It was week four of the Autumn quarter of my freshman year at Stanford University. As I trudged the same mile to Main Quad for my PWR class, I still managed to get lost. After opening Google Maps at Memorial Church and following the directions religiously, I found myself at Wallenberg. There, tired from what felt like a long journey, I couldn’t help but remember the way I knew every road, every street and every alley in my hometown, Saida. I didn’t need google maps to navigate it. I yearned for Saida like it yearned for me.
In times like these when I feel like there is a heavy weight growing its roots inside me and pressing against my chest, I try to remember that Saida isn’t Saida anymore. I remember how my government ruined my city, taking away its last breath and my chance to say goodbye. My government ruined Saida, Beirut, Jezzine, Jbeil… They ruined all my happy places, my long-lost melodies that used to fit my poems like a perfect rhyme. I used to write poems, pieces of my heart, for these cities, their tall buildings and traffic lights, the sky above and the ground below.
After the Beirut blast on the 4th of August 2020, I stopped writing for a while, not because I didn’t have anything to say but because I couldn’t see anything but ugliness in those cities. I only saw blood, only heard screams and storms. Dark shadows of grief hovered over me whenever I picked up any pen other than a black one. My home was reduced to ashes. I became homeless after 6:07 p.m. that day. Right before my eyes, Polaroid pictures of my friends, long nights on unknown rooftops and voice memos of unrecognizable laughs fell into the darkness, disappearing into the void.
As I get out of class, it all comes back to me in sharp unison: the view from my balcony; the smell of kebbeh, fassouliya and mloukhiye and the Lebanese flag. Home didn’t die, at least not inside me. Home still existed.
I returned to my dorm room in Branner, my home at Stanford, to take a nap. As I lay down, I remembered my Audrey Hepburn wallpaper back in Lebanon, all the lights I bought to imitate the bedrooms on Pinterest and the carefully designed bed sheets I picked to fit the vibes of my room.
“What’s happening to me? Am I homesick?” I asked myself.
I had counted down the days before leaving Lebanon and everything behind to start fresh and get a stellar education alongside the world’s geniuses. My family worried that I would be so engulfed in that new lifestyle and my American dream that I’d forget about Lebanon. Since eighth grade, all I had dreamed of was living in the U.S. I didn’t have any specific plan in mind — all I knew was that I wanted to get there. Every time someone warned me about homesickness, I reassured them that I wouldn’t experience it. Now that I am here and my dream has come true, miles away from Lebanon, I understand how much I love my country and can’t distract my heart from missing it.
It’s okay to feel homesick, right? A lot of people experience it. If I don’t miss Lebanon, where do I belong? If my heart doesn’t beat to the cedar trees, who deserves to own it? If my words can’t bring me back, where would they lead me?
I am Lebanese before being a Stanford student. I am Lebanese before being anything else, for I owe everything to my Lebanon. Not the one my government created, but the one I know, love and adore. The one I call Home.
My Lebanese identity isn’t at odds with anything. On the contrary, it fuels my strength to overcome difficulties, my motivation to work harder and my vision of creating something bigger than my dreams. Living in a household with civil war survivors, listening to their stories and being inspired by their strength taught me so much about this life and beyond. Surviving the Beirut blast taught me resilience, for when I saw war, life and death in front of me, I had the courage and willingness to choose life.
My government stole everything from me, but I won’t let it steal my future. My government wants me to say I am Lebanese while looking down, so I will look up, head held high, steadfast and fearless. The first thing I will mention about myself is that I am Lebanese. Every scrap of me is taken from my homeland, from the red linings on the Lebanese flag, from the national hymn, from my mother’s smile even when the blood in her veins was drained, even when gunshots were fired nearby.
I can’t sleep. I am sick. My mind, my body and my heart hurt. I miss home. Now that I can only think of the beauty in my Lebanon, I can finally write about it. I clutch a pink pen and find the right words, deeply considered verses and thrown-out speeches. I am not getting better. I still feel sick in my stomach. Yet it is an art that I am creating. Maybe that’s the way it is supposed to be. Maybe the pain won’t go away and my heart will break over and over again with no one to pick it up. However, the wounds left in my heart have a unique beat to them, and I know how to listen.
I go back to my bed, 7,000 miles away from the home hanging in the air. It still feels strange, but I am not a stranger. I belong to Stanford like I belong to Lebanon. I look over my window at all these people with whom I am sharing the experience of a lifetime in a new place, away from where we used to be. My heart, my mind and my soul are split in half. Both halves belong home, whether that is at Stanford or in Lebanon.
Missing is a feeling I don’t want to get rid of. I am curious to see how hard I can miss, how far I can travel with my words, how my feelings find their way from my heart to the paper and from the paper to the hearts of others.
To my Lebanon,
I am burning with desire to see you again, even when they put you under flames. So wait for me, wait for when I come back to watch all your sunsets while resting my head on my mom’s lap. I am waiting for you to tell me if I make you proud, if my eyes reflect the warmth you make me feel. Stanford gave me the safety you fail to give me, the right and the hope to dream you can’t lend me. I’ll come back and I’ll leave you again, my heart filled with pain and joy at once, traveling in time and space, from home to home. Please keep that glow I can’t stop turning to…
– A Lebanese student who made it to Stanford