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Living Beirut? No, I prefer to be a summer tourist

IMG_5907I’ve survived a good four months in Beirut, but have gotten to the point (well, I arrived at this stage a few weeks ago to be honest) where my nerves are on edge and my love for some of the luxuries of the U.S. (a sense of security that a civil war won’t break out tomorrow, no construction on Sunday, good Mexican food etc.) are at an all time high.

I love the idea of this multi faceted country, rather than its present state, and I am starting to understand why 12 million Lebanese live outside the country and only 3.6 million inside its borders.

Before coming to Lebanon, I had a conversation about the general instability of the world based on a mostly financial US-based perspective. I profoundly recall how my friend replied that financial instability is nothing compared to lack of safety and security found in the Middle East and other volatile regions, “economic and security crisis are incomparable: one is paid in stocks and bonds while the other is paid in blood.”  Now I understand his point.

Security

Lack of security, where advised to stay indoors, is quite disconcerting (referring to the clashes in the south of Lebanon due to Sheikh Assir ). While Lebanese are used to upheaval, a humvee barreling down the street just makes this girl cringe and hide her head under the covers. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked myself why go through this when I don’t have to? But then the sun rises upon a new day and Lebanese begin their shopping, club-hopping ways. Delusional? Or just a coping mechanism? I would say, delusional because they, or better said ‘we’,  need a coping mechanism to remain sane and survive with the least damage.

Empty Beirut

Borded up shops in eerie downtown

Borded up shops in eerie downtown

Due to the lack of political stability (and the general boycott of Lebanon by gulf countries), Beirut’s posh downtown area is empty. Storefronts remain, but house no merchandise. The only way a few restaurants have survived is thanks to Saudi ownership. I cannot tell you how many times I have been the only guest in restaurants which were buzzing just a year ago.

Insane pricing

Prices are skyrocket high; everyone is trying to milk whatever money is left in the country while people continue to ‘live big’ all on debt. That is, if you can still find banks or people to lend you money.

Food

Besides the greater problems affecting the country, homesickness has trickled in. It has come in many forms and as a result of many happenings (as mentioned above). Surprisingly,  Lebanese food, which I have always adored, has even become dull and even gag worthy to my taste buds. I can’t tell you how much I miss Californian cuisine. I even found myself describing one of my favorite dishes to my friends (avocado slices on bread drizzled with thick Italian balsamic vinegar and sea salt).

Good News!

The view from my apartment

The view from my apartment

Some exciting news is that I have moved apartments to a great place over-looking the sea. Most importantly, it is QUIET! I have been able to sleep more than I ever did in the past four months spent in my extremely noisy apartment where my Sunday wake-up was a forced 7.30am due to sawing. So, I am much happier and at peace.

More later…and NYU in the fall.

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Neophyte in Beirut Ep. 2

It has been a long time since I have written and I don’t have much of an excuse other than starting my internship, getting used to every day living and barking down serveeces (group taxis) on the side of the street.

Saturday night stroll. I guess, the shoes show my Leba-morphosis

Saturday night stroll. I guess, the shoes show my Leba-morphosis

Although I have already been here two months, I still make small snafus and have not assimilated as I had hoped (except for the amount of times I order take-out delivery per week). Even though I understand a lot of Arabic, my Lebanese is still sketchy; I get by in rolling my r’s and extending my s’s in a Leban-ized accent while speaking English.Even though it is extremely frustrating not being able to speak a language fluently (not to brag, but I usually pick up languages in a synch) I have come to terms with the fact that I may just not get this one.  In Lebanon, I’m not forced to speak Arabic and so have gotten, one could say, lazy with the language. Here, if one doesn’t speak English, usually they speak French, which is no problem to me as I switch into French Lebanese: ‘merci’ with a strong rolling r sound. So, I live with little barrier of language.

Well, that is most of the time. While ordering food on the phone there are still a few mishaps. First, the tricky part is describing where I live! Here, there are no strict house addresses, so when I order delivery I have to explain my location perfectly in reference to land marks: across from the government building, up the street from the Thai restaurant and next to that one gas station. I cannot tell you how many times the delivery boys have gotten lost. When I am too tired of describing, I call one of the places that saves your telephone number so my address is already in their delivery system.

Then there was the time I ordered chicken. I wanted grilled chicken skewers (‘taouk’ as they call it here) and the call center woman asked me if I wanted it ‘fresh’. Of course, I want my chicken fresh! What type of a question is that. The end result was a pack of chicken pieces that were raw. I should have known she meant uncooked by using the word fresh. I definitely learned a lesson there. Next time, I’m told, I must specify that I want the chicken ‘ready.’

Other than a few mini delivery disasters, I have settled in without much of a fuss. For any of you worried about my sleep patterns, I am happy to announce that I have now moved apartments and so am not woken up by the bulldozers on Saturdays.

We have had odd weather here, including rain in May, and so I still haven’t gotten to the beach. Soon, hopefully, because someone is craving summer.

On assignment for my job at a Lebanese cooking class

On assignment for my job at a Lebanese cooking class (I’m back center)

Does a BA really matter?

I have now been home a month and, after battling reverse culture shock (see: #TravelProblems: Transition back”) I, for the first time, had zero plans in regards to what I would do in the coming months. And what a scary feeling that is!

All I knew was that I wanted to write and experience life out of a university setting where my schedule was not set for me and where I had to really “bring it!” So, I applied to internships and jobs and shockingly people started calling! I never imagined I would be wanted by BIG companies or be asked to be on the core staff of a new start-up or work at the HUB, an entrepreneurial space WITHOUT MY BACHELORS DEGREE!!!!

I am so shocked that people in San Francisco really do not even blink an eye when I tell them I have not yet graduated college. This has gotten me excited and intrigued and has led me to believe that no, you do not need a Bachelors Degree in San Francisco if you have entrepreneurial instincts, a strong skill set and are willing to learn from others through experiential means. However, I tend to believe that this new wave of thinking does not have a very big radius; rather, it appears in certain areas around the globe, in pockets of open-ness. As the UnCollege  (http://www.uncollege.org/) and DoItYourselfEducation movement (http://eduventurist.org/) have grown in the past 5 years, I do believe the world is moving toward a different educational model but, while the tide is shifting course, higher education is still an extremely important part of moving up the social ladder or, quite noticeable on the international stage, maintaining that standing.

Upon many months of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that a Bachelors Degree is extremely important for most of the world as it denotes a stamp of intellect and class upon the person (now, if the person actually does have that knowledge is a different topic!) and, if one does not want to work in technology or entrepreneurial fields in the limited liberal innovative spaces scattered around the globe than, a BA is probably a good idea!

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind and I am just now settling my internship/work deals and seeing how to juggle multiple projects. There have been letdowns, miscommunications and miss-following of protocol on my part, as I have never had to “be” anything other than a full-time student. I certainly have learned a tremendous amount. Seeing how complicated and difficult it all is made me comment to my father:  “I want to go back to school! Going to classes everyday, turning in assignments and labs was SO much easier!!!”

In the following months, keep reading to find out what I decide to do in regards to that whole University and BA degree issue 😉

 

 

What if Humanistic Education = Scientific Education ?

If you ask someone what they would do if they could change any one thing in the world the responses usually range from world peace to ending hunger and stopping wars. So, imagine my surprise when, amongst a room-full of recent Lebanese engineer graduates, I hear repeatedly: If I were a dictator…. I would give more money to art education and make it so the humanities were as respected as the sciences and creative jobs would be just as well paid as those in the scientific arena.

If only this group of friends knew that education reform is one of my greatest passions!

I than had a conversation with one friend who could have been my mirror: she remarked on how she feels that university made her into a robot. For four years, her brain served as a hard drive and was forced full with theory, which she would have to regurgitate onto exams. Basically, she toiled for four years of intense study of formulae to achieve a piece of paper. And now what? She needs to get a job as soon as possible to pay off her loans.

Does this story sound familiar anyone? For some reason, stories like this keep following me wherever I go and they continue to push me to reevaluate my educational path.

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

Yet To Come: The Best Years of My Life

It hadn’t hit me until a friend said to me, giggling with that vacation glow, “I am on summer break but you are just beginning everything.”  Now I understand why being on summer break has felt so anti-climactic. In college, I would continuously remark how my every day life felt like summer camp (No, I never went to sleep away camp but this was how I imagined it). My friends would agree and chime in, “Yes, I was thinking the same thing earlier today.” I have left that campy bubble and entered another: that of the “real world.”

I keep recalling the relief I felt one year ago when I graduated high school. My IB exams were done and I was off to college– “the best years of my life.” Now, I feel relieved but for a different reason: I will be 20 and in charge of my life. I will be 20 and living the life I create and want. I will be 20 and out of the machine I was put in and, it will be my choice if I want to go back. Curiously, I will be studying this summer out of desire to gain a valuable skill while dissecting cultural complexities–my greatest hobby.

I have only been out of school for four days but my to-do list has grown with my many scattered plans, which I have begun to act on. In fact, I will be attending my first skillshare class this Wednesday evening!  Some may say I am all over the place but I truly feel that I need to try out as my different things as I can in order to find my focus. And so my journey, which many do not understand, scorn and become defensive about (I am not saying you should change YOUR path) has begun.

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