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The struggle to stay

To remain in Lebanon means untold hardship. But perhaps in some ways, leaving it behind is not much easier. Dana Hourany muses on the internal battle shared by many Lebanese.


"Farewell parties replace dinner parties and romantic relationships are often put on hold or cut short. " Photo: NOW.

It was 7 pm on a Friday night when my best friend got a phone call from his company.  He was to leave for Istanbul on Monday. Power shortages were threatening the nature of his job, software engineering, which required him to stay present online 24/7. 

That was to be my final weekend with him. The company did not know when he would be coming back, if ever. 

This has been the case for many Lebanese, who have had to abandon their loved ones in search of refuge abroad, mostly through job opportunities. For the rest of us, it often feels like it will only be a matter of a time before we are either willingly on a plane out, or would be forced to leave when violence escalates. 

Until then, farewell parties replace dinner parties and romantic relationships are often put on hold or cut short. 

Jobs have become scarce in Lebanon, especially those that pay well. The ones that pay in fresh US dollars are even more rare, and these are the ones most sought after. This pushes Lebanese to look for opportunities abroad, especially in the Arab Gulf States, regardless of the “Lebanese salaries” that are often offered by employers taking advantage of the situation.  

“Maybe, just maybe, it’ll get better soon and I won’t have to leave,” I tell myself every day. 

We’ve had electricity for 6 hours a day for over 3 days now. That’s a good sign, right? Perhaps, the shorter line at the gas station was also a good sign. 

No, it was probably the relief of the slightly cooler winds circulating through my window during power cuts that made me hopeful after months of scorching summer. Maybe the crisis would soon end.

When August ends, it will all get better. The season would turn, and my best friend would come back. I would not have to leave my family, and things would get back to normal.

Story after story, lie after lie, and one delusion after another. I keep my window open and contemplate the wind. As the summer heat winds down, so will my country’s problems, I pray. 

A trauma-bond

I love my country. I made the active decision to stay after studying in the UK and realizing that my love for my family, friends, environment and country was more important to me than the comfort any European country can offer. 

Once I stepped foot in this land again in August 2019, I swore to myself that I would fix my relationship with the homeland I had grown detached from. 

Two years later, and I can say with certainty that I have become reattached to this place. A psychologist once explained to me that this type of attachment is called “a trauma-bond”. 

This type of attachment occurs when you feel sympathy and love for whoever is abusing you. You become stuck. It hurts to stay but it would hurt even harder to leave,” she explained. 

She admitted that the best option was, for whoever could leave, to just take the opportunity and not look back. 

“When you are in a safer environment then you can start healing your trauma,” she said.

Resist, persist, and resist again. When they take the electricity from my home, I would go to a coffee shop. When they hoarded the fuel, I would walk more, and when they took away the internet, I would be patient and wait until it was back on. 

But the process does not only consist of long hours searching for opportunities, filling out visa applications or hustling to find the cheapest possibility.

The struggle goes beyond the material.

Many of us want to leave, but what happens to the ones we’d leave behind? The country we leave behind? Do those who leave always have one foot in and one foot out, do they exist in two places at once? Is it better for us all if I do leave?

Look, for example, at the diaspora’s efforts to bring medicine, cash, hygiene products and a myriad of other necessities to the country. Maybe I would become more useful if I left. 

But in a country that has stripped away our mental and emotional health, not to mention every basic human right, why would I let the circumstances strip away the last bit of happiness I had left? 

I have a career that I’m proud of, a caring family and supportive friendships. Abandoning those blessings would feel like a forced exile.

I do not want to be exiled, I want to remain rooted in the home that I was just beginning to love. Leaving would mean letting the ruling class win once again. It means allowing them to take this love away. 

Resist, persist, and resist again. When they take the electricity from my home, I would go to a coffee shop. When they hoarded the fuel, I would walk more, and when they took away the internet, I would be patient and wait until it was back on. 

Many activists call for “resistance” and not “resilience”, as a way to fight the ongoing corruption. That was my form of resistance. 

I changed my schedule and adapted my life around the accumulating crises, all for the sake of a country that I hate to love and love to hate. 

Gratitude in times of crises

My happiness now stems from having air conditioning when sleeping. I’m grateful everday to still afford food and even more grateful that I am in good health. Everyday I remind myself that it could get worse and this pushes me forward. 

Some might say that our standards of living have become so low, that having simply our basic needs feels good. Yes, it does. And no, I don’t mind. 

Once a week or so, I find myself in the midst of Lebanon’s nature, surrounded by beautiful scenery and a cool climate at night, even during summer. These few hours spent hiking, swimming or camping are enough to help me recharge my energy and get me ready for the upcoming battles. 

The conversations, the laughter, the interactions overall hold more importance nowadays. People emphasize deeply with one and another, and understand that we all need kindness and support. 

How could I leave all this? 

One day a week is has been enough to make me feel this way, make me fall in love again with a country that gave us all the reasons to hate it. 

A friend that had come back from the US to permanently reside in Lebanon once said, “people hate Lebanon for all the right reasons but I love it for all the right reasons too”. 

Back when the Syrian conflict had started in 2011, I remember thinking to myself that to become a refugee and be forced to leave your country was the worst thing that could happen, and I was ever so grateful to not have been in that position. 

Back when the Syrian conflict had started in 2011, I remember thinking to myself that to become a refugee and be forced to leave your country was the worst thing that could happen, and I was ever so grateful to not have been in that position. 

Yet, it now seems that we have found ourselves in a similar position.  Though the Lebanese have not been granted refugee status, the mass exodus that is currently occurring is nothing short of forced exile. It may seem that we have the freedom of choice, but for many, it is mock freedom. The truth is, some have not choice but to leave or perish.

My best friend called me from Turkey. He said that he was bored, and wants to return so we could go out together again. We both know this is wishful thinking. I bite my tongue and tell him that it’s better for him to stay there. I hang up the phone and keep my feelings to myself. How do I tell him how much I miss his presence in my life? Our coffee outings? Or our hikes together? 

Guilt is apparently a common feeling amongst Lebanese expats and I don’t want to guilt-trip him. So I don’t tell him about how much his mother was hurt knowing her eldest son left, and she lost her only support. I don’t mention how torn his younger brother was when he got mugged the other day. I keep it all to myself and tell him to just enjoy his time in Istanbul. 

I hang up the phone and move on with my life. 

I’m not ok, but it’s ok

Yes, we should not adapt to the current crises. Yes, it is unacceptable and we should demand change. This is understood. But we also have lives to live and responsibilities we have to answer to. 

I try to make each day go by just a little bit better than the ones before. No power at the gym? No problem, the sunlight is enough. The extreme sweating? I can take more than two showers a day. Can’t work during the day due to power cuts? I’ll just work at night then. 

This is not mere survival, nor resilience. I want to stay in this country, and I’m utilizing all the tools I have to do so. 

Maybe one of the most difficult things to grapple with is why some people are allowed to be safe and satisfied in their countries. 

This, here, is my battle. 

Why are many populations not compelled to seek refuge elsewhere, while others are forced to do so?

Why are some nations made to feel less than, while other nations enjoy a privileged life? This is beyond my comprehension, and it gives me the will to fight. On a daily basis, I fight to remain rooted. I fight to believe in the possibility of change. Somewhere, somehow, change would have to come. 

I might be a deluded 23-year-old in a toxic relationship with her country. But sometimes, when you find yourself amidst several battles, you have to choose one. Between the struggles of staying or becoming an exile, I choose to stay. 

This, here, is my battle. 

Dana Hourany is a multimedia journalist with @NOW_leb. She is on Instagram @danahourany.