It’s hard to break a habit – I’m back in the Cedar Lounge at Beirut Airport saying goodbye to Lebanon again. It was only about 8 hours before my flight out of Vienna that I decided to come to Lebanon this time. A friend who had indulged in a few too many drinks insisted that we should go to Beirut for the weekend. I learned never to underestimate how alcohol impairs a person’s judgment, and he learned that I don’t joke around when it comes to Lebanon. Less than 24 hours from our hasty decision in a Vienna bar, I was soaking up the sun in Beirut.
Even with the surprise visit, Lebanon welcomed me with open arms. I spent Saturday night out with a friend in Jounieh, and the rest of the visit was spent catching up with family and friends in Roumieh while eating too much… far too much. Riding in the taxi from Beirut up to the village, the taxi driver and I chatted away about Lebanon. The driver insisted that I should have a home in Lebanon and live here. At the very least, he said, I should continue to visit at least once a year. As I walked up the steps of my cousin’s house, the driver yelled out the window, “I can see you are at home here!”
With the exception of the seemingly never-ending conflict in Tripoli, things in Lebanon have been relatively quiet recently considering the chaos just across the border in Syria. Lebanon seems to be trying its best keep chugging along despite everything being against it. The new masses of Syrian refugees escaping the war have brought the total number of refugees in tiny Lebanon to well over 1 million (over 700,000 registered Syrian refugees, plus Palestinians and Iraqis). This is an insurmountable pressure on a country of only about 4.5 million, but Lebanon never gives up. This country has seen too many millennia of unrest, conflict, and disaster. It is this perpetual question of what comes next that makes leaving Lebanon so hard. I never know what could happen between now and my next visit, but I have to leave behind a beautiful country and many people that I care about.
Going through passport control at the airport tonight, the officer asked, “Do you have a Lebanese ID? Your name is Lebanese.” I explained that my great-grandfather was Lebanese, and he looked both shocked and pleased. “Welcome, keep coming back,” he said. I don’t think he has to worry about whether I will return.