Posted by on July 15, 2013 in Blog

By Dana Ballout
Summer 2013 Intern

This week I watched an old episode of the Lebanese-American comedian Nemr Abu Nassar. In his performance on public television, he said that the Lebanese need to start from zero, that they are nothing and have nothing: no government, no real country and no sense of a nation.

I think Nemr was a little harsh but I understand his frustration - and I can’t say I disagree.

But I have no doubt that Nemr and I have at some point had the same dilemma: to stay in the US or go back to Lebanon? I call it the “dilemma of the diaspora.”

Our dilemma is deep and often painful: to stay or go back; where is our “home?”

I struggle with this diaspora dilemma even as those without the option to leave Lebanon say I am insane for even considering a return to an unstable country. I struggle when listening to those who grew up in the US and envy my having a home in Lebanon like I do. I struggle when people who fought and fled their way to the US call me ungrateful. 

As I intern in DC, where you are often feel like just another number in sea of white, gray and black suites, I think about the days in Lebanon when going into work was like paying a visit to the neighbor’s house: welcoming sounds of ‘Bonjour!’ with the occasional rounds of two or three kisses. Kiss, turn cheek, kiss, turn cheek, kiss. You even miss the overly interfering colleagues that want to know where you are going at all times, what you ate, what you’re wearing and where you plan on being that night.

And yet when I go back to Lebanon, that itch crawls up my spine. That itch is known to all those returning from the diaspora. It usually hits you after about 10 days. You just want to get out again. The frustration of broken politics and society sickens you and just. don’t. feel… like you belong anymore.

Where is the respect for others that are different from you? Why are hardly any professionals, professional? Why can’t I run or walk on a street without listening to men’s catcalling? And why do people care so much about material things and physical appearances? Why did she get a nose job when she was beautiful already? Why do we have to discuss whether I or others have lost or gained weight before we discuss if they have lost or gained an educational degree, a family or love? Why does life seem to revolve around where I am drinking or dancing that night? And why can’t these jerks stop at a red light? Where does my own patience go as I myself inch my car closer and closer waiting for the green light for me to zoom off into the street? Where are we all headed in such a rush, yelling and cursing at each other using the same words we use for loved one ‘habibi’, ‘hayati’, ‘A’youni’? Why are policemen the last people I would call in crisis? The questions go on and on and on.

So we leave again to the US, Canada, Europe – wherever it is that isn’t Lebanon. We head to the airport saying tearful goodbyes to our families. I hug my mother so tight at the airport, watching the emergency lights of my parked car flashing in the corner of my eye. The policeman is watching us, making sure the car isn’t there for long. My mother is so good at being strong with goodbyes.

In a blink of an eye, I’m back in the US, putting away my Lebanese passport and handing my American one to an officer who responds the same way every time: “Welcome home.”

And as I watch the baggage belt for my suitcases, my heart is heavy. The words I heard all too often and brushed aside, suddenly surface in my head over and over again: Ma baddik tirja’eh ‘a watanik? (You don’t want to go back to your country?)

It’s the dilemma of diaspora.

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