Dear Lebanon, The Garbage Crisis Is Not Giving You The Flu

Lebanon Garbage - 3

In the context of a country with any ounce of self-respect, speaking about a garbage crisis that has been going on since July would not only be old news by now, it would be solved old news. Except we don’t live in a country with an any amount of self-respect, and as such Greater Beirut’s garbage situation is still a topic, albeit less hot, of discussion.

A few months ago, when people were actually interested in the garbage crisis, which is to say when the garbage was visible on their streets and not tucked away in some valley somewhere or in a makeshift pyramid near the port, I wrote an article on this blog (link) about the health risks that the crisis might involve especially with the rain season.

As a very brief summary, in theory the garbage crisis and the many variables around it would cause the following:

  • Many types of bacterial infiltration of the waters,
  • Many heavy metals and other elements-related pollution,
  • Burning it will increase the amount of carcinogens in the air, as well as exacerbate respiratory conditions in people who have pulmonary disease when they have it.

As long term effects, we could be looking at an increased cancer incidence as a study after Italy’s waste management crisis in 2004 showed.

What the garbage crisis is not doing, however, is giving you the flu or other common infections that we encounter yearly.

Over the past few weeks, which happens to be the yearly flu season in Lebanon, everyone and their mother decided that whenever they got sick, it was because of the garbage crisis in Beirut. H1N1 – or as it’s more commonly known in the country now H1 and 1 – has become so commonly associated with the garbage crisis that the scientific community is probably considering whether to reconsider all the details surrounding H1N1 altogether.

We’ve also heard about “new” viruses attacking the country, such as metapneumovirus B, causing severe respiratory diseases.

This is, quite simply, incorrect.

For starters, metapneumovirus B is not a new virus. It’s been known for at least 40 years now and is actually one of the leading causes of respiratory infections in children worldwide. Lebanon has had this virus before, and it gets treated the same way we treat most viral infections: address the symptoms and provide the patient relief while their ailment resolves.

The case illustrated in this eTobb article (link) about a 25 year old who had a devastating respiratory infection secondary to the aforementioned virus remains, as it stands, a case that fell through the cracks of medicine in the sense that some people will get complications from common infections and we have no way to predict who would be the victim of such complications.

When it comes to H1N1, this is the current state worldwide:

Outbreaks are being reported in Bulgaria, Canada, Ireland, Ethiopia, Pakistan, etc. What do these countries have in common? Nothing, which is precisely the point.

Every year, the world is swept up by a strain of the Influenza virus which, when a person infected, gives them what is referred to as the flu: runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, fatigue, feeling pain all over your body for a few days, etc…. These symptoms usually resolve in a few days and you’re off on your merry way to health.

Some people may also be infected and not show any symptoms. The way this occurs is in sort of a pyramid fashion:

Assume 100,000 people in Lebanon got infected this year. 10,000 of those would show symptoms of the flu. Out of those 10,000 maybe around 100 would require hospitalization. And out of those 100 that needed hospitalization, 1 might die because of complications.

The garbage crisis overtaking Beirut has nothing to do with this. This will happen again next year, with or without a garbage crisis, and it will also happen the year after as it also took place in the years prior. Having a new shiny ribbon of erroneous but appealing explanation to wrap this whole thing with won’t make it go away. People are getting sick all over Lebanese territories simply because this is an infectious disease, not a garbage-related disease; the garbage does not cause H1N1 or the flu. It’s really that simple.

At this rate, getting the first case of Zika virus infection in this country will also be attributed to the garbage.

Therefore, I’m sorry to say that the answer to your question “how did I get sick” is simply “this is how things are,” and not “it’s the garbage that’s killing you.”

You can, however, protect yourself by practicing as much hygiene as possible. Thorough hand-washing is key to prevent the transmission of the influenza virus. Avoid sick contacts if you can. If you’re sick, don’t be a jerk and go around contacting others. Don’t trust your local pharmacist to start you on Tavanic or Klacid or whatever other medication he feels like giving you. This is a virus and antibiotics don’t work. Rest as much as you can, you’ll get better in a few days.

 

#ThisIsLebanon: Showing The Beauty Of The Country We Come From & Trying To Keep It

 

Lebanon is a gorgeous country. It takes an effort – at least for me – to try and see that in absolute value sometimes, but I can’t deny that there are instances where I can’t but marvel at the beauty of the country we call home.

To drive this point home and to encourage us to keep this country as such, or even make it better, Rani Nasr and Samah el Kadi, two aspiring Lebanese filmmakers, decided to do what they love best and make weekly videos highlighting beautiful landscapes in the country.

They just released the first video in the series, filmed in the Chouf mountains:

The next videos are filmed in various other locations in the country such as Tannourine, Ehden, Chahtoul, The Cedars, etc. As mentioned previously, they will be released in a weekly manner on this Facebook page (link).

Making the videos, however, was not as easy as just holding a camera and roaming around a beautiful forest or mountain. Due to Lebanese people being as they are, Rani Nasr informed me that he had to personally pick up garbage from entire landscapes just to be able to show how beautiful the place was and take a decent shot of it.

Not only is the nature we have left endangered by rabid urbanization, but also by people who can’t appreciate how beautiful it is and think that throwing their garbage wherever they may be is the way to go. You see, we are not victims of living in garbage. It is our choice. We chose for years to be a populace that litters all around, damaging the environment, helpless animals and ultimately ourselves. We also chose not to go back to what we know, our politicians, instead of what we need, a new system, when Beirut was drowning in garbage. We also chose to turn a blind eye to where the garbage filling Beirut’s streets is now being thrown.

He also told me about hunters roaming those areas just to kill deer and wildcats, either for BBQ purposes or to collect trophies on their walls. I had no idea Lebanon’s forests actually had deer, but it seems they do.

The biggest threat to our nature is us. How about we change that? Two things you can do that would help immensely are the following:

  1. Don’t throw your garbage anywhere and everywhere,
  2. Don’t kill harmless animals just because you’re bored.

I asked Rani if they intend to turn the #ThisIsLebanon movement into a #LiveLoveBeirut or #LiveLoveLebanon-esque entity, and he said no: it was just them doing what they loved, movies, to show what they loved, Lebanon’s nature. As such, they will not be monetizing off of it.

What they hope to accomplish is for their films to inspire people to want to see more of their country, to want to preserve the beauty and take positive steps in that direction: visit Lebanon’s natural reserves and help to preserve the forests by supporting them, not litter everywhere you go, marvel in the beauty of the country you live in and share it with whoever wants to see.

To end this on a more positive note, I figured I’d share a few pictures of the beauty of this country, with or without the hashtag #ThisIsLebanon, to drive the point home. The instagram accounts of the corresponding pictures will be mentioned in their caption, as well as their respective location.

You can follow the accounts here:

There’s a lot of beauty in the country beyond the confines of everyone’s Beiruti comfort zones. Go explore, return with beautiful pictures and change yourself and the country one beautiful landscape at a time. #ThisIsLebanon, and it’s worth discovering.

 

Lebanese Marwan Youssef Wins Star Academy; Arabs Have A Meltdown About It

As blogger Anis Tabet wisely put it, “the year is 2050, and Star Academy is still on TV.”

Yes, it’s become increasingly redundant and unwatchable as it faces competition from more “appealing” shows as The Voice, but here we are and the Lebanese contestant Marwan Youssef just became the second Lebanese to win the show after Joseph Attieh, arguably the show’s most accomplished winner and graduate.

From the town of Obeidat in Jbeil, Marwan is an USEK student in his twenties, and even though I haven’t watched the show, catching up with what he presented over the season on YouTube has shown me that he is immensely talented, and can seriously sing (as can the other 3 finalists).

And since the country had nothing else to worry about over the past week, the ministry of telecommunication slashed voting prices (link) and radio stations as well as LBC led a campaign encouraging people to vote. He ended up getting around 55% of the votes, facing 2 Egyptians and a Tunisian:

But then the drama started.

I inadvertently clicked on the hashtag of the show soon after the announcement of the results only to be inundated by conspiracy theories, a slur of racism, accusations of cheating, mocking of Lebanon and a bunch of other hilarious offerings.

First up there was the news channel speaking about “actual” voting results, except math died in the process.

Star Academy 11 Marwan Youssef Haydi Moussa Mohammad Abbas Nassim el Rayyess Finale - 1

What’s sadder is the amount of people believing the numbers and resharing them.

Then there was the Egyptian who knows about our political problems and who figured Star Academy would be the best way to use them:

Star Academy 11 Marwan Youssef Haydi Moussa Mohammad Abbas Nassim el Rayyess Finale - 18

There were also those who had a problem with the country to begin with and couldn’t wait for such a thing to happen to express their #TeamAntiLebanon attitude:

Star Academy 11 Marwan Youssef Haydi Moussa Mohammad Abbas Nassim el Rayyess Finale - 21

Some were also very confused:

Star Academy 11 Marwan Youssef Haydi Moussa Mohammad Abbas Nassim el Rayyess Finale - 7

Egyptian journalists with verified twitter accounts were also not that happy:

Star Academy 11 Marwan Youssef Haydi Moussa Mohammad Abbas Nassim el Rayyess Finale - 20

It’s safe to say a lot of people were not happy at all:

There’s a whole lot of those where they came from.

Leave it to a talent show to show exactly how fond Arabs are of each other. We’re all good at playing nice with each other as long as no one’s beating the other country’s participant at a talent show. If that occurs, claws are out. Be afraid Israel, be very afraid!

If a useless singing show on its 11th season can elicit such a reaction, what have we left to the things that actually matter? I almost forgot we are dealing with a thing called the Arab Spring/Winter, and that there’s a little thing called ISIS that exists among us.

In the spectrum of Arab priorities, clearly the participant coming from a small country winning a talent show is ranked up high. It is then that they cry foul and cheating. But when their governments do it to them daily, everyone just hits the snooze button and goes about their days daily. Perhaps we went about these revolutions the wrong way? Maybe the best way would have been to hold a phone voting competition and be done with it?

One thing is clear, however: better math is needed in the land that invented algebra.

Marc Hatem: Another Lebanese Singer To Be On France’s The Voice In 2016

Marc Hatem The Voice France

The string of talents we’re exporting to France’s The Voice continues this year in the form of Marc Hatem. I have no idea how long Lebanese are going to go on France’s The Voice, especially when the local version of the show is extremely successful and no French participant has made it on a commercial scale before, but might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

I was told of this news around two months ago from a private source, and given that the show starts tomorrow I figured it’s now the time to share it.

Marc is a young and extremely promising singer who is unlike anything Lebanon has sent France’s The Voice. His voice is reminiscent of a younger Josh Groban that Marc probably considers as his idol given how often he covers him. He is also mostly unknown, to break off from the recent two years in which Hiba Tawaji and Aline Lahoud both tried their luck at the show, and both ultimately not making it with varyingly impressive results.

The reason why Marc might do better on the show – or at least as well as previous Lebanese participants – is the fact that his voice sounds tailor-made to these kind of talent shows whereby those who hit the highest and most spectacular of notes are those that people rally behind.

His musical upbringing being mostly of Western music also means that he won’t be able to rely on using Arabic as a gimmick to get people talking: it will just have to be him and what he can do with his talent. Based on what I’ve heard, he is superb and should make it far.

Good luck to him. The show starts on TF1 tomorrow. Meanwhile, check out a few of Marc’s previous performances on YouTube and I hope you’re as impressed as I am:

And his cover of Hiba Tawaji’s “La Bidayi Wala Nihayi:”

 

Dear People of Facebook, Your “Be Like Bill” Stick Figure Memes Are Annoying, Not Funny

2015 was the year of Bitstrips.

2016 is the year of Facebook stickfigures.

Modern art is so minimalistic.

I wish we can have bitsrips back. At least those were visually appealing.

I have no idea who came up with this “Be like….” meme, but I’m getting super close to wishing they had never existed. I don’t know if it’s the case in other countries too, but the Lebanese populace of Facebook is not only milking the aforementioned meme, they’ve turned it into a monster haunting every single one of our timelines.

I’m now wishing I can see your selfies adorned with Nietzsche quotes again. At least those were actually funny.

So for those sharing those “Be Like You” memes, let me tell you the following:

  • No one cares you have a partner and don’t tell people about him or her.
  • No one cares that you can do a hundred push ups and don’t advertise it on social media.
  • No one cares that you’re single and happy about it.
  • No one cares that you’ve turned your life around and didn’t tell everyone.
  • The fact that you are making a meme out of it means you are propagating whatever fact you are proudly telling people you did not advertise.
  • No one wants to be like you (unless you have a billion dollars stashed somewhere).

So, stop the ridiculous memes. Stop sharing screenshots of them that pop up on our timelines even after we blocked the app making them. If you’re that bored, go read a book, go Instagram your meals, go watch some porn, or watch the only thing about Bill worth watching:

Uma Thurman Kill Bill

Lebanon’s Government Is Destroying A Phoenician Beach In Adloun To Build A Port

  
About 15 minutes south of Saida is a small coastal Lebanese town in the South called Adloun. Most of us hadn’t heard of it before, but it’s actually one of the longest inhabited areas in our country with evidence pointing to human activity there around 70,000BC; it’s a little town filled with prehistoric caves and Phoenician ruins.

And those are not even what make it special.

Being a coastal town, Adloun has one of the few remaining beaches in the area that have not been privatized yet, and is now being actively destroyed by Lebanon’s government.

According to this study, the governmental project will affect the following areas of the beach:

  • The location of the prehistoric caves,
  • The location of an ancient Phoenician port,
  • The location of ancient Phoenician ruins and ornaments.

And, because that is not enough, our government will also do a little of land reclamation, effectively killing off one of the last remaining habitats for sea turtles in Lebanon, as well as affecting the ecology of the entire area with its diverse plants.

What is this governmental project that our government has been hell-bent for years to do, and are currently doing as you can see by the following pictures?

They are building a port that is bigger than that of Saida and Sour, in a town that houses far less people, none of whom are fishermen who operate boats in the first place.

So what will the purpose of that port be? It’s going to be turned into a “touristic” yacht docking site for those who can afford yachts in the first place and who want to come to the area for visits. The town’s mayor says that is not the case. What is true, however, is that the port is officially named after “Nabih Berri.” Maybe our speaker of parliament wants a place closer to home to dock his boat?

As it is with Lebanon, the project is also riddled with corruption. The bidding process for the project was canceled once because the initial prices were deemed unacceptable before finally hiring Khoury Contracting at a fee around 1.66 million dollars higher than the one they offered in the initial bidding. I guess the ministry in question felt generous?

On January 15th, 2016, Khoury Contracting sent its bulldozers to the beach and started work without prior notification. They’re currently establishing access to the beach by digging up a road for more bulldozers to come and finish what’s already started.

Who Cares About Sea Turtles And Phoenician Stuff Anyway?

Good job Lebanon’s government. Those sea turtles can always find another country to go and become unwanted pests in. Those plants? Who needs them. It’s not like ecology or the environment matter anyway. Phoenicia? Do we really want some Lebanese to further cling to that unwanted part of our history?

Keeping a free beach for the people of the area to visit? Who’d want that as well, bring in the money!

Let them destroy the beach. Let them destroy everything as they’ve done to the country for years now. They’ve actively destroyed countless similar sites before, why not this one too? It’s not like anything is relevant when you have the prospects of a port named after a politician!

Let them destroy the beach. It’s better for that beach and for that heritage not to see how abysmal the country our ancestors called home has become à la famous saying: عين لا ترى، قلب لا يوجع.

For a government that has shown repeatedly how apt it is at failing, it should come as no wonder that they’d not only do such a thing but also make sure that it passes by unnoticed. 

For a government and people that went up in a fit about the destruction of heritage at the hands of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, how is this any difference? Or does our own history not matter enough because it’s not called Palmyra?

There has been no back to back coverage for Adloun’s heritage. Is it not juicy enough for Lebanon’s media because it cannot be spun into attractive بالصور and بالفيديو headlines?

Among the many travesties taking place in the country today, this is a massacre of heritage and environment. The sad part is? It’s too late to do anything now.

Say bye to the turtles; say bye to that ancient site. They were present in a country that didn’t deserve them anyway. 

 

Geagea and Aoun’s New Love Fest: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun

In a widely predicted move, LF leader Samir Geagea and FPM leader Michel Aoun came out with a political understanding yesterday that saw the former supporting the latter for Lebanon’s presidency, after about 33 failed attempts at electing a president and 30 years of the same practiced politics.

Lebanon’s Christian field was predominantly supportive. After all, the whole burying the hatchet fest that we saw on TV was done because Christianity, and Christians sure love seeing #TeamJesus in all its glory on Lebanese TV.

The Good:

We can now say that on January 18th, 2016, after around 30 years of feud, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun finally saw eye to eye in something. A more zealous response would be: LET THEM KNOW NOW THAT CHRISTIANS WILL NEVER BE PUT ASIDE AGAIN, etc. But that’s not really the case.

It’s good to see a semblance of unity occur regardless of what that unity might mean. It’s good to see Geagea and Aoun talk things out.

But.

The Bad:

Many think that this move was visionary. The fact of the matter is it’s nothing other than reactionary to Saad Hariri nominating Sleiman Frangieh for president a few weeks ago. The only disturbance in the presidential race, protracted and dull as it was, was Saad Hariri’s deal back in November-December. That disturbance became the catalyst behind both the FPM and the LF’s deal today in order to “reclaim” their constitution-given Christian right.

How good can a move made in reaction and spite be, rather than it being foreseeing and contemplative, especially in the grand picture of Lebanese politics that not only requires foresight to navigate its murky waters? Why don’t you refer to Jumblat for that?

What this move does is not elevate the level of politics that Geagea and Aoun are practicing. It’s not a good thing that Lebanon’s Christian community is now practicing the same kind of tribal politics that the country’s other factions do. By “uniting,” Geagea and Aoun moved from their failed politics on a national level to failed politics on a sectarian level.

Yes, they were Christian leaders first and foremost, many of their policies had inter-sectarian tendencies. How will they move from here? Not in that way, clearly.

The move also comes to the backdrop of a 10 point agreement that the two forged over the past 6 months. It reads as follows:

Geagea Aoun Agreement

The agreement’s key points then are the following:

  • No use of weapons in case of conflict,
  • Supporting the Lebanese army in governing the entirety of Lebanon’s territories alone,
  • A Switzerland-esque foreign policy to get the country to avoid struggles,
  • Supporting UN resolutions,
  • A new electoral law.

Sure, those headlines are all wonderful, and looking at them with no critical thought warrants giving their alliance a second thought. But you can’t not be critical of Lebanese political talk, and the question therefore becomes: how will they do them?

The difference in ideology between Geagea and Aoun is not only related to their Civil War days: the two were supremely divergent even in times of “peace.” They have not agreed on an electoral law other than the Orthodox Law, and even that agreement was more about whose balls are bigger rather than it being done with political wisdom. They have not agreed on which kind of foreign policy they see best for the country. They have not agreed on which way is best to actually get the army to be the only rightful security force in the country, and how to implement all kinds of UN resolutions (hinting at ridding Hezbollah of its weapons).

Alliances need to have a minimum of common ideology. Establishing them just for the sake of common interests in the short run will prove, in the long run, to be detrimental, especially when it affects an entire community (in this case Lebanon’s Christians).

Is this how Christian rights are restored? By making Lebanon’s Christians more exclusive rather than inclusive? By making them more sequestered? By thirding the country instead of keeping it halved? By turning Christians from the entity that governed Lebanon’s dichotomy to another destabilizing agent in an unstable country?

Ignoring the differences that these two presented to Lebanon’s Christian community is the first step towards removing any semblance of democracy from that community. Difference is not to be feared in political contexts. Disregarding it is what’s scary.

The Ugly:

Geagea and Aoun made peace. But I have to wonder: what kind of peace?

They’re making the kind of peace that requires us to bury our heads in the sand, like the perpetual ostriches that our Lebanese existence has made us into; the kind of peace that does not deal with the past requiring such a peace to be made in the first place, effectively making it a recipe for impeding disaster.

The argument goes: other factions have done these peace making deals before, and as such Christians doing it should be celebrated. Making peace is good. But is it?

Is the peace made by Lebanon’s other war factions actual peace? The idea of making peace invokes stability. Is the country stable? Is making peace in spite of history not through it, as all those other factions have done, putting the country on the right path towards healing post our civil war?

I look around and see people from different sects still hating each other, still worried about the intentions of one another. I look around and see a political discourse that still gets those who have supposedly made up after our civil war to fear each other.

What kind of peace are they talking about then?

There are things that are a little too late, and this is one of them. Where was the common interest of Lebanon’s Christian community 30 years ago when these two were actively working on canceling each other out, when their wars tore apart Christian communities and left thousands of victims in their wake?

Yes, this is not the time to bring up war-time memories, but healing only starts with remembering.  Would there have been a need for such a “deal” to be made in 2016 had those two actually cared about the community they’re panicking about today back in the 1980s?

Peace cannot be made by those who only know war.

The Uglier:

I’m afraid to inform you my fellow Lebanese that this “alliance” does not, in any way, affect your life as a Lebanese in the ways that actually matter.

It will not bring you electricity.

It will not fix your garbage crisis.

It will not make your internet faster so you can stream Netflix.

It will not increase your minimum wage.

It will not make your passport worthwhile.

It will not stop the “SSSS” checks on your boarding passes and “random” checkups in airports.

It will not stop ISIS.

It will not extract the oil from our fields.

And, ironically, it does not even guarantee that a president be elected.

Our Lebanese reality cannot be changed when the same people who have been practicing their failed politics over us for 30 years start practicing their politics together.

The Funny:

To end this on a happier note, I can’t but share a few of the lighter tones with which some Lebanese handled the news, in the joke that this actually is: