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.

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.

It’s Our Country

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Photo Credit: John Ajaltouni

The recent issue with Sukleen – no garbage pick-up all weekend – has left our capital city’s trash bins overflowing with its residents’ garbage. I took a Sunday drive today and couldn’t help but feel that this epidemic seems like an analogy of how we have been responding to our country’s failures in general. We know the garbage is not going to be collected but we continue to let it accumulate in the designated spots. We keep following the drill, stacking the bags on top or just compressing the existing ones to make more room. Some people have even resorted to burning the contents to make room. The bins drown in waste surrounded by rat poison while we Instagram the carnage and add #Lebanon.

We document, we complain, and we continue with our lives. We repeat the same mistakes and the same behavior. We throw away our trash and let it create mountains of repulsive rotting rubbish in the middle of our city because we assume that someone else will take care of it. Someone else will do something.

Maybe in this case, the case of Sukleen and Naameh, it is someone else’s battle. Maybe it’s the Ministry of Environment’s fault? What can we do about it anyway? I am no better than anyone else. I do the same thing: try to live my life and think that, perhaps, someone else who’s responsible for this – not me or you – will fix it and it’ll all blow over.

But who says we’re not responsible? It’s our country after all, isn’t it?

Bambi’s Soapbox: Top 5 of 2013

Below are the top 5 posts of Bambi’s Soapbox based on WordPress stats. Unfortunately, the theme of my blog makes the numbers a bit off aaaaaand the newer posts haven’t had time to bounce around as long as the older ones but these are the numbers:

5) Dear Britain: An Alternative Reply From Lebanon (356 views, 14 likes)

4) 10 Architectural Wonders of Singapore (482 views, 10 likes)

3) Going Off-track: Rayak Train Station (853 views, 28 likes)

2) What Lebanon Could Be (928 views, 85 likes)

NUMBER ONE BLOGPOST OF 2013:

1.) Why Do You Stay? (1,859 views, 394 likes)

Happy 2014 to everyone – may it bring better days to our beautiful little slice off the Mediterranean. 

I am NOT a martyr

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A movement has started on Facebook. The page “I am NOT a martyr” is dedicated to those who are frustrated with our situation and tired of being collateral damage to the violence we never asked for.

It’s simple, post a selfie with a proclamation of something you want/don’t want in your country and add #notamartyr. You’re not a martyr unless you choose to die for a cause you believe in in the hope for change. When you die for others’ “causes”, you’re a victim.

Take back your country. It’s not a huge act, but it’s a start.

How Close is Too Close?

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This question keeps popping up in my head. When these assassinations and tragedies occur, I wonder “how long do you wait until it hurts someone you love?” How long do you choose to continue living in this situation until another strikes and it hurts someone you care about? There is no safety. “Stay home” they say, but you don’t even know if that is where there is no danger. When you’re afraid that the road home – the road that is supposed to lead you to your haven, the place that you feel untouchable and safe- is booby trapped, when that road is compromised and you are scared for your life every morning, when you can’t cruise for fear that your careless waste of gas may actually lead to death or destruction – all of these daily activities that should be normal…

When the bombs get closer, and not in a geographic sense, it all becomes hazy. When it could be your own father, your best friend, your colleague that you walk to work with from the parking lot every morning. When they are the ones in danger, you wake up. The problem is that it’s always someone’s father or someone’s friend. Do you wait until it’s your own to act? Do you wait until it’s a personal tragedy to fight for change or leave the country? Not to sound morbid but considering the size of our country and the fact that Lebanon’s degree of separation is 2 rather than 6 combined with the rate at which these horrible things are happening, it is only a matter of time before it hurts you or someone you know in a life-changing manner.

I’m so tired of typing words like this.
It’s always a personal tragedy. It’s always too close. When people die, it’s always too close.

5 Signs It’s Christmas in Lebanon

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1. Airport Check-ins
…or Facebook statuses that say “Beirut.” The time has come for everyone to fly in for two weeks and have mana2eesh, fateh, and hangovers all while still getting over their jetlag. Some only have four days to see friends, Faraya, and their 35 cousins. Suddenly, bars have customers over the age of 21 because all the Lebanese youth are in town again.

2. Traffic
The flood of visitors who want to be out and about, the shoppers who need to grab gifts and cook dinners, and the poor employees who decided to work through the holiday season – they all get sucked into another dimension where time stops and you’re frozen somewhere between Ashrafieh and Zouk. There’s some distant sound of bells and Nemr Abou Nassar but you’re not quite sure if it’s Christmas time or you’re just trapped in the Matrix. WHY IS EVERYONE HONKING IF NO ONE CAN MOOOOOOOOVE…

3. Dinner Parties
Brunches, lunches, and holiday gatherings. So many wine bottles, poinsettias, and gift-wrapped chocolate sets going around and so many dinners that you’re in a food coma for 14 days straight. Have a second slice of pie and don’t let the haters stop you from doing your thing. And don’t wear anything skin-tight until April.

4. Snowing in Kfardebian
Pictures of snow. Snow on roofs of cars and melted piles of it on the highways. Face-mask tans. People canceling plans because they’re in Arez. EVERY OTHER PICTURE ON INSTAGRAM. This message also comes in the form of an email from Classic Burger Joint: “Now Grilling in Kfardebian.” Winter is no longer coming Stark, it’s here. *slurps Coke* #snow

5. SMS Flood
Kilo biftek bi 5,500 min TSC, Buche de Noel bi 29,999 min Spinney’s, Escalope bi 3000 min Abu Tony. Oh yeah, and Happy Holidays.

Dear Britain: An Alternative Reply from Lebanon

our Banksy replica, Mar Mikhael

our Banksy replica, Mar Mikhael

Dear Britain,

We appreciate the letter and thank you for the Independence Day wishes. Coming from a country that is fully equipped with a public transport system, functional infrastructure, as well as separation of church & state – well, we’re grateful for your advice.

It is true, we need to stop listening to everyone else and focus on ourself. However, maybe we can learn from each other. The fact that you have a reputation for raising our youth (the school systems, the language, and eventually adopting them when they arrive on your shores for graduate programs) is just one of the many things we could try to implement in our own way. If we invest in our rising stock of brainpower, we may have a fighting chance at becoming a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, we are good at networking in a world that will be built on networks but this cannot be used to allow a mass exodus of an intelligent and capable workforce. Unfortunately, one of our best exports is our bright minds and so many of our neighboring countries are benefiting from that.

Like most countries, we have many people that are not as privileged as others. These are the people that need the most empowering, employment, and empathy – such things that are out of reach because our government is in limbo and crippled at its best. Perhaps we are “so much better than we admit” but, in all honesty, being humble is not one of our strong points. You are right when you say that we should prioritize Lebanese interests and demand more from our leaders. That’s not a statement coming from a “higher power”, it’s common sense; yet another thing that is not our specialty.

Although we are aware that your motives for writing such a letter may be also in your best interests, as a population, we should learn when to embrace any form of support when we are on our knees and in need of someone in our corner.  We know how the public scene works and how difficult it can be as a foreigner who tries to appeal to the masses. We know your a busy-body that gets a lot of attention on social media. We know your representative donated blood on the day of the Bir Hassan explosion. We know you reach out to our youth and have conversations with them, making them feel like their opinions matter; this is something we have yet to master. Regardless of why, thank you for setting a good example.

Anyway, thanks again for the letter but we have to wrap this up – we’ve got a lot to do and tomorrow’s the first day of our new chapter.
Allah yberek fikon w kilkon zo2,
Lebanon

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Using achievements of the past or petty remarks about dental hygiene is no way to justify any form of condescension. Just be thankful and continue to work hard on your own efforts toward making Lebanon better.

#70ActsToUnite

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In light of all that has happened this year, I don’t think celebrations should occur to commemorate our nation’s 70th Independence Day. However, since it is a day that is supposed to be a symbol of patriotic pride and a reminder of national unity (both of which are things we always need more of), there are things you can do to celebrate in a way that gives back.

In the past few years, I have read about many instances where people have decided to “pay it forward” in honor of someone’s passing. “Paying it forward”, made popular by the 2000 film, is the act of spreading kindness that will cause the recipient to do another random act of kindness to someone else as their form of “payment.” As a result, you have a snowball effect of good deeds.

Lebanon is in need of random acts of unification. We are walking on a tightrope while blindfolded because we don’t want to acknowledge the reality or because we have become too numb to a stable level of instability. It is our differences that make us Lebanese and it is our differences that makes us beautiful. The forces that are creating this fear and causing this destruction are not Lebanon. The people who want to enjoy a barbecue at their grandparents’ house on Sunday are Lebanon. The people who want to build a future are Lebanon. We are Lebanon.

In honor of the lives lost, let’s start acting like a community that has a common fundamental belief:

My family and friends deserve to lead a happy and safe existence.

Hopefully, these acts will catch on and inspire others to do good things to their fellow Lebanese for no other reason other than we are one. On the larger scale, maybe this will not make a difference but you will be spreading the idea of unification and brightening at least one person’s day. That, in a country that is so infused with worry for what lies ahead, is priceless.

Examples:

  • Tape a dollar to a vending machine with an anonymous “have a break, have a KitKat” note
  • Donate blood with DSC Lebanon
  • Suspended coffees or meals (or leave money for the next person’s parking tab)
  • Buy a falafel sandwich for a homeless person
  • Leave a nice note/doodle for a stranger on their windshield, they’ll think it’s a ticket so it’ll be a great surprise
  • Ask someone about their holiday traditions
  • Pull a Jerome Jarre on a stranger (just make them smile)

You get the idea. Let’s get something going – share your deed on Twitter/Instagram and spread the love #70ActsToUnite #Lebanon