Everybody told me that I would be killed. My sister starts to cry and put me to promise that I will call her daily. Two friends organize a farewell drink. I was going to Beirut, Lebanon.
A place with concrete people walking around me, about which I can not say much. All I knew in advance was that it is a dangerous place with no clarity of what it means. Perhaps it is if you look at the customs control from both sides. After a week crossing the city in different directions, I felt it only the pressure to be an outsider. And in Beirut automatically you’ll be considered precious, so from the airport (where you need to offer your fingerprints and a profile photo) to the hotel or on the streets, everyone will try to sell you something: money, transportation, food, art, stories or pleasure. Any space, any corner in Hamra district, means opportunity. And in a country with youth revolution, down economy, lack of jobs, one dollar extra is valuable.
Before my arrival, it was a protest day with police force involvement and people running, smashing bank windows, and ATMs. I was scared. For the first time, I made messages to Embassies and Foreign Affairs Minister to be sure that I am not arrested for taking pictures or because it was visible I am not a local. My head becomes entirely with all media stories about bribery and corruption.
Neighborhoods with giant posters of different rulers tell me that inhabitants there are not ready to have a conversation. Their believings stay fixed on a few venerated people to which are dedicating time and money. But most overwhelming, it is the entire building picture of an Army General. Anyway, enough with politics. People need to live their lives even in forgotten regions with the perfect Mediterranean Sea and spring weather.
Lebanese like to talk. So much that they are ready to offer you free coffee or sweets as a form of trade for stories and motivation to share time. That’s why statistics explain the lowest rate of depression in the Levant. Other Arabic nations can consider Lebanese dialect too feministic, not for real warrior man. For me, it can be a start for peace.
Also, rebuild the place from almost nothing. On the “Rafic Hariri” Airport, few photos are revealing different Beirut areas during the war and in the present time. Few buildings remain like bad memory to show to the world what the consequences of destruction are. Big malls surrounded by mosques can offer you all international brands, open gardens with exotic fish on the roof, fabulous food, eye pleasure to admire the outfit of rich ladies (elder one with great taste). Not affordable for usual people. Heels start to be associated with Hijab, and in a restaurant, you can listen to Beyonce or the imam. It depends on the intention.
Still, the gap between rich and poor remain large. And always too much-unaccomplished desires can keep the tension in any society. On Sunday morning on Hamra Street, you can meet the Philippines nannies on their free hours from working for healthy families and carry their children at private schools.
Meanwhile, usually, people strive to resist a new economic crash, and small businesses can not provide enough coverage for young and migrants.
And of course, in this environment, the religion remains attractive in offering a meaning for life. I spoke with a Catholic and a Muslim. One found in Jesus a cure for depression; the other is convinced that only when people will return to real, pure, and precious Islamic wisdom, prosperity is coming back. One said that Jesus is complete love for everyone, and the joy is to see their success; the others think that the West society evolved in order to understand the real meaning of Islam and applied in daily life. Lebanon is offering a home for both and many others like Mennonite, Protestant, Orthodox. All of them with churches and schools.
Unfortunately, at least Beirut is not a place for pedestrians. Because the sidewalk is missing and its lacks of respect from all drivers.
The phenomenon of internal Europe migration from South East to West is also reflected around the EU, especially where economic agreement is existing. European Commission saw that and create Union for Mediterranea a replica of the European Union for neighbors. Keep the people in their homes means support for local businesses. The instant attraction of prosperity remains more powerful than a future plan for the next generations.
Maybe it is unpleasant for them, but a look at Boston’s new infrastructure and Yuval Noah Harari’s writings can be revolutionary. Under any government.
I am looking at Beirut road traffic and wonder if the virus from Wuhan has a chance to spread here. No. Not a chance to stop a Lebanese to ride his car and long-press the horn.
So, we are blocked on money things. The context in which the Art is trying to obtain a space in the mind of Lebanese, conquer more field, through graffiti on the walls, fences, or stairs. Meanwhile, the center of Beirut is a vast parking lot influenced by the harbor vicinity. Big cars, the pleasure of luxury, mostly with women drivers. On the same roads with bad vehicles, significant pollutants, noisy but cheap. All honking. Day and night long. It is like a continuous yelling against the faith.
A reasonable start where the new generation is producing incomes. For most of them is a dead-end because of legislation and corruption. Ten to 30 years more to wait is too much endurance. So are demanding prosperity now (in Lebanon, Europe, or the World) and chose to live abroad accepting limited options working for other societies (read tribes), fewer rights in exchange for the temporary illusion of wealth through money. By definition, an Arab is happy with fewer properties and more connections. Not anymore. They lost the magic of Arabian nights.
Beirut, it is not a comfortable place. But it is a home for Love expressed in so many religions that are protected under its beauty. Some are running, hoping for a good, and some chose the liberty to fight — all with the same desire for a better future. The world is changing for everyone and I think the only commitment who can keep you alive is the faith in your heart.