Another Day in Beirut

Today I was meeting my friend Lara near the HSBC in Hamra. I needed to take my laptop for us to do some work and of course had to carry my purse. So to avoid the abundant stealing incidents, I put all my stuff, including the laptop, in one big bag and walked there.

At the corner, facing HSBC diagonally, the road sign was still red for pedestrians on one side so I crossed the other one. And before I knew it, a pick up truck stopped abruptly near a man on the street and out jumped the middle aged driver. He grabbed the man by his shirt right below the neck. I saw all this happen in a fraction of a second. The two men pushed each other away and the middle aged man lifted his shirt and reached out to his waist, where I could clearly see a black body of a gun. I walked very fast on the street away from them, while the men were still yelling:

“Who the **** are you gonna ring?”

“It is none of your business. I’ll ring whomever I want to.”

Ok, so it was not a gun. It was a mobile phone. Shit. I slowed down and kept going, until I realized… Where is the HSBC building? It was right in front of me. And I found myself gone astray somewhere in Hamra way further from HSBC and my destination.

I cursed Lebanon and the Lebanese and the guns and my cowardice and walked back.

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I love America

I will always love it because I earned education there. Concrete knowledge. The equation is very simple.

Since I was a kid, I have always had huge respect for my teachers. And for teachers in general. Maybe it was my grandmother’s guidance that we should always listen to them. Maybe it was my fascination with knowledge and my curiosity and thirst for receiving more and more of these magic stories they used to tell. About the universe, about history, about geography, about the human body and the animals and the flowers and the volcanoes and everything. I am still in love with teachers who give me something. Maybe it is simply my Itani genes. Who knows! But this is why I love America most. Because I was taught there what I waited ten years to study and for that I will always feel indebted to the US.

I remember the first time I flew from Doha to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. I was on the one hand super excited about the trip and on the other hand super doubtful about what the hell am I doing taking a cross atlantic flight on my own to the unknown.

I was excited because this was finally it. This was my dream coming true. Did I not want to do this since August of the year 2000? YES! Here I was on the plane, financed by my own money, the money I worked hard (for real) to earn, to study film. I was ecstatic. Screw all the Lebanese & Arab money that is dedicated to teach yet more engineers and more doctors and more lawyers. Screw them all. It felt like a crazy thing, to spend your money studying cinema, and doing crazy things is great. Nothing feels better. Maybe. Except when you think of the other hand of the equation.

One colleague of mine at Aljazeera had been always telling me that America hates muslims. This regardless of the fact that he’s never visited the states –because it hates muslims. And although I always told him that the American people have no problem with us, I still had never met the American people to see for myself. I was going to be my own test. And, then, for the first time during all these years, I ask myself for the first time, in mid flight: Do I really want to do this? Am I sure? What if I discover I don’t like screenwriting? What if I turn out to be a horrible writer? What if I don’t understand their spoken English very well because they speak too fast? What if? What if? AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Shut up.

I always wonder if my love for a foreign country is just like foreigners love Lebanon. A poetic love of the superficiality of what America stands for and what Lebanon stands for. Because many of my American friends wonder what is it that I love about their country. And I always wonder what do foreigners love about our miraculous country.

However, I owe the people of Virginia in general, and Roanoke in specific, a lot. They welcomed me like no other. In fact, I still remember the first time for me entering the United States, the immigration officer looked at the passport cover and said, “Lebanon! How are things there now?” And I could tell he was sincerely asking not just chitchatting. And I told him things were alright. Because that is what things always are in Lebanon. Alright. Maybe this officer was the one who made me love his country. Because a young muslim woman who’s never set foot before in a certain country will expect anything from a pat down to an interrogation, but not a “How are things in Lebanon now?” friendly check. Today when I read a humiliating incident that happened at the Beirut International Airport, I realize that individual people like us, can change the world for the better and for the worse.

I owe all the Hollins community a lot of warmth and love. Klaus, Cathy, Euboea, Cynthia, John & all the other people (too many to list) who are now my best friends & teachers on the planet made it feel like home within few hours time -namely in the welcome reception. Hollins & Screenwriting have been changing my life for the better since we’ve known each other, and I hope that through this knowledge I’ll also be able to make other people’s lives better as well inshallah.