Stories from Afar & Up Close

So, corruption…

On Monday, I came back from a vacation in the Netherlands and at my brother’s farm in Serbia to an unpleasant surprise: a problem with my visa for Lebanon. My passport was confiscated, and the next three days I spent in the offices of the Security General, running from room to room, waiting in the hallways, getting questions and stamps and signatures and more questions. All these hours, Walid’s mother was with me, asking around, translating, waiting with me, explaining my situation, repeating over and over again that I was her future daughter in law and she would not let me be kicked out of the country just like that. It took three days for them to give me a decision (get married as soon as possible or leave the country within two months), and it’s still unclear what the problem was. It might be that I didn’t accept an offer from someone within General Security to pay for something I didn’t need a while ago in the visa process, when it was unclear if I should pay for what I did need at that moment. According to a Dutch guy I spoke to during this whole process, that’s exactly where I had gone wrong: I should have gone along with the offer of the Security General employee, because ‘you know how it goes here, they’re all corrupt and you just have to go with it.’ Well no, I don’t know that that’s how it goes here: in my experience, the people at the General Security offices have usually been very clear in stating what the rules and procedures are and what I need to bring or pay for things to get done. When a friend once tried to help me get in through the back door, they politely refused and told me where to go for the regular procedure. This may not be everybody’s experience, but that doesn’t mean that ‘in reality, they are corrupt,’ and I am naïve for thinking otherwise.

Of course I’m not stupid or blind. I know there is plenty of corruption, in Lebanon and elsewhere. But I do not believe that Lebanese people are inherently corrupt, or that things here can never change. That’s why the Dutch guy’s words hit me on another level as well: I find it incredibly condescending to speak this way about Lebanese society, as if people here are incapable of change or improvement. I also find it strange that people who would never even consider offering a policeman in their own country some banknotes to forget about the rest of the fine think nothing of doing so when they are in Lebanon, as if it doesn’t take two for corruption to continue; those in power, and those who want something from them. Yes, there are some people who are corrupt no matter what, but it is my firm belief that most people are mainly corrupt if the situation arises – I mean, why not accept that $100 bill somebody is offering you, if eventually you will have to give him or her the stamp anyway?

And of course I know there are always two things to consider in such situations, and that these two things are not necessarily in agreement at all times: in this case, my own stance against corruption, and the fact that I needed to get something done (a visa to stay in Lebanon) from a possibly corrupt guy. Although not entirely on purpose, I am glad that in this case I did not contribute to corruption, and can do nothing but bear the unfortunate consequences - or convince my fiancé that a Sunni marriage certificate isn’t so bad after all. As the lieutenant signing the final decision said: You know, you should get married soon anyway. You have a very good mother in law!