By Katie Perkowski
Right now I’m sitting in my sorority house surrounded by a hundred chanting and bubbling girls preparing for fall recruitment. Not quite something people in Beirut can relate to. It’s been four days since I got back in the states, and I don’t really know where to begin or how to say goodbye to my amazing — for lack of a better word that would be able to encompass or describe all that I learned and experienced — month-long trip to the Middle East.
As two other girls and I got into the taxi going to the airport a few long days ago, my tear ducts immediately started flowing as I watched AUB’s campus and the Mediterranean seaside drift farther and farther away. I popped on my sunglasses to hide my eyes. The thing I had been dreading the most was coming closer the closer — saying goodbye to our driver and friend during the entire trip, Adel. After we got our luggage out of his van, we went one by one to give the traditional Lebanese goodbye — the handshake and kissing of the cheeks. I began crying and fighting back sobs as I said goodbye to him, as I said goodbye to the wonderful people of Lebanon who had been so welcoming and helpful during my entire stay in their home. Each time we went into a family’s home, they always made sure to tell us “our home is now your home,” and what’s crazy is, they actually meant it.
When I saw and talked to my family and friends for the first time since being back, it was difficult to put everything into perspective, because I knew they wouldn’t agree with or understand some of the new knowledge I’ve come back with. When I talked to my grandma on the phone for the first time she asked, “Are you OK Katie?” When I told my mom and step-dad I felt safer walking around Beirut at night than around Lexington, they laughed and didn’t take me seriously. But I know it’s important to tell about my experience anyway.
With everything I’ve learned from going on this trip, the main sense I came away with is that Lebanon and the Middle East have people filled with passion, a love for their home, and a desire to overcome the many complications of their side of the world.
American media outlets and government officials pound out negative and exaggerated stereotypes of entire populations of people in the Middle East. This is why my family and friends may roll their eyes or laugh when I tell them the truth about the people and places I saw in the last month. And this is why I will continue telling them what I know anyway.