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Strength and Vulnerability: Majd Zaher’s New Novel Looks Beyond the Veneer of Lebanese Society

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  1. Your first book ‘Borderline Love in Beirut’ explores some challenging topics and complex characters. Can you explain the inspiration behind the story? 

Growing up in a conservative family brought many challenges to my life. There was always something missing in every moment I spent living. There was a part of me that I wanted to discover and unleash yet I was afraid of judgments and backlash. Hence, I grew up as the loneliest kid in town as I had no friends and always found myself the weakest individual wherever I was. Moving out from my family’s house and starting an independent life was an eye-opening experience and the main motive that made me talk and write. I wanted this novel to be a celebration for everyone who doubted his own potential, who thought that other’s opinion would be able to dim his or her own light, and on a personal level I wanted to prove to all those who had ever bullied me that I was able to find success and peace after all.

  1. One of the themes you deal with is marginalization and marginalized groups. Why did you decide to address this topic? 

Writing has always been a way to pave the road towards a better world and an escape from the prisons we might be existing in. Talking about marginalized groups is based on my stance that everyone has the right to exist if they are not hurting or killing anyone else; and no one has the right to decide who is eligible to enjoy life and who is not. Unfortunately, in Lebanon, we have no laws to protect vulnerable or marginalized groups. These groups include immigrants, domestic labors, queer people, or any other category. In Borderline Love in Beirut, I was no longer Majd, I ascended to Joy and Adam’s soul to show the world how difficult living life becomes when no one likes you, when everyone avoids you, and when everyone judges you for what you look like and not for the real person you are. In Lebanon, we have laws that penalize love that does not protect women from harassment. In Lebanon, our system does not give any attention to the importance of mental health and does not help marginalized groups to engage in society.

  1. What is the role of mental health in ‘Borderline Love’, and what are some lessons about dealing with or treating mental health issues from the story? 

In Borderline Love in Beirut mental health is the crux of the story. I will not be able to say how this Borderline case will evolve yet I could tell you how it all started. Joy and Adam were the victims of a society that has never been able to embrace them the way they are. Experiencing death, upbringing challenges, and health concerns, Joy and Adam grew to become victims each in their own way. The takeaway is that offering mental health care and support for people who undergo a certain trauma, and even those who did not, is something critical. We can no longer sit still when almost every hour a Lebanese citizen ends his or her life. We cannot sit still when people still think seeking mental health care are mad. We should learn that the strongest of us can sometimes be the weakest and most vulnerable.

  1. Is ‘Borderline’ a cautionary tale? Or is it intended as a reflection of another kind? 

I see in Borderline Love in Beirut as many tales narrated at once. This novel carries in its pages a cautionary and reflective approach. At many parts of the story when I discussed Joys struggles with loneliness, self-hate and first love I was narrating many past incidents. However, in other pages, I detached myself from this reality and decide to go the extra mile and tell others how destructive it would be for anyone to fall in love before loving himself or herself, or how painful does it become when you don’t praise your uniqueness, or you don’t embrace yourself before listening to people’s judgments.

  1. The book is set in contemporary Beirut and focuses primarily on young characters. How do you perceive your own society in Lebanon in terms of some of these issues, including marginalized groups and mental health issues? What would you hope for the future of Lebanon in terms of societal relations and acceptance? 

In Lebanon, the lifestyle is not bearable anymore but I’m still hopeful of what is coming next because I believe one day my people will wake up to realize that coexisting and accepting the other is the only way to guarantee long-lasting peace and prosperity. It is difficult to find words to describe Lebanese society, but I will say that it is strange and paradoxical. For example, if you go to certain areas in Beirut, you’ll see people of different backgrounds enjoying their lives without the essence of discrimination and stigma. However, if you would leave the city for a less than five-minute drive, you will see the opposite. My wish and sincere hope for the future is to have a safe place for all people to live in Lebanon. To have laws that do guarantee the rights of the weak, and more laws to ensure gender equality. I do hope as well more effort will be done to abolish the rules that penalize love and strengthen the rifts in society.

  1. The past year has been incredibly hard for Lebanon, and the world. What do you hope to impart, through ‘Borderline Love’ to young Lebanese who might have struggled through the August 4th explosion, COVID, and other major obstacles? 

My message here is for those who have struggled and continue to struggle, for those who have lost and learned, for those who are still seeking to find a path to a safe shore, to all dreamers and seekers, to all lovers, to parents and youth. I want to tell them all that fighting can be exhausting but the end results will be rewarding. Let them all know that we will not rest, nor will we accept living in a place where our brothers and sisters are being killed. Not when the weak are always abused, and when all we want to do is love yet obstacles are placed in our way. Let them all know that we shall rise, and we will rise stronger than ever because after each storm there is always hope. Borderline Love in Beirut is the utmost manifestation of this idea.

Michelle has been a part of the journey ever since Bigtime Daily started. As a strong learner and passionate writer, she contributes her editing skills for the news agency. She also jots down intellectual pieces from categories such as science and health.

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Lifestyle

The Courageous Journey of Marvin Lee Miller

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Marvin Lee Miller, an undergraduate research assistant trained in the intellectually conducive laboratories of UC Irvine and UC Berkeley, believes in accepting the new challenges that come his way and move ahead. 

Even after a few years, Marvin couldn’t imagine how his life would take a sharp U-turn as he got himself engrossed in scientific research and studies. He has a very humble background. Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Marvin had faced a lot of hardship in his childhood. 

“In a poverty-stricken atmosphere, I knew that only my education could help me—no one else. Initially, I too committed lots of mistakes. I know there’s no excuse for my mistakes. But I took them as my life lessons and moved on. I didn’t receive much support from the people around me. They didn’t show me the right path,” Marvin stated. 

During his adolescent days, his poor associations got him to prison, where he had to spend seven years of his life. 

Looking back, Marvin considered those days were the most difficult phase of his life. He grew up as a foster child and had no guardian to guide him. Things could have been much different if he had a guardian to mentor him when he needed them the most.  

Despite all his past mistakes, Marvin knew that he was a kind-hearted man with an intellectual mind. Bidding adieu to his turbulent past, Marvin vowed to do something bigger and better in life. But he had more roadblocks ahead. 

Once he went out of prison, he faced stiff challenges from his family members as they declined to take him back home. And thus, heartbroken became homeless soon. He had no money, shelter, or even a true friend at that time to at least help him meet the basic needs of life while offering some moral support. 

And as they say, Books are best friends. Marvin soon started reading lots of books. Gradually, he started grasping the significance of education in life and spent a lot of hours on his education. 

Marvin is still grateful to a few generous individuals, including his teachers and counselors who infused the right thoughts in him, which proved to be a turning point in his life for good.  

Right now, Marvin is an undergraduate research assistant trained in the laboratories of UC Irvine and UC Berkeley. 

The university deserves full credit for Marvin’s intellectual development. Over the last few years, he has been able to hone his technical knowledge, interpersonal skills, and professional acumen. He worked with a dynamic team of scientists and academicians who infused necessary research skills into Marvin. 

“I’m fortunate enough to have served as a volunteer for an oncology department at UC Irvine for two years. During this phase, I learned a lot of things, including skeletal muscle research at UC Berkeley. I am now majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology, which is giving me enormous opportunities for research and further studies.” Marvin explained. 

Even though Marvin had a tough childhood experience, he was always interested in studies. As a kid, he loved science and gradually fell in love with Physics and Biology in higher classes. But before he could move to University, his mistakes got him to jail. 

However, as we know where there’s a will, there is a way. Soon, Marvin not only found his lost mojo in education and research, but he became even more serious and dedicated with his studies, research, and practical classes. 

Marvin has already earned four Associate’s degrees from Santa Ana College. He’ll also shortly receive his Graduation Degree in Molecular & Cell Biology. Right now, Marvin is fully concentrating on earning his Ph.D. degree. Marvin aims to develop new medicines and path-breaking solutions to curing serious diseases like Cancer and heart-related ailments. 

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