Let me tell you what it is like, so you won’t have any misconceptions… at least, this is how it is for me. Life of an immigrant. Where to start and where to end?
The weather for the past few days has been like the early spring days in Lebanon, when the winter’s cold is broken, and the heat of summer starts peeking its head in. It is hot, dry, not enough to annoy you, but enough to make you go on bicycle rides towards the beach, watch the shimmering light of the waves reflected by the sun, take off your clothes and dip for a cooldown in your underwear. That’s how it felt like for me when I was there. Many were even impressed by it, my swimming in underwear that is, for I seemed to be ‘not much of a normal girl’.
It’s strange though, if I really think about it, because knowing I’m not-so-typical, I am from that land, influenced by the western culture like many other people who lived there too, along with each other’s influence on one another, the actual local population. I have to admit, Lebanese people are one of the coolest people I’ve ever met: they are very open minded, they know how to dress nicely for every season and occasion, they are very artistic, not to mention very hospitable. Yes, it was for those reasons and others that I liked living there, on the Mediterranean Sea, and even though I wasn’t the most special or the most unique, I did enjoy my weirdness among the crowds.
Lebanon’s geography was super beautiful for me too: I loved the mountains as well as the sea. I loved the plains, the waterfalls and the rivers, I loved going on road trips and picking fresh fruit along the way, straight from the trees: the apples, cherries, citruses and berries. I knew how to speak to the people, since we all shared a unified language (not without different dialects though) and I had friends which I knew for years. Furthermore, I had family: a mother that I could turn to when I needed unconditional love and a warm familiar hug, a father that I could speak to when I needed some help, relatives that I would see not very often, but enough to maintain bonds with, and cousins whom I loved the company of and whom I’d play with like little children. Yes, it felt nice being among them; we didn’t need to explain anything to each other, we just needed to be, to enjoy, to communicate, to relate.
Flash forward to the time I left there: I had no idea for how long I’d be gone, where I was going to or what would happen. All I knew was that Lebanon seemed too small for me, the government too corrupt, and those tales of immigrants accomplishing themselves in foreign countries very attractive. Yes, finding myself was more important than any patriotic beliefs and I knew I was strong and ready enough to start anew. ‘Finding myself’, as cliché as it may sound, creeped up on me, and the progression of time became an intense burden on my mind. Change became a must and ‘masked’ behind the idea that I was to meet the man of my dreams, with one huge suitcase and a 1 way ticket, I set off towards the land where the ‘grass is said to be greener’.
The grass, in fact, was greener there. But the tone of the green was different, the sun shone differently, the air smelled different, and gradually, I became indifferent to my own country, to its own pros and cons, to the laughter and the misery that sprang there. Or so I thought…
But you’d think that that saying isn’t true until you experience it: “You can take the girl out of Lebanon, but you can’t take the Lebanon out of the girl”. Wait, hold on. Maybe this is not the accurate expression here, but something closer to the sound of ‘feeling homesick’. Yes, that was more like it. It was a term that I had never understood but now was very clear to me and quite familiar. Now, it was directly related to my own personal experience. Now it was a shadow that would creep up on me occasionally, and though I know I can get rid of it after a day or two, I also know that it would stay with me forever. Yes, forever… forever I will be a part of who I was and forever that which I came from will be a part of me. Think of it: wouldn’t your mother also remain a part of you forever, even if you have never ever met her? Let alone if you’ve spent years knowing her and sharing times together! “Forever” … that was a scary word, but I keep trying to remind myself that the only time is now!
This time, yesterday to be more exact, all these feelings arose from browsing an old classmate’s Facebook page. We studied arts together and just by looking at her photos, I could feel the intensity of the sun back in my homeland, the smell of air there, the tipsy afternoons during ‘happy hour’ at the pubs in the endless streets of booze and rolled cigarettes, the coolness of the river water where we’d play in the summer time. I missed those feelings: the sun, the booze, the breeze, the laughter of friends. ‘Homesickness’ came. I wasn’t ready to welcome it yet so soon. I started asking myself why I was here, and when, if ever, I’d return to the belonging, to the mundane problems, to the nature, to all the complications.
“Take yourself out!” I ordered myself. That alternative was definitely much more comfortable than having to go over these crucial questions again which keep on arising, sometimes even thought about and contemplated, but never taken a decision toward. Not taking a decision was also another form of taking a decision, or is it? Yes, going out would be a good distraction for my confused and melancholic mind. Maybe even a beer would help.
Unlike typical me, I bought that beer and matched it, like typical me, with a short novel from my bookshelf. Then I set off towards the sandy beach with the line of tall coconut trees. And afterwards, consuming the whole 33cl of locally canned beer and a chapter of the non-local novel in hand, I happened across friends that I’ve made during my stay on this island. They invited me to some BBQ that they were planning for the evening. ‘Nice’, I thought to myself, ‘one more distraction for my unsettled mind’. Then I happened across another friend, and we walked along the stretch of the beach and back, looking at the topless men and chatting about them, gazing at the sunset pink clouds in the sky, and the surfers that were courageously trying to balance themselves on the wavy waters. This all pushed away the gloomy feelings I had felt earlier during the day, and once more reminded me of how lucky I was to be here, how jealous some others would be, and how longing their feelings and thoughts to be in my exact shoes, or the lack of them thereof, under my feet at this moment while walking on the soft wet sand.
At the BBQ that evening, where more booze seemed to flow, musicians improvised unprofessional harmonic tunes and everyone complimented the homemade French fries that I had made and brought along, consuming them faster than all other items present there, including the breathable air in the atmosphere. I chatted with the only woman among the attendees, who reminded me of how lucky we were to be here. She said that just today she was pinching herself, thinking how lucky she is and how life here was so good, and that she had been here for at least triple the time period that I have spent here myself. Yes, her conditions were different than mine and yet we were the same, and how actually familiar was that feeling of the experience of life here resonated with me, which sometimes made me want to pinch myself too, just to confirm the actuality of this dream of living in ‘paradise’. And these expressions weren’t even the first time that I’d hear here: ‘paradise’, ‘pinching oneself’, ‘life is so good’. We were, in fact, so lucky and life was beautiful, and this place was truly a ‘paradise’. The beaches, the mountains, the easy life, the warm weather, the people, the endless activities, the, the, the… but what does the heart really want?
‘Homesickness’… bye-bye for now. We’re bound to meet again, soon I’m sure. But for now, let me just be content with the now, let me rise and grow, give, share, dream, celebrate… “Homesickness’, go away and come back later, for the only time is now, it is only now.