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.
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.
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.
Fairuz is a national living symbol in Lebanon which sparks Lebanese pride wherever and whenever heard. Growing up in Cairo with my mother and two sisters, I recall Fairuz playing across the house when we returned home from school. One year in the early 1990’s my mom and sisters told me that they had a dentist appointment to go to and since I had school the next morning that I was not to go with them and stay home with the babysitter – I still remember thinking they were dressed too nice for the dentist but I complied with the instructions as any 8-year old would do. Years later I came to find out that they went to see Fairuz in concert in Cairo.
I was able to see her a decade later in Los Angeles and I remember crying when she sang “Zorouni” (Translation: Visit Me, a powerful song that is sure to pull on any expatriate’s heart strings far away from their home.
Fairuz’s short, sweet and authentically Lebanese tunes speak of everyday life: the mountains, drunken neighbors, and most importantly a unified Lebanon and sad stories of the war. I was surprised to learn that her music is for the most part strictly listened to in the morning amongst the Lebanese people while they’re getting ready to start their day. While flipping through the radio one morning on my drive to work I found several local channels playing Fairuz.
One of Fairuz’s great contributions to the music society is her son Ziad Rahbani, who I should probably write a whole separate post on.
Great NPR report on Fairuz.
Welcome to Jezzine! A beautiful mountainous town in the South of Lebanon and where my dear friend and Lebanese guide, Edy, is from.
Last weekend we came over for the weekend with Edy’s friends, Joe and Marc, and it was wonderful. We spent Saturday evening at the local bar, Coin Rouge, and woke up the next morning to beautifully sunny day.
Edy’s mother needed some help in the garden so we all jumped in to help.It was one of the first times I have gardened in a long time and I really loved it. Working with one’s hands is such a rewarding feeling. I have always thought about participating in WWOOF, but the idea of gardening all the time always scared and held me back. But now that I have given it a try – I’d love to get more into gardening and learning more about it.
This weekend Edy and I returned to Jezzine to a much needed getaway from the city. When we arrived late last night, we decided to go for a hike in the morning. We both were interested in visiting Sur (one of the very few places in Lebanon with an accessible and clean public beach) but due to the planned The Return To Palestine March we decided that it was best to stay in Jezzine, because security was going to be really tight.
In the morning, Edy drove us about 2-3 miles away from his family’s home up the mountains. We parked the car and started hiking. The geographical diversity that one can find in Lebanon is fascinating. The mountains, the sea, the cedars, etc. We started hiking and it was very different from the hikes I have been on in the U.S. or Europe – there were no trails, we came across shepherds with their flocks of sheep, and the grass was so high at some points it reached my waist. However, the most shocking and unique part of this hike was coming across empty shells (as in explosive shells). Jezzine was a witness to a lot of the violence during the 1982 Lebanon War because of its strategic geographical location in proximity to the Israeli border.
The hike was wonderful and I had never seen Za’atar before the drying and mixing process. Edy made me taste it straight from the ground and we started to pick some in a small bag he had.
I would love to go back and hike in those mountains. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore this country’s amazing geography.
An interesting article by Al-Akhbar, Lebanese Newspaper, taking a look at non-governmental organizations’ presence in Lebanon.
Some interesting facts and figures from the article:
- For every 550 Lebanese citizens, there’s 1 NGO
- Between 2006-2010 hundreds of new NGOs have been registered with a whopping 884 organizations between 2008 and 2009
- Christian religious organizations & associations are not registered with the Ministry of Interior (in accordance to the French Mandate) – these organizations are estimated to be in the hundreds
Beirut is a beautiful city by the sea; however, it’s tiny, congested and extremely expensive. So, it’s easy to say that my apartment/housing hunt has been a little difficult!
Lebanon is quite expensive by Middle Eastern and Developing World standards and one of the most expensive things about living in Beirut, specifically, is lodging. Lodging in and around Hamra (the AUB and LAU neighborhood) can be as expensive as living in metropolitan cities of the US.
As I mentioned before Al Majmoua is located on Spears Street near Sanayeh. So, ideally I started looking for places (in order of preference) in Hamra, Sanyeh, Ashrafiyeh, and Gimmayze:
Hamra: the surrounding neighborhood of AUB. It’s lively and full of cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. Most people you see on the street are students and foreigners. It’s also considered to be part of the “old” West Beirut, which was a Muslim/Leftist part during the Civil War.
Sanayeh: the closest location to my office. It’s also the home of the Sanayeh Gardens/Park where most of the anti-sectarian protests and camping out has been taking place. It’s walking distance from the center of Hamra and Downtown.
Ashrafieyh: a traditionally Christian neighborhood and part of the old “East Beirut”. Mostly residential with quite a happening bar/pub area referred to as Monot.
Gimmayze: a beautiful old part of Beirut full of narrow streets and historic buildings from the French era. Historically, considered the bohemian/artistic part of town with a lively bar/pub scene. Today it has become a poshy pub and bar hopping scene.
I have pretty much toured all of these areas and searched wide and far for an apartment to rent, but after my wide and long search a San Francisco friend-of-a-friend connection is what has landed me my future home for at least the next month. I will be moving into Zico House, which I think can be best described as cultural communal house with cultural and artistic programs, artists residency and a safe space for various associations.
A list of helpful sources when looking for housing in Beirut:
I think for any Kiva Fellow the most exciting thing about this opportunity is to meet the borrowers. It’s the desire that we all come into this fellowship needing to satisfy: the need to see, first hand, how this whole thing from borrower in the field to loan analyst in a branch to an MFI’s headquarters to a database to an online systen to a website to a lender that lends $25.00 on Kiva…and the whole cycle begins on the ground with the borrower!
So, you can only imagine how excited I was today about my very first field visit and to add to all the excitement I wasn’t just going to go visit any territory – I was going to Sabra and Shatila (or Wikipedia) Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. Sabra and Shatila are Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon that have witnessed a horrific massacre during the Lebanese Civil war at the hands of Christian Lebanese Phalangists while the camp was surrounded by the Israeli Armed Forces. During the Lebanese war, the Israeli Armed Forces was at war with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in Lebanon.
I arrived at Al Majmoua’s Beirut branch at 10 a.m. this morning. After spending an hour chatting and learning about the branch operations and procedures with Diana, the branch manager, I was introduced to Ismail, an Al Majmoua Loan Analyst. He was going to be my guide for the day. The plan was to go meet 2 new borrowers and check on a couple of existing Kiva borrowers. I had been carefully asked and semi-warned the day before by Nadine that I will be joining Ismail on his scooter or as the Lebanese call it “Motto”. Ismail’s “motto” is probably the easiest and most efficient way to zoom through Beirut’s crazy traffic.
First stop was a new female borrower, Nadia, who alters and tailors clothes out of her apartment on her manual sewing machine. She wants to take a loan from Al Majmoua to buy wholesale fabric. We arrived at her neighborhood in Tarik Al Jadida and were promptly invited up the narrow stairs to her apartment. She welcomed us in and started chatting with us about how she came to know of Al Majmoua. Word-of-Mouth seems to be Al Majmoua’s strongest and most effective marketing tool. Nadia’s sister-in-law is on her 3rd cycle with Al Majmoua.
Watching Ismail conduct the interview and fill out the application process was fascinating. Micro-finance core strengths is that it relies heavily on the reputation of the borrower in his/her community. Ismail was very clear about asking Nadia what amount of money she will be comfortable paying per month in order to figure out her financial standing and which loan would be best for her situation.
Most micro-finance borrowers in Lebanon have little or no financial recording system of their business. For that reason the Al Majmoua application asks the borrower many questions about their current and past financial standing, trying to loosely draw a picture of their business and their needs.
Ismail and I left Nadia’s home and continued on with our visits next stop: Sabra and Shatila. Al Majmoua offers loans to non-Lebanese citizens, any residents with legal standing are eligible for Al Majmoua’s loans. Therefore, they have a large presence in Palestinian refugee camps all over Lebanon.
In Sabra, we passed by several Kiva borrowers: a father and son Al Majmoua borrowers. An electronics shop owner, who’s been with Kiva for more than 5 years, a stationary supplies business owner, and finally we met with Abd. Abd has been with Al Majmoua for more than 9 years; he recently took out his 11th loan from Al Majmoua. He was so happy to see us and offered us snacks the minute we arrived at his falafel stand.
I couldn’t ask for a better introduction to the world of micro-finance in Lebanon. Ismail, who I should probably write a whole separate blog post about, was a wonderful guide. I’m looking forward to more field visits and borrower interactions!