Back to Beirut, I Weep
As years pass by, I’ve grown frighteningly familiar with dividing myself in two, scrapping a bright, rich culture for the vultures to feast. Sitting here in this café, I’m once again watching “Back to Beirut”, an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s documentary series, Parts Unknown. He visits the Lebanese city, eating whatever is put before him, talking to whoever crosses his path, and enjoying the atmosphere that never seems to stop vibrating. I keep thinking this is a silly idea; I’m in public, and knowing my probably overly emotional self, I’ll start to get tearful.
There is imagery of the city immediately. Less than twenty seconds in, Bourdain narrates, “There’s no place else even remotely like it.” I called it, I start to slowly well up. Oh my god, I pause it. I’m not really feeling the whole sitting-in-a-café-sobbing vibe right now. I don’t think the sandal-and-sock wearing macho-bro sitting next to me would want to deal with it either.
The first time I heard Bourdain was heading back to Lebanon, I had the same, expressive reaction. Scrolling through Facebook, an article popped up. Frantically, shivering with excitement, I click. There was a video, a trailer for the episode. Butterflies in my stomach, tears already making their way, I click. Tears. More tears. Not even just specks on my face. I mean, sure, that’s how it started, but then it became blubbering, overflown with waves of chills, all within about 10 seconds and lasting much longer than the 30-second preview.
My unquestioned whiteness in appearance has built a wall between my two sides; a war within myself that echoes stereotypes of a perpetually war-ridden Middle East. The struggle to acknowledge the privilege of my whiteness but allow myself my own heritage is never-ending. There is no interrogating my race, my blood, because it just is. Should I have to justify it? Should I even feel like I have to justify it? Is it really even that big of a deal? I mean, it’s just half of me; I’m not full blooded. Or is it worth figuring out because, hey, half actually is quite a lot? Maybe I should give myself more credit. But then again, living in a fucked up world where whiteness is rewarded and everything else is sub-par or even sub-human, I am intensely privileged. Is there a way to acknowledge that without suppressing half of myself? Is there a way to embrace my Lebanese blood without dismissing my privilege? I want to take responsibility, but should that necessarily have to come at the cost of losing something within? I don’t know.
Watching the trailer for “Back to Beirut” was like the triumph of finally untangling your earbuds after they’ve been sloshed to the bottom of your backpack. Yes, underneath all of the other cluttered crap you’ve compiled over the months. Though, the triumph for me was a feeling of solace. I had to do a double take. I look like the people who graced my screen. Wait… I look like those people??
The relief I’ve gained from seeing my face reflected in those before me is immense, and for now, that’s kind of the only confirmation I feel like I need. Answers to all of my questions may never rise to the surface and be clear as day. I still don’t know how I should walk the line. Though, I have begun to find placidity in having questions. Not knowing isn’t always inherently a bad thing. To be unsure and lost is fine. I guess I’m at least out there fishing around and trying to figure it out?? I don’t know, maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about it.