Basics of Beirut Life

I cannot believe that I have been here for over 3 weeks now! Time is flying by! I thought I would jot down some of my observations of life in Lebanon from my first weeks here. I hope to write more as I try to find a good routine.  I frequently do not have Internet, which makes it hard to update the blog or upload my many pictures.  Please do not forget about me over here as I promise I will share more stories and pictures as we go along.

  • Beirut is a late night city. Unlike me. The city goes to bed late and gets up late. The streets are empty and silent even at 8 am in the morning. I love it!
  • Step outside at 8am in the morning and while the world is quiet, you will still be assaulted with the smell of cigarette smoke.
    Everyone smokes and I do mean everyone of every age, gender, ethnicity and religion. You might find it weird to see a veiled woman lighting up a cigarette. I no longer do.
  • There are blonde Lebanese over here that have a European look. However, I have quickly learned to ascertain whether they are from here or not by just a glance. The years of heavy smoking and sun have taken quite a toll and the aging process has not been kind. In fact, when you think of it, they have been exposed to high levels of second hand smoke since they were young as no one thinks of puffing a cigarette in a child’s face.
  • Some days I would just like a brief respite from second hand smoke. I have not yet found a place in the city that I can enjoy without the assault of smoke in my face. Between the pollution and the smoke, we are coated with a layer of black grime every day.
  • I saw a woman beggar feeding her baby candy that she had poured onto the filthy sidewalk. Not even poured the candy on a cloth or a napkin, just poured onto the dirty street and the baby was picking the candy off the street, probably the only food they would get for the day. In the US, many people beg because it is much more easy and lucrative than getting a low paying entry level job. Here, when people beg, it is very likely because they are undocumented refugees and really cannot work.
  • Some sign language is universal (though I only remember a few things). The man who works in produce at the local grocery store is hearing impaired. He keeps his head down and doesn’t interact with people very much. Well, we both don’t speak the language of this country, but I said “thank you” in his language after he weighed and tagged my produce. Now he lights up and waves enthusiastically every time he sees me. Making Beirut smile, one person at a time.
  • If you ask someone “when” something happened or “when” something is taking place, they will repeatedly tell you where. Even if the entire conversation has been in English. That is because “wen” is “where” in Lebanese Arabic. I need to take the English “when” out of my vocabulary to avoid confusion.
  • No one understands “only chicken.” They don’t understand why you would just order meet without fries or bread. “Bass djej. BaLaa batata wla khibiz.” And we still end up with bread and accompaniments.
  • Everyone knows that you don’t drink the water. You must invest in bottled water, which contributes to the overuse of plastic and the horrendous trash and litter problem in this country. We run out of water every few days and are just lucky enough to have water because our landlord pays for private water.
  • Most people don’t have electricity for up to half the day (unless you are wealthy enough to pay for a generator). We have generator because we are on the circuit of several prominent banks here, including a bank that was bombed a few months ago.
  • Sewage system is primitive too. DO NOT FLUSH the toilet paper. In case you don’t know that, the school we attend has about 20 signs pasted up all over the bathroom to remind you of such.
  • Cabbage leaves make a great substitution for bread. Instead of gorging on pita, Jana and I will put hummus, shwarma, foul, mint, garlic paste – whatever we have, in cabbage and wrap it up. It is AMAZING! you can do this with any sort of sandwich ingredients – meat, cheese, mustard & tomato (though I wouldn’t try with peanut butter and jelly).
  • I am the one in class that strings together all the like sounding words in goofy but unforgettable sentences to help me remember words. The teacher really didn’t understand what was so funny about my sentence “It rains in my apartment in the winter.” It sounds like a string of curse words differentiated only by glottal stops. “A Eunuch with a gun has the homework,” is a string of similar sounding words. The difference between “gun” and “homework” is how hard you say the D.
  • Arabic is a great language because I get to say things like “mumkin,” “yemkin” and “bijji meshi” on a daily basis. That means “maybe,” “possibly” and “I go walking.”
  • Everyone here likes to make us a deal because they like Westerners. Or, specifically in Jana’s case, because they like Germans. Actually, many people over here love Hitler enough to name desserts after him. Two men greeted Jana with “heil Hitler” and a solute when they found out she was German.
  • Those that know me know that I like a good deal and I HATE being ripped off. I can have a hard time carrying on a long roll playing conversation with my classmates in Arabic, but when the one classmate was trying to rip me off on half a kilo of oranges, I wouldn’t let it go! The conversation went on for a long time and I finally told him to give me back my oranges and go to another store up the road. Wasn’t going to part with my oranges for a bad price.
  • Speaking of good or bad deals. It is possible to eat healthy, organic or find trendy health foods, but you will pay out the ear for them. Protein powder, vitamins and health supplements range 2 -4x what you would pay in the States and often half the quality. However, shipping a small box from the states will cost as little as $90 and as much as $160 dollars. You will pay more for almost EVERYTHING here. This burns me because I love a good deal.
  • A young man at church informed me that I needed a hair cut. He said my hair wasn’t as short and tight as it was when I first arrived and he didn’t like it longer on the side. Apparently, the stylist I found felt the same way. He cut it very short on the sides. I am sure the young men at church will approve. Never the less, I am very excited to have found someone that can cut my hair similar to my girl in ATL, something I haven’t found in years. He was very excited to try something different on my short “European” hair and he cannot wait to color it.
  • Coiffure is a noble profession for men in this country, it seems. There are so many of them! The men seem to outrank the women 5-1 and I have never seen so many salons in my life. Getting your hair done nice is a national pastime and a necessity to be accepted in this culture. If you thought maintaining my blonde would be hard, you are wrong. In fact, everyone is an expert at blondes here as you have to be to take the thick Mediterranean hair from black to blonde. Finding the best products and best trained stylists in the world is probably the only easy and reasonably affordable thing that I have found here.
  • Ladies don’t really work out much in this country. Therefore, I stand out a bit. People ask me quite often if I do martial arts. I hope everyone on the street is thinking the same thing. I would like to think that is partially why no one ever even talks to Jana or I on the streets. Other than giving off a very bad ass, “don’t mess with me” vibe.
  • Despite the lack of issues that we have had as single women in a man’s world (as you just don’t see the women as much as the men). We were reminded in a conversation the other day that “women are not complete without man.” And that a “woman’s role was in the house with the children while the husband provided.”
  • Taxi drivers slow down and honk at EVERYONE walking. Not just western ladies. They are aggressive and annoy the rest of the Beirutians. The frequent honking often stems from other drivers ruthlessly punishing taxi drivers who slow down or stop with nonstop horns. But… they honk at red lights too and then those behind them start honking. My guess is that the other drivers cannot see what is going on and probably think they are honking at a taxi driver as oppose to someone actually stopping at a traffic light.
  • Look both ways when crossing a 1 way road because the motorbikes don’t follow that rule. Watch out for motorbikes on the sidewalk too. Or for them blowing through a red light when you are in the crosswalk. Heck, sometimes you will see an SUV on the sidewalk, even if they don’t get very far.

Thanks to the many of you remembering me and keeping me in your prayers.  That means the world to me!  Would love a note or message from folks.  I am on the other side of the world and frequently feel so disconnected from everything going on in the US.  Love hearing updates on what is going on with everyone.