In the Middle – Lebanon: A Journey to the Edge (Vigil 3)

by Rayan Harake 

I was to buy my first phone as soon as I got my first ‘stipend’ – a monthly allowance given to all students with a scholarship. The program covered living expenses. We were also given laptops, which were distributed one week before classes started. But the stipends took a while. It was more than two weeks into the semester before we got them.

My troubles started before classes did. I was the only student during orientation who didn’t know how to create an account on the university website by herself. It was an obvious username plus password system, but I was internet illiterate at the time (and ironically, I had chosen to major in Electric and Computer Engineering). A volunteer opened an account for me, and I took a note of the password, but forgot to write down the username. I couldn’t open my account for a few days till I went to the IT department to ask for help.

I became aware that we needed to register for courses online one day before registration. We had to plan our courses based on time slots and quickly register them once the system opened. I had my new laptop at the time, but we didn’t have internet at home, so my father decided to take me to an ‘internet shop’ – where kids usually go to play online games. The guy there helped me navigate to the target link and find the options. I couldn’t stay there all night, however, so I printed dozens of sheets with courses and time slots on them, and then went home to plan my schedule using a paper and pen.

My father hadn’t spoken to me for about a month, but now he had to since I had a lot of things going on in my life. It was what he always did to family members when he felt disrespected: He would stop talking to them. A few weeks back, I had been washing the dishes, and he passed by, observing. He decided that I wasn’t washing the cup properly and proceeded to teach me the right way to do it. I said, annoyed, that I knew how to wash a cup. He got offended and stopped talking to me.

It wasn’t as bad as when I was younger. As a child, I had been ridiculed and offended, told I was stupid for the most minor mistake, told I was lying when I was not. Now that my sisters and I were older, he had to come up with new ‘lighter’ methods. He no longer had the same power he did when we were children.

*** 

During my first week of classes everything was going downhill. I didn’t know how to deal with the new ‘system’. I didn’t know there was a Facebook group to help AUB newcomers; it certainly wasn’t obvious to me that such a group would exist.

In one of my earliest classes, an instructor was explaining how to use Moodle for the course, and at a certain point I asked how we are supposed to ‘upload’ files into the upload section. I was totally embarrassed when I heard laughter from some students in the class.

I had received a sequence of what I would later realize were mostly unimportant emails, from different university departments. But as the whole email thing was new to me, I made a to-do list to act upon different emails. One of them was from my coordinator, telling us about a certain quiz I didn’t quite understand. By the end of the week, I went to her office to inquire again about the topic, and was not well received at all. I was supposed to have replied to that email one day earlier to confirm my attendance for some general assessment quiz, but I was the only student who hadn’t replied yet. I was told I should not fail to reply to emails anymore and that I should take deadlines more seriously.

And I did take deadlines more seriously. From then on, the first thing I would do when I arrived at the university in the morning – when I was finally connected to the internet again – was to check if there was an email from my coordinator that required some reply. We wouldn’t have internet at home anytime soon; my father would never approve that. I would, however, be able to use it once I had a phone and was able to subscribe to some 3G plan. But my stipends weren’t there yet, nor my phone. I had to sit somewhere around the gate every day waiting for my father, who would arrive, park and call me to get to the car.

The Monday of my third week was busy, and sometime before noon I remembered that I hadn’t checked my emails yet. When I did my heart sank. An email had been sent on Friday, sometime late – I had already left campus by then. I should have replied to it by 10 a.m. on Monday, but it was well past that hour. Another email had already arrived, asking why I hadn’t replied yet.

I rushed to my scholarship office at once and was met by a very angry coordinator. She had resolved to call me when I missed the deadline, and was shocked to know that I didn’t have a cellphone – the one I put on my application was my sister’s. For quite some time, I was heavily ‘scolded’ for not having my own cellphone on the application, for not communicating I didn’t have one, for not being responsible about deadlines.

My coordinator maintained a shocked expression through it all. She was probably right, not having a cellphone meant a lot of things: I didn’t have my own space to communicate with others, I was mostly cut off from technology, cut off from meaningful conversations around me. They had just admitted into their program someone who had very little experience navigating the world. I acted the way I knew to act when I was scolded: I looked down and didn’t say a single word. At that point in my life, the sticky notes on my coordinator’s computer probably had more personality than me.

This only increased my coordinator’s frustration, as she went on talking with no response. To me, this all wasn’t entirely fair. It is not my fault I don’t have a cell phone. Didn’t the scholarship target people who were financially ‘less fortunate’? Now they don’t like how ‘less fortunate’ I am?

My whole experience up to that point had been extremely difficult. I came from a place where I was the exemplary girl: I was well mannered, shy, I was good to others. I was religious. I was smart, and I studied well and got the best grades. People respected me for that. Teachers and classmates alike.

I now came to a place that had a somewhat different set of values. Here it was about being confident, independent, a leader. It was about achieving personal goals. Being shy was a weakness, being well-mannered was being too soft. Being religious meant I was close-minded. None of my ‘qualities’ mattered much anymore. Here I was laughed at for not knowing how tech works. Here I was scolded because I didn’t have a phone.

Another coordinator was also present in the office as I was being lectured. This one managed a different set of students and was a bit more compassionate (I always wished I had gotten her instead), and at some point she suggested that maybe when I get my stipends I would buy a phone and the problem would be solved. My own coordinator agreed, further emphasizing that I should get a phone as soon as possible.

I left the office feeling worse than ever. I had hinted to my father before that I needed the phone and that it would be great if I got it earlier than my stipend (which seemed to never arrive). That day, when I was going back home with him, I said the same thing. I told him that it caused me problems with the scholarship, that my coordinator had called me, got my sister instead, and became angry.

Out of all the reactions I thought I would receive, he went for the worst one: He exploded; the usual way he exploded from time to time. My father believed that the world becomes balanced when ‘men have authority over women’ and ‘fathers have authority over daughters’. He hadn’t been grasping all that was going on since I entered AUB: that I now had some kind of independence, that the system here expected me to make my own choices and didn’t wait for his approval.

The reason he became angry was this: How dare I put my sister’s number on the application instead of his? He was my ‘guardian’ and he was supposed to be the point of contact when someone wanted to discuss something about me. “I AM YOUR GUARDIAN!” He shouted. “YOU USE MY PHONE NUMBER,” he continued. It went on for some time. My father had a history of making problems worse than they already were, but this was a whole new level. I had actually put his phone number in the ‘parents’ section of the application, and it only made sense to put my sister’s number in the ‘personal phone’ section, as we’re almost always at home together. It was her number they called when they first told me I got accepted into the scholarship program.

I usually felt bad when my father was having a go at me, but this time I only sat there, shocked. I wished there was some kind of audience watching, someone looking and thinking about how bizarre the whole situation was.

(…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: Byblos, Lebanon – Old town – Yulia Grigoryeva (Shutterstock)

Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

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