Tag Archives: Lebanon

The foreigners’ guide to moving to Beirut, part 1

I’m amazed that even though I’ve been away for over two months now, I still receive emails from people seeking advice about moving to Beirut. (I especially love the emails from concerned parents and grandparents!) I’m truly flattered that people trust my judgement so much..and while I always try to answer their questions to the best of my knowledge, I know that I’m most probably overlooking a few things. Which is why I decided to write this post and open it up to everyone willing to contribute in the hopes of making foreigners’ lives in Beirut a liiiiitle bit easier. (Come on now, we know they need all help they can get!)

So, let’s get started, shall we?

What to pack

The first time I came to the party capital of the Middle East, I came with one mission, and one mission only: to party. And party I did. The nightlife reminded me so much of South Beach..the gorgeous people, the fashion, the sexiness..admittedly my first trip to Beirut was very one-sided and was a poor measure of what it was like to live there. But that’s obvious right? Vacationing somewhere is always different from living there. This couldn’t be MORE true in the case of Lebanon. Anyway, I digress.

Palais, Beirut

My first night at Palais (It was Crystal back then..)

Palais, Beirut

This is Beiruuuuuuut!

The second time I headed to Beirut, I packed for what was supposed to be a month long trip. Little did I know that one month would turn into a year and a half! But, let’s just say I packed mainly based on what my experience in Beirut was like the first time around..and hey, I’m from Miami,,so can you blame me? My suitcase was stuffed to the brim with wayyy too many going out outfits, high heels, and things that were very impractical (unless you are going to a bar/nightclub) by American standards. Now, as a woman, I must warn you that Lebanese women have a tendency to err on the side of fabulous – every day, all day. And while I like to play dress up, I like to reserve certain items of clothing for night time only. I can’t say the same for some Lebanese ladies out there!

At first, I felt like I could do what the Lebanese do. But when I moved to Hamra (for those of you who don’t know, think University neighborhood, lots of walking, uneven/slippery pavement, and taxis, etc etc) I quickly traded in my high heels for flats (and oftentimes sneakers..GASP! ), ..and my super fitted clothing for something a bit more free-flowing and comfortable. Hey, if you feel like you have what it takes to play Lebanese dress-up, more power to you..but if you’re anything like me..here is what I recommend you pack:

  • Lots of comfortable , breathable clothes for the summer - Comfortable does NOT mean sloppy. The Lebanese are very image conscious people. Fashion, style, and beauty are woven into the very fabric of their society. Also, there are certain parts of the city where wearing “more” clothes is advised. (At least that’s how I felt at times. Bring a bit of everything, and always make sure to have a cardigan close by..as you get to know the neighborhood you’re living in, you will be able to gauge what’s appropriate and what’s not.) You should probably keep the daisy dukes and the micro mini skirts at home. From what I saw, jeans were the order of the day, even in summer. Keep this in mind when you’re packing. Oh and please,, leave the birkenstocks and jansport backpacks at HOME!
  • Coats, jackets, sweaters, leggings, scarves, rainboots, and fashion boots for winter – It actually gets quite cold in Beirut! And really really really wet! Coming from Miami, I didn’t even pack a sweatshirt..so, needless to say, I ended up having to buy everything when I was there. Not fun..especially when you’re working on a Lebanese salary! So, bring winter clothes!! Ladies, Lebanese women LOVE LOVE LOVE their winter boots. If there is one thing I would recommend buying in Lebanon, it would be a pair of boots..they’re really stylish and uber chic. Fashion boutiques are everywhere in the city, you won’t be hardpressed to find one.
Rainboots Lebanon

pack some rainboots!

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  • Going out/partying attire – Ok,this really varies. You have every type of nightlife you could ever imagine in Beirut. Check out Beirut Nightlife for a full listing of all of the places to hit up in the city. If you’re going to a rooftop or club, you should know that bouncers are very discriminating. You have to look hot..South Beach hot..but always with class! Ladies, you know what that means..Fellas, button downs and dress shoes. always. If you’re more into the casual bar scene, you have plenty to choose from as well. If you’re going to Gemmayze, I’d say dress casual chic. In Hamra, anything goes. Hell, I’ve even gone to a bar straight from the gym. Fierce. I know. If you’re invited to a house party (or as some ppl call them, open house), or other semi-formal function I’d say (as a lady) to always wear heels. Some ppl might argue with me on this one,, but this is my experience!
Flats vs. heels

I'd say to choose the heels! It's Beirut after all!

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  • Multiple pairs of walking shoes, they will wear out with in 1-2 months – Unless you’re PAID and can afford to be chauffeured everywhere, you will be doing a whole hell of a lot of walking in Beirut. Stylish flats, fashion sneakers, workout sneakers are the way to go for everyday wear..In my opinion the shoe selection in Lebanon is pretty poor unless you can afford to buy from some of the local designers. The same goes for clothes  actually! Yes you have H&M, Vero Moda, Zara, and the like..but the price vs. quality ratio just doesn’t compute. I found that the clothes I bought in Lebanon washed, faded, or were completely destroyed after only a few washes. This probably has more to do with the quality of the water, and the fact that my washing machine was like 100 years old..but STILL! And at $30 or so dollars a shirt, you can see how this habit gets expensive. If money is not an object and you shop D&G, Versace, and Prada, disregard this last statement! You will find everything you could ever desire at Beirut Souks and/or Aishti)
Hamra Main Street

Hamra main street. I must've walked up and down this street at least a million times.

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  • Bathing suits, beachwear, sunglasses, sandals (Obviously! You’re on the Mediterranean bizznitches!) ladies, some wedge heels and nice summer dresses and rompers (altho i personally hate them) always work wonders too.. :) If you’re the poolside party type..it’s best to pack as if you were moving to Miami Beach..fabulous swimwear, coverups, and shades.) Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a free public beach in Beirut. If you want to get some sun, be prepared to spend around $25 just for entry for some version of the below (see pic). If you are really craving the beach, you will have to drive about 25-30 minutes outside of Beirut where you will find more “casual” (I guess that’s the right word) beaches..which you will stay have to pay to enter. (suxxx I know..having to pay for something that should be free.)
Riviera-Beach-Lounge-

Riviera Beach Lounge in Beirut

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  • Active wear – There is much more to Lebanon than drinking and partying..so make sure to pack some active wear as well!! There is a plethora of historical, cultural, and natural sights that you will have to visit during your time in Lebanon! Don’t go back home until you’ve seen the ancient ruins of Baalbeck, Anjaar, and Tyre as well as the Beiteddine palace, and Byblos – rumored to be the oldest inhabited city in the world (and my favorite!). You should also take a visit to Tripoli and go see the Cedars! And lastly, there are also a lot of groups that go hiking, like Vamos Todos. soo..pack accordingly!
  • Medication  – this is a tricky one. I’ve heard some horror stories about pharmacies and pharmacists giving out wrong prescriptions in Beirut, and I’ve had some pretty uncomfortable experiences myself.  For those of you used to CVS, Walgreens and the like..you’re in for a rude awakening. You will need to get accustomed to asking the pharmacist for everything. A lot of the things that you can pick up off the shelf in the States, are actually behind the counter in Leb. And while I don’t want to be responsible for turning you off pharmacies altogether, I would suggest you try and get as many refills as possible prior to your move. orrrrrr at least until you find a doctor and pharmacy you can trust. Ladies/Gents..you should know that birth control is available without a prescription for around $15. Be safe my friends!
  • Electronics – Apart from big ticket items (like laptops/ipods/ipads/digital cameras which I assume will be brought with you from home), I recommend buying everything electronic in Beirut. When charging your electronics, make sure to keep in mind that Lebanon runs on 220 voltage. I learned that the hard way when my blowdryer nearly burst into flames and my laptop screen began flickering!! For more information on voltage and plugs in Lebanon check out this site. Make sure to travel with a universal adapter just to be on the safe side. Also, keep in mind that unless you live in a building with a generator, power comes and goes every day, and sometimes, multiple times a day. As a measure of safety, I always unplugged all of my electronics before I left home. Also, if you lose your ipod or Mac charger, they are very easy to find in Beirut.
Dryer catching on fire..

you don't want to be drying your hair with this..trust me!

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  • Cellphones – Obviously, if you’re phone isn’t unlocked, you won’t be able to use it in Lebanon. Now, there are people who can unlock it for you, but I can’t guarantee that they know what they’re doing or that you’re phone will ever be the same. I came to Lebanon with an iPhone, but ended up buying a Blackberry since everyone and their mother is on bb. You can buy an unlocked Blackberry in Lebanon for around $100 if my memory serves me correctly..to me that’s the best bet. Also, for those of you who are used to fixed/postpaid lines, you will have to get accustom to buying prepaid phone cards in increments of $9 $12 or $21 from one of the two telecommunication providers in Lebanon, MTC or Alfa. (Getting a fixed line in Leb as a foreigner is very difficult, near to impossible from what I was told.) Cell phone stores are everywhere in Beirut..like every 5 steps everywhere. You can also buy phone cards from most supermarkets and corner stores..just ask the check out clerk for them. Telecommunication rates in Lebanon are among some of the highest in the world. You will be doing a lot more texting (or bbming) than talking while you’re in Beirut. #fact Ohhh, and how could I forget? You can also buy your phone number if you feel so inclined, like if you’re one of those guys who thinks having 69 in your phone number makes you sexy.. The numbers for sale will look something like this:
Cellphones Beirut

numbers for sale..

  • Toiletries/Makeup/Hair products/Household items – you can get everything you need in Beirut.

I think that just about sums it up! I know that many of these things may seem a bit obvious, but judging from some of the emails I’ve received..you’d be surprised! If I’ve overlooked something or described something inaccurately, help a sista out! Leave it in the comments below..and look out for part 2 of the foreigners’ guide to moving to Beirut!

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The day I was detained in the Bekaa Valley.

*I’ve had this post in my drafts since May. Considering the problems I was having with my passport at the time, I was too afraid to post it while I was in Lebanon ..but now that I’m home safely in Miami, I thought it was a good time to finally share this experience.

Not even 24 hours after coming back from my Euro Trip, @fadyroumieh and I decided to spend the day at a winery in the Bekaa Valley. I wasn’t quite ready to end my vacation, and a visit to a boutique winery in the heart of the Bekaa Valley sounded really enticing.

We felt transported to another world as we took a tour of the vineyard, feasted on organically grown food, sipped on delightful wine, and chatted to French tourists about their impression of Lebanon.  As we headed back to Beirut, still tipsy from the day’s festivities, the taxi that @fadyroumieh and I took to get home was randomly selected to be searched at a check point in Dahr al Baydar.  (I later found out that Dahr al Baydar is known to be one of the worst checkpoints in Lebanon.  Thank GOD I didn’t know that at the time.  The taxi driver later told us that the officers search 1 in every 1,000 cars.  It was our lucky day it seems.). Perhaps the two passengers looking a bit too happy aroused some sort of suspicion? I’ll never know.

At first, I tried my best not to think anything of it. “This is routine! Nothing could possibly happen.”  But my calm quickly turned into fear when I realized I didn’t have my passport, nor a copy of my passport on me..only my Florida driver’s license.  “Shit! For sure they’re going to have a problem with this..” I thought to myself as I handed my license to one of the police officers in military fatigues (which are way more intimidating might I add, than the police uniforms I’m accustomed to).

Typical police attire and props in Lebanon

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Typical police officers in the US. Now you tell me, which is more intimidating?

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To my right, Fady followed suit, handing his ID to the officer.

So much was going through my head that I failed to realize that Fady’s iPad was sitting on my lap, and my laptop was to my right..immediately drawing way too much attention to themselves.  By the time I realized what was happening, Fady was being pulled out of the taxi and dragged into the police station.

My throat tightened, my heart pumped, and my pulse quickened as a group of policemen asked me to get out of the car so that they could look through my belongings and the taxi we were in.  That’s when another alarming thought occurred to me…(aside from what they were about to do to Fady).  What if the taxi we were in was transporting drugs/weapons?  Fady and I had been dropped off by someone from the winery to this random taxi driver (who was his relative or something)..in retrospect we probably should’ve ordered our own taxi considering the region we were in.  I could almost hear my Mother on the other end of the phone..”What do you MEAN you’re in jail in Lebanon?!?!?!?” (Ironically, those were the last words she spoke to me when we parted ways not even a day ago at the airport in Barcelona).

But thankfully, the taxi and driver were both clean. (wheeeeewwwww! what a relief!)  As was I.  (But we all knew that, right?)

I was then handed back my license and given the clearance to sit back in the taxi and wait to see what was going to happen next. Not even 5 seconds later, Fady came out of the police station.. escorted by a police officer who wouldn’t let him go.

I almost didn’t recognize him.  His face had lost all of its color and he was swirming from the discomfort of the policeman’s grasp..visibly in pain.  I thought he was either going to faint, throw up, scream, cry..or all four at once. “Shit. Shit. Shit.” I thought to myself.

Fady came to my window, frantic..trying his best to explain to me what was going on.. All I could understand was that they were detaining him for 2 unpaid tickets..but would refuse to tell him when and where the citations occurred. I wasn’t really paying attention to the words that were coming out of his mouth. All I could focus on was how uncomfortable he looked.. He pleading with the officers to let him go (literally) and let me go back to Beirut..but to no avail. I urged him to keep his cool,…but he persisted.  Which immediately aroused even more suspicion.  The officers told me to get out of the car (again) as they went back into the taxi, trying their best to find SOMETHING..ANYTHING to pin on us. Digging up into the crevices of the seats, looking under the mats, searching the pockets, and the trunk. They were convinced we were hiding something.

One of the officers took a liking to my purse,.paying special attention to the bills in my wallet.  And since Fady had no money on him, they were probably trying to see how much they could get out of this little incident.  Seeing that I had a whopping 150,000 on me, they refused to let me go back to Beirut (not that I would’ve left Fady by himself anyway) and escorted me and Fady to the police station for further questioning.

According to the officers, the tickets had been issued 6 years ago and Fady hadn’t paid them…OR (and the more likely case being) the people that Fady had settled the ticket with, forgot (or neglected) to update the record..resulting in a misdemeanor on Fady’s record for longstanding unpaid tickets!!

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. “Are these people serious?” I said to Fady.

Fady turned to me and said, “This is Lebanon.”

Before I knew it, there I was..sitting on a bed that looked like it had seen too many bodies..eyes peeled and ears perked as I made a mental note of everything that was happening around me.  I sketched the features of the officer that was questioning Fady, the movie that was playing on the 6-inch TV, the phone on the desk that was being held together by scotch tape, the papers on the wall stained with age, the fax machine that was being held together with a rock.  I had to.  I would have to be the one to somehow recount the details if anything happened to Fady.  I tried my best to remain calm, but my heart beat clouded my thoughts.

Surprisingly (and thankfully!), the officers let Fady use his phone, which he used to immediately call his parents.  I couldn’t help but think what I would’ve done if I were in Fady’s place.  I didn’t have my passport (the authorities had confiscated it upon my return to Lebanon..that’s a whole ‘nother story!), my phone was dead, I have no connections, and I’m not exactly packing the dough if you know what I mean.  So in a nutshell, I would’ve been f*$%ed!  Majorly.

Fortunately..Fady is a bit better connected than I am.  He was able to get through to his Dad, who then made some calls to some very important people on our behalf.

After about a half an hour of back and forth explanations, half translations, phone calls, scribbles on a piece of paper, and faxes.. our luck had changed for the better!  Fady was now being addressed to as “Master” and one of the police officers who had previously roughed him up even made us COFFEE!

Seriously? WTF.

My head was spinning.

What the hell is going on?” I asked Fady.

Well it seems like they’ll release us soon..I have to go to court in Tripoli to settle the charges..but for now everything seems to be ok.

And sure enough, we were escorted back outside where our taxi driver had patiently waited for our release. We hopped in and shut the doors,,stunned by what had just happened. How could such a beautiful day have turned so terribly wrong?

We drove back into Beirut in silence. Too drained to talk about anything. Well, that’s not entirely true. Fady did say he won’t be visiting the Bekaa Valley ever again. I wonder if he still feels that way.

And to think that just before I got on the plane to head back to Lebanon my Mom looked me square in the eyes and said, “Just don’t call me and tell me your in a jail somewhere in Lebanon, ok?” And for that reason, I never told her about this experience..until now that is. Sorry for keeping this from you Mom! I just wanted to spare you the worry!

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My Lebanese stamp collection

Passport stamps

Isn't this a beautiful sight?

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There is something rather special about getting a stamp in your passport. It signifies travel, movement, change, adventure, escape, fun. Maybe not all the time (for those of you who travel a lot for work), but at least some of the time (I hope!).

That being said, it can get rather annoying when Immigration (aka. General Security) in a certain country..(::cough::cough::LEBANON::cough::cough) seems to have a rather peculiar obsession with your passport. Sometimes, keeping it for weeks on end! ..Only to return it to you full of useless stamps (which signify nothing but bureaucracy), which they then require you to pay for! Pffffffff…

All of this to say, I had to pay a pretty hefty fee to add more pages to my passport thanks to the darlings over at General Security and their obsession with stamps. Which got me thinking..maybe I should get into the stamps business?

Anyway, I got my passport back in the mail today (you have no idea how much I’ve come to appreciate this  type of service)..and while it’s nowhere near as slim as it used to be (it won’t even close!)..I at least have 48 brand new, unstamped pages for General Security to play with! That should keep them occupied for a while, right? Like, ..I’m thinking at least a year.

Adding pages to passport

Thanks General Security!

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5 life lessons Lebanon has taught me.

There is a very good chance I will be heading back to Miami for some much needed R&R this summer..  and as I look back at the past year and a half I can’t help but think of all of the life lessons that Lebanon has taught me.

Even though she has a tendency to over-complicate things and can be incredibly difficult at times (let’s be real here!), it turns out that Lebanon has been one of the best teachers I have ever had.

Some of the more profound lessons she has taught me include:

1.  Patience is indeed a virtue – Anyone who lives here knows that hardly anything gets done on time.  Be it as non-significant as someone coming to fix your washing machine because the spin cycle makes as much noise as a jack hammer (or wait, maybe that is significant), or as important as getting the necessary paperwork to prove to immigration that you aren’t CIA..everything and anything takes time here.  (And oftentimes, an inordinate amount of it!)

That being said, Lebanon has taught me that my impatience, and my constant need to control every aspect of every situation will leave me frustrated, unhappy, and hating life.  She taught me that everyone marches to the rhythm of their own drum (or in this case, their own tabla) and to try to get anyone to speed up, or change rhythm would be an exercise in the utmost futility.

2.  If you’re not tolerant by nature, teach yourself to be – Not sure if I’ve ever openly admitted to this, but I think I experienced a mini-depression when I first came to Lebanon.  You see, I made the mistake of trying to impose my Westernized way of life on Lebanon..and boy,,she was NOT having it! (Those days were characterized by sharp and frequent “What the hell was I thinking?” moments)  But……..I had hyped up Lebanon so much to my friends and family back home (“But guys.. it’s the Paris of the Middle East!“) that I couldn’t possibly allow myself to go home defeated just because I couldn’t tame her.  So I stuck it out.  Determined to give Lebanon my best shot.

In return, she taught me that everyone has their own way of doing things..and even if I don’t understand, relate, accept or respect them..I have no right to impose my way of life or way of doing things on other people.  As soon as I learnt to let go, and “uncondition” myself (so to speak) from my Westernized “way of life,” I began to understand, appreciate, and love Lebanon for who and what she is…and with time..the sharp “what the hell was I thinking” occurrences became less and less frequent. ;)

3.  Never (publicly) doubt yourself – Lebanon is not for the faint of heart.  The moment she senses any weakness in you..she will chew you up and spit you out like a tasteless piece of gum.  Humility gets you nowhere with her..  She prefers the qualities of self-confidence, self-assuredness, assertiveness, and arrogance.  Even if deep inside, you know that you are unqualified, or don’t have the means/capabilities to accomplish a task/challenge..you must always say the contrary, and deal with the consequences afterwards.

In simpler terms, when in Lebanon, you must: Fake it until you make it.  I had a real problem with this when I first moved here..I’m the type that would rather be honest..then stuck in a situation I don’t know how to deal with/get out of.. but that type of thinking is just unacceptable in Lebanon.  She will leave you without a job,..broke..busted..and disgusted…

Lebanon forces you to not only bring your A game..but your A++++ game all-day, everyday..(coz if you don’t, someone else will..and probably for LESS!)…  Lebanon forces you to over-promise a lot of the time, but..in the end..it is Lebanon who has helped me realize things about myself that I had no idea I was capable of.

4.  Live in the moment – Something about living in the States (or maybe it’s just me) forces you to start planning for retirement at the age of 20.  I would be lying to you if I told you that I wasn’t considering making an investment in life insurance at 22.  God I was such a planner and control freak!!!  I was living so far into the future that the present moment was passing me by..and I couldn’t have cared less.  I had worked out a plan A, B, C, and D for every which way my life could possibly go and every challenge or obstacle I might encounter along the way..

That all changed when I moved to Lebanon.  You see, Lebanese people have dealt with uncertainty their entire lives..for they never know what tomorrow holds.. (war, civil war, no government..you name it!)  So, to keep themselves from going completely off the wall, they have conditioned themselves to live for the moment..  (As someone living in Lebanon, I had no choice but to adopt this approach too!)

And while this way of life may have spawned some undesirable consequences (living beyond your means, obsession with plastic surgery and material items..etc)..all in all, I admire the Lebanese people for how gracefully they handle what I consider to be one of the most debilitating things of all:  not knowing.  “Living in the moment” is one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from Lebanon.

5.  Appreciate everything in your life – I come from a different world.  A world where everything is easy, and where people expect a trophy (and oftentimes get it) just for showing up.  Yet for some reason or another, people from my world take our world for granted and our conveniences as a given.  I used to be one of those people.

In teaching me about herself, Lebanon taught me to TRULY value, appreciate, and cherish where I come from and the things I took for granted..Like: peace of mind and safety, 24-hour electricity, running water (that heats up without a switch or gas tank), clean air, urban planning, recycling, high speed internet and telecommunications that don’t cost an arm and a leg, good salaries (proportionate with the amount of work/time required), cheap gyms, relatively easy access to education, opportunity, and a line of credit.. amongst many other things.

Thank you Lebanon..you have taught me so many wonderful life lessons that I will never forget.

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It’s the simple things about Beirut..

that keep you coming back for more.. Like getting a freshly squeezed orange juice after taking a long walk on the Raouche..

Beirut, LebanonBeirut, LebanonBeirut, LebanonBeirut, Lebanon

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4 things I’ve learned about friendship in Lebanon

You wouldn’t believe how guilty I feel about not writing last week.  It’s amazing how much I’ve become addicted to this blog, and how it is a pretty accurate measure of how my life is going.

So..I was racking my brain this weekend to come up with a list of topics to get myself back in the swing of things (not an easy task when your mind is clouded with a million thoughts).  When suddenly, like a stroke of lightening.. it came to me.  I have never written about the one thing that has gotten me through the experience that is Lebanon (the good times, and the bad, the ups and the downs, the certainties and the uncertainties)..

and that is..

the Lebanese people..

So I’ve chosen to dedicate this post to what I perceive to be the meaning of friendship in Lebanon.

In Lebanon, friendship means:

1.  Not abandoning your friends when times are tough.  If anything, it means doing as much as you can to be there when they need you most.  Even if that means sacrificing time, effort, money, and resources (that you don’t have) to ensure someone else’s well being.  I cannot count the amount of times people, including those I just met (and even those I haven’t met yet (Twitter)!), came to my rescue before I even asked them to.  Just when I expected everyone to go running in the opposite direction, they stood firmly by my side.

2.  Being generous with everything you have.  Lebanese people are always willing to give and share.  When they learn that your Mom lives thousands of miles away, they invite you to share their lunch with them (Tfadal!) or even tell their Mom to pack an extra portion of lunch for you so that you can eat a home cooked meal!  Not only that, they will go COMPLETELY out of their way to drop you off instead of ever making you take a taxi.  (and MOST IMPORTANTLY:  They are even willing to share their wasta with you..!  Even if you have no wasta to give in return..and even if it means that you might complicate the wasta for them in the future.  This, in my opinion, is HUGE!  As without wasta, it’s almost impossible to get anything done in Lebanon.)

3.  Being genuine with your word.  The first time I made my way from Miami to Lebanon, I must have met 4 people on the plane who either invited me for lunch at their house/chalet, gave me the number of their brother or sister, and told me they could get me a job.  Naturally, I thought  this was a by product of their well-intentioned hospitality, and not something meant to be taken literally.  But now that I’ve been here for a while, I can confidently say..that even if a Lebanese person says something in passing..they are very ready, willing, and able to back it up!

4.  Being trustworthy.  One of the first things I was told when I moved to Lebanon was to never tell anything to anybody.  “People like to talk here,” they would say..”Don’t tell anyone your personal business, it will come back to haunt you.”  Well you see, this was a big problem for me..(If you know anything about me, I wear my heart on my sleeve and have been known to divulge too much, too soon.)  And I truly think that the only way to get to know people is to be open and honest about your life, your experiences (including the ugly ones), and who you are.  I can proudly say that as much as people know me and my secrets..not ONCE have I ever been betrayed.  And this is more than I can say of people in Miami who have known me 10-15 times longer than anyone in Lebanon has.

You know how you meet someone and feel that in a short amount of time you have more in common with them than people you have known your entire life?  Well that’s how I feel about many of the people I have had the pleasure of meeting and befriending in Lebanon.

Thank you for everything you have done for me, and thank you for making it ok to ask for help.  I really appreciate it!  This one is for YOU! :D

A friend is like a good bra

Thanks for being my wonder bra! :D

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More design interventions in Beirut please!

I was taking a walk along the Corniche with some of my friends (something I don’t do often enough) when I noticed these beautiful benches decorated with ceramic tiles, all along the length of the boardwalk.  I can’t believe I’ve never noticed them before!  Each unique from its neighbor, they are such a refreshing burst of color and intricacy in the otherwise grey cement surroundings..and I just love the fact that there is a chess board in the middle of each bench!..

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

Beirut Benches

Beautiful benches along the Beirut Corniche

And towards the end of the stretch, and right across from the Ain Mreisse McDonald’s..is this giant, life-sized chess board.  Now in desperate need of a facelift..

Beirut Benches

Anyone for a game of life-sized chess?

Heading back home, I noticed this statue, and took down the website for the “Embellishment Project of the Ain Mreisse Corniche Waterfront Avenue De Paris” project: www.beirutbenches.com

Beirut Benches

Statue announcing the "Embellishment" project

I couldn’t figure out whether or not this project was new from the website..but judging from the press articles (and from the worn out chess board), it was likely conceived around 2001, and carried out in 2003.  For those of you who don’t know about the project, or who overlooked it,,like I did.. read below to learn more about this beautiful design intervention – I lifted some text from the website to give you insight into what the project was all about.

Beirut Benches

Beirut Benches

“The Project” section of the website reads,

“Under the patronage of the Municipality of Beirut, the embellishment of the Ain Mreisse Corniche, Avenue de Paris, conceived and designed by the internationaly renowned Lebanese artist Lena Kelekian, is being realized under the theme, colors and shapes of the Mediterranean.  The existing old cement benches are being replaced with new ones covered with colorful cut ceramics with an encrusted chessboard, along with a mega chess board in the center section of the sidewalk, destined for educational entertainment.  Each sponsor’s name will appear on a bench(es), integrated artistically in the design and on the commemorative panel of the names of the contributors and supporters.  This embellishment project will certainly give color and life to the dull gray cement, thus adding a touch of cultural input by transforming a prominent public avenue into a more distinguished point of attraction in Beirut city.”

Sassine Tunnel Trees

The ceramic trees that line Sassine Tunnel were also done by "Beirut Benches" artist Lena Kelekian

photo credit

In the “Words” portion of the website, Abdul Monaem Al Aris, former mayor of Beirut, had this to say about the embellishment project,

“One might ask, why pick this spot in Beirut and not elsewhere?  Well, because the Corniche symbolizes the city of Beirut standing against and rising above the ashes of the despicable war, and because the Corniche was and still is the place where restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions meet.  In this exact place, also, our children and elders find a place of fun and solace, for they have the right to a safe and welcoming meeting place like this to enjoy.  For this, the Municipality of the City of Beirut has decided to implement the project of embellishing the Corniche, showing to everyone that Beirut lives and thrives by the genuine and sincere efforts of its citizens and all those who love it.  Why not, when the city is highly regarded as the portal to the orient, and the center where civilizations meet.

Our thanks to all those involved, and we hope that this project is one of a series of projects that will help show Beirut’s cultural identity.”

-Abdul Monaem Al Aris

Former Mayor of Beirut

Beirut Benches

The benches stand in stark contrast to their surroundings..

photo credit

And finally, in an article by The Daily Star, titled “King of Tyre’s quest for Europa retold along Corniche,” Garine Tcholakian wrote this on the embellishment project and on the artist behind it,

“Lena Kelekian’s passionate commitment to icon and mural paintings has manifested itself in churches, permanent displays and outdoor projects around the world over the past 12 years.  Her latest endeavor, under the patronage of the Municipality of Beirut, is along the Corniche in Ain al-Mreisseh.  Kelekian speaks with contagious enthusiasm about the project as she sits by the sea on the first installment of her project – the uniquely decoratedbench on the Corniche across the Hard Rock Cafe covered in colorful cut-ceramic pieces.  It represents the legendary King Agenor of Tyre.  A year ago, Kelekian proposed – and gained approval from the Municipality of Beirut – for the Ain al-Mreisseh Corniche Waterfront-Avenue de Paris bench project.

Beirut Benches

The sample bench "King Agenor" completed by Kelekian Oct. 2001

Since then, “the project of embellishing the Corniche has become the focus of everybody’s attention,” says Beirut Mayor Abdul Monaem al-Aris.  While the 2.5 kilometer project – which extends from the Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel area to the Bain Militaire – is an ambitious one, it only adds to Kelekian’s accomplishments, which range from honorary degrees to La Toile d’Or in France and the Sixteen Rayed Star of Macedonia in Greece.  “What we need is color.We need to give life to this city,” she says.  “There is now only cement everywhere. “With this project, I want to put Beirut on the map the way Gaudi put Barcelona on the map,” she says, referring to the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, whose environmental designs and use of cut ceramics inspired Kelekian’s design for the project.

Gaudi Barcelona

Casa Batllo - Gaudi's work in Barcelona, Spain. I would love to see this in Beirut! Wouldn't you?

photo credit

Gaudi Lizard Barecelona

Gaudi's famous lizard in Barcelona's Park Guel..I've been there! :D

The beautification of the Corniche will see the transformation of every one of the old cement benches – 76 in all. Collectively, they will tell the story of the legend of Cadmos and Europa.  There are different versions of the fable, Kelekian’s – approved by the Municipality of Beirut – is based on the Phoenician version.  In the legend, King Agenor of Tyre sends Cadmos to bring back his captured daughter, Europa, from Crete, where Zeus held her imprisoned by a dragon.  In the process of saving his sister, Cadmos propagates the Phoenician alphabet to the rest of the world.  “Cadmos and Europa is, after all, the legend of our land,” Kelekian asserts.  The story will be told in color, reminding visitors that Beirut is the “faithful guardian of Arab culture,” wrote Roula al-Ajouz, project coordinator and Beirut municipal council member.  “This is the only place where people can come and walk,” Kelekian says.  “I wanted an outlet that’s beautiful for all people. The underprivileged don’t have chalets … they have no place to breath but here, it is for everybody.

“I want to make Ain al- Mreisseh an attraction for people to come and get away from their monotonous life.  ” The project is both entertaining and educational.  Each bench includes didactic details, such as the incorporation of the alphabet into the designs.  The letters represent four of the languages – Phoenician, Greek, Latin and Arabic – that have passed through the area.  The benches will also include chess and backgammon boards, adding to the outdoor cafe feel.  Finally, the story of Cadmos and Europa will be narrated in its entirety in both English and Arabic along the AUB beach front wall.””

source

Putting this post together really made me smile.  :D  I sincerely hope to see more “design interventions” like this in Beirut.  This is what this city needs!

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The Lebanon Blues

What do we think of ImpactBBDO’s latest campaigns to promote Lebanon?

According to ImpactBBDO Beirut,

“For the first time, the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism decided to communicate to the potential tourists and more specifically to the Europeans. The emotional TV ads portrayed a young man in a pub in London and a woman in a café at the heart of Paris, two of the most beautiful and exciting cities in the world. Instead of highlighting Lebanese touristic sights, we decided to focus on their feelings once back from their holiday. Since only Lebanon offers the ultimate holiday experience, it generates in them feelings of Lebanon blues.”


Thanks for putting me onto this N.A.  You have a knack for finding the good stuff!

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