Bambi Recommends: Bayrut Express

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Bayrut Express is a shop I found on Facebook while researching eco-friendly projects in Lebanon. Next thing I know, Ziad from BE comments on that post telling me to come check out their shop. Little did he know, I’d been wanting to go since discovering their page and finally managed to do so thanks to having today off. It’s located in Asos Center near Sassine Square, Ashrafieh. If you’re driving toward Sassine from Sodeco, it’s in the alley to the right before you reach the main intersection. I didn’t mention my blog while investigating the shelves – let it be clear, this is not a sponsored post.

BE sells clothing, shoes, and accessories but all the merchandise they have is related to a cause. GGRIL and Waste products are sold there along with Inkkas, handmade sneakers made by artisans from Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. Inkkas is a kickstarter project that was successfully funded last December. Each pair is a combination of colorfully patterned South American textiles and bright nylon shoelaces. On their Kickstarter page, they state, “From the beginning, Inkkas set out to be a company that would have a beneficial impact on the world, not an exploitative one. The company was founded on the principles of fair trade, philanthropy and authenticity.”

The product is made to counter planned obsolescence and the whole initiative backs South American causes and communities. For example, with every Inkkas purchase, 10% is donated to preserving the Amazon rainforest. Above is the shelf of Inkkas at Bayrut Express. The high-tops run at 220,000 L.L. (~147 USD) but are on special this week at 155,000 L.L. (~100 USD). Can’t wait to rock mine tomorrow.

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Blissful Memories & Meals

College Hall

The Steps of College Hall

Bliss Street equals two things in my mind: food & AUB. It also equals a lot of memories that combined these two things. Upon reflection, I saw that the selection of where you were to eat lunch on Bliss was determined according to 4 factors:

• Money: how much you want to spend/have on you
• Health: how healthy you’re trying to be
• Time: how long before your next class that you’re actually attending
• Party of n: how many people are joining

So if you were eating alone, had only 5,000 L.L., and 10 minutes to spare – health goes out the window and you’re going to inhale a handful of Happy Meal burgers. However, if you’re 6 people with an hour and a half and 10,000 L.L. to blow, you’re having a Subway 6-inch on the Oval. This theory’s accuracy is not set in stone and does not count when determining whether you should go have a nutella crepe from Tonino because, in that case, the answer is always yes.

Here are a few examples of when this logic was used, unknowingly at the time, to determine where we should fuel up. Please keep in mind that this was pre-Urbanista/Paul/Roadster and, therefore, quinoa was still just the staple food in Peru. As you’ll see below, the health factor becomes more important as you age within the walls of AUB.

McDonald’s
It was election day during the first semester at AUB and we were having lunch at “McDo” while students and people filled the street outside and chanted “Abou Taymoor! Abou Taymoor!” Somehow, our lunch transformed into a discussion about the political parties in Lebanon and whose actions could be considered justifiable given that the 2006 war had concluded just a few months prior. It was the first and last time I ever debated politics with my high school friends or anyone for that matter.

Burger King
Some time in Sophomore year, after a Bio 201 quiz II, we learned that Whoppers were the best medicine for failing pre-medical students. Vegetating on the couches in the back and singing along to their radio in a daze, this was the only way to numb the pain of a Charbel Tarraf multiple choice exam that included every letter of the alphabet as a choice. BUT WHAT DOES “a & b, except c – h” EVEN MEAN?

Universal Snack
Under the illusion that this was healthier than other options because it was “like eating at home”, Universal used to win the lottery quite often. It started out because of the escalope. Then it was for the potato salad. Then it was because you could have a huge plate of fattoush for 4,000 L.L. I think it was for the 80s music and the fact that you could have lunch with the whole restaurant at once – which was usually filled with a bunch of people you knew from other classes – since the tables were so snug. My dad keeps talking about how it was one of the first places to sell hamburgers in Beirut. He wants to go with me sometime because he hasn’t been since the 70s but I feel like I’d be betraying my AUB memories. Ah, the loyalties we form.

Forn Bakkar
An old couple worked at this bakery. It was up the street that leads to Ghali’s, right before Books & Pens. They used to make the dough fresh every morning and have falafel Fridays. One of us would go pick up the manoushes while the rest waited by Jafet library. It became a morning ritual until we saw the granny lick her fingers one too many times while kneading the dough as we waited for our kishik to come out of the oven. It’s closed now.

EuroDeli
This was the first place I had ever eaten at on Bliss Street. I was in the 8th grade and my cousin had brought me to AUB to help her with a Powerpoint presentation. I remember analyzing the graffiti on the benches while we waited for the computer lab to open. When I saw “Kiss from a Rose” carved into one of the beams, I knew AUB was going to be a university that had people like me…in 5 years. I had a chicken avocado sandwich from EuroDeli as a reward for all my hard work. Before it closed in 2010, it was a place we’d frequent because we could order “salads.” Oh Pasta Chicken Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing, where have you gone?

Zaatar w Zeit
“Kafta 3adeh bas bela jibneh. W ana kafta 3adeh bas bela mayonnaise. w ana kafta FULL OPTION. w ana kafta bela jibneh w shawiyit mayonnaise bas m7amas ktir. Orders at ZwZ were all combinations of kafta that always took too long and made us late for class. But they were good.

Kababji
Eventually, you get over the fast food craze and realize that you need to take care of your cholesterol levels. The BigMac just isn’t worth the hour on the treadmill – at least, not this week. Kababji became the healthier option because you could order half portions and have salads that didn’t taste like glorified grass. Most of senior year was spent here, and then many post-grad visits too when I was briefly employed at AUB.

Bliss House
Spicy chicken sandwiches on the steps of College Hall facing Jafet. When your Party of n > 10 and you have no classes to get to, the health factor is ignored, and you just enjoy life. After all, you’re only young once.

Matters of the Heart


For every known particle, there is an anti-particle.
Perhaps, you, my anti-particle, are lost & cannot reach me.
The closer you get to matter, as soon as you are in contact with me, you are annihilated.
Actually, we are annihilated. Leave it to me to forget that our contact isn’t just mad, it’s mutually assured destruction. But with this destruction comes energy to do work that is equal to our masses – which makes sense considering I’ve been driving myself into the ground while you’re not here.

This asymmetry, this abundance of me and absence of you, has been such a mystery. I don’t think physicists could explain it and they know the gravity of it all, they know about stuff that matters.

And so, maybe you’re made of antimatter and the universe says we complement each other in every way but, alas, there is no chance we can ever come to be as one.

But it doesn’t really matter, does it?

Bambi Goes to ArabNet Beirut 2014

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The ArabNet Beirut conference, a 3-day event held at the Hilton Habtoor Hotel, has been going for five years now. As it states on all the banners, it is the “largest regional event for the digital creative sectors.” The three days are split into one day for design & coding and two days for panels & talks (forum days). ArabNet as a whole is done in collaboration with the Banque du Liban (BDL).

This conference is organized so that digital professionals and entrepreneurs can connect and learn from each other. It also creates opportunities for new start-ups to showcase their work, young creatives to compete for funding, and throw a whole bunch of geeks into a hall so they can bond. Although I missed out on the first day, the bits and pieces I got to see were awesome and I was amused that they used a bell to signal when a break was over. We were cattle and we loved it.

I have to say that ArabNet doesn’t seem to cater to the average Lebanese employee. Sure, there are many people flying in from abroad to attend but the citizens of the hosting country cannot afford to pay for a ticket given typical salaries here. I would be worried that I wouldn’t get my money’s worth when ticket prices are that hefty. It is also scheduled in the middle of the work week meaning that, if you chose to fork over the fees, you would have to take days off to attend. Having three full days smack dab in the middle of the week is not ideal for young professionals in the workforce – many of whom would like to attend and may not have a company who will sponsor it. Seeing that this conference is made for empowering entrepreneurs and strengthening the Arab knowledge economy, I feel it could be more wallet-friendly in the future.

HOW I GOT THERE

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After reading my blog, the folks at ArabNet invited me as an official blogger. BAMBI FTW.

TOP 3 ACTIVITIES

Entrepreneurship and Investing in MENA (Panel)
This panel, moderated by Mike Butcher of TechCrunch, revolved around what was needed to create a better ecosystem for entrepreneurial efforts in the region. A main concern was that entrepreneurs need room to test ideas, but to have that, they need access to information, funds, and support. Other issues raised included the lack of visibility entrepreneurs have, the lack of mentors or investors to fuel the ambition in the region, and the call for the government to break down the barriers faced when setting up a company. Starting-up is challenging and moving between countries is not a simple endeavor. For example, in Lebanon, you cannot loan a company money unless you own 20% or more of said company and many entrepreneurs are afraid of dilution even though it may be best for the company in the long run and thus, more beneficial to the entrepreneur.

People can learn from those with experience and can then scale products that can penetrate the region and the world. There is an immense need for collaboration versus regional competition; we need to put our own money into the ecosystem in order to strengthen it and we need to invest in our own country’s capital. BDL seems to be on the right track: they’re to match 75% of other banks’ investments in start-ups and has pledged 400 million USD to the start-up efforts of entrepreneurs.

Speed-Networking
Based on the concept of speed-dating, speed networking is an hour and a half of 3-minute-blocks to network with a room full of people. I think this is an effective method. My experience with big conferences is that most people, when released into a crowd during coffee breaks, end up gravitating towards someone they know; networking doesn’t happen when you’re always talking to people you’ve already met. This forced-networking changes that. Hassan Kanj talked to me about MENAVERSITY, a website that offers university courses for free like coursera.com except they’re in Arabic. Lara Noujaim told me about Game Cooks, a group of game developers who created Escape from Paradise, a game app that was inspired by Lebanon. Nima Adelkhani, CEO of PITME (Progress in the Middle East), came all the way from San Francisco/Silicon Valley. When I asked him if it was his first time in Beirut, he said, “eighth.” I then asked why he keeps coming back and his reply was, “because it’s the best city in the world.” Check out his webseries titled “Technology in a Tent.” It would be a good idea to do more than one speed-networking session or schedule it on the first day so that you’ve already made some new friends from the start. You’ll be more likely to talk to them throughout the conference if you’ve exchanged names without peeking at their badge or stalking them on Twitter. I only did it once.

Creative Combat
Three teams were given a common brief they needed to create a campaign for. The panel of judges included 4 members of society: Ziad Abichaker of Cedar Environmental, Lara Tarakjian of Silkor, Ziad Nassif of Exotica, and Vera Hassan of Patchi. They’re not realms from GOT, these are companies in the Levant. The brief was to create an awareness campaign about the importance of trash separation. A lot of debate broke out regarding the language used to communicate the campaign. Should it be in English because the online population of Lebanon communicates mostly in English or should it be in Arabic because the Lebanese population communicates generally in Arabic (and makes it more culturally relevant)? After all, the campaign’s target audience was supposed to be the Lebanese population, not the people in the Emirates Hall of the Hilton. After each team presented, the judges evaluated them and questioned their thought process. I enjoyed this but maybe it’s because I work in advertising. It was interesting to just be a spectator.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CONFERENCE

Samsung CTC
This is what happened after I tweeted that my iPhone was not made for live-tweeting implying that my battery was on the verge of death using the hashtag #batterylife.
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Taste of Beirut
At the end of day two, the Beirut Digital District hosted the attendees of the conference in a white tent filled with free food & booze from 16 F&B establishments. From Couqley steak frites to Bittersweet Cocktail Bar’s passion fruit cocktails along with 961 Beer, Brgr Co. fresh-off-the-grill miniburgers, and samosas from Alhindi – let’s just say it ended with a happily self-induced food coma.

Twitter Fall
Reading the Twitter Fall while all the talks, panels, and interviews happened was as entertaining as the action on stage. Because the TF was on the screen above their heads, they were unaware of what the audience was tweeting about the discussion. Some people can be so mean from behind a screen.

In the opening ceremony, Omar Christidis, CEO of ArabNet, said that they were “committed to being and staying in Lebanon.” That’s good to hear. As Adelkhani says, “People who are busy working and building cool companies are less likely to start revolutions and fight wars.” And remember folks, good things come to those who tweet!

International Women’s Day


“A feminist is a man or a woman who says ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.'” I guess I’m a feminist. All this time, I thought I just woke up like dis.

Like many of you, I learned about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie thanks to Beyonce featuring part of her TED talk in her ***Flawless track. In honor of International Women’s Day, please watch the full talk above. With that said, thank you to all that showed up at the National Museum today. The efforts against domestic violence continue.

5 Eco-Friendly Product Designers in Lebanon

Lebanon’s got a smorgasbord of hidden talent. Well, maybe not hidden but they certainly don’t get enough attention for the monumental work they’re doing. Lebanon has an issue with managing landfills: we burn trash, bury it, or dump it in our sea. I read once that the country is only able to recycle a maximum of 6% of its collected waste. SIX PERCENT. What is the discrepancy between produced and actually collected?

The below are just a few instances where people are working towards a greener Lebanon which is an initiative we should all start aiming for through more environmentally-friendly plans and sustainable design & development.

1. White Sur White, Cyrille Najjar


Najjar is a designer at White Sur White who spoke at Pecha Kucha last week. One particular product featured in his presentation was a portable solar cell that can be used to replace electric generators. It looks like a Samsonite suitcase with wheels and everything except it offers 5-10 amperes of electricity. The 1+1 project was created by them in order to produce furniture with less waste, short-cutting the way products are made. Najjar said that 40% of a product is pollution between packaging, shipping, and additional wrapping. They bypass this by making their furniture easy to transport and assemble like stacks of flat sheets that interconnect. By doing so, they effectively take preventive measures towards producing unneeded layers of material that will just be thrown away.

2. Waste, Waleed Jad

Waleed, also a speaker at Pecha Kucha, is behind the latest fashion trend going around. Perhaps you’ve read about WASTE on the various sites that are talking about their work: fashion pieces made of trash. Flex material (the heavy-duty plastic that advertisements are printed on to withstand harsh weather), along with car seatbelts & the inner tubings of tires are what WASTE uses to make collections of bags and furniture. Because they’re using such materials, every piece of their collections is 100% unique too – even if they have a double of a certain advertisement. The interior of the Etihad Art Gallery Cafe in Abu Dhabi is full of re-purposed furniture all put together by WASTE’s scavenging efforts. They raided all the swap markets, antique shops, and Basta-like venues to fill it up with recycled “junk.”

3. GGRIL, Ziad Abichaker

Green Glass Recycling Initiative in Lebanon is led by Cedar Environmental’s Ziad Abichaker, the trash king of our nation. He spoke about his love story with garbage at TEDxBeirut 2012 and is setting quite the example when it comes to implementing sustainable waste solutions. Abichaker, who was the brains behind turning nylon bags into sturdy boards by compacting them using intense pressure, is now working to bring back the art of glass blowing (stop giggling) by giving used glass bottles a second life.

4. Artafif, Wissam Muases

Started by Syrian Muases, Artafif is set up in Furn el Chebbak. He’s creating glassware and accessories out of sliced beer bottles. I’ve seen this done on Pinterest and it seems pretty easy: you use rope and acetone to cut the bottles, then sand the sharp edges. Of course, his process is probably more complex & aesthetic, and hopefully more effective when it comes to sanding.

5. Junk Munkez, Lea Kirdikian & Xavier Baghdadi

I found these guys while scanning Waraq’s Facebook page. Waraq, located in Ras el Nabe3 and another group from Pecha Kucha, is a team of 4 artists who created an “artists’ community” that hosts workshops and screenings. One up-cycling workshop was held a few weeks ago with the Junk Munkez, a duo comprised of an animator and a product designer. Their Facebook page states, “We design colorfully fun objects for those who seek a lighter and greener side to life. By using eco conscious ethics in designing eco friendly products, we are trying to spread DIY and RRR principles in our rather upside world. Where consumerism and surplus reign supreme.”

In conclusion, when you can’t recycle, up-cycle.