In the Middle – Lebanon: A Journey to the Edge (Vigil 1)

by Rayan Harake 

I sat at the office of my scholarship coordinator, a place I have visited countless times each semester – visits which I deeply despise. It was the office where I was constantly reminded of how bad my academic performance had become, how I had transformed from being one of the brightest girls in school to one of the only struggling students in the whole scholarship program.

I was there to meet a math tutor assigned to me by my coordinator. Ironically, math used to be my favorite subject back in high school, and just like in most other subjects, I used to get top grades in it. Grades which allowed me to be accepted into a full scholarship program at one of the most prestigious universities in the Middle East: the American University of Beirut (AUB).

My coordinator was finishing some work on her computer as I sat on the other end of the desk, scrolling through my Facebook feed. My tutor, who I found out minutes earlier is called ‘Haydar Jalloul’, would be arriving shortly. A Mechanical Engineering major, he had excelled at Math 218 (unlike me, who failed the midterm) and signed up to tutor the course once he saw the announcement.

Haydar Jalloul. If I had been told we were waiting for ‘Mr. Jalloul’ – as my coordinator usually refers to people – I would have spent the minutes analyzing the family name. It’s a common Lebanese hobby, but my extreme introversion and lack of social connections make me bad at it. I’ve known girls from high school whose last name is Jalloul, and my high school is predominantly Shia, so there is a good chance he is Shia. But then I’d start to doubt, “what if Jalloul is not only a Shia family? Could there be Christians or Sunnis from the Jalloul family?”

But I know the first name. It’s Haydar. So he is Shia, like me. Not that it makes much difference. Perhaps I feel more comfortable?

He arrived some time later. Is all smiles, the type of person who make others feel comfortable. He didn’t extend his hand to shake that of the coordinator, apologizing instead. A religious guy then.

“Haydar, this is Zeinab Ismail. Zeinab, this is Haydar Jalloul.” My coordinator introduced us, and then went on to speak about the arrangements. We exchanged phone numbers. He signed some papers; the sessions are paid by my scholarship. He left early, as his class was about to start. I stayed behind and listened, one more time, to my coordinator as she explained that my situation was not acceptable, my grades were no longer tolerable, and that I should make every effort in the weeks to come.

I had previously promised, again and again, that I would do exactly that. And this day, like all other days, I promised the same.

“You are dismissed,” she finally said. I got up and left. ‘Dismissed’ is one of the words I learned early in my AUB experience. ‘Transcript’ is another one. Back in my all girls’ public high school, I was among the best at English. At AUB it seemed like there was a lot to learn. At the end of my first semester, I had been speaking to my academic advisor, and he was surprised that I did not know what a transcript was. It seemed the term should be obvious. “It just means your grades!” he exclaimed.

There were of course more embarrassing ones. I didn’t know what a Mac was. I had been in a group project, and a colleague said she left her Mac on the table. I had heard that word a few times, without enough context to make out the meaning myself, so this time I took the courage and asked what it was. That wasn’t very far into my AUB experience, but I hadn’t yet internalized the idea that you can ask google anything.

My whole world shifted when I got into AUB, mainly because for the first time in my life I could actually use the internet. I grew up in a very ‘conservative’ home, and as I was reaching my adolescent years, we were struggling financially. We had a laptop at some point but it burned because of a bad electric socket. Cell phones were costly, needed a costly monthly recharge, and, according to my father, they could take you in all the ‘wrong directions’. I never had a cellphone, and was never able to use internet, not even on an open Wi-Fi, because I didn’t actually have any device enabled for it. The only one with a cellphone was my older sister who somehow managed to impose her will on my father.

But getting into AUB changed all that. My father accepted that I would ‘need’ a cell phone here. For him it was mainly because he is the one picking me up from the university, and he would have a way to tell me that he had arrived. It was hard to explain to him why a cellphone was necessary beyond that.

(…to be continued)

In the Middle – An International Transposition (Fiction)

Introduction to In the Middle – An International Transposition, edited by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey

January: Forgetting – Turkey, by Seyit Ali Dastan

February: The Unreal in Real – Armenia, by Armine Asryan

March: Catching Water – Argentina, by Javier Gómez

April: Unwanted – South Africa, by Toni Wallis

May: House with a Stucco Ship – Ukraine, by Gennady Bondarenko

June: A Girl Pedaling – Cuba, by Marilin Guerrero Casas

July: The Last Day – Poland, by Pawel Awdejuk

August: Through my Hands – Venezuela, by Veronica Cordido

September: Amelia’s Euphemism – Spain, by Jonay Quintero Hernández

October: Until Love Do Us Part – Uruguay, by Alejandra Baccino

November: A Journey to the Edge – Lebanon, by Rayan Harake

December: I Used to Smoke – Russia, by Kate Korneeva

Background – Context

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

More work by Rayan Harake

Growing up with Abuse – A Life of Extremes – Rayan Harake (transposing emblem)

Economic Uncertainty in Life – Rayan Harake (transposing emblem)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: Nabatiyeh El Tahta, Lebanon – Headed off – Nina Abdel Malak (Unsplash)

Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

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