Thursday, July 06, 2006

Arrogance - Identity - Memory

A little while ago, the yearly Lebanese Festival was held in Montreal. It lasts 3 days; a weekend. My friends asked me to join them at the fair many times. I always declined. For some reason I just wasn’t interested.

Finally and on the last day, I decided to “make an appearance” [walaw!]. My friend and I arrived there a mere hour before they started dismantling the ephemeral installation. [A few minutes after our arrival they sang “raje3 yet3ammar lebnan”- that’s how late we were]All the while, I noticed myself distant, pensive and analytical. I couldn’t go with the flow, and I couldn’t enjoy myself. I ate a “man2oucheh 3al saj” [it is like a thyme sandwich on thin bread], because I couldn’t resist it, but that was about it. In my defense, I also may have moved my leg to the rhythm of the big drum [el tabel] when the “artist” [fannan] was yelling his version of “3indak ba7riyya”, because really… how can you not?

I explained to my comrade what was going through my mind, after he had caught my wistful eyes.
- I feel like I … like I just don’t belong!
- What is there to belong to? They are just singing, dancing, eating, and socializing.
- Yes. That… I don’t belong.

My friend’s interpretation of my predicament was that he passed through the same phase a few years ago [he’s been in Canada much more than I have] and in short, he thought that it was just “Arrogance towards my own culture and society”.

- Arrogance?
- Arrogance.

I did not fathom why he had accused me of such treachery and such heresy. What did I do?
I did not answer. I kept thinking about what he had said all the way back home. What bothers me is that I did not fiercely refute his theory. But yet again, I did not have a better answer for my cerebral quest to retaliate with.
I still don’t know if my friend was right, but I really do hope that he wasn’t. I would hate that about me. I would hate me.

Here’s what I think:
I think that I am angry. Angry, Nostalgic and frustrated. I don’t want to belong with THESE Lebanese. I refuse to be “oceanic” with THIS crowd, because in my head it is all on temporary basis. To me, acquiring such emotions and bonds with Lebanese in the Diaspora would only mean that I am forgetting that I am “supposed” to come back home, eventually.

I would be making myself comfortable here, and my masochism rejects that.

I still belong THERE. I still belong in Beirut… and I am afraid… I see it lingering while I move on, and I don’t want it to end!

Oh! The Arrogance.

I cautiously keep my distance.


At 1:12 PM, Blogger moral ground said...

All I gots ta say is drink and be merry, man. I only wish there were Leb fests where I live, cause right now I can really use one to remember that I'm still Lebanese somewhere, somehow... I stooped so low as to *almost* buy a "shawarma" sandwich from a mexican store, but then told them to cancel the order cause I was in a hurry and I ran out.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

Actually, you're not comfortable "there" either. You think you are, but what you're really comfortable is your own images and memories of "there," most of which have either changed or no longer exist. They only exist in your mind.

This doesn't mean that you have to be comfortable with the concoctions of "here" either. I hate the "Arab-American" inventions in the US for instance. They create an identity that has nothing to do with me or the old country for that matter. It's a socio-political identity functional only in the US and for these groups and their stupid agendas.

However, the more local, apolitical, cultural festivities that you describe, those might in the future become more amenable to you, despite their corniness and their cliches (in the end, they too cling to romantic images, memories and concoctions). So you'll find yourself slightly more forgiving, yet still eclectic, able to pick and choose what makes you feel good, like that man2ousheh or a certain song or dance, without having to buy the whole package. It's your individual identity.

Ironically, it's the same mechanism in Lebanon as well. Every time you travel there, you end up doing the same thing. Seeking out the things that make you comfortable, which become harder to locate each time (though perhaps more accessible than here), and you recreate that same personal selective space there that you are creating here. So basically, it's the same "here" and "there."

For me, I actually still have problems with the Lebanese locales here, and I find myself locating a comfort zone in similar environments, say Greek or Turkish ones, instead. W ma 7ada ilo ma3 tize! Kif?! Twiiiiiiiifff!

At 7:46 PM, Blogger laila said...

man..i actually have to agree with the efendi. same thing happens to me in lebanon when i'm on vacation and when i'm at a lebanese event here..i get claustrophobic and cant wait to leave. i think what we miss and long for doesnt exist anymore, its an idea in our head we keep searching for and end up being frustrated and disappointed every time cos we cant find it.
but a few things remain true for me, the food ofcourse, my family, and the ra7banis..w heik esas..
ba3dein inno tell me ur going to eat man2ousheh 3assaj..

At 11:19 PM, Blogger Mar said...

Z, I feel the same. The arabic festival in my city is literally, right outside my door. I "made an appearance" once or twice the past 8 years. I also posed the " arrogance" questions and got no where... When I express my frustration with this lebanese community, I always say: Ana mish a7san min 7ada, but I just don't belong here.

I'm leaving, it's too late to fix what's been broken for 8 years now.
Good luck with everything.

At 4:42 AM, Blogger Kata said...

people, people, don't you think you're taking it all way too seriously?! Every displaced Lebanese feels the same. We're away, we miss home, we're home we hate it and the reasons are clear.

We can't be completely devoted to every aspect of our culture and so we get angry, or confused, or conflicted and take it out in other ways.

In grad school I tried to join the Lebanese club on campus but I couldn't stand the whole clinging to the mundane things like music and mankousheh but in the end, as others have said, why torture ourselves? The Lebanon we miss exists only in our minds.

Enjoy the little things that belong to your culture and try not to be too critical of how others are trying to retain theirs.

Note: At one point I missed Lebanon so much much I moved back to live there. I spent 8 months searching for an engineering job and getting completely frustrated with goverment policies, universities, internet (lack of), phones (lack of), traffic (NO lack of), some degree of organizarion (lack of), etc... It's hard once you've been 'westernized'. France so far seems like a satisfactory compromise between North America and Lebanon.

My useless advice: Help Lebanon from the outside with whatever influence you have or way you can. From the inside there's alot of corruption. And make enough money to visit a couple times a year :)

At 10:48 AM, Blogger Zee said...

Ok, look here you adorable Lebanese crowd. I'm originally from Switzerland, not exactly a battered country as Lebanon is. Nevertheless, they try here in the US to squeeze the gland of sentimental patriotism by having "Swiss Days" of sorts. I never go there, I feel repulsed. It's basically the same attempt even though the circumstances are different and Lebanon still has a "mission" ahead of itself whilst Switzerland is on the slippery slope of decadence and erosion of an other kind.
It is one thing to try to help your country, it's an other to drown in tears of useless sentimentality.
Between you and me, I wish the day would come when nation states become obsolete and borders a thing of the past.
Maybe then we will be able yo focus on the "human factor"!
Cheers, Zee.

At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

immak battered

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Mirvat said...

the comment from anonymous speaks for itself :)
that's exactly what i miss about lebanon and what i can still find back there.
a word that brings us together. a simple word that says it all and evokes it all, the lebanese way anyway. funny :)
i can't find what i miss here. i keep going to egyptian clubs to dance to and listen to the latest songs. i much rather listen to the old songs. the ones i know and i grew up to. these songs i can't find back home either.
it's like laila said, we miss a time and a bunch of faces that we had in the past. i miss the aub at our times but that is gone forever. i miss my visits to teta and her cooking but that's no longer there. i miss staying up all night with my sisters talking and sharing secrets...
what we still have there is a word like the one anonymous said that takes you back to all that. and that's something.. to me at least.
the lebanese outside lebanon are a gost of the culture we miss. if these people have enough lebanese in them, we would consider going back at one point. a lot of the people i meet wouldn't go back and they curse the country out. this tells you that they don't see what you see and don't miss what you miss and wouldn't give you the lebanon you need.

At 12:35 AM, Blogger _z. said...

“…Khalli idak 3al hawiyyi chidd 3layha add ma fik

3inna hal arzi 3a rassi
Ghayra chou 3inna ya chrik

Fi teffa7a ya machallah
Nchallah ma yodrobha allah

Fi 3inna el bayd b awarma
El sawda el nayyi wel ma3ali2

Fina nkhallis bi kill lougha
Fina fina fina nzarzek bel ibrik”

(Ya zaman el ta2ifiyyi – Ziad Al Rahbani)


▫ Lc_ I totally feel your pain. When I was living in Toronto, there was nothing Lebanese. I spoke Arabic to myself, and toured the city in search of a Shawarma sandwich. When a friend brought back 2 bottles of Lebanese wine it was a feast for us. We savored every drop… I envied those who lived in Montreal. I made it a point to find work here, and I moved. I found myself wanting to be away. I found out that this is not what I want really. True there is Hummos and Shawarma just around every corner, but this is not what I really wanted. I am looking for Almaza* now, you see!

*Almaza is a Lebanese Beer.

▫ Antoun_ the Honda days are long gone my friend. I cherish them dearly, and yes they are nothing but memories and images, but that doesn’t mean I have to stop seeking the real deal out. And when I see a fake representation of it, I get frustrated. You prove my point by seeking out similar cultures (Turkish, Greek etc...), because to you, they may be safer. If there is something cheesy and corny about them, or anything you don’t like for that matter, you accept it with more ease… They are foreign. They will not mutilate your authentic memories of an old image you saved, and are constantly trying to live it yet again.
I would give anything for an evening under the trees in Rayfoun drinking Almaza singing, while you played the “oud”. (the oud we bought from that Syrian guy who screwed us over of course).

I hate to sound morbid, but this is a blog dealing with memories. Memories are most of the time if not all the time, Nostalgic. There will be outbursts of laughter, but if you come here, you know what you’re getting yourself into. :P

▫ Laila_ khalas next time I’ll get a man2oucheh for you. Man2oucheh extra, with all the vegetables and the garnitures.

▫ Mar_ thank you for wishing me (or anybody who needs it) luck. So you didn’t come to terms with your feelings yet… or have you become numb. But actually you were the only one in the comments whom I think, like me, is trying to go back and look for something long gone. Or did I misunderstand. “Ana mish a7san min 7ada, but I just don't belong here.” You don’t belong in the states… so are you still looking to belong there?

▫ Kata_ thank you for visiting. I am not critical of how others are trying to retain theirs, I am just wondering why I can’t be on the same bus with them. This “The Lebanon that exists only in our minds” is starting to bother me. This Lebanon exists, and existed. I know. I’ve seen it, and lived it. I am not seeking the Lebanon of the Rahbani. I am just probably seeking my childhood. And that may be re-livable. Why not? It will have of course a different taste, but if you had the same friends (that is if you kept close as ever), in the same place, doing the same thing, I think you will LOVE it. It happened so many times, and it worked. You end up remembering in flashbacks and having the time of your life.

▫ Zee, thanks again for dropping by, and your comment brings up a dear subject to my heart. A country does not make a memory. You have the memory OF a country. Battered or not, Lebanon or Switzerland, we both seek a memory; a memory of our respective countries.
Eventually, I think borders will become obsolete and erased as you say, and your nostalgia will not relate to a country or a name per se, but to geography. Human beings always need geography to orient themselves.
“When Landscape goes, it destroys the past for those who are left: People have no sense of belonging anywhere.” They lose the sense of control over their lives, their freedom, and independence, their mooring to the place and locality and, more damaging, a sense of who they are”.(Kay Erikson)
▫ Anonymous_ huh?

▫ Mirvat_ I guess you, laila and I share the same longing to the past; a past with specific details, not the past of picturesque imagery. We don’t need everybody to relieve it.

I guess we grew up, and this is the main issue. It is us who change, and incidentally change everything. Can we never grow up?

At 3:18 AM, Blogger the perpetual refugee said...


I felt exactly as you did when I used to live overseas. Across that vast ocean, continents away. I never interacted with 'those' Lebanese because I felt as if they were traitors. 'They' seemed to have forgotten what it is they were. Each with his broken Arabic, try-hard English, changing their names from Hanna to John or Mohammed to Mike, all just to fit in.

I was younger mind you but I did end up moving closer to home because of that feeling that I just didn't belong where I was.

I do plan on moving back soon to Lebanon. This whole expat thing has all been one hell of a learning experience.

I completely understand where you're coming from. But don't forget that while they may be celebrating and feeling nostalgic, there are also alot of them that feel the same as you. They just want to feel Libnan those many miles away.

At 9:11 AM, Blogger Zee said...

Aroma, images, chatter, innocence, yes "innocence of the 70's", simplicity, traditions and so on...
Now all I have left is Gryere, Toblerone and a bank account with 800 Swiss Francs - tastes of the past.
Whenever I visit there, I trod my "triggers", search for remnants that haven't been spoiled. Each time it becomes harder.
Yes -Z- (funny, I used to sign off like that in a Yahoo group I once frequented) - people need to connect to their geographical and cultural origin. But when the culture dwindles rapidly, both in capitalistic nations and also in "battered" nations, all you have left is geography and artifacts from the past.
May I suggest that this is a world wide trend?

At 6:19 PM, Blogger _z. said...

▫zee_ Just for you, I went to the grocery store around the corner, and got 2 big bars of Toblerone. cheers.

▫Refugee_ you give me hope. and it is true that each has their own way of feeling nostalgic. they don't have to fall in my standardization. Good luck moving back home.

At 11:55 PM, Blogger Mar said...

Z. The " Ana mish a7san..." was aimed at the leb community here, where I live. I never felt I belong to this community. I'm happier when I'm with my american friends at work but at the same time, hate the fact that my life has been revolving around work and only work. It's alarming! At the end of the day, I feel empty. I'm becoming more and more anti-social in this community and my non-arabic friends will never know the real me becuase they have no clue of my background.

Yes I became numb and I've decided to leave. I would only move to LA or NYC if I decide to stay in the US but I don't think anything will change, even in a new state. This time I'm moving closer to home. I don't know when I will come back to the US but for now, I want to go to a place that doesn't take my soul away and replace it with everything that is material.

In regards to looking back and searching for something that used to BE, I will post something to answer this question.

This has been, by far, the longest comment I've ever written on a blog.

At 12:10 AM, Blogger _z. said...

Mar_ you write my feelings better than I would have ever imagined to.
Thank you.

Thank you for being generous in commenting. You should do that more often though. You have a lot to say. A lot to give or share!


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