Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In the 1990s, Lebanese comedian Elie Ayoub released a popular musical sketch called ‘Sri Lankan Girl.’ The song depicts a bumbling Lebanese man attempting to court a smiling Sri Lankan domestic worker through what is meant to be a comedy of errors: sneaking up on her washing windows, getting her a broom as a gift, and being unable to differentiate her from the mass of dark-skinned women that are her friends. In Beirut today, this image of a desiring Arab male soliciting a bashful migrant domestic worker has been replaced by a different, and common public sight: couples composed of Ethiopian or Filipina women, and Lebanese or Syrian men. While Ethiopia has replaced Sri Lanka as the major country of origin for domestic workers, the presence of these couples marks a broader transformation in the workings of citizenship, gender, and race in the country. Heterosexual coupling but also other financial, political, and interpersonal alliances are transforming the landscape of Lebanese social relations. So unprecedented is this intimacy that in 2015, the state security agency responsible for foreigners sought to ban domestic workers from any marital or intimate attachments, in what was popularly dubbed ‘The Love Ban.’ This paper argues that rather than a fear of miscegenation or demographic change, what is at stake here is the complex work of intimacy -- and love -- as that which binds. Intimacy, then, may offer us a way to think exchange within contexts organized to prevent the very possibility of reciprocity or recognition.