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Born Again in Lebanon?

As many of you know, I am a lover of books and bookstores and so, when my classmate took me into Al Manara bookstore I was quite excited! This is until I realized I had actually walked into a Evangelical Christian ministry.  My visit started out peachy, with welcome coconut balls and hot cocoa and hugs exchanged between my classmate and the woman that I owned the supposed bookshop, but the happy feeling quickly shifted.  Upon sitting down (my lovely classmate wanted to play the cross-embedded guitar) the revelation occurred that I have not yet been “blessed” by Jesus nor have I submitted to his “love”  and thus I needed to be made aware of his power. And thus, the stories of “miracles” commenced. The accounts told by the head of the ministry seemed so far fetched that I really was in, albeit skeptical, awe.

The ministry was such a bizarre space that initially I was intrigued. The woman who first greeted us began speaking about adult baptism and then I realized I had really stumbled upon “born-again” Lebanese Christians. I would have never dreamed that they might inhabit Lebanon as well but, once again I was wrong. At one point I asked the head of the ministry to switch into Arabic—at least I could make a teaching moment out of this and zone out if need be, but alas, after a few minutes she switched back into English.

The woman then began telling me how she “found” Jesus and how she had been really depressed (and could only see “pornographic images” *confused face*) prior to her enlightment. As the hour trudged by, she began to tell me that Jesus was waiting for me and that I am special and I just need to open my heart and feel his love. GET ME OUT OF HERE was my feeling at this point. I finally reminded my sweet classmate that we needed to do our homework. I clutched my purse in hopes of making  my point. When we were about to leave (Halleluja) I said goodbye and the woman hugged me and began praying over me. She wanted to save my soul.

Once we had finally left the “bookshop” my first words  to my classmate went something like this: “Now this is something to write home about.” And so voilá.

It took me about an three hours to calm down completely from the visit and settle my nerves. I hate when people try to force things down my throat and I am not a fan of extremism in any form. If the woman really wanted to make me feel something spiritual she should have been much more sensitive so at least I could come away from the experience with a good feeling or at least an understanding and respect of a view that differs from my own. She was the opposite of successful. But, at least she provided a good story, I guess 😉

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Salon, Diet & Plastic

Lebanon is one of the most beautiful countries I have been to and, naturally, it has some of the most beautiful people (most importantly on the inside BUT also on the outside). The obsession with beauty and perfection in some circles is so extreme that even the woman doing my nails admitted: “it’s too much!” However, this was after she refused to paint my toenails and finger nails different colors, “That will look stupid and people will laugh at you!” Of course, I would not want that!

Cherry Salon in Hamra

Cherry Salon in Hamra

Here, the beauty salon is an essential part of many women’s weekly schedule. And what a scene it can be! Although in the U.S. people might go to the salon to get “beautified” here it seems that the salon, while being a place to get even MORE beautiful, is where you go to be seen and talked about. I have now been twice to get my nails done and I saw some of the same women there the second time on a completely different day. I have seen and heard many things at the salon, from meltdowns from diamond studded hijabi women to conversations about the upcoming nuptials of a 17 year old girl. While getting my hair done for the first time  (no, I haven’t done it again) I (unintentionally) even created a little drama. As soon as I sat down  the male hairdresser took a piece of my hair and say: “Shou haida? Shou haida?” I was confused because it was a normal piece of hair and I didn’t know what was wrong with it. Then he said “Moda Adeeema.” He waved his hands gesturing to the past. He was commenting on the fact I have layers and layers were in fashion here years ago. I kept repeating: In the U.S. layers are still in fashion. He just shook his head. Oy Vey. Only a few weeks in and I am already on the Lebanese fashion blacklist. Beirut, and Lebanon as a whole, is not a cheap city but some things, ex. Salons are quite inexpensive! Nails start at $4 or so and a hair blow-out at around $7 and I am not talking about bad hair or nails. I have never had such a

Too-much make-up for my birthday

Too-much make-up for my birthday

good manicure/pedicure in my life! The manicurist deals with each nail with finesse and I am constantly being asked if I want Nescafe or a water by one of the Philippina helpers. Such an odd sensation for me. Beauty is a big industry and is highly regarded. Here, dieticians can get paid as much as “real” doctors as the diet fads shift from No-Carb diets to absurd regiments where you are not allowed to look at different objects each week (for example, for the first week of my friend’s diet she could not look at plants and went as far as having to duck her head every time she saw a tree out of the car window!). Insane! Plastic surgery is also rampant here and I cannot walk down the street without seeing at least a few fake lips, unmoving faces and plastic Pamela Anderson breasts. The Lebanese nose is also something that all women get rid of as high school graduation presents. Even my American roommate, who is of Lebanese descent, thanks God that she did not get her Grandfather’s, allah yarhumhu, dreaded prominent nose. It is a bit sad to see all these girls change themselves to look the same!

 

——— As a side note, one thing that I would never have believed in the states is the ease at which people switch between dollar currency and lira. If I give someone 50,000 lira I will most likely get back change in $10 or $20 bills. And if I pay for something with a $20 I will get change back in lira. When I get cash out from the bank they will always ask if I want it in Lira or Dollar as big amounts of cash are often kept in dollars because the exchange rate is 1500 to every dollar. So, when you come to Beirut do not worry if you initially only have dollars!

FusHa-3meeah-English-French mixtape

The other day my friend remarked: “You haven’t written a blog post in a while.” Sadly, he is correct. I honestly have been so bogged down with class (8:30-3:30 with an hour lunch break) and five to eight hours of homework a night! And when I am not doing school work I try to be out and about enjoying my time here!

One thing that has completely taken me by surprise is the feeling of utter vulnerability in not be able to speak spoken Arabic (3meeye). The Arabic that is taught in class called FusHa or Modern Standard Arabic is only used in writing and in extremely formal situations so, for the first time in a VERY long time I am literally without words. Since I speak Spanish, Italian, English and can get by with French I really do not know, or remember, the feeling of not being able to understand the banter on the streets. Even though most people DO speak English or French here I have always said, and will continue to say, that there is A LOT lost in translation or left out when you do not know a person’s mother tongue. Thus, my thirst to learn spoken Lebanese grows stronger by the day!

On the Lady G

Yesterday I spent the day on my friend’s beautiful yacht and was so lucky to be surrounded by Lebanese speaking people. It helps me so much to hear the dialect and try to grasp the gist of the conversation although I cannot understand every word, of course!! On our return to the port, my friends put on traditional Lebanese music and started singing at the top of their lungs and, while so entertaining, it served as a great Arabic lesson also 😉

Bringing up the yacht makes me think of another topic of discussion: Imbalance of wealth. Lebanon, especially Beirut, is NOT cheap and salaries are NOT high so I ask, “how do people afford these prices? As a father of a friend told me, “4% of Lebanese are extremely wealthy and the rest have to work really hard to make ends meet. Even the women have had to start working!” As a friend of mine would said, “Most Lebanese are on the ‘Struggle Bus.’” It is also fascinating to note that while there are only 4,000 Lebanese living in the motherland there are triple that (12,000) living abroad. To counter act the low salaries most Lebanese have family members living abroad who send momeu home to their families.

I have been blessed to meet the most amazing people here in Lebanon and, in reflection, I realize that, since I am studying at the best university in the middle east, I have (in great majority) met people who are 1) highly educated 2) more often than not come from “good families”

I have not been able to, yet, make real connections with the vast amount of Lebanese who do not fit into these two categories.

At the beauty Salon I try to make conversation in my broken FusHa-Lebanese-English-French mish-mash of words but I truly believe that I will not be able to even start to paint a cohesive and balanced picture of Lebanon without knowing spoken Lebanese.

Back to homework 🙂

P.S.  I think the solution to this small problem  of learning spoken Arabic is to stay in Lebanon LONGER …How about a year Mama? :p

Metal Rods, Checkpoints & Handshakes

Update: Class didn’t remain “dry” for very long thanks to the enthusiasm of our wonderful teachers! hamdullah!

Time is flying and I don’t like it! I am having the time of my life here in Lebanon and am savoring every second (well, maybe not my 7 hours of dry non-stop Arabic classes and 4+ hours of homework a night but, c’est la vie, and a pretty good one at that so it is fine!).

I still feel extremely unprepared to speak to people in the street but yesterday I started ordering my food in Arabic and asking for directions so, that is a first little step. I am also learning how to text in Arabic dialect which is exciting for me! One thing that is fascinating about Lebanon is the fact that it is truly a trilingual country and you will hear French and English intermixed constantly with Arabic! “shukran” often becomes “merci” and “min fudlik” becomes “please.”

I am having to get used to the electricity being intermittent. For example, the lights will go off at least 3 times during class or while shopping for yummy fresh fruit at the market, all of a sudden the grocery store will become pitch black until the hum of the generators begin. It makes me laugh to think about how excited I would get when the electricity is down during a big storm in the States and thus we would get to use candles! Here, outages are not that romantic 😉

Anyway, to continue in the same vein as my last post, on things distinctly different from what I know, here you go:

Check Points

I was honestly really surprised that there are checkpoints in Lebanon. For some reason I had always associated checkpoints with Lebanon’s neighbor Palestine but alas, they too exist here while on a much smaller scale.

The other night my male friend was sitting in the front seat of a taxi when, all of a sudden he got out and yelled to us that a girl must sit in the front instead of him. While I didn’t understand at the time,  he later explained that the Syrian taxi driver did not have papers and would be questioned if another man was sitting next to him. If a girl is sitting in the passenger seat the car is usually whisked by.

Humvees and Metal Rods

The other day I saw my first tank on the side of the road. While it did not make me at all nervous it was initially surprising, as I had only seen tanks in movies or in newspapers. Once again, I was brought back to thinking how removed the U.S. is from the reality on the ground in countries so far away. Tanks and such ARE real and I just wish that the people who remotely engage missiles etc. would comprehend that no, the people in the Middle East are not characters in a video game.

Another security object that I had not seen before was the “metal rod.” At all entrances of malls and public places there are men with metal rods. A friend of mine asked me: “See those metal rods? Do you know what they are?” No I did not. She went on to explain that they are bomb detectors. Interesting.

Hand Shaking

The American University of Beirut is the most prestigious university in the Arab world and only the most intelligent and successful students are given entrance. Wrongly, I often associate education with a degree of secularism or at least the questioning of authority. On my second night in Beirut, while watching the Euro Cup, I met two male students and conversed about the final game and poetry (yes, I know it was an odd mix). Anyway, when it was time to leave (male students are not allowed to stay in the female dorms after 12, and visa versa) one of the guys shook my hand excitedly, “So nice to meet you,” and so I put my hand out to shake the hand of the second student. Alas, I was met with the air. The second student touched his hand to his heart and looked down and muttered “sorry” under his breath. While I know he would have done the same to all other girls, it was such a bizarre feeling to be so directly refused because I am a woman. Since I pride myself on accepting the differences of all, I was very taken aback by my own personal shock at the encounter. I never thought I would react so strongly to this gesture.

For some reason, I thought that (some) Muslim men do not shake women’s hands in more conservative countries like Afghanistan or Yemen—not in the metropolis of Beirut! But, alas I was wrong and definitely learned a lesson: ALWAYS WAIT FOR THE MAN TO REACH OUT HIS HAND FIRST. It is all just SO humbling and I have realized just how much I do NOT know. Onward…

NOTE: This unique experience of conservative undertone has NOT been wide spread.

P.S.

The nightlifehere is amazing! People here just live more fully than in any other place I have been. I LOVE IT!!! As a matter of fact, tonight I am going to an Enrique Iglesias concert on the waterfront (I missed the Pitbull concert)!

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