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Posts tagged ‘Beirut’

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

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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)!

Top 7 MOST surprising things about Lebanon

So, I have been here five days so far and have picked up on many cultural curiosities. Here are just a few in no particular order!

1)    Everyone wears Jeans!!!

Always classy!
notice the awesome heels

Even though it may be 100 degrees Fahrenheit and humid everyone seems to wear jeans!* Lebanese wear jeans for many reasons.1) They are considered modest and a good option for Muslim women 2) They give less chances for men to be crass. One of my friends said: “I won’t wear shorts in a service (group taxi) since you never know who you will be seated next to 3) they are a fashion statement, of course!

You can almost single handedly pick out foreigners from the crowd by just looking to see if they are wearing jeans.  When packing for my trip I only packed dresses, shorts and skirts in response to the high temperatures I foresaw. So, third day in Beirut I was off to buy jeans at the Beirut Souks. The Beirut Souk used to be the old market place before the war  and so developers have built a beautiful outside mall with old Arab influences in the architecture. You can find anything from H&M to Dolce Gabbana here and it seems like a good place for people watching—as is every other place in Lebanon as plastic surgery is rampant!

*I have not yet been to the beach and am sure that jeans are NOT worn there.

2)    Great Water Pressure!

There is better water pressure in my dorm showers than in my dorm in California!!! I think this is most likely because I am staying at the American University of Beirut but, even though Lebanese say the country is a third world country, it really feels much more like a second world country! Electricity goes out often so I guess it needs some time to become “first world.”

3)    Lebanese Love American Food!

There are American restaurants everywhere!!! From pinkberry, dunkin’ donuts, McDonald’s and burger king to Applebee’s! The supermarkets have all the newest American hair products and house goods. And the thing is that Lebanese love all this stuff! McDonalds does not have the reputation it has in the states as being for those that cannot afford better—it is a fun “cool” place here.  A Lebanese owned American diner-style restaurant called “Roadster” has also opened up and there are lines out the door at their many locations!

4)   Lebanese LOVE sushi!

Out with friends eating Sushi!

Other than American food, Lebanese LOVE sushi! There are sushi restaurants everywhere! Last night I ate at a wonderful conveyor belt sushi place with a dear friend! So delicious! Ps. For dessert at a different restaurant I drank an avocado mango drink! Delicious!

5)    There is no civil marriage.

One thing that I found quite curious was the fact that there is no civil marriage in Lebanon. On your ID it says your religion (passed down from your father) and two people are obligated to marry in the specific church or mosque. A couple then lives “under” that sect’s law in regards to testimonies, divorce laws etc. For example, Marionite Christians have very strict divorce laws which can take up to 10 years to resolve and some wills will be passed down only to the primogeniture.

So, I asked the question what if people from two different religions want to get married? The answer: Either, one of them converts OR they fly to Cyprus and have a civil marriage.

Since weddings show the status of a family—the more people you invite and the grander the ceremony, fireworks etc. the better the reputation—weddings cost LOTS of money. Some families are ok with having their children elope as it won’t cost them as much BUT, the wedding is still a highly engrained tradition which if not done “right” could create a bit of a scandal.

6)    The country is so small!

I never realized just how small the country of Lebanon is! If there was no traffic it would take about two hours to drive around the gorgeous land. People talk about different towns as if they were far a way, or as if a neighborhood was THAT difficult to get to but honestly I could walk around Beirut’s entirety in a few hours! That, to me, is awesome!

7)    Lebanese are the friendliest people EVER!

They are the most warm and hospitable people I have ever met! While some of my classmates get annoyed that the shopkeepers won’t talk to them in Arabic (Lebanese are generally tri-lingual: Arabic, French and English)  a friend of mine told me the true reason: They just want to make it EASIER for you! They want you to feel more comfortable.

I was graciously invited to a wonderful evening dinner party on the first night I arrived in the country. My host, his family and all his friends could not have made me laugh more, smile more or feel more at home! Subsequently, I have been taken out to see the city by the people I met that night and I am always being checked up on. Everyone wants to make sure I am having a good time! And don’t worry: I LOVE IT here!

Note: Dear lebanese readers: if you think I may be wrong in any of my points please correct me! Merci!

Right off the plane I was whisked away to an amazing Lebanese feast in Amioun, a small town north of Beirut

Up In The Air Lebanese Style

Lufthansa is the most reliable, on-time, predictable, exact airline. I had booked my flight on the German carrier because 1) it was the most inexpensive and 2) I know it relies and works on strict time. All this is true, I have learned, until the Lebanese arrive!!!! My layover was in Frankfurt, the hub of orderliness but this time around was different. I had never seen a check-in more chaotic in my life! People scrambled, screamed, clumped. Babies cried. My God, there were so many kids!!!! After we all finally got checked-in we were sent to board buses! Yes, I thought, I was back in Europe. The bus slowly made its way all over the airport until arriving at our small plane. By this time we were at least 30 minutes late. As my mama would say, Oy Vey.

Once on the plane the misunderstands began: The German flight attendants not speaking French and many Lebanese not speaking English. 1-2-3 call Nett in as a translator. I was asked to move seats three times before take off, by this time back in my first seat.

Anyway, I ended up sitting next to a very sweet (initially) Muslim woman carrying her 2-year-old son (well, I thought it was her son until he started crying for mama later in the flight and I found out he was the woman’s 17 year old daughter’s baby). This woman’s older son had downs syndrome and would scream throughout the flight.  I remember saying to my papa: “The flight from Frankfurt to Beirut is only 4 hours! That’s not bad at all.” He responded, “Well, you are going to be so anxious and excited and those four hours will seem like forever.” Boy, was he right. To make this woman even more intriguing I noted in my journal:  “We are trying to speaking in Arabic-English.  She just told me she has 10 sons and 4 daughters—after asking me if I have a man.”

The flight would ensue with babies crying EVERYWHERE (It seemed like all the Lebanese expat babies were on board), the woman furiously eating MY portion of the Lufthansa meal (is she eating for two again?), bottles flying, and a flight attendant apologizing to me with a box of “special sweets”: “This is not what Lufthansa is like. This is not our usual state. Please come fly with us again we will make it up to you.”

BUT, aside for the long tedious flight across oceans and seas, the most important thing is that I am here safely and am SO happy to be doing exactly what I had wished.

Today, in Arabic class at the American University of Beirut, the teacher asked us which city we would like to visit. In the past, I had answered with “Beirut” and for the first time I didn’t have that carnal desire to leave and go somewhere else. I am here and, as cheesy as it may sound, I am creating my own path for my destiny!!

Do You Have Enough Freedom?

Last night, Chris Guillebeau started his book tour talk by asking the important question: “Do you have enough freedom in your life?” What an important and not usually asked question! After reading the $100 Startup (http://100startup.com/)by Chris Guillebeau I knew I had to meet the author and be around people who are thinking in the same vein about life as I am. The book is a how-to guide to all those wanting more freedom in their lives. It chronicles a diverse array of people who, many unbeknownst to themselves, have become (yes, the big word) ENTREPRENEURS!  The book is an “account of people who found a way to live their dreams and make a good living from something they cared deeply about.”

Chris Guillebeau speaking about the $100 Startup model at Booksmith in San Francisco

The criteria to have your story included in the book were:

  •  Follow-your-passion model (building your business around your passion)
  • Low Startup Cost (businesses that required less then $1,000 in startup capital)
  • At least 50,000 in year net income
  • No special skills (for example, no do it yourself dentists etc.)
  • Full financial disclosure
  • Fewer than five employees

The lesson most poignant in the book was Guillebeau’s explanation that, a business can be made by converging your passion and skills in creating something valued in the market. You may think—oh no, I do not have any skills!—But you do, if you become creative. An example in Chris’s book is Michael Hanna who after being fired from his job was given a truck full of mattresses that he successfully sold individually on craigslist. After the first few sales he had an idea:  He could create a mattress business built around the family and so different from the seedy nature of many mattress dealerships. Thus, thanks to his ability in selling and desire to help others he started a business where the whole family would be involved in buying the mattress. He set up a play area for the shopper’s children and a coffee bar for the adults. He also became the first person to have a bicycle mattress delivery service—free if the shopper arrived on bike himself to find the mattress!  Thus, VALUE can be created by deploying a skill you already have in another form.

Chris handing out cupcakes to the packed book store. standing room only!!!

Value, Guillebeau writes, means helping people. Business does not have to be so cutthroat. It does not have to be so sterile and corrupt. By thinking in the terms of creating a tool that make people’s lives easier and less-stressful and, which people see value in buying—you have yourself a business.

San Francisco is a beautiful bubble. Last night at the book signing I met fellow bloggers and people that want more freedom in their lives. I have never received more “congratulations!” on not returning to college next year. So bizarre and so awesome. But, I realize that I am in a very unique position: I live in the Bay Area. I understand that the sentiments of San Franciscans and Tech-Valley people are dissimilar from the majority of the world. It is not that others cannot create businesses stemming from their creative enlightments BUT, it is just much more common and accepted here. In San Francisco“What startup are you building?” is never far from anyone’s tongue, while elsewhere the question may be, “My God, are you sure you want to take the risk of starting your own business?” Bay Area people tend to see entrepreneurship (I am sorry to use that pretentious word again—I will start thinking of another word!) as a conservative choice in the unstable job economy of today.

Saying that, Chris Guillebeau has an extremely big following globally and his book explores micro-businesses from around the world. I can just imagine that people in the Bay Area are much more supportive of this type of do-it-yourself employment than others. Reading this book and meeting with Chris (He recognized me out of his 77,863 twitter followers after tweeting him earlier in the day) further encouraged me to live by Steve Job’s saying: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” Chris measures the success of his book by the action people take after being inspired: Chris, you are successful in my book as I already have an idea in mind which I will start working on in Beirut!

My own signed copy of the $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

My own signed copy of the $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

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