Saving The Jesuite Garden… because It’s Christian


I always thought everyone knew that Beirut had a green space problem. The city has 3 parks that are open to the public. You can count the trees on the entire city’s sidewalks. There is no concept of urban planning. And there’s certainly no functional public transport system, which is one of the main flaws with the city structure.

Yet there are people who think all is fine with the city environmentally. Don’t be shocked, yes they exist.

The fight to save the Jesuite Garden, which culminated in a protest held at the garden in question slightly less than a week ago didn’t take much to go down sectarian lines. The representative of the Beirut municipality that showed up at the protest had one line of interrogation to throw at those who didn’t want the garden removed: what’s your name? Where are you from? Who’s politically backing you?

Because, you know, God forbid a fight to save a park is exactly just that: a fight to save a green space.

Interestingly, for many – the fight wasn’t to save a green space. Many protestors against the park’s removal don’t even care that this is one of the few areas of green space in Beirut. They care that there are ancient Christian ruins there… And that might be exactly what is needed to save the park.

It’s one thing to tear down a tree. It’s even one thing to tear down a Phoenician port, a Roman hippodrome or any other old structure. But once religion comes into play, all projects are off. Do not even attempt. It happened with the Beirut Downtown site recently and it might happen again here.

The bottom line when the religion card is played in such cases often turns out to be positive. It might be even smart to cash in that card whenever possible. But is it healthy to coerce a municipality to save a park just because they don’t dare to awaken a sleeping monster not because they, as a municipality, should become aware of the problems such a destruction would cause?

The municipality will end up not learning anything for future practices later on or even possibly thinking about some plans to really tackle the issues that necessitated the park’s destruction.

Till when will the focus of individuals in this country be religion-centric, ignoring other facets of society that affect their lives as well and which are worth speaking up for?

I don’t want the Jesuite Garden gone not because it has a derivative of Jesus in its name and on its grounds. But what do I know, I guess. Talking about a temporary fix for parking and destruction of green spaces sure pales in comparison to Jesus.

Old Achrafieh (Geitawi) House To Be Demolished

A few seconds’ walk away from my house is a small building that I never took much notice of. That small building, however, is counting the days until it exists no more to give way for a new high rise.

As I walked next to it this past weekend and was taken aback by the metal frames to keep people out, I looked at the facade of the two-story building and couldn’t but notice how beautiful it could be. It’s a shame really that the mentality of renovating instead of demolishing isn’t taking hold in Beirut, especially Achrafieh.

Former minister of culture Salim Warde had a law proposition involving forcing contractors to have the new building they intend to erect be of the same number of stories as the one they demolished. His proposition went into a bureaucratic drawer and will probably never get out of it.

Achrafieh desperately needs such regulations. It’s fast becoming a concrete jungle of buildings that all look alike and feel imported, without a Lebanese flavor to them apart from the people that live in them. It’s a shame really.

And what’s even worse, the parking situation in my apartment’s street is about to get worse. People were allowed to park next to the building set to be demolished. The new building will obviously not allow that.

Jesuite Garden – Achrafieh, Beirut

Over the years, this garden located in Geitawi, Achrafieh, became a shortcut for me not to go around the block in order to reach my house. When I was younger, my grandparents used to take me to play there with my brothers and friends.

As I grew up, I outgrew it I guess.

Now, with my time in Achrafieh becoming less and less abundant, I look at the Jesuite garden and can’t help but smile. The place today is full of old men and women, going about the rest of their days, succumbing to the reality that they’re not what they used to be.

The maids now bring the kids to play. When I used to be a kid who came to this garden, parents were the chaperons of their kids. Times have changed.

There’s also a new public library. The garden now has wifi as well. Times have changed. Yes they have.

But once I pass next to the Jesuite garden, when I eventually find a place to park in Achrafieh, I can’t help but smile as I remember how it used to be to hold my grandfather’s hand and walk into its doors, my heart racing in order to run to that swing.

My memories of the garden today are different. They are ones of gratitude, filled with happiness that I really had a great childhood, some of which was spent in its midst – even though it was the place where I broke my arm during the Easter vacation of 1996.

As I pass the Jesuite garden, I see familiar old faces. And then some time later, I don’t see them anymore and I know that their time must have come. Other faces replace them. Those faces become familiar and the cycle repeats itself.

This is the heart of Beirut – the one we should never forget.

This is where I broke my arm

The public library

Lebanese Civil War Stories – Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

If Geitawi was being bombed on that April 2nd afternoon, the deeper parts of Achrafieh were being hammered. My dad’s cousin was sheltered in their friends’ house on Ebrine Street, named after my hometown, adjacent to Mar Metr Street, made famous by the Orthodox church and its fancy cemetery.

The house Simon, my dad’s cousin, was seeking refuge in was few hundred meters away from the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family convent (Sainte Famille) present on that street as well. That convent was also the school his little sister Mary attended. He was supposed to take her back home but the bombing had gotten too intense.

Simon looked around at the terrified faces around him. There were two younger girls: Rosalie and Marie-Madeleine, sitting next to their mother, who was hugging them tenderly, not allowing them to see the frightened tears frozen on her face. Her husband and his brother were sitting next to them as well.

As the rockets that were falling increased in intensity and frequency, the smell of burning cement, wood and flesh started to fill their nostrils. The mother looked at Simon. He was terrified. He was worried something had happened to his sister’s school. The mother told him he needed to take his mind off his sister for the time being. There was an underground shelter two buildings away. They had to make a run for it.

The woman felt the bombing subside a little. And soon enough, the sounds of explosions had ceased – at least for a few minutes. But it was enough for them to make a run for it.

Continue reading

Lebanese Civil War Stories – Part 1

Disclaimer: Leading up to April 13th, I’m going to post a few stories that I was told, about what people I know went through during the Lebanese Civil War. These posts will not have a political aspect nor will they be advocating for any party. They’re just that – stories.

It was April 2nd, 1986. My family’s neighborhood in Achrafieh, in the East Beirut at the time, was being heavily bombed. Our house lies between two hospitals and naturally, it was that area that was being bombed the most.

My grandpa was traveling, working in Saudi Arabia. My grandma was left alone with their kids. As it is with Lebanese people, they all cherish and brag about their resilience in the face of hardship. So naturally, those kids were sent to school.

As the bombing increased in intensity, my uncles started coming back home one by one. Soon enough, the only two people left outside were my youngest aunt, Lidia, and my father. Lidia was still in school, while my dad was busy doing what he excels at – being mischevious.

Soon enough, my grandma got worried. She was hiding in with whoever got home in a part of the house where bombs and missiles couldn’t reach. So when the intensity of the bombs subsided a little, my uncle John went out to get his sister from school. Continue reading