An inherent part of traveling is comparison. I know I shouldn't, but in a recent trip to Mexico, I couldn't help comparing my country with my current home, Beirut.
Maybe this comparison derives naturally from the fact that most people I meet in Mexico ask me at some point during the conversation "How are things in Beirut?". In order to give a quick answer and not to fall into a lengthy debate, I try to put things into context.
Like the fact that 1.17 million Syrians arriving to Lebanon in the past 2 years is like 25 million people arriving to Mexico in the same amount of time. Or like when an article in the newspaper says there was a bomb in Lebanon, the event occurs for the most part in very specific locations (for the time being), just like most drug-related violence in Mexico occurs in key states in the country.
I wonder if these comparisons are not only a way of simplifying a complex matter to someone who is not familiar with the Lebanese context or my new way to tell people that things are not as bad as they sound. In deed, I have recently developed a need to tell people this, that things are not as bad as they sound.
Probably to make myself believe it.
But interestingly enough, I have been doing the same thing in Lebanon, when people ask me about Mexico. I talk about the positive things, describe beautiful landscapes and present violence and abuse as isolated incidents, and not part of every day life.
Is this lying?
I tell myself that I have some wiggle room when describing "the situation" in Lebanon or in Mexico, since it is unclear at what point car bombs, executions, or kidnappings become an every day fact of life (if they ever do). I mean, there is violence both in Lebanon and Mexico every day, but don't we want to believe that these are in fact unusual, isolated events? Doesn't this rationalization somehow make our anxiety (angoisse, as the French say) easier to bare?
I think this is why when we read the news, we hear the account of events (it is hard to say "facts" at this point) and the corresponding political, economic or social analysis. But we rarely hear people talk about their fear.
However, this fear is very real to me lately. I feel it in the pit of my stomach every time I hear "Lebanon" in the news. I feel it when I leave the country (what if something happens when I am gone?) or when I arrive after a trip (what if something happens when I am here?). This silent fear has become my companion, but I diligently hide it behind the "things are not that bad", "life goes on", or "one has to live" comments I say over and over to make things OK.
Life does go on, and one does have to live, with or without fear. But I wonder if we allowed ourselves to feel the fear, acknowledge it and talk about it with one another, we would soon realize how much we all have to loose. We would see our experience and our enemies' and not only our position. And we would perhaps find our way back to our common humanity, the one that keeps us from harming, killing and annihilating each other.