Saturday, September 14, 2013

Thoughts from a Broken Country - Day 2

We went out again today. That's often all it takes for me to change my mind about this mess of a country. I used to think the traffic was bad, the congestion and density of people oppressive, especially in this godforsaken part of the city known as Dahye, the (southern) "Suburbs" (of Beirut, a.k.a. Hezbollah-land).

But that was before it all went haywire, before the car bombs, before the paranoia... It was before the "Suburbs" went from a ghetto for-all-practical-purposes to a real official one, with enforced boundaries, a true country-within-a-country. There are now "self-enforced" (i.e. Hezbollah-manned) security checkpoints at all entrances to Dahye. The nightmarish traffic at the entrances went from oppressive to unbearable. But the indignity of the checkpoints is what's most disturbing, eerily reminiscent of the "civil" war days, something I thought we've left behind.

At the turn to our place, a bearded man in civilian clothes stops our car and pulls us off to the side; apparently we look too Westernized, not Shiite enough. He asks "Where are you from?" and demands to see ID-cards (Lebanese code for "What religious sect are you?"). My idealistic brother replies, "I'm from Lebanon. I'm secular. I crossed my religious sect off of my ID." My father thinks he's asking for trouble; he's glad my brother is leaving the country next week for another masters in the UK. I side with my brother; I tell the bearded guy, "I'm from here before you were born; where are YOU from?" He replies, mockingly, "Syria." I ask him, "By what right do you ask to see our IDs then?" He says, "I'm trying to protect you; why are you so upset?" I say, "Because we're trying to get to our house right there and every time you stop us." At this point, my mother is glad, too, I'll be leaving soon again. And I... I'm not sure of anything anymore.

I feel like Don Quixote battling the windmills: just as foolish, just as delusional, just as aimless... Soon enough, I'll be back again in the cold comfort of my life in Zurich, I hope. I'll be back to railing against the Swiss, and the Americans, and the Art World, and whatever windmills I could muster--just another foolish man and his grandiose deluded ideals. And what becomes of here? What becomes of them? I'll pretend not to think; even a foolish man can take on only so many windmills....

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