Wednesday, August 22, 2007

When the world hands you lemons...


It was like any other Mediterranean resort. In fact the name of the resort, Florida Beach, simply did not do it justice. We pulled into the entrance, showing the guard our membership card, and parked among the other Mercedes and BMWs. After cutting in between the hotel and the chalets we took our spot on some chairs overlooking one of the three pools and the Sea. Yachts moored in the marina were spotless, and each boat was flying the Lebanese flag. The bar was stocked with beer and wine, most of which were made in the same mountains overlooking the resort. Bikini-clad women were in abundance, some awkwardly walking around in high-heels, and so were the gaudy gold crucifix chains. The resort even had its token anorexic, behind whose back everyone would whisper “ya haraam” (forbidden). The stereo was blaring horrendous pop music, and in spite of this it was one of the most magnificent places I’ve ever been. However, there were three things that one would not expect to experience at the normal resort on the North Mediterranean.

The first one was quite small. In between the songs by 50 cent, Beyonce, and Maroon 5 were songs by Arab pop stars (including our favorite, the one, the only, Amir Diab. Keegan you should break into singing right now). The second, more ironic than the first, was the occasional woman in a hijab. These ladies only stood out because they obviously were more dressed than everyone else on the beach, and of course in Lebanon no one including myself had a second thought about it.

The third thing was shells. Not seashells, but the sound of artillery shells. Fifteen kilometers north of Florida Beach is Nahr Al-Barad, the Palestinian refugee camp which three months ago turned into the battleground between the Lebanese Army and Fatah Al-Islam. The helicopters above were not touring choppers; they were Hueys flying reinforcements and supplies to the Army. While I’m sure everyone heard the noise of cannons blasting, I was the only one who seemed pay it any heed. I was in paradise, sunbathing, listening to a war. How could people, how could I, do this?

As I started to think about that question a lot of ideas came to mind. The first answer I thought of was the religious gap. As shown by the aforementioned gaudy chains, most of the patrons here were Christian, and maybe they simply wouldn’t care about an overwhelmingly Muslim camp. However, that would not explain why those Muslims here (see aforementioned hijabs) were just as comfortable as the Christians. In addition to that, more Lebanese soldiers have died in this battle than militants, and the Army is largely Christian (the current Lebanese Army is basically reformation of the Christian militias from the civil war). What about class differences? Once again, the Army being largely Christian means that many of its soldiers are from wealthy areas in Lebanon. The young men dying in the fight came from the same neighborhoods as these people. What could it be then that allows these people to share with me drinks and skin cancer while shells fall nearby?

When that thought crossed my mind, in those exact words, it hit me. The human psyche is a hard thing to break. One reason for this is because it can become, for lack of a better term, twisted very easily. I had only been hearing literal death in the distance for less than 15 minutes and I could already joke to myself about skin cancer.

If I could do this after such a short time, imagine what a lifetime would do. There is not one person in Lebanon under 60 years old who has lived more than 15 years without conflict in their country. The 1950’s saw political unrest and international intervention in Beirut. From 1975 until 1990 a civil war made Lebanon synonymous with violence, and the 2005 assassination of Hariri and last year’s fiasco between Hezbollah and Israel were by no means good to the country. If people did not learn to go about their daily lives, including extravagant recreation (which everyone does if they have the means; who among us can say that we’ve never done such a thing?), then Lebanon would be the biggest psychiatric ward in the world.

So when does the twisting go too far? Can it really go too far? I think it is important with this question to point out that the resort had a lot of kids as well. How should parents make their children confront the two faces of Lebanon? The only way to help them I feel is to present some sense of normality. In the best case, they’ll never have to experience the same paradox when they are raising their kids. In the worst case, they’ll know that there is a way for them to present a sense of normality in a world that is simply twisted. In this respect, given the situation, we would all do the same thing. Twisting of the psyche could never go “too far,” because if it broke then we would all be in much more trouble than we face today. Was this resort a display of wealth that would make most readers of this blog sick with the problems of the world? Of course it is. However I feel that the world has given Lebanon one of the biggest batches of lemons ever devised. At least the Lebanese know how to make really good lemonade.


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outspokenarab said...

when the world hands you lemons...squirt lemon juice in their eyes!

haha, ok just kidding.

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