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The irony of expatriation

| Friday, November 22, 2019

“Such is the nature of an expatriate life …The insider-outsider dichotomy gives life a degree of tension. Not of a needling, negative variety but rather a keep-on-your-toes sort of tension that can plunge or peak with sudden rushes of love or anger.”

Author Sarah Turnbull’s words have never resonated so strongly with me before. On Oct. 17, for the first time, these words — which I have read over and over previously — sparked so much awareness and insight that I could connect and identify with. 

On Oct. 17th, massive protests erupted across major Lebanese cities after the government announced new tax measures. Millions of civilians took to the streets chanting, waving flags, dancing to Lebanese nationalist tunes and above all demanding radical change that would ensure a better future for the years to come. Behind the recurrent call for “the fall of the regime” lies years of deep intersectional divide, exploitation and illusory promises by political elites and underlying frustration with the government over electricity and water shortages, poor waste management and the economic crises that only seems to worsen

“They tried to break the will of the people … We refuse this. That’s why we’re here today,” said a protester interviewed by CNN. “Our dignity is more important than anything else.”

Growing up, the chasm of division between people was always prominent in diverse domestic issues. Ever since the civil war, people would rally behind a political party or a certain sect. The control these sectarian political parties have exercised has for years only pitted people against each other making us believe that a fellow Lebanese was an enemy of ours. For years corruption has been the only law of the parliament; a parliament that has done nothing but put Band-Aids on wounds that have been open for years; a parliament that has too often let the country bleed heavily while they amassed the fortunes in their pockets.

On Oct. 17th, people said enough was enough. They were sick of working three jobs to put food on the table, they were sick of not finding jobs, they were sick of dying at the hospital’s doors, they were sick of raising their kids only to see them leave the country and never turn back, they were sick of illusory promises that only seemed to gnaw away at their dignity.

My heart has never been fuller than the time where I watched the reports of two million Lebanese, young and old, taking the streets and most importantly ditching the flags of the parties they once pledged to follow. Christian, Muslim, Druze, Atheist … for the first time in history they stood undivided.

That’s when homesickness hit me the hardest. While I was here, my mother, father and sister were taking the streets. My closest friends were ditching their courses because they believed something out there was greater, and it was waiting for them.

 It was a different sense of isolation and loneliness. My heart was longing to be right there in the streets with the people who only seemed to reflect beautiful energy and spirit of patriotism.

As Adam Gopnik once said, “The loneliness of an expatriate is of an odd and complicated kind, for it is inseparable from the feeling of being free, of having escaped.”

And yes, I am building a life for myself. I have grown in these past few months more than I have in an entire year. But this complicated freedom was not lived wholeheartedly as my heart was left behind in the streets of Beirut pounding with an urge to be with my people.

Yes, I left behind everything looking for change and adventure but the truth is no matter where I end up I will always be first and foremost Lebanese.

In this past month, I have noticed that the feeling I was harboring was not only mine but was shared across millions of hearts in Chicago, Michigan, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Stockholm, Paris, London, Milan, Australia …. Across the globe the hearts of Lebanese expatriates was pounding with the desire to take part in this historically pivotal moment in time. Millions of these hearts were longing to be back home among their loved ones and most importantly fighting for their right to come back to the home they once left with a heavy heart.

So here I am, like most students abroad, sitting in my room looking at the Lebanese flag hung up on my wall while I try to read a scholarly article about justice and accountability. I am failing miserably as my mind keeps going back to Lebanon.

Krista Lourdes Akiki is majoring in management consultancy and global affairs. Coming from Beirut, Lebanon, she always enjoys trying out new things and is an avid travel lover. She hopes to take her readers on her journey as she discovers new lifestyles and navigates new cities. She can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @kristalourdesakiki.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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