Adonis Diaries

All Alone in Beirut: Introspection

Posted on: December 30, 2008

Something on my university period in Lebanon, (continue 15)


I had thus to enroll in PC (physics and chemistry) at a preparatory French university and could not join any formal university for engineering. My life of failure started big time in education, and my self-esteem was bruised badly, but I persisted and managed years later, out of sheer stubbornness, to grabbing a PhD in industrial engineering at the University of Oklahoma at Norman in 1991.


From 1970 to 1975, I didn’t focus on studying and loafed around, participating in political demonstrations and sit in and student elections: it was the most effervescent and active period in the drive to effect drastic changes in the social and political structures in Lebanon. 


Backed by a dynamic force of the Palestinian factions, firmly established in Beirut and the south, the Lebanese leftist movements surged ahead and defied the status quo, a reality that scared the hell out of the political and religious elite.  The elite classes of feudal, financial, and religious sect-caste decided to burn Lebanon by a civil war, instead of agreeing to reforms that would impinge on their interests.


I spent much time boarding buses to burial ceremonies of martyrs and getting all confused when the Party split; two factions claimed variations in philosophical positions that I had no idea what was the angle.  The split was basically meant to convey the extent of political affiliations to the Baath regime in Syria.  For example, should the Party be a mousepiece to Syria or ally to the Palestinian factions? This confusion carried out with strong-arm tactics affected deeply all those naïve and well-meaning comrades who invested so much time and effort to grow and be accepted within an organized body.


All alone in Beirut


I roamed Beirut alone, all alone, attending theaters and movies.  For all my convictions I was just an added number or a fill in because of my lack of rhetorical or conversational abilities and my endemic shyness. With all the new comrades and university acquaintances I could not find the courage to befriend even one companion to roam Beirut with me. 


From morning to late evening, I kept moving from one location and one street to another, mostly walking since Beirut is not that vast for a young body, and because the important theaters and gatherings were located around the Hamra Street area or Ras Beirut in general.  The fares for buses, taxis, theater, and food were cheap and inflation was nonexistent then; the dollar was worth less than two Lebanese pounds because the Palestinian movements invested and poured in large sums in the economy.


After failing many courses and repeating them I finally graduated with a master’s in Physics from the University of Lebanon in Choweifat. The next chapter would resume my grueling higher educational experience in the USA.


I recall, while in my second university year, my cousin Nassif Ghoussoub lived with us while he was studying for his final secondary class or “matheleme” year.  Nassif was extremely studious in studying “deb shoghl” and used to spent most of the night in his tiny room solving all kinds of math and physics problems, all the exercises and problems, no exceptions.  Nassif ended up ranking second among all the Lebanese students that year and was first in his promotion in the university and received a grant for higher education to Paris.


I failed my second year at the preparatory university and transferred to the Lebanese University in Chouwefat majoring in Physics.  My dad used to go to the university to check on the results of my exams and he was disappointed many times. I graduated with difficulty in May 1975 with Nassif who majored in math; thus Nassif overtook me by two years.

My shyness maybe due to lack of practice in conversation and my silence among gathering lasted for a long time.  I still feel a huge fright standing in a gathering or a lecture and asking a question, even though I have lately taught classes at universities.

I am always questioning the validity of my queries and how stupid I would sound: I guess I lacked rhetorical classes and verbal abilities to expressing myself. That is why I prefer to express in writing and sending written questions when feasible.

Right now, my shyness in asking questions might be due to large knowledge base and my traditional humility for not showing off as an erudite.

The period of 1970 to 1975 was the most glorious period for university students in Lebanon, and I failed to taking all the opportunities and advantages that were available to enterprising souls.  I refused to demand a weekly stipend, though my family could afford it, and I might have rented an apartment and cultivated a higher sense of entitlement and liberty…

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December 2008

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