It is 20:30. I am in a car with my dad telling him I am applying for scholarships to get my master’s degree abroad. He immediately goes into lecture mode about budgets and whether I could not just get one in Lebanon. I reach my destination seeped in misery, coated with a gloss of numbness.
The wheels of my brain start churning. I am doing the maths, and the odds are not in my father’s favor. If I stay living with my parents, five days a week of commuting would cost me over 1.5 million Lebanese pounds, some US$ 250, while renting an apartment or a room in a dormitory in Beirut would, at the very least, set me back US$ 150 a month. However, that does not include meals, gas and electricity.
Either way, in my rural village there are no job opportunities. This means I would have to find work in Beirut and pray to God it would cover at least part of my day-to-day expenses. A full scholarship in a foreign country, coupled with a part-time job, is less likely to drain the last bit of life out of me.
For me, and many others my age, time stopped in 2019. Every tick of the clock since has only moved us backward. Our lives were thrown to a halt. Our salaries cut to a quarter of what they used to be. Our hopes for the future replaced by a static survival mode.
The worst part is that I can say all this while dripping in privilege. Been unemployed for ages? Yes, but my parents inherited the land on which we built our house. So we do not have to worry about rent every month. My last journalistic job required an 8-to-5 commitment, six days a week, for US$ 200 a month only.
But I was privileged enough to quit without worrying about paying for my next meal. Cannot leave the house or go anywhere without paying an arm and a leg? Yes, but that is not the worst condition to live in.
Notice the pattern? We are surrounded by such gut-wrenching tragedies that our complaints pale in comparison and leave us in a state of silence. Our ails often boil down to being so entrenched in this capitalist way of living that we no longer know how to exist outside of it. So instead of complaining about the situation, we internalize it. We persevere because we are taught resilience is a virtue.
Well, that is all a pack of lies. Surviving in Lebanon, if you are not upper class, a child of a rotten politician or an “influencer,” is an attempt to swim against the tide. It is draining at best, futile at worst. What kind of future does anyone in their twenties hope to build on a US$ 300 salary or even US$ 500, if we are being generous? Your best gamble is to stick it out one month at a time, constantly chasing the next paycheck, being content with static living, never moving forward.
Yet, sticking it out in silence is a recipe for future trauma and a load of nervous system problems. Now, I know some of the older generations will call us snowflakes because they suffered worse. Well, to them I say: “Honey, please, your children still suffer from your unresolved issues, we do not intend to pass on ours to the next generation.”
Regarding the actual guide on how to survive Lebanon, step one: keep a journal. God knows, you probably cannot afford a therapist and your friends are sick of your nagging, so make that journal your buddy. Write down your deepest, darkest thoughts, then burn it. Do not post anything on social media. For you only set yourself up for a toxic cycle of validation, until you are left with nothing but a shell of who your authentic self once was. Burn it!
Step two: encourage yourself to go out and scream into the void. Your neighbors might think you are crazy, but that is a small price to pay.
Step three: go for a walk. Unless you live in Beirut where the architecture is designed to make it impossible to enjoy a stroll. If so, tough luck. However, if you are not a resident of the capital, then take that walk, move your muscles, enjoy the clean air, or the unclean one, depending on where you are, and keep on walking until you find a forest.
Once you find your forest, search for rocks. You need them to be average-sized, easy to throw. Take those rocks and hurl them at the nearest politician’s house. This will likely get you arrested. If going to jail is an issue, just throw them into the forest, preferably while screaming obscenities. Once you are done doing all that, go back home and sleep. You will be too exhausted to do anything else.
I apologize if my words have depressed you. But it is inevitable to be bitter when all the safe havens this country once provided us have been shut down or thrown out of reach. I am always impressed seeing my peers’ stories online, always seemingly living la vie en rose. But you and I both know that is just fronting.
That is why I am here to tell you it is okay to experience that emotionally static state you find yourself in. It is okay to be angry. Frankly, more often than not, I walk through life with a skeleton inflamed in rage.