Lebanon is an escapist's dream

Read on to find out why Lebanon is an out-of-this-world tourist destination!

“Lebanon is an escapist’s dream”

The tone was that of exasperation. It could not have been easy for this self-professed Lebanese lover to make such a statement. The conflicted emotions, the “love and hate” cliché we resident Lebanese invariably allude to when asked about Lebanon- mostly cautious expats looking for the answer they want to hear to validate their decision to leave- blasted through the phone receiver. He sounded angry. The kind of frustrated anger a father feels towards his smart son who is failing every class in the book. Even Gym.

Of course he was right. Somewhere at the Intersection of Civil War Avenue and Sectarian Hatred Street, on the Corner of International opportunism, we, the Lebanese have lost any sense of who we are as a people. It’s as if we were thrust together into a washing machine, spun, scrubbed, pumped, sponged, soaked, drained and came out deformed, dirty and faded. A shared zip code, the only residual stain on the fabric of our collective memory.

We live together on a tiny piece of heaven. A Paradise maimed, trashed, smashed everyday with no respite. A Paradise that is all-but-Lost. Our acts of brutality are aimed not only towards our country but also towards our loved ones and ourselves. We have come to accept a life without dignity for our children and for ourselves. Homes with no electricity, neighbors with no running water, friends with no jobs, bosses with no internet, relatives with no health insurance, children with no playgrounds. While others in other parts of the world argue for their right to free whipped cream*, we accept cities with no trees, neighborhoods with no heritage, refugees with no hope and a government with no head. Or arms. Or legs. Only Gut. A gut that swallows and swallows and swallows until it is fat with our children’s inheritance. In between two mouthfuls, it spits out lies like seeds of delicious grapes of corruption, spews empty promises, belches political gimmicks, farts all sorts of diversion agendas and generally, just craps indifference on our crouched backs while we ask for seconds.

Why bother with beaten wives, gun-down men, children’s nationalities or civil unions when we can ESCAPE it all in one painfully effective strategy?

Therein lies Lebanese genius. What happens when we can’t or won’t face the harsh reality we live in? Why we create another one, of course! Forget Lewis Carroll, the Wonderland we’ve designed would put the Queen of Hearts to shame. We eat, we drink, we dance, we fuck, we smoke, we puff, we train, we tan, we Facebook, we Insta, we Selfie, we crap-tv, we shop. We SUCK.

Our escapist bubble is so entrenched in our way of life it has become one hundred percent impervious to reality-checks. So opaque it has relocated party-central to Lebanese mountains during the war of 2006 and called it Resilience. Never mind the people dying a few kilometers away while we bomb-partied, never mind the social capital and collective power we could have harnessed if we had chosen to direct it towards reality instead of away from it. Such was our warped perception that we called it Resilience. And believed our bubble-dwelling selves too. Patted ourselves on the back for it. Another round! BOOM! BANG! Salud! POW! KA-BOOOOOM!

I look for answers and find none. Historians, Political analysts, Economists, Development workers come on! For the love of God explain! I am almost resentful the war has become a distant memory, with no more than a looming shadow floating over us, perhaps ensuring we never escape our escapist Lalaland. A wound like that could explain the darkness we have been thrust into. But what explains our stubborn inability to get out of the Rabbit Hole? Even Alice eventually woke up. Jean Paul Sartre thought Boredom is a killer. In our case, it’s its close relative, Apathy, that will finish the job. What is Apathy if not Death personified? A state in which every faculty we are privy to as human beings is frozen. What is stillness if not Death? Motion is life and life is motion. Johnny Walker knows that. Nike knows that. We, Lebanese don’t. We have stopped walking. And I’m worried our soft feet will never again venture onto rough soil. We have grown so comfortable with Apathy we’ve practically Maronite-married it. And our comfort zone is not where we should aim to stay if we hope to live a full meaningful life (Just ask your Life Coach). Or Ask the Ostrich if you happen to be in Tanzania. What that bird experiences underground relates in no way shape or form to what is happening above-ground*. Sure she wont be the wiser when a hunter blasts her to pieces for her beautiful feathers but no matter: If she’s lucky, no such hunter will find her and she would have lived all her life in blissful ignorance, thinking that the world is sand grains, roots and worms.

The result of this obliviousness is all too apparent. We have become a national – and international- joke. A cautionary tale. A nation where mass opium seems to flow perennially in the underground water reserves. How can we plead sanity when the very definition of insanity is a sense of reality lost? When the line between what’s real and what’s not becomes blurred, you know you’re in serious trouble. But don’t take my word for it. Ask your Therapist. The definition of a psychotic –aka kookoo- individual is one that has lost what medical professionals call reality testing. Basically these people fail the reality test. It’s right up there with thinking your grandmother is a chicken. Am I saying we are all insane? Basically yes- as long as we’re drinking Lebanese water that is-

Occasionally, a person or a group will challenge our delusions. They may have an Evian affinity or only drink sparkling San Pellegrino, who knows? Whatever the cause may be, these people, let’s call them the Shakers, want to make a real difference and, here’s the kicker, believe that they can.

Three tries as to how we react to these peculiar creatures. You guessed it!  A mental orgie ensues. We collectively fuck them into oblivion. Or the US or Canada. Whichever is farthest. That’s if they’re lucky. Those less fortunate drink the Sannine***.

From a Lebanese perspective (we’ve already established how colorful that one is), the Shakers are dangerous. They represent a threat to the Status Quo, the Bubble in all of its rosy horror. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’’ll understand those who dare to climb The Wall need to be “neutralized”. In our case, this means sabotaging them, duping them, ignoring them or my personal favorite tactic: promoting them. To a corner office in the Caribbean. The Arabic Caribbean anyway. Dubai where else? There, they will forget and be forgotten and we, the Lebanese can go back to doing what we do best: sip Moscow Mules and blame foreign nationals for our shortcomings, lulled by the reassuring conviction that the Shakers can Shake no more. Maybe we’ll add another layer to the Bubble. Just in case.

Yet, and despite the active efforts we make to drive Shakers out, we continue, in our madness, to assert they are the ones who somehow dropped the ball. Abandoned their country and all sense of patriotism. When a fellow Lebanese asks another: “Hey, what happened to that Shaker who was trying to pierce through the South East corner of the Bubble?” The answer usually ranges between a tired shrug and a baffled rendition on self-imposed exile.

“These Shakers! Who knows what they want?!”

“We open the door for them and ask them to join the party but they insist on changing the music”

“How rude!”

“Cheeeeers!”

You see those truly comfortable in the Bubble are too busy in their smoke-screen distractions to dwell on the real reasons behind Immigration (I’m telling you, reality is just not our thing). We would never consider that we were being appallingly bad hosts.

But it all turns out great in the end. For the Shakers. For you Tourists (as I will explain later) and even for us Locals (if we follow my forthcoming advice that is).

Let’s look at the Shakers first. When you meet them in their land of exile, they are usually thriving faster than bacteria on a Petri dish. It has become somewhat of an irony that we, the Lebanese, are stellar global entrepreneurs. Lebanese Shakers’ talent, drive and work ethic are encouraged, supported and nurtured into successfully multi-million (sometimes multi-billion) dollar businesses that bolster Diaspora Country’s economy. In a matter of few years, the Shakers settle into Diaspora life, start to speak Diaspora speak, breed Diaspora brood and eat Diaspora food, with the occasional hankering for a Zaatar Manouche**** satisfied in some Little Lebanon corner of the world or other. if not, two words: Dearborn, Michigan. Bread becomes Pita, Hummus becomes Hamoos and the magic trick is complete. The only giveaway would be a genuine – albeit flimsy- rope that extends to Lebanon every summer and on holidays. Every July and August, our airport is full to the brim with Shakers who come to visit their loved ones and are quick to leave. In the span of the usual two weeks, they tend to Lebanon like they would a disabled uncle: with care and caution. Sometimes it’s fulfilling, sometimes it’s awkward but it’s always terrifying to get too close.

The Locals second. By now you understand that those Locals who have taken permanent residence in the Bubble live in ignorant bliss. Those are happy by default and in no need for advice. I am mainly concerned with a small deplorable minority of sober Bubble-dwelling-locals. Those usually live on the outskirts of the Bubble. Not in it. Not out of it. Those are the ones who are tormented by the Status Quo, who struggle to make sense of it but fail miserably, who are the most prone to grim outcomes. To those I have only one piece of advice: let go. Surrender is your only viable option. It will make the pain go away.

Let me tell you a little story.  I aced my French Baccalaureate. I had to critique an excerpt of Andre Malraux’s La Condition Humaine. The book is about the communist revolution in China, it chronicles the lives of a group of revolutionaries who- spoiler alert- eventually die. One of them during a failed suicide mission. I had hit the bulls-eye with my nerdy commentary when the teacher throws a wrench of a question at me.

She asks me what purpose has the death of these revolutionaries served.

“Ummmmm”

Every fiber in me is screaming: “Don’t even get me started sister! Chen, Kyo and all the other imbeciles die for no reason! They take Cyanide, they blow themselves up to pieces and they make me cry and for what?! The communist party doesn’t even take power until later in history!”

Instead, I stay silent.

She insists.

There’s no point. I don’t get it.

Years later I understand. Sometimes the struggle is so painful that giving in is the most effective medicine. In one sweet moment, it ends the torment.

(For those of you who still don’t get it, Malraux kills them off to put them out of their misery)

The Tourists third. You lucky bastards. The Bubble is one hell of a vacation spot. It’s almost as if it were tailor-made for you. Since you guys live in the real world, you must need a break. So go ahead, feel no shame – that’s all on us- reap all the benefits of our Winter of Discontent. Want to forget your bills, your boss or your mother-in-law? Head on down to Beirut. You don’t need a visa; only reality does. A word of warning: keep it strictly platonic and beware of the lure of long-term commitment. Lebanon is the worst wife but the best mistress. It will be the best sex you’ll ever have. Promise.

* Refers to an incident that we personally witnessed this morning. A woman appeared genuinely annoyed when her Latte arrived at the counter in all of its whipped cream glory. Apparently, as a Gold café member, she had the right to free whipped cream. She disputed the cream charge for a good five minutes before she decided to complain to customer service by email. Guess who will be receiving a bucket of free whipped cream at their door tomorrow?

**Ostriches don’t really bury their head in the sand but then you already knew that, didn’t you?

*** Sannine is bottled water 100% made in Lebanon

**** A Zaatar Manouche refers to a typical Lebanese pie made with thyme, usually consumed at breakfast.

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