And so it was my first time in Beirut. Difficult to believe since it’s only a 50-minute flight, can hardly call it a trip, but you know what they say: better late than never. When I told people I was going to Beirut they started telling me how much they love it which made me imagine that I’d actually leave a piece of my heart there. Well, it is a beautiful city, very beautiful indeed, and I did have a great time and enjoyed my stay there, but surprisingly enough I didn’t fall in love with it, I had rather conflicting feelings, that is to say I was enchanted by some aspects of the city like the architecture, the nature up in the mountains, the sea, but at the same time there was something about it that made me feel uncomfortable and disconnected. And it wasn’t only me, other people who were with me or who have been to Beirut before had the same feeling as it turned out. The thing is, it seems like the Lebanese people have a problem accepting “the other”, I didn’t feel welcome, I felt like an intruder. Not all of the of course, there were some nice people of course but that wasn’t the case in general.
For example, out of the zillion people who had to check my passport at the airport perhaps a couple of them were nice while the rest made me feel like they wanted to kick me out of their country. That bothered Duaa, an Egyptian cartoonist who was with us during the whole trip, so much that when we were leaving she asked one of the airport officers why they were frowning, he answered: “We work around the clock, we sleep in crappy rooms, we’re underpaid, we don’t have health insurance, so what do you expect?” I’m not saying this is an excuse to be rude to other people but it makes you more understanding.
But as I said I did enjoy my time there immensely, that’s a different subject. There were some perfect moments actually like the day we went to the mountains; the scenery was breath-taking, now I know where Fayrooz was coming from when she sang جبلية النسمة جبلية, her songs sound much different now. And there was that day when I woke up early and went for a walk alone by the sea, and then there was that nice old man who sells fresh orange juice, he actually squeezes it on the spot, so I took a large cup and sat down by the sea listening to the waves and thinking of everything that’s anything. There was also this museum we visited that’s located under a church in Solidere, it was like coming face to face with history and touching it with your fingers. The church was built over the rubble of other churches and buildings that were destroyed and buried down throughout history, since Beirut itself was buried 7 times by natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. There were human bones and even a full human skeleton of a dead warrior lying down where it was discovered. That chuRch was built over 7 layers of history which can be seen in the wall of sediments that shows pieces of mosaic stones, human bones, marine sediments and other things each of which indicate a certain era in history. I knew rocks were the record of the earth but it’s different when you see it with your own eyes.
But the main purpose of the visit was participating in a workshop with the Arab Danish Women Bloggers Network, as well as Beirut Urban Arts Festival which we were taking part in. It was great to see the bloggeresses again and to do something together. Yet, some of the women bloggers that I was really hoping to see weren’t given visas to enter Lebanon, which was very frustrating. 2 Yemeni bloggers and 1 Egyptian. But the most mortifying incident was what happened with one of the Yemeni bloggers, Afrah Nasser, who currently lives in Sweden. The Lebanese embassy in Stockholm called her and said that her visa was issued and that she could pick it up at the airport once she arrives in Beirut. So, she came all the way from Sweden only to find out that there was no visa waiting for her, and although it was the embassy’s mistake or whatever authority’s mistake she was denied entry to the country and was locked up in a room without even a toilet for hours before she was put on a plane back where she came from. Actually the plane took her to Istanbul where she waited in the airport for another day for the next plane to Denmark. So not only was she humiliated for something that wasn’t even her fault, she also had to go through 2 exhausting back to back trips. Imagine spending two days between airports and airplanes.
As for our participation in the festival some of our articles and the pictures we took were printed out and put on display, as well as a video that kept playing where we talked about blogging and whatnot. It looked pretty nice actually; you can see some pictures of that in the slideshow, as well as bits and pieces from this city that reeks with history, culture, creativity and most of all: contradiction