Shame on Me

On Sunday, October 20th, 2013 I went to lunch with my family at a restaurant in Beirut. We don’t go out often, because to do so we have to get past the homework, the hangovers, the late work nights, and the family duties. But the rare and wonderful times that we do go out together, we head on over to a restaurant (in one car, so it looks a little like Little Miss Sunshine )– and the first thing we do is scan the people around us.

We giggle to ourselves as we watch the couples who eat in silence, for whom time has run their river of conversation dry. We chuckle at the botched plastic surgery jobs, we “aww” at the little ones with gorgeous curly locks, and we always, always, tut tut in disappointment at the families who have brought the help.

Let me preface this debate by saying, I can understand that not everyone treats their “help” badly. I can understand that many, many families have a loving and wonderful relationship with their housekeepers. I can understand that she often comes out with them to lunch, and sits and eats a nice meal and has a lovely time. Fair enough.

But then I turn that around and I ask myself: how would you feel if you lived with your boss 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for indefinite amounts of time? Even if I loved my boss to the extent that they felt like family, isn’t it natural to crave space? To need it? Do I have to endure my working environment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?

When we talk about labor rights, and complain about being underpaid and overworked, we come right home to someone who is feeling the exact same way – except they don’t get to go home.  For the housekeepers, home is work and work is home. Round the clock.

On Sunday, October 20th, 2013, I went to lunch. At the table behind me, a family with a young child brought in their housekeeper/children’s nanny. She was dressed in a uniform that looked like blue hospital scrubs. They walked in and she assumed position, where she stood behind a chair, as the family assembled into their seats. She stood there for the entire duration of their lunch. She did not sit. She did not eat. She did not grab a glass of water.

I contemplated getting up and saying something. I contemplated sending dessert over to her, and telling her that it can get better. But I didn’t want to hurt her or subject her to further embarrassment. So I snapped a picture, and uploaded it onto social media sites. I rallied my sister and my brother. The three of us sat there, building a war room on our table. We were enraged. 

300 retweets, 250 shares, and countless Instagram notifications later, I receive a comment. The comment says that I don’t know anything. That the family repeatedly asked her to sit down. That she refused, because she didn’t want to eat. That they did not leave her to stand; it was her choice! Her choice, guys!

I panicked. Did I wrongly accuse these people? Why was I so quick to judge? Did my sense of righteousness get the best of me? My cowardice took over. I removed the photo. I felt it was unfair to blame these people for abuse they did not commit.

But as the hours went by, I got angrier – this time at myself. I shouldn’t have taken the photo down.Even if the housekeeper didn’t want to eat, or sit down, the family should have insisted. Instead, they kept her on her feet, in uniform, staring as they ate their expensive meal. (Not to mention that Sunday should have been her day off!)

They did not make sure she had the same Sunday lunch that they did. There was no equality on this windy Sunday afternoon.

I was a coward who wanted to believe in the goodness of people. It couldn’t be that bad right? Now, hours later, I am still repulsed.  This wasn’t about this lunch, but about the state of our society.

We live in a society where a migrant worker is treated as a lesser human being. When will she be looked at as a woman, who has left behind her whole world to care for ours? When will we realize that she deserves everything we get and more, but that we deprive her of it due to blind racism?

We keep her uniform on, so that she is recognized as the “Help” and never as one of us.

An even when we try, if she still feels too awkward or ostracized to sit at the table, that is our fault.

We are the ones who must make sure that she is comfortable and not subjected to this racist abuse.

We must ensure that she is treated as humanely as possible and accept for her only what we would accept for ourselves. That means no uniforms, no rooms without windows, no 24 hour working schedules, vacations, days off, phones, a life outside of the home, respect, kindness, professionalism.

Respect.

Do not put your Celine bag on the chair, when the woman who raises your kids can sit there. Insist that she sit down. Insist that she eat, that she rests. Shame on you because you didn’t insist. Shame on the restaurant. Shame on all of us, for not speaking up more often.

And shame on me.

 

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Maybe It’s Me

Every time I get inspired to write, it’s by something this country has done. It frustrates me that Lebanon seems to be the only topic that moves me. 

Sometimes, it feels like my relationship to this country seeps into all the other aspects of my life, and manages to creep into all my thoughts and reflections.

There are moments when I feel as though my relationship to my country has become an emotional relationship on its own, complete with the questions, the fears, and the highs and lows of a strong love.

What’s it like when you give your heart to Lebanon, while you watch as they tug at your strings, as they pull you up and push you down?

The relationship is certainly volatile. It sometimes feels temporary and short-lived in spite of its history. It shouldn’t be, but it’s oddly comfortable. It’s a warm, affectionate, relationship—drunk with love.

Until it’s not.

It’s a contradiction. An exciting, yet familiar relationship.

Until you’re angry, and Lebanon is abrasive. You’re frustrated with their ways. Why can’t L commit, all the way?

L has baggage. Loads of emotional and psychological baggage that won’t heal. Every time you feel you’ve gotten somewhere, you’re right back where you started.

It’s your light bulb relationship. On. Off. L is the one you break up with once, twice, three times. The one you say you’ll never go back to. The one with the irreconcilable differences.

L is argumentative. L pokes and prods and nudges you until you feel you are driven to the edge. L listens to their friends more than they do to you and that makes you feel ignored, taken for granted. L is passionate on some nights, and dull and distant on others.

You take road trips, and have wild nights where you stay up, and the air is crisp and light and the city twinkles.

You look back at your partner and your heart skips with glee. Happiness. I can do this, you say. I can do this forever.

But the next morning, the hangover of love hits you hard on the head. Chaos. Frustration. Something’s already wrong and the day has barely even begun. 

You’re already arguing, fighting. You’re already on another wavelength and L just can’t meet you. 

You’re not sure of the future, but you really want to stay. When people ask you why you’re still in it, you’re not really sure you have an answer. All you know is that when it’s good, it’s so damn great. 

It scares you. Where is this going? What kind of future do we have? Why do I keep coming back?

L is religious – for all the wrong reasons. L sometimes can’t see past itself, beyond their own past, their own future. 

You know, L is a little limited. And, in turn, they limit you.

You’ve been with others. Paris, London, Montreal. You’ve seen the world, fooled around. Why does L bring you back when most of the time it’s driving you so crazy?

They say no matter how much you want it you can’t change your partner. L won’t change. And you have tried so hard. You took them to conferences and museums and protests…even to other cities. You talked about their history, and told them to heal, to look into the future. You had moments when you felt – when you knew – your future together looked bright. After all the pain, you felt that this could really be it.

But disappointment always set in, and after all your years together you still find yourself running around in circles, writing up pros and cons lists of why you should stay or why you should leave.

I don’t know what to do with you anymore, L, but you’ve changed me forever. You’ve gotten under my skin, inside my mind, and all the way into my heart.

Why haven’t I walked away? I’m starting to worry.

Maybe it’s not you, maybe it’s me.

 

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The Country Has Fallen

I just came back from a great trip to Istanbul, where I experienced a rude awakening for the state of my country, and how far we have been set back. It was an eye opening experience that reinforced what I had already known. The battle is lost.

It was the most beautiful few days. I saw the glorious Islamic and Turkish history. I saw the bizarre, slightly surreal, and absolutely captivating juxtaposition of East and West. One minute it feels like London, but turn a corner and you’ve reached Greece, or Abu Dhabi, or Berlin. Mosques will call out for prayer while you wander these streets, and it all feels oddly balanced. It was everything I had dreamt for my country. A melange of our history, our religions, our progress, our future, all meshing together wonderfully.

In all its beauty, it was also a seriously demoralizing trip. Walking around this functional, excellently planned, successful city, I saw a model of what we could have been. A modern, civilized, functional, (and yes, Muslim), state with a developed infrastructure – and a developed democracy. The Turkish nationalist pride is overwhelming, but unlike our unjustified superiority complex, it is valid. Unhappy with Erdogan’s policies, they took to the streets. They understand and internalize democratic choice, and their foundation for all this is their sincere pride and faith in their country’s potential.

Slap in the face #1.

Slap #2 came in the form of checking in with home to catch up on some news. Apparently, as I had left the country all hell broke loose. Sheikh Ahmad Al Assir had declared war on the country. The army lost 18 soldiers. This was our Ain El Remmene bus and I could feel my stomach churn at the thought. War was inevitable.

A fantastic 30 minute documentary ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aafTQf1hdMg) by the guys over at Shi NN (A popular satire show on Al Jadeed TV) put it nicely: “سقط البلد” / The country has fallen.

And fallen it has. We are left with extremists all around; Shiaa, Sunni, Christian. We are left with an unconstitutional parliament. We are left with a country whose institutions torture and abuse its prisoners, suspects, and citizens.

But save for a few heroes like those Shi NN guys, we don’t speak up much. The apathy has evolved into downright fear. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say.

I want to criticize the army, and the ISF, and the parliament, and president and all the wretched power holders. I wanted to say let’s run into the streets, let us change, down with all armed groups, all militias, all your pathetic excuses of political decision makers. But if you do say what you want to, you would risk being held for questioning, being targeted, being bullied. You would be subjected to hate crimes,  or hate speech. Just last week, a tweeter was held for questioning after criticizing the President. Marwa Olleik has fled her city and has been subjected to all sorts of threats and crimes because she is opposing Hezbollah.

How do we expect to move on, if we can’t even vocalize?

And so we have arrived at this point. We are now a police state, where freedoms are repressed, and rights are borderline non existent. We are not functional, we are a farce. We are not going to develop, we have already declined. We will never be Turkey, we will regress until the black hole of sectarianism, corruption and apathy has enveloped us. And we will be left with nothing but our weapons, our martyrs and our allegiances.

We don’t deserve to be proud of our country, our army, our politics, our leaders. We cannot escape our filth and we have reached the end. Put down your slogans, your chants, your dreams, this is defeat. Raise your flag, we’ve lost the battle to develop this country.  

And the war has only just begun.

For a recap on the Human Rights Watch report about ISF crimes click here: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2013/Jun-27/221723-hrw-world-should-act-on-lebanon-police-abuse.ashx#axzz2XPTB26Q6

For the video of the army abusing a suspect, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ge70I-UG1zI&feature=youtube_gdata_player

For a one way ticket out, please refer to your nearest embassy.

For  happy feelings, here’s a pretty photo of Istanbul:Image

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Syrian boy wakes up in his family’s tent, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Syrian boy wakes up in his family's tent, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

The look on this little boy’s face simultaneously warmed my heart and broke my heart. “Save the Children” released reports today detailing the horrifying conditions children in Syria are facing. Some are being left to die on the roadside, some are sexually assualted in front of their parents. Reports tell stores of children licking the grass just to get some water..

In the New York Times today, Ninette Kelley, the representative in Lebanon of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) writes a compelling and heartbreaking piece about the state of Syrian refugees. An influx of nearly 1 million refugees (half of which are unregistered) are now in Lebanon. There is a dire need for international aid to compensate for the paralysis and weakness of the Lebanese state, and the harsh and increasing expulsion of Syrian people from their land.

Read more here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/20/opinion/lebanon-overrun-by-syrian-refugees.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/20/syrian-refugees-children-left-die

For more beautiful photos, check out the link here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2344821/Plight-Syrian-refugees-revealed-witnesses-tell-dehydrated-injured-children-dying-roadsides.html

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June 20, 2013 · 12:29 pm

We are Living in a Literal Wasteland.

While reading the papers this morning, I stumbled across a few articles that had featured a report conducted by “Environment and Development” Magazine. 

The magazine has conducted research (results of which are to be published soon) on the toxicity and cleanliness of our coastline. The study measured the fecal levels in swimming water in 19 areas along Lebanon’s coast. The results that came back were horrifying.

Apparently, our coastline is a direct extension of our toilet. That means the water that we swim in is dirty, sewage ridden water, composed of fecal matter. Results showed that our water is medically, too dangerous for us to swim in. Even more terrifyingly,

“Samples from swimming areas in Ramlet al-Baida, Antelias and Jbeil contained so many fecal coliforms laboratory scientists stopped counting;  Samples in Mina, and Sidon came back borderline toxic.”

Toxic. To boot, any bacteria or infection that a person might carry is flowing into our coastline, so you’re getting it too. These are the scientific facts slapping us in the face. This is the condition of our environment, of our coastline that we insist on being so damn proud of.  

Authorities still have the audacity to promote Lebanese Summer tourism. Just yesterday, our Minister of Tourism declared Lebanon “very safe for tourists.” (Incidentally, just yesterday, a protestor was killed for expression of difference in opinion.) 

In Lebanon, you get the rare opportunity to ski, swim, and contaminate yourself IN JUST ONE DAY!!! 

And more often that not, you, the lucky citizen, are also being forced to pay to use your contaminated coastline. The coastline which belongs to you.

How dare we continue to have our unjustified sense of supremacy when we are, literally and figuratively, swimming in our own shit? 

But for me, the worst part was that this story didn’t shake the population. It didn’t enrage people as I thought it would. In fact, aside from angry Internet rants, it almost went unnoticed.

Sometimes, I can understand the apprehension to speak up.  Nobody wants to be labelled as supporting on side or the other, and too often, we are far too apathetic to voice our concerns. I can almost understand not reacting to the extension of parliament, or to our new “foreign policy”of partaking in other people’s wars. It’s never the political stuff that shakes us to our core.

But years of leaving our ministries in the hands of the wrong people have left us basking in our own filth. And now it’s putting our health at risk. How are we still quiet, when the future looks so terrifyingly crappy?

Pun totally intended.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2013/Jun-10/219836-lebanons-beaches-swimming-with-waste.ashx#ixzz2VpZT9qkg 
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)

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Istanbul Fashion

Sent in by my darling Amar, straight from the Turkish straits. (See what I did there)

Gas masks as the lastest Spring/Summer 2013 accessory. Apparently everyone in Istanbul is doing it.

Image

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June 5, 2013 · 4:07 pm

Fall of Morality

Fall of Morality

Lebanese supporters of Hezbollah hand out Baklava (sweets) in celebration of Hezbollah’s victory in Qasir.

The victory is being lauded as the “fall of Qasir”, but personally, I find that this photo captures nothing other than the fall of morality (political and otherwise).

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June 5, 2013 · 2:50 pm