How to Hide in Lebanon as a Western Foreigner

15 December, 2021,
Lena Mer­he­j’s Ger­man moth­er, mar­ried to a Lebanese man, tries to fit in to the local culture.


Excerpt from Lena Merhej’s comic hit Mrabba wa Laban

Lena Mer­he­j’s graph­ic nov­el Mrab­ba wa Laban.

This is an excerpt from Mrab­ba wa Laban, the Ara­bic graph­ic nov­el by Lena Mer­hej, trans­lat­ed by Nadiyah Abdul­latif and Anam Zafar. Unlike many sto­ries of migra­tion, the graph­ic nov­el recounts Merhej’s mother’s jour­ney from West to East, and how as a Ger­man, she adapt­ed to life in Lebanon. The humor in this extract stems large­ly from com­par­ing stereo­types of West­ern and Arab women, as Lena’s child­hood self tries to under­stand where her moth­er falls on the scale, and as the read­er learns how her moth­er tried to avoid being rec­og­nized as a for­eign­er to avoid trouble.
Mrab­ba wa Laban was one of the first graph­ic nov­els to have appeared in Ara­bic and has been pub­lished in French, Span­ish and Ital­ian, though not yet in English. 
The trope of the over­bear­ing, over-orga­nized moth­er appears, with the mil­i­tary-style pos­es of the chil­dren humor­ous­ly con­vey­ing the strict del­e­ga­tion of chores, and lat­er when Lena nar­rates how her moth­er some­times calls her chil­dren very ear­ly in the morn­ing when she mis­cal­cu­lates the time dif­fer­ence. The last two pages of the extract are a poignant rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the mix­ing of cul­tures in the author’s fam­i­ly, rep­re­sent­ed by the famil­iar humor of the fatigue asso­ci­at­ed with always eat­ing the same dishes.
Lena Mer­hej was born in 1977 in Beirut to a Lebanese father and Ger­man moth­er. She is the founder of the Sto­ry Cen­tre in Beirut, was the direc­tor of the Beirut Ani­mat­ed Fes­ti­val, and has taught illus­tra­tion and ani­ma­tion at uni­ver­si­ties in Beirut. Mrab­ba wa Laban and her com­ic book Kamen Sine (2009), received the Award for Best Com­ic at FIBDA (Inter­na­tion­al Com­ic Strip Fes­ti­val of Algiers). 


Arab traditionBeirutcultural dissonanceGerman and Lebanese coupleLebanon

Nadiyah Abdullatif is a freelance translator of Arabic, French and Spanish. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of St Andrews in Modern Languages (Arabic and Spanish) and International Relations and a Masters in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

Anam Zafar translates from Arabic and French to English and holds an MA in Applied Translation Studies from the University of Leeds. She was longlisted for the 2021 John Dryden Translation Competition and selected as a 2021 ALTA Virtual Travel Fellow, has collaborated with the National Centre for Writing as translator in residence and Emerging Translators Mentee, and appeared at the Bila Hudood: Arabic Literature Everywhere festival. She volunteers for World Kid Lit. Her translations have been published by ArabLit and ArabLit Quarterly, the National Centre for Writing, the SpLitera Cultural Association, and World Kid Lit. 


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