In the Middle – Lebanon: A Journey to the Edge (Vigil 2)

by Rayan Harake 

I left my coordinator’s office and made my way to Nicely hall where I had an upcoming Civilization Sequence class. I was taking that class as a general elective; it was the class I enjoyed most out of all the ones I had ever taken. Halfway into my Electric and Computer major, I discovered that it’s not what fits me best. I had always had an affinity for the humanities: history, early civilizations and languages, religion, anthropology… I would have done well if I ended up in one of those majors. A part of why I got into engineering was to get the ‘Engineer’ title – after all, I was great at math and physics, so I had all the qualifications to attain that ‘socially prestigious’ position. I also didn’t think studying humanities could provide any meaningful work opportunities later on.

Back in my first year of high school, girls would go to great lengths to get on the science track rather than the humanities one (the two tracks are found in the high school system all over Lebanon). Those who got into science had more career options to choose from once they got into the university. If we were to attend a Lebanese University (the fate of most girls in my public school), it was not possible for pupils in the humanities to enter engineering or medicine. For some of the girls, it was more or less a race where the hard-working ones ended up in science and the less fortunate ones in humanities.

Humanities, as a field of study, was not respected. It was for those who were bad at science and logic and analysis. After all, the material itself was all about memorization. I remember the endless pages of philosophy I had to study and eventually spill out as blocks of information in a very rigid structure. It would have been a better use of my time if I had learned to write code for a program that was able to do the same. I did however appreciate the interesting things we learned from time to time, even though I wasn’t aware that there were far better ways to engage with the material.

I arrived at my Civilization class early. I sat in the front row, next to Rana, a veiled Durzi girl. She was also there early today. We usually exchanged some light chit chat when the class hadn’t started yet. She was majoring in education, not her first choice, however. She had wanted to do nursing, but told me earlier that the American University Hospital (AUH) wouldn’t hire nurses if they covered their mouths. Most nursing students hope to work at AUH, and in her case, the only other plausible option was back in her village. But she said that female nurses there were not paid well, and the work conditions were not appealing.

The traditional Durzi outfit for women consists of a long black dress along with a white scarf that covers the head and the mouth. The hospital feared that covering the mouth with a piece of cloth would make it harder for patients to understand what was being said. I thought this made sense (though I didn’t say it), as I had some difficulty understanding her sometimes. But maybe it was because she was shy and had a rather low voice. Maybe if it were me, I would have taken it to be discriminatory. Maybe if I had come from a Muslim society where women wore a niqab, I would have felt offended by this. But a niqab is not popular at all in my society, so I didn’t have a particularly negative view of AUH’s policy.

Today I talked to her a bit about the weather and how we were doing on our midterms. I would have really liked to talk about her religion, to ask about what they believed and practiced. Between what I read in Wikipedia and the things I heard, I was rather confused about it all. But I felt it would be wrong to ask. Sectarianism in Lebanon had always been strong, and it felt rude for me to just pop up a question about a different sect. It felt as though I would be acquiescing to the division, playing a part in it, looking at people only thorough a religious lens.

Here at AUB, religion didn’t seem to be a popular topic. Maybe people who had better friendships were more comfortable discussing it, but I wasn’t quite friends with her. It was as if I was trying to pin some predefined classification on her rather than looking at her as a fellow Lebanese.

Was I? It was very hard for me to navigate the world without classifying people according to their sects. I belonged to one, I was religious (though my belief was subjected to a heavy assault during my university years), and it was, at a certain time at least, a core part of who I was. It made sense after all, to feel more connected to people who share my same worldview and values. I would always see myself belonging to a certain group under the ‘Lebanese Umbrella’.

Some would say that this line of thinking is exactly what is wrong with Lebanon. That prioritizing religious identities in a diverse place like ours will naturally lead to sectarianism. I can see how an argument can be made for that, but I think it comes down to how the country is run. A proper government should know how to manage the existing differences, make sure that everyone is treated equally, that a citizen’s religion plays no role in how they are seen by the governing institutions. But this is the total opposite of what goes on in Lebanon.

The instructor came in. We are reading a text by ‘Ibn Rushd’. The Civilization Sequence class covered a collection of early texts, from Sumerian epics, to Greek ones, then early Christian texts and Islamic ones. Ibn Rushd was responding to Al-Ghazali views on studying philosophy (which we read earlier), saying that learning it was not Haram, as Al-Ghazli had decided.

We had a discussion about it, the way we usually discussed all texts, the way we never did back in high school. Most students today seemed reluctant to join. Religion again: not the most popular topic. The Greek epics were a bit more fun to go through. The class ended as the instructor gave us back our midterms. I got 87/100, not a bad grade at all. I looked around a bit, it seemed I’d gotten the highest grade. I left the class in high spirits. And even though doing well in General Education classes wouldn’t help me much in my coordinator’s eyes, it was at least an indication that I wasn’t a total failure.

From there I went to Jafet, the main university library, where I spent most of my free time. I was glad to find an empty seat on the first floor. I took out my phone and saw that my new tutor had texted me with the periods he was available for our first meeting. “Tomorrow at 5 in noisy Jafet is fine by me,” I texted back. My phone suddenly shut down; it had developed the habit about a week ago. It actually had a history of being extremely dysfunctional ever since I bought it after being accepted at AUB – two years ago.

(…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: Tripoli, Lebanon – Cityscape – Sun_Shine (Shutterstock)

Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

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