Let’s Try To Save Tripoli’s Wonderful Fayha Choir

  
Following their huge win in Dubai on Saturday, where they were named Middle Eastern choir of the year, Tripoli’s Fayha Choir announced in a statement on their Facebook page that the Dubai event would be their last.
The wonderful choir, the country and the region’s best, will cease to exist in the coming weeks as it slowly dissolves.

The news left me distraught. Every single time I’ve seen the Fayha Choir in concert, I was left blown away by how wonderfully talented all those young men and women of Tripoli were, and at how beautiful the message of hope they were proclaiming to the world was. Such an entity stopping its activities is a shame, let alone when the cause is purely financial.

  
After hearing the news, I contacted one of the leads in Fayha Choir to inquire about the causes of such a decision. That person’s reply was straight to the point: the choir had grown beyond the capacities of its members and their maestro to be able to support it in the way that it deserves, to be able to attend all events whether here or abroad, or even compensate for the time they spend practicing and performing beyond the joy they bring in doing so.

It’s heartbreaking that such a thing is happening for such a silly reason, especially one that can be rectified. In a city that boasts the country’s richest people, this is disgraceful.
So dear Tripoli’s municipality, instead of panicking about beer ads in the city, why don’t you invest in such a medium that brings your city fame, pride and helps its talented youth express themselves in such a healthy medium?

Dear Tripoli’s politicians, from Najib Mikati to Mohammad Safadi and all their friends, I know it might feel counter-intuitive for you to invest in your city when election season isn’t coming up anytime soon, but your city needs it. Tripoli’s youth need to have their future mean more than just be an electorate number. 

Dear Tripoli’s wealthy class, I’ve seen you times and times again giving Fayha’s Choir standing ovations at each of their performances. That can’t be the maximum support you can give to a group whose name is a better representation of your wonderful city than almost everything taking place in it today.

Dear Lebanon’s concerned citizens, our country deserves to have such a choir that represents it so well survive financial troubles. Speak up. Try to help in the any way you can. 

I considered starting a crowd funding page, but an acute influx of cash is only a temporary solution. The Fayha Choir needs a stable income to support it, one that can only be 

Fayha Choir is a cultural landmark of the country and of Tripoli. Dismantling such an important part of our culture should be a matter of national urgency; this is a medium that allows youth to prosper, to express talent, to entertain people, to send a wonderful message to the world that this country and this Northern city can rise above them being forcibly forgotten and offer beauty to those who’d listen. This is very important. 

If you can help in any way, contact Roula Abou Baker. 

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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:

 

Waves ’98: The Lebanese Short Film Nominated For A Palme D’Or At Cannes 2015

Ely Dagher Waves '98

4550 short films from across 100 countries were submitted to the Short Films category at Cannes this year. Only 8 made the selection to be in the running for the Palme D’Or. And a Lebanese short film, Waves ’98, by Ely Dagher is one of them.

It has been a long, long time that Lebanon has had any movies featured this prominently at Cannes – Nadine Labaki’s offerings were not given the same treatment. This is the first time in over 24 years that a Lebanese film made the selection at Cannes this way, not since 1991 when Maroun Baghdadi’s “Hors La Vie” was nominated, and ended up winning the Jury Prize..

Ely Dagher is a young Lebanese filmmaker living in Brussels. As someone who was torn between life in Belgium and life in Lebanon, he ended up writing Waves ’98 as a way to come to terms with what living and growing up in Beirut meant to him. The work took two years.

I haven’t seen the movie, but the trailer shows it to be very different from anything Lebanese that has been offered to us in the past few years. In fact, the feel of it reminded me a bit of the very, very good (and very traitorous?) movie “Waltz With Bashir,” albeit with a different subject matter I’d assume.

It doesn’t matter if Ely Dagher’s Waves ’98 wins on May 24th at Cannes or not. The fact that he managed to be nominated out of 4550 other submitted movies is triumphant enough for him and Lebanese talents everywhere, when given room to grow beyond the confines of cliches that they are required to be limited to while trying to make it in Lebanon.

The nomination of Waves ’98 shows that when not limited by subject matter, and when not restricted by local taboos, Lebanese talents can make a dent in fields that we’ve come to brush off as beyond us.

I contrast this with a play I watched recently in Beirut called “Venus,” which had a brilliant script, beyond brilliant acting and broke Lebanese taboos like no other play I had seen before. Venus worked because it didn’t care about sensibilities. Waves ’98 isn’t necessarily within the same context, but it being different puts it in the category of works of art pushing the boundaries of our Lebanese artistic repertoire.

Instead of talking on and on about movies such as Vitamin, and beyond subpar offerings by Lebanese cinema in recent years, we should at least give the ambitious and talented Ely Dagher and his movie the credit they deserve for making a dent, for showing that Lebanese filmmakers can accomplish such feats.

Congratulations, and my outmost respect.

Check out the trailer:

What You May Not Have Known About Abortion & Some Medical Ethical Issues in Lebanon

You’d think class discussing ethics in medical school are the most boring. The truth, however, is that those classes are the only ones capable of engaging the entire class. The sloths wake up because of a rising tone with their classmates. The conservatives rise because the liberals in class are infringing on their beliefs. The liberals get infuriated at everyone else because they just don’t get it. And the physicians giving the lecture sit back and watch.

Pop corn material? You bet.

Because I am receiving my medical training in Lebanon, we have to also deal with certain aspects of Lebanese law pertaining to these issues and to say our laws are bipolar, nonsensical and surprising is an understatement.

  • Abortion:

We all know abortion is illegal in Lebanon. There’s no pro-life, pro-choice debate. Women have no choice when it comes to this. However, did you also know abortion is illegal even when it comes to congenital abnormalities? In other words, it is illegal for a physician to abort a baby in Lebanon if the baby has, for example, Down’s Syndrome or any other defect which would render his life extremely difficult. The only situation in which abortion can be performed in Lebanon legally is when the pregnancy is endangering the mother’s life – and even that comes with its own baggage of morality clauses.

In fact, any physician who performs abortions that are not indicated – even if they are for what many perceive as common sense causes – can be targeted by the law especially if he rubs a prosecutor the wrong way. Some physicians refuse to do abortions fearing legal issues while others refuse to do so for religious issues. In fact, a physician who is training me said to my face: “I wouldn’t even abort my own sister if the baby was a product of rape.” I was outraged but this is how it goes.

Certain major hospitals in the country do not even do amniocentesis, which is a component in prenatal care and diagnosis to detect certain abnormalities. Their argument? We’re not aborting anyway so what’s the point of the mother knowing if the child has Down’s Syndrome or not? Besides, amniocentesis carries a theoretical 1/250 chance of causing a miscarriage – who needs that risk?

A relevant abortion real life story we were told is when a radiologist missed the absent right arm of her fetus, a condition called phocomelia. She later found out of the condition at a gynecologist’s visit and decided to abort. She then wanted to sue the radiologist for missing the condition but was eventually talked out of it because having the case reach a court of law would get both the mother and physician in jail.

  • Gamete donation:

I daresay Lebanon doesn’t need more fertility. If anything, we need to have population control. But some people just need those little bundles of joy in their lives. Some want to because they feel a need to be parents. Others want to because society looks down upon the women who don’t give their husbands children. Many couples resort to In Vitro Fertilization or other methods of Assisted Reproductive Technology. Insurance companies pay for such practices without knowing so because hospitals cover it up in their charts.

For some couples, however, gamete donation is required for them to have children. Yes, the child wouldn’t be theirs biologically but that’s not all that matters now, right?

Here comes the interesting part, Lebanon-style: There’s absolutely nothing – no religious decree, law – allows sperm donation. It doesn’t matter what the man’s fertility status is. It doesn’t matter if the woman is as fertile as they come. Oocyte donation, however, is an entirely different story that is governed by each person’s sect. Meaning: whether or not a person is allowed to donate or receive donated oocyte is correlated with that person’s sectarian personal status. Move over civil marriage, I guess.

Don’t worry though, the sects agree on this. The Christian, Druze and Sunni sects prohibit this. Shiites are the ones who have gone off the rails – but not all of them. Lebanese Shiites fall under two main branches. There are those who follow Mohammad Hussein Fadalallah in their practices while others follow Iran’s Khamenei. Those who follow the latter are not allowed to donate or receive oocytes while those who follow the former can do so as per a fatwa which he issued shortly before his death. The condition? The oocytes have to donated by someone by the man’s other wives.

  • Embryo Research:

Not a lot of research is being done in Lebanon. This is especially lower when it comes to embryo research – the number is zero. However, who would have thought that the law can actually be interpreted in a way that permits such research?

In fact, the Lebanese law pertaining to this issue stipulates that the embryo is a product of conception and can be manipulated as long as both parents agree. Other products of conception include the placenta. This effectively renders the embryo prone for research. So in a way, we are ahead Western countries in this regard.

Why hasn’t this law gained traction? Mainly because no institutions actually allow such forms of research to happen in their premises. Most of the country’s main hospitals are religious institutes at their base. The law has also passed unnoticed by the radar of sects because they’re all busy elsewhere and we still don’t know if it’s been put into effect. Interestingly though, at least some MP members (Kassem Hachem, I believe) tackled the issue at hand. Meanwhile, women are still waiting on their own domestic violence law.

  • Conclusion:

We were asked the following question about frozen embryos: if you freeze an embryo for 5 years and then implant it, is the fetus one day or 5 years old?

All hell would have broken loose if we hadn’t been a small group in the discussion. I guess it doesn’t really matter where we legally stand from such issues. What is clear, at least to me, is that we are lightyears away from having a decent discussion about them. But I still find them fascinating.

The Lebanese University… Of March 8’s Islamization

The Lebanese University in Al-Hadath has become a security zone for March 8’s political parties notably Hezbollah and Amal.

The entry to the university is filled with pictures of Hezbollah’s martyrs, Hezbollah and Amal flags and banners, pictures of Hassan Nasrallah and Nabih Berri. And the administration can’t do anything about it. They even have rooms which they only get access to for secret party meetings. Because Hezbollah and Amal need such rooms inside universities to control the future of the country – what they’re doing on the streets and in the government is not enough apparently.

Even the cafeteria at the university has been overtaken by known Shiite family “Zaaitry” who even run a cellphone shop from there, not allowing any outside food to be brought in to the cafeteria. They control everything that goes on inside the cafeteria, down to the overpricing of items and forbidding people from filming.

The cafeteria of the faculty of business was burned down and turned into a prayer room. And if you speak out against anything that goes on there, you are taken to a room that they call 109 where you are punished until you don’t dare to speak again. Praise Nasrallah day in, day out. Don’t you dare do anything else.

Their reach also extends from the logistic part of the university to its educational aspect. The liberal arts classes have been turned into Hezbollah’s Islamic arts classes. If anything doesn’t conform with Al-Khomeini teachings (he also has a picture at the university), it has to go. For instance, nudity drawing classes are absolutely forbidden because they violate “religion.” Drawing another human without something to cover them up is absolutely against the Sharia. Therefore, it has to go. Never mind that it is part of the official curriculum approved by the Lebanese state. Never mind that nudity drawing is an absolute necessity for any student who wants to to learn that art. No, it’s not acceptable for a woman to see a man’s private part. A female student actually dared to pose in a swimsuit for her colleagues to draw her. The teacher was punished. She was punished. And the students were also punished.

The administration sides with Hezbollah every time. They have their heads to keep. March 8 also has access to the exams that the university gets the students to sit down for – and they’re for sale. And don’t you dare refuse them when they’re offered or it’s room 109 for you.

There’s even a video and a whole article in Arabic about this, thanks to NowLebanon whose reporter was also threatened as she gathered her information to write this article. The threat is available on video too.

I thought the Lebanese university was for the entirety of Lebanon’s students. But it seems that it’s not the case. If you’re not a Shiite student who happens to be with Hezbollah and Amal, don’t you dare step there for a headache-free diploma. Even being FPM or any other March 8 party with predominantly Christian followers is not highly approved. Your liberties will be infringed upon. Your freedom will be limited. Your voice will be silenced. You won’t be able to speak up. Your body will be punished. Your intellect will be taken away… all for the greater anti-Zionist good.

Some people stand by Hezbollah because they’re supposedly fighting Israel. I wonder, how is it fighting Israel in a campus that has absolutely nothing to do with Israel whatsoever? How is this form of cultural terrorism against fellow Lebanese a form of resistance against an enemy we all agree upon? How is taking over a campus like this fighting the so-called Zionist project for the region?

And how is this part of the project of co-existence and protecting one self that some Christian parties, which are allied with Hezbollah, are championing?

If there’s any proof about the ulterior motives of Hezbollah in the country in turning this piece of whatever co-existence we have into an state where only what they say goes, it’s their behavior at the Lebanese University. It starts at a small scale that might go unnoticed. After all, the students don’t dare to talk about it and reporters are afraid to report it. The party officials obviously know of it. They obviously approve of it. And good luck to you if you happen to be born into a family who cannot afford to send you to a university where you will actually get Hezbollah-free education.

And some people are actually appalled that there’s a rise of extremism among Lebanon’s other populations. What other “natural” response could the different segments of Lebanon’s societies have regarding this obvious transgression to every single fundamental right and freedom we were brought up believing in?

And some people are appalled that some Lebanese parties demand the dismantling of the weapons of the party of “God.” What’s the only thing letting Hezbollah dominate the Lebanese University in such a way? Yes, those arms that are there to fight our big bad neighbor to the South.

The Lebanese University is now branded LUI – the Lebanese University of Iran. It even has the picture of the Supreme Leader of Iran there for blessing. You don’t get an education there – you get a crash course with how it is to be an outlaw and to have a whole arsenal to support you on your side – down to every single component of your governing body.

Welcome to the republic of disgrace where your government can’t even guarantee you a proper crap-free education away from Hezbollah’s zealots. Oh wait. They are the government.

No – These Are Not Photographs. These Are Paintings!

These pictures are hard to believe, I’m sure, but they are not still photographs taken by a talented photographer. They are paintings drawn by Canadian painter Jason de Graaf.

These pictures will blow you away – the level of detail is unbelievable. I have no clue how he did these but I’m beyond impressed.

 

Jason DeCaires Taylor’s Spectacular Underwater Sculptures

Jason deCaires Taylor is an English artist known for contemporary works of art where he builds life-size sculptures of people and submerges them in water.

In time, those sculptures become part of the natural landscape, forming artificial reefs full of marine life.

His works include:

Grace Reef, Moilinere Bay Sculpture Park , Grenada 2006

Vicissitudes, Moilinere Bay Sculpture Park, Grenada 2006

The Lost Correspondent, Moilinere Bay Sculpture Park, Grenada 2006

The unstill Life, Moilinere Bay Sculpture Park, Grenada 2006.

Alluvia, The Stour River, Canterbury, Kent April 2008.

Inverted Solitude The National Diving and Activities Centre, Chepstow, commission in April 2008 for Smart Art Television

The Un-still Life II a land-based commission, hosted by the Municipality of Paliani Stone Symposium in Crete, Greece, August 2008.

Hombre en llamas (Man on Fire), MUSA, Cancun, November 2009

La Jardinera de la Esperanza (The Gardener of Hope), MUSA, Cancun, November 2009

El colecionista de los sueños (The Dream Collector), MUSA, Cancun, November 2009

La Evolución Silenciosa (The Silent Evolution), MUSA, Cancun, November, 2011.

You can find explanations of these works of art on his website.

Meanwhile, behold the gorgeous pictures as shared with me by my good friend Agnes Semaan through this website: