Anything to Declare? Nuts, Fruit, Wheelchairs?
It is not the first time that I’m outraged when tuning into my favorite Arabic soap opera. No, I am not referring to the Syrian-Arabic dubbed Turkish series that have invaded Middle Eastern televisions and Lebanese women’s hearts. In this case, I am referring to the ‘News’.
Living in Lebanon for the past two years, I learned the local way of turning the blind eye to, in a nutshell, bullcrap. To name a few: Former Minister of Youth and Sports calling to investigate Swiss-born Lebanese Jacki Chamoun’s leaked topless photo shoot (three years ago) “because nudity is a misrepresentation of Lebanon;” job advertisements requesting certain genders of certain religions; multiple suicide bombings in Beirut; or even the arrest of Lebanese Rapper Double A The Preacherman for rocking a beard in South Beirut, because our Arab genes clearly guarantee us a clean shaven look with no 5 o’clock shadow. (Question: Is it illegal to become a hipster in Lebanon?).
Lying down on a usual lazy Sunday, my father who was anticipating Nasrallah’s hour and a half speech last night –don’t get him wrong, he is far from fanatic, yet his glass of fine red wine has nothing on his roots from the deep south which has been dealing with Lebanon’s friendly neighbors since 1982 — had been tuning to Al Jadeed since their 9PM news broadcast which had left me no choice but to tune in too.
A ‘United’ ministry cabinet had been formed, followed by more blood in Syria which was followed with a sports report, and then the most jaw dropping news I have ever listened to in my almost 25 years of existence on this planet.
Rula Helou, a disabled journalist, renowned for having fought her whole life to become an independent woman in Lebanon despite living in a wheelchair, denied a flight to Cairo on Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s national carrier.
You may think that she had visa issues, or perhaps she had carried something that may have been not permitted on a plane. But the only thing that held Rula back from successfully boarding her 75-minute flight was a wheelchair.
According to Helou, she tried to explain to MEA that she has been travelling with them several times before on her own. Her passport even shows Schengen visas, visas to the United States, Brasil, and Kenya as well as other places.
Yet, instead of just sticking to MEA’s ‘policy’ of not allowing disabled people to travel without a companion, one MEA staff member, still unknown, turns to Helou and mockingly says, “Yalla, ‘walk’ show me, can you walk? Can you?” (Yalla emshi farjeeni, 2edra timshi? 2edra temshi?).
While attempting to file a complaint to airport security and maintain what is left of her pride, Rola crossed the same staff member again who told her that he has come to file a complaint about her “for wasting his time”, according to her interview with MTV Lebanon.
In tears, Rola Helou felt she had no other option but to turn around and head back to Beirut with her luggage and ticket in hand. MEA has yet to comment on this incident.
This is not the first time that MEA staff has been involved with discrimination and let’s face it, intense scrutiny.
On a flight to Frankfurt, I personally witnessed a fight between an NGO aid worker helping Syrian refugees on board our plane, and an MEA staff member because the MEA staff member had taken pictures of the refugees’ passports on her personal smartphone.
Less than a year ago, another MEA staff member used an airport PA system to publicly ask Filipino and Nepalese domestic workers flying home to (no exaggeration) “Shut up.”
Here is the Facebook group Support Rula Helou.
Raed Shami reached out to 2Famous.TV for his voice to be heard! He is an Australian born Lebanese who grew up between Sydney, Riyadh, Dubai and Lebanon. The constant moving between schools, houses, and countries has left him still not able to find what he calls ‘home’. Within his quest, Raed decided to go back to Lebanon right after his 23rd birthday where he sits behind a desk doing PR stuff; but enjoys his new-found Beirut life and has [finally] indulged in his motherland’s Lebanese cuisine (Mama is proud!). His new destination is yet to be determined. If you want to guest blog with us let us know! Contact us at:Matiasnc (a) gmail (dot) com.
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