Stories from Afar & Up Close

I believe this is what we call ‘irony’

The Lebanese are an opinionated people. (According to many of my friends, this is the reason I feel so at home in Lebanon.) (Many of my friends could very well be right.) And the Lebanese are specifically opinionated about themselves and their society. “We are like this”, they will say, or “we are like that.” As an anthropologist, I also have an opinion about Lebanese people, or rather, about Lebanese society. It is based on doing fieldwork here, combined with anthropological, sociological and psychological theories on why people do what they do and act they way they act. However, this opinion does not always correspond to the opinion a Lebanese person may have of his/her society. And when a discussion comes to a point where people say ‘We do this because we are like this’ and I say ‘well, I think you do this because you are like that’, it usually ends with the ultimate dead-end argument from the Lebanese person I am speaking to: “But you don’t know, you can’t understand, because you are not Lebanese.”

It's an argument I obviously cannot refute.

Recently, I participated in a workshop about collaboration between NGOs in Lebanon (of which there are a stunning 3000 to 4000 registered with the Ministry). We learned how to initiate, manage and sustain collaborations between NGOs of different backgrounds and with different goals and missions.

On day 3 of the workshop, it became clear we wouldn’t have time to cover all the subjects our American trainer had in mind, so she drew up a list of the remaining topics and let us choose, collectively, which ones would be dropped.

It didn’t take long for the group to decide that we didn’t need to learn ‘communication skills’, nor learn more about ‘conflict resolution’. The general argument: “We know all that already.”

I could hardly keep myself from asking “really? Is that why we still haven’t elected a president and are on the brink of a (civil) war?”

But I can’t say that. Because I’m not Lebanese…