I’ve been in Beirut for over a month now, and some of the day to day infrastructure problems have started to wear on me. We were without power or internet for much of the last week, making it difficult to stay in touch and keep up to date. When I go to the beach I am always sure to use the showers provided to rinse off in- the tap in my apartment is salt water, but every beach I’ve gone to has had fresh water taps.
Nevertheless, I’m having an amazing time with amazing people in an amazing place. The last two weeks have been full of fun, interesting, and moving experiences. Summarized in this post, they typify the sometimes humorous, sometimes unsettling contradictions that are pervasive here.
Exploring Music موسيقى
I’m never that much of a pop music junkie, but American pop music is everywhere in Beirut nightlife. As we were cruising down the highway, “Call Me Maybe” was blaring from the radio and my friend remarked that most pubs and clubs seem to have a set list of 50 or so American pop songs that they all play on repeat– I know and listen to more top 40 here than I ever would at home. The bonus? I’m getting lots of ideas for Chasers a cappella set lists 😉
At the same time, I’m excited that I’ve begun to explore the (oft-lamented or criticized) music scene here. Highlights include going to Fete de la Musique, a free outdoor concert with 5 stages simultaneously playing from late afternoon until midnight, all across downtown (everything from traditional tarab to pop cover bands to hip hop to electric symphonic metal, whatever that means); coming across jam sessions with traditional instruments (oud, doumbek, etc.) in cafes in Hamra, Fairouz sing-alongs with nutty old cab drivers, debbke nights in cafes on Fridays with recorded classics from across the region, live hip hop and spoken word (attended the album release for el Moutarakam), and attending the opening of Beirut Radio, complete with a performance by the Beirut-based post-punk band Scrambled Eggs.
Hitting the Beach
The SPF 4 tanning lotion I brought has been insufficient. As my shoulders peel, check out some of the beautiful places I’ve been soaking in the Mediterranean rays:
Right now, my plan is to write an honors thesis next year exploring Palestinian religiosity post 1948, examining the relationship between resistance, occupation, memory, and religion. This motivated my decision to come to Lebanon in particular, and I completed IRB (research of human subjects) certification to begin my research while I am here. I’ve begun to broaden my exposure to refugee and activist communities here in Lebanon.
My fellow interns and I went on a ‘tour’ of Shatila and Bourj al Barajneh refugee camps two Tuesdays ago. We saw a number of NGO’s which provide educational and extracurricular programming for children, and while visiting the Social Support Society in Burj (an elederly center also founded by the same woman who founded my org, ULYP) we enjoyed a delicious lunch of traditional foods prepared by women who live in the camp. We also visited the cemetery for those who died during the War of the Camps in Shatila (pictured below). Being in the camps was quite overwhelming for me; one of those experiences you anticipate but can’t verbalize during or after the fact. Everything I have read about the living conditions was confirmed: poor sanitation, cramped living space, and oft-discussed live electrical wires that snake overhead (also below). Listening to and meeting with children in the classrooms we observed was very difficult. I am happy to share more specific stories with those who are curious.
The day after visiting the camps I attended “Live from Nahr al Bared,” an event which included a photography exhibition, testimonies from an architect and a journalist with access to the camp, Skype conversations with activist-residents of the camp who are currently engaged in a peaceful sit-in, and the screening of Sandra Madi’s film, “Nahr al Bared: Mohayem I3tiqal (Detention Camp).” The film has English subtitles, and I highly recommend it for those wanting to know more about the situation there.
Aside from the street hot dog I ate the night before, my 4th of July was devoid of all the typical celebration elements. Instead, I attended “An Evening With Leila Khaled” in Burj al Barajneh. A member of the PFLP and the Palestinian National Council, she delivered a lectue in FusHa, and the audience participated in an extensive Q&A session. As opposed to the event about Nahr al bared, where I had friends translating for me, for me this event was more of a three hour exercise in listening comprehension than activist engagement. However, I did get to briefly meet her afterward, and I managed to get the basic gist of the conversation.
Last Saturday I attended a reunion/celebration for graduates and scholarship recipients from ULYP’s BRIDGE program at our campus in Dibbiyeh. We enjoyed an incredible feast of traditional foods (I should really update Sa7tein!) and a debbke performance by a group of students from Ein al Hilwe camp in Saida (Sidon).
Other highlights from the last few weeks have included buying a Lebanese colloquial textbook (ha), spending a “girls afternoon out” shopping and exploring in Bourj Hammoud, the Armenian quarter, hunting for the perfect souvenirs to bring back for you all, and, of course, getting to know my hilarious and intelligent students.
As I meet people and become more comfortable, I’m trying to plan more excursions around and outside Beirut to make the most of my next month here. In my first week, while hurtling through Beirut traffic with a friend, I half-joked that I see every day I spend in Lebanon as an adventure to be survived first, then relished. The heartbreaking news of the recent deaths of peers in Maumee has made the importance of balancing safety and adventure all the more real to me; it is paramount among the emotional juxtapositions I feel here. Life is short, and each day I am so lucky and so blessed. Sending all my love.