A Love Story From The War-Torn Rooftops of Tripoli To Lebanon

Love and War on the Rooftop - a Tripolitan tale

Welcome to Lebanon’s Tripoli, the city most of the country loves to hate.

A few months ago, whenever Tripoli was mentioned in casual conversation, it would be surrounded by a spew of sectarian hate speech. That conversation you heard or maybe even pa
rticipated in probably lacked depth, was never in context, always judgmental and served to further deepen the chasm between this Northern city and the rest of the country.

There’s nothing in this country that’s a more heart-breaking story or tragedy than the current state of Tripoli. Boasting the country’s biggest old souks, richest people, most important architectural feats and second largest population, it is also the country’s poorest, least developed, least cared for and least acknowledged place.

A lot can be said about that city, and I have over, and over, and over again. One thing for sure, however, is that the potential that Tripoli has is gigantic, if only we can tap into it. Lebanon’s NGO March, which you’d know from the popular Stop Cultural Terrorism in Lebanon page, have done just that. 

Over the past 4 months, director Lucien Abou Rjeili gathered together 16 young men and women from Tripoli’s Bab el Tebbeneh, Ebbeh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods and embarked on a conflict resolution project with them, in order to build bridges and see what can come out of it.

Those men and women were, prior to those 4 months, on opposite sides of Syria Street, witnesses to the bullets and rockets being fired by people they perhaps know, convinced that the person across that green line was their enemy until Kingdom come. Well, kingdom came.

Through acting exercises with the likes of Nadine Labaki, Georges Khabbaz, Rafic Ali Ahmad, those 16 men and women found themselves not looking at each other as enemies, but as friends. Instead of being wary of going to the sessions, they became excited. They’d want to go, see their friend from Jabal Mohsen or Bab el Tebbaneh, and maybe even hang out with them afterwards.

In the midst of that, those 16 men and women got threats. What they were doing did not sit well with higher up forces who know that their true power can only be fed by hate being present all the time between Jabal Mohsen and Bab el Tebbaneh: friendship, amicability and humanity should not be allowed.

Those young heroes stuck through it anyway. They knew what they were doing was more important than threats: they were setting an example, coming up with a beautiful story for their city and the country, a story that had to be told.

The result of those 4 months was a play called “Love and War on the Rooftop – A Tripolitan Tale,” featuring every single one of those 16 men and women in roles that tell the story, in satire, of their lives on the rooftops of their neighborhoods, as they try to be friends to the backdrop of bombs, snipers, death and inter-sectarian love.

Meet the cast:

In the play’s one hour duration, those young men and women, through their humor, their Northern accent, their interaction and the sheer passion with which they performed showed a jam-packed room a side of Tripoli that those people had probably never seen before: a city whose youth just want to have fun, be friends with each other, love each other and give you something to laugh at in the process.

This Tripolitan cast is not a bunch of professional actors, but they might as well have been. They gave it their all on stage, so much so that when the crowds gave them a standing ovation, many of them were in tears. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing, that there were people applauding them.

As the play ended, the main actor Khodor, who plays the play within a play’s director, had a few words to say. He probably meant what he said as a joke, but they resonated with me because his words were the embodiment of my deepest convictions about his city, and what the country fails to grasp.

He said: “I think I speak for all of us when I say we never dreamt, in our whole life, of watching a play. And now we’re acting in one.”

Behind the apparent joke that people cheered for is the true problem facing Tripoli. The problem is not just Sunni versus Alawite, Syria-lover versus Syria-hater. It’s a clash that stems from the lack of prospects and opportunities that the youth of Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen call every day life.

“After practice,” Khodor continued, “I’d feel a hollowness inside as I ached to see my new friends again, people I’d never dreamt of being friends with. My favorite guy of the bunch Ali (the main protagonist in the play within a play) became my best friend. I’d call him up, ask him where he was. He’d say he’s in Jabal and I’d visit and we’d go wasted. The following day he’d call me and ask me where I was. He’d visit me in Tebbaneh, and we’d get wasted too.”

Can you believe it? Those people that many in the country readily dismiss as neo-terrorists or extremists are people just like everyone else? Could it be?

Following the play, people went down to congratulate those “actors” on a job well done. Some gave them a hug. Others gave them a tap on the back to tell them how great they were. Khodor, Ali, Fatima and their friends were in tears. They never thought, not in a million years, that they’d be where they were that night, and that they’d have strangers coming to them to tell them how great, beautiful, bright and shining they all were.

Yesterday, as Lebanon’s Beirutis cheered, I felt happy that maybe, just maybe, they could finally see the Tripoli I see: a wonderful city, with kind-hearted people whose only fault in life was being born in a place that is forcibly forgotten, and ignored. But still they live, and tell stories and laugh at their own misery.

I congratulate March on a job truly well-done.

Today, those 16 young men and women are heroes we should all be talking about. Unlike everyone else in Lebanon, they rose beyond their sects, beyond their neighborhoods, beyond everything they know and took a leap.

If there’s anything that can make anyone hopeful in Lebanon today, it’s “Love and War on the Rooftop.” It’s the story of how yesterday’s enemies are today’s best friends, of how actually knowing someone you’ve been forcibly taught to hate can alter your entire perception towards that person, of how all the burned bridges in this country can be repaired if only we were open enough to the possibility, of how up north, in that forgotten land beyond the Madfoun checkpoint, is a city with a heart that’s still beating, still fighting, and only asking you to keep an open mind to it.

“Love and War on the Rooftop” will tour the country post Ramadan. The following are some pictures from the play:


The Lebanon-Israel Battle We’re Losing

We have oil… we will strengthen our army.

We have oil… we will upgrade our transportation system.

We have oil… we will have universal healthcare, retirement systems, etc…

Our highway is flooded with pictures from Lebanon’s ministry of energy to “celebrate” the presence of copious amounts of natural gas and oil under Lebanese waters. Of course, any talk about potential economic benefits for such wealth is still purely theoretical because we won’t know the extent of our reserves until we start digging.

The best and most optimistic estimates as to when Lebanon starts capitalizing on its natural reserves is 2017-2018. Such estimates assume the following:

  1. A smooth security situation,
  2. No bureaucratic hassle that would pose delays,
  3. A decent political environment with no dead-locks on the matter
  4. International cooperation with the upcoming venture,
  5. No drastic governmental changes that could affect the bidding process which is essential in early stages.

I don’t know about you but those 2017-2018 hopes are looking to be more and more far-fetched to me. The government already collapsed. We need to wait on a new one to form in order to proceed with the bidding on whoever’s going to get drilling rights in our waters. That’s not to mention any near-certain precipitations of the Syrian war over here or, as usual, political blocks that lead to a handful of laws being passed in any parliament’s given lifetime or even the sectarian calculations that have to go in with every single oil-related decision. You can call that the “Orthodox Oil Law.”

These oil reserves were discovered back in 2009 across three countries in the region: Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel. I don’t know about Cyprus – they might be too busy with their credit problems at the moment – but when it comes to Lebanon and Israel, we are at the losing end of this economic battle in our ongoing conflict with our most hated enemy.

From 2009 till 2013, we managed to ratify one law and form a committee regarding the oil matter. The committee took a long time to be formed because we had to find the proper sectarian balance. The law took an almost equally long time as well to be ratified by parliament.

Meanwhile, our neighbor to the South had started drilling and as of March 31st, 2013 has actually started storing the natural gas being extracted in its quest to reach energy independence. It has already started making billions off its reserves with deals surpassing $20 billion.

Many seem to disregard the fact that there are more aspects to our conflict with Israel than military gains or losses here and there. The economical aspect of the conflict, which is one of the main motives behind certain Israeli policies, is more dangerous and far more reaching.

The economic aspect of these natural reserves isn’t restricted to who gets there first. As of now, Lebanon doesn’t have a strategy to how our oil money will be used: are we going to use it to lessen the national debt? Are we going to use it for some much-needed developments that go beyond Beirut? How will we use the fund that will be set up for profits from these sources?

Our politicians believe it’s too early to discuss such things. We, as a nation, never plan ahead. We rarely try to build towards the future as opposed to things that bring profit here and now because it’s always too early for us to plan. Instead of forming a road-map to clearly illustrate how the benefits from Lebanon’s natural resources will be used, we go by the common Lebanese saying “bass neje 3laya, mensalle 3laya.” (We’ll see once we get there) .The problem is that we will eventually “neje 3laya” and history has taught us that dead-ends is all we’ll manage to build.

Instead of being one of the more pressing matters facing this country, Lebanon’s oil reserves have been dropped down to something second-rate. Our political class is keeping its head firmly stuck in sand, with hopes of a better future years from now, ignoring how an economically-growing Israel with clear plans for its development and sustainability will negatively affect any Lebanese attempt at growth of an economy that is in dire need of any form of extra income it can find.

But doesn’t that train look absolutely beautiful on those billboards?