It’s been five days now that I’m back in Geneva. I took my time thinking this post through, turning it over and over in my head, the way you slowly let a tasty sweet melt on your tongue, waiting for it to dissolve and reveal its true flavour.
I took my time pondering on Lebanon, wondering about it, marveling at it and despising it at the same time. I’ve been busy missing it with every each of my body and soul. You see, it’s not easy being nostalgic of something you never really lived nor had. Makes nostalgia stick.
We therefore traveled from Damascus to Beirut, passing enormous borders, showing IDs, receiving stamps, waving Syria goodbye as we drove towards Beirut through the Dahr El Baïdar road. Entering Lebanon, I felt the usual pang of joy I always feel as soon as I step on its soil. Honey, I’m Home. I felt like screaming. But in a good way, you know, not the way I get when people push their way past me, knocking me over, without apologising.
I always feel like I couldn’t know Beirut better, yet what is perhaps one of the most impenetrable city I’ve known manages to retain its mystery even to her own children. Something remains out of my grasp, something that I’m yet to discover, something my mind can’t seem able to reach. Beirut is a capricious lady, she likes to keep some things hidden and remote.
I’ve seen Glittery Beirut, the Sky Bar Beirut, with all its beautiful people moving to the sounds of world renowned DJs, ordering gallons of expensive alcohol, going to bed after a last mankouche, a last dance, a last kiss as the sun rises over the city in all its pink glory.
I’ve seen Progressive Beirut, tucked away in Hamra, reading Mahmud Darwish a keefieh tied around its neck at Ta Marbouta, going to photo exhibitions, advocating for changes in the Lebanese society, always running to some conference or other, anxious to move ahead yet not quite sure of its path.
I’ve seen Political Beirut, arguing, lying and pretending, decked out in her brightest Yellow and Green, Orange, Blue, these colours so overwhelming that you sometimes struggle to see the Red, White and Green of our flag, the only colours we should be seeing really.
I’ve seen Popular Beirut, quiet but there, struggling to make ends meet in Hay El Saraya or Basta, streets busy with children laughing and playing, old men in front on tiny shops playing tawleh, women cooking lunch for families, unaware of the fact that two streets ahead, in the trendy restaurants of Monot and Ashrafieh, the dish they’re making will be sold three times the price they paid for groceries.
I’ve seen Religious Beirut, engaged in such a race to build yet another Church or Mosque, while many of its inhabitants still live in bullet-ridden buildings with two hours of electrity a day, that soon all you’ll see will be crescents and crosses lining up the sky in a desperate attempt at gathering attention.
I’ve seen Intolerant Beirut, I’ve seen Conservative Beirut, I’ve seen Generous Beirut, I’ve seen United Beirut.
But no matter how many avatar I see of her, the things that I can’t seem to grasp, that’s beyond my understanding, is how does she make everything hold together.
On the plane back, while taking off, the girl seated next to me watched through her window and whispered “Bye Bye Lebnan”.
I don’t know why, but something in her voice triggered what very much looked like tears to my eyes.
Bye Bye Lebnan.