“When Lebanon is home”
Sarah and Zelfa have both grown up in Lebanon, a country where recent history seems to have taken the present hostage significantly more than in other places. However, due to its critical location in the MENA region, the issues and conundrums surrounding its political and social crises seem to strike a chord for all of us who have lived, known and experienced what it’s like to grow up in the Middle East and most notably, as a woman, in what is supposed to be a democratically elected regime but which delivers pretty much the opposite.
According to the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies* (LCPS), 69.4% of Lebanese youth surveyed in April 2022 expressed the wish to permanently emigrate for reasons of politico-economic (35.2%), or strictly economic (34.2 %), nature.
We have asked Sarah, who left Lebanon in 2020, and Zelfa, who lives in Beirut to answer a few questions :
1) What are your favorite things about your home country?
Sarah: I love the mountains, forests and greenery of Lebanon; the warmth of a home-cooked meal; the sense of belonging to a community and being part of a group of family and friends.
Zelfa: Lebanon might as well be called “Survivor’s Land”. First of all, it’s such a small and beautiful country: I actually love the fact that it's small because it facilitates my daily life. I love its nature, the weather with its typical Mediterranean climate, Lebanese cuisine whichis one of the best in the world, and the nonstop nightlife. I love The diversity: the population is so diverse thanks to the country’s rich history. In a single day, you can run into people from different religions, social backgrounds and origins, all in one place. I also really like the fact how important family is in our culture, and how it tends to be close-knit and loyal. But what I love the most about my home country is something I can’t really describe. It’s my home. It’s who I am.
2) How has it felt for you to leave Lebanon?
Sarah: Leaving the country was at first very destabilizing and confusing. Having to adapt to a new city, people, system, etc, without knowing when I could go back to my country, was difficult. There was a lot of insecurity in the air. As days go by, I feel so relieved to have left a country where I felt oppressed, mostly by a corrupt system that doesn’t value the individual upon their merit but upon social status or family lineage.
I also feel liberated as a woman to have left as society that can be very judgmental and disempowering; which was definitely not aligned with my career ambitions and dreams. Also, I felt safe to face my war trauma and PTSD after leaving the country. Doing so while in the country was impossible. I feel very happy to have taken the risk to leave my old life behind and create a new life and identity of my own.
3) Do you experience womanhood differently now that you do not live there?
Sarah : Absolutely. I feel I can finally exist as an independent woman who can make her own choices without being clouded by the fear of judgment and of not fitting in society. I feel respected and valued for my hard work and ethics. The pressure of having to find a husband in order to exist as a woman and fit in has also vanished. I have realized that I could exist and survive with or without a man. I am now the master of my own life.
4) What does it mean to you to be your own boss in Lebanon today ?
It’s a challenging experience to survive the current situation here. Being my own boss has advantages and disadvantages, especially during the economic crisis Lebanon is going through. It’s risky and unstable. On the other hand, you have the chance to work on yourself and focus on your own growth since as a woman, in the Middle East, you don’t always get the opportunity to grow and achieve your goals in big companies.
5) If you had the opportunity to leave, would you? Conversely, what would make you stay?
I must say if the opportunity arises I would consider leaving Lebanon, especially if it can help grow my company and career. I mean who wouldn’t choose safety, basic human rights and financial stability? But for sure, It won’t be an easy decision, leaving everything behind, your family, friends, your life, memories…
6) What do you think Lebanese women have to bring to the table that others can’t? What have you learnt by being a woman of Lebanese origin and what is the specific message you think women in Lebanon can teach the world?
Sarah: Due to their circumstances, Lebanese women have become quite resilient, strong, creative and adaptable individuals. If we were to teach something to other women it would be empathy, compassion and flexibility. Also, never give up on your dreams as there is always light at the end of the tunnel, as dark as the tunnel can be!
Zelfa: Lebanese people in general have suffered a lot and still are suffering. It’s been more than 35 years that we have seen through several wars, corruption, one of the worst economic crisis in the world, a series of bombings and assassinations, Beirut blast, Covid etc,and yet we are still fighting. While witnessing people leave, you can still see the ones who would never, who are still investing in this country, believing in it and hoping for a better future. Lebanese women are resilient, strong and always try to find solutions and hope within the darkest places, therefore they can teach the world how to never give up, how to see the good in every bad ,and how to adapt.