Lebanon: Should I stay or should I go?
We made this podcast in 2023. Why did we wait to release it?


We started producing this podcast in August 2023. Then came the seismic events that have shaken the Middle East since October 7th, and we thought we would hold back our launch until things calmed down a bit. Obviously, things haven’t calmed down. But we’ve released our podcast because the people we met and interviewed are still there, and their stories are still important. We think, however, that we owe you an explanation of our decision, and set the stage for the episodes that you are about to listen to.

So, in episode zero, Executive Producer Nada Issa and producers Layla Yammine, and Jawad Rizkallah share their own stories of what life in Lebanon has been like since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israel and the subsequent Israeli offensive in Gaza. And what that has meant for them as journalists, as Lebanese citizens and as producers of a podcast that aims to bring you stories of some of their country’s most marginalised people.

"Lebanon: Should I stay or should I go?" is produced by Sowt for Context, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s digital news platform, and it is the story of a nation's collapse as told by its own people.

This episode was produced by Basant Samhout and hosted by Nazih Osseiran. Sound Design by Mohamed Khreizat. Editorial support by Rana Daoud. The show's Executive Producer is Nada Issa. Original score is composed by Firas Abou Fakher.

Read the full transcript below or via the transcript tab above.


Nazih: Over the last four years, Lebanon, my country, has suffered one of the biggest economic meltdowns the world has seen in more than a century. Our currency has lost more than 90% of its value. Our annual inflation in 2023 is more than 250%. As each day passes, people have less and less, while everything costs more and more, food, medicine, electricity, even water. So what are our options? Well, those who have the means to leave the country are leaving. And the rest of us. Do we wait and hope that things are going to get better? Or do we figure out how to get out of here for better opportunities elsewhere? What happens to those of us who can't leave or have nowhere to go? I am Nazih Osseiran. Middle East correspondent for Context, the Thomson Reuters Foundation's digital news platform. And this is Lebanon. Should I stay or should I go? A podcast about how this country's crisis is hitting its most vulnerable people, and how they are grappling with the choice of staying here or leaving.

So before you start your listening journey with us, we wanted to put things into perspective. The episodes in this podcast series were produced and recorded in August and September of 2023. We wanted to shed light on the situation in Lebanon, a situation that has since changed, especially in the South. However, the marginalized communities we have spoken to are still struggling and we are keen on sharing their stories as well as ours. In the studio, we are joined by producers Layla Yammine and Jawad Rizkallah and all the way from the UK, we also have our executive producer Nada Issa. Hi guys.

Jawad: Hey.

Nazih: I know you guys quite well since we've worked on this for a while, but for our guests. Layla, can you please introduce yourself?

Layla: Hi guys. It's so nice to be here with you after the long run we had with that show. So my name is Layla Yaminne. I am a journalist and also I'm the producer. And I worked on two episodes, actually, of the show. The first episode was a pretty interesting one, and it was about the life outside the city. And the second episode was on the health care system in Lebanon. I was the producer, you know, writer and Nazih, you and I worked really hard on those episodes.

Nazih: We had a lot of adventures on those episodes.

Layla: I mean, there were something indeed.

Nazih: I think they were our most adventurous episodes because we had to go all over the country to kind of record them.

Layla: Yeah, we literally went everywhere. And I remember you and I making that joke one day when we were coming back from Bekaa. It took us like four hours to get there and four hours to come back. And then we were thinking that we have to do another episode that would just take us to the South, you know, just so we can say that we covered all of Lebanon.

Nazih: Jawad, tell us about yourself.

Jawad: Hey, Nazih. Hey, Layla. Uh, my name is Jawad Rizkallah. I'm a journalist and producer, freelance. And, uh, I produced and wrote the script for the episodes about the LGBTQ community, which was more challenging than I expected because I've worked on LGBT stuff before, but doing it last summer proved to be more challenging because the situation was a bit worse for them, and people were less willing to talk.

Nazih: At the time, it was the most dramatic thing that was happening in Lebanon before the October 7th event.

Jawad: Exactly, exactly, yeah. Some people I've spoken to before in different contexts a year before that, and they were very willing to speak and share, and I just kept getting closed door after closed door after closed door, and people were just too nervous. But thankfully, I was able to find the 3 or 4 guests that we had on our episodes.

Nazih: And now that you're joining us from London, you are kind of our spiritual guardian on this journey, never with us and physically, but always with us in spirit and guiding us along. Uh, how are you doing? Can you please introduce yourself to our guests?

Nada: That's very kind, guys. I mean, I had a great team to work with, with all of the, you know, local talent experts in the region. Uh, besides, uh, so I'm Nada Issa. I'm a journalist and documentary filmmaker, and I was the executive producer on this podcast, which, you know, as I say, it was a real pleasure working with you all and telling these very, very needed stories that unfortunately don't always get presented in mainstream media, many of which, in fact, are forgotten. So it was really great to go to marginalized communities across the country and through your eyes, uh, really be able to better understand what the situation is that so many people go through and they are absolutely ignored.

Nazih: Yeah, thank you for that. Nada. And like because of the breadth of the reporting that we did, it really felt like we all went on a journey when we when we kind of undertook this reporting. And for me, the result of this journey was really one of discovery. I felt like I discovered the hope that people have and kind of how rooted they are in the country and how hopeful they are in the country, which translated into a lot of personal effort that they were putting into making sure their communities were doing okay. And that really came across to me in the shouf when Layla and I conducted the interviews for the health care episode. Did you feel the same way, Layla? It felt like these women we interviewed were very much hopeful, which really made me happy at the time.

Layla: So Nazih, when you met with these women, it was really interesting to see that the hope that they have and the hope that they gave us, they were taking it also from somewhere else, from their communities, from the people they were helping, from the kind of work they were doing, and they were at peace, you know, they were comfortably working and really enjoying the work that they do. And they reminded me why I do what I do as a journalist, because I want to tell these people's stories. I want to amplify their voices. I want us to be able to draw these conclusions, these feelings from our communities, from our people all across the country. Right? Not only Shouf, for example, or not only Beirut, just everywhere. Everyone have a story and every story is worth telling.

Nada: I was just going to interject there because when we first started, if you recall, when we first started this series, it was about telling the stories of marginalized communities, right? And in, in all shapes and sizes. Um, we wanted to go across the country from the north to the south, and the stories that you guys did such an amazing job and sort of revealing and showcasing, I think today, I mean, you're talking about hope, but I think today these stories are even more important because a lot of these characters, a lot of the individuals that we met with maybe were just about making ends meet. And now it feels that the situation is even more dire than it was then, and the country was already on its knees. And I just, you know, with the war that's that's been happening since October till now, I do wonder if already we were telling the story of marginalized communities that were suffering, how were these people even coping today?

Nazih: That's an excellent point. Nada. And that's that's kind of one of the drivers that that made us think, that made us want to launch this series at this point because of exactly what you just said, because the situation was extremely dire back then, and it's exponentially worse right now. And there doesn't seem to be any solutions on the horizon. There might be political solutions. We might witness an end to the war soon, who knows really. But the plight of these people very much remains dire. And I think a good example of that was the plight we saw of the queer community in Lebanon, because back then they were very much under this microscope of violence, and they were very much being treated as pariahs by the community and blamed for all of our woes. But we still saw them thriving, didn't we Jawad? And and making efforts to secure their place in the society and they were trying as much as was possible.

Jawad: Definitely, they had their they still had their spaces, although some were being attacked and shut down, but they were still living their lives. The irony now is that because all the attention is on the war, people's attention or the the powers that be that were kind of vilifying the queer community, their attention is elsewhere. So we haven't been really hearing about them anymore in the, in the media. So it might may maybe it's a small reprieve. However, there's still part of the country. They're still living in a country that's at war. And being queer isn't the only facet of their identity. So they're still they still have the same anxieties as every other Lebanese when it comes to the war. And when it comes to the questions of should I stay or should I go?

Nada: You know, guys, I spoke recently with, um, members of the Hayl al-Tanak community, and it really hit deep because many of them are actually, you know, back in, um, September, October when you guys went up there to meet that community, many were conflicted. Do I stay or do I go? And today they're just like, there's nothing left to stay for, you know? So let me try my luck at sea. Because if I'm forgotten on my own land and if there is, you know, this, this sense of hope slightly slipping away, I have more chance of, you know, trying my luck at sea than not. And I think that really just hit deep because that, in a sense, kind of explains Lebanon today. And what the people are going through. Is that how you guys are feeling on the ground as well?

Nazih: That's actually spot on, Nada. Because for me personally, a lot of the hope I had garnered and I had kind of discovered in myself by interacting with all of our guests on this episode, was quickly killed by the war, actually, and any semblance of, uh, faith I had in the efforts people were doing were really kind of destroyed and quashed by the war. And that's mainly because of all of the death and destruction we witnessed on Gaza, but also because of the fact that I and we actually, you and I, nada lost a very dear personal friend of ours, Isam Abdallah, who was killed by an Israeli tank strike, according to a Reuters special report. And his killing really put into perspective how difficult the situation we're in right now is. And it made me kind of lose any faith I had, you know, gained before. And I find myself now struggling to kind of regain my hope in society to some extent, to regain my faith in my profession. Um, and it's really made the future seem very bleak, just because it kind of destroyed our faith in what we do, I feel. Jawad, the last time I saw you, we were marching at Isam's funeral procession, and we were joined by our colleagues, and everybody was, you know, rightfully destroyed by this and quashed by this. Do you feel that, you know, that and this war affected your ability to do your job and be a freelance reporter and producer?

Jawad: Um, it definitely did. I've had uncomfortable conversations with people because I'm a freelancer, so I have the opportunity to work with different outfits and different people, and I had to decline certain jobs for ethical reasons because of the kind of reporting that these people were doing and the kind of edits they wanted to do on work that I may have produced. And, um, especially it makes you realize how fleeting everything is. One moment we were having drinks like we were having drinks with Isam two days before he was killed, just five of us and laughing. And, um, then we were at his funeral a few days later.

Nazih: Jawad and I, maybe we had the privilege of mourning Isam with our friends, with the comfort of those who loved him around us. Nada, you were denied that privilege, and you were kind of mourning from abroad. And what I imagined must have been a very lonely experience.

Nada: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, you know, this is, uh, this has become a global issue. It is a global issue. You know, there is occupation, there is war, part of Lebanon. You know, our country, uh, is being targeted. We are losing colleagues. We're losing friends. But something always returns to my mind, and that is if we are struggling, and to a certain extent, we are the sort of the privileged in a sense. And if we are struggling, how dire is the situation for those in marginalized communities? You know, how dire is the situation for those in marginalized communities in the South or of those in the Bekaa Valley? Uh, you know, you guys went up to see the wanted in life Outside of the city episode. And just thinking, you know, they these people must have lost friends from the strikes on, on that region or perhaps even just, you know, their neighbourhood being under attack, that sense of immediate instability and insecurity that they already were facing to begin with. And now it's exasperated. And so I think for me, it always comes back to that. Like if we are having a difficult time with the current climate, how bad must it be for those in those marginalized communities that we spoke with?

Nazih: That's exactly true. And I think that's the point our listeners should keep in mind while listening to our episodes, because the voices we tried to amplify in our reporting are the unheard voices who don't often get the platform and the platform we see right now because of the war and the obligations of war, it's mostly security officials or party officials or senior UN diplomats. We're not seeing the voices of those harshly affected by the war being amplified. And I think that's what we're hoping to do with releasing this podcast series at this point. And, and kind of the reminder we're trying to give our audiences that it's not just all elite politics or countries competing within each other, but this has a very real cost on people on the ground whose voices we often don't hear.

Jawad: Um, there is one community that's being scapegoated now in Lebanon, which is the Syrian refugee community, which is very frightening developments that we're seeing with like checkpoints and vigilante groups who are, um, beating them in the streets sometimes as a response to specific security incidents. However, when I spoke to my guests, the guests that we had on the episode with Nazih, not everyone was on the same page. For example, Joe, who was ambivalent a bit about leaving, and now Joe, who was a trans man from a Christian family, which is, by the way, something that I never thought I would meet someone like that in Lebanon, a very religious family, being openly accepting of their trans son. But now he wants he's more adamant on leaving. Whereas another trans man that we spoke to, he wants to stay and he wants to take care of his mother, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. However, even if his mother wasn't diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he would stay because he has friends of his who moved to the West and were able to be granted asylum, and the sheer loneliness of the West that they faced, it depressed them to a degree. And here, trigger warning, they committed suicide. And I have friends of mine who don't have really major mental health issues, especially now in light of everything that's been happening since October 7th, who feel very constricted in their lives in the capitals of the States or Canada or London, and some are even considering moving back to Lebanon.

Nazih: It feels like people are torn between this, the loneliness of the West or the oppression of being back home.

Jawad: Yeah.

Nazih: What do you think about this, Layla?

Layla: Honestly, I'm gonna try to think about this idea from a more distant lens. You know, in Beirut, we have this next to the port. There's the statue of the first Lebanese immigrant. That statue I know, it's like it always gets me thinking about this very specific question. Do we want to stay or leave? And I feel like people living in this area, in this region, have been asking themselves this question literally forever. They have probably tried very different ways of traveling, of leaving, of coming and going. And wherever they go, they just take everything they can with them. And I'm not talking physically or, or like material stuff, right? They just take everything they believe in, their culture, their friends, everything. They take it with them. And so many times, I mean, we talk about people that we know who have left, but also we rarely talk about people that we know who decided to come back. We all have these friends, right? And the reason why I am thinking about this is because all the hope that I got from the people that we interviewed on different podcasts, you know, because we are one of the privileged few at the end of the day and we know that. Then I look at people from Hayl al-Tanak such like we met people who decided Nazih. I don't know if you remember, there were these women telling us that no, they will not take the risk to kill themselves like they want to live, right? They want to have a better life.

Nazih: And they refuse to place their loved ones in danger because they were committed to setting up a life that they wanted.

Layla: Exactly. And that's that's the real resilience that we see or that we talk about. Also, this is what this podcast brings us, right? Because we hear from these very different marginalized communities, these very different marginalized groups. And the other day, I was actually thinking that in that case would all be marginalized. People can go study or learn because education is really expensive. People can't really have health care because everything is really expensive. And now with the taxes, it's even worse. And with the war, I can't even begin to imagine what's happening with like a whole part of Lebanon. Um, you have the Syrian refugees, you have the Palestinian refugees, you have the queer community. You have… Does that mean we're all marginalized at the same time? I mean, like there's this thought that we're all part of some sort of community, one of these communities, and we always ask ourselves this question. We live under oppression. We just always feel like something is not working out. Do we want to stay or do we want to leave? So personally, as a journalist, I feel like I need to look at the ones who decide to stay because. I think the bigger question would be right now is how can we bring these communities together so that they would support each other, because it can be a possibility they can be working together? And how can we organize at the end of the day to have a better life? Right. And within a war? I mean, Israel is actually occupying a few villages of Lebanon, so part of Lebanon is still under occupation. And we have all these problems at the same time. So again, when I think of these podcasts, I keep thinking about the hope that they can bring. And you know, the forever question do we stay or do we leave?

Nazih: And as someone who left Nada, how does that how do you feel about it now, especially you, who has kind of a holistic view of all of our episodes?

Nada: I mean, I was literally going to say, even if we leave, where do we leave to? You know, it's not that there is a solution anywhere in the world right now. Jawad, you were just talking about, you know, contacts of yours who've committed suicide as a result of loneliness as a result of depression, again, being marginalized within communities outside of Lebanon. So, you know, where is the solution? And sort of just as Layla was saying that perhaps it's about remaining there and trying to make the best out of what you've got, but then even that you're doing that with such great restrictions. I mean, you know, setting this podcast, setting this conversation up right now between myself and you guys, you've we've had internet failure. We've had electricity cuts. Layla, you were stuck in a lift trying to get to the studio because the electricity cut, you know, we have road closures, so I'm sure someone was late as a consequence of that. It's always going on. There is always something. It's there's we're always putting out the fires. Um, how do you survive in a country like Lebanon, where the economy has collapsed, where divisions have been so deeply rooted, where war continues, where marginalization is exasperated? And also, how do you survive if you do manage to get out, where again, you're marginalized, again, there are problems wherever one turns that idea of mental health issues that we carry, the guilt one carries when they leave, the guilt about you've left and yes, okay, you're in a somewhat stable situation, but you know, you're thinking of everyone you've left behind.

Nada: We talked about Isam's death, you know, and again, this is a journalist that everywhere we find oppression, everywhere we're finding that there, you know, superpowers are acting with impunity. Do you guys feel, I don't know I mean, I definitely feel like more than ever, this podcast is important. Do you guys get that sense as well on the ground? I mean, with everything you're experiencing, with all your all the emotions you're also feeling and how things are unravelling so quickly, do you also, you know, do you recognize the importance of this podcast or do you think it's slightly lost its necessity?

Jawad: It definitely would have come out differently had we started it while the war was happening. But what I really like about it, and why I think it's important, is that it shows the complex nature of the struggles that people face and the questions that they have to answer for themselves. And it's not an easy question should I stay or should I go? And I guess all of us, and in each of our episodes, we try to show how difficult it is to struggle with such a question. And everybody from all of the communities we interviewed really, be it the LGBTQ community that I did, or be it Layla's episodes or the other ones. Everyone is multifaceted. Everyone has layers to their identity. They're not 2D characters in a new spot somewhere, and they have many things to think about just because they're oppressed, some in certain aspects of their lives. There are other aspects to their lives as well, and I really think it's important for the listener to understand that even there are aspects that we couldn't even fit into the podcast.

Layla: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I think there was a lot to talk about, and this was also one of my favourite things about these podcasts is that you just see the different lives that people are leading, the different things that they are doing, the kind of like the amount of work that they're putting into their own private lives and into their public lives. But I definitely agree on what you just said, Jawad, should I leave or should I stay is never a black and white question, right? It's always it's a very, very gray, weird space, very complex. And it's always like limbo. It ends up being everyone you talk to. It's just like they're stuck in limbo because no one wants to leave, but no one wants to stay. So, which is why I was, I was mentioning before organization because we need each other. And I think this is what this podcast is going to do once it's released. People are going to realize that no matter where you're coming from or what you're going through, you are not the only one asking this question. And you are not the only one really, really struggling with these different reasons that we just mentioned. Everyone is in their own way and in their own time, and everyone is asking the question in their own way also. But at the end of the day, it's the same, right? It's the same struggle for everyone. So releasing this podcast right now would be like really important for people to just to not feel alone in the first place and to just keep the idea rolling in their head.

Jawad: And it's a question we, I mean, even before doing this podcast, how many times have you asked your friend this question? How many times have you been asked this question?

Nazih: How many times you ask it of ourselves? You have an answer.

Jawad: Exactly. Basically, when I was pitching to the potential guests, they were asking me like, what kind of what kind of podcast is this? What are we going to be talking about? I said, it's basically what you talk over with your friends over a drink any time the subject comes up, except we're going to be recording it. So it's the therapy you get from a friend, but visible or audible or…

Nazih: From many friends?

Jawad: Yeah. Many friends.

Nazih: Thanks for listening to this episode of Lebanon. Should I stay or should I go? Special thanks to our guests for sharing their experiences. If you like what you just heard, subscribe to our podcast on your preferred podcast or music apps. Tell your family and friends about us, and don't forget to leave us a rating on Castbox and Apple Podcasts. This episode is produced by Basant Samhout with editorial support from Rana Daoud. Sound design by Mohamad Khreizat with music by Firas Abu Fakhir. Nada Issa is our executive producer. Lebanon. Should I stay or should I go is a production of context that Thomson Reuters Foundation's digital news platform and South Podcasts. If you want to send us feedback, you can email us at contact at context Dot news, or follow us on Twitter or Instagram at Context newsroom. I'm Nazih from Beirut. See you next week.