Lebanon is Me

All my life I have struggled with my identity. Growing up Lebanese I always hated a part of myself. Being a young Arabic girl left me with features which were widely considered undesirable, since I was 8 I was being taunted with my insecurities. Not to mention the cultural divide I experienced every day at school.

One day I walked into my fourth grade class with my lunch, super excited to eat the homemade tabbouleh with quinoa my mom had packed me. As I pulled out my Tupperware and began munching, savoring the acidic taste on my tongue, my best friends dropped their jaws and asked; “Ava, why are you eating fish eyes and weeds?!?!”. I tried to tell them that it was neither fish eyes nor weeds and that it was delicious. They simply shook their heads and said “that’s gross. Bring American food.”

That day I went home and told my mom I didn’t want her to pack my tabbouleh anymore. I think a piece of her broke that day. See we had always bonded over loving that tabbouleh, I was vegetarian at the time because I wanted to be just like my mom. My sister and my father were huge carnivores and enjoyed more of the meat filled Arabic food but my mom and I? We loved that tabbouleh. I started packing my own lunch, sandwiches on wheat bread with baby carrots. Nothing that would draw my friends attention. My mom tried to encourage me to bring hummus (another Arabic staple that now many white people are obsessed with) but my friends said it looked like cement and I was too embarrassed to bring any evidence of my culture with me to school.

However, despite my eradication of Lebanese food, I couldn’t get rid of my Lebanese features. As I matured into middle school my bushy eyebrows, hair covered upper lip and hairy limbs generated a lot of attention. Students constantly made fun of my mustache, asking me if I was a boy or a girl. They teased me and told me to wax my legs and arms, pluck my eyebrows until I looked “normal” like everyone else. And even when I listened, shaved and tried to form myself into the American beauty standard, I was still called a terrorist and had things thrown at me and got pushed around.

When I was in 7th grade my family took a trip to the homeland. We stayed for a week, it was the best week of my life. I saw people who looked like me, beautiful people. I heard the beautiful language, tasted the amazing food, saw the beautiful architecture despite the bullet holes and ruins left over from the civil war. Everyday I woke up staring at the carvings in Arabic on the bottom of my cousins bunk bed and smelling labneh, manooshi and fresh pita to eat before we took off on that day’s adventures. We went to restaurants where everyone let me eat my falafel, my tabbouleh and my kibbe nyeh in peace. No one said it was weird for me to be eating this scrumptious food. We went to malls looking at the fantastic sales but most of all observing the walls decorated with posters featuring models who looked like me. Had my eyebrows, my hair, my big Arabic nose and were absolutely gorgeous. I was home and I was accepted by all.

It was the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been and I miss it every day. I miss the buildings which were somehow made more beautiful with their bullet holes as they displayed the strength of the nation, the smell of the hookah constantly floating in the air, the sour taste of arak and the dozens of adorable stray cats.. Most of all I miss listening to the cacophony of the intricate song that is Arabic.

When I returned home I was revolutionized. I refused to ever stop talking about my culture, stop eating my food, fix my eyebrows or hide any part of myself. I knew that I was Lebanon, Lebanon was me and we were beautiful.