One of the few places I get to practice my Arabic in Lebanon is when I take a taxi. More often than not the driver doesn’t speak any English, forcing me to use my Arabic. And the conversation is can be kept on a very basic level, where I explain I come from, what I do for a living and why I’m in Lebanon. All nice and simple.
One of the standard questions I get is if I’m married. And when I say no the driver always seems to know someone who is looking for a wife. Generally they’re kind enough not to mention the fact that I’m past my prime and therefore should be on the lookout myself. On the contrary, they tell me how good a catch I am and always will be. And always for the same reason: My Danish nationality.
Most young people here – from all social levels – would grab any opportunity to leave the country. It’s hard to find work. And even if you manage to find a job the pay is usually so low it hardly covers living expenses. For many young people the only way out is by leaving the country. And for that you need a foreign passport.
So I was quite surprised when I spoke to my friend H at the waxing salon. She was telling me about her boyfriend. Well, kind of boyfriend anyhow. He’s a distant cousin who grew up in Germany. And after having spent all last summer together, the boyfriend now wants to marry H and move her there. But H has been saying no.
Not because she doesn’t like him. She went on and on about all the nice things about him, like the fact that he told her mother to mind her own business, when she criticized H for wearing a t-shirt. Because he was raised in Germany, he has a completely different attitude towards women and relationships, H told me. But the problem is that they can’t really speak together. He only speaks German. And H speaks Arabic and English.
The boyfriend has apparently gotten H’s name tattooed. And he’s calling her several times a week and through different translators trying to convince her to marry him. But H keeps saying no. She doesn’t want to marry a man she can’t talk to.
Considering how many people here will do anything to get out of Lebanon, I can’t help but admire her decision. She realizes that in many ways she could probably make a better life for herself in Germany than here. But she holds on to the belief that she would rather live a hard life in Lebanon with a man she really loves than an easy life in Germany with a man she doesn’t really know. And that makes her one of the bravest people I have met here so far.