I just got back a few days ago from Beirut after a two week vacation which came upon my first four months in the US after six years abroad, the last two of those spent in Lebanon, living in Beirut.
I had to spend the last two days detoxifying a bit, relaxing, not smoking (as I smoke like a freight train in the Mid-East…it’s culture J). No parties, no people, just good food, exercise, a good book, some work and a bit of reflection. Always healthy.
I wanted to go back to Lebanon. I’ve never gone back to a place I’ve worked in before (unless it was for work). I have friends in a lot of places, but in Lebanon I made some of the closest I’ve ever had.
It’s funny that I have this very diverse facebook feed, one that includes a lot of former US Army buddies of mine, many of whom are quite conservative politically and some of whom post angry and confrontational things about Muslims or Arabs. It seems so silly to me, seeing as how I have friends from all parts. I’m like, if y’all just knew each other, y’all would get along just fine. You’re not as different as you think. Unfortunately, looking outside of one’s box or even questioning one’s self doesn’t seem to be something everyone can do.
Most of going back to Lebanon was about seeing my friends. It also, because I think a lot and process a lot, gave me a chance to reflect on some of the changes I’ve made in my life. Primarily the change of coming back to the US, putting the aid industry to the side (I’m still involved but it is a technical role) and looking for new ways to live.
It’s also, as per a conversation I was having, is getting away from the “ground”. The ground being the field, being the place where you are most connected to the people that are suffering or need help (pretty obvious in the humanitarian field). Now, don’t get me wrong, Beirut, at least for what we were doing is not “the ground”. And the “ground” has different levels. You could be talking some of the hardest places in Syria where starvation can and does happen, bombing and fighting is constant problem and supplies are hard to come by. Or you could be talking a tented settlement in Lebanon where security is better but life is still difficult. Or a camp in Jordan, or many places.
But it’s all connected to the people that you’re working with. And when you have that connection and you learn from it, you feel so much better about what you’re doing. The further you get away from that connection the more difficult it becomes to stay connected to the truth of what you’re trying to do.
So even though Beirut isn’t “the ground”, just through conversations and being in the place, I remember that there’s a war right next door that’s destroyed a country and displaced millions of people. I remember that there’s far deeper problems in the world right now (at least on a large level) than insular little problems you would find living in little Portland USA.
I also wonder anymore what I can do to assist in those problems. Seems like every mountain I climb up I don’t like what I find when I get there, so then I go look for another mountain. I’m just trying to find the most useful one for me.
On another note, going back to a place is also good sometimes just to close stories that you had in your brain where you hadn’t come to closure. We all have past histories with a place and with people and sometimes when you leave you don’t get the closure you wanted. Now I feel it, in many ways.
It was good to hear a person, who I had always disagreed with about a thing, finally admit that I was right. I just figured that could have been a few years sooner :). We all have to get places on our own I suppose, as long as the damage done in getting there isn’t too great. In this case I don’t think it was, of course by taking all that time may have missed out on something greater…maybe.
It’s unfortunate to see organizations do exactly what you expect them to do and then you question if that’s really the best they or you or we can do. Sometimes you’re like, really? It’s obvious the track you’re on, can’t you just steer right a bit?
It also helps you realize when you were wrong about people, are at least you simplified them too much. It’s good to start to see people for who they are. It’s truly hard for me to dislike somebody then.
It’s good to let things go. I have a great problem with grasping on to things, especially when I miss opportunities with people. I hate missing things, so I try and try (sometimes) and I still miss, then I question what the hell’s wrong with the other people. But when you can let that go and realize it either isn’t you or even if it was it just don’t matter anymore, well that’s freeing. And it leads to new beginnings.
And it’s good to have friends. It’s good to love people and be loved. I can’t think of a better thing.
Speaking of new beginnings, I’m going to start blogging regularly again (and answering people’s comments which I haven’t done in a while). So much going on in the world. Gives me a lot I feel I need to say.