When I was 12 years old, my brother, who’s 10 years older than I am, got a call that changed both our lives. I still remember that day, he rushed into the living room on a hot summer afternoon with a huge playful smile on his face.
“Guess what?” He asked enthusiastically while probing my parents’ faces.
My dad engaged him first. He put down his newspaper hurriedly and shot my brother an eager, inquisitive look.
“You got it?” He was already at the edge of his seat.
My brother nodded vigorously and screamed a loud “Yes” which caused my parents to jump out of their seats and rush to hug him. I joined the joyful wave and embraced them all in a big family hug that seemed to be way overdue.
My Dad’s face was washed with pride while my mom’s was beaded with tears that my brother gently whisked away.
“I’m going to miss you Habibi!” The words seemed to leave her lips and hang heavily in the air between us.
I was confused.
“What did you get? Where are you going? Why is mom going to miss you?” I asked irritably.
“I’m moving to Qatar Hadi! I got a job there!”
The truth of the matter
When you are born in a country like Lebanon, your goal is primarily to get out of it. When I was 12 years old, I did not know that. I did not know much about geopolitics, and I had no idea about job opportunities in Lebanon, or the lack thereof to be more precise.
The truth of the matter is if you’re Lebanese, geopolitics, corruption, assassinations, inflation, starvation, and economic breakdown are headlines you’ve been watching, hearing, reading, and unfortunately living and breathing for the past 50 years. If you’re Lebanese you know very well that your only chance at survival is packing your bags and making a go at it in another country.
That’s why when my brother got the call, he was ecstatic. That’s why whenever any Lebanese gets this golden opportunity, we congratulate them, hug them and secretly pray that one day we will get the call ourselves.
15 years later, at 27 years old, I got a similar call. I was moving to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I remember that day just as vividly as my brother’s day. I had him in mind when I walked into the same living room, but this time only to my mom sitting there quietly, lost in the sea of her thoughts.
My dad had passed away only months earlier, and she was still coping with the loneliness of a heart filled with sorrow.
Unlike my brother, I did not have a joyful look on my face, however, my announcement did wash my mother’s eyes with heavy tears.
“Mabrook Habibi!” she hugged me like only a mother can hug her son. I embraced her like only a son can embrace his loving mother, and we stood there silently letting the news of my departure engulf us with the inevitability of being Lebanese.
On a jet plane
I boarded my plane with a broken heart and a mind cluttered with emotions I could not process. I wasn’t just leaving my mother, my family, and my friends; I was also leaving behind the memories of my youth. My first love, my first heartbreak, the smell of the wet asphalt after the first September rain, the feel of the golden sun on the hills of our village grounds. All of it left behind.
There was resentment in my heart, there is no doubt about that. Why should I leave everything I loved to the people who have driven generation after generation out of the safety of their homes? Why should I leave? Why don’t the traitors and the corrupt, evil men leave? Why don’t the ones who have depleted us of our resources and plunged us into one crisis after another leave?
Those were the thoughts going through the maze of my mind when the plane lifted off Lebanese soil, and with it stole the swollen heart of another Lebanese youth.
I am now 34 years old. I have been living abroad for 7 years. 4 years in Riyadh and now 3 years in Dubai. My mom is living with me, and my brother moved from Qatar to Saudi Arabia. All my friends have also boarded their planes and found new homes somewhere in the GCC, Canada, the US, or Europe. All of us are happy and grateful that we got that call, packed our bags, and left home in search of a better future.
It is what it is! There is no more sorrow in my heart, no more resentment, no regret, and definitely no hope that I will one day return.
And the memories? The memories that once felt heavy on my heart, have now dwindled to afterthoughts or reminisces that trigger little moments of nostalgia, but that’s it… They’re little moments that take me back, but then I’m grounded in the reality of my situation, and I feel thankful and blessed!
So… If you’re Lebanese and you got that call, Mabrook!
If not, my heart goes out to you, and I pray that when your day comes, you’re ready to accept the inevitability of being Lebanese.
Hadi El Talje is one of 7 billion human beings living on a tiny blue ball floating in the vastness of space. He hopes his writing intrigues your mind and inspires you to be true to who you really are. For writing opportunities, connect with Hadi.
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