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.”

2015, the Year of Hope in Humankind

With full disclosure, I’m an art director at Leo Burnett Beirut and I want to talk about an initiative we’re doing with Pikasso (the guys with the yellow-bordered billboards around town). It’s not because I work there that I write this post; I’m writing about it because it’s a good way to start the year and people should know about this push toward having a different outlook.
Why Pikasso?
Being that they have quite the reach when it comes to mass communication on the roads, Pikasso is the right medium to spread such a message. The Pikasso Network of Hope initiative, in partnership with M&C Saatchi, is giving agencies in Lebanon 100 billboards to spread a message of hope. Leo Burnett, the agency of HumanKind, is using this initiative as a chance to highlight positive news occurring in Lebanon: Hope for HumanKind. 
What’s HumanKind?
The Leo Burnett Network runs according to a philosophy known as “HumanKind.” Besides the fact that it is related to humanity and mankind, HumanKind refers to how creativity can transform human behavior.

Watch the video below for a quick explanation:

Ultimately, the Hope for HumanKind falls in line with what Leo Burnett tries to accomplish every day; it’s about acts, not ads. If spreading a message of hope can affect the Lebanese people’s behavior, we may all benefit in the long run. Even if we don’t get a president, we’d at least be in a better mental state. I’ve noticed that many of us have tried to hang on to the good that is happening rather than the bad because one greatly outweighs the other. If we dwell on all the negatives, we will get nowhere.
The platform will be used to share hopeful stories of Lebanese individuals, institutions, or anything just plain awesome about Lebanon. By liking the Facebook page, you can add a little positivity to your Newsfeed. It’s not a campaign that’s just for the spirit of 2015 – it’s something that will remain as a happiness archive. This trove of hope will be something that will go beyond billboards or Facebook. After all, science has told us that our Newsfeeds affect our mood and how we process our surroundings because it is a source of information we are always accessing. We need a dose or a reminder of what’s good about this crazy place we call home.
Begin your new year with the aim to make it better than the last one, starting with how you look at the world around you.
Happy 2015.

The Little Winery of Bhamdoun: Chateau Belle-Vue

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This year, on Lebanon’s Independence Day, I (along with my dad and sisters) was dragged against my will to a “social function” organized by my mother: a Thanksgiving lunch up in Bhamdoun with her American lady friends. I have nothing against social functions, I just prefer to spend my rainy Saturday mornings tucked in bed until noon. Had she told me that we were heading to the home of Chateau Belle-Vue, a hidden gem in Bhamdoun, I wouldn’t have been so reluctant. And I wouldn’t have worn high-heeled boots and a dress either.

Naji Boutros, Bhamdoun native, and Jill, his American wife, make up the couple that started Chateau Belle-Vue back in 2000 with 3 plots of land. Now with 130 plots, new vineyards are planted every year as they try to keep the lands of Bhamdoun within the 10-12 families of the village. They lease it to fellow historic “Bhamdounians” because they want the owners to have this connection to the soil. “Part of our motivation is that people stay attached to their heritage,” says Jill. The other part, she says, is that there would be enough agricultural momentum to stop urban development. Bhamdoun is desirable real estate since it’s basically a mountain home that’s a 20-minute drive from the city. “We don’t want people to build in the valley; it was always vines and it should always be vines.” Chateau Belle-Vue gets its name from “Hotel Belle-Vue”, the first Bhamdoun hotel that was owned by Naji’s family.

Chateau Belle-Vue was bought from the French government 5 years ago through a bidding process. It used to be the summer residence of the French ambassador to Iraq and Jordan. and also doubles as a bed & breakfast with a common space and 7 rooms, each named after a kind of wine. The common space is used by the community for yoga sessions and serves as a public library. Le Telegraphe, the Chateau’s restaurant that opened 2 years ago, used to be the concierge’s quarters. It’s named “Le Telegraphe” because the location was a telegraph broadcasting “La France Libre” before World War II.  Chateau Belle-Vue aims for “organic and biodynamic agriculture.” The vine terraces of Bhamdoun have always had quite the reputation for good grapes and the village was made up of 4km of terraces back in the day.

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All of Chateau Belle-Vue’s wines are dry wines. It’s placed in French oak barrels for two years, allowing for a red fruit and aged oak intense taste. All grapes are hand-picked and the wine is handmade. No additional yeast is added to the fermentation process. We had a 2007 La Renaissance, which is a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was made up of 4 varieties of red grapes from 2 different parts of the valley. The winery is actually run by a team of women. It wasn’t on purpose but that’s just what ended up happening. According to Esperanza, the Spanish vineyard manager, the grapes of the Merlot that are grown in the northeast part of the valley differ from those in the southwest – that along with other factors (altitude for example) can affect the blend’s final taste. “With wine, everything is about balance,” she says.

The Chateau Belle-Vue wines are sold at the winery and at Vintage in Saifi Village, Beirut. Members of the Chateau Belle-Vue wine club (kids too) can come up during the harvest (August to October) to pick grapes and help in the wine-making process, making it a communal effort to create great wine. When a new wine is launched, members are invited to come try them and they get special delivery privileges.

P.S. Thanksgiving turkey tastes even better after fire-place-melted camembert cheese.

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Touch Surgery: The Flight Simulator of Medical Operations

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At the BDL Accelerate 2014 two-day conference, plastic surgeon Dr. Jean Nehme gave a presentation about an app he co-founded: Touch Surgery. By visually showing doctors (and med students) surgeries step-by-step, they can learn about the process through interactive diagrams of a digital patient rather than read it from a book, wait for a cadaver, or practice on a living patient. It also allows for the patients to understand procedures and what would happen to them if they were to undergo a surgery of some kind. After all, when you have all the information available on the internet, you end up going to Google for medical answers…which is a huge mistake. Touch Surgery provides you with accurate information from credible sources and can show you what will happen by mapping out the entire operation in detail.

It’s got two phases: learning and testing. Learning comes with instructions as the user is taught a procedure with 3D simulations and testing comes without the instructions. And get this, the app is for FREE because, as Dr. Nehme put it, this is the age of the knowledge economy and information should be open and shared.

This is a great use of technology and I can imagine many pre-med students (and med students) using this as a new way to review material and train your brain. When it comes to operating, Dr. Nehme said, “it’s about 75% decision making and 25% technical skill.” The interactive method enables a physician a chance to practice and, thus, be able to operate without having to waste precious time and energy figuring out what the next step is. You eliminate the decision-making pauses and increase efficiency without using up physical resources or risking anyone’s life. The app also indicates things to look out for when someone’s under the knife (like important arteries).

Clearly, this doesn’t rule out shadowing and actual rounds at the hospital. All surgeons need to learn technique and IRL skills. Plus, not all medical situations are predictable and not all patients have a 3D model’s anatomy. There are unexpected complications and specifics that go into each case; however, Touch Surgery is still an excellent app to use when learning the ABC’s of an appendectomy, for example.

THE EXPERTISE
The app is created by practicing surgeons so you know it’s got the doctor’s seal of approval. Since it’s an app for smartphones, it can constantly be updated with new discoveries, experiences from numerous sources, and techniques meaning that it will be cutting edge (no pun intended), unlike an old textbook or an outdated resident. The procedures are downloadable so the possibilities are endless in terms of variety and inventory.

TEAMING UP WITH OCULUS RIFT
The learning isn’t restricted to your fingertips. There are plans to incorporate Oculus Rift headsets into the existing app’s functionality. The virtual reality device would allow for users to enter an operating room and perform a surgery as if it were actually happening. #nerdilicious

My Morning with Edgard Chaya

DSC_0193_2 “Do you like your coffee with or without sugar?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’m not a fan of Turkish coffee. It reminded me of how my teta still asks if I want chai with my eggs on the morning of every Eid even though she knows I don’t like tea. I was never good at being a hardcore Arab. How do you say “no, thanks” to a man who is the embodiment of the Lebanese jiddo? Although my jiddo was more of a Paul Sorvino kind of grandpa, Mr. Edgard Chaya is the man I would imagine when I hear about an artisanal craft that requires patience and pride but has long been locked away in a drawer. He smokes a pipe, wears suspenders with his suit, and tucks a handkerchief in his jacket lapel. He is the essence of Blatt Chaya because he has an old-school aura, as if he is from the time of the tiles that bear his name: a time when elegance was done for one’s self not for everyone else, when it was effortlessly debonair and respected. IMG_7402 I wanted to learn about the process that created these tiles that I’d seen in various places around town. So after shooting an email and making a few calls, there I was, not entirely awake at the Blatt Chaya factory in the industrial quarter of Dekwaneh, meeting with Mr. Chaya for very dark coffee on a very early random Saturday morning. Blatt Chaya has been operating for fifteen years but it took Mr. Chaya four to perfect the technique of producing terrazzo tiles like his great-grandfather. It wasn’t just a matter of finding the old molds but also figuring out how to keep the colors from mixing when removing the metal stencil. Not that he wanted impeccable tiles – Mr. Chaya prefers the ones with mistakes because it makes them human. “Every tile is unique,” he says, because the dyes are mixed each time so the color isn’t always the exact same hue, the molds are manually set, and even the sand used is sifted and laid out to dry by hand. The imperfections that result from this process are evidence that these pieces were made by a person, not a plugged-in machine. DSC_0191 “Finish your coffee and then I’ll walk you through the whole process.” I kept drinking until I tasted the coffee grinds. I realized I’d gone too far to prove I’d finished my cup but it was my initiation into the fraternity of Blatt Chaya: it had to be done if I wanted to make it into the factory. With a small team of 12, the sand is first sifted through a netted strainer to remove all dust and impurities then washed with water five times. The wet sand is set out on fabric in gray cottage cheese-like mounds until it dries, resulting in a fine clean powder. Using the molds within a framing, naturally-colored or dyed cement is poured into the stencil and sealed. The frame is pressed at 130 psi to solidify the tile. After being dried and sanded down to a smooth finish, the environmentally friendly ingredients have become immortalized works of art. Because terrazzo tiles have color within the cement mix, it withstands weathering and deterioration. Unlike painted tiles, the design and color remain as the tile is worn down over time.

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Sifting through the sand

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The sifted and washed sand is laid out to dry

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Sand drying out among the stacked tiles

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Metal molds used as stencils for the cement

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Blatt Chaya’s color palette

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Videos of the process are on my Instagram account

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Four 20x20cm Macanaka tiles come together

Because you can choose the colors you want for each part of the mold, every tile has a different outcome. Once laid together to create the final pattern, it’s a whole new canvas. Even the simplest mold can make an intricate geometric motif once multiplied on a larger scale. On the Blatt Chaya website, you can simulate how your desired pattern will turn out based on the mold and colors you want. I told him I wanted to recreate the tiles of my jiddo’s house in the South and asked him if he would name it after our day3a because each mold is named after an area or village in Lebanon. When I asked Mr. Chaya which mold was his favorite, he told me “I don’t have a favorite, they’re my children.” That’s not far from the truth; one 20 x 20 cm tile is named Macanaka, an amalgam of the names of his children: Maxime, Caline, Nabil, and Karim. He says it takes passion. He says you need to love it for the process because it’s not easy or rewarding. He says that crafts like his family’s are dying out because the number of people who appreciate the art are outnumbered by the number of people who want to make a profit that is easier to get from mass production high-tech factories. He knows that his work is being recognized though. Blatt Chaya has become its own class of tiles in the same way that Kleenex is tissue paper. They’re not interchangeable but they are their own category; when choosing tiles for a home, architects and designers have marble tiles, ceramic tiles, or Blatt Chaya. DSC_0174_2 DSC_0175_2 DSC_0181_2 DSC_0165_2 DSC_0182_2 DSC_0183_2 DSC_0196_2 When asked about expanding, Mr. Chaya is not interested. He wants to preserve the artisanal expertise and you can’t do that if you take on more than you can handle. Will it stay in the family? Fortunately enough, his children, Karim and Caline, are his biggest supporters and the ones who want to continue the Chaya legacy. Karim is a prominent industrial designer who works on new molds and tile designs for the company. Caline’s daughter, Youmna, also has a knack for the business. Besides working with her jiddo, Youmna dabbles in cuisine and recently designed the menu of new Mar Mikhael deli, The Food Dealer, also home to blue Bhorsaf Blatt Chaya. She’s even painted the portrait of her jiddo that hangs in his office, a room appropriately adorned with flawed mismatched tiles.

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Blatt Chaya at The Food Dealer, Mar Mikhael

Screen shot 2014-10-21 at 9.10.39 PM Although I was like a clueless American on a Double Decker tour bus, he was patient with me. When Mr. Chaya was done walking me through the factory and answering all my amateur questions, he left me to take all the photos I want. “Wait no, don’t take photos.” He hosed down all the tiles: “you have to see them the way they truly are, haram not to get the colors.” Perhaps this newfound need it is just part of the vintage trend that is infecting people worldwide. Regardless, I’m all for it if it creates support for an art form that keeps some of our architectural heritage alive. Trendy or not, you won’t be changing your floor tiles ever time the tide shifts. Those cement tiles don’t change with the season, they’re going to grow old with you…but you know they’re going to look damn good doing it. Blatt Chaya Dekwaneh +961 1 695 222

Partying Out of Spite or Ignorance?

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Last month, after attending Wickerpark, a friend abroad said he was impressed that Lebanon was still able to have events full of life when terror was “infesting everything else.”

For a second, I agreed. It was something to be proud of. It was a packed summer night with bands playing by the sea, people shoulder-to-shoulder with beers in hand. That we could have such a lively crowd in the middle of Batroun when the Islamic State was playing hopscotch on our borders was quite the feat. I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s a way to fight back. To prove that Beirut will not topple over and be conquered. I’ve heard it’s a way to distract people from reality, to keep their spirits up in a situation that is out of their control, to keep their quality of life soaring in one aspect since they can’t even expect to have basic utilities available 24/7. After all, how do you stay sane in Beirut when you have every reason to lose it?

In Beirut, you party.

And I say “Beirut” because the country is not acting as one whole unit. Other cities are enduring turmoil while Beirut is in a bubble, disconnected from the other kilometers that make up our 10,452 km dot on the map. These same cities are not as far away as people imagine, it’s just that Lebanon has a different scale of distance since we’re such a small country.

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But then I thought, “what if it’s not out of spite?” Maybe we’re not doing this to say “F*ck Daesh.” What if that’s not the real reason people party? What if the majority have gotten so distracted that they don’t know how bad things may get because they’ve distanced themselves so much from what is really going on? The more you surround yourself with the comforting feeling that nothing’s changed and everything is okay, the more you will begin to believe that nothing is at risk of disappearing. I had heard about the beheading of another Lebanese Army soldier while being at a Decks on the Beach party. People danced the night away and I couldn’t help but wonder if they all knew the news.

I’m tired of this place being known for two extremes mashed together: bombs and hedonism. There is more to us than shrapnel and bikinis. Read Warren Singh-Bartlett’s post on Why Beirut Really Matters. Sure, I go to concerts and parties, and I live my life like nothing’s changed but maybe that’s the problem. Our spirit shouldn’t be sacrificed; I’m not suggesting we should stay indoors and just wait for the shit to hit the fan. I just worry that we may not even see the shit coming until it hits us in the face.

Samsung S5 vs. iPhone 5S

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As said back in March, the guys at Samsung CTC gave me a brand new Samsung Galaxy S5 after I complained about my iPhone’s dying battery while tweeting at ArabNet. About a month later, my white S5 arrived and I began to discover how the other half lives.

Let me start with a massive disclaimer: I love my iPhone. I love Apple products because of their sleek appearance and their intuitive interface design. I use a Macbook, an iPod, and have been an iPhone user since 2012. That’s not a long time but, once I made the switch, that was it. I must also say that I feel it makes sense to use products of the same family because all devices are compatible & easy to sync. I recently upgraded to the 5S so getting an S5 (this is going to get confusing) was the chance to experience what my Android friends always use as ammo in the Apple vs Android debate. What I’m saying is, I’m incredibly biased and a very loyal customer of Apple but I tried to have an open mind about it. The overall use of the phone was not easy to figure out but I assume that that was because I’m used to the iPhone interface so navigating wasn’t simple. BUT, due to this, I saw how efficient Apple is when it comes to creating a system that is designed to mirror how you think it should work.

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COOL

Swipe Keyboard: All Samsung devices have this keyboard option. It allows you to swipe one finger over the letters used to spell a word in one movement. The phone will translate your swipe automatically into the word you’re spelling. It’s pretty accurate too – it even got commandments right.

Beauty Face: This is a camera feature that allows you to adjust the level of airbrushing on the faces in your photos. It’s like it was made for taking perfect selfies. It goes from 1 to 5, 5 being most “beautiful.”

Removable Battery: Upon receiving the phone, I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t turning on until I realized I hadn’t inserted the battery. Yup, bimbo moment. iPhone batteries are built in so when you get the phone, you turn it on and you’re good to go. Samsungs’ are removable which helps when your phone freezes and you need to reset or when you need to replace a fried battery.

Battery life: The battery life is slightly better than the iPhone but, in all fairness, it also takes longer to charge. There’s an app in the Play Store called “Juice Defender” which gives you some options that help you save battery life and reduce use of data networks when the phone is at rest. As my Android friend said, anything that’s missing has an app to make up for it.

Green Packaging: The box the S5 is in is made of 100% recycled material and the printing is with soy ink.

GTalk: Since it’s an Android, having all of Google’s products built into the device is a plus. Besides Gmail and Chrome, GTalk and Hangout is also there. It’s a plus but not a deal breaker since there are so many messenger apps (texting and video) already available on all devices.

NOT-SO-COOL

Data Network Options: The fact that I can’t choose Edge (or any slower connection) means that my data network must be either all or nothing. This isn’t the end of the world but it can be inconvenient when you’re buying a smartphone. The iPhone still has Edge connection when you turn off your 3G so you can still use Whatsapp – this is my method for prolonging my iPhone’s life and reducing my phone bill. When you turn off your data network on any phone, it will prolong battery life so this could also contribute to your Samsung’s battery lasting longer than an iPhone’s, generally speaking.

Sim Card Size: Shifting from the 5S to the S5 took an extra week because I had to find the right sim card adapter. The 5S uses a sim smaller than the nano and the S5 is still at the nano-sim stage. Besides that, the sim’s slot is too tight. You need tweezers to remove the sim card unless there’s a hidden button I missed.

Screen Size: Some appreciate that the Samsung screens are larger and easier to read but I found that the size of the screen made the entire phone too bulky. It’s difficult to use with one hand and my thumb doesn’t reach across the entire screen with ease. I feel the phone’s size is too cumbersome (and that was without a cover), not pocket-friendly, and barely hand-friendly. Perhaps you get used to it or I have small hands. TWSS.

BEST FEATURE

Water-resistant: I wanted to dump the phone in a cup of water to put it to the test but I didn’t have the heart. This may be the only feature that beats the iPhone. In my opinion, this is the best feature since, in the presence of my electronics, my klutzy self and I have become a hydrophobic mess. However, this feature’s not enough to make me switch teams. I will say that a shield of this sort would make the iPhone king of its domain.

Well, that and a better battery life. Apple, are you listening?

Public Parks: The Lebanese Endangered Species

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Another public park is at risk. That statement alone is not entirely accurate seeing that we don’t have that many parks at risk because we don’t actually have that many parks. The Jesuit Garden, which is located in the Rmeil district of Ashrafieh, Beirut is now on the Endangered Species list when it comes to our city’s urban development. The garden, along with various other parts of Ashrafieh (Gemmayzeh, Mar Mikhael, Sursock), is being leveled and converted into a parking lot.

The problem with the Geitawi area is the existing parking lots were dug up and carved out to serve as foundations for the new buildings that have popped up. As a result, the severe lack of parking spots in the already-tight-squeeze-streets has a lot of the neighborhood’s residents and visitors left with nowhere to safely park – or nowhere they can park without losing a side mirror every 2 weeks. I’ve lost 3 in the last 10 months and I don’t even live there. Those responsible for this decision claim that a new park will replace the old one, while parking will be underground. First of all, no one believes that because we’ve never seen any construction project do anything remotely GREEN or beneficial for public space. Second of all, how does that even work? The construction of the parking lot alone would be a major hassle in a place that barely has room for the passage of a Picanto i10 – by the time it’s finished, they’ll ditch the green plans and assume everyone who complained has moved on anyway.

The Jesuit Garden is a place where most senior citizens have their morning sobhiyyehs (friendly rendezvous usually involving gossip) and take their grandkids to play; it is a small quaint park in the middle of Geitawi, the area that is home to Oceanus, St. Georges Hospital, and those old guys that sit on wicker chairs on the sidewalk and argue about…anything. Not too long ago, the Beirut Green Project, the movement responsible for a Green Your Lunch Break initiative where people would go have lunch on an installed piece of grass, joined forces with Paint Up, the colorful crew that’s painting Beirut. They painted the benches of the Jesuit Garden giving it a facelift and revitalizing the spirit of a forgotten little Eden. Check out the photos here taken by Nadim Kamel. Unknown to most, the garden also has a small yet rich French & English public library affiliated with Assabil – The Friends of Public Libraries.

Beirut Green Project is organizing a protest this Saturday. Although the issue of parking in Geitawi is important and cannot be ignored, a solution that creates another problem is not a solution. This is like placing a band-aid on a deep cut that requires stitches; it will only leave a nasty scar on the character of our city. I don’t think that the protest is about the Jesuit Garden alone or in particular, it is about the principle of this demolition. We cannot keep letting these projects destroy what little spaces are left to the public even if they are claimed to be done in the service of the public. We need better solutions for our urban planning disasters but until these sprout from the ground, we need to save what’s still left on this one.

So the question is: to park or not to park?