What’s Happening At Zara Lebanon?

Update: AZADEA were kind enough to explain the process of their pricing. Sales and promotions are monitored by the Lebanese Ministry of Economy. If such a mistake were to be found at their premises, the customer is to get the lower price guaranteed. You can also always consult their costumer service in case you encounter such an aberration.

A friend recently sent two pictures my way of people they know shopping at one of Zara’s shops in Beirut and discovering that they were possibly victims of fraud by a chain that many believed wouldn’t resort to such techniques for profit.

Every year, come sales time, retailers slash prices off many of their items in attempts to lure customers into buying. We all fall for it – what’s better than paying a whole lot less for something that, a few days ago, cost a whole lot more?

Except it seems to be possible that some retailers have reverted to a technique that many of us had only heard of before but haven’t seen: increasing the pre-sales price on an item and then applying the sales discount on that, to maximize profitability on the item to be sold.

I don’t know how long this practice has been going on in their premises nor do I know if other retailers in Lebanon also adopt this fraudulent technique to rip us off of our hard-earned money. What it seems to be, however, is that even shopping in Lebanon isn’t the simple straightforward matter that it should be.

Perhaps it’s a typing mistake, perhaps it’s not. But even international brands may not above bending the law when they set ship over here. Today even our markets are in anarchy. With no control, no safeguards, no monitoring and no regulations, who protects the average Lebanese customer from falling to such practices?

Getting Assaulted By A Taxi Driver in Beirut

It was Sunday June 15th, a few hours before starting my final year of medicine, as I headed to the graduation dinner of colleagues at my university. I took the unfortunate decision to go to the location by a “service,” or the cheap fare for taxis in Beirut. The place was within walkable distance on any given day but I was borderline suited up and it was June in Beirut.

The taxi picked up a 25 year old guy who wanted to go to “Hotel Dieu” and drove onwards. He dropped me off next to Banque Byblos on Achrafieh’s main road, facing Sofil, and I gave him 20,000.

That was mistake #1.

The moment he saw the bill, he started barraging me about how I hadn’t told him that I had such a huge bill with me. I looked at him and replied: “it’s just 20,000. What would you have done if I had a bigger bill?”

He didn’t like my reply. Perhaps I should have just ignored, but I have a very low threshold as an individual for unnecessary rudeness. A few minutes later as he held up traffic, under a street camera belonging to the bank or the nearby Dutch embassy, he threw all 1000LL bills at me, so I got out of the car and closed the door behind me with an extra flair. I turned my back and crossed the street.

That was mistake #2.

A moment later, I started hearing shouting from behind me. “I will fuck your mother, you cunt!” I turned around and saw that the taxi driver was addressing me. I turned around and walked onwards. “You cunt, you cunt. Your mother is a whore.” I turned around and immediately gave him the finger. His voice kept rising and the insults kept coming. I gave him a second finger and walked onwards.

That was mistake #3.

I walked down the Sofil road, on my way to the location of the graduation dinner, when I heard the shouting get closer. The guy he was supposed to take with him to Hotel Dieu still in the car, the taxi driver drove his car towards me. A moment later, he was out of his car with a bat and before I knew it he slammed me on the side. It was one of those fight or flight moments we get taught about in biology. I decided to fight. So I started beating him as he hit me with the bat he had.

A minute or so later, I break free as the valet parking personnel of nearby “Le Maillon” come close. The taxi driver then runs to his car and drives away as he sees people getting closer. I hadn’t gotten his license plate number. The guy with him was texting throughout; he hadn’t moved a muscle.

My (brief) medical training allowed me to quickly assess my injuries. I felt blood gushing down my neck and lip. I also felt a bruise over my forehead and shoulder. I hadn’t lost consciousness, nor did I feel dizzy or vomit. I assumed my injuries were minimal so I marched on the dinner.

I was disheveled and obviously shocked. I had never thought such a thing would happen to me. My friends were all smiling when they saw me. Their smiles turned into shock when they saw my bloody neck. They went with me to the bathroom to help me clean up.

The graduating physicians assessed my head wound and decided it was superficial and didn’t need stitches. I let my body’s coagulation system run its course and headed back to the dinner. I decided not to ruin the night for the friends who wanted me there, and I tried my best not to.

A couple of hours later, I couldn’t take it anymore so I headed out to my hospital’s ER room. I entered without going through the personnel at the entrance. I saw familiar residents. They knew me. They immediately asked what was wrong so I explained to them that I needed a medical report of what had happened to me to present it to the police. The ER physician asked me to go open a file, the way any other patient would do. I told him I didn’t have money on me – he couldn’t care less. There was no preferential treatment for their own student there. I paid whatever fee they asked, running out of money in the process, and waited in my own triage cubicle.

I quickly told the resident examining me that there was nothing wrong. I just needed my wound cleaned so I can get on my way. The whole thing took about an hour. I was out of the ER and broke my 1AM. My friend was going to take me to the police to file an official complaint.

The best part of the night was yet upon me.

I arrived to the police station a few minutes later. What do you need, the policeman guarding the door asked. I told him the purpose of my visit and he directed me to the 5th floor. To reach said floor, he pointed me towards an elevator for everyone minus “officers.” The elevator wasn’t working.

I reached the 5th floor and explained what had happened to the personnel there. Their initial reaction was not to ask whether I was okay or not, it was to make sure they understood the precise location of where the assault had happened. The reason? “The location falls outside of the jurisdiction of this floor. Please go to the 1st floor so they can assist you.”

Make sure you go down the elevator to the ground floor, they said, it doesn’t stop at the first. I did as they said.

On the first floor, the personnel there brought up fancy Google Earth. They had underestimated my ability to read Beirut from satellite, telling me I wouldn’t understand what I saw. I pointed them to where the assault had happened. Guess what? It wasn’t their jurisdiction either. I was pointed to another floor.

I went up. It wouldn’t end there. “Did the assault happen on the sidewalk or on the asphalt?” They asked. “Does it matter?” I replied. Of course it did. Their jurisdiction only extended to the asphalt of the road going up from Mar Mkhayel towards Achrafieh’s main street. The assault on me had happened on the way down to Mar Mkhayel… on the sidewalk. So what what I supposed to do?

“You look okay,” they said, “and we’re obviously not going to do anything now. So why don’t you come back tomorrow at 9AM?”

I didn’t return.

Perhaps I had different expectations of how my first police encounter and how my first calling upon the law would work.

Perhaps I was too foolish to believe that those policemen wouldn’t waste an entire hour of my time at 1:30AM in the morning sending me between their office’s floors in their vain attempts to throw their work off on each other.

Perhaps I was too stupid to believe I would actually get the law working for me, in an area with about 100 cameras per squared meter, by simply asking for my right without resorting to my non-existent connections to help push my cause forward.

My friends told me I should have gone the second day and wasted my time because no one will give me my right if I don’t fight for it, but I have to ask: is it acceptable that, after getting assaulted with a bat at a supposedly safe street in your capital, you need to also figuratively fight with those whose job is to supposedly fight for you, wasting your energy and effort at something they told you wouldn’t lead to much anyway?

I guess I’m lucky he didn’t have a gun.

As I was walking down the stairs to exit the police station, I saw those anniversary posters for our internal security forces. “Our job is to serve and protect you,” they said. I just laughed at the irony as I headed back to the car that drove me back home.

Oops, Sorry For “Accidentally” Destroying Your Mar Mkhayel Home

While everyone jumped from one pub to the next in Mar Mkhayel yesterday to catch the first game of the FIFA World Cup, there was a woman there standing in disbelief in the midst of her living room, looking over the streets filled with traffic. She was not looking out of a window.

The Facebook group advocating to Save Beirut’s Heritage (link) is trying to propagate the story of a woman who could have died because of the greed of contractors in Beirut who know there’s no law to hunt them, no regulations to constrict them and no one to tell them they did nothing wrong.

Right next to that woman’s house is a 1920s building which as of yesterday does not exist anymore. In the process of demolishing that building, her own apartment’s walls were destroyed in the process. If that woman had been there while those skilled workers were doing their “job” she would have been seriously injured, if not killed. The wall that was demolished is that of her living room. Her apartment is in a building that’s over 100 years old. The contractor has offered the woman to buy her another apartment instead, but what good would that do when it could have almost cost that woman her life?

Let’s not be gullible and assume it’s an innocent mistake. I don’t know the woman’s name. I don’t know who the contractor is. What I do know, however, is that the practice of damaging houses “accidentally” in order to force their tenants to evict has been going on for a long time in Beirut as the city’s manic rush to exemplify its concrete maze status is pushed full gear.

This isn’t about the value of an old house in Mar Mkhayel, although that’s another topic worth discussing in itself especially that the area is facing yet another round of demolition soon with the Fouad Boutros Highway tearing it apart. This is about the length that Beirut’s real estate mafia would go to in order to get that new “it” high-rise they’re craving for so much. This is about how little the lives and well-being of people mean in the grand picture of millions of dollars in investment being put to remodel the city and make it more chaotic, irregular and without a character than it already is.

A few blogs have already spoken about the issue (here and here), but I believe this is something vital to highlight so here I am trying to propagate it further. Beirut’s Municipality should care less about fencing Rawche at this point and care more about the well-being of the people in the city, the people who are dying because of their total disregard to the illegality taking place here. Lebanon’s ministry of interior should care less about people not having an easy path to World Cup watching and care more about making sure such a thing never happens again.

Yesterday, this woman returned to a damaged home. Some other day, many of us – living in old Beiruti apartments in areas bustling with construction – could suddenly face a reality without home.

These are a few pictures from Save Beirut Heritage:

 

 

The Fault In Our Stars (2014) – Movie Review

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There’s a multitude of ways that movie adaptations of books can go. They can span from an absolute abomination that gets fans of the novel rallied up against the atrocity they see on screen or it can be a very faithful representation that preserves the subject matter in the best of ways. The Fault of Stars is the latter.

Hazel Grace could be your every day 16 year old girl. Her time is filled with reality TV series, while obsessing and re-reading her favorite novel. Except she walks around with nasal cannula connected to a tank of oxygen that she carries around wherever she goes. Hazel Grace has terminal thyroid cancer with lung metastasis. The cancer is held at bay with a wonder drug in clinical trials – but it’s just that: barely held there, capable of getting her fragile body to collapse at any given moment.

At the request of her mother, Hazel goes to Cancer Support meetings carried out at the litteral heart of Jesus. She hates them. You see, Hazel Grace is not your average fictive cancer patient who relishes in the idea of telling her cancer story over and over again, while identifying with those who share her disease. No, she seeks normality in any way she could find. A Cancer Support meeting, however, is where she stumbles on Augustus Waters, an 18 year old boy with a limp. Augustus had been free of osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, for 14 months now. Full of positivity and always upbeat to Hazel’s constant demure, Augustus sets out on changing her entire perspective on life… even about the significance of a cigarette between one’s teeth.

As I said yesterday, it’s easy to dismiss The Fault In Our Stars as a tale for hormonal teenage girls. But this movie is anything but. It’s gut-wrenching, exceedingly tough to watch at times for an average viewer who has never been exposed to the atrocities of cancer that are represented in the most real of ways on screen. Sure, there are some inescapable cliches here and there, but the people I watched the movie with – not hormonal teenage girls, for the record – all found the movie exceedingly tough to watch. It’s not the kind of tough that makes you feel run over by a truck once the credits roll; It’s the kind of tough that – for a moment – gives you a perspective over how lucky you are to be sitting in that cinema chair, not with a nasal cannula as your main way of breathing.

The Fault In Our Stars is bolstered by a pair of great lead performances that elevate it to what it is. Shailene Woodley, on a cinematic roll with “The Spectacular Now” and “Divergent,” is an absolute wonder to watch on screen. Not many young actresses can pull off the role of Hazel Grace the way that she does. The nuances with which she infuses her character are A-rate. The camera lingers just a little longer for a lot of moments on Hazel Grace’s face – those moments help you encompass the scope of the emotion span that Woodley’s character is going through. They also help you make sense of how it is to be those characters, living those lives.

On the other side of the cinematic lead is Ansel Elgort, whose first major role came in the atrocity of a movie called “Carrie” and who also shared screen time as Woodley’s on-screen brother in “Divergent,” is a reveal. While most of us knew Woodley had the cinematic chops to carry on the role with an Academy Award nomination under her belt already for her role in “The Descendants,” I – for one – never thought Elgort would pull off Augustus Waters as well as he did. He spans the entire shades of his character throughout the movie effortlessly, from positivity to fragility, from strength to weakness. He balances Woodley’s act in the best of ways.

The movie wouldn’t be as it is without the decent screenplay that it has. Those who are wary the movie might have ruined the book need not be afraid as John Green had a lot to do with the screenplay at hand. Another entity that could easily be overlooked for The Fault In Our Stars is the stunning soundtrack it bolsters. I personally can’t get enough of some of the songs there – so make sure you give it a listen.

At the end of the day, The Fault In Our Stars is a movie about human fortitude. It’s a rare thing to have such a theme embodied on screen and this movie does a great job at it. Is it for all tastes? Probably not. But it’s also not as easy to dismiss as many would like to. The Fault In Our Stars the kind of movies that stem power from them being truthful, realistic and – ultimately – human. Go watch it. Okay?

8.5/10

Congrats Lebanon, We’ve Successfully Begged A World Cup

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After weeks of suspense, the country can rejoice today with the news that our long forgotten national television, Tele Liban, will broadcast the FIFA World Cup, set to begin in Brazil in just a few hours.

After months of kissing Qatar’s ass once again, our government officials have succeeded in procuring this wonderful gift upon the Lebanese populace. No, you won’t have to pay any Liras to watch your favorite team attempt to win that cup. How awesome is that? How privileged are we to have a government care for us so much that they had no problem in begging Qatari princes for the rights to broadcast the World Cup for the entirety of this country free of charge?

How privileged are we that our government had no problem in making sure the company that procured the rights for the World Cup in Lebanon gets royally screwed over just because we simply refuse to pay?

Thank you Qatar once again. Thank you Qatar for providing us with jobs. Thank you Qatar for building our bridges, putting asphalt on our roads, investing in our infrastructure, funding whichever parties agree with your politics and making sure we remain in the sports loop. How can one not be thankful for that?

Unpopular opinion over here, but watching the World Cup is not a right. It’s a privilege. It’s sad that our government has worked tirelessly to secure the World Cup when we have so many more important things they should be working for. But we’ve never been a country of priorities. What we have been for a long time, however, is a country built on begging, read شحادة.

We’ll know tomorrow how it feels to watch yet another World Cup we begged to watch. Mabrouk everyone. And mabrouk Tele Liban – you will become the “it” TV of every Lebanese for the next 30 days. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Update: According to new reports, BEIN Sports has not granted Tele Liban the rights for the World Cup. This is becoming a ping-pong game if you ask me.

Why You Should Give “The Fault In Our Stars” A Shot

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Let’s consider this a break from a state of Lebanese depression.

The new “it” movie that everyone’s talking about, based on John Green’s novel of the same title, is The Fault In Our Stars. Teenage girls have already lined up in theaters to weep their eyes out, jokes ensued. Others have already dismissed the movie as yet another teenage drama they will not bother with.

And here I am to tell you that “The Fault in Our Stars” is something worth giving a shot to. No, it’s not because it’s an epic love story that transcends time and place as movie or novel tag lines tend to say, but because it’s such a simple story in itself, told in a remarkably real way, that it can’t not resonate with you.

Popular culture has always found a way to turn cancer into a simple matter that entails losing one’s hair, vomiting in a bucket because of the chemo and ending up unscathed at the end. The truth of things, however, is anything but.

As someone whose mother battled the disease and survived, I know how it is to see someone get weakened by those treatments, seeing them waste in front of you because of the drugs saving their lives. As a medical professional, I know how it is to deliver cancer diagnosis to people. I know how it is to see children in front of you wearing a Superman cape as they exit their chemo sessions. It’s not Hollywood, it’s real life that happens every day right next to your workplaces and homes, in locations you don’t give a second look at.

The Fault in Our Stars” gets cancer. It may not employ the most precise of medical jargon all the time, but its portrayal of cancer is one that I wouldn’t feel horrified reading. It tells the story of the disease the way it is. There’s no sensationalization, no glamorization, no poetic justice. It’s not full of errors, cliches and whatnot. It shows cancer the way it is: a disease that ruins lives, leaves people impaired and takes away loved ones. But a disease that doesn’t put life on pause.

The might of “The Fault in Our Stars” is in how it communicates the topic of cancer in the way that it does.  Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters are not the cliche Hollywood fiction power couple going about their days as they await to be cancer free. They are not a saccharine representation of thyroid cancer or osteosarcoma. They are not people who just exist with cancer. The cancer stories of Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters are as real as a story of a relative you’d tell to a friend over coffee. This authenticity when it comes to the disease at hand is unparalleled. I’ve personally never seen it in fiction before. And it’s heart-warming to read.

It’s easy to dismiss “The Fault In Our Stars” as another cliche love story aimed at hormonal teenage girls and their pockets. Sure, marketing the movie and book as an out of the box love story is the surest way to ensure profitability, get girls and their tear ducts functioning in hyper-drive, but the story in itself isn’t just about love. It’s the story of two people who might as well have been patients at the hospital I’m working at and who could have been battling osteosarcoma or thyroid cancer.

The book also deals with the issue of teenage sex in a way that is so casual and yet so intimate at the same time. It tackles sex as it is: a reality. That’s a rare thing to read or watch currently, in a culture of either over-sexualization or lock it away and don’t talk about it. The book finds the middle ground between the two extremes and handles it exceedingly well.

The Fault in Our Stars” is not a perfect book. Given the mania around it, it’s also beyond easy to dismiss it as a current fad that will fade away when the mania subsides, and perhaps it will. But as it currently stands, regardless of young love, death and getting susceptible people to weep uncontrollably, “The Fault In Our Stars” deals with old themes in a very new way. You may look at it as sick people in love, rendering it meaningless and silly. Or you can look at it as the lives of people who happen to be sick. I chose the latter because those lives are so realistically written they could easily jump off that page.

The Fault In Our Stars” is not an easy read or an easy movie to watch. It may seem contrary to popular belief to believe so, but I – for one – had dismissed it straight out of the bat a few months ago when I first started hearing about it. I was very glad I gave that book a shot. It’s not a literary masterpiece but its topics are crucial for discussion. It’s the closest you’ll ever get, hopefully, to see such diseases in their most realistic forms. Such things exist. Be part of them, even if in fiction.

I’ll be reviewing the movie later this afternoon.

When Lebanese Students Become A Bargaining Chip: What’s Happening To Official Exams?

Lebanon’s parliament has failed yet again. It failed to elect a president for the Republic over the past 3 months. It failed again yesterday. It failed to secure the promised demands of Lebanon’s workers syndicate. And it will keep failing because that’s how our excuse of a legislative body functions.

10 minutes was all it took for this parliament to pass the law that extended its mandate for a year and half last year. This same parliament has failed to manage a two third majority for almost all of its sessions following our presidential election attempt, also read charade, back in early April.

The issue at hand is a debate worth having: rightful demands versus economic responsibilities. It’s also a debate that this country, where flashy headlines always take the cake, does not have the ability to hold. Our parliament, however, is not held back by the economic woes that such demands would hold. They’re held back by the typical political tug-of-war we’ve had for the past five years, if not more, and by them trying to come up with ways to circumvent having their properties taxed and finding ways for us to carry the burden of the workers’ demands.

In this ongoing war between Lebanon’s classes, the only entity lost in limbo is Lebanese students who have no idea what’s happening with them and their official exams, which will determine the course of their future.

Last week, Lebanon’s current minister of education postponed official exams by about a week in order to see what transpires from today’s parliamentary session. Perhaps it was a move to press on our legislators to see if they actually cared about the students. Well, if it were it turns out they don’t.

So what’s happening to those official exams now? The minister is saying that the students will go on and present those exams but the teachers will not correct, which begets the obvious question: what’s the point of holding exams if the papers are to sit in some warehouse, ink on paper without grades?

Our speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, just announced as well that Lebanon’s current climate is not one where official exams can be held. Ladies and gentlemen, our country is a place, it seems, where holding exams is now a matter of national “climate,” which is the excuse given last year not to hold parliamentary elections. I wonder, when is the climate in this country ever suitable for things that should function seamlessly for them to do so?

Meanwhile, about 100,000 Lebanese students are falling hostage to the ongoing political bickering taking place in the country, their entire future in limbo. For the past two months, these students have been sitting at home studying and preparing for exams they didn’t even know would happen.

Can you imagine the amount of stress that these fifteen and seventeen year olds have to withstand not knowing what’s happening with them, having their exams postponed one minute and then not knowing if they’re taking place the next? We were lucky back then that our only worry was about passing, not about whether all the studying would actually culminate in an exam taking place or not.

Those 100,000 students, spread upon brevet, baccalaureate and technical eduction, will be stuck if those exams don’t happen. Those in brevet won’t pass to secondary classes. Those presenting their bac will not go to universities. What’s worse is that everyone knows this exceedingly well and still those students are used as a bargaining chip to advance rights or lack thereof. What’s even worse is that those 100,000 students have nothing to do with the issue at hand. Shouldn’t their future be off limits to the ongoing bickering?

It doesn’t matter where you stand regarding the demands of Lebanon’s syndicate of worker, but using Lebanon’s students and their future as a bargaining chip, keeping them hostage to the current situation is not something anyone should stand with.

This is a country without a president, without a decent functional working body, without legislation, without parliamentary elections, without security or sovereignty. But no worries everyone, our government is hard at work making sure you can watch the World Cup on Tele Liban. Yes, that’s what truly matters now. Forza Azzurri everyone.