It’s Food Week with FERN

FERN infographic (ENG)

Click me because infographics are cool.

A week-long series of events is about to be unleashed upon us and it’s all fun and games that goes for a good cause. That, and it revolves around food. FERN, Food Establishments Recycling Nutrients, is a Lebanese NGO working to reduce food waste, improve composting, and recycling efforts.

The kickoff, taking place on June 1st, is in collaboration with UN agencies (UNESCWA and UNHCR) and local organizations. The other events that follow throughout the week are strictly FERN & corresponding collaborators (as listed on the schedule below).  Anyway, the kickoff will be bright and early (9am) at Souk El Tayeb in the Downtown square parallel to the fancy shmancy my-wallet-hates-you Librairie Antoine. The theme for this year is “Think.Eat.Save”, revolving around food waste.


June 1
Looks Aren’t Everything: From Farm to Table with FERN at Souk el Tayeb
9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
With UNHCR, UNESCWA, the Lebanese Food Bank, Cedar Environmental, and other organizations What’s going to happen? Talks about food waste, methods to reduce food waste at home, insight into global food production.
BONUS: The inside scoop as to why average supermarkets seem to have perfect symmetrical I’m-not-real-but-you-can-touch-me food and how even food suffers from beauty discrimination. 

June 3
Happy Hour at The Alleyway
4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Actually, 4 happy hours to help out the people of FERN. This is a fundraiser but also a chance to raise awareness about the problems faced when it comes to waste sorting, what FERN does to counteract them, and what small actions YOU could do to help out too. Besides learning something new and supporting a great initiative, it’s also an opportunity to mingle. Did I mention it’s $10 for OPEN 961 Beer?For those of you who frequent any of the establishments in The Alleyway or know of Ziad Kamel, I’m sure you’re aware that these people know how to throw a fun bash and are always looking for a way to improve the lives of the Lebanese.

June 4
Fundraiser at Lamba Labs, Mar Mikhael
7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
DIY food waste treatment ideas, easy peasy explanations on how to treat food waste, and a documentary screening – with snacks and beer, of course! Quite the deal for 10,000L.L. on a Tuesday night. Come on, you know you were just going to stay at home and watch Friends reruns anyway. Stretch your brain muscles and help society. And the Lamba Labs crew are the coolest geeks you’ll find.

“I like to think of Lamba Labs as a group of young, passionate, mad scientists. They’re artists, software developers, and engineers, and they like to use their imaginations and their tinkering skills to solve problems. As we speak, they’re building their very own anaerobic digester, meant to turn food waste into methane gas. When captured properly, methane gas can be used for cooking, heating, and electricity,” said Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli, co-founder of FERN. 

For those of you who don’t know how to get to Lamba Labs, let me explain because it’s sort of a doozy the first time around: Go down Mar Mikhael road, if driving away from Gemmayzeh Gouraud St., LL will be on your righthand side. It’s the pink building directly after 3anab restaurant next to BLC bank – you have to buzz on the intercom to get in. It’s the second floor labeled “Karaj Beirut.” 

June 5:
Environmental Quiz Night at AltCity, Hamra
7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
20,000L.L. for open 961 Beer and a competitive environment-friendly trivia night all at AltCity, Hamra. You’ll learn some stuff, you’ll lose some stuff, you’ll make some new friends – and it can all end in the alleyway over some drinks when you’re done. Or you can go home since you have work the next morning because you’re an adult or something. 

AltCity is on the main Hamra Street, just after the FransaBank. If you’ve gone past Kababji and Dunkin, you’ve gone too far. It’s on the second floor (floor M in the elevator) of the Montreal Building, which has a big colorful neon sign on it that says “Carre.” It’s the vintage shady looking building right before Kababji, on your left side if you’re going with the direction of traffic. There’s usually a “ZUMBA!” banner right outside the entrance. June 6

$25 for open dinner buffet, open 961 Beer, and open wine at Tawlet, Mar Mikhael
7 p.m. to 12 a.m.
This is FERN’s monthly fundraiser but RSVPs are required, because seating is limited. Reserve via email:
Every month, there’s a different guest chef and a rotating menu. “Always Lebanese food, always homemade, and always delicious.” Well duh, it’s Lebanese – that would’ve said enough. The ingredients and structure of the menu were chosen with waste reduction in mind by this month’s guest chef: FERN’s co-founder and amateur culinary mastermind, Naji Boustany.

I have yet to go to Tawlet so I have no secret directions but, according to the website, it’s on the ground floor of the corner building facing the Spoiler Center in the dead-end street at the corner of Maher Flower shop. I have a crazy work schedule and I still think some of these events are convenient – and they’re in great locations. And it’s all about cherishing food. Who doesn’t love an excuse to do that? Do you really need more convincing?

Save this image on your phone and you’ll have all the info you need:WED2013 Schedule (infographic)

I don’t know why WordPress is playing font-hopscotch, I apologize.

Cheers to Social Responsibility


According to an excerpt in Levitt & Dubner’s “SuperFreakonomics”*, drunk-walking is more dangerous than drunk-driving when considered on a per-mile basis. In fact, a drunk walker is 8x more likely to get killed. The only plus side to this odd factoid is that the drunk walker usually only inflicts harm on his/herself but not the same can be said about drunk drivers.

Drunk-driving is a huge social issue and public transportation is an infrastructural necessity especially in a country the size of Lebanon. Implementing other means of transportation that do not rely on your own motor skills (your’s and your vehicle’s) being at 100% efficiency, could contribute to decreasing the number of accidents and deaths due to driving under the influence.

Various international campaigns launched by alcoholic beverage companies are pushing for more responsible after-party choices when it comes to transporting your drunk-self home. Most of the agencies behind these campaigns use the idea of a trade-in option in order to get drinkers to opt for a safer ride through public transportation.

For example, during Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, Antarctica, a Brazilian beer company, had its customers pay their metro fare using empty beer cans. “The Beer Turnstile” used the simple trade of a can for a ride: the can was scanned at the turnstile and the drinker could go home for free. The initiative led to a 43% drop in caught drunk drivers. Another beer company, Stiegl from Austria, replaced its product labels with tickets to use on the Salzburg public transportation system. Yes, these are huge PR stunts and get the brands, and their respective ad agencies, the coveted “socially responsible” stamp; however, a good deed is a good deed. Many lives were probably saved thanks to ideas like these.

Although Kunhadi’s drunk-driving TVC/Billboard campaigns are very powerful with their use of imagery and devastating story lines, the tone is on the heavy and somber side. Their Taxi Nights, parties that provide taxi rides home for all attendees, are great steps in the right direction that actually make a change on the ground where the real danger is. And let’s not forget the Ashekman graffiti piece that was commissioned early last month. It must be said though that Kunhadi is a non-profit organization that fights for road safety. They are not a brand so their approach differs than that of a beer company or any consumer good.

The Nissan “Suggest an Arrest” stunt in Uruguay Street addressed the problem by allowing friends to volunteer a drunk friend for a sobriety test. If they failed, they were driven home in a new Nissan. The activation, which took place during the month of March, was a nice try but they pushed their product to an unsusceptible customer, a drunk driver. Even if their heart was in the right place, the focus was more on the car and the PR attention rather than the desire to spread a message or change behavior.

Perhaps the government or private investors can help get public transportation implemented in a country, or at least a city, that is in desperate need of traffic relief, reduced carbon emissions, and a safer more economically feasible way of getting around. Perhaps more laws can be enforced when it comes to road violations, reckless driving, and distribution of DUIs & license confiscation. Perhaps, the most likely and doable “perhaps” given the ever-present cloud of doom over our Lebanon, more brands can jump on the fight-drunk-driving bandwagon provided that what they’re doing is relevant to their product and overall campaign idea. It doesn’t really matter if, deep down, they’re doing it to look good or to have the general public opinion shift to “bravo, bifakro bi ghayron”** – if it makes sense and causes more drinkers to be responsible, it’s a win-win.

*I definitely recommend this book and it’s prequel “Freakonomics” if you like reading books that make you think that all things are conspiracies and WTF MIND BLOWN.

**Arabic for “they think of others”

Taking a Stroll in Ashrafieh



 Every once in a while, while wandering around Beirut, you will find one of these signs. It refers to architectural style that has been on the verge of extinction in our dear city thanks to various development projects and so-called urban planning. This street is Rue Debbas in Ashrafieh, home to the Cypriote Embassy and other little quaint residences.



And then there’s all the other little pieces of Ashrafieh, not just on Rue Debbas, that you never really notice unless you take the time to look around:


Dfouni Supermarket – best homemade chips & breadsticks (very fattening snacks)



Little blue house on Rue Salah Labaki



Yellow shutters overlooking Rene Mouawad Garden


Painted Greenery on Charles Malik Avenue (Sponsored by Bank Med & Chateau Ksara)


Old iron gates


Vintage signs still going strong


Geitawi houses


Geitawi houses


Ministry of Foreign Affairs







Sacred graffiti


Colorful graffiti


Layers of windows

 Stay tuned for more and/or tag along with me in Ashrafieh.

Game of Thrones: Meh.

Warning: this post is a semi-rant about the +18 TV series Game of Thrones. No point, I just need to vent.

  • Every episode is an average of 41 minutes of the same thing and it’s too slow. Tywin Lannister should throw his 3 advisory stooges into the dungeons, ship off his blaspheming blonde offspring, and let Dinklage rule. Tywin’s like Scar from the Lion King but without the beautiful mane and Jeremy Irons’ voice.
  • Cersei Lannister moves her mouth a la Kiera Knightley when she speaks only she doesn’t smile as much and I have this infantile urge to pull her hair. Granny Tyrrell is awesome which means Cersei will probably have her killed. It’s enough that they killed Baywatch Hawaii and now we’re left with the human incestuous version of Prince-Charming-from-Shrek as male eye-candy. Stop killing the ones people like.
  • The direwolves would be much cooler if they didn’t already make a guest appearance in the Twilight series. Also, Bran’s new warg friend would be more badass if we could forget him as the cute drummer kid from Love Actually but we can’t. And OF COURSE, we learn what a warg is in the same episode where we learn that Bran is a warg. How convenient.
  • Who’s the next Downton Abbey cast member to join GOT? My money’s on Sybil.
  • Although this is all fictional and it’s clearly gibberish, everyone would like to speak Valyrian and have an army of Dothraki. And your name will be Farrya Baratheon, originally of House Targaryen. No? Okay, it’s just me. I want dragons.
  • This show makes your imagination violent. You imagine deathmatches between characters. For example, Catelyn Stark destroys Cersei and orders Brienne to off that Fire Priestess chick because there’s only one redhead in this realm *snaps in Z-formation* And the eunuch kills Lord Baelish because of the beautiful irony of it: Brothel owner, who’s nickname is “Littlefinger”, dies by the hand of a castrated dude.
  • “Only the ladder is real. Climb is all there is.” Word.
  • Sansa needs to stop being manipulated by sweet boobyful Marjorie. You all know she’s evil, did the Tudors teach you nothing? Natalie Dormer never plays a good person.
  • “Why am I still watching this? Screw it, I’m gonna watch Scandal because I’m a gladiator in a suit.” – if this thought runs through your mind while watching an episode then we are on the same page and probably prefer stuff on the CW or anything with lots of guns and pinstripes.

BeBeirut: A Talk with Ronnie


As promised last week, here is the mini interview with Ronnie Chatah of Walk Beirut:

1- How did WalkBeirut get started and what inspires you to keep it going?

RC: Several Lebanese historians (Samir Kassir and Kamal Salibi in particular) inspired me to try and bring the city’s past to life. While alive, they challenged Lebanese to appreciate their city’s history, too often neglected. I thought a story-based narrative of Beirut’s history would be an engaging way to carry on their passion for history.

2- Where’s your favorite spot in Beirut? Favorite stop on the tour?

RC: I personally enjoy telling the story of Wadi Abu Jmeel and Beirut’s Jewish community. It’s a neighborhood that goes unnoticed to foreigners and Lebanese alike. In many ways, it’s an important segment of Beirut’s mixed past – and a centrally located neighborhood – yet it’s a largely forgotten chapter of the city’s history. All that stands today as a symbol of that community is the Maged David Avraham synagogue, set to reopen this summer. And to stand in front of it and bring it to life is quite a thrill.

3- What’s your favorite memory from the many walks you’ve guided in the past 5 years?

RC: One of my favorite memories was an older Lebanese expat showing the group several photos of himself and his wife (who had passed away several months earlier) on a date at the St. Charles Cinema below the former Holiday Inn Hotel. He hadn’t returned to Beirut after 35 years, and his personal story touched the group, myself included.

4- What’s the best part about working as a walking tour guide of Beirut?

RC: Being told over and over by Lebanese and foreigners that prior to the tour, they had little appreciation for Beirut’s history, and were largely unable to access the city’s past simply by walking on their own. And that following the tour, they genuinely fall in love with the city’s story. I suppose the tour serves a valuable purpose – bringing otherwise neglected neighborhoods, buildings, sites etc. to life. I’ve done my best to keep it a fun, pedestrian-friendly experience. I believe I’ll keep offering the tour so long as Beirut is safe enough, and interest remains.

5- What do you wish for the youth of Beirut & Lebanon as a whole?

RC: To break the cycle between wealth and decay, that too often pushes Lebanese to neglect their history. I take a lot from Samir Kassir’s writings, and the quote in French I include at the end of the tour, “Beyrouth, extravertie dans sa prosperite, la ville l’est encore dans sa ruine,”* is something we can all learn from.

*Beirut, extroverted in its prosperity, the city is still in ruins

You can find Walk Beirut online here and check out their Facebook group here.

BeBeirut: A Walk with Ronnie


Ronnie telling the story of Martyrs’ Square

Ronnie Chatah, founder of Walk Beirut, used to run a hostel in Hamra located behind Makhfar Hbeish. He also used to give his guests a walking tour of the city as part of their stay. Back then, the tour would last up to 8 hours. Gradually over time, he was told he had a knack for being a guide to the city and decided to branch out creating an official walking tour open to all willing to spend part of their weekend exploring the city on foot. Walk Beirut has been going for 5 years now; the stops have changed with time depending on the level of relevance of neighborhoods and safety issues. It was initially launched in 2006 but went on hiatus after the July 2006 war with Israel. Now going continuously since 2009, Walk Beirut is a great way to reignite the love of your own city or to discover it as a foreigner – even if you’ve lived here all your life. Tours now last around 4 hours and you need to reserve a spot ahead of time (tickets are $20/person). You can find them online here and check out their Facebook group here and I will be posting a mini interview with Ronnie within the next few days.


The harem rooms are the solitary rounded windows sticking out, Ottoman architectural influence

The tour is more like listening to a story about our beloved city with a buried past. Ronnie touches on a lot that is wrong with the country but in an entirely factual manner; a very “it is what it is” bittersweet ode to how the city has been crippled by exterior forces but mostly by itself yet still remains to get under your skin. From the architectural influence of the Turkish and the French to the reason we still use American dollars as currency, there are many factoids that even locals will find surprising. For example, the original rotating rooftop bar was at the Holiday Inn, the almost-40-year-old relic towering behind the Phoenicia Hotel. Home to “the original SKYBAR” as Ronnie put it, the hotel was only operational for one year before the civil war broke out.


Foreigners in front of Trad “Boutique” Hospital

The tour caters mostly to tourists – I met a Dutch freelance photographer, a few Americans, and two British ladies vacationing here after one had won tickets to stay at Le Gray at an auction in the UK. I found it disconcerting that foreigners seem more heartbroken by our history than our own people. In Samir Kassir’s “Beirut”, Robert Fisk wrote, “I am suspicious of foreigners who tell me they love Beirut. I love the life I live in Beirut, but I think you have to be homegrown – or at least Arab-grown- to claim a city like Beirut as an amour.” It can be argued that those who visit do not have to endure the everyday troubles that residents deal with; they can live in the romantic fairytale and leave before reality strikes. Plus, they probably don’t deal with electricity cuts. Beirut is a self-loathing lover you don’t want to leave because you know she can be beautiful if she just opens her eyes and tries – magical in all her attempts to shine no matter how many times she falls. However, it is still upsetting that foreigners are moved by the story of Martyrs’ Square, a piece of our history that seems to have been neglected. One phrase stuck with me personally during the walk through the ruins of Roman baths located below the Ottoman-built Grand Serail Parliament Palace and literally underneath the French-built bank buildings: “We chose reconstruction over preservation.” We have chosen reconstruction over preservation in the past one too many times, maybe it’s time to preserve our country’s legacy instead of restoring its self-destructive patterns.

We should appreciate the contradiction that makes us so dysfunctionally wonderful but we should work to better it because our beautiful country is sinking again, and we can’t continue to blame others for its fate. As unfair as it may be, it is up to us – the youth- to change things. We need to resuscitate and revive the Beirut that is asleep beneath the ruins and damaged exteriors. Complaining may make you feel better about a current situation but that only gives temporary alleviation; making the decision to change is the only solution for improvement. Lebanon, you are so frustrating only because of your wasted potential. I want more for you. You are richer than any nation because you have culture, history, and pride – things that cannot unnaturally emerge from the sands: they flow in the veins of your people and in the waters that wash away layers of destruction every few years.

Enough drowning, it’s time to swim.