It is always fascinating to see how our individual lives and personal circumstances come together to create the bigger picture and become History. I would describe my relationship with Lebanon as alternating episodes of deep love and painful disappointment. My trip to Lebanon in 2015 was bliss: I stayed in North Lebanon in Ehden, a beautiful, peaceful, eternal village all built in stone and forged iron, the air is fresh and pure, the nights are clear and you see the stars and the milky way like nowhere else on earth, except maybe my own mountain village in France.
Ehden and its central square lined with plane trees, the same trees I was running around during the breaks at the music school when I was a child, felt like home. So did Bcharré, with its small old-fashioned shops, the very same shops I was entering in the French Pyrenees with my mom during the summer holidays, while my dad was buying bread and jam from the bakery, the blond mountain honey, the vegetables displayed on small tables. On the way to the cedar forest, the road twisted, just like in Luz-Saint-Sauveur, meandering from village to village, before reaching the spectacular Aïnata mountain pass leading to the Bekaa valley, where both line of sight and freedom have no limits.
Every time I went to Lebanon, I went to Trablos, the city that has a special spot in my heart. From the souk to el Mina corniche where we always bought fresh lemon ice creams, from eating the best chicken sandwich with fries, to taking photos of the cinematic al Shukr mosque, standing in front of the sea, the energy of Trablos blew my mind, but not as much as the sweets from Hallab.
However, at the same time, as I was immersing myself in Lebanese culture, I overheard words flying in the air stabbing me like knives, whispers that my guest didn’t want me to hear. I glimpsed at messages written on banners draped fiercely above Faraya’s main road that burned my eyes, messages I should not have been able to read on my way to the ski resort, these violently threw me back into the reality. The message grew stronger over the years, clearer to my ears, stubborn and assumed messages of intolerance colliding with my own perception of the world. I discovered videos of the police beating Syrian workers, while I was buying ice cream, I discovered scared children in the streets; I discovered Gebran Bassil’s hate speech and supremacist rhetotic. Little by little, I lost the inherent innocence that characterizes privileged travellers, as I started to speak up more and more for the freedom. I could no longer ignore the episodes of racism, the oppressive rhetoric regularly present in Lebanese political speeches. I could not ignore either the omnipresent corruption, the exhaustion of all the inhabitants of Lebanon, the inhabitants of the southern neighbourhoods of Beirut that no one wanted to show me or talk about.
I went to Dahie and Sabra for the first time in 2017. Most of my friends were surprised by my desire to understand and see Lebanon in all its diversity. “What is there to see?”, they kept repeating. “Everything” I kept answering. I wanted to visit my friends’ homes and understand what their daily life looked like, the problems they were facing, their hopes and their fears they were telling me about. With each day, my heart become heavier, for the Arab youth in the region, for the elders I would see working every day, for all those that did not have the political leaders they deserve. I empathized with their lassitude and carried them in my heart.
Since I came back in August for a longer stay, I kept visiting and discovering, dragging everywhere with me my bitterness. I went for the first time to the South. After 45 minutes in a minibus, I arrived in Saida, where I felt like I could breathe again. I sat in the fortress on the sea, where you can catch a glimpse at the beautiful coast and the corniche, and I could have stayed there the whole day, silent and peaceful. With my friend Fatima, I entered the Souk, walking the tiny narrow streets. I could see my fierce friend Nawras in her, her courage and determination. My love for Lebanon and for the region was reborn at this most unexpected moment, I had the intuition that this visit would represent a decisive moment in my relationship with the region.
The expression of citizenship, the end of the “fear of the other”, freeing up speech all brought tears to my eyes. As much as I fear a backlash by the enemies of freedom, I feel an energy that had been dead before.
Wherever we go, our hearts always find the way back home. Since Friday, I found love in the courage, the love of life and the determination of the untiring Lebanese people, I dream of a free Lebanon and a free Middle East
Back in Beirut, every day on my way to University, I saw the photo of Samir Kassir as I exited the elevator and something pushed me to read more about his life and his essays, the importance of Lebanon in Syrian geopolitics, the solidarity of Syrian opposition movements towards Lebanese determination and the possibility of a Syrian spring, someday. “Lebanon will be free when Syria will be free” said Samir.
Two days ago, everything came together and started making sense, I joined the massive protests taking place in all the streets of the country, protests the Lebanese government has been nurturing and feeding in its indecency, disrespect and provocative corruption, I saw a big picture of Samir on a wall, that gave me chills. I saw protesters being interviewed talking about the oppression of Syrian people on TV. I saw posters in support of Kafranbel. I saw a Palestinian flag on the martyrs’ square. I read hundreds of posts written by Syrians supporting the Lebanese uprising. I saw Palestinians protesting in solidarity in Ain el Helwe camp. On social medias, I watched videos of protests in Trablos, Baalbek, Nabatieh, Saida and Tyr, that I would never have dared to hope for. Thousands of teenagers on their scooters, occupying the streets, defying the cold institutionalised violence hurting them for decades.
This incredible explosion of anger, hope, solidarity, resistance and unity of the Lebanese people, the absence of political flags, posters of all political leaders being teared down, their headquarters being ransacked, people from every corner of Beirut singing, shouting, dancing together since the last three days moved me like nothing before in that country. This expression of citizenship, the end of the “fear of the other”, taking control of the media, freeing up speech, performing a massive catharsis, brought tears to my eyes. As much as I fear a backlash by those who do not want people’s freedom, I feel an energy and hope that had disappeared in me since a long time.
Wherever we go, our hearts always find the way back home, and we always find our way back to love. Since Friday, I found love in the courage, the love of life and the determination of the untiring Lebanese people, and when I walk home at night in my quiet street, I dream again, of a free Lebanon and a free Middle East.