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Poland…not Holland!

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.

Old Town Warsaw, which was rebuilt after the war in the 1950s replicating the former city plans.

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).

The Owls have been claimed!

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.

Calling 112 in 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!

Owl Owner, please stand up!

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:

The Beirut Owl - AUB Wall, Hamra, Bliss Street

Here are a whole bunch of them hanging out in Gimmayze’s St. Nicholas Stairs:

Beirut Owls - Gimmayze Saint 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.

 

Times of Confusion: Pro-Assad Demonstration

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.

Car displaying Bashar Al-Assad Photo on Hamra St.

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 in the Morning

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.

Lebanese Southern Nature

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.

Gardening in Jezzine

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.

Old explosive shell on the hike in Jezzine

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.

Edy picking Za'atar

I would love to go back and hike in those mountains. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore this country’s amazing geography.

In Lebanese Nature

The Apartment Hunt

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.

Beirut Map with (my) areas of interest highlighted

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:

Family Time Before I go-go

I can’t believe I’m all packed up! I have come to love San Francisco to a point beyond description; it has a special place in my heart…a pretty big one actually, more like a king-size bed kind of place!

But now, I’ve made my way down south and I’m going to spend some time with the family before I head out to Lebanon. I’m really happy to be here with last few months being full of packing and organizing I didn’t have much time to come down to LA to see the family and the our newest addition, Eliana, my sister’s baby.

Today we celebrated Eliana’s arrival! The whole family got together and we had yummy Afghani food (courtesy of my brother-in-law’s mother), cake and lots of laughs. Eliana is now 2 months old and she’s so cute. My older niece, Sophia, is extremely close to her and wants to take care of her all the time. It’s super cute!

The family and I at Eliana's party

The Kiva Thing!

A few months ago, I was sitting with my roommate, Liz, back in my apartment in San Francisco. We were both talking about the future and what we want to do and all those quarter-life-crisis questions about life and what really matters that I’m sure you’re all aware of.  She mentioned that her friend, Caitlin, is going on a Kiva Fellowship. I had heard of Kiva before and thought it was an amazing idea, but I really didn’t understand the WHAT – HOW of it all!

Later that evening, I remember staying up all night on the Kiva website reading about how it all started and listening to this amazing TED talk by Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva.org. I was so inspired by the idea of using internet technology for a greater good. That night I remember going to bed with a sense of excitement.

A few weeks later, Liz introduced me to Caitlin and we met up. We talked about Kiva and her upcoming fellowship. I was so incredibly excited by the idea that I started working on my application that week. And a few weeks later I completed my application and submitted it. As part of the Kiva Fellowship application each applicant is requested to submit a Motivation Statement on a WordPress blog to prove that the applicant is in fact capable of blogging – here is mine for your enjoyment.

In mid-November, I received my acceptance letter to the Kiva Fellowship program for the KF15 Class departing in May. I know I’m going to the Middle East somewhere – Kiva works in Lebanon (serving Iraq), Jordan (newly added) and Palestine at the moment. My first choice is The West Bank, Palestine, but I’m excited about the idea. So much planning is going to have start happening.