Reflecting on Two Cities: Beirut and Jeddah

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For as long as I can remember, my heart has exclusively belonged to two places at the same time. That’s because while I’m Lebanese by nationality, culture, and family associations, I was born in Saudi Arabia and lived in its second biggest city, Jeddah, for six years before coming back home.

Thus began a period of my life where I’d spend the winters in Beirut and summers in Jeddah. All throughout school, I took pride in the fact that I had two homes in two countries, though deep down I did not like it and was counting down the days of the summer so I could return back to Lebanon.

Once I hit high school and then university, these trips begun to shrink from the typical two and half months up until approximately 5 weeks last year. And when I met people in similar situations, I felt less unique and protective of my special connection.

Jeddah, at night, from the airplane, 2010, an awkward shot by me.

(At this point, it would be wise to mention that my father is employed there and that’s why I am still linked to a country I should’ve left 14 years ago.)

Last year, on my old blog, TnT, I wrote a little piece entitled A Tale of Two Cities where I wrote exactly how I felt about Beirut and Jeddah, and now since I’m going to the Netherlands and for the first time in my life, will not be returning to my birth city, I thought it would be nice to share. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a place a home. Is it having an actual house where you can keep all your things and return to at night? Is it the place where you loved ones live? Is it where in every corner, there’s a fragment of a childhood memory hidden? Is it the place you have a love-hate relationship with? Or better yet, is the place where your ID says you belong to? If the answer is yes to all of these questions, then in my case, I have two homes. Beirut, a city I can never be away from for long, and Jeddah, a city that has always been kind to me, even if I have not felt the same way about it.

To look at it from one perspective, the two cities could not be any more different.

Beirut is vibrant, loud, and fast-paced. Beirut is a historical city that is eager to shed this image in favor of evoking comparisons with the greatest cities of the world. Beirut, the charismatic city, is losing its charm, while it’s citizens look on.

Jeddah is not. Jeddah moves at it’s own pace, not caring how anyone views it, never-changing unless it is out of necessity. Jeddah is intriguing. It’s many secrets are well-concealed beneath a dark veil, that even someone who has spent the majority of his live in the city is unable to completely grasp them.

Madina Road, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Medina Road, Jeddah- Hasn't changed in 20 years, except when the floods on '09 and '11 happened (Image via Wikipedia)

Jeddah is where I was born, and where I’ve been running off to every summer for as long as I can remember. And in that duration, I’ve always been filled with anticipation mixed with loathing for the city (and country) where you can only see its women’s eyes, where being born of a certain gender gives you priority in everything, where day is night and night is day.

That is, until this year. Maybe I was in desperate need of being away from all the pressures of the fast-paced life, maybe it’s just that I’ve done a lot of growing up over the past year, but I now see Jeddah as a changed city, and I am not referring to the countless number of new bridges and highways built.The faces, the places, the environment, and the memories: they are clearer now and so I can accept them as part of who I am.

And you know, from a different perspective, the two cities aren’t so different. Beirut and Jeddah, they both teach a person how to stand up on their own feet and face the challenges. Beirut and Jeddah, two greatly misunderstood cities trying to leave their mark on the world. Beirut and Jeddah, two cities where there are many truly amazing stories to share.

I guess, for the very first time in my life I feel sad that I will not be returning, instead choosing to go on a new adventure. And while I’m very excited to be in an unfamiliar place and learning, a part of me fears I will not be returning soon to the place where every summer, I discovered a little part of who I am.

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