BETA’s Space Crisis

BETA, Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is having a space crisis. Their shelter is running out of space for the increasing population of animals in need of homes. This increasing number is due to two factors:

1) Low adoption rates
2) A strict no-euthanasia policy (putting unadopted animals to sleep)

There are no plans to expand the overcrowded shelter due to lack of funds. Since BETA is an NGO, it is mainly donation-based and an expansion would require a lot of the pesos that they use on operations, sterilization, deworming, food, and so on. The current shelter was never a shelter; it’s a refurbished pig farm that is home to over 400 dogs. That’s double the ideal capacity. Many dogs who were abandoned near the shelter end up at risk: hit by cars, tied to trees, injured/killed by other animals.

For the Lebanese, adoption is a new thing that people are not used to. I remember when I used to visit Beirut in the summers as a kid, Lebanon was not even a pet-keeping society. Now, the poo-covered sidewalks in Ashrafieh tell me otherwise. Cleaning up after your pets is a topic for another post though. People here are used to going to pet stores and forking over cash for purebred puppies. Sadly, there is a form of discrimination when it comes to full-grown mixed breeds. There is an archaic misconception that pure breeds are more affectionate, smarter, cuter, or just better pets. Trust me, that’s not true and I had a Persian kitten once.

Given, the adoption process at BETA is not simple but it’s coming from a good place. If you go to a pet shop, you’ll get a puppy no questions asked. BETA will make you reconsider whether you’re making the right choice when it comes to a pet though because they will tackle it from all angles. Having a pet is not like watering a plant. These animals are like children: they need vaccinations, they need check-ups, they need baths, they need attention. Just because you can pay the amount on the cage does not mean you will provide the non-monetary needs. BETA’s process makes you ask the right questions when it comes to making this kind of commitment. These animals have been through enough; BETA is making sure they won’t have a pet jumping foster homes. “We not only want dogs to find ‘homes’ but we strive to find them a home that would welcome them as a family member and not an ‘animal’ put on the roof or on the balcony.” 

EXPATS PETS PROGRAM
The BETA team came up with a new program to rectify the current situation. Once again, we’re calling on the Lebanese diaspora and others abroad to help since the Lebanese living here aren’t keen on adoption. Personally, I would love to have a dog at home. However, like many other people who live in the city, I don’t have the open space or schedule that would be fair to a dog who needs love, attention, and fresh air. “This program aims to find animals loving and permanent homes abroad, while raising awareness on this forced immigration so as to encourage local adoptions.” Even the animals of Lebanon need to leave the country for better opportunities and a more secure future. Is this what we’ve come to? airport image 3

Dogs who are adopted via this program are accompanied by BETA members who pay for their own flight ticket. Those who have frequent flyer miles use them to cover part of the dogs’ tickets. The rest is collected from people who feel sympathy for the animals. BETA gives priority to senior animals, handicapped ones, or simply animals chosen by an adopter living abroad. They handle all the paperwork but the process depends where the animal is traveling to.

If you’re interested in adopting here or abroad, check out the website. If you can’t adopt but still want to help, you can send donations or stop by the shelter to give/receive some affection. Like their page on Facebook so you know when there are activities you can participate in too. For example, last Christmas morning, there was a dog walking group in Hazmieh. IMG_1154_2IMG_1169_2IMG_1160_2

THEY STILL HAVE TO MAKE THE CUT

Adopters abroad still have to go through the rigorous screening process that BETA is known for. Just wanting a furry friend is not enough; adopters need to be suitable to care for one. International organizations carry out this screening process on BETA’s behalf. There have even been cases of BETA members’ friends carrying out interviews and follow up. It’s not always a happy ending though: there were some incidents where animals were not adopted according to BETA standards. A BETA volunteer flew to bring them back to Lebanon at her own expense.
DON’T PAY, CONSIDER ADOPTION

Adoption’s a win/win situation when someone can do so: you save that dog’s life but also allow for another dog’s life to be saved since there’s free space in the shelter. Of course, this doesn’t apply when the shelter can’t handle the lives they already have. If you’re looking for a new pet anyway and have made the conscious decision that you can care for another being, I encourage you to adopt. Instead of buying a pet from a pet store and financing unhealthy breeding practices, stop by the BETA shelter. These lives shouldn’t be bought, they should be loved.

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Taking a Walk in Mar Mikhael

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As part of the In Mar Mikhael event, two walking tours were given this weekend. I went along for the afternoon activity this Saturday thinking that I knew a lot about the neighborhood I spend so much time in. Seriously, Google thinks I live in Mar Mikhael because I’m in Ashrafieh (work and play) so much. Turns out, there’s more to this place than I thought.

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The beginning, EDL

The tour began in front of Electricite du Liban where we were divided into 3 groups departing every 10 minutes. Since I opted for English, Elisabetta was our guide, and started with a brief intro about the Brazilian-influenced EDL building. It was built in the mid 1960s, designed by a Lebanese architect, Pierre Neema.

From EDL walking toward the rest of MK, there is a new geometric modern building with a green wall on one side, home to Gallery Tanit. This building is the only one that respects urban law because of the existence of a sidewalk. Most developments disregard this and it results in what I call “l’extinction du trottoir,” leaving us to navigate between parked cars hoping we’re not pummeled by a service driver. From this spot, you can see the three different forms of architecture found within MK: 60s, modern, and classic French. Across from this mammoth is an old house of two architectural styles conjoined with a common stairwell, a practice that shows there used to be consideration for economy of space.

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Tobbagi Gardens

Behind these lovely old homes is the Tobbagi Gardens, a private space that is open to public visitors. It’s made up of terraces and planting areas and is the biggest green space in MK.

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Mr. Tobbagi talks to us about the Fouad Boutros Highway Project

Sadly, the gardens are now at risk. If the Fouad Boutros Highway Project is implemented, the gardens will be destroyed; the neighboring building next to Mr. Tobbagi’s has already been expropriated. The only other green space in MK which is across the road has also been bought and will soon be gutted & developed. Besides the fact that these buildings are solid representations of our heritage but are being knocked down like stacks of Jenga pieces, the Project’s urban planning is outdated, inefficient, and unwanted to begin with. For now, the Project is on hold because of the local and international media coverage but no one knows how long that will last.

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Massad Stairs 

The walk continued to the colorful Massad stairs that were featured on Vogue.com the other day. This staircase, painted by the Dihzahyners a few years ago, are semi-private semi-public and the place where a Save Beirut Heritage sit-in was organized. I hate to say it but the stairs have undergone a lot of weathering since their first coat of paint. Besides being a site for activism and artistic expression, the stairs also serve to connect the residents of upper Ashrafieh with Mar Mikhael. For example, St. Georges Hospital employees and visitors can use it to jump into a bar for happy hour after a long week since the hospital sits up the street from the top of these stairs. Be careful at night though; sometimes there are punks chucking eggs at unsuspecting pedestrians below.

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Vanina

Mar Mikhael used to be a predominately Armenian neighborhood. In the 1920s, the Armenian population shifted over from Qarantina and still make up a big portion of the residents living there now. The area is in full gentrification with the arrival of the new generation who are transforming Mar Mikhael into a bustling creative hub. Of course, with them comes the gastropubs and boutiques that the artsy crowds with purchasing power attract.

The walking tour’s sole purpose was to show us that Mar Mikhael has different facets but it was originally a residential village. If you walk into the alleyway where Vanina has opened its first shop, you can continue into an open courtyard of neighbors that still live like the days of old MK. Some buildings have been restored (mainly to be home to new restaurants like Les Fenetres) but the majority of property owners find it easier to sell than to salvage and/or fight the developers. That, and it’s more profitable for them on a personal level.

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Pharaon St

We popped out from the Les Fenetres entryway to walk down the Internazionale alley. Nasawiya’s old location is where In Mar Mikhael is having their Behind the Object exhibition till the 24th of this month. After making this quick stop, we walked down to Pharoan St. Don’t feel bad if you have no idea where this is because I didn’t know it had a name either. Pharaon St. is the street where PaperCup and Frosty’s Palace are. If you’ve ever been to Mar Mikhael, you probably know which street I’m referring to now. If not, you should check out both places. The owners are sisters. Have a coffee and grab a book then walk across the street to inhale a burger and milkshake.

This strip of shops and specialty bookstores make up the “creative cluster” where all owners have made a joint decision that no bars will open on the street there, keeping it quieter than the other crevices of the neighborhood. Next to Papercup is the Maroun Naccache Theatre, the first in Beirut and where they put on Moliere productions. The church on the same road is where the neighborhood got its name. The church was originally in Qarantina. The women felt uncomfortable by the presence of soldiers there so they relocated to its current location in 1855 and, like much of Beirut, it was destroyed then reconstructed several times to make it bigger. The last works date back to 1972 and it has been the main place for community congregation ever since.

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A facade leftover to be incorporated into a new tower

Train Station and Bus Warehouse

Mar Mikhael is also home to one of the main train stations that was used when we had a railway that ran along the coast to the north. Rather than create museums or public spaces out of relics that link back to our past, it seems we only know how to reinvent our dilapidated public transportation systems into nightlife venues. After the old train station of Mar Mikhael was used for multiple DJ events, it was morphed into a high-end bar by BO18 management. The abandoned bus graveyard/warehouse is Uberhaus’ station for their indoor electronic raves while Garten is closed until the summer.

Vendome Stairs

Collectif Kahraba’s Aurelien Zouki met us halfway up the Vendome Stairs to talk about Nahna wel Amar wel Jeeran, the yearly festival that happens there. With a name meaning “us, the moon, and the neighbors,” the festival is comprised of visual/musical performances and public interventions in a public space. Through this, they promote collaboration between different fields who join forces to create a neighborhood event. The collective sees itself as a theatre company that puts on free accessible cultural events that involve the residents of the neighborhood in the planning and whole production. For example, Nawal and Camille, two old neighbors on the Vendome Stairs, participate by composing songs and cooking food for the audience and host guests. Once, a puppet performance was done on the building rooftops; the puppets were based on the known neighborhood personalities like Nawal and Camille.

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Nawal and Camille

All these attempts at inserting cultural practice into our daily lives is at risk when homes are replaced by towers. The way the community interacts changes because they function like a village. Breaking this dynamic through modern urban development kills the human aspect of the community.

One intervention done is the bench found at the halfway point of the staircase. Designed by Christian Zahr, he saw that there was a need for a “break” on the way up the steep climb, especially for the elderly that live in the homes of this part of Ashrafieh. The bench that is built like a staircase itself pokes fun at the fact that there’s no public institution taking care of the residents’ needs or the public space of the city.

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Grande Brasserie du Levant

Located on the Badawi half of the area, the Brasserie opened in the 1930s and was the oldest brewery in the Middle East. It was where Laziza Beer was made. The brasserie as “La Grande Brasserie du Levant” was closed in 1995 but an entrepreneur used it to produce a beverage at a later stage. With little success, it finally closed in 2003. There have been talks to transform it into lofts or a cultural center but no official decision has been made due to a dispute between the owners. This was where GAIA Heritage held an exhibition last July featuring the work of 15 creatives.

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Other MK Fun Facts

  •  The graffiti portrait done by Phat2 at the Mar Mikhael Gas Station is of his sister
  •  Internazionale was a garage between 1954-1970s
  • The army barracks facing the Grande Brasserie were built by the French
  • Brut l’atelier is an open workshop where you can go use their tools and workspace to collaborate and/or assist on handmade projects
  • Across from the Brasserie is a colorful staircase leading back up to an alley by the Vendome Stairs. There used to be a festival there every year until the organizer passed away.

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What’s In Mar Mikhael?

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That’s not an existential question. Well, maybe. But not today.

You may or may not have heard about the upcoming week-long event, IN MAR MIKHAEL, which will be held in Mar Mikhael (just in case the name wasn’t obvious enough). Elisabetta Pietrostefani, the Italian In Mar Mikhael project manager, and I had a chat over cappuccinos about her work with GAIA Heritage, the guys responsible for this week-long collection of exhibitions and workshops.

In Mar Mikhael is part of an EU-funded project (which is part of a larger regional program, MEDNETA) that involves 6 Euro-Mediterranean cities (Beirut, Hebron, Tunis, Florence, Valencia, and Athens).The partner in Beirut, GAIA Heritage, is a consultancy firm that applied for the project years ago through the European Union. The project focuses on urban regeneration through creative activity so the selection of the Mar Mikhael neighborhood as Beirut’s representation of a creative hub is not surprising. Each partner implements the project within their city in there own way and, together, they make up a network for exchange and collaboration between the 6 cities. The end of the project culminates in one giant traveling exhibition that would move from city to city. This exhibition would address issues that are common amongst all the partnering cities. The entire project lasts two years.

GAIA Heritage has been documenting the creative activity within Mar Mikhael since 2010. Their rough analysis was one of the first and was published in USJ’s Travaux et Jours. Since then, especially when the project was launched in January of 2014, they have really delved into MK’s development.

The first 4-5 months was purely research into what made up Mar Mikhael beginning with mapping out the different artsy bubbles that were popping up there. The issue with this was that these bubbles were never constant. As we all know, the only thing constant about Mar Mikhael is that it’s always in flux. You can go there every other day and still find a new boutique, bar, or bookstore that wasn’t there during your last visit – each with its own concept, decor, and extremely random name. GAIA Heritage’s map has come up with 71 as the number of creative activities going down in the neighborhood but I feel that this number may fluctuate by the time I finish typing this sentence. These activities are divided into alternative artforms (artists and their supporting industries), crafts, and design. Creating a printed map for a couple of streets that are home to short-lived businesses and experimental entrepreneurship can prove to be a challenge. How do you navigate in an ever changing city when no one knows street names and we all use relativity for addresses? You move the map online where it can be updated on-the-fly. The digital version of the map is still under construction.

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Parallel studies on the neighborhood were also conducted including a morphological study and how the place has evolved in the last few years, how its decayed, why it’s more preserved than other neighborhoods in Beirut, and whether or not it would stay that way. A socio-economic study focused on the real-estate level, mainly the issue of a clash of generations: the old generation that’s been there for decades and the younger generation who recently moved in. With the possibility of the new rent-law being implemented, half of the residents there will not be able to afford to stay.

Their first conference in July held at Grande Brasserie du Levant addressed the different sides of Mar Mikhael: the lack of public space and the arrival of nightlife to a residential area. Right now, there are designers opening ateliers, specialty stores mushrooming in every alley, and studios setting up shop in the old high-ceiling buildings. However, with the cool artsy crowd came the thriving restaurant population and pub culture that litters the sidewalks with Almaza bottles and cigarette butts, creates traffic and noise, etc. Along with the characteristic of being in constant flux comes the question: how long will Mar Mikhael be the hotspot for the creative and the young? Will the crowd migrate to a new neighborhood like it did when it left Gemmayzeh and Monot?

From this conference, a plan was established for the next activities to be tackled within the project. A physical one being an urban intervention within MK: either renovating one of the staircases in terms of functionality or turning an expropriated green space near EDL into a garden. Approvals for these initiatives are still pending.

In Mar Mikhael as an event has 4 parts:
• Exhibitons: Behind the Object, an exhibition revolving around the process that leads up to the final product, featuring 7 creatives from Mar Mikhael (Creative Space Beirut will be there!). It will be held in the space where Nasawiya used to be. Another exhibition running parallel will be for 3 architecture schools (ALBA, LAU, and AUB) featuring their studies and solutions for the Mar Mikhael neighborhood. That one will be held at Imad Gemayel Architects premises.
• Panels that focus on previously identified problems: public space regulation and rental law. Georges Zouain of GAIA Heritage will be moderating.
• Workshops: One solution-based closed workshop for the major stakeholders of Mar Mikhael to discuss the urban interventions mentioned above and to get feedback on other concerns. Another on-going workshop is for the youth of Mar Mikhael (mainly grandkids of current residents or MK church goers) who meet once a week to come up with a plan for MK with the Design for Change program (active in 30 countries). They will be implementing it for their neighborhood within the coming months, fingers crossed.
• Tours: the weekend has two Arabic/English walking tours of the neighborhood enveloping the history, creativity, and residential aspects, starting from EDL, going through the Tobaggi garden, creative cluster, and ending at Brut.

You can sign up for the workshops and tours here.

Elisabetta also brings up the issue of the people’s reluctance to collaborate which is why Toolbox is being pushed: the 3-day workshop that helps creatives figure out how to start a business by equipping them with the right tools and knowledge. Day 3 is when creatives have to team up to create a quick prototype and present their idea to a jury.

She says she “would hate to be one of those expats who sits in the EU and never sees any Lebanese and doesn’t really understand what happens on the ground.” With that said, she seems to have quite the grasp on how things go here and tells me that, “Lebanon is a complicated place where even if you put all the right cards on the table it doesn’t necessarily mean things are going to happen.” Luckily, this hard truth hasn’t discouraged their efforts. The team hopes that this event will make enough noise so that it will have an impact on the neighborhood itself. I hope so too.

TEDxBeirut 2014 Series: Sarah Hermez of the Creative Space Beirut

10250240_701460626569612_1042371557507432285_nThis is part II of my TEDxBeirut 2014 series.

After attending TEDxBeirut last year, I decided to focus on 3 speakers (Dima Boulad, Sarah Hermez, and Imad Gemayel) based on a common thread between them: designers with consciences. Through their work, it was clear that they each felt they had a social responsibility to better society using their skills.

It’s taking a bit of time to get these up because scheduling meetings gets difficult during the last quarter of the year, especially with Christmas/NYE break. However, this weekend, I caught up with Sarah Hermez, co-founder of the Creative Space Beirut, to talk about their work and what’s been going on since her TEDxB talk in September.

A Bit of Background

For those who don’t know, Creative Space Beirut is a free fashion design school. They bring together a small number of talents from all over Lebanon and teach them the ropes to fashion design through a hands-on practical approach. Sarah says, “the problem is when you’re tuition-based, you’re cutting off most of the talented people because talent doesn’t necessarily come with money,” thus the need for a free school. The format isn’t for everyone; the students need to have three main components: talent, passion, and the ability to be an open tolerant team player. At the moment, students who don’t have the option of attending a private university or fashion school (be it for financial reasons or because they don’t meet the typical eligibility requirements) are the priority when it comes to enrollment.

Previously, pieces were sold by auction to raise funds to keep the school running but it was not a sustainable model. Even though investors helped them move to a new location in Mar Mikhael, relying on donations and grants was proving to be problematic as a long-term source of financial backing. Rather than converting the Space to a for-profit, the team tried to come up with other ways that would allow them to continue offering free education to undiscovered youth who would have otherwise not had the chance to learn the trade. Because the school is free, instructors are willing to dedicate their time pro-bono because it is purely for education, not money.

For now, the school focuses on fashion design but there are plans to expand to accommodate other design programs later on. The aim of the school goes beyond education and employment. “If these talented people can go back into their communities and design, then perhaps they can design their communities in a better way,” says Sarah. One Palestinian Creative Space student got a job with Mercy Corps and is teaching fashion in the refugee camps. The social responsibility mentality seems to be rubbing off on the students, too.

The Double-Edged Sword of Certification

The school is not officially certified yet but, with certification, comes drawbacks. The model of the school is fluid and flexible because there isn’t a rigid curriculum or quotas to meet when it comes to being accredited. For example, if they want to fly a visiting professor in to give a workshop, there are no levels of approval or budgets to get cleared, they raise the funds and do it. But without the certification, credibility as a school and as a graduate of the school can suffer (mostly to the parents of the students). When it comes to breaking into the fashion world, the Space can provide a connection or an interview but your talent and attitude is what gets you through the door. An unrestrictive form of certification is in the works but, currently, the credibility of the Creative Space depends on their connections and reputation in the design community alone. With or without certification, Sarah wants the students to be recognized for the quality of their work, not for a certificate.

The Creative Space Beirut Brand

At an exhibition in Kuwait last October, the Creative Space Beirut Ready-to-Wear collection was launched as a new fundraising strategy. Ten pieces of one-size-fits-all that can work for all body shapes due to their loose draping styles. By going into production, they can be sold throughout the year and be a constant source of funding for the Space. This was the beginning of the Creative Space as a brand. All items that are sold are done so under this brand because they are considered products of the open collaboration between students and teachers. The brand is meant to continue post-graduation and encourage alumni to return to teach new students and collaborate all over again.

Kuwait vs. Lebanon

Kuwait welcomed Creative Space Beirut and the “exotic” Lebanese designers’ work with open arms. They were eager to collaborate and put together an exhibition. After speaking at the Nuqat Conference, Sarah was approached by a prominent retailer who wanted to feature the students’ designs in her store. One of the biggest challenges in Lebanon, that became evident after visiting Kuwait, is the lack of support from the local community. Although these blossoming designers are Lebanese and fall within the “underdog breaking through” framework, the Lebanese fashion retailers have been reluctant to carry their designs in their shops. It seems they need a Western stamp of approval before they are willing to empower on-the-cusp talent that could one day be featured in Vogue or the new Elie Saab runway look. Before that happens though, they aren’t willing to pay to feature Lebanese designers’ handmade high-quality pieces in their stores. The Lebanese fashion industry caters to couture and to those who are well-connected or already established; unfortunately, students of the Space do not fall into these categories. Seeing that so many of the big names in the international fashion world are of Lebanese origin, it is sad to see that we are reluctant to boost and praise our own.

Sarah is upfront about the fact that she may not promote the Space enough but she doesn’t seem to be a fan of leveraging the “a free school for students from less fortunate backgrounds” card. She isn’t on board with the language of the sob story; she wants support for talent, not out of pity. She didn’t do that in Kuwait and still had people reach out to her so why aren’t more Lebanese jumping at the opportunity to help the undiscovered?

The Launch of Second St

Second St was launched by Sarah and Tracy Moussi at the end of 2014 as another fundraising strategy to sustain the longevity of the Space. For now, the socially-conscious brand focuses on the reinterpretation of the basic chemise and it gets its name from the fact that it is an alternative path from the exclusive design world, or a second street. It also happens to be the name of the street that Sarah and Tracy lived on while studying at Parsons in NYC.

Although the prices of the shirts are not Vero Moda-esque (they go for around ~190 USD each), you have to keep in mind that:

  1. You are supporting a brand created by local designers
  2. The shirts are original well-studied cuts created by these designers and are not mass produced plain t-shirts
  3. Thirty percent of that fee is going into funding a free design school in Lebanon

It’s a small price to pay when you think about where that money is going and who it’s helping. Second St and some Creative Space Beirut pieces are available at Memory Lane in Mar Mikhael.

If you want to support the Creative Space but can’t fork over that much cash, check out the Dress to Kill Parties. They’re held every few months as another fundraising activity – all the proceeds go to the Creative Space. The last one was held at Behind the Green Door (facing EDL in Mar Mikhael).

Sarah Hermez

It was obvious from her TEDx talk that Sarah was fueling her efforts with an authentic passion that is rare to find. After meeting her in person, I was convinced that this young lady has no idea the kind of change she is creating and has an admirable level of humility; her drive is genuine but she seems to be unaware of the kind of inspiration she (and her team) is to designers who want to do more for the common good, in Lebanon specifically. Something that struck me during her TEDx talk and then again during our morning coffee, was when she was telling me why she decided to move to Lebanon after growing up in Kuwait and studying in NYC. Sarah wanted to put her creativity and effort into something that would lead somewhere, and it wasn’t in the mainstream fashion world. “I knew I wanted to be creative but social justice was very important. For me, it wasn’t a question of where to go. If I wanted to give myself to somewhere, it should be where I come from and a place that has a lot to be done,” and so, with time, through talks with her mentor and co-founder of the Space, Parsons Prof. Caroline Simonelli, a free school in Lebanon was born.

She asked me not to make the post about her and emphasized that she doesn’t like the spotlight. I think she better get used to it because, after being infected by her spirit and hearing about what the team is accomplishing for our community, spotlight is exactly what she deserves.

I am Lebanon

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To start off with, the event that occurred at the Charlie Hebdo office and the events that followed are tragic acts against humanity. Regardless of whether it’s about free speech or anti-Islamic sentiments, people’s lives were taken and that, for any reason, is a crime. The fact that it was an act of terror carried out by Muslims in retaliation to an insulting cartoon is more insulting to the faith than the cartoon itself.

What irked me about this though was how it mobilized the Lebanese people in specific. We should empathize with the French. We should condemn the actions of monsters. We should stand by our fellow man, show support, create a tight-woven link of solidarity. But we should do the same thing when it’s an issue of our own. I couldn’t help but ask, “why doesn’t this happen when it’s our tragedy?” Why are we not as loud when it comes to our own internal struggles? Where are all the Instagram posts and statuses when there are problems that we, as Lebanese, should fight against as a joint front? Given, Instagram and other social media platforms don’t actually do anything tangible and their effectiveness in activism are not the same as voting, implementing policies, holding those responsible accountable, sit-ins, demonstrations, etc. However, I see that the urge to declare your opinion online does form a kind of unspoken bond, an alliance of like-minded individuals. There is a community of people unafraid to say that they think this is an assault against their basic human rights, violent or otherwise. There is a voice and a voice is the main ingredient for a dialogue and a dialogue is the first step toward change.

When my Newsfeed is flooded with articles about a porn star, I wonder why certain things go viral in a country that has so many other issues that need to be discussed. Is it that we rather focus on the unimportant because we feel powerless against the important? But don’t we see what all that chatter on unimportant issues has done? Imagine what a combined effort against one important issue could do. Maybe we’d have a president, power, or a new public park.

It’s not about Beirut being more damaged. It’s not a competition. Showing compassion for another’s misfortune doesn’t mean you are forgetting your own or turning your back on your country. I am Charlie, I am Ahmed, I am anyone you want when it comes to having sympathy for those who have had to face undeserved turmoil and pain. I wish that we would take that same level of action for all things that are unjust violations as citizens, that our energy would be equally focused and invested in incidents that didn’t involve foreign bodies or the boobs attached to them. I am not, in any way, trying to belittle what is happening in France. I just wish that when it came down to tackling our own afflictions (like that of Tripoli today), people would be just as passionately provoked that they would come forward and scream, “I am Lebanon.”

My 15th Year in Lebanon

As the year comes to an end and another one begins, most of us tend to focus on the things we didn’t do or the resolutions we didn’t follow through on. A post I wrote over 2 years ago had a list of things I wanted to do and I STILL haven’t done all of them. Instead of dwelling on “failures”, how about we reflect on the accomplishments and steps forward? Although the idea of a fresh start based on a date on a calendar is cheesy (you don’t need to wait for January 1st to roll around), it’s always good to pause and learn from what your days have led up to. That, or you can just pause every 4 years. I’m going on my 15th year here so I want to reflect on the last one.

For 2014:

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Budapest, Hungary – March 2014

Briefly visited 6 new cities and revisited 3 old ones. I didn’t get to experience all cities equally but I did try with the time that was given to me. I learned to appreciate parts of Dubai after multiple visits but Budapest takes the cake this year. I also realized that I rate hotels in a very illogical way using 3 criteria:

  1. If there is a power outlet and master light switch next to the bed.
  2. The free stationery that I’m taking home as a souvenir (mainly the pen/pencil but gold stars for postcards).
  3. The taco-human quality of the mattress. The mattress is the hard shell and must hug me like I am ground beef.
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Jounieh Teleferique – Oct 2014

Rode the Teleferique in the middle of a thunderstorm. The days when you decide to be batshit crazy are the ones that stay with you. And with your friend who has a fear of heights.

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Christmas Cards at Dar Bistro – Dec 2014

Sold a few cards I designed myself (finally!).

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Chili’s, 10 months ago is too long

Had ribs for the first time because I wanted to be Frank Underwood for an hour. This is an accomplishment in my mind. I still believe Freddy’s exists somewhere and I will find it. If anyone does this, invite me over.

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California Adventure, Disneyland – July 2014

Reconnected with my California roots (and family) only to find that I’m more Arab than I even know and Disneyland is not the same at 26.

For 2015:
– Keeping a logbook
– Starting my line of greeting cards
– Going to Barcelona, Berlin, and a few towns in Morocco (too much?)
– Have more ribs and #justlove.

Check back with me in 360 days to see where I’m at.

Bambi’s Soapbox: Top 5 of 2014

I did not post as much as I would’ve liked this year and I plan on working on that for 2015. Apparently, I post on Sundays the most. And here I am, posting again on a Sunday. How appropriate.

5) Beirut vs. Budapest

4) Samsung S5 vs iPhone 5S

3) Dubai vs. Singapore

2) Lebanon, Would You Miss Me?

TOP POST OF 2014:

1) 5 Eco-Friendly Product Designers in Lebanon

CONTRIBUTING WRITER ON OTHER SITES:

6 Truths About Working in Advertising

A New Movement Fights to Revive Lebanon’s First Railway

I’ve got a lot lined up for this year, including a complete remodel of the blog. Here’s to another year of Sunday Bambi posts, cards, and contributions! Cheers!