by Lara Moukaddem
Last year, I attended a conference organized by “Le Monde” on how to avoid self-censorship. A French girl of North African origins was speaking of how applying to a business school was challenging. She spoke of fighting the feeling of not belonging. She spoke of breaking the glass ceiling.
Suddenly it all resonated so well. Suddenly I could relate. Never before had it occurred to me that I might be practising self-censorship. Here was the 24-year old me pondering on the life I had been leading. I came to Lille six years ago on the promise of a good university education, leaving my family and everyone I had known and loved in my hometown of Tripoli in Lebanon.
Growing up in Lebanon, I had a sense that there was a limited range of possibilities in life. Yes I could grow into a successful independent woman, but I should preferably become a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer. Get a job, get a husband, preferably one earning a good living, get a family, and all that goes along. I believed that the skies were the limits, yes I did. But when one of the most thrilling and exciting things you can do on a weekend is going shopping in Beirut, the capital city; suddenly the limits seem rather easily attainable.
Something inside yearned for more.
Living in France has opened my eyes, and through the many encounters, it has transformed my understanding of life.
I met people from different parts of the world, of various religions, colors, sizes, shapes and forms. What struck me over and over again was the unity of our core values. We all strived for the same in life, for love, peace and prosperity. I remember when I was a child, my mom gave me a book illustrating kids from different countries celebrating their customs and traditions. The souvenir of that book lingers on.
Those people I met made me realize that achieving one’s dreams is possible. That living the life you want is possible. No need to follow a conventional path. Because happiness is what you decide to make out of life. It suddenly became clear to me that you decide what you want to become.
In Lebanon, I used to fall easily into a melodramatic mindset. I truly believe this is related to the historical and social fabric of Lebanon, a country that was devastated by civil war until 1990. My parent’s generation grew out of war, but they knew very little about having dreams and achieving them. They learned to settle for whatever came along, regardless of how unfulfilling and unsatisfactory that might have been.
Suddenly the people I was meeting in France were strikingly simple, happy and definitely not melodramatic. And I desperately wanted to be just that. I wanted to be carefree, light and happy, a combination hard to find in Lebanon.
People from Vietnam and Madagascar taught me to be simple and true. People from Germany taught me to stay humble, straightforward and positive. People from Spain taught me to be more caring in my relationships, and to also be crazy from time to time. People from China taught me about friendship and instant bond, and made me eager to see the world. People from Greece taught me that the European Union was the most beautiful construction for peace. People from Norway made me want to put on my headphones and listen to podcasts whenever I could. People from Sweden taught me about love and affection. People from Brazil taught me to be joyful and full of life. People from Benin showed me warmth and care. And people from France made me love life and love my own self even more.
If by now you’re thinking that well, I would be better off ripping my Lebanese passport, never stepping a foot back home and instead indulge in the Western way of living, then I am afraid you are mistaken. Not a day goes by without me thinking of what I like to call “that small country with a big pride”. As a celebrated Lebanese artist once put it, Lebanon is a “piece of heaven on earth”. I don’t know to what extent that is true. But I know it partly is.
It is a beautiful mixture of chaos, energy, and passion. You can feel it as soon as you step out of the airplane. You feel the vibe carrying you through.
There’s an unexplainable magic across the chaos. Even child vendors manage to maintain an energetic smile, sometimes trying to make you laugh amid the hot traffic jam and the over crammed streets.
In Lebanon I learned about compassion, and most importantly I developed a sense of community. I also learned to accept, love and respect “the other”- the Catholic Maronite, the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian, the Muslim Shia, the Muslim Sunni, the Druze, the agnostic and the atheist.
What I love the most about my people is their resilience, their dedication and commitment to keep Lebanon going despite the sectarian tensions and the political games. Not to mention their sense of hospitality and their warmth. People instantly connect and reach out very easily to others…
So this is a shout out, a shout out to the World, to Lebanon, to France, to life, and to all of those I met along the way. Thanks for making me realize I am limitless. Thanks for making me see that other ways of living, of thinking and of being, and exist. Thanks for making me believe in humanity; for making me believe in myself also; for making me realize I am a citizen of the World and we are all one. Thanks for enriching me, for enlightening me, for broadening my views and opinions. Thanks for making me a better version of my own self.
I gradually started realizing that I had unconsciously struggled with that glass ceiling all along. A ceiling inherited from my life and childhood in Lebanon. Now I have a magic wand to help me expand, invent, create, imagine and dream. And I want to pass on that wand, pass it on until one day it finds its way to Lebanon.
Feature photo credit to Dorothy Hood, American, 1919-2000.
About the author
Lara is a 25 year-old Lebanese who has been living in Lille for the past 7 years. She has studied pharmacy and is now specializing in pharmaceutical law.