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The Rain, the Decline and the Wasted Time of Our Lives

The Rain, the Decline and the Wasted Time of Our Lives

Monday, 19 November, 2018 - 09:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
Everyone has a story he loves to tell, even to a passing stranger. I love stories, I enjoy the role of the listener and hate that of the speaker. I always considered the taxi driver as the open book of a city and the honest reflection of its pulse and concerns.

I have recently experienced this in New York, on my way from the hotel to the airport. The driver asked me if I was an Arab, so I confessed. He also inquired about my country of origin. He said he had not visited Lebanon, but he heard that it was a beautiful and pleasant country.

I cannot deny that Lebanon is a beautiful country or deserves to be described as such. Whether it was pleasant, however, was a complex and controversial issue. I did not want to go into commenting on it. The driver said he was happy to be in New York. Life is not easy, and you have to struggle, but you feel like a human being. You pay your taxes and the state defends your rights. If you have been attacked or treated unfairly you resort to the court. The judge does not mind your assets and your color. Those days have gone. You can file a lawsuit against the President and collect your rights.

The tenure of Donald Trump does not worry him, he said. His policy seems to be beneficial to the economy. Other things are not important. I can go and vote against him if I like. The president here comes and goes.

He left some time for me to comment on the long stay of presidents in our region. I did not. I prefer questions over answers.

He told me that he would never be a millionaire, but he had stability, comfort, and health insurance. He said he threw himself in America to save the rest of his life, considering that life in the country from which he came is definitely wasted. He stressed that he did not want to return to his homeland, and that he would never go back on his decision. He considered living in a country not governed by the law a tragedy, and the absence of serious institutions a recipe for destruction, albeit sometimes delayed.

He said that one time when he was young, he decided to get a driving license. A date was set for his exam. On that day, his brother accompanied him to the concerned officer’s bureau in the relevant department. He waited there to know, a bit later, that his driving license was ready. Just being at the officer’s bureau spared him the burden of the exam. Before leaving, his brother shook the officer’s hand warmly, slipping in something in an expression of appreciation. The driver said that the incident raised his fears, especially as his relatives told him about the ability of university students to buy exam questions in advance.

He said that wasting the time of our lives is no less dangerous than wasting blood. Citizens spend their lives following up on transactions that cannot be completed unless they slip in the hands of the concerned employees something to get their work done. He said that a year ago, he decided to visit his relatives. Unluckily, the rain fell heavily during his visit. He recounted how the capital sank into the water, the vehicles were stranded, people were distressed and garbage piles flooded everywhere. He talked about major losses and many wasted hours. He concluded by saying: Our countries are not livable. The underdeveloped schools are wasting our days, so does unemployment. Corruption is consuming the time of our lives.

The idea of wasting life struck me. Poverty is a waste of life, so is ignorance, corruption, lack of planning and absence of institutions. Another form of wasting life is states’ adherence to "degenerative" education that is far from the needs of the modern age and economy. Millions of students flock into disciplines that are not needed by the labor market. The survival of the same old work environment incites negativity, in parallel with the spread of technological illiteracy in an age that is advancing at an amazing pace with successive revolutions.

It is also possible to include sectarian and harmful speech in the context of squandering lives and assassinating rescue chances. In the same framework, the phenomenon of large migrations can be understood. People feel that staying in their country is a punishment for them and their children. They are so desperate to escape even in the “boats of death.” Experts in the future are talking about waves of immigrants who will hit the European continent in the next two decades because of the continuing failure of the countries, in which they were born.

Arabs used to eagerly wait for the rain to come. Rain means life in the soil. It means awakening trees, flowers and seasons of wealth. Recently, many new nodes have been added to the Arab people’s complexes, namely rain and torrents. Whenever it rained abundantly, we found ourselves in a scandal here or there. It rains and our faults are exposed. Water does not run in the sewers because of corruption. Streets turn into lakes, and the citizens have to use boats to reach their homes. The scandal also targets institutions such as the civil defense and fire departments. Money is wasted in less important places, while the budget is narrow in institutions that save people’s lives- if they had modern equipment.

God’s enemy is social networking. Every scandal or tragedy is received on the phone, which has become a stark newspaper throughout the day and night. Beirut witnessed a shameful chapter of this kind a few days ago. I do not want to give the impression that rain is the only perpetrator. The reasons for wasting lives in Lebanon are many. They involve the consecration of strange and horrific rules that constitute a gross and flagrant violation of the dignity of citizens, wasted months without the ability to form a government, keeping the presidential palace vacant, waiting for the savior who fails to rescue, or disrupting Parliament for very confusing reasons.

We are tired of complaining. We are tired of lamenting. The truth is painful. Those who don’t seek to grow regress. Some cosmic villages head towards the future, while we continue the journey of decline and waste of life.

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