The Good, Bad, and Different

“So what’s good, bad, and different about Lebanon?” A good question, one that off the top of my head I tried to answer honestly, though my answers, while true, in hindsight all felt a little cliche and safe.  So the question has rolled about for the past week plus, turning over and inside out on the edges of consciousness.

It bears saying that it’s a question I wouldn’t have trusted myself to answer within my first few months of living in Lebanon; answers would have most likely fell in the camp of excitement-tinged-life-abroad-is-great!, or that of annoyance and unnecessary disgruntlement.  But a year in, I’ll give it a shot. This isn’t an exhaustive listing - I’ve left things out - but it is more complete than my initial ramblings.  Open ended, likely to be added to, and purely from my own experience and perspective….

The Good…

  • While admittedly cliche, I love the food. Kibbeh, hummus, babaganoush, manouche, labneh with fresh vegetables, figs, tom, olives, the continuos array of amazing fruit - a year in and there is little I have tried that I haven’t liked (can’t quite do the chicken livers…).
  • The sea: While the mountains will always be my first love, there is something very luxurious to having only a 10 minute walk separate me from an afternoon sea-side and the salty Mediterranean.
  • Said mountains.
  • The proximity of the sea and mountains.  This weekend I went on a moonlight hike Saturday night, and spent Sunday afternoon at the beach.
  • The thunder storms.
  • My job, colleagues, and students: I’m fortunate to love what I do and grateful for the community I’m a part of for this season.
  • 961: a respite for the dark beer lover that I am.
  • Book Club: a good excuse for us all to shelve other responsibilities, drink wine, laugh hard and walk away with new reads.
  • Individuals and groups who endeavor to create a greater awareness and love of the outdoors
    through guided trips, education, modeling that love in their own lifestyles, and sharing it with any willing participant.
  • While I haven’t partaken in any grand manner, I have come to appreciate that Beirut is a city that knows how to have fun, in the sense of no holds barred, all hours of the night revelry.
  • The history, layers upon layers, that exists within close proximity.
  • The intense creativity in art, music and design, and many venues to take part and enjoy it.
  • The hospitality of Lebanese people.  Sure, there are some idiots and I’ve heard of or had a few interactions that have left me shaken and/or incredibly angry, but this is true in any country and culture.  The majority of Lebanese I have met to date have been welcoming and considerate.

The Bad…

  • Asinine drivers who install emergency response-like sirens in their cars or motorbikes to get through traffic a littler quicker. Never fails to make my blood boil.
  • Or those who drive recklessly resulting in the deaths of others.
  • Lack of understanding, in some circles, around human rights.  In the last year, Malaysia, the Philippines, and a few other countries put out travel bans on their citizens traveling to Lebanon for work.  Too often employers will not renew work permits leaving their employees in limbo and without the means to return to their sending countries. Without the proper paperwork, many find themselves in detention centers, often deplorable, sub-standard locations, like tucked under freeway overpasses.  As well, maids jumping from balconies is nothing to take lightly.
  • Litter.  This is a starkly beautiful country, and sometimes that’s difficult to see amidst the trash carelessly tossed aside to be somebody else’s problem.
  • Men who take their leering to an absurd and dehumanizing level.  Not that I’m advocating for “levels of
    leering” but there is a point at which ignoring it doesn’t work at all.  And a word to the skeezy taxi and bus drivers - touching yourself while a woman is in your taxi or bus is not acceptable in any way, shape, or form, ever.
  • 20,000 people crammed into a square kilometer.
  • The power grid.  It’s livable but seems pretty ridiculous.
  • The internet.  Lebanon, you might want to get this sorted, and soon.  Pretty sad to be dead last in ranking of internet quality worldwide, especially when there is so much talk of this being the finance and business hub of the Middle East.
  • Politics, for the most part.
  • Assumptions of the rest of the world upon hearing “Lebanon”, “Beirut”, etc.
  • The distance from family.  When celebrations are approaching or crisis arises, to be half a world away is painful.  And despite my love of travel, 17 hours of flying, one way, becomes very taxing very quickly.

The Different…

  • What I can only think to call a “staring culture”.  I’m not talking about leering per say, though if someone isn’t careful, his or her stare can cross into that, but a day to day staring at anyone and everyone.
  • The number of religious sects in one space.
  • Taxis that honk at you.
  • The sometimes complexity of getting out of the city and into nature.  Part of me would almost categorize this as “bad” but to be fair it’s different, though hard for my independent nature to deal with sometimes.
  • Family: I am from a large, caring, and close family but there is something about family in Lebanon that is different then even my close-knit experience.