Graphic by Zoë Hu/The Gazelle

Not just a passing thought

Let me tell you the worst thing that happens when you are born and bred in terror and constant turmoil. You are forced into adapting and normalizing. ...

Nov 16, 2015

Graphic by Zoë Hu/The Gazelle
Let me tell you the worst thing that happens when you are born and bred in terror and constant turmoil. You are forced into adapting and normalizing. Explosions, shootings, fights, protests, violence and tragedy become events of little significance. You have to move on fast to survive. When there is never real security or safety, there is nothing to be missed. This is Lebanon.
But, we Lebanese are a proud people. We do not want to acknowledge the mess we live in, because that is difficult. How do you go about your day if all you can think of is the next explosion? How do you ever aspire towards happiness if all you can see is death? How do you keep your sanity? You live in denial.
Sometimes, we are forced to leave. We go abroad to seek better, easier lives. But then suddenly the veil is lifted, and it is so painful to see the world clearly for what it truly is.

Thursday, November 12th.
I came back to campus and my phone automatically connected to the Wi-Fi. I was laughing and trying to check Facebook when I saw a familiar, but horrifying, message. My siblings and I have a group on WhatsApp.
“Just heard about the bomb. Is everyone OK?”
“We’re OK.”
I frantically rummaged through Google and Google News, searching “Beirut” and “Lebanon.” I learned about the over forty people killed and a hundred injured by suicide bombers in Burj Al Barajneh, Beirut. One of my closest friends at home is from Burj Al Barajneh. I messaged her, also frantically, and learned that she and her family were OK.
I messaged a few more people. Alright. Checklist done. We apologize if this has caused any inconveniences. Please resume your normal activities. I went on with my night because that was all I could do. I went on with my night because that was what I would have had to do if I were in Lebanon.

Friday, November 13th.
I was hosting an RA event for my floor so, naturally, I went to the supermarket and bought some snacks. I had to do it quickly because I also had a big assignment for my Neurobiology class due on Friday night. Priorities, priorities.
At the supermarket, I ran into my Neurobiology professor.
“How are you doing?”
“You know. Things are a bit stressful but overall alright.”
“Oh, do you have exams coming up? Is it that time of the semester?”
“No, well given what happened... The bombing. Beirut, there was an explosion.”
“Really? I hadn’t heard.”
That’s OK, I thought to myself, I only found out after my siblings had said something on WhatsApp. Why should I expect my Professor to know? I came back to my dorm, held my event, was disappointed with the turnout, and came back to my room to work on that assignment. For some reason — and it seemed baffling at the time — I couldn’t focus.
Everyone was safe, so why was I worried? I tried calling my mother in hopes that she would calm me down. “Habibti, everyone we know is safe. Why are you still worried?”
My best friend who also lives abroad sent me a message — and then it clicked. “I need to talk about what happened,” she said. We’re close enough that I could hear the tone of her voice in her typed words, and I could tell she was heartbroken. Maybe the veil hadn’t fully come off. Maybe the veil was made of sandpaper and it was clinging to my eyes, scratching them as it began to slip off.
I kept anxiously scrolling through Facebook. I was looking for a post or an image or a status to validate my fear, my anger and my worry. Maybe if there were other people who hadn’t come to terms with the bombings yet, then it wouldn’t be so strange for me to be hung up on them. Nothing.

Saturday, November 14th.
I woke up to a constant stream of vibrations from my phone. My friend lives in Germany and his girlfriend lives in Paris. “I can’t reach her, I’m so worried. Please answer, I’m losing my mind.”
This time, the search word was “Paris,” and it didn’t even need to be typed in. Facebook sent a notification letting me know that my friends in France had been marked safe. Every other post was praying for Paris. I talked my friend through his panic and helped him calm down. I was eavesdropping on my own words, hoping they would calm me down too. “Trust me, I know what it’s like. There was a bombing in Beirut on Thursday.”
I was devastated. My first reaction was an overwhelming loss of hope for the world. Everyone is doomed. No one is safe anymore. But I was also laughing. Out of all his possible friends, he had messaged me to help him calm down.
Then I was angry. Then I was in tears. On Thursday night, I had asked the world for permission to mourn. On Saturday, permission was finally granted.
I received emails from administration at my university reminding me, in various ways, to support the French people in our community. Another email combined the French and Lebanese tragedies by forwarding me the condolences and support that were originally sent to the former. I broke down.
This weekend taught me that the world does not care about the people of Lebanon as much as it does about those of Paris. We are an afterthought. Why sugarcoat it? A Western life is worth more than an Arab one.
The veil has come off. Sure, the West and global media have done a horrible job reporting on the tragedy in Beirut, Paris of the Middle East. But have my people — have the Arabs or the Lebanese — done better?
Did Lebanon let me mourn? I still feel a shudder of guilt every time I think about how difficult it is for me to be away during these times — It’s probably much more difficult for the ones who felt the heat of the explosion. But I can’t normalize and move on anymore. To the disgrace of my fellow countrymen, I have admitted to myself that I am terrified. Yes, my family and friends are still alive, but by what odds?
I don’t want to feel like the wounds of my country are inferior to those of Western countries. But I also don’t want to hear about an explosion on Thursday night and be expected to have moved on come Friday morning. It is not acceptable that Facebook has safety checks and profile picture shenanigans for France and nothing for Lebanon or Syria or Iraq or Kenya or Baghdad. It is not acceptable that on Friday, Twitter is quiet but on Saturday, every personality is praying for France. And it is most definitely not acceptable that my university, in the Arab world, wakes up to Paris and sleeps through Beirut. Yet the most heartbreaking part of this tragedy is that, at the time, I could not turn to any Lebanese person in Lebanon and say, “I need to talk about what happened.”
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