The Summer Tunisia was Meant to Have

imagePeople say the way to happiness is gratitude. But sometimes what stands in the way of gratitude is feeling like I don’t deserve all the good in my life. Not in a self-hatred sense but in that I just compare myself to those less fortunate. And I wonder how it is fair that equally good-hearted people are not as lucky.

Tim and I lived in London for three years and that is where we started our married life so for our wedding anniversary, we went back to England to celebrate. On our way from the beautiful Lake District, we turned on BBC radio in time to hear of a terrorist attack on tourists in Tunisia, a famous destination for Europeans. The attack was on two of the most popular beach resorts in the area. Tourists were enjoying the beautiful day on the beach in the mid-summer high season when a gunman started shooting, taking 38 lives 30 of which were British at a hotel in Sousse. This happened just three months after 21 tourists were attacked by gunmen at the Bardo National Museum in the capital city of Tunis.

There are enough accidents and illnesses that can make this world a sad place but what makes it cruel is how you could be enjoying a family vacation on the Meditarean or praying in your church in South Carolina one minute and get shot with so much hatred and lack of purpose the next. Both times so defenseless and harmless that it all seems so pointless. What does this prove?

In the taxi en route to the airport at the end of our trip, we saw a “visit Tunisia” advertisement on the push-up seat in front of us. l love to travel, especially to exotic places I have never been. I could picture Tim and I a few months prior while we lived in London seeing that ad and adding Tunisia to our bucket list of places to visit before we move back to America. Unfortunately, the number of foreign visitors to Tunisia has dropped by 20 percent following the terror attacks this summer.

I could see us being there around the time of our wedding anniversary. I could also imagine that incident happening in Lebanon, from where I am originally and to where I dream of bringing Tim every single summer, pending stability in the country.

What scares me the most is not the fear that could have been us, but it is how much I relate to all of those people laying on the beach that day. How much they must have been enjoying the sunshine on their face they’d been craving after a rainy British summer. How long they probably saved up for their annual family holiday. How delicious that pina colada must have tasted and how warm the ocean must have felt. How they probably took smiling, glowing selfies moments before that happened. How lucky they must have felt.

I have a lot for which to be thankful – I am healthy. I have a loving husband, a supportive family, great friends, financially stable with the ability to do what I love. But I guess I’ve always been afraid of the high highs and the low lows and I feel most comfortable when I’m happy but not so lucky that the luck may run out.

Lebanon: A Country of Contradictions

imageHow to give Lebanon a voice? There is so much depth here… I don’t know which angle to take to explain it. You can look at Lebanon from the surface and call it fun. You can look at the parts destroyed by the war and call it poor. You can look at the army check points and call it scary. You can look at the scenery and call it beautiful. You can look at the people and call them generous… you can look at others and call them greedy. My biased perspective will be the one of a Christian Lebanese girl in her late twenties.

This country is a country of contradictions, where you’ll find a Christian woman in a string thong bikini next to a Muslim woman fully covered up, where you’ll find the glitz and glamour of south beach, FL next to the slums of Mumbai, India, where you’ll find a night life comparable to Ibiza, ES where the liquor flows and the beat doesn’t stop, next to a community whose religion forbids them to even drink.

It seems to me the reason the night life is so fun is because people don’t know when peace will turn into war, so they make the most noise of the quiet time they have.

I saw a mosque next to a church and concluded that Christians and Muslims were finally living jointly – the source of so much fighting in the country – but then I saw the difference between Muslim and Christian neighborhoods and I don’t think i can say that. I searched for my grandfather’s tomb, a generous man who I never met but miss dearly, and found him laying in an area of the cemetery accompanied by 4 other Christian tombs amongst 100’s of Muslim names. It dawned on me that Lebanese Christians have been the minority for many years… The only Christian group in the Middle East… And if I didn’t give my grandfather a voice, who would? In a few years, Muslim tombs would multiply even more and how could I be convinced that they wouldn’t take over his?

The Phoenicians, who are now known as Lebanese, are credited with inventing the alphabet. The people of language – who have a word for everything – seem to be silent outside of Lebanon. If you listen to a conversation in Arabic, you get the sense of the culture, one of faith and belief, where there are five different ways to say god willing. “Bookra,” or tomorrow, means anything from the next day to the next year, as if this non-committal tribute to tomorrow would ensure that there will in fact be a tomorrow. The language is so polite and beautiful that it makes me want to learn it. Since my family and I left when I was 3 months old to escape the war – I never learned how to speak it. But I understand it… Every nuance, every emotion. I just feel it. They’re passionate, expressive beings so you can get everything you need to know about a conversation by listening to the sound it makes.

On my last night here, I cried. I cried for the injustice this country has been through. I cried for the fact that it would still be my home if it wasn’t for war. I cried for those that gave me sweets to try for free even though they barely have enough to bring to their families, or the woman I watched make Man’oushe, or the cab driver who charged me whatever I wanted to pay. I cried for my family. Scared for their lives, they were ripped out of their roots, left to look for somewhere else to plant the life they once had… Most are still searching. I cried because everyone is a cousin or a best friend… And after only 10 days, I was really going to miss them. I cried for those left behind. My Mother’s uncle who became my grandfather as soon as mine passed, in whose eyes I saw how long it had been, and how long it will probably be again until we see each other. A man who gave up everything for us, and everything for his country, who has bullet holes that can be seen on the side of his building, at which he looks every morning to be reminded to be thankful for what he has. A man who will never leave his home and will sleep in his own bed every night… Shallah.
There are Muslim prayers being chanted on speakers outside his balcony. Two, three different mosques chanting louder than the other at sundown. How could something so beautiful be the cause of so much hate? I don’t think I’ll ever understand.

The man sitting across from me in the Beirut airport is talking about Kansas City. How beautifully random? I’ve moved around a lot so the likelihood of my worlds crossing is high but of all combinations that they could have crossed, this is the least likely. He is asking his Arabic friend if there are a lot of Lebanese in Kansas, and in true Middle Eastern fashion – where every question has a yes – he’s finding a way to convince him that there are. I’ve lived in Kansas City and there is Lebanese in my blood and heart but not my tongue, so can say that is not true. I’m going back now… to New York City, where you should speak fast if you have anything to say. Where you should make sure you’re factually correct before you say it. Where there is an allocated 15-minute window for everything in the day… Couldn’t be more different. Couldn’t have found a more estranged home away from home.