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Life in the UpsideDown

Sometimes, Lebanon feels like the UpsideDown – it holds so many contradictions in so few kilometers.

And, I, nosy-by-nature, am an avalanche of questions and curiosities.

There’s a manual for survival here that I clearly didn’t receive upon arrival. Those close to me – my Lebanese cultural barometers – are amused by my confusions.

Movie theaters are a great example. I expect total silence. Meanwhile:

  1. Non-whispery conversations? OK

  2. Answering your phone: Kaman [also], OK

  3. Playing Fruit Ninja without dimming the light on your phone: Akid [for sure], OK!

  4. Calling someone else within the theater to ask what just happened because you missed it while having a non-whispery conversation: Lazem [must be] OK

  5. Literally narrating everything that happens – either stating what just happened like a sports commentator or making predictions using your phenomenal cinematic foresight: Tab3an [of course!] OK!

[Example: He just got mauled by the bear! There is so much blood from the bear! The bear is running! His leg is gone because of the bear! See how angry the bear is! Now the bear will kill him! He will die because of the bear!]

Meanwhile I am wishing the bear will kill us all so we no longer have to endure this.

And then – there’s a concert. Where I come from (like – not literally because I sorta come from here – but where I come from in terms of perspective and personal philosophy and unbreakable moral code) – movies are for shuttingthefuckup and concerts are for expressing your enjoyment in whatever weird ways you like.

And yet:

  1. Standing up? Nope!

  2. Singing along? Nope!

  3. Wiggling in your chair because you want very much to dance but have been told to sit down? Nope!

  4. Swaying, squirming, humming: Also nope.

To an outsider it would have looked like an insurance seminar. At 10pm. On a Friday night. With 5629 people. Led by Elton John.

Literally: The woman sitting next to me was looking at pictures of teeth. Yes, teeth. Dental implants. Cavities. Full mouth stuff. Dozens of them. It was like a car crash – I couldn’t look away. I’m now dentally-intimate with approximately 1/3 of Lebanon.

So if anyone wonders what dentists do with photos of your teeth… they wait until they’re in a dark room with like a bazillion people, and then examine them closely while I’m singing Rocket Man (quietly, to myself, while holding my body soverystill).

Also literally: Another nearby concert-goer poked us to say: I came to hear Elton John singing – NOT YOU!

I could not make this stuff up if I tried.

Here I experience a unique challenge I’ve not ever had in other countries I’ve worked (AfghanistanHaitiPapuaNewGuineaSenegalEtcEtcEtc) because in Lebanon I’m kindasorta local. Like, I should get it. And it’s puzzling to others when I don’t.

Maybe I’m one of those aliens from V (who’s old enough to remember V?! MeMeMe). V-aliens look human, but then peel back their faces to reveal swampy-green slime and scales. Surprise!

Cultural dislocation. and aliens. I could say a lot more about this…


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