On an old picture

I wrote a couple of posts on Lebanon recently, back to back, and it drained me out. I’ve never been good at managing sorrow or anger. So I thought I would write about something else for a change. And then I saw this long-forgotten picture on social media…

It was taken 27 years ago. A class of 12-year-old kids. People with whom I would be graduating some years later. It had been forgotten in the digital meanders of the Internet for the past 12 years. And you know what, I am going to write about it. Because I miss these days. Because I miss these people. Because they have all succeeded in their careers and most now have lovely families and beautiful kids, and because very few remain in Lebanon. Our new home countries are called France, Belgium, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Nigeria or Dubai.

Those were the days of innocence; we were a thousand miles away from realizing what would be hitting us later. We were in a window where the civil war was behind and the future ahead, and boy what a bright future it could have been in the eyes of 12-year-old kids who were just out of childhood. Alas, time flew and with it our childhood dreams, trampled by Corruption and the Corrupt.

I want to write about this lost time where despite the challenges we faced in becoming who we are, we could still think that “everything will be fine” eventually.

But first and foremost, I want to write these few lines to fulfill a promise I made yesterday to a friend in this picture. A friend I had lost from sight more than a decade ago. A guy true to himself and to his origins, “droit dans ses bottes” as we would say around here.

So here’s to you my childhood friends,

to Antoine, Amira, Rita, Jinane, Cynthia, Diala, Youmna, Cynthia, Janine, Patricia, Joanna, Sarah, Ralph, Rony, Rashdan, Ryan, Mario, Fadi, Eddy, Michel, Ziad, Bachir, Rami, Fouad, Rami, Nada, Chadi, Rami, Christine, Zeina, Wassim, Hady, Hanane, Maha, Mirna, Maya, who all appear in the picture,

to those who do not, those I might have missed and the merry fellows who would join us later, over the years,

to our friends in other classes but on the same boat,

to those who taught us, to Marianne, in the picture as well, to Marie-Louise and Samir who reacted to the picture much to my delight, to Jean-Sebastien, may he rest in peace, and to many more, to you we owe a part of who we are today, thank you.

And to Chadi. Buddy, I promised I would post something for you to read when you are on call in the cold Belgian fall, unless you catch Wi-Fi where you are right now…

Let the board sound

Rabih

PS: I will not post the picture here due to obvious image rights. The school landmark should be good enough, right?

PPS: How about a reunion in the coming months? It’s been at least ten or twelve years since the last one…

On coming back for good

Mais les vrais voyageurs sont ceux-là seuls qui partent
Pour partir, coeurs légers, semblables aux ballons,
De leur fatalité jamais ils ne s’écartent,
Et, sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours : Allons !
Charles Baudelaire

People sometimes ask me if I’m ever coming back. Like for good. 
Most if not all of them are Lebanese and the question is usually rhetoric. Something you ask to keep the conversation going. To break the ice. And to that I usually have two or three interchangeable answers like “For sure!” or “Nah, don’t think so” or “Dunno man, it’s complicated” depending on the person asking and how much appetite I have for more rhetoric chitchat. 
But sometimes, the question begs for real answers. Reassuring answers actually. Your grandmother needs to hear that she will not remain heartbroken forever. Or your friends contemplating the road you took want to hear that leaving and coming back are two sides of the same coin, or maybe that they are not. And to that I usually come up with a diplomatic one-size-fits-all answer, because there is no point in making people sad or keeping them hanging, especially grandmothers, for the true answer is not a simple yes or no. 
You see, if you have lived in another country for months, a couple of years, or maybe a bit more, you might still be talking about coming back. But once you’ve been there long enough, “coming back” starts to sound like “leaving” to your ears and boy has it already been hard the first time.
Think of it in terms of investment: the time and effort you put into learning a language, calibrating yourself to new social norms, building a career, a network, making friends, getting yourself a home, feeling at home, securing an education for your children. The time you spent learning to like a country and its countrymen, even love them. As the list goes on, you are less eager to let go and besides, you had already done it once when you left what was your home country a long time ago.
Think of it in terms of commitment. Whether out of love or reason, this new country is now yours and you his, for better or worse, till death do you part as they say. And you do not get off a marriage unscathed.
That is my point. There is no leaving and coming back, there is leaving and then leaving once more.
But then again, when you think of it in terms of heartache if such a thing is even possible, you realize how great a deal of your life you left behind when you moved overseas, including parents, friends, memories and even food, and how your heart aches for it, how you crave it more than anything.
Breakfasts outside with thyme mana’ich, labne and thick Lebanese coffee, evenings with friends playing cards, dining or relaxing with a beer watching the world cup from a terrace on the heights of Beirut, while the sun sets on the Mediterranean and the fishermen’s boats start lighting like fireflies in the sea, …” as I put it in a previous post.
The true answer? 
Few people would understand that you can love a country with all your heart and care for it even if you left it long ago in the pursuit of some kind of fulfillment, even if you would not come back for good, especially if you do not come back for good. And that this love is heartbreaking.
That if you do come back to the country of your ancestors, eager and joyful as you are, you are still leaving a part of you behind, in another country you learned to cherish, and that it can be devastating.
That leaving is seldom a reversible process and that there is no such thing as coming back to the way it was before, that this 16 year long stint is not just a bracket in your life you can close at will and that there is no right or wrong answer to the problem.
– So do you ever think of coming back for good? – I do. More than you think.- And will you? 
Well, can I take the wound of another separation? One is not enough already? But for Lebanon, maybe… 
So I always end up saying “God knows Grandma, God knows…” as I walk the thin thread between the love of my life and my life’s true love, my heart silently longing for both. 

For France, 

For Lebanon.

Let the board sound

Rabih