I have been an expatriate for the biggest part of my life. I have lived in Dammam, Paris, San Fransisco, NYC, London, Dubai and Abu Dhabi over the past fourty-nine years. I am French by my mother, Lebanese, by my father and naturalised American, because i thought it would be a good idea. I moved to Paris when I was five years old and i left France just after my twenty second birthday. Although i do have French blood in my veins, from Montpellier if you ask, I never quite felt at home in France. My first and last names do not sound French. It is only when i moved to NYC that I felt a sense of belonging. I belonged to a whole that identified itself as one large melting pot. I could be whoever i wanted to be and still fit right in. Eventually, life happened and ‘I” became “we, and “we” moved to London, then to Dubai and to Abu Dhabi. In none of these places did i ever belong. I loved them all, for very different reasons, but i did not belong. A part of me always felt "left out”. In England i felt i wasn’t “white" enough. In the UAE, i became a long-term guest; "guest” being the key operative word. I had never contemplated living in Lebanon because my parents being agnostic and atheist respectively never felt that we could grow happily in such a sectarian environment. We were raised on “Lebanon is not for people like us”, and I did not question the separateness of the “like us” statement. Instead, I tagged along obediently and unconsciously.
Fast Forward to 2019. About to become empty nesters “we" felt that the time had come to bid farewell to the UAE after a lovely seventeen year visit. Life was asking that we make a move. And so we took a leap and opted for Beirut. We can always go back to Europe, but before we do, if we do, I wanted to try Beirut. I could not move into the next phase of my life without confronting the elephant in my room: Why couldn't Lebanon be OK for someone “like me”? I had to give it a go. I had to see it for myself. I could not just keep going on in my life taking my parents’ beliefs at face value anymore. The age of separation was drawing up to a close. And so, Hani and I decided to move into our summer flat, in the Lebanese mountain in June 2019.
it will soon be six months that I am here and I am loving it. It feels as though i have always been here. I know just enough people to feel a genuine sense of connection, but not that many that I am overwhelmed. The fact that we live out of the city allows us to tip into and out of the city as we please, on our own terms. The physical distance provides a buffer between the excitement and the chaos of Beirut and the peacefulness and beauty of the nature in the mountain. This sense of belonging however comes from the way people interact with each other. There is such a level of humanity in people’s exchanges, so many smiles, so much kindness all around, that I feel so welcome. I am greeted wholeheartedly everywhere i go. People are kind. Just genuinely kind. Unlike anywhere else i have lived before, the Lebanese are a people who wear their kindness on their sleeve. That is just so refreshing in a world that is over competitive and where kindness is often interpreted as a weakness.
Today as I am writing this post, Lebanon is into the 60th day of its revolution. The Lebanese people, led by their youth and their women, have finally rallied against sectarianism and corruption. It is something that older generations never conceived of. Yet, it is happening and young and old, and christians and muslims, and rich and poor; are all one. It will take time for a new paradigm to emerge and take its rightful place. But there is no turning back. The wheels of change are well in motion and moving. It seems that the age of separation for Lebanon is also drawing up to its close. If anything, our decision to come and live in Lebanon could not have been more timely. In the end, “coming home” really means coming to terms with separation and finding peace in unity. And what a gift from Life when what is happening around me resonates so deep within me.
May we all stand united in the face of unfairness, may we all find the courage to speak out and stand-up in the face of injustice, and may we always find strength and encouragement in each other’s comforting smiles.
With love and candle light,