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When home does not feel like home anymore

Image credits: Boys sift through garbage at a dumb near a makeshift settlement for Syrian refugees in Bar Elias (Bekaa valley). Photo courtesy of Aziz Taher.

My first trip back to Beirut after four long years of abstinence: banks’ bankruptcy, the Beirut blast, the collapse of the lira, the endless piles of garbage, and a political elite that just does get the message. Did I mention the Covid 19 lockdown? All participated in my four-year absence from a country I had planned to visit regularly the day I decided to live abroad.

By Hiba Kilany
Yet, here I am. Back to my roots, back to the place I call home. Or is it not? Home anymore?

They asked me, “How did you find Lebanon after such a long absence?”

My answer could cover an infinite list of radical changes:
. The packs of worthless Liras you need to carry to pay for chocolate and chewing gum, a depreciation that turned the toilet rolls into a more expensive item than the value of the printed Lira.

. The astonishing change in how we perform? We used to be perfectionists, detail-oriented, energetic busy-bees. What I see today are walking zombies, worried only to get the days by.

. We were the resilient people that nothing could destroy: Not a 20 long-years-war, not poverty, not hunger, not being bombed over and over again by a variety of enemies: to the left and the right of our territory.

We used to find joy in finding solutions, but now we barely exist, at the margin of things, at the sidewalk of life… Understandable, I’d say, when you have been robbed, the one thing that made us proud: our ability to extract our living “men tem el assad” from the gut of the lion, as they say...

When your only financial security vanished with no hope of seeing a penny of it any day soon.

But no. These are not it. What freaked me out when I landed in the land of the Phoenicians?

The demographical change in my country. Lebanon “was” the only “Christian-like-land” in the Middle East: we dress[ed] colourful, elegant and discrete, women wore their heads high, their eyes lined, their lips red, their blond hair and manicured nails long and picture-perfect. We had flashy tight mini-skirts walking along the Manara Corniche hanging to the arms of a veiled friend.

Today, all I see is covered flocks of heads in black, long black burkas, hidden lips and hips. Beirut lost its “European” feel. Nowadays, as I walk through malls and halls, I feel as if I have been tele-transported to some Arab country where women have to tone down their femininity for the sake of manly hormonal supremacy.

We became an Islamic-colored place. Do not get me wrong: I do not have anything against Muslims, yet: this is not my LEBANON! We became a Syrian-Islamic colony. From that perspective, Beirut is one of Syria’s governorates.

A few days back, I had an appointment and was headed for a famous NGO headquarter in the heart of Achrafieh; wanting to stay aware of the situation, and as all women do wisely: I asked for directions. I stopped by a mechanic’s shop along the road to get directions: three times, the “kids” occupying these workshops popped out and listened to my quest, and three times out of 3, the answer came as a complete surprise, none of them ever heard of it, and all three answers came in a very unfamiliar Syrian accent.

Would you like me to say more?

My friend and her family members – a Sunnite Muslim family living in Beqaa- have been suffering from the unfortunate effect of the massive population living in inhuman conditions in the valley: the over one million displaced Syrians living in camps do not have a place to discard their excrements, and hence, the amount of these evacuated into the valley, by millions for a decade now, have infested the valley, and where the Lebanese agriculture used to flourish now lies a basin of dung; where people use to have walked for a breath of pure air, hangs an unbreathable smell of filth.

Lebanon's fertile “uncovered” population will triplicate in a couple of years.

UNHCR registered Syrians’ high birth rates 40,000 Syrian babies were born in Lebanon in 2016, according to UNHCR and Lebanese government data, compared with about 71,000 babies born to Lebanese parents, and ever since, no more “official data” has been registered.

At this rate, and 12 years from today, the exponential increase in birth will see a surge in the number of Syrian refugees to 12 million.

Again, do not get me wrong. I am not racist, I do have at heart the poor creatures living in such despicable conditions, but shouldn’t the breeding couples think of that as well? Shouldn’t the numerous NGOs who shower these refugees with aid and money provide some proper sexual education?

Why don’t they?

I have nothing against Syrians in Syria but plenty against Syrians in Lebanon, as much as I have for Israelis in Palestine or Martians on Earth.

Each his world, each his place, and when you outnumber the original populations by numbers, by laws and by unnatural implementations, it becomes an invasion, it becomes a threat, an incursion, an attack, it becomes the disfiguration of one nation that had something different, a sparkle, that blemished and is soon to die, covered-up and buried under tons of shit and bullshit!

I rest my case.

Hiba Kilany

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