I know I’m going to be bad about updating this (already have been), but here’s a summary of my first week:
Sunday: Arrived in Beirut and got a taxi to Saifi Urban Gardens, a hostel with a cafe/bar, rooftop bar, and Arabic language institute all in one. After a much needed shower I hung around the cafe (first meal: waraa ‘einab and tabbouleh, of course) until I made friends. Me out with new friends:
Monday: Caught a cab to Hamra (the neighborhood where my office and new apartment are) where I met up with Soona, a Maumee Valley grad and current student in Beirut. He showed me the ropes and AUB’s campus, helped me sort out a Lebanese phone (etc.) and later I tagged along for dinner with a group of his friends. I also met with Nahed and Maha and saw their apartment. Back at the hostel, another late night socializing.
Tuesday: My boss came to pick me up from the hostel, and we went to her apartment in Tallat elKhayat (neighborhood) where I stayed through Tues-Thurs. We went to dinner with a group of her friends at a cafe in Hamra, and she showed me where the office is.
Wednesday: I intended to go meet a friend for a quick cup of coffee when my 15-20 minute walk from Tallat elKhayat to Hamra turned into a 2-3 hour excursion with many many many many wrong turns, a malfunctioning(?) GPS, and the steaming sun overhead. I kept walking until I found the sea, and then walked along the highway that runs along the edge of the water, knowing that that eventually led to the neighborhood I wanted. The walk was beautiful, but I didn’t catch pictures because I was so flustered. The friend graciously rescued me with a bottle of water in hand, and locals tips on getting by in Beirut (first chicken schwerma and narghileh[hookah] of the trip!) We took a bus back to his neighborhood, and I had a hilarious 5 minute meet-and-greet with his parents (“You look like a gypsy!”) before going back to meet friends at the hostel, and subsequently winning their bi-weekly “Quiz Night.” Team “White Trash” won a bottle of champagne for their meritorious efforts:
Thursday: Nervous about repeating my 3 hour trek to Hamra, I stayed in and relaxed Thursday morning. The day took a drastic turn when I was invited to attend the final hours of a Palestinian wedding being thrown anonymously by a private donor at the ULYP campus, about 40 minutes outside Beirut. The campus is beautiful (it will be where some of my teaching is done later in the summer, expect more pics in the future). The wedding was fascinating, fabulous and funny. There was also a gorgeous, scenic drive to and from Beirut.
After the wedding I attended an open air concert by the Mercan Dede and the Secret Tribe ensemble in downtown Beirut– I sat with the founder of my NGO and co-workers having dinner at a hotel across the street. The group is self-described as Turkish Sufi-electropop fusion, and while most played traditional instruments to me it seemed an appropriation of the tradition rather than a reflection of it. The audience of almost entirely stylish, upper-class Beirutis added to the my feeling of cultural transplantation and objectification, maybe? I mean, the “dervish”‘s ensemble glowed in the dark with flashing lights during one number….
Friday and Saturday: Moving day to the new apartment near Hamra/Qoreitem. I spent most of the day sleeping, and then my ahsan rafii’i jadid (my new best friend) offered to drive me to my new place, a task that required incredible patience, as I could not provide directions to the apartment in Tallet elKhayat, nor to the new place, where I’ll be for the duration of my stay. I have a huge room and three very nice female roommates (2 Lebanese, 1 Syrian), and well as three (or more) cats in the apartment.
I enjoyed much of the famous Hamra nightlife the next two nights, with many more “important” firsts, including Barbar (a ubiquitous street food company) and arak, the Lebanese liqour (mine was homemade from the family of the pub owner, made in the mountains of Lebanon).
Sunday: The fourth roommate for the summer, Marah, moved in this morning, and the four of us enjoyed an incredible lunch of food she brought from Syria. My evening was spent on the Walk Beirut tour (an incredible experience I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting or living in Beirut. It was a thorough, detailed reflection on the juxtapositions and representations of Beirut and its history. Absolutely lovely.) A few of my favorite pictures from the tour are below, but you can see many more pictures from my time here in this Facebook album.
I start work tomorrow, so I must be off for now. Thanks to everyone for the love and support! Ciao!
I write this sitting at my terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Beirut, Lebanon. I will be there for the next 10 weeks, interning with an organization called the Unite Lebanon Youth Project. As such, this site is going to shift and be something more of a travel blog for the next couple months (best of photos, travel highlights, etc).
I’m pre-gaming with this lovely essay by Ahlem Mosteghanemi. Highlights:
What need is there to live in a place that lives within us? It’s there in the voice of Fairuz, the poems of Gibran, the cedars and the debka dance; in the special beauty that Beirut exports to the whole Arab world and in her voracious appetite for life….There is a Beirut for everyone: a truculent city of vices, a city of resistance and reconstruction, a city of piety and of delights where churches and mosques rub shoulders with nightclubs…..Beirut’s generosity isn’t just that she invites you to eat, but she opens your appetite for life. In all she does, she bites the apple of life with infectious voracity. She is always hot. She experiences her delights like an endangered pleasure, so accustomed is she to snatching joy from the jaws of death. So there is no escape. After her, you’ll never be able to live anywhere else.
This song has been echoing for me the last few weeks- I went to the doctor and got to my immunizations. Headed to the mountains of Lebanon, inshallah. My family doc advised me not to drink the local water, so the fountain is TBD, but I can’t wait to learn from the children and adolescents with whom I’ll be working. Beirut is bound to leave me with both questions and answers… wa Allahu ‘alim.