It’s been two months since I left Lebanon in the midst of all its turmoil to start a new job in the US. I had already been struggling with thoughts of guilt for abandoning Lebanon when I woke up to the news of the Beirut port explosion. I spent the rest of that first day clutched to my fiance in front of the TV, crying as I watched the news in disbelief.
On the second day, I admitted to myself that I won’t be able to do any work so I officially took the day off. I sought a respite from the news by taking a walk outside and going grocery shopping. It worked somewhat, but it was a temporary escape.
On the third day, I realized that I need to start taking real steps to recover. I told the rest of the week off work and I started calling every Lebanese friend and family member that I knew. It felt good to share our anger, grief, despair, compassion and support.
By the first fourth day, I had gotten all the phone calls out of my system and it was time to face some pertinent thoughts and questions.
First of all, the guilt. Is it right that I’m living comfortably while people I love are suffering far away? What right do I have to clean water, electricity, and safety when my friends and family don’t? What about following my role models, Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, who gave up luxuries to join the struggles of their fellow citizens? Am I allowed to enjoy my life?
Yes, I am. My loved ones in Lebanon want many things and me being miserable isn’t one of them. Just as I want them to live good lives, they want the same for me.
As far as my duty towards Lebanon as a citizen, I believe that I am more useful as a successful technical professional living in the US than as a jobless person living in Lebanon. At this time, I have nothing to offer to Lebanon from within. Three years ago I went there with my entrepreneurship, but now it’s evident that Lebanon needs political change. The diaspora is in a position to be a powerful force of that change if we play our cards right. Combined, we have more financial resources, experience, time, and even numbers than Lebanese inside Lebanon. The diaspora is an untapped power waiting to be unleashed.
It’s in both my best interest and Lebanon’s to accumulate wealth and knowledge and to live a good life. It’s in the best interest of the mafias that we be poor and desperate and in need of them. By being successful and independent, and we can fight them. My good life here has already allowed me to donate time and money to initiatives like Impact Lebanon.
People at work who saw the news still ask me if things are okay back home. There’s a certain appeal to say, “it’s fine, thanks for asking,” just to keep the mood light and move things along. However, it feels much better to say the truth that it’s a terrible tragedy that takes a heavy emotional toll and I need time off and to delegate some tasks. People are much more understanding than we typically realize.
I’m passionate about activism to a point where it can dominate my life. After I started falling behind at work, I realized that I need to cut down on my time volunteering for Lebanese causes. Once again, it’s important to the cause that I live a good life because it’s the key to sustainability. Burning myself out, getting in trouble at work or getting fired wouldn’t help anyone. So far, what’s working for me is setting a schedule. I spend one hour each day on volunteering and just getting Lebanon out of my system. Then, I go and do personal care things to recharge. The key to winning in the long run is to be in good mental health.
All Lebanese deserve a good life, whether in Lebanon or the US or the UK or anywhere in the world. This is what we are striving for. These are our values. We’re not setting a good example by spending our time being miserable. If anything, we want to lead by example and give our loved ones some hope that life can be better.
My sister-in-law inspired me all the way from Lebanon by starting her new job just one day after the blast. Whether in the US or in Lebanon, we are fighting the same struggle. We have to take any opportunity to make ourselves feel better and move on. Be productive. Be active. Go out and buy groceries. Take care of yourself. Don’t feel guilty doing it. It’s what we want for each other. We can do all that while at the same time we fight the evils that are destroying our country. We’re all in this together.