Simon, The Boy We All Helped Fight Leukemia, Has Passed Away

It seems like it was just yesterday that Simon’s story became a Lebanese headline story that got people from all over the world to help him reach the $60,000 goal needed for his bone marrow transplant in less than 3 days.

It was a glorious moment. I remember how proud I felt that I had helped. I remember how happy his brother was when I spoke to him afterwards to see how Simon was doing. His brother was given hope. We had given his family hope. Simon, the brave Red Cross volunteer who, in spite of his illness, always worked to save lives, had a fighting chance.

There’s nothing that’s 100% in medicine, we are taught. You can never tell a patient they will be cured. You give them percentages based on studies done by people much bigger than you to inform them of their chances. A surgery is never 100% risk free. A cancer is never 100% curable. Some people fall through the cracks of the numbers, of the drugs, of the scalpels and of what we know about the human body.

On Friday, January 30th, after several weeks of being at the hospital, Simon Badaoui passed away.

I often hear that reasons are multiple and the end result is always the same: death is omnipresent. Today, Simon is being celebrated by his family and friends for the brave fighter that he was, for the courageous man that he is.

Simon will never die as long as there are people who remember him. He leaves behind the memory of a young man who rallied an entire country to help him. He is remembered as the young man who didn’t spend his nights partying but who worked tirelessly to save lives that would have otherwise perished. He is remembered as that man who was given 8 months of hope that he would have otherwise not had. He is remembered as a friend, as a son, as a brother.

All of those are memories worth leaving behind.

May he rest in peace. My condolences to his parents, siblings and all the people that held him dear.

 

No Hezbollah, We Are Not Ready For War


When Hezbollah retaliated by attacking the Israeli army convoy on Wednesday, my knee-jerk reaction was to call my friend who was the most touched by the 2006 war. She’s a medical student in my class, lived all her life in a village right at the border, spent several sleepless nights back in July 2006 huddled in an underground shelter her family had and still cowers away from sudden loud sounds to this day. She had a test that day, and she was devastated.

As she tried reading Internal Medicine off her iPad while checking news on her phone, she frantically called her parents who told her that schools had closed in the region. People had rushed to the bakeries to buy all the bread they can get. Grains had run out of the market in minutes. Flashback to 9 years prior to presentation, in 2015. Welcome to Lebanon, where the fragile stability in which you try to thrive can be taken away in a second.

For several tense hours, we all wondered what awaited us next. Would we have to go through yet another July war, but in January? Can we handle another war? Do we really want another exacerbation of the situation we’re perpetually in?

As I caught up with news online, I remembered back in July 2014, at the ER of the hospital I’m rotating in when a colleague from the South told me about the house his family had built.

It was a big mansion near Tyr, he said. A massive structure with dozens of rooms and beautiful views, he boasted. They were building it before 2006 but it got destroyed in the war by an Israeli shelling. His moment of pride came when he shared with me how in the 8 years since, his family had rebuilt the entire house, this time bigger, fancier, bolder, and that when the mansion gets destroyed again, as he was sure it would, they would be only too willing to rebuild it once more, bigger, fancier and bolder. “I miss war,” he said. “I can feel my body itching to fight.”

I shrugged him off back then, despite me knowing that he echoed a lot of people in his sentiment. It was madness to me that this cycle would become close to normality. In Lebanon, it is normality.

As such, following the attack on Wednesday, many figured bringing up the data-side of 2006 would sober up some people. 1300 dead, billions in damages, ruined infrastructure, bridges destroyed beyond recognition, economy in tatters, millions of cluster bombs, political repercussions from which we haven’t begun to recuperate 9 years later, just to name a few.

In a way, if all of the previously mentioned data existed in another country, it would guide people away from what caused them, towards more stability, more security, and less volatility. In Lebanon, however, these statistics are as irrelevant as this blogpost you are wasting your time reading.

We are a country ruled by law of emotion. This is not exclusive to Hezbollah and its supporters. It transcends them to all sects and regions. Those up in a fit about Nasrallah’s speech today would only gladly shoot up in the air hundreds of bullets when their politician graces other screens and would also pump their fist in their air in synchrony with the see of “labbaykas” they are in.

People convince themselves that their politics today are what they are because of current times. Those views, however, always stem – almost with no exception – from those same political parties benefitting their supporters in one way or another: protection during the Civil War, financial support in times of need, cover-ups for high profile murders (Yves Nawfal anyone?), wastas for med school admissions….

As such, what Hezbollah did on Wednesday, what Hezbollah is doing in Syria, what Nasrallah said today and what might or might not happen in the coming days are all broad headlines and actions that, for Hezbollah’s supporters, only serve to reinforce the notion their party of Allah is unattainable, beyond reproach, beyond questioning, beyond criticism, and, for lack of better word, allah-like, especially for those whose “faith” was waning. They should have known better. Repercussions obviously be damned.

In a country of emotional rule of law, repercussions rarely matter when the statements and actions preceding them are feisty, ambitious, grand and resistive. The lives of this country’s people are also only a matter of plus or minus numbers when their death and sacrifices are for a greater cause that, in the greater sense, only moves at a snail’s pace except in the eyes of those who view those deaths as advancing that grand cause.

However, those repercussions that don’t really matter are lived and felt by all. Yes, we all live them, contrary to those who have been pointing fingers lately to say that even the 2006 war wasn’t felt by everyone. I was there in 2006 when my part of the Lebanese Bible Belt had more Ali’s than Elie’s. I was there when those Ali’s in my hometown wept at the sight of their demolished homes. I was there when my neighbor was wailing as his son narrowly escaped death at the Madfoun bridge when it was bombed. I was there when every single Lebanese without exception looked at the skies in horror as smoke from across the country filled the horizons.

Between 2006 and 2015, we have done very little, if nothing at all, to lessen the repercussions of a possible new confrontation with our enemy down under. For instance, have we at least made sure that civilian casualties this time around wouldn’t be in the four digits and that we wouldn’t lose children whose only fault was being of a certain region, living at a certain time in Lebanese history, by building shelters for them? No. We can’t even tell our people جهزوا ملاجئكم  because they don’t have any. In a culture of the glorification of death, such souls don’t matter.

Today, Hezbollah says it’s ready for war, as it would obviously say. Hezbollah’s entire existence is well-rooted in its preparedness for conflict. I would be surprised if they weren’t. Hezbollah’s supporters would pretend they are ready for war as well. Eventually, in the case of war, the country would also follow suit in supporting our countrymen against Israeli aggression, despite us just waiting until the dust settles to point the finger and shout that we did not ask for this, while people tell us that the whole “another” war rhetoric is futile since the mere presence of Israel invokes lack of safety. But I digress.

The problem with Hezbollah being ready for war is that, once more, it reinforces the notion that they believe they exist in void, which is something they are repeatedly failing to understand. Nasrallah’s party may be ready to roll, but that party operates within the confines of a country that I’m sure he’s sad to be stuck in called Lebanon, a country that extends beyond the borders of the Litani, in which millions other than Hezbollah’s militants exist, in which there are now 1 million plus refugees that are freezing to death, in which there is no president, in which the government is so handicapped it couldn’t convene following Hezbollah’s attack on Wednesday, in which we are facing one of the toughest economical situations in years, in which the entire status quo is hanging on a fragile line that few want broken. And that country, in all its irrelevance, is not ready for the war that Hezbollah doesn’t even want but is “ready” for.

Back in 2006, Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview (YouTube link) that if he had known kidnapping the two soldiers at the border would lead to the July war, he wouldn’t have done it. I highly doubt the country is in a better state this time around. Either way, this isn’t something we get a say in.

How Hiba Tawaji Completely Owned France’s The Voice

Hiba Tawaji The Voice

Hiba Tawaji just blew everyone away at France’s The Voice, as was expected. She started off singing Michel Legrand’s “Les Moulins De Mon Coeur” before going into her own Lebanese version of the song “La Bidayi Wala Nihayi” prompting all four judges to turn for her.

Hiba then continued singing effortlessly before ending her performance with a high note that got all 4 judges to give her a standing ovation, as well as have the audience attending the taping rise to their feet to applause her.

This is Hiba’s performance:

She ended up choosing Mika as her coach for the rest of the show.

Hiba Tawaji - The Voice France

French audiences were also extremely receptive of her. “Libanaise” and “Hiba” both trended on Twitter worldwide. The following is a sample of the tweets that I screenshot as people gushed about her performance:

Even the head of Universal Music France was blown away by her:

Hiba Tawaji The Voice France

I saw a lot of Lebanese people wonder how it makes sense for someone as accomplished as Hiba Tawaji to end up on a French talent show.

I think someone as talented and as vocally adept as Tawaji is limited by the scope of what she can do in a country like Lebanon. Her talent can easily find a place in an international scene, with France being the easiest stepping stone as The Voice has proven to be receptive for Lebanese talents as Hiba Tawaji is the fourth Lebanese in four seasons to participate.

Sure, participating in a talent show doesn’t necessarily translate to instant success, nor does it mean she is sure to win the show. But if there’s any Lebanese that can have a shot at reaching the finals (the best outcome so far was Anthony Touma reaching the semi-finals in season 2), it’s her – and her audition only serves to prove that point: out of all 4 Lebanese, she was the best by far.

Moreover, Hiba Tawaji has been around for several years now, and her state of success, albeit impressive, is easily dwarfed by much less talented but more busted female singers in the country, which means that she is quite under-appreciated here for the level of art she is presenting.

Naturally, there will also be those who tell us that there are more important things to worry about. Of course there are more important things that Lebanese should be preoccupied with. At times like these when our army soldiers are bravely dying to let us watch such TV shows safely in the confines of our homes, and when there’s little to be optimistic about at the state of the country actually, such a moment can serve to unwind. And that’s not really a bad thing.

The French are referring to Hiba as “la Libanaise.” She represents us and is doing so extremely well. As such, Hiba Tawaji has made us all proud today and best of luck to her progression on the show.

 

The Names & Faces of Lebanese Army Soldiers Who Died Defending Us Against ISIS In The Beqaa

A lot of the Lebanese populace will be spending this weekend either skiing their days away at resorts or clubbing the nights at various parties across the country, or, ironically, watching the “heroics” of an “American Sniper” at our cinemas.

As that “joie de vivre” manifests, however, the country will be burying 8 soldiers that passed away yesterday defending everyone against a looming threat at our borders, and whose heroics will fail to register with most.

Why did those 8 army soldiers die? Well, for one reason it’s because they live in a country led by so-called leaders who aren’t up to their title as they fail every single moment they “lead” to make the much-needed decisions that such times require.

Today, Lebanon is in an official state of mourning. No, it’s not mourning any of these 8 heroes who gave up their lives, not thinking of their families, of their children and of their wives, to defend us. Nope – the country is mourning a Saudi King whose country has worked tirelessly over the past few years to make sure the terrorists who killed our army soldiers are well-armed and ready to fight.

Because those soldiers live in a country that won’t remember them after the weekend has passed and where their names and faces would always remain unknown, I figured the best way to honor them is to make sure their face and their name are there for all of us to see.

I often hear that it is the job of the Lebanese Army to defend us at all costs, but that doesn’t mean those “costs” should be without recognition. Those army members who sacrifice everything in order to maintain the republic should have their sacrifices honored. Our government may not think the fallen soldiers of a battle deserve to have the country’s flags lowered for a couple of days, but these 8 people have an entire population lowering their heads to salute them.

 

 

5 Major Projects To Take Place In Beirut: The City Losing Itself To Money

Between articles about how empty Downtown is and a reiteration of every form of the word “Phoenix” possible, there has been plenty that international publications have said about our capital. But there hasn’t been, in my opinion, as interesting an article as the one published in The Guardian today (link). In fact, it has taught me a few things about the city’s future that I felt should be shared.

Solidere’s view for Downtown Beirut is only halfway done. That empty but beautiful looking aggregation of charming but ultimately lifeless buildings is not where things end. Solidere’s view for how the center of Beirut should be is basically to get as many fancy worldwide architects as possible and have them build on one of the city’s plots.

As such, here are 5 projects that await the city in the future.

1 – Zaha Hadid’s Department Store in Beirut Souks

If you thought Zaha Hadid’s AUB building was bad, wait till you see this. Beirut Souks as they stand currently are not expensive nor are they enough for regular shoppers. So, naturally, they will expand in the future with the addition of a Zaha Hadid-designed department store that will also serve as a residential space in some of its floors. Why? Because money, I guess. The place will have be a 5-storey development of 26,370musable area (32,390m2 gross). And it looks ugly. For more information, check this.

2 – Norman Foster’s 3Beirut:

In the “Minet el Hosn” area, behind the Four Seasons hotel and facing Phoenicia, 3 towers are currently under construction, and nearing completion. The 3 towers are basically a staggered face that rises up to 120 meters. And here I thought urban planning in the city had a limit on how many “high-rises” you can have. They are considered “luxury apartments” and as such, add this to the list 99% of the Lebanese population can’t afford but will spend the rest of their days looking at. For more information, check this.

3 – Herzog & de Meuron’s “Beirut Terrace”:

Also in the “Minet el Hosn” area, facing Phoenicia, the “Beirut Terrace” project is currently under construction. An architect friend of mine once said he found the design to be impressive, so I would assume that this one of the better ones from an architectural point of view. In 2013, this project ranked 3rd among 36 projects worldwide in the MIPIM Awards. Of course, this apartments complex is also not within your budget, or almost anyone’s budget for that matter. The penthouse is $13 million. For more information, check this.

4 – Peter Marino’s  1338 Mina El Hosn:

Seeing as that same area isn’t saturated with wellness centers and shopping spaces already, here’s another one. The project includes retail, restaurants and cafés, high-end serviced apartments and a wellness center, the future Beirut Spa and Wellness Center. It will be a continuation of the Beirut Souks project and serve to connect the hotels area (Phoenicia, Four Seasons, Monroe) with the commercial district (Souks, Downtown). Located along Patriarch Howayek Street, it will cover an area of 17,173m2. For more information, check this.

5 – Renzo Piano’s “Pinwheel”:

Sama Beirut, which is nearing completion, won’t be the country’s tallest structure for long. “Pinwheel” is the name of the glass tower to be built at Wafiq Sinno avenue, near Biel, effectively blocking the view for most of the buildings behind it.  The towers will have a department store and ballroom in their lower levels, and a hotel with serviced apartments in the higher levels. For more information on the project, check this.

Bonus – Jean Nouvel’s “Landmark”:

We’ve all heard about this one when the plot on which it was built turned out to have Lebanon’s first Church. Naturally, everyone was outraged. Except this time, because it was a religious building, the outrage ended up putting the project on hold. As it looks now, this will be the project out of the 5 listed never to see the light of day. It was supposed to be a hotel, shopping center – because downtown doesn’t have enough of those – as well as a spa. For more information, click here.

They wonder why we feel disconnected with the city’s heart, and ultimately with the city itself. Beirut is not meant for us anymore. Even the less “fancy” development is not something most of us can afford. The Beirut that our parents told us stories about is nowhere to be found anymore, and if you thought the future would move retrogradely towards a city that’s more accessible to Lebanese, and less aimed at wealthy expats and Saudi sheikhs, you thought terribly wrong.

5 Issues More Important Than Miss Lebanon’s Selfie With Miss Israel

Ladies and gentlemen, as another week rolls by, we have another scandal about which you will probably be talking for the next seven days.

Sally Jreij, our lovely Miss Lebanon, is in one hell of a problem. A few days ago, a picture surfaced on Instagram that featured our pride and joy (especially true for Northerners) with a few other contestants.

In that same picture, on the far left corner was a face that would have been pretty meaningless if it weren’t for the ribbon she had around her torso. ISRA- oh my god, our internal security is in ruins.

From left to right:  Miss Israel, Miss Lebanon, Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan.

From left to right:
Miss Israel, Miss Lebanon, Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan.

Can you believe it? Our very own pride and joy managed to disgrace the country in a selfie with the enemy? What will befall us? What future can we promise our children when our very own representative to the beauties managed to ruin our country’s flawless reputation that way?

Except Sally Jreij did not purposefully take the selfie and was actually photobombed, not that this will deter the scandal from taking place because – as I said – we certainly have a shortage of those around here.

The following is her statement on the matter:

“To all my supporters and Lebanese citizens, I would like to thank you indeed for your continuous support of Miss Lebanon at the Miss Universe contest …The truth behind the photo: Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel (that tried several times to have a photo with me).

I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia and myself; suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie, and put it on her social media. This is what happened and I hope to have your full support in the Miss Universe contest”

Sally Jreij knows not to be seen with the enemy at places were it’s almost certain to be around them. She knows that when it comes to Lebanon and Israel, we are the ones supposed to forfeit, run away from pictures and be resistant at every corner, because we do not believe their existence is justified.

In fact, Sally Jreij did that not so long ago at yet another international pageant with Miss Israel Mor Maman:

From the 124 contestants, Maman’s best friend is Miss Kirgizstan and she has not been treated with hostility so far, expect for an incident concerning Miss Lebanon: “On one of the trips they took us on some of us girls wanted to take a selfie. Miss Lebanon wanted to join but asked me where I was from. When I told her I was from Israel, she declined the photo.”

Leave it to Lebanon to make a big deal out of nothing when we’re drowning up to our chins in problems.

So as a reminder, for when you are sharing that selfie, calling her a traitor and pointing her towards the public guillotine, here are 5 issues that are taking place as we speak and which most of you aren’t giving a second glance:

1 – Our Kidnapped Soldiers in Arsal:

How many months has it been since those soldiers were taken hostage by Islamists? How many days have their parents set up camps, blocked roads and did the impossible to bring attention to their sons? How many of those soldiers have been beheaded already to exert pressure on the country? How many questions of those can you answer without reverting to google?

Just today, two of our soldiers were injured by Israelis in the South. But obviously, that is less important than a selfie.

2 – Tripoli Had Two Explosions Last Week:

Between Charlie, Ahmed and every single Frenchman last week, we have failed to notice that the country lost 9 people in a double suicide attack in Tripoli last week. We didn’t have vigils in Beirut about them. No one protested. I bet few even cared. The news that one of the victims of those attacks was a bonafide hero didn’t even make a dent in our news. We couldn’t even agree on a hashtag to support Tripoli in the explosions. If you’re wondering, the hashtag to support sally is #StandForSally.

3 – No President:

I’m listing this as the #3 issue because it has become so passé. Our parliament failed yet again to elect a president last week. How many times have those been? I personally don’t know so you’re forgiven if you don’t know either. I suppose a country without a president is surely allowed to be panicky about a selfie with the enemy, right?

4 – A Recycled Parliament:

Never since the Civil War has a Lebanese parliament been a space occupying lesion as this one. They’ve been around for more than 5 years now. They will be around for 2 more. They are not passing any laws. They are not serving the country in anything, and if you look at point number 3, they have failed again and again to elect a president. Who cares when Miss Lebanon took a selfie with Miss Israel goddamit!

5 – Rule of Guns:

Yves Nawfal passed away last week because he was shot by people who thought above the law and whose entire lives revolve around guns. A couple of days after Yves’ death, another girl named Eliane Safatly was shot dead by a man who protested with his gun to not being allowed into a night club. Americans have their gun rights protected in their constitution. We can’t even begin to talk about an issue that’s killing our youth one by one. But, again, just look at that traitorous selfie for fuck’s sake!

Leave Sally Jreij alone:

The selfie that has you all upset has been around for 6 days. The only way this is causing our national security to go up in flames is through our insecurity that Miss Lebanon doesn’t know her limits as Lebanese abroad.

This is an ‘fyi’ to all those who are up in a fit: there are many, many Lebanese abroad who go to colleges and conferences and who also find themselves in attendance with Israelis. And they all know how to behave in order not to have people calling for their heads back home.

In a world of globalization, when someone is not a traitor, don’t make them one just because you feel like it, especially when real-life traitors are getting free out-of-jail cards because of their connection.

A few days from now, when the Miss Universe pageant is in full swing, Miss Lebanon will most certainly find herself in the same frame as Miss Israel. Are we going to panic then?

And you know what, our very own Sally Jreij is so much prettier than Miss Israel. So let our enemy of the south take that!

#JusticeForYves: The Killer Has Been Caught & This Is How You All Helped

The story of Yves Nawfal has been one of the most striking pieces of news to shake the country over the past few days. If you haven’t heard of Yves or the cold and calculated way he was killed, check out this link (click) for all the details.

5 days after Yves’ brutal murder at the hand of Charbel Georges Khalil, it is with pleasure that I write that Justice for Yves has been (partially) brought to us. The killer has been reportedly apprehended by the police in Brital, in the Beqaa.
Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 9.57.04 PM

He was reportedly fleeing to Syria according to L’Orient Le Jour. It’s a good thing he got caught before he got there.

The arrest of Charbel Georges Khalil shows that even political covers in Lebanon can end. It shows that when they want to do their job, our security forces and intelligence can do a great one at that, bring justice to those who demand it and not let killers escape just because they can.

And I hope you all know that you were a big reason of why Charbel Georges Khalil was caught.

You were the ones who endlessly shared our blog posts about him, read them in your hundreds of thousands, were absolutely shocked at this taking place in the first place and even more shocked that the killer was getting away.

You were the ones who made the story stick over 5 days, who made sure no one forgot Yves as yet another Lebanese cause du jour, who made sure our security personnel don’t slack off and just let this go as yet another unsolved murder mystery to become urban legend.

You were the ones who raised your voice so loud that whichever politician was hiding Charbel Khalil not only had his name until today hidden from every media outlet, only existing in speculation, but also got that politician to let go of the person he was protecting.

You were the ones who organized sit-ins to make sure this doesn’t get forgotten.

Charbel Khalil is a very connected, and resourceful man. In a country like Lebanon, that gets you far. Sometimes, it gets you way too far. Money can buy you anything. Connections can get you out of anything. It is because of all our efforts that we’ve put a brick wall in front of Charbel Khalil and his resources. And hopefully that brick wall will now turn into a jail cell from which he will never leave, until the day he dies.

Tonight, we should all celebrate Yves’ justice, and I hope you all know that Yves’ justice doesn’t become whole with death penalties.

The story, however, doesn’t end here.

There are still people out there who helped in Yves’ murder and who should be caught. Charbel Georges Khalil did not act alone. He had accomplices. Their names are known. They are Charbel Moussa Khalil, Juliano Saadeh and Edwin Azzi – all of whom are also resourceful and connected and who are still out of reach. Those three people made sure Yves got ambushed. They made sure his car was blocked and made sure he was susceptible to have shots fired at him.

Even Myriam Klink thinks Edwin Azzi is scum:

MyriamKlink Edwin Azzi

I’m sure Yves’ family will sleep better tonight knowing that their son’s killer will spend his night behind bars. I hope his mother starts to at least find peace now that her son is one of the very few people in this country who have justice being given to their memory. I also hope Yves’ friends and loved ones find solace in the fact that have made sure this becomes 5 days’ worth of national news.

Covering this story has been humbling. Yves will always be remembered as the man whose memory challenged our entire political system. May he rest in peace.