PS: wait for the pics, it’s a slideshow
“Where are you from?” People I met in Australia would ask.
“Lebanon.” I would proudly reply, regretting the next couple of questions.
“What’s your country like?”
“How was your experience at high school?”
“How are the people in Lebanon?”
Now I know most of you are wondering why I said, “regretting the next couple of questions.” Well, ever since I became aware of my surroundings, Lebanon was all I knew, adored, loved. Don’t get me wrong, I still do. I still do because I was one of “the lucky ones” in Lebanon. And by that, I mean, fortunately, my family was able to send me to a private school, to take me out, I was able to travel now and then and see new places. I had what some people would call “a great childhood.” My grandparents raised me, always surrounded by cousins and friends from the neighbourhood. The image of Lebanon that I have painted in my head is the reason I’m so in love with this country. But then again, I could only have this image because of what I lived. Let me help you get a better understanding of my childhood.
My grandparents’ house was on the 2nd floor of a three-storey building, and all our neighbours had kids of different ages. So, most summer days, we’d go down to the beach together, swim, jump off cliffs, tan, run around, and stuff our faces with ice cream before we’d go home.
We’d get home, take our showers and meet under the building to play as our parents sat and chatted away with the warm breeze that passed by.
We played hide-and-seek, we raced, we laughed, and climbed on trees.
On Sundays, my aunt, uncle, and their families would come over for lunch, and we’d spend the whole day playing around and making jokes. It was the day I mostly enjoyed. Being around family meant the world to me. We’d go for walks and often to the small court in the village to play.
Why do I feel bad when people ask me about Lebanon?
A few years back, when someone would ask me about my country, I would say that we have the most amazing views, the most beautiful weather, the kindest people. I would describe Lebanese people as hospitable, loving, and caring. I would only know what I’ve seen and heard. And, fortunately back then I didn’t know what I know now, or maybe I knew but didn’t want to believe it. Let me make things clearer. A few months back, I started watching a Lebanese social talk show, called “Hawa El Horriyeh”, hosted by Joe Maalouf, which represents a platform for freedom of expression and opinion.
That is when I became ashamed of my country and most of the people in it. That is when I discovered the harshness and cruelty people live every day. That is when I knew why I was considered one of “the lucky ones”. The country that I highly spoke of is now one that I’m ashamed to mention. Not because it’s not the most beautiful country anymore, not because the minority of its people aren’t as good as I knew them when I was a child, and not because I moved someplace better.
To me, Lebanon was and still is the country I love the most, the country I’m longing to go back to, the place that I consider home to be. But, unfortunately, after watching 90% of “Hawa El Horriyeh’s” episodes, that magical image I once had in my head is now nothing but a memory.
With the cases Joe Maalouf has addressed on his talk show, I’ve heard about rape, poverty, murder, kidnapping, discrimination, disrespect towards people with special needs, and much more.
I know that most of you are thinking: “this happens everywhere, in all countries of the world.” I agree. But, growing in a country surrounded by the most genuine people and later finding out about what’s around me, was terrible.
In May 2018, Lebanon held parliamentary elections which most political parties failed to make public commitments to strengthen human rights protection.
The police beat protestors.
Unlike men, women cannot pass their citizenship to their children and foreign spouses.
There are approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon: however, 74% lack legal status. Unfortunately, municipalities have forcibly evicted thousands of refugees.
Most schools deny access to children with disabilities.
In recent years, Lebanon’s army and police have used force to disperse demonstrations, and videos show security forces beating citizens.
Women continue to face discrimination, including inequality in access to divorce, child custody, and property rights.
In 2017, Lebanon’s parliament repealed article 522, which had allowed rapists to escape prosecution by marrying the victim, but left a loophole concerning offences relating to sex with children aged 15-17 and sex with virgin girls with promises of marriage.
A lack of coordination in the government’s response to sex trafficking continues to put women and girls at risk.
Lebanon has no minimum age of marriage for all its citizens. Instead, religious courts set the age based on the religion-based personal status laws, some of which allow girls younger than 15 to marry.
Mothers appear on “Hawa El Horryieh”, crying because their husbands raped their daughters, children fearing their fathers, neighbours raping each other’s kids and murdering them. Life-long friends killed by each other, women raped and men getting away with it, children not being sent to school because of their parents’ arguments, siblings murdering each other, criminals getting away with their crimes because of our corrupt government. What I just mentioned is what makes me ashamed of my country. The government is not standing up for its people until they appear on talk shows and publicly ask for help.
To every single person appearing on a talk show, standing up for themselves and others, I highly respect and admire your courage.
And to Joe Maalouf, if you see this, thank you for all you’re doing and thank you for keeping me connected to my country Lebanon, all the way from Australia. It’s unfortunate that I feel connected to my country with such horrible stories, but, if it weren’t for “Hawa El Horriyeh” I wouldn’t feel at home in a country 12,218 km away from home.
To everyone that’s reading this, please share it and let everyone know how most people are living in Lebanon. Let’s help each other instead of discriminating, hating, and hurting one another.
At the end of all this thing we call “living,” we’re all going. So, make the best of what you have now and help others do the same!
Mona Talia Halime.