BROUMMANA, Lebanon: Some 150 young people hailing from the diaspora spent nine days touring their homeland and exploring its rich and diverse culture and traditions.
They received the opportunity to reconnect with their roots and experience life in Lebanon, which unfortunately meant a dose of political tension, food poisoning, traffic congestion and electricity cuts.
This year’s Diaspora Youth Camp, sponsored by the Foreign Ministry, brought together young people between the ages of 17 and 25.
The official program for the annual camp hosted by Broummana High School, which concluded this week, included visits to senior politicians as well as tours of various historical and tourist sites throughout the country, such as the Cedars, Beiteddine, Sidon, Tyre, Qana, Baalbek, Byblos, Jeita, Zahle and Batroun.
This year’s edition of the camp was held in the wake of weeks of tension and street violence, particularly in the city of Tripoli, which was the first obstacle to the participants showing up in the first place.
Mara Naiim, 21, arrived from Argentina for her first visit to Lebanon. Her great-grandparents were Lebanese, and her own parents haven’t been back to the country.
Naiim said her parents had been afraid to let her come and made repeated calls to their relatives in Lebanon to ask about the situation.
Laurena Eid, 22, a first-generation Swedish-Lebanese, said that she had booked her flight at the very last minute and that her parents had been very reluctant about the idea of her attending the camp.
“But I wanted to come; I wanted to relive the Lebanese social life and reconnect with the kind and warm Lebanese people,” Eid said.
Asked whether she was considering the idea of living in her native country, Eid said that Lebanon was a country with very rich traditions and very old sites, making it a great place to visit, but not to live.
“I wish Lebanon’s situation were a stable and prosperous one – in that case I would definitely live and have a family here,” she said.
A participant from the United States, Siriana Abboud, said she also faced skepticism from her friends back home.
“All my friends were surprised when I told them, ‘I’m going to Lebanon.’ They said I was a fool for being willing to spend nine days in such a chaotic environment,” she said.
Abboud also spoke about the participants’ experience in a restaurant in Broummana, where they sampled the local cuisine, with around 50 coming down with a case of food poisoning.
“I laugh when I think about it now and remember how all 50 of us woke up vomiting the next day,” she said, adding that it was no laughing matter at the time of the incident.
“Thanks to the medical corps that was always accompanying us, it took us only a day to recover,” Abboud said.
Although all the participants expressed their happiness about being in their homeland and exploring their ancestors’ traditions, they also experienced the day-to-day frustrations that have led to emigration in the first place.
Hussein Chahine, a 19-year-old who was born in Lebanon but spent the last 15 years in Senegal, was making his first visit after leaving.
He said that even though the love of his country was “above everything,” he would be unable to come back and live here, since the government failed to pay attention to the everyday needs of its people.
“How do you live here? How can you live without the basic services that you have the right to have?” Chahine asked, referring to frequent electricity cuts and poor water supplies.
“We visited President Michel Sleiman and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on our last day at the camp. I wanted to give them a wake-up call, to tell them the government has long neglected the basic needs of Lebanese citizens, and this is why every time I meet a Lebanese family they express their longing to emigrate,” Chahine said.
Traffic congestion on the roads was another major issue for camp participants, a problem that ended up turning their host site into a haven.
Naiim said she was thankful each time they returned from a visit or a tour.
“We couldn’t wait to reach Broummana at the end of the day, and escape the crazily crowded roads.”