Lebanon: when chaos weaves sanity

Bettina Broll
10 min readMay 25


I tried. I tried hard to look at the different ways to write this piece. Each time I began writing, my mind would go blank, my heart would pound and I would become way too rigid. It’s scary to write about Lebanon.

I felt the need to consider people’s ignorance about this nation, whilst also self-imposing a level of pressure to be fair to the narrative a Brazilian, like me, can possibly write on the Lebanese reality. One that might never be fully grasped; partially explored at the surface level with its roots in colonial domination as well as indifference.

Questioning myself: Whom am I to be talking about this? What’s the value that I could possibly add to the mix? But then I remember that this feeling is ignited and fuelled by the power of division.

How far does your prejudice go?

I catch myself remaining silent because I was told I could never be part of this. Because life here is too chaotic to even try. Because no one should feel so much love for this part of the world. Because even though we might not have all the answers, we still paralyse ourselves in the face of fear. Fear of not doing things properly, of maybe forgetting something, of not being able to fully embody the Lebanese identity.

Yet, isn’t that what the West wants? For us to pretend we don’t see how their atrocities are eradicating cultures, sense of security, and of self? For us to remain silent about the beauty and grandiosity of the Arab world?

If I were to stay quiet, I’d be abiding by what they want. I’d be accepting the premises of differences, and using it as an excuse to not speak my truth. I’d be a puppet in a show that aims to alienate us from humanity as it is. And I’m not here for that. Like any person with a bit of empathy, I felt the need to do something right by a place that has been suffering vicious cycles of violence. In a way, what has brought me here is also the driving force of how fairly I’d like to portray the reality I have lived and experienced amidst such complexities.

Although Lebanon was never a part of my travel priorities, somehow, I stumbled across it and couldn’t look away. The idea of coming here intrigued me more than any argument to stay away. Something deep inside felt drawn to all the confusion stemming from the region.

Seeds spontaneously given by friends, germinated through curiosity and alignment, and, when I least expected, it had already grown inside and beyond me. Showing me the intensity of being immersed in the present.

Lebanon, a place where we ought to learn how to cope and be true to ourselves when the world outside seems to be swallowing everything and everyone alive.

When I arrived, I remember my stomach filling with crazy butterflies. Even the direction signs in Arabic at the airport stole so many smiles.

The different always mesmerised me, and Lebanon represented the opposite of me whilst still being a place filled with art, nature, and politics. Naturally, I was wanting to free dive. Overtaken by an inexplicable sensation that this place could ignite so much fruition within. Excited about the different possibilities and newness that I was opening myself to, and slightly naive with a fantastical veil before my eyes.

I felt slightly out of depth coming out of the airport and being swallowed by a wave of taxi drivers setting baits for the tourist preys. My voice was suddenly not heard.

‘Oh shit, is this how is it going to be being a foreign woman here?’

But then I remembered the butterflies, and two seconds later I was heading to my Airbnb in the backseat of a taxi with the friendliest driver. We talked the whole way. With his impeccable English, he asked me the usual questions as ice breakers; What’s your name? Where are you from? What are you doing in Lebanon? What’s your job? How long will you stay?

To my surprise, midway through the drive, we were talking about our passions. He told me about his relationship, his studies, current career but also how he navigates the rocky economy. His openness about his life and eagerness to connect from the very first time was just an initiation to what the Lebanese hospitality would be. Like a warm hug in the middle of so many question marks and insecurities.

When was the last time you opened your arms to the new?

My intuition was right. I knew I hadn’t come in vain. And there I was; ready to get lost and to find myself in the Lebanese routes. Embracing the unknown to the fullest. Humbling myself to experience everything for the very first time once again.

To go back in order to move forward

As soon as I walked down the streets of Beirut, I was in shock. I wasn’t necessarily shocked by the destruction around, the inequality, and the unjust systems that neither the city nor I found ourselves in. What shocked me was precisely how familiar it all felt. Shocked by how much I resonated with a place fighting for its space in crumbling façades.

In awe that being here for a couple of days had already given me such a great sense of belonging than in any other perfect society I had previously lived in, or any magical holiday destination I had dipped my toes in.

Shocked that a place could so deeply talk to me. Lure me in. Make it easy for me to feel comfortable. Even if everything about us seemed to be so different apart.

Almost as if the numerous contrasts also held a place for me. Making it easy for me to give myself permission to be. To be: me. Liberating, to say the least.

The previous so-perfect states, commodities, and array of opportunities felt incredibly insignificant. They provided me with safety rather than reality. A system that effectively functions in relation to capital and status. But one that numbs all the feelings in our guts. The very same thing that makes us humans. Bland. Unseasoned. Unfelt. A life based on our incessant chase for instant gratification. Individual choices and superficial connections. Appearances over intrinsic happiness. Completely out of touch.

{REMINDERS: “call your friends!” “Eat”}

It was in the instability of Lebanon, and the chaos of Beirut, that I felt at ease. Weird, isn’t it?

When talking to friends back home or locals at my newest home, I have been constantly questioned:

‘Why here?’ ‘Out of places, why would you pick one in such turmoil?’

I’ve had enough of those questions. Why keep on challenging my own choices? Why is it so hard to just accept that I have chosen here to be my — temporary {?} — place? Why do people feel the need to be intrusive? Why can’t they understand that all they see in me, experiences, and even in Lebanon, is a mere projection of their own circumstances?

But then I remember they’re just curious. I remember they may not understand at all. They can’t see what I see nor feel what and how I do. They can’t grasp on my connection to this land. So, I kindly reply, ‘Because I see myself here’.

As simple as it is.

I feel a sense of belonging when walking from Ashrafieh to Geitawi, and down the uneven pavements of Mar Mikhael. The heightened adrenaline at the back of a scooter with your driver making his own transit rules towards Hamra. And even when taking the service van to Bekaa. The loud Arabic songs, the opened doors with the van moving, and price negotiations through the window in the middle of Chtoura. The explosion of cigarettes being lit nonstop.

To someone that requires frequent stimulation, change, and movement, Lebanon is the perfect place for it. Constantly throwing thousands of information and adjustments. Lebanon really feeds your ADHD.

I may not resonate with all the reasons to why the country has reached such state, but I notice how our coping mechanisms overlap. I see similarities in our shifts. Going against the herd, even if for me that means leaving everything behind, and they, sometimes, can only act as such by driving against traffic.

Interwoven in a web of resistance to colonial thought and dominance through radical rest, adaptability, and flexibility. Trying to remain true to its origins. But, which one specifically?

Lebanon has been through so much. Always being told who to be, how to act, and what role to play. Lebanon has been pulled apart and broken into pieces. One in which different ideologies completely monopolise and weaken its identity. A place misunderstood by both outsiders and the ones that belong to its streets.

But I see and feel Lebanon. The juxtapositions present at every level of society. The strength to fearlessly keep on surviving, tightly holding onto the idea of moving on. Being resilient, but also tired. Fighting for survival whilst also desiring to retrieve. Trying to figure out when to fight and when to breathe. Spontaneously walking through life no matter how chaotic life turns out to be.

Lebanon doesn’t succumb in the face of fear. It doesn’t have the privilege to do so. Lebanon graciously surfs the constant waves of destruction. It lets the world burn, and keeps on thriving in the underground. The unexpected tears the country apart. Solid structures on the floor. Explosion of chemicals; in the soil, in the water and in the air. Lebanon in despair. In pain. Undergoing grief. An extremely tough reality to live.

Yet, Lebanon still creates.

I saw the movement taking place under the shattered glass and broken pieces everywhere. I could see art trying to escape those empty façades. Nudges of life. The green canopy trees on grey streets. The carefully chosen criticism on the city’s walls. Art at the city’s core, from deep inside the soil to its shore. Art as it is. Lebanon as it is. Myself as I am.

A picture overseeing Beirut from afar. Trees taking place at the forefront, the city is grey just like the sea, the sky vibrant orange with a few clouds.
Nothing is solely black and white. The in between is worth exploring.

But, I must confess. Lebanon isn’t easy. Even if transformative, Lebanon can also be incredibly hurtful. Seeing kids selling magic tricks and flowers on the empty streets that once were the place to be, forces you to remove your colourful shades.

Sometimes its sincerity can be cruel. Sometimes all the sudden adaptations - from the electricity changes to the crazy inflation rates - make us almost forget our names.

Everything feels too much and too little at the same time. Almost as if I’m being stripped off my centre. Leaving me wondering about who you really are and who am I in all of this? What’s yours and what’s mine? Can these boundaries ever be defined?

It feels as though we’re both floating away. Fighting so hard to keep true to ourselves, when in totality that definition of who we once were is no longer applicable. We’ve changed. You’ve changed me.

Coming here felt like a dream come true. One that fills you up with crazy sensations in your body, proving that you are, indeed, alive.

I’ve resonated with the Lebanese story, its people, and its imperfections. Lebanon reflected back precisely what I needed to see. It opened my eyes. Sometimes forcibly, sometimes gently. Nonetheless, it showed me reality for what it really is.

By seeing how the country moves, by accepting every gap in my own knowledge of it, by integrating every one of its flaws and still choosing to see its beauty despite, or maybe because, of it. Well, by doing so, Lebanon taught me strength comes as a result from finding your own way.

Are you heading where you want or merely were you were told to?

Perhaps, I’m no longer an optimist, and I’m ok with it. At least now I’m no longer scared of what’s real. I have channeled the Lebanese creativity and discontent, and I no longer can hold the sound of my voice inside. I am more critical than ever. More fed up than ever. But, also the most accepting of myself I have ever been. The happiest. And the most aligned with my authentic voice. Sometimes all we need is a little chaos to get things back in order, sometimes things never get back in place. Either way, we should always flow with the present pace.

To live Lebanon is to laugh in the face of fear. To embrace contradictions and to find your own way of navigating the crazy routes. To leave misconceptions behind and to ignite your critical sense. It is to know when and how to listen to the butterflies in your stomach, and to have the courage to go for it. Opening space and flourishing through resilience and truth.

Habibi, against all odds, my heart is Lebanese.

Hummus ‘cake’ for my 25th bday; can it get better than this?!



Bettina Broll

Where the political meets the spiritual. Identity. Culture. Movement.