It’s too dark to see

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I am writing this from the third café I migrated to today following exile from my comfortable home in Beirut. The electricity has been cut off from my entire neighborhood, and after more than 24 hours of blackout, we were told that nothing can be done over the weekend and that we would need to wait for the upcoming working day for the issue to be fixed. As the scene seemed quite prehistoric, I checked the calendar on my smart phone showing a “battery low” alert and it was indeed a hot August day, 2,014 years after the birth of Christ.

I humor myself to emotionally transcend morbid details of my everyday life as a young Lebanese man with a dark future ahead of me. As I grow older, I am incrementally realizing that maybe it wasn’t that good of an idea to stay here with the aspiration of taming the system into a better habitat. On some level, this urge to change things to the better is both pretentious and irrelevant. An entire neighborhood in Beirut is in the dark and no one does anything about it.

It’s as if it’s normal. The employees of the electric company will not work any extra hours, and the people of my neighborhood will not force them to. My dark neighborhood looks like its normal self. Walking along any of its narrow streets, one would not notice that anything’s wrong. It’s actually quite serene. The men and women share mild conversations on their balconies in their sweaty pajamas as their housemaids hang some clothes to dry. The shops are open. The pedestrian activity is as usual. All seems fine.

One would commend the Lebanese on being the resilient people that they are. I don’t think it is resilience in this case. It’s more of a fantastic ability to take in an insult and smile. Coping with a degenerated nation is not resilience. It is complacency. For lessons of resilience look at Gaza or the liberation of South Lebanon. Think of your parents as they struggle to nurture you in a failed nation with no infrastructure. Normalizing the abnormal is not resilience and it’s nothing to be proud of.

Let the insult sink in. Your nation is telling you that in this muddy weather of humidity mixed with pollution emitted from construction sites, cars and factories it does not regulate, you shall bathe in your own sweat as you struggle to sleep. When you wake up, if you do, as your phone might be dead along with your wake-up alarm, you shall treat yourself to a cold shower in the rare occasion that you have water pumped into your water tank before the blackout. The eggs that you were going to have for breakfast have gone bad, and so did the food planned for next week. You shall throw everything in a big black plastic bag with no pain, anger or remorse, and then gleefully pick up your dead laptop along with chargers for whatever electric appliances you need to revive and head to your local café for infrastructural rejuvenation.

To make up for a forced force-majeure situation of a disconnection of basic life support, the Lebanese citizen needs to pay. We either pay for coffees in cafés where we setup recharge camps, or succumb to paying for backup electricity from privatized generator companies. It’s like paying a bully after they steal your lunch. Actually, since it’s our own country that’s bullying us, it’s as if it’s your mother that is bullying you, then cuts you off from food and sends you out to earn your breast milk. We’re oblivious babies crawling in the dark, and it’s our fault.

The solution of our national electricity crisis is definitely not as far out in the unseen horizon as our politicians make it seem. It’s as if we’re literally kept in the dark so we are not able to see past propaganda and promise speeches. It’s unhealthy that our back-up plans are thriving as our primary modes of life. The reliance of most of the Lebanese population on independent power providers instead of the national “Electricité du Liban” is a sedative making the situation worse. Instead of finding a solution for our problem, we took a shortcut to supposed comfort. We took a pacifier. Instead of looking for any source of power to turn on the light at the end of our very long tunnel, we are furthering our immersion in a network that is designed to keep us in the dark. It’s horrifying.

Raafat Majzoub is an architect, author and artist living in Beirut.

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