No Lebanon, Killing The Costa Brava Birds Won’t Fix The Airport’s Problems or Your Corruption

I thought it was a joke, that a couple of days ago a governmental job offering opened up asking for “experts” in the art of hunting birds to chase them away from Beirut’s airport in case they show up there.

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It turns out that was nowhere near a joke, with the only farce being this semblance of governance that we have that, when faced with a problem and a clear solution, opts for the ridiculous measures instead because why not?

Although it’s been known that the situation at Beirut’s airport has been precarious for a while, the issue exploded a few days ago after an MEA flight had a near-miss with a crash because of those birds.

Since then, Lebanon’s government has been trying to scramble itself to action to try and fix what it can. Their solution? Well, look at the pictures below.

To put it bluntly: how ridiculous, short-sighted and utterly silly is our government to think that killing the birds is a fix to the problem?

For starters, those birds are innocent animals who are flocking to an area providing them with food and warmth.

Those birds are not the threat to your planes. The threat is the fact you decided to have a landfill against every single international standard 100 meter away from the airport and 9 meters away from the sea and are now surprised this has repercussions.

Those birds that are being massacred in a testosterone-fueled assault are yet another casualty of successive governments that 1) don’t give a rat’s ass about the environment, 2) have no idea what they’re doing and 3) will do anything to keep their corrupt practices in place.

The reason those birds are there isn’t because they woke up one day and decided they wanted to threaten the airport nearby. No, they’re there because we have a governing body that would do anything to keep its interests intact, including threatening the lives of thousands of passengers daily as long as it can keep the landfills and dumps from which it’s making money wherever they are.

The thing about those birds is that they will keep coming, no matter how many of them you kill, because of that landfill whose existence you’re trying to ignore.

The Lebanese government is killing those birds to make them pay for its failures. This is unacceptable and revolting and horrifying. And the worst part is? It’s paying those hunters for this “job” from our own tax money, instead of investing in an actual solution that won’t see us facing the threat of death every time we take off or land in this God-forsaken country’s only airport.

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Beirut’s Airport Is Not Safe For Air Travel Anymore; A Disaster Could Happen At Any Moment

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Add the current situation of Beirut’s airport to the growing (and endless) list of complete failures that Lebanon’s governments can add to their achievements: the airport is not only unsafe for air travel anymore, it’s become so dangerous that an air disaster not happening already is nothing short of a miracle.

To fix the trash crisis that their ineptitude caused, Lebanon’s government saw it fit to build a landfill which almost literally borders the airport wall, south of Beirut, calling it the Costa Brava landfill. As physics and common sense have it, establishing a landfill that close to the airport (or any airport for that matter) doesn’t come without repercussions.

Apart from the toxic fumes that could damage airplane engines and our lungs, as well as the hotter air that emanates from the landfill which could disrupt aviation, the birds attracted to the landfill could literally cause airplanes to crash. The government is aware of this problem so they installed ultrasonic bird repellers, which obviously don’t work.

This almost happened yesterday with an MEA plane, as reported by LBC, that was faced with a flock of seagulls as it was landing, leading the western runway the plane used to be closed until the birds were dealt with. How did the government respond? By increasing the numbers of ultrasonic bird repellers that, as established, don’t work.

I guess the only way they’ll do something is by a plane crashing and hundreds of people dying. You know, that’ll be the best way for them to proclaim they’re doing something and go to the victims’ funerals, shake the hands of their families and have their coffins draped in our flag.

You see, while the movie “Sully” in which Tom Hanks, playing the true story of airlines pilot Chelsey Sullenberg whose plane got hit by birds as it took off form New York, causing both engines to fail and leading him to land the plane in the Hudson river, was a riveting Hollywood story, things almost never play out that way. Are we counting on countless miracles to keep our airport running?

An anonymous source inside Beirut’s airport confirmed this saying that: “If the International Air Transport Association (IATA) were to show up at Beirut’s airport unannounced, the place would be closed down in a matter of hours. This is how unsafe things have become.”

It doesn’t stop there. He says that aviation has become so hazardous that “it’s a miracle how a crash has not occurred already. We literally hold our breaths every time a plane departs or lands.” Why hasn’t this made the media rounds yet? Because “airport officials are trying to hide it.”

I guess our safety and our lives are not worth anyone getting a headache over a media scandal. A plane crash is much easier to brush by, isn’t it?

Beirut’s airport is not only unsafe to use, it’s going to get us killed if we keep using it. The troubling part is that this is our only airport. The horrifying part is while our government is aware of this, they choose not to act out on it because, as we do things in Lebanon, we cross our fingers and hope for the best. Well, not this time.

How Lebanon Is Bracing Itself For Ebola

Earlier today, my phone buzzed with a breaking news notification about a patient being investigated for Ebola at a, as of now, unnamed Beirut hospital. An hour or so later, as I had figured, the patient turned out to have malaria. But that didn’t stop people from freaking out about the disease’s possibility of invading Lebanese territory. I mean, it’s only a matter of time anyway as Ebola is the only thing, possibly, that hasn’t strutted across our borders yet.

At an almost 30% chance of having Ebola spread to it, Lebanon is not at bay. 30% is a lot in medical terms. However, that isn’t to say that nothing is being done regarding the issue or that it’s being ignored as we’ve ignored almost every other pertinent matter that could potentially affect this country. I guess when it comes to health, people pay more attention.

In a matter of weeks, Ebola has become something that we, as medical professionals (or soon to be medical professionals), had to keep at the forefront of our minds as we saw patients in ERs or in any other setting for that matter for patients who have fever or a constellation of indicative symptoms.

Back in the old days, we’d start by asking about associated symptoms to try and draw a picture of a syndrome, a viral illness or any possible etiologies that made sense give the season, the condition of the patient, etc. Nowadays, we start by asking: have you had any recent travel history, sir?

Our cut-off to rule out Ebola in someone who presented from an endemic area, few as those people are, is about 3 weeks. I’ve seen people panic that they’ve encountered someone who visited Lebanon from Nigeria 3 months ago and are currently presenting with fever. No, it doesn’t work that way.

The Ministry of Health, in its capacities, has circulated memos to Lebanon’s hospital to educate employees, nurses and doctors about Ebola and about the proper ways to handle patients suspected with the disease. I have taken pictures of the memo in question, which you can find as follows:

When it comes to our airports, however, the story is entirely different. Sure, there’s probably not a massive influx of Lebanese coming from West Africa, but even with the global worry regarding the virus, there’s been basically zero measures at our airport to screen passengers or attempt to keep ebola in the back of their minds, just in case, especially in passengers from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. I guess there are more important airport-related issues at hand, such as fixing that A/C.

The media, on another hand, isn’t doing a terrific job either at spreading awareness regarding the virus or educating people on it in order to decrease mass hysteria and help catch suspected cases earlier, in case they happen to be there as unlikely as that is.

In a way, Lebanon is better prepared for Ebola than it is for any of our average crisis. Our hospitals are well equipped and can handle such cases extremely well. We have excellent equipment and doctors and, believe it or not, excellent medical management – at least at Beirut’s major hospitals that is.

The status of Ebola and Lebanon can be summarized as follows: there are more people in Lebanon that have been attacked by MP Nicolas Fattouch than have had Ebola.

The Jamerek That Cried Wolf

The last time Lebanese security personnel openly beat up civilians with absolutely no regards to the potential repercussions to their actions was when the Syrian security apparatus was ruling our country. Back then, I had to cross checkpoints set up by that army in order to go to school. We were not allowed to voice opposition… or else. We were bombarded with images of the young men and women who tried to defy that apparatus: how they were beaten up then taken in those army vehicles to some jail cell in who knows where.

Things have been miserable in Lebanon, yes. But amid all of the tensions and the violence and the country not knowing where it’s heading, I didn’t think I’d see people getting beaten up by armed forces whose job is to supposedly maintain order.

NewTV’s journalistic crew was researching the corruption that infests Lebanese Customs at our one and only airport. We all know such corruption exists. I know of stories about the hints they drop regarding the money you should pay in order to get certain equipments into the country. Of course, no tangible proof exists and even if such proof were to be found, what would change?

NewTV’s crew didn’t think the country that championed freedom of speech and of the press would do such a thing to them. So they took their megaphones and braced those Beiruti roads and called for the head of customs to grant them an interview. They got beaten up and arrested. People were outraged. Customs officials were scrambling to come up with excuses: they were bad-mouthing our chairperson, they said in a statement they hoped would explain where they were coming from, as if that’s an acceptable excuse. Can you imagine, for instance, what would have happened if American military personnel beat up a civilian for bad-mouthing Obama?

NewTV’s crew was released late last night. They had bruises over their face. They looked victorious and proud of what they had accomplished, as they should be. They had – even if only for a minute – gotten the country to look at our customs that have been using laws that, similarly to the entirety of Lebanon’s laws, have not been updated in a long, long time and which enable them to blatantly do whatever they please without any consequences.

I have to wonder though, what would happen to the people like you and I who don’t have the platform of a TV station to support and protect in case of such transgressions to their basic rights? Make no mistake, this isn’t a case of freedom of speech. This is a violation to those journalists’ human rights. And it happened in broad daylight. And there will be no repercussions for it, because that’s how Lebanon rolls.

But the story doesn’t end there because our jamerek figured it would be such a great idea to go on a strike to protest what had befallen them a day earlier. Their rights had been violated, I’m sure they thought, which include the right to guzzle endless amounts of money here and there to build their villas and buy their fancy cars and rise above the system that is geared towards decimating the finances of those like you and I, all while such “rights” are overlooked due to the countless of reasons that make up Lebanon’s political landscape what it is today.

I give it one more day until this becomes old news and we are forced to reckon with other more “important” things. Lebanon is always exciting that way. 

Racism With Middle East Airlines (MEA). Again.

I recently got a tip from a reader regarding another racism incidence with Lebanon’s airline carrier MEA that is not dissimilar to the one that became everyone’s talk a few months ago, culminating in firing the employees involved.

The story goes as follows:

The export manager of a Chinese company was visiting Dubai for a few days after which he was sent by his company to Lebanon to work on a certain deal with a local business. Once his work in Lebanon was up and he had to go back to China, he presented at the MEA counter at the airport but the employee refused to issue him a ticket.

She said he didn’t have a visa for Dubai, which he did. He was also going through Dubai simply as transit to China, which is allowed even if you don’t have a visa. So shouting at the Chinese man, the employee talked down to him, dismissing him. A quarrel ensued, which was only stopped up by another employee interfering and issuing the ticket in question.

I wonder: how difficult is it for MEA to vet its employees before actually hiring them when it comes to the most basic of qualities that people who handle international customers should have? Or how difficult is it to actually have MEA’s employees go through some trainings in dealing with customers in respectable ways to bring them to the 21st century where a passenger isn’t dismissed based on the color of his skin or how stretched his eyes are?

Racism isn’t exclusive to MEA. It spreads to a lot of people across Lebanon with municipalities illegally banning Syrians (and officials who don’t want to do anything about it) to severe discrimination against migrant workers even in the media that should be helping to lessen this among people (link). But the least we should expect is for one of the country’s major companies – especially one that represents Lebanon to the entire world – to be stringent with the image it wants to give to the world.

As for how I believe racism in Lebanon should stop, I quote something I wrote (link) when the first racism incidence with MEA happened:

Racism isn’t also a Lebanese problem. It is a worldwide problem that takes many forms. It transcends the hate towards others based on skin color. It is the intolerance towards another’s religion, the intolerance towards another’s nationality. And if a country doesn’t have a predominant problems with someone’s race, then they probably have a problem with differing religions. It is the problem of “difference.”

We dislike those with whom we can’t easily relate.

So what’s different between Lebanon and those supposedly racism-free countries? It’s quite simple: accountability. And that’s what works most with us Lebanese: a slap on the wrist when we do stuff wrong (fines for smoking, for not putting on the seatbelt, for speeding….)

People who get accused of racism in those countries have consequences to deal with. In our country, racism is met with indifference. A prominent TV anchor was blantly saying that an Ethiopian maid who committed suicide a few months ago was deranged (click here)- and he found no trouble at all in passing his ideology to his viewers. I’m sure he got high ratings for that episode as well.

If that anchor had met the same fate as the employee, people would have known that what he said was wrong. They would have known that talking badly against someone else just because you don’t like the skin they were born in is unacceptable. And they would have realized that it is no longer accepted to have it happen.

Their racism would then regress – it would get suppressed. And that is how other countries do it.

When It Rains in Lebanon

Lebanon gets hit by a modest-strength storm… we get damages equivalent to those of a US hurricane. We just have stellar infrastructure.

Where do we begin?

  1. Highways that are not even flat so water gathers on their sides, causing your car to buckle out of nowhere because we don’t even have highway lighting to see the puddles everywhere.
  2. Water that gets cut even during storms… because of shortages in water.
  3. Internet that turns drastically slow according to the following equation: internet = 1/rain. Add in a constant for recuperation in the days that follow and the formula becomes: internet = C/rain.
  4. Water drain that do anything but drain water. They might as well be a good place for future vegetative growth with all the compost they contain.
  5. Airports that turn to swamps. Airplanes that land here are so futuristic they can even float.
  6. Road walls collapse.
  7. Entire roads collapse.
  8. Buildings crumble because of the water seeping in.
  9. Traffic that pops out of nowhere the moment it rains.
  10. Potholes that get uncovered because their filling of stones and secondhand asphalt got swept away with the rain.

And this is barely  the tip of the iceberg. I wonder if the country were to ever be hit by a storm slightly stronger than your Lebanese average, what would happen? My predication is that scientists would start flocking in for a live reproduction of a Noah scenario. We are that unique.

Here are a few pictures of the first major storm in this winter season. Absolutely breathtaking.

Pictures from this Facebook page.

Electricity Goes Off… At Beirut’s International Airport

With my flight a few hours away, this news is surely reassuring. At 11:15 am today, electricity went off at Beirut’s International Airport (or the Rafic Hariri International Airport as they call it these days). (Source).

Personnel rushed to get the situation fixed. The problem seemed to have originated straight from the source: EDL.

I wonder, if this had happened at night, how many people would have died? Don’t they even have backup generators that would ignite the moment anything of the sort happens to ensure smooth and continuous electrical coverage?

It seems even our most important facilities as a country are going down the drain. And what a splendid image we’re giving to those visiting. The moment they land… bye electricity… yes, this is the way things are here. Better get used to it by now.

Ahla w sahla fikon bi Lebnen.