Lebanon is What You Make It

After attending LoveTalks at minus1 this weekend, I thought I’d create a list of things going on that are aiming to better Lebanon rather than focus on the unfortunate events that are contaminating our souls on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Hearing a brief talk by our pioneer couple of civil marriage, Nidal & Khouloud Darwich, I too want to create other “cornerstones of change” that will bring about a non-sectarian non-violent Lebanon. They’re not grand movements but they’re baby steps. I also included a few events that are just for fun – that’s important too.

1.) Pecha Kucha Volume 19 at minus1- FEB 26TH

I’ve never actually been to any of the Pecha Kucha events but this particular one has a good line-up of speakers who are behind some great initiatives including I Am Not A Tourist & Visualizing Palestine. It’s also being held at minus1 which is located down the street between Blom Bank and Hawa Chicken in Ashrafieh (3al SNA as they say). There’s no sign but it’s down a ramp covered in graffiti.

2.) March against the Fouad Boutros Highway – MAR 1ST at 3PM & 2ND at 11AM

Plans for this highway date back to the 60s. It seems that our urban planning skills haven’t improved – the highway has virtually no benefits whatsoever. The construction of it will cause chaos, 30 heritage buildings and green spaces will be destroyed, the road itself will cause more traffic, AND it’s going to cost $75 million.

Based on the Beirut Report, the “Boutros Road was supposed to break ground last summer but was delayed following an outcry in the media and from citizen heritage groups. Can public pressure work again? There’s no reason to believe it cannot.” Read the whole post here. Let’s do this, people.

3.) The KAFA Women’s March – MAR 8TH

A lot of violence towards women has been in the news lately. After reported deaths and the recent parliamentary signed-but-didn’t-sign confusion over the domestic abuse law (a vote has yet to take place it seems), we’re going to the streets to try to create change. The march starts at Mathaf (the National Museum) at 2pm. Please join.

4.) Wanton Bishops and the Postcards at Concrete 1994 – MAR 6th

The Wanton Bishops are back with a new single. Drop in for a glass of wine as The Postcards let you unwind with their indie feel-good vibes. Then rock out with Nader & Eddy. Two totally different LEBANESE bands that’ll make you proud of our music scene.

5.) The Bustan Festival – NOW TILL MAR 23RD

Plenty of classical music concerts and two nights with the State Ballet of Georgia. There’s a cellist playing on Mother’s Day evening too if you’re looking for a nice present for mommy. Check out the full program here.

6.) Al Saeh Book Drive

A great treasure was burned down in Tripoli some weeks back. Let’s work to rebuild it instead of dwelling on the tragedy. There’s a drive to collect books to fill up the shelves again. A lot of different locations are starting their own collection – minus1 has their own so if you decide to go to Pecha Kucha, bring some books with you.

7.) foodblessed Sunday Bake Sales

foodblessed is an NGO that tries to counter poverty by making use of food that is usually wasted. As stated on their Facebook page, “foodblessed is a local hunger relief initiative run by a group of volunteers with a passion and will to fight hunger in Lebanon. Our mission combines environmental and social responsibility. We work with strategic partners –including food and non-food companies- through recovering surplus food from events, organizing food drives, and fundraiser events to collect food (which includes surplus perishable food and non-perishable food items) and distribute it to local non-profit partners in need. While we help other non-profits, our efforts divert food wastes for reuse and better serve underprivileged communities.” They’re now having bake sales at the Beirut Waterfront at the Beirut by Bike cycling area.

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5 Tidbits from Foreigners in Dubai

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First week of Feb marked the 2-year-anniversary of Bambi’s Soapbox. Yay! In the midst of a hectic week at work and traveling to Dubai, it totally slipped my mind but that was the reason behind the NEW LOOK FOR 2014. Here’s another round-up of some funny little things I learned from foreigners I met in a city that is a 70/30 split between expats & nationals.

1 – I was having lunch on Valentine’s Day with Pavel & Teddy, a Bulgarian couple who used to live in Spain. They told us that V-Day isn’t celebrated in Bulgaria but St. George’s Day is a Catalonian holiday in Spain falling on April 23rd every year. Couples exchange single roses and books. They also said that wedding engagements require the exchange of gifts from both parties (the guy gets a watch).

2 – An Indian vendor at Madinat Jumeirah, upon hearing I was Lebanese, gave me a deal on a ring because he likes hummus. He also said that Indian barbers are cheaper than all Arab barbers in the Emirates – you can get everything done for under 50aed (~14USD). “Oh hello! It’s an upscale souk!” said a British man as he walked into the place. He thought I was the welcoming hostess because I happened to be a smiling Arab standing by the entrance. What kind of authentic souk has a Starbucks?

3 – A Pakistani cab driver, after being asked to slow down, explained that driving in Pakistan was even crazier than Dubai. He insisted that it was okay because the speed limit was high enough and he wasn’t going THAT fast. He said, “it’s putting life in hand” of the driver. Yeah, lots of prayer during that ride. If you ever visit Pakistan, walk.

4 – A group of Colombian designers recommended going to Barasti Beach Club, a bar that is “iconic” in terms of where to go when visiting Dubai. Based on what they said, it’s full of drunk Irish & British folk, which is why it’s a must to see! Needless to say, I did not go there.

5 – The “Dubai milestone” is what they call the weight you gain when you move to the city. It’s an average of 8kgs. Why yes, I’ll have the fried mac & cheese. With a Coke Zero.

MY TIDBIT: If you eat at Jones the Grocer, try not to sit next to the cheese room. And order the Wagyu burger. Then go to Magnolia Bakery in Bloomingdales of Dubai Mall for some banana pudding. Then go to the hospital or the gym for 6 hours because your arteries are choking on halal lard.

Jones Wagyu Burger (can be ordered with foie gras too)

Jones Wagyu Burger
(can be ordered with foie gras too)

Dubai vs. Singapore

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Exactly 365 days since the day I boarded a plane in Changi Airport, I got on another flight to the Singapore of the Middle East: Dubai. It was so similar only there were less Asians (not much less though) and more Arabs (not much more though). They even sell Tiger Balm in pharmacies and serve Tiger Beer at bars.

Architecture
There are a lot of impressive structures in the city especially considering the factors that architects need to take into account when working on a project (sandstorms, intense heat, building on sand foundations). According to an episode of Strip the City, the Burj al Arab’s exterior takes 2 weeks to clean after a sandstorm and an entire coral reef was relocated to the Palms by being transported underwater while connected to a barge. Burj Khalifa is insane to see. However, I can’t help but feel like a lot of the architecture are like hybrids from other known monuments around the world. Dubai’s DIFC looks like our ESCWA building in downtown or a less impressive knock-off of Rem Koolhaas’ CCTV building in China. There are rumors that The Address, the hotel of the Dubai Mall, is building 2 more towers that will then have it resemble the Marina Bay Sands of Singapore but, then again, the Singapore flyer is a copy of the London Eye. Oddly enough, there already seems to be a cousin of the MBS in Abu Dhabi.

Greenery
SG is definitely greener. In all fairness, Dubai is supposed to be a desert so just the mere fact that it’s a constructed city that has more public parks than Beirut is already a step forward. The Greens, appropriately named, has a lake and greenery all around successfully creating the illusion that you’re not in the middle of Nevada. Dubai is a lot like Las Vegas in the sense that it’s a haven in what should be a barren land except it’s on a coast and there’s no gambling or strippers. Safa Park has a weekly farmer’s market every Friday and the Novotel Hotel has a green wall on its building’s facade. SG has the Botanical Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, and a forest between every parking space. Dubai has the Miracle Garden and other parks. Beirut has…AUB.

Weather in February
Unlike the tropically wet & humid days spent in SG, Dubai’s weather was dry & breezy. Not exactly beach weather but you can still suntan without heatstroke. This is short-lived though; Dubai suffers from desert heat starting around the end of April until mid-September. Mall culture is a big thing in both cities since weather keeps residents indoors as they try to avoid rain or sweat. Yum.

Being like the West
Although I had culture shock upon arriving in SG, I was told that it was the most Westernized city of Asia. Dubai, despite being an Arab city, was filled with so many expats from different nations that I never spoke Arabic while there. Like SG, Dubai tries very hard to emulate all things West except you can’t buy alcohol freely or kiss your boyfriend in public. There’s a Tony Roma’s though.

Metro Efficiency
I was thrilled to hear that Dubai had a metro but I never got to use it. Why? Turns out that the metro is made up of two lines that run through the city and the stops are too spread out. Unless one is walking distance from where you live, it is not very practical in terms of getting from point A to point B. The city is quite condensed but since it’s not pedestrian friendly (mostly because of the weather), it doesn’t make much sense to take the metro if you’re just going to end up in a cab to get to your actual destination.

Cab Drivers
Since speeding limits are pretty high on Sheikh Zayed Road, the main highway into the city, cab drivers like to go Dom Toretto when they get the chance. At some point, one cab driver sped through an intersection and said “many accidents here haha.” HOW IS THAT FUNNY? Never say the words, “I’m so tired” upon getting in because they’ll take longer routes to jack up the meter while you’re too tired to notice. Even if you spent 8 hours in Dubai Mall, pay attention. It’s a small city so it’s not that hard to learn the roads. If it takes more than 20 minutes, you’re being robbed. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. Drivers in SG have also been inspired by GTA and Need For Speed.

While lost looking for a restaurant in DIFC, a former American resident of Singapore said, “Yup, it’s going to be just like it in 10 years.” I’ll give it 5.

This Year, Beirut was My Valentine

Sometimes I travel to discover a new place. Sometimes I travel to just change up the routine. Sometimes I travel to take crazy pictures, make new memories, and meet different people. But a lot of the time, I travel when I need to be away so I’ll miss home and want to come back. Going to Dubai, although only for a very short weekend, did the trick.

Beirut is love, Dubai is a fling. Beirut is your forever, Dubai is temporary. Beirut is malaria in that it will invade your core and infect your existence on a cellular level – molecular even – and you will always carry it with you in your bloodstream. And it will break you to see it suffer. To watch it crumble while you wonder if you can do anything, if your attempts will make a difference – it will break you over and over. Broken until you are hollow and wondering if your sensory receptors have lost all their functionality, if you have become numb out of repeated exposure or choice.

Beirut, I love you because you are raw and alive. I may not have the luxury of warm showers, electricity at all hours of the day, or a metro so I can read on my daily commute, but that’s okay. I am in a constant state of worry for your well being, for your health, and for your tendency to adapt rather than evolve. I love you because you’re a hot mess – you’re human, you have personality, you’re not bits and pieces of everyone else. You’re you.

When people complain to me about you, it is usually accompanied with “I know I’m talking to the wrong person.” It seems I will defend you with every ounce of blood in my veins, no matter how challenging you make it for me. No matter how many times you let me down, there is something ingrained in me that will not allow what they say to be true. It’s visceral. I am your original cheerleader armed with a keyboard and an internet connection. No one would ever believe me if I said I was leaving you, if I said I’ve had it, if I said there was nothing left inside.

And I love you. I love you because I know you, you are a part of my bones. When you are in pain, I feel it in my heart and my tears want to nourish the land that will feed my children. I want to hold onto you, wrap you up in my arms so tight, and tell you that you are more than you even know – when you think you are a failure, I will remind you of who I know you to be. Not who you can become but who you have always been to me. Maybe if I squeeze tight enough and if I whisper it soft enough, you won’t notice that the voice in your head is mine. You don’t have to worry about your pride, I won’t tell anyone it was me.
I want my life to be with you, I just need you to want it too. I love you Beirut, even if you don’t feel the same, even if you don’t love me back. And so, just when I thought I’d had enough, I am back here again. I just hope that this time you can see that and you won’t let me walk away.