Yes, I have made yet another big move! This is probably one of my biggest and randomest thus far! I have moved to Warsaw, Poland.
I accepted a job with TechSoup Global as their Sr. Manager of International Partnerships, EMEA (Europe, Africa and the Middle East…and yes only Americans would come up with such acronyms that lump random parts of the world together!). The reason TechSoup caught my attention is the simple fact that it works to utilize technology for social good. TechSoup’s main focus is to provide non-profit organizations around the world with donated software (and hardware) to enable them to do accomplish their missions more efficiently. Obviously this is a big win for me – my two passions combined: technology + social good.
The reaction to me moving to Warsaw from family and friends has been less than ideal. People tend to have a very uncordial reaction to Poland. The perception is usually a cold, distant, unfriendly, harsh and the list goes on. It also didn’t help that I moved here on December 1st…the very beginning of the unbearable winter ahead of us. I’m not going to pretend like I’m not scared of the winter ahead, but I’m looking forward to the experience. Besides, I’ve already gotten a few tips about ways to face the winter, but the most interesting is the way you wear your scarf:
- Make sure you have a warm (wool) scarf
- Tuck in your winter coat colar
- Wrap the scarf around your coat’s color – this guarantees maximum warmth (here are a few examples: this or this)
In the meantime, I’ll keep correcting folks “Poland…not Holland (or Portland, in some cases).
Every time I have entered Tahrir Square over the past few days I have seen the crowds grow bigger, their chants become louder, their sense of cause become more determined. But despite all of those things, I’ve kept asking myself ‘why are they there?’ Why are they so determined? Why are they so loud?
When you enter Tahrir Square you’re usually met with huge masses of men…particularly young men between the ages of 15-35. They’re university students, cab drivers, college eductaed professionals that are unemployed, etc. A generation that was born and have lived all of its life under the Mubarak regime. A generation(s) that was given no opportunities and resources to excel in a hobby or encouraged to think critically throughout their education. A generation(s) that was often described as corrupt, useless, ignorant, and more. It’s a generation that was robbed of its creativity, individuality, but most importantly of its sense of purpose.
When you walk around Tahrir, you find many of these young men assuming roles that lend them legitimacy to claim and feel a sense of purpose. You have the ambulance line human shield guys, who are constantly telling people to walk behind the rope and leave the road empty for the ambulance. You have the motorbike ambulance guys, usually two guys on a motorcycle that rush in to the frontlines to rescue the fallen ones and bring them back to the field hospitals. You have the sign makers, who are usually writing signs like “Hospital” or “Clear the Road”. Then you have the field hospital guards, those are the ones that guard the field hospital from random bypassers and direct them to take another route. You also have the people collecting donations and supplies from different meet-up points and taking them to Tahrir. And of course you have the heroes who make it to the frontline, get attacked and hurt and go back for more.
For people like myself that wondered why are they there…that’s why! They want to feel needed and wanted. They want to contribute and be able to get recognition for it. They want a sense of purpose that makes them want to do something. And guess what they are doing something that several generations behind them weren’t able to do.
You all found your purpose; keep fighting for it!
This is an update to my previous post on the Beirut Owls. Thanks to a local friend I now know who’s behind the Beirut Owls.
Meet Accousmatik System, a Lebanese non-profit organization responsible for cultural exchange in music accompanied by various art forms AND of course they are behind the owls.
Watch as their crew fills Beirut with these owls.
According to their website, there are 700 of their stenciled owls all over Beirut.
Last night I went out to meet some friends at a local bar in Hamra. We were having a highly engaging and interesting conversation about women, feminism and sexual harassment. There were three women and 2 men. And we were discussing whether your typical sexual harraser on the streets of Beirut or Cairo is aware of the damage he’s causing. We also talked about the privilege men have. I was trying to explain to one of the male friends that a major retraining of how men and women are raised in this world needs to take place.
After an invigorating, exciting and sometimes even frustrating conversation, my friend, Edy, gave me a ride home. We were parked in front of my house still full of after thoughts from our conversation at the bar when we started noticing a young man driving on a scooter roaming around us.
I pointed out to Edy the fact that the guy has been roaming around us and is looking a bit suspicious. Edy drove up a bit and the guy immediately got down from his scooter walked up to Edy’s window and asked him what he was doing. The guy was clearly high or intoxicated, slurring his words and unable to focus his eyes on thing. Edy calmly told him that he was dropping me off. The guy proceeded to get closer and asked Edy where he was from. Edy remained calm and told him I don’t need to tell you this. The guy looked at him and said “oh yeah than let me fuck the shit out of you!” Edy immediately backed the car up as the guy opened the door.
We drove off to a restaurant down the street that has a lot of light and Edy called 112 (the equivalent of 911), Lebanon’s police emergency response. He explained that there’s guy that’s being suspicious and violent and preventing us from going up to our house. We continued to drive away in order to loop back. While we were driving Edy and I both looked at each other and made a joke about how the police is probably not going to show up for another hour as we were saying this we saw a police car driving in the opposite direction. And by the time we looped back to my house Edy received a call. The police officer said “We came by and found no one. Are you safe? Are you seeing anyone?” Edy told them he could no longer see the guy. He thanked for their quick responsiveness and hung up.
I was in awe at the speed of responsiveness we experienced. So, when in trouble next time in Beirut give 112 a call!
I have been living in Beirut for two and a half months now and I can’t get enough of my strolls around Beirut where I’m constantly met with creative street art. There’s just been one big mystery during my time here: the “Beirut Owl”. The “Beirut Owl” is to be found in many parts of Beirut. It’s a symmetrical stenciled owl that I have become very fond of during my time here. Will someone help me figure out who this owl is? Who’s behind it? And whether it means anything?
Here’s the “Beirut Owl” in Hamra:
Here are a whole bunch of them hanging out in Gimmayze’s St. Nicholas Stairs:
Some friends believe that the owl’s symmetrical shape is an Arabic word. Others told me that they thought the owl had a blog where it talked about its adventures around Beirut. It just seems that no one really knows anything about the “Beirut Owl” so will the owl owner, please stand up!
For more pictures of street art in Beirut, check out my ever-growing photo collection of Beirut Street Art.
Between the summer of 2009 and early 2010 Egypt and Lebanon made many headlines. Tensions were high starting in the summer of 2009 when Hezbollah members were arrested and tried in Egypt for supposed spying and terrorist attacks plotting on resorts often frequented by Israelis.
The tensions kept rising and in early 2010, at the height of the blockade on Gaza, stone-throwing demonstrators made their way to the Egyptian embassy in Beirut to voice their anger against claims that Egypt began to build a deep metal wall along its border. Reports claimed that when it is finished the wall will be 10-11km long and will extend 18 metres below the surface.
It is worth mentioning that after the Egyptian Revolution earlier this year, the Rafah Crossing Border has been reopened after pressure was placed on the interim military government in Egypt by the Egyptian people.
As art is often used to defuse emotional tension and create peace in it’s own way, this song was released in the summer of 2010. I have loved listening to this song during my stay here in Lebanon.
The song is between an Egyptian woman and a Lebanese man. They both are singing about cultural and historical monuments and places in their respective countries and at the end they both confess their love and appreciation to each other and the country’s they both come from.
This past Sunday after a 2 days of a good amount of going out and partying Beiruti-style, I was able to miraculously wake up at 7:00 a.m. and get myself to Martyr Square for to meet up with a group of folks to go hiking in the south, in Hasbaya.
On our way on the bus we stopped to take a look at Qala’at ash-Shqif Castle/Beaufort Castle, which is a historical castle from the 12th century that was used by Israelis and Hezbollah for military lookout over the past decades. There are now federal plans to renovate it and open it to the public.
We started our 6-hour hike by walking through the narrow alleys and streets of Hasbaya, a predominantly Druze town in the South of Lebanon. Older and more traditional Druze men, often referred to as the ‘Uqqal (the Knowledgable Initiates) wear baggy black pants that are tight at the ankles.
The trail overlooked large portions of the UNIFIL line (also referred to as the Blue Line), beautiful mountainous scenery and large amounts of crops and trees of all sorts of seasonal fruits. Our guide helped us pick at trees along the way to try the different seasonal fruits that were all over the trail.
After completing our 6-hour hike we stopped at a local Restaurant/Bar in Hasbaya where we all had little snacks and refreshments after the long hike. Shortly after everyone enjoyed a short rest Nadine, the hike organizer, and Wael, the hike guide, started a small Debke party with quick lessons. I’m in love with the Debke and wish I knew all the steps better, but I’m determined to keep taking advantage of joining in on the fun anytime Debke breaks out in my presence.
If I had to pick the highlight of the day it must have been our very last stop. We stopped in Kfar Kila‘s Fatima Gate, a border town to check out the border between Lebanon and Israel. Before getting there I didn’t really have an idea of what the border town would look like. Never in my dreams though did I imagine it to be what I saw. The border is essentially a fence with a space the size of a one-way road sandwiched by another fence on the other side. On the Lebanese side, the municipality has completely renovated the border town and built a fun and cool promenade along the fence that is decorated with various exercise machines. When I asked Nadine why that particular theme for a border town, she said “We are trying to show that we are having a great time over here on this side. We can easily see Israeli settlements from right here, which saddens us. But we’re sending a message: Life is great on this side!”
One of my co-workers at Al Majmoua is from Kfar Kila and he told me that the historical urban legend on why the gate is called the Fatima is gate is because one day long ago a young woman was walking home and she was attacked by a snake. She immediately started yelling for her sister, Fatima, who quickly came to help her sister and was able to kill the snake and save here sister. No one knows how true this is, but the gate is named after a strong local woman who saved her sister.
There’s a sticker on my laptop that reads: “I Support Gay Marriage“! I obviously brought my laptop with me here to Beirut; was that a conscious decision? Not quite – this is a sticker that I have had on my laptop for a couple of years now. My friend (a straight female friend) gave it to me at work one day.
Yes, I do support gay marriage! But who talks about gay rights in the Middle East?! To many people’s surprise, Beirut actually has a fairly active and strong LGBTQ scene. There’s a vibrant gay scene community with local clubs serving both gays and lesbians, such as Bardo and Ob La Di. Also, there are some really great local activists and groups (Helem & Meem) who are doing a ton of work on the matter, but I’m not here to talk about gays rights. However, whether I choose to or not my little sticker opens up the subject with anyone who sees it.
The first time I think the first person who saw and commented on the sticker in Lebanon was a good friend of mine. He simply looked at me gave me the thumps-up and said “I do too!” I wasn’t really surprised; he’s a social liberal. It was only a few days later that a friend of his saw the sticker and said: “Hmm…I’m OK with gays, but I don’t think they should be married and have children.” When I asked him why he thought so; he simply said “It’s not natural. A child needs a mother and father.” So, I immediately came back at him with the “what-about-people-with-single-parent” argument. He smiled and said “that’s different” and we were called to join the others for lunch and the conversation simply ended.
Out of all these conversations, I think comments I have received at work have been the most interesting. One of the first interactions I had with one of the IT guys involved a short, but certainly awkward exchange about my sticker. He simply looked at it, pointed and said “I support gay marriage! Hmm…that’s weird.” I immediately looked at him and said “How is that weird?” The second I reacted I knew that this was very sensitive territory to be entering in my new workplace in Beirut.
Just a few days ago, a former employee came by the office and she was sitting near my desk. She looked at my laptop, looked at me, and looked at my laptop again. Then she turned around and started talking to two male colleagues who were standing nearby “Hey! Hey! Look she supports gay marriage you two can be official now.” Her tone was extremely sarcastic! The two guys laughed it off and I certainly got some attention from other employees who were in the area.
In most of these situations I’m not doing or saying anything, other than potentially provoking thought. I’m thinking even if people think I’m crazy for believing in or supporting such a cause it is still something they see everyday when they interact with me or come say hello to me at my desk.
I just got back from a short walk to Hamra. Something looked odd when I crossed the main road I usually walk on to get to Hamra Street. It was blocked by the Lebanese Army – no cars were allowed. As I crossed over and continued walking down the street – it became clear from far away: this was a protest!
All the commotion was too far away from me to really see or hear anything; only thing I could make up is that there were masses of people. As I got closer I started hearing bits and pieces of chants that included “Bashar”. I smiled hoping that this was Pro-Syrian Uprising / Anti-Assad protest; hoping they were saying something like “Down Down with Bashar!” As I got closer, the exact opposite of my hopes was exactly taking place. This was a full-on Pro-Assad/Pro-Syrian Regime demonstration. Protestors had signs, flags and pictures of both the current Al-Assad and the late Hafiz Al-Assad.
As I stood there watching in complete awe hundreds of people chanting, I caught a truck that was part of the demonstration that was displaying both the Hezbollah’s flag alongside the Syrian flag. This is particularly timely for me as I just finished reading this article about Hezbollah’s Nasrallah’s hypocritical stance with the Syrian regime during the people’s uprising. A complete 180° turn from his outspoken support for the uprisings in Egypt and Bahrain.