away from you, starting with your dreams. Beirut never asks you to come back to it and will never ask you to leave. And though some of us will leave, some of us won’t. But it will be as if we aren’t really here anyway, living our lives in our self-constructed bubbles, oblivious to your problems and sufferings, indifferent, careless, unsympathetic and unconcerned, tired of giving you any more chances.

Ungrateful, Beirut.

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