What’s Left of Khiyam Prison

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Once a French military barracks complex of South Lebanon built in the 1930s, the Israelis converted the Khiyam Lebanese military base into a detention center in 1984. Infamous for the torture of captured members of the resistance, their relatives, and those who refused to cooperate with Israel and the South Lebanon Army (SLA), the 5000 detainees held there never went to trial and at least 15 never made it out alive. Formerly known as the Free Lebanon Army who fought against the PLO, Amal, and Hezbollah, the SLA was a Lebanese militia that operated as the Israeli proxy during the 1985-2000 period. The SLA is known locally in the South as jeish Lahad (Lahad’s army) after Antoine Lahad, the general that took over when the previous leader, Saad Haddad, died in ’84.

The SLA disintegrated in 2000 with the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the prison has been a symbol of the Israeli occupation of the South ever since. After the withdrawal, many SLA members fled to Israel and Europe out of fear of how their fellow Lebanese would feel about their actions when the dust settled.

Israel denies any involvement in what went down in Khiyam and says the SLA did all the dirty work. They just supervised and provided the equipment, training, and funds. According to a Human Rights Watch report, Israeli intelligence agents had direct involvement with the Lebanese interrogators. It also states, “Israel is obligated under international law to hold accountable and prosecute its own citizens and Lebanese nationals who participated in or condoned acts of torture at Khiyam.” Instead, those that fled to Israel are rumored to be living under their protection at the expense of the Israeli taxpayers.

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THE TORTURE 
The 70x70cm bathrooms (seen above) of the military base were converted into solitary cells that left prisoners in complete darkness. Torture ranged from electrocution of the genitals to whipping while tied naked to a flagpole in the blazing sun or freezing cold to being doused in hot and cold water while cuffed blindfolded to window grilles. Prisoners were allowed out in the sun for 15-20 minutes every week or two. The “chicken cage” was a 90 cubic centimeter enclosure for extra-severe forms of punishment.

“In Khiyam prison, we died a hundred times every day.” – Al-Akhbar

The guide of the premises, Ahmad el-Amine, was a prisoner of Khiyam for 4 years. As we passed the pile of stones that was once the cells of 500 female prisoners, he said that the SLA (or the Israelis by contiguity) would sometimes detain the wives, sisters, and mothers of the male prisoners. His wife was an example. Besides those who were working with the resistance, female relatives were also taken in and used as leverage to get prisoners to give up information. They’d tell a male detainee that their mother or wife was in the next room, make rape threats, and force him to listen to her screams until he’d cough up the answers kept secret while under interrogation.

Perhaps the most disturbing part about all the physical and psychological torture was that it was conducted by their compatriots, sometimes their own village neighbors who had joined the SLA.


KHIYAM PRISON TODAY
During the 34-day 2006 war with Israel, in an attempt to erase what happened there, the grounds of the Khiyam Prison were bombed via airstrike. Along with the lives of 4 UN observers, around 65% of the structure was reduced to rubble leaving behind just a few solitary and group cells with their intact bedframes plus vehicles used by the multiple armed groups.

Sitting at the top of a hill overlooking the border towns of Lebanon and just up the street from the municipality building of Khiyam, the remains of the prison receive visitors from all over. Ahmad lives there, giving tours in a yellow branded cap and selling $4 DVDs on the torture and disturbing history of the site. Old trucks and tanks rust near the watchtowers on each corner that now have Hezbollah flags waving from their posts.

If you find yourself in the South, go see it while you still can. If there’s ever another offensive with our favorite foe, they may attempt to strikeout “Khiyam Prison” on their to-do list once and for all.

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Lebanon, I’m Leaving You for LA

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Well, for about 4 months at least.

When I moved here in December of 2000, I was a distraught preteen pissed off that I was being dragged away from Laguna Beach. A visit to Jbeil opened my eyes to a part of my identity I hadn’t yet explored. There was something very soothing about the ruins there; I was just a kid then but I remember being overcome with a sense of belonging. Ever since that gloomy day over sixteen years ago, Jbeil has been a special city for me because it felt like the beginning. There was so much I still didn’t know about who I was, about who I am.

In my quest to figure out where and how to secure a balance between my personal and professional life, I’m prepping for a move back to the golden coast of California. The last few trips there have exacerbated the curiosity to pitch a tent in my other homeland. For the last two years, I couldn’t get myself to leave Beirut (read: Wesley’s) to do it. But now, Dadboss & I have devised a plan where I can volley between the two worlds to grow the business, and live alone as a side effect. This arrangement was what I was trying to formulate unknowingly: a logical justification for leaving that allowed me to stay involved yet detached enough to blossom solo versus hopping on a plane to literally and figuratively find my-unemployed-self somewhere on the coast of the Pacific. This is a solution to the plague of confliction that I have tried to wade through every time I’m about to leave or return to the Mediterranean.

Being a dual citizen creates an itch to explore the options of both lands and I’ve yet to see what it’s like to be an adult in the US. That itch has been a roadblock for me; it’s been there sparkling in the back of my mind, tickling my optic nerve whenever Beirut’s giving me an aneurysm. Whenever the car horns get too loud, whenever the parliament decides to be indecisively ineffective, whenever I can’t find my damn socks in the sea of laundry that is my family home.

Oh, your life is SO hard.

I am not oblivious to the fortune bestowed upon me. To have options and the ability to even entertain flight and relocation is not granted equally across the board. Over a decade & a half in Lebanon and people make it sound like you’ve paid your dues by sticking around when you could’ve left sooner. It’s upsetting that living here is equated to a light prison sentencing of some sort. I will firmly state that choosing to stay in Lebanon is not a choice that should be pitied nor should it be labeled as playing it safe by remaining in a comfort zone. As a young careerist, there is this “cap moment” though. It’s when you feel like you’ve soaked up all you could from this place, when you feel like you’re a big fish in a small pond, and you either need to move elsewhere or embrace that status as a blessing. It could be an inherently Lebanese attitude, born thinking that we’re intended for bigger things. The restlessness has pushed so many of us out. We all know the reasons people leave, I don’t need to reiterate them. The reasons for staying though have become harder to hang on to.

Making the jump across the Atlantic has felt like a selfish wish, a direction that seemed tantalizing only because of the honeymoon-length gasps of fresh air I would get whenever stateside. I’d rationalize that living in CA would not be like those quick visits, that it would get lonely, that I would miss my Beirut’s chaotically beautiful bullshit. But the older I get, the more I want to be sure. The more I want to know that I’m not wasting my time on reruns when I could be writing whole chapters to a brand new book.

Deep down, Beirut is mine. She is all I think of when away and all I want to talk about. But lately, when I’m with her, I feel like she’s not there with me, like she doesn’t care to lift me up, like she’s charging through the station into a wall and I’m left on the platform in the dust wondering where the emergency stop is.

 

As of end of May, I’ll be gone for the summer for the first stage of my bicoastal, bicontinental living situation. This short move, similar to my time in Barcelona but not as temporary or short-lived, will be the beta-testing ground for my desire to transplant to LA full-time. This will tell me if that’s where I want to be and it will give Beirut a chance to win me back. Either way, one thing is certain: Beirut will remain my muse, fueling all that I do and flavoring my days with the olive in my skin.

5 Non-Tinder Ways to Meet People

In the age of workaholics and swipes, it is hard to meet people the old-fashioned way. In Beirut, when you’re at a dinner thing, it’s with people you see every 3-6 days instead of new humans who introduce you to other bubbles.

Here are some options for meeting movers & shakers in this tiny town:

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PC: Hasan Shaaban

A DINNER THING

Every month, two ladies throw a mystery dinner in a mystery location with 20 mystery guests and you have to apply to get a spot. When you #getonthelist, you’re notified that you’ve snagged a seat at the upcoming dinner but you don’t know where the dinner will be held until a few hours before. I’d first heard about this via Vogue’s article on Beirut and, although getting on a list has a pretentious feel as expected when being featured in a luxury publication, the dinners are exquisitely put together, change in terms of theme and style every time, and allow you the opportunity to meet 19 fresh faces in an intimate gathering. Meeting these 19 other strangers (sometimes less because Beirut is the size of a scorpion’s…tail) from various fields is the highlight. The one I attended was a candlelit dinner in a carpentry workshop. I met the Lebanese architect behind the new Mukhi sisters boutique, a brand manager who introduced me to leaves with carpaccio doused in Macallan whisky, a film agent based in the UK who connects directors to projects in our region, and a guy who’s side gigs are the next two activities in this list.

@adinnerthing is what a dinner thing is supposed to entail: encountering the unfamiliar with lots of wine, food, and pretty table settings.

TACOS & DANCING NIGHT

So at A Dinner Thing, I met Mikey Mu who’s an actuary-by-day/event-planner-extraordinaire by night. The first Mikey-event I attended was Tacos & Dancing Night at Taqueria del Jefe in Gemmayzeh. It’s once a month and at random so follow Mikey or me on whatever channel you prefer and stay tuned for the announcement of the next one. Much like the taco joint, it’s a laid back crowd chilling to old school r&b and all the jams that got you through calculus. Was that just me? Math was the only subject I could do to music.

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Born in NYC 3 years ago, afikra is a get-together that features two speakers presenting topics on Arab culture that happens every 4-6 weeks. As of this year, afikra is active in 5 major cities (NYC, DC, Dubai, Montreal, and Beirut) and will be launching in 4 more in the next year.

“The name itself is play on words in colloquial Levantine Arabic. When pronounced a’fikra (or 3afikra) it means “by the way”, but if pronounced a fikra it sounds like the English word “a” and the Arabic word “thought”, as in “a thought”.

Stepping away from the name, the mission of afikra is to create a space where our members can congregate and communally explore topics related to the Arab world. We want to build a community of young curious minds who are interested in promoting intellectualism around these topics.

Anyone can be a speaker, all you do is apply. There’s only one condition: you have to have attended an afikra session before. I’ll be speaking at afikra vol4. SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTIONAL PLUG ON MY OWN BLOG.

Mikey also organizes How Have I Not Seen That?, Freelancer Breakfasts, AND happy hours every other Wednesday at Antwork, a coworking space in Hamra. Follow their page on Facebook to be up-to-date. It’s okay, Mikey makes me feel super unproductive too.

CERVANTES (or any language center)

I just wanted to learn Español para viajar por California but apparently this is a thing guys do to pick up chicks. Well, GOOD FOR US LADIES. Any class or skill you decide to learn will introduce you to fellow curious students. It’s like uni days except most of the people in class are also slaves to The Man. Cervantes offers classes with multiple time slots in their Centre Ville location so you’ll have an excuse to roam through the ghost town at least twice a week.

NRC/NTC

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Obviously, I’m going to mention the free Nike running and training clubs since this is where I adopted so many new BFFs. Ain’t nothing like suffering and sweating together via a healthier lifestyle choice that brings you fun peeps in spandex, amirite?

Bonus: Communal tables at cafes and restaurants. Seriously, they’re hotbeds for social interaction and elbow friction. Meow.

California Got Me So Arab


I don’t know what it is about the golden coast that gets me playing Umm Kalthoum and Abdel Halim while obsessively reading about the shitshow that is Lebanon as of late. Parliament’s third term extension, a tax hike with no benefits, the first domestic-violence death of 2017, more useless world records, and a guy punting cats. I can’t turn a blind eye while away but it doesn’t create this homesickness that pulls you back. Instead, it makes you deflate and wonder what you’re going back to.

A New Yorker article on American small talk hit home (pun intended) as we attended trade shows or, honestly, just headed to CVS for drugstore lipsticks and 12 other products I didn’t plan for. “In the East, I’ve heard it said, there’s intimacy without friendship; in the West, there’s friendship without intimacy.” What a perfect way to sum it up.

When in NYC a few years back, 20 minutes upon arrival, I had my AirBnB host’s Yugoslavian mother tell me about her 22-year old stay in the city and her impending trip to Italy with her new lover. She invited me to come over someday to play ping pong. It was an instant delve into the personal, an instant intimacy that may have come from feeling like outsiders together. She had told me that she felt my Lebanese side, that she could talk to me, that I would understand how people don’t have a natural warmth to them the way that we do. She hugged me goodbye and I never saw her again.

In SoCal, the number of times I’ve had a complete stranger ask me about my day can get a bit unnerving when you’re on the 10th human interaction. Growing up in Beirut has made me more of a New Yorker. You don’ even knaow meh. Stop with the fake niceties and give me my foot cream, kthxbye.

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Funny how the various ingredients of your identity become so pronounced when you’re a foreigner in your own country. Being here seems to bring out the olive in me. I see why our diaspora creates bubbles, why Arabs attend a Mashrou3 Leila concert in downtown LA, why my dad used to host gatherings here that would feature some rendition of dabkeh through the living room to 3aladil3aouna. I see why a Tunisian/Swiss guy at an expo said, I’m so glad there’s a Lebanese here, and hugged me as we parted.

Back in Beirut, you reject your culture while fully submerged in it. You don’t make an effort to be Lebanese because you just are. And with that comes a resentment that is a cocktail of pride and disgust. Why do you have to be so wonderful and f*cked up? Fawda w meshe. I appreciate the structure of the USA, the ease, the insane ticket prices that actually deter rule-breakers. But the devil’s voice tells me, with time, this would bore you. 

Would it though? Or is that me romanticizing the headache I’m returning to? My creative juices haven’t felt this potent in eons. Could it be the physical and mental distance anyone would have from being away from the everyday or is it due to being away from Beirut herself?

Oh Beirut, the way I love you makes me who I am but it may just kill me.
DRAMA. See you soon, boo.

Back in California: Where is My Life Going?

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I feel like I have more headspace while in sunny SoCal. The 10-hour time difference gives me enough quiet minutes to get my to-do list in order while dadboss is snoring in another hemisphere. I don’t have many friends left here so there are less temptations and I’m not a tourist so there’s no major itinerary to follow besides work-related supplier visits. Books and sunshine are my main distractions. However, having so many tete-a-tetes with your own tete makes the content all the more daunting. This self-reflection, this attempt to answer the everlasting question of should I stay or should I go, this search for the cure of stunted adulthood – it can be overwhelming when you’re one year away from that 4-year reevaluation that just so happens to fall on my 30th year of life.

I love being here and it’s not just for the donuts. I love that my thoughts have room to expand like a soap bubble and pop when they’re done. There is no annoying toddler in the form of Lebanese inconveniences coming in to poke the bubble forcing its premature death. To be fair, that may have more to do with the distance from daily life than it does with the California weather and temperament.

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Am I the only one that thinks, okay, I’ll figure this all out when I’m away for a few weeks? As if being detached from your own reality will give you clarity to work out the kinks in your life plan. You look back at home and think, is this where you want to be/are you maximizing your potential/are you meeting the right person/is this it for me/are you okay with it if it is? It would be wonderful if the answers to those questions came in black & white but it feels like gray comes in more than 50 shades. I’m sorry I used that. Won’t happen again.

When I’m away, Beirut is on my mind and when I’m home, I’m looking abroad. Not in the grass-is-greener way but in the am-I-settling way. Being young and untethered, restless and ambitious, hungry and responsible. All these adjectives lead to one: conflicted.

“Small goals.” After a talk with a friend in London who recently had a break from life to figure out life, he said it. Small goals will take some of the pressure off. Baby steps toward moving forward on a personal level so you feel that even if you’re not on the express train, you’re still not stagnant.

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And it’s about the little things. Reading in the backyard. Getting just the right amount of milk in your coffee. Finding that Yeezus shirt on Amazon. Tacos & dancing nights with your homies. Maybe the future needs to stay in the future since we all don’t know what’s ahead, how to get there, or even where we need to go. Or maybe I’m still jet lagged and a reflection session will hit me in the afternoon. At this point, all I can hope for is another good coffee and a good book to go with it.

NTC Beirut: Boys Are Welcome

In the Trump era, equality has taken on an urgency that goes beyond Girl Power laptop stickers and singing along to Beyonce lyrics. As is standard when it comes to gender perks, girls are left out except when it comes to Beirut’s NTC. In a twist of irony, NTC Bey sessions were only available to women; that is, until this month. As of March 1st, Nike Training Club’s classes at UEnergy gyms will now be co-ed as all beasts are considered equal head by ladybeast Diala, the official NTC Trainer.

NTC sessions are so quick and efficient lasting only 50 minutes tops; it’s no wonder the guys were getting jealous they didn’t have access to FREE circuits with a trainer and potential mates (as in “friends,” tihihi). If you ask me, this is great for both sexes. Not only does it allow for another biweekly gathering where you can meet new friends with a common interest in fitness and a healthier lifestyle, something that is lacking in Beirut, but you also get to be pushed by the competitive nature of training. Although biologically speaking, males and females differ in their capacities to lift and strength-train, having supportive bros pushing you to be a fierce ladybeast is always helpful. Did I mention skimping on monthly gym memberships now that you can run & train for free with Nike? For NTC, all you have to do is call the corresponding UEnergy branch on the same day to book a spot.
After 4 months of marathon training, my Nike peeps and I have reached a certain level of camaraderie I haven’t had since my university years. Much like the days when I’d come disheveled wrapped in a ginormous hoodie to Nicely Hall pre-exam having hardly slept, my Nike bros & I have seen each other at our most raw and gross. Suffering together with all masks dropped brings you closer; perhaps closer than those who have only seen the coiffed and carefully curated color-coded version of you. All activities that require bonding via social interaction while your body is undergoing stress lead to formations of tight friendships (basketball, hiking, chopping tabbouli ingredients), especially given that we commune to decompress after long workday nightmares, on and off the road. You’re already in this mindset of shedding bullshit and dropping facades. Ain’t nobody got time for drama. Within NRC or NTC, much like in classrooms, you’ll find people you can connect with without the need to be at the alcoholic watering hole complete with why the heck is this guy talking to me vibe. Don’t get me wrong though, we eat, drink, and be merry. There is one common ground that all my Nike gymrat athletes share: we do all this because we love food. Turns out, coming together to get healthy has helped me find my fellow foodies. Maybe at NTC, you can find your people too. Or you can just come run (and eat) with us regular runners at NRC. I guarantee you’ll be welcomed at both.
March
And NRC runs every M/T/Th 6:34pm at Nike Souks – Downtown Beirut

Finding Your Footwear: Nike Running Shoes 101

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When it comes to material possessions, these three S’s are my kryptonite: sunglasses, stationery, and sneakers. Even before I became a runner, I had too many kicks to count; running just gave me an excuse to go full throttle on the athleisure trend, to the point where friends flat out tell me not to wear Nikes on dates or upscale outings.

But what I never understood pre-NRC was that, when you were looking for more than a pearly pair of white AF1s, you had to look beyond the exterior of a shoe. When it came to running or training, you needed to ignore aesthetics and get to know the shoe: it’s all about inner beauty. After blisters, black toenails, and swaths of BodyGlide, you learn that picking the right shoe for your body and activity is essential to your performance and continued dedication to a sport. It’s kinda like love: you can try to force it but, if you’re not the right fit for each other, it’s just torture that will end with you on the couch avec a tub of Chunky Monkey.

As I learned last year, finding your one shoe love can be a tough and expensive lesson if you don’t do an online background check. I’m going to give you a cheat sheet here to save you the trouble. Don’t sweat over getting the shoes, sweat when using them.

BUT FIRST, most models have an upper mesh for breathability while the heels have responsive cushioning but Nike has patented technologies when it comes to the engineering of their footwear. Before we get to the goods, here’s a quick vocab lesson:

Free: allowing your bare foot to do what it does naturally but with protection
Lunarlon: 30 percent lighter than traditional Phylon and allows the force of impact to be evenly distributed
Flywire: strategically placed filaments that function like cables on a suspension bridge to offer support precisely where it’s needed
Zoom Air: durable airpockets that reduce the force of impact and return to original shape to brace for the next round
Dynamic Support: more soft foam on the lateral side for cushioning and more firm foam on the medial side for support

Now, there are three main categories of running shoes: run stronger/faster/longer. Anyone who does 5Ks or more regularly should go to the “faster” category. Let’s associate each with one word to break it down.

Run Stronger: flexible
(Nike Free RN/Motion/Distance/or FlyKnit)
Free RN: Free outsole and soft foam cushioning
Motion: Free midsole & outsole plus dual-density cushioning
Distance:
Lunarlon midsole with upper mesh of Flywire cables
FlyKnit:
Fits like a sock with Free outsole and soft foam cushioning



Run Faster: lightweight
(Nike Air Zoom Elite/Pegasus/Structure/FlyKnit/Streak/Wildhorse)
Elite: forefoot Zoom Air unit and Flywire mesh
Pegasus: two Zoom Air units (1 forefoot & 1 heel) with lighter
Structure: Dynamic Support in the midsole and more overall stability
FlyKnit: Fits like a sock but is mid-cut so your foot is locked in and ready for speed
Streak: a FlyKnit model with Flywire cables, Zoom Air unit in heel, and anatomical toe shape and midfoot shank for power and propulsion
Wildhorse:
Dynamic Fit with rock plate in forefoot to protect from rough terrain, rubber forefoot for wet tracks, abrasion resistant mesh, ideal for trail runners

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Fun fact: Allyson Felix’s kryptonite is Hot Cheetos and Ben & Jerry’s Oatmeal Cookie Chunk. Essentially, it’s like we’re the same person.

Run Longer: cushioned 
(Nike LunarTempo/LunarGlide/Air Zoom Vomero/Air Zoom Odyssey/LunarEpic FlyKnit/Airmax/Zoom All Out)
LunarTempo: Lunarlon cushioning, midfoot Flywire cables
LunarGlide: Lunarlon laser cuts on the sole, Dynamic Support cushioning
Vomero: double Zoom Air units in front & back, Flywire cables, and ankle support
Zoom Odyssey: triple-density Dynamic Support on the midsole, heel & forefoot Zoom Air units, Flywire upper mesh
LunarEpic FlyKnit: Lunarlon laser cuts on the sole, pressure mapped outsole for targeted cushioning
Airmax: full-length max air unit, polyester yarn body, waffle pattern outsole for even weight distribution, Flywire cables for dynamic fit
Zoom All Out: Asymmetrical Flywire cables for midfoot support, fits like a sock, waffle rubber outsole, segmented rubber crash rail

Nike models come out every year and runners await to see the colors, adjustments, and slight upgrades. Much like the iOs updates, auto body kits, or Pantone color of the year, based on research & design, Nike comes out with enhanced versions of running shoes every March and September. Pegasus is already on its 33rd iteration. Once a year is around the average time you should go for a new pair but trading in your sneaks is based on how much mileage they get. At around 400K, they’ll be worn down enough that your soles are going to need fresh cushion and you can track that by tagging your shoes on the Nike+ Running app in case you’re too much of a wa7esh to notice the pain.

Although heavier than other models, I’m a Vomero gal. I’m waiting for the 12s softer Lunar midsole and firmer cushioning so I can retire my half marathon 11s.  Remember, you can keep your older kicks for hikes and outdoor activities, strength training sessions at the gym, or donate them to the Beirut Marathon Association.