What Lebanon Means to Me by Raymond Nassif
It’s 11 pm on a Friday night. I’m about to fall asleep when the announcer introduces the first act. I lean into my sister who is also about to fall asleep and whisper ‘I’m about to fall asleep’.
The words are drowned out immediately by drumming, clapping, whistling and cheering; the act is now out onto the stage. He remains there for a few hours, one, two, three maybe but who cares? Sleep is all I desire.
He sings about Lebanon. It’s going to re-built, it’s going to come back bigger and better than ever before. The audience is completely engaged with his lyrics. They applaud everything and anything, convinced that the future will bring peace and stability to this once great nation.
Eventually the music quickens and the dancing begins.
I attempt to dance and keep my self-awake but it’s a futile attempt, I look robotic so embarrassingly go back to my seat.
Looking around me I realise that I am the dead-beat at one hell of a party. Young and old men and women are dancing energetically from one end of the dance floor to another. The only people who seem laconic are my sisters and I.
Argili smoke, condensing around the ceiling builds a cloud of future lung disease, but who’s to care when there’s such a good time to be had?
You Lebanese people sure know how to party, I say, but don’t you care that a bomb detonated here just a hundred metres down the road a few months ago? Aren’t you afraid that history may repeat itself?
‘Why should we put our lives on hold because a few politicians simply can’t agree’ they say.
I’m sure I can think of a thousand reasons, but rather than question I eventually relent and make a modest attempt to join in the celebrations. By 3 am my parents are sure they’ve satisfied the host and decide the night of fun is over. I am most grateful.
On the ride home I see nightclubs full of people, a bustling Beirut quite a sight at that time of night. As we continue down the road an old building kept in its shelled state from the war stands as a reminder of the atrocities of the past.
This is many ways represents the complexity of Lebanon. Surrounded and affected by the inhumanity of war, yet focused on the pleasures of the present.
These nights solidify the importance of my Lebanese identity.
Lebanon means more to me than the just headlines. It’s the place of my ancestors, my parents, grand parents and great grandparents.
As important as my Australian present is to me, my Lebanese history cannot be ignored.
I often feel that we who migrated during and after the war, left a Lebanon so bloody, so divided that we hoped never to return. However in the time we spent building our new stable lives, Lebanon also changed. It remained unstable and untrustworthy but in many ways it has recaptured its identity.
Lebanon’s cedars, churches and monasteries, Roman and Phoenician architecture, draw me closer to the past I am often so oblivious to. The sacrifices of those before me is a constant reminder of the blessed opportunity I have growing up in a country like Australia, free in many ways of the prejudices and constraints of the old world.
My father would be uncomfortable with that previous sentence. While a practical man my father believes there was much good in the past. ‘They were real men and women’, he often says, ‘those of the old world had an identity they did not forego. They strived in many ways for the improvement of their society and often feel betrayed by those who ignore their history once they assimilate into the new world.’ Okay I’m paraphrasing a little; my father may speak good English but he’s not that articulate.
Nevertheless I believe he has a point. Last week my grandfather passed away, very much a member of the old-world many wanted to be freed from, my grandfather was one of the most outstanding people I ever knew.
You may accuse me of waxing lyrical about a man I have only just lost, but he was never drawn into his society’s many failures rather he drew from the positives and fashioned a kindness and modesty of rare stature.
Lebanon may never be the utopia those at the party hoped it would but its citizens have fashioned a steely resolve to deal with its instability. They just continue with their lives. That is why Lebanon is more than the Headlines and the sooner those who fled the war realise this, the sooner everybody else will.