March 17, 2014

What being Lebanese taught me – 10 things I would not be otherwise – By Jessica Semaan

Monday, November 18, 2013

What being Lebanese taught me – 10 things I would not be otherwise

A 1982 Middle East Airlines advertisement (Lebanese official Airline) reads: Beyrouth, elle est mille fois morte, et elle a mille fois revécue. Translation: Beirut, has died a thousand times and resurrected a 1000 other times.

And like our city, my love for Lebanon keeps dying and rising. Over and over. And you can’t blame me or any Lebanese for this love / hate relationship, for our plight is to find pleasure in the unstable. 

Having returned from a short trip to Beirut despite the awaited bombs, and the syrian war flair, I watched people still go on with their lives, occasionally joke, always hustle and still hope; I felt an immense gratitude and pride for being Lebanese.

On my way back I reflected on how much of me is Lebanon. How much of the “good me” is actually Lebanon.
1- The entrepreneur:
Every Lebanese person you meet, will tell you they run their own business. While some may be exaggerating, entrepreneurship is a big part of our culture. And no it is not the tech one necessarily. It is running your own grocery store, owning a taxi car, basically being your own boss. Watching my mom become an entrepreneur as well, has inspired me since my young age to one day want to start my own thing. Rightfully so. entrepreneurship comes with instability and uncertainty – two things that wars can easily teach you. One time someone asked me in a job interview how do I feel about chaos in a start-up, I simply responded “I have lived through war.. what was the question again?”

2- The party animal: 
Living in Beirut, is living as if there is no tomorrow. And so since age 14, I frequented clubs, and up until now, partying like a Lebanese remains the real party. Wether it is dancing till sunrise at a club, buying everyone many rounds of drinks at a bar, or hosting an epic dance celebration at home, we know how to do it. In fact, one of our clubs BO18 was voted in the top 10 clubs in the world.

3- The hustler: 
You gotta hustle to live. Things don’t always come easy to you in Lebanon or during war times in general. For you need a visa to go anywhere, and while in your country, it is almost impossible to get anything done right given the chaos, so you learn to find different ways, keep trying and rarely give up.

4- The people lover:
Lebanon is known for its hospitality. And so growing up in a country where your GDP relies on serving people, I learnt early on to love them. And so being surrounded by a family and community, my love for people, and what they call soft skills became a second nature.

5- The trader: 

The Phoenicians, our ancestors were amongst the greatest traders of their time and owed much of their prosperity to trade. When the Lebanese were forced to immigrate during the wars, they became globally known for setting up trading businesses around the world, including Africa, Mexico, Australia. Lebanese are indeed the most successful immigrants, according to Freakonomics. Whenever there is a need for bargaining, my friends turn to me. And I do it for the pleasure of trading a deal.

6- The explorer: 
When the Phoenicians left the coast of the Levant, they explored other cities around the Mediterranean and settled in some. But most importantly, the 30 year civil war drove the Lebanese to settle abroad. Over 10 Million of us live outside of Lebanon versus roughly 4 Million in Lebanon. At an early age, I knew I wanted to go explore. And I went to Dubai, then San Francisco, and started again each time, because that’s what we do.

7- The creative: 
Lebanon is the creative hub of the Middle East. Wether it is advertising or fashion design, being at the intersection of the east and the west, housing over 16 sects, and the conflict times, have led to a diversity that translates into creativity. Many of the leading designers in the Arab World are Lebanese. For example, Elie Saab for example is Red Carpet favorite.

8- The Generous: 
Being generous and inviting friends, family and even strangers is a norm in my country. And so you will only find Lebanese and maybe the Irish, fighting, literally, over whom is going to pay for the bill. I carried this with me to the US, where people generally split the bill, and I occasionally offer to cover for another person, and enjoy the pleasant reaction I receive.

9- The revolutionary: 
At age 19, I found myself in the middle of revolution as a student leader to ask Syria to leave Lebanon. And so I learnt that it is okay to disagree, and sometimes it is necessary to start from scratch, and ask for a change out loud. My revolutionary spirit comes up in my work and my personal life, and when well done it inspires others to want to make a change.

10- The fashion lover: 
Moving to the US threw me into a fashion and style shock. People in San Francisco wore free t-shirts and uncoordinated colors. To my advantage, I became known for my fashion sense, and I took a few engineers on a personal shopping spree, but I owe my style to the many Lebanese women, who spend all of their income, or parent’s money on Chanel and Hermes: your style and passion have inspired me.

No country or society is perfect, in fact so much is broken in the US too. But I love it here, and I love being from Lebanon, and I appreciate and I am grateful for what each place has taught me.

I invite you to take a moment, pause and reflect on what good about your personality, your attitude towards your life, your skills your country or hard times have gifted you. Share them in the comments below, and let us celebrate the beauty in every experience.

Photo credit: pinterest, ebay