Monday, 6 July 2020

Birthday Letter 2020

Hi Baba,

To be honest, I don't think I've ever dreaded writing you your birthday letter before.

I get sad when I do it, sometimes I wonder what I need to write, whether or not I'll be repetitive, or just not have much to say.

But I've never dreaded it. 

Today, I dread it. So much.

I sit writing you, out my window, most of the city is black with night, plunged into darkness with very few lights to break it up.  I'm lucky enough to hear a droning hum of a generator which keeps our building powered, our air conditioning on in this muggy weather, our fridge cold, our internet running.
Not many people are that lucky these days.

I'm dreading telling you the sorry state we're in, as a country, as a world, as a family trying to survive what seems to be one of the worse periods I've ever experienced.

All the mess and dirt and corruption that hasn't really changed since we moved back to Beirut has finally caught up, and the country is crumbling. The currency is 5 times less valuable than it used to be (and falling), half the country is under the poverty line, people are angry, sad, depressed, people are dying by suicide in broad daylight, making their last breath on earth a statement against the reality the country has been forced into... And to add a surrealistic macabre twist to it all,  there's a global pandemic that is paralysing most of the world, putting lockdowns in place, causing fear and anxiety, dangling the threat of death in front of our eyes, making things so much harder on so many levels that it is suffocating.

But the country Baba, the country... What can I say about the country?

I don't know if there are enough words, or any words to describe the feelings, emotions, realities we find ourselves in. We wake up every day feeling we've hit rock bottom, only to realise it's a false ceiling and we crash into a further depth, and it's on repeat. A sadistic Ground Hog Day that just won't give. The lies, the stealing, the hypocrisy, the depravity, the constant insult to our intelligence, to our pride, to our humanity... It's all too much!

And we had a glimmer of hope. Between last year's letter, and this one, I saw a spark leap from the embers on October the 17th. My countrymen and women seemed to wake up, to realise the tragicomedy that had become our state, and they shouted ENOUGH! كلكن يعني كلكن! We wanted them all out, all gone, we were fed up and we united under the flag, and for the first time in a long time I felt so proud! I felt empowered, invigorated, justified! But always cautiously.. I remember telling mama "this is the last shot. I can't continue like this. It has to be now or it won't be at all. It's now or never." So many felt this way.

It seems like never baba.

Part of me is relieved you're not here to see it all crumbling. I'm relieved many of you aren't. Did you and Teta Zaza cross paths somehow? And if you did I hope she told you how we are...

I don't know when it will be better, when it will be the Lebanon you and Mama hoped for when we moved back, the Lebanon we deserve, that is deserving of us. I hold on to that hope deep, deep inside. For me, for Laith, for Mama, for Saadi, for you.

That small spark that managed to free itself from the embers under the ashes, we lost it, we can't see it in all the darkness anymore. I hope it's still there. I hope that if it's not, another one will liberate itself and ignite an explosion of fireworks that will make us all stand in awe, mouths agape, laughing at the colours and lights and sounds. That our hearts will skip a beat but in excitement and wonder. Unlike these days where our hearts skip beats at yet another piece of news that spells more disaster, more hopelessness.

There doesn't seem to be an end to the tunnel, it's so dark that I can no longer tell if there is no light at the end of it, or just that the light is so infinitely far that I can't see it for now. I'm holding on to the hope that it's the latter.

I don't know if I can bear the dark while I wait for it anymore.

I'm so sad these days Baba. I wish you were here to comfort me, to reassure me. I think of you a lot. But the fear that even if you were here you would not be able to, adds to the relief that you're not witnessing this. One less person to agonise.

I'm worried for Mama, who even with all her stubbornness and determination is losing sight of the light at the end of Lebanon's gaping hole of a reality. I worry about her, and with her. 

The only joy, that I thank the universe for every single minute, every single second, is Laith. Laith! The lion who is but a cub right now, roaring his presence and laughter and soul at us, giving us so much purpose and life and light! When I delve into the dark of our present reality, he is the torch that reminds me there must be a way, even if it isn't what we wanted.

And with that I know it's time to leave this sinking ship I call home. I tried to scoop the pooling water out, we all did. The whole country was cupping hands and scooping and scooping and scooping. But the water is faster, and we're watching as it's reaching our ankles, and shins, and thighs... And as much as I love the ship, I have a family, I won't sacrifice it. I can't. I refuse to let the water reach a lick of a flame of my torch.

Some things you do not compromise. 
I have a solid suspicion if you were here, you wouldn't question this difficult decision... Perhaps you would have reached it before, who knows...

So we have to leave. I like to think it's not forever. I like to think we'll be back, when the light is flooding all the homes, coming through the windows and the open doors, instead of water.

We'll be close by, always close by.

I read somewhere that grief is merely love with no place to go. And now I think I'm grieving a life I wanted to have here. I'm grieving a homeland that should be loved, and not mourned.

But it pales in comparison to the overwhelming grief at your loss...

I think I have to admit that your leaving has traumatised me in some way.

All these letters over the years with an underlying feeling that there was a missing link between you and me. One that made me doubt what I remembered, and how our relationship used to be. I always saw myself in motion, and you still. 

There was always this passiveness in my memory so far. Photos I talk to that don't talk back.

And then one day, before all the shit hit the fan here, I accidentally went down a rabbit hole, cleaning out my email.
I typed in “Karma Computer” (what you named yourself on outgoing emails...) into the search bar.

And suddenly you had a voice again. I could see the words talking back to me, I could hear the voice, feel the warmth even in black pixels arranged on a screen. 

I heard it, and I fell apart.

I could only read a few, before I decided the love that had no place to go was overwhelming. And I stopped. 

But I heard you. And I'm glad I did. 
And I'll hear you again. You aren't just a photo, you're in binary, and in my heart. 

And I can take you wherever I want. You're coming with me, my home comes with me. 
You, and mama, and Louis, and Saadi, and most importantly Laith. You are my home now. You are all the driftwood that I'd choose over a million, a billion, an infinite fleet of ships. 

You're the home washed in light, and warmth, and joy. 

I hope next year's letter will make a joke out of this one. 

Happy Birthday to you. My home. 

Bintak, bint il balad

Karma Im Laith