Many of you, dear friends, have asked about the missing part to my story, the foundation of my life here, namely, why the hell I came to Lebanon in the first place, especially considering I have absolutely no ties to here. Great question. Like many other foreigners from the West, a series of unexpected and interesting decisions brought me here.When I graduated high school I didn’t question what I wanted to study in college. I loved languages, having studied Latin all 4 years of HS instead of taking upper level sciences and stuff, and dabbled in Spanish my whole life since I grew up in SoFla. So when I started college my thought process went like this: I want to make one language my sole focus, I was tired of Spanish, French is lame, let’s choose something important in the world so I can have something that could potentially be a career option. Chinese (Mandarin) and Arabic were global heavyweights and I thought Chinese sucked and China wouldn’t excite me so boom, I chose this Arabic language that they speak in like…Arabic countries?
After my first class I was hooked. Obsessed. I still knew nothing about the Middle East but damn I loved Arabic and my controversial and not-so-widely-loved professor, Mohammed Jiyad. I was his star pupil. I threw all my energy into the language and it loved me in return. First year passed, I soared. The second year passed and I had to prepare to study abroad. To be honest I hated my college (the education itself is incredible and of course my beloved professor) so I had no doubt that I’d spend my whole year out of the fucking country. But, to where? The options were: Cairo, Egypt; Amman, Jordan; and Beirut, Lebanon.
An older Egyptian TA advised me. She told me Amman was boring as hell, my Arabic would get great but I’d wither away from lack of social stimulation. Cairo was super crazy, AUC sucked ass, and I’d have to learn the Egyptian dialect which I thought was ugly. But Beirut, she said as she looked into my eyes, was the place for me. Yes, I was going to love it and speak Lebanese and have SO MUCH FUN! That was that, I’d go to Lebanon.
And like an asshole I still didn’t do much research about it, neither did my mom, she’s cool like that. I remember arriving at the airport (I had just studied in Italy the semester before) and waited for the taxi AUB was supposed to send over for me. No taxi driver holding a sign with my name was to be found. Frantic, I was pacing in the arrival section. A boy saw me and offered his help. He said I could call the school from his phone then he helped me conjure up a taxi. The drive was maniacal and the driver was screaming at me in Lebanese trying to teach me Arabic while I was responding in Fus’ha (The Shakespearen version of Arabic). I was flustered and confused and fucking terrified since he was driving in the middle of the two white lines on the highway. Once he dropped me off I made my way to my dormitory which was situated off campus in the heart of Hamra and looked out my window.
Unlike my first 24 hours in Italy when I broke down sobbing in the shower, my first thoughts in Lebanon were “What the fuck am I doing in this obviously insane Middle Eastern country?” and then euphoric: “I love this place.” And I really did. It was one of those monumental moments in my life.
I studied for four months, then extended my stay throughout the summer working at Demo, a bar in Gemmayze, and finally left to finish my last year at Mount Holyoke. That final year was so difficult, but I was sure the power of love could keep me going. And it did because three months after I graduated I left home and moved here. That’s where my first blog post picks up.
Not to be too cheesy and similar to the super famous book Beirut, I Love You, but it was Lebanon that I fully gave myself to in a way I had never before. It was the first of all people, places, and things, that I moved my whole life for, that I didn’t stop dreaming about everyday, and through better and worse, I would love and cherish.
Stay tuned for Part II: A Job, A House, and the Joys of Living Young Wild and
Free In a Relationship (edited by Matias).