The Frustration of a Comedian

IS THAT NORMAL? Aida Sabra, a Lebanese comedian, pokes fun at the difference in realities of living in Lebanon and Canada in her online clips as Sitt Najah, a middle-aged woman who is used to living in Lebanon's chaos, and is surprised by Canadians' respect for the law.

A tiny house in Canada did not appeal to Aida Sabra

BY Mostapha Raad

World renowned Lebanese singer Fairouz never imagined that after decades of singing her song “A Tiny House in Canada,” that someday, another Lebanese woman will hate residing in the cold Northern American country, after getting used to living in Lebanon’s chaos.

Sitt Najah (Lady Najah in Arabic), Lebanese comedian Aida Sabra’s stage character, continuously expresses her irritation with the greenery surrounding her house in Montreal and the tree branches shrouding her balcony.

Sitt Najah is not used to spacious areas of green fields. She is rather used to the sight of young men and women sitting on the streets or sidewalks smoking the hookah.

She cannot imagine her days going by without seeing a woman beating her child, or drivers fighting over who has the advantage to pass first in traffic. Yes, sir.

A calm and organized life does not appeal to Sitt Najah. Canadians, according to her, “do not understand,” because they do not know how the Lebanese live in Beirut.

Living in absolute comfort, a luxury which the Lebanese citizen is not accustomed to, shocked Sabra, a comedian, actress and a university professor teaching theatrical arts.

She had lived in Canada between 1990 and 1995, and still visits the cold country twice a year, especially now that her son is studying aerospace engineering there.

“Had I had more patience in Canada, I might have never returned to Lebanon,” she tells Newsweek Middle East. However, her passion for theater and “certain circumstances” made her go back to her homeland.

The situation in Lebanon will most likely not suit Canadians, if they wish to live there, that is. Of course, it is highly improbable; Canadian citizens are used to enjoying their inalienable rights, which we, in Lebanon, see as luxuries.

In Canada, citizens enjoy uninterrupted electricity and access to clean drinking water from the tap. They enjoy open, green spaces and are not suffocated by a concrete jungle of buildings so close together that sunlight fails to enter in between.

Of course, in Lebanon, we are used to living each day on its own, and we cannot imagine a trouble-free life. You see, troubles have become part of the folklore, and corruption that eats its way through government entities has become a lifestyle and a daily culture.

In real life, Sabra enjoyed living in Canada. However, a lifestyle such as this does not suit the Lebanese citizens, who seek to live in countries that respect the rule of law but aren’t ready to respect the law in their own country.

Fairouz wanted a “tiny house in Canada… whom no one knew the road leading to it,” (as the song goes,) to stay away from all those wishing to harm her. The song has common grounds with the reality which Sabra speaks of; a reality where a country like Lebanon fails to provide security and safety to its nationals.

The idea behind the series was a coincidence that happened while she was working on a new TV series—a comedy naturally—which did not see the light due to several reasons, which Sabra doesn’t dwell on. After she was done filming with her phone’s camera, she moved on to shooting short films in Canada in collaboration with Web en Direct, owned by Ali Majed, her university student back in Lebanon.

“I was thinking of producing online content since social media outlets have become an integral part of our lives, perhaps more important than television programs, which [have] ceased to provide programs on issues which the younger generation relates to,” says Sabra.

She chose to play the role of Sitt Najah, which she had first embodied back in 1984 in a theatrical play in Lebanon. That same character was a hit in a 1995 TV series called Halwanji Ya Ismael, and people continue to relate to the character of the uncle’s wife—a woman from Beirut—to date.

According to Sabra, the character is successful because it reflects the concerns and aspirations of common people, and encounters day-to-day problems which they, too, face. It speaks to them, and they see themselves in that character.

The adventures of the Beiruti woman, who survived the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), became a sensation on Facebook and YouTube, especially since she shot the series as Sitt Najah.

The culture of life in Canada “dazzles” Sitt Najah, and inspired her to create videos “to show the difference between the Lebanese citizen and his Canadian counterpart.

Especially since Lebanese citizens lack the minimum standard of living,” where waiting for the power cuts to end and for the electricity to resume to the normal feed of 4 to 6 hours a day has become a norm.

Of course, providing uninterrupted electricity is the responsibility of any government, but the taxes which the Lebanese citizens pay “goes to the pockets of those in power. Corruption has become a culture in government departments and offices,” says Sabra.
And she couldn’t be more right about Lebanon, which ranks high internationally when it comes to corruption and integrity.

Each episode does not exceed a minute and a half, where Sitt Najah continues to show her eternal surprise to the flagrant differences in living conditions between the people in both countries. Sitt Najah may introduce new characters to her videos, but that depends on the finances she gets from the producers, whom she does not allow to interfere in her work.

As she shoots and posts the comic videos, which continue to bring a large number of views and high ratings, Sabra hopes that such a business will develop in Lebanon someday.

She further expresses her sadness whenever she “listens to Lebanese living in the diaspora as law-abiding citizens abroad talk about how they break the law when they visit Lebanon.”

The Lebanese, to her, are passionate and loving people, smart and cultured. They managed to succeed abroad where foreign governments adopt them and provide them with financial and moral support, when their own homeland fails to help.

“As Lebanese, we grow individually abroad, never in groups,” says Sabra, adding that “if the Lebanese were able to support [their own] economy, [Lebanon] would have been among the top pioneering countries worldwide.”

Ending on a serious note, Sitt Najah said, “I have lost faith in my country. I will send my second son to finish his education in Canada. Canada is a beautiful country where everyone respects the law, unlike Lebanon, which has reached terrifying levels of corruption and lack of accountability. In Lebanon we continue to live [in] the same conditions of the civil war which I had to endure for 15 years. I don’t wish for my kids to live in these terrible circumstances.”


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