Lebanon, a Tiny yet Sumptuous Country in the Middle East
Today, we talk about Lebanon.
After two weeks in the USA, around international students who were like me attending a summer school, I realized that the beauty of my country was unspoken, that its nature, people, culture, and magnificent landscapes were unknown to some, and this hurt me deeply. I needed to be vocal about it, and I felt compelled to write it here black on white, pen on paper.
From the first day until the last one, I kept on meeting new people and creating strong friendships with teenagers from around the globe. As you may all expect, the first question being asked to start a conversation with anyone is « where are you from? ». As soon as I responded « Lebanon », I always received the same reaction « Oh that’s so cool ». The real coolness behind the word Lebanon is probably its people. To be more specific, everyone but its politicians. Despite everything, the Lebanese people are still here, standing up, just for the love of their country. Some people in the world aren’t aware about what Lebanon is going through, while others don’t give any importance to our Lebanon — yes, I have heard « Isn’t Lebanon in Europe? ». Although I have shown them what the Lebanese are going through, Lebanon has its own sparkle that no one but the real Lebanese can feel and know it. Lebanese people do not deserve what they are going through. A friend from Florida, United States once told me as soon as I said that I’m from Lebanon « The first Lebanese I met was someone in Florida and he is the nicest person I have ever met in my entire life! ». To that one Lebanese living in Florida, thank you. I’m pretty sure you left Lebanon because of the situation; however, I would like to thank you for reflecting a great image of our country in Florida through your own personality — these are the Lebanese. Lebanon is in fact a small country, but nothing can ever hide its sparkle, the sparkle of its name, its flag and its people. While leaving my friends before returning back to Lebanon, an Italian told me “I really hope to see you again but this time in Lebanon because my mom heard a lot of beautiful things about your country and is keen on going there one day”. She was probably the only one who said that and honestly, I was surprised. Not surprised of “beautiful things” in Lebanon but surprised of hearing that one of the people I met was keen on coming to Lebanon: I used to hear everyone talking to each other about the day when they’ll visit each other’s countries but never have I heard someone planning on visiting Lebanon as it’s too far.
It is far but it has to be heard.
Although some people know a little bit about Lebanon, there are other aspects that the world doesn’t know. For instance, when a German asked me where I am from and I said Lebanon, he directly responded with “omg my bestfriend is Lebanese he is from Beirut and in Germany when I’m at his house we eat Lebanese food, its delicious and for me it’s the best”. Yes Lebanon does indeed have nice qualities, some of which we can be proud of. When I was in my dorm and a girl from Peru asked me “Maria, how does Lebanon look like?” My first reflex was to answer saying “A fun fact about Lebanon is that you can go to the beach and to the mountains the same day”. She responded after thinking for few seconds “Oh in Peru too I remember starting a day at the beach and going to the mountain after”. While she was saying that, I was thinking in my mind; little does she know about our amazing cedars, or the coastline sunsets in Batroun… nothing can be compared to it, to our Lebanon. It is clear that the world does not know anything about our sumptuous Lebanon. On a bus ride, I was sitting next to a French. When I started speaking in French and telling her that I am doing the French baccalaureate, she was shocked. She told me “Ah je ne savais pas que « a Lebanon » vous pouvez faire le bac français, comment on dit Lebanon en français déjà?” The world doesn’t know about us, and we have to do something about it! While I was talking to that same person, I asked her which French school she is attending since I have many friends who moved to France because of Lebanon’s situation. I started telling her the schools to which my Lebanese friends residing in France are going to and she looked at me weirdly saying “Did they only apply there or they are actually studying at these schools, because these are the top schools in France”. I simply answered “You know the education in Lebanon isn’t bad at all”. On top of that, an American from North Carolina that was next to us added saying “It’s so cool Maria in your country people know how to speak many languages whereas here in the US, English is our only way to communicate”.
As expected, conversations with any high schooler, always revolve around our future college majors and dream work. Knowing that I’m from Lebanon and it’s kind of far from the United States, people tend to ask me if I’m planning on coming here, to the US, for college. I don’t really have an answer but it’s more like a “Maybe, I just know that I’m traveling abroad”. A girl from London told me “I think everyone is like this, everyone wants to leave their home town or country for college and then come back once they’re done to work in their country and give it back what it gave them”. While I was hearing what she was saying, I didn’t really respond but rather just left a simple smile. In my mind, I was actually trying to think about what Lebanon gave me.
International people living in that 510.1 million km² surface area of the terrestrial globe have no clue of what is going on in that 10,452 km² surface area of Lebanon. Absolutely, no clue.
A girl I met from Washington DC, US said while we were walking down the street with all our friends “Oh my god the euro and the dollar are equal today”. To be honest, I had no idea if it was supposed to be something good or bad for her, an American. However, the first thing that came to my mind was Lebanon. The currency topic I hear every day. I was about to tell her “You don’t know anything about the complexities of that topic until you come to Lebanon”, unfortunately. Few days later, sitting in the dining hall eating with a friend from Russia that was attending a class related to economics, she asked me out of nowhere what was the currency we use in Lebanon, and I told her that it’s the Lebanese Pounds. Although she got the answer to her question, I didn’t stop there and wanted her to know a bit more about what Lebanon is going through. I described exactly Lebanon’s current situation “There is a huge economic crisis now in Lebanon (I don’t think she knew about it) and the Lebanese Pound is super volatile witnessing constant fluctuations. Before the crisis started, 1 dollar was equal to 1500 Lebanese pounds whereas now 1 dollar is approximately equal to 30000 Lebanese pounds — as of today at least :)”. As I was saying that, her fork fell from her hands, she opened her mouth and said “wait, are you serious?”. I had no response other than “I wish I was kidding”. I love to see how people from around the world perceive my country. Thus, as I was answering “Lebanon” to whoever asked me where I was from, I asked them back “Have you ever heard about Lebanon?”. Surprisingly, I have heard from a friend coming from Korea “I saw a video of people dying because of a bomb two years ago I think”. I was surprised to hear that, so I decided to ask more people about it. Later on, while having lunch with my friends, I asked “Have you ever heard about what happened in Lebanon on August 4th 2020?”. Only one person from California, US responded saying “isn’t it a sort of bombing”. I answered saying “It wasn’t a bomb. It was a huge blast in the middle of Lebanon’s capital, in Beirut’s port. It is the largest non-nuclear blast in History”. They all looked at me as if I just said the biggest news ever, where actually this happened 2 years ago, and they weren’t even aware about it. The world doesn’t know what we’re going through, us the Lebanese, victims of so many unspoken awful acts. That same night, I was sitting in a living room with all my friends reading out loud the essays that got us into this university where we were attending a pre-college program. Everyone’s essays were about joyful moments in their childhood while mine was about my experience on august 4th 2020 and how this day affected me personally. After reading my essay, people around me started reacting “I’m sorry for that” or “I didn’t know Lebanon went through that”. I simply stated at the end “This is one of many problems Lebanon is currently facing”.
Meeting new people was the key to the weeks I spent in the USA. While talking with a girl from Atlanta, US, I mentioned that I’m from Lebanon and she directly said, “There is a new student in my school he’s Lebanese I think he moved here not long ago because of the situation in his country”. Not surprised, I responded “Yes, Lebanon’s situation isn’t at its best right now”. She was like “You know there are conflicts everywhere, every country is facing ups and downs, it’s normal”. I tried as much as I can not to laugh when I heard “it’s normal”, I answered “It stops being normal when “the down” is present for a long period of time, when “the down” is the only thing we have”.
Students there were really into the course they were following and so asked many questions in relation to what they were learning. There is a girl from France, who I became friend with, followed a class related to geopolitics. When she knew that I was Lebanese, she asked me what’s politic like in Lebanon. I was very honest with her and told her “I love to learn and speak about everything, any topic you would like, but honestly, I don’t like politics, don’t understand it and don’t want to know about it. For me, politics is at the heart of conflicts.” Despite everything, she insisted and said “Mais dans ton pays c’est une démocratie, pas complètement ou comment?” and I simply responded “C’est du n’importe quoi.”
Today, we talked about Lebanon, and we will keep talking about it.