Looking For The Lebanons In USA, And The Stories They Hold: Fadi BouKaram’s Homesick Journey Across America

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Less than 7 months ago, Lebanese photographer Fadi BouKaram decided to embark on the journey of visiting the cities and towns across the United States of America whose name was that of his home country, Lebanon.

The origin of those town’s name is the fact that Lebanon was mentioned in the bible over 70 times. He announced his journey in his blogpost: Welcome to Lebanon, USA. That post was published a few days after Fadi had visited his first Lebanon, in the Northwestern state Oregon. He has since finished his journey, which led to a beautiful Foreign Policy feature that you can read here.

In total, the United States has over 50 Lebanons, many of which are no longer active towns or communities. Of those 50, 28 are still active locations today where many Americans from all sides of the spectrum call home. Fadi visited them all, and photographed 24, in this order:

1. Lebanon, Oregon; Oct. 19, 2016

2. Lebanon Township, North Dakota; Oct. 30, 2016.

3. Lebanon, South Dakota; Nov. 1, 2016

4. Lebanon, Nebraska; Nov. 6, 2016

5. Lebanon, Kansas; Nov. 9, 2016

6. Lebanon, Wisconsin (Dodge County); Nov. 14, 2016

7. Lebanon, Wisconsin (Waupaca County); Nov. 17, 2016

8. Lebanon Township, Michigan; Nov. 20, 2016

9. Lebanon, Maine; Nov. 26, 2016

10. Lebanon, New Hampshire; Nov. 29, 2016

11. New Lebanon, New York; Dec. 6, 2016

12. Mount Lebanon, New York; Dec. 8, 2016

13. Lebanon, Connecticut; Dec. 12, 2016

14. Lebanon, New Jersey; Dec. 21, 2016

15. Lebanon, Pennsylvania; Dec. 24, 2016 

16. Lebanon, Kentucky; Jan. 1, 2017

17. Lebanon Junction, Kentucky; Jan. 4, 2017

18. Lebanon, Tennessee; Jan. 6, 2017

19. Lebanon, Virginia Jan. 14, 2017; 

20. Lebanon, Ohio; Jan. 25, 2017

21. Lebanon, Indiana; Jan. 30, 2017

22. Lebanon, Illinois; Feb. 3, 2017

23. Lebanon, Missouri; Feb. 6, 2017

24. Lebanon, Oklahoma; Feb. 8, 2017

His quest, as per his blog and the Foreign Policy feature, was to find a taste of home in the country where he was setting roots, especially that it was prompted by a Google Maps search for Lebanon in one of his homesick moments, which led him to discover the existence of those Lebanons when the search results pointed to them, instead of his home country.

So for months, Fadi Boukaram drove across the U.S. He had his rental RV stolen in Albuquerque, New Mexico but was lucky enough that the police was able to recover it without causing hiccups on his journey. As someone who’s considered from the “coastal elite,” or typical democrat demographics, he surprised many of his friends by undertaking this journey. Many of his fellow Americans had never been to the States he was visiting, and many were afraid that his ethnicity would cause him trouble.

The only time he got into trouble for being from Lebanon was at a bar in Nebraska where a man approached him, asked him where he’s from, then interrogated him about he’d feel if he came to his town like that. That man was promptly kicked out of the bar, with every single person there apologizing to BouKaram for what he just went through.

The bartender also paid for Boukaram’s drink. I’ve always spoken fondly of American hospitality and kindness, especially once you penetrate political barriers, and this is the biggest testament of that. She also left him a post-it note on his car: “There’s a lot of hatred in this world, and I’m sorry for that.… I hope you meet more good souls than bad on your journey. Safe travels, Alissa.”

Part of his Lebanon, USA journey was also to find 7 Cedar Trees that former president Camille Chamoun had given mayors of 7 Lebanons in the USA who were invited to visit Lebanon a long time ago. Only one of those trees survived, and it’s currently growing in Lebanon, Ohio.

The America that is present in a lot of those Lebanons, according to Karam, is an America that is forgotten often and is skipped over in a lot of what gets discussed. The term is flyover nation. Coming from a bustling San Francisco, he found a land that was a long way removed from the way of life or economical advances that he was used to.

Instead, he was faced with foreclosure signs, for sale signs, and signs of economic despair. This changed his perspective to these towns and their people. Politics in the context of where they come from and what they know becomes entirely different when you’re exposed to their conditions.

I would love to do the trip that Fadi Boukaram did one day. I’ve had the chance to pass through Lebanon, NJ and Lebanon, PA on a couple of drives I had in the Northeast during my two latest visits in the U.S. and there’s always a sense of pride, mixed with joy once you see those signs announcing those towns coming up in a few miles. More importantly, I hope to one day get the chance to have such a life-altering experience that exposes me to so many different people, and helps me change my perspective, just like Fadi.

Welcome to Lebanon, USA.

Here are some pictures taken by Fadi. You can check out more on his Instagram page and Blog, as well as in the previously linked Foreign Policy Feature.

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Lebanese Jean-François Jalkh Is Now The Head Of Le Pen’s Far-Right French Party “Front National”

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AFP PHOTO / JACQUES DEMARTHON.

Mabrouk Lebnen! We keep exporting the best of the best, don’t we?

After her expected ascension to the second round of the French presidential elections, Marine Le Pen resigned her position as president of the party she inherited from the father, in order to airbrush herself as a candidate who’s open to everyone and is devoid of political attire.

I guess it’s a bit hard to try and label yourself as an outsider when you’ve inherited an entire party from your father. That’s like Taymour Jumblat or Sami Gemayel in Lebanon going like: “oh, we’re new to this game. We are not politicians,” while both of them take up the mantel of a party founded by their grandparents.

But I digress.

In her attempt to gain as many votes as possible in the second round, Marine Le Pen is trying to further distance herself from the party that led to her rise, which is why Lebanese-French Jean-François Jalkh has been appointed interim chairperson, until – I would guess – Le Pen learns of the result of the second round and, in the case she’s not elected, resumes her position.

In summary, this is the Lebanese-French man who is now the head of the far-right populist French party whose rhetoric is fueled by anti-semitisim, racism and hate:

Jean-Francois Jalkh is a 59 year old French man of Lebanese origins who was born in 1957 at Tournan-en-Brie, in the Ile-De-France region. He has been a member of the party since 1974, and wasn’t even 18 years old when he enlisted.

Within 7 years of his enrollment, Jean-Francois Jalkh rose up the ranks of the Front National until he became a member of the party’s central committee, with further promotions to other more important committees later on. He became a deputy of his region in 2005.

Jalkh was a candidate for the 2012 French parliamentary elections but did not qualify to the second round with him ranking third behind the Republican and the Socialist candidates (much like his party’s head Marine Le Pen in the 2012 elections as well). However, that did not deter him from further rising up the echelons of the Front National: a few months after he failed to win a parliamentary seat, he became the vice president of the Front National and was tasked to run all electoral purposes.

His most important position came about two years later when in the European Parliament elections of 2014, Jalkh was voted as a European Parliament Member with his list getting about 30% of the votes in his region.

His career has not been devoid of scandals. Did you expect otherwise?

While he’s not a French household figure, he was involved in a financial scandal investigation about the election funding of Le Pen’s party, in which investigators were suspicious of fraudulent activity involving public money going into the party’s campaigns.

Jalkh was also appointed by Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine’s father, as his advisor while the latter was a member of the European Parliament, even though Jalkh had already been a secretary of the Front National. This led to Le Pen being forced to pay back 300,000 euros in retribution.

In November 2016, his parliamentary immunity was revoked after an anti-discrimination group filed a suit against Jalkh for allowing publications by the Front National which call for access to public social registries, something which was proposed by his party for municipal elections in their program.

Another scandal involving Jalkh was his borderline Holocaust-denying attitude with him questioning the use of certain types of gas in the mass extermination that were conducted. Not at all surprising given his history’s party, be it with his founder or with Marine Le Pen’s recent attempts at absolving the French-Vichi government of its Nazi-fuled past.

I can’t comment on whether this man is an appropriate lead of the Front National or not. For starters, he sure goes hand in hand in what the party represents, but then again what the party represents is in complete contradiction of any decent values as well as with the foundation of the French Republic.

I sure hope, however, that French-Lebanese, 60% of whom voted for the Republican Francois Fillon in the first round, and are on the fence regarding their choice for the second round do not see this as a sign that the Front National will be nicer to French of Lebanese origins than everyone else.

Marine Le Pen will take away your dual nationality. She will stop your family and friends from being able to easily visit. She will create an environment in which you are a second-rate French citizen by virtue of you not being a pureblood, and she has used your country as a prop during her visit for as big of a publicity stunt as she could muster with her veil and with the characterization of Lebanese Christians as oppressed and persecuted.

Make the right choice. That choice is not on the far side of right.

When Lebanon Remembers #آخر_مرة_صارت_الانتخابات

In case you’re living under a rock, Lebanon’s parliament will renew its mandate for the third consecutive time tomorrow, on the anniversary of the Lebanese Civil War.

Of course, this doesn’t come as a shock. There’s been signs of it for months now, especially as elections are to be held in 40 days and our politicians have defined the word failure in their attempt to agree on an electoral law.

Mixed law? Proportional law? Majority law? The law of relativity? Orthodox law? Theory of quantum elections law? Never heard of any of that stuff.

What’s worse is that the collective Lebanese population probably couldn’t care less. You tell them that parliament is going to extend its mandate for an extra year, and that their right to vote which has been taken away since 2013 will be taken for a third time, and the reaction is a shrug, à la: did you expect otherwise?

It seems that our politicians have decimated our democracy so much that we can’t even expect its basic foundation, elections, to ever take place, or for our own people to be as outraged by this as they were by a silly music video where a woman paraded in tight clothes.

Of course there’s going to be protests, and of course a lot of people – even top political parties – will oppose the mandate extension. There’s even a protest scheduled for Thursday, to coincide with the promised parliament session to renew their mandate. That protest is also supported by the supporters of some political parties, especially those that actually want elections to take place.

However, as we’ve learned from all of our attempts to stop the first and second extension, such measures will always fall short, especially when you’re faced with a parliament that is so inept that it can’t even find a way for its mandate to end. It can’t get sadder than that.

So in response to parliament about to extend its mandate for a third time, Lebanese did as the Lebanese do best, which is to turn the depressingly bad situation into a joke. Because let’s face it, with the apathy regarding the mandate extension, it’s probably the only thing that can be done.

The joke, this time, was the hashtag: #آخر_مرة_صارت_الانتخابات, which translates to: the last time elections happened, affixed to a series of events that were “in” back in 2009.

The following Facebook posts and tweets are telling in how this country’s every ounce of “democracy” has been absolutely destroyed. Yes, they’re hilarious at times, but the subtext is horribly sad.

I’m a 27 year old Lebanese person who’s going to move out of the country soon without having cast a single ballot for parliament. That right has been taken away from me twice so far, with the third time coming up soon.

Food for thought: every single Lebanese between the age of 21 and 28 has never ever voted for parliamentary elections. Our current parliament will be nearly 10 years old by the time they’re supposed to hold elections again if the new extension goes through. We’ve never gone this long without elections since the Civil War.

Remember that when you post about #آخر_مرة_صارت_الانتخابات.

A Lebanese Healthcare Milestone: Mental Health Is Now Covered By The Ministry Of Health

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One of the major problems that psychiatry patients in Lebanon face is having their mental health disorders not recognized by any insurance or governmental payment agency, which forces them to foot medical bills that can reach astronomical rates very fast.

There are next to zero insurance companies in the country that cover anything mental health related, even though about a quarter of the Lebanese population can be diagnosed with one mental health disorder or another.

On Friday, as reported by The Daily Star, Minister of Health Ghassan Hasbani announced that his Ministry will now, and for the first time ever in Lebanon, begin to cover mental health under its care plans which are available for all Lebanese citizens.

This isn’t the only accomplishment to be attributed to the Ministry. Hasbani also declared that eight mental health institutes will be created by the ministry for treatment and administration of care, as well as more focused training of professionals in the field.

“The Ministry of Health will begin to cover mental health as part of a comprehensive medical plan, managed by the Primary Health Care Department and supported by the World Bank. We will work on curing it of these issues that can frustrate and cause damage to citizens.”

To say how important such steps are in the Lebanese healthcare sector is not enough. Mental Health has always been considered a taboo in Lebanese society, even if perceptions are ever slowly changing. It hasn’t been a year that we spoke about a young Lebanese girl committing suicide because she had become so clinically depressed and unable to seek help, because such help is not as easy to come by as it should.

This measure by the MoH will save lives, and further improve the level of medical care that we can administer as doctors to our patients in this country, by lessening the fragmentation of care that arises when you have an entire facet of medicine without any form of coverage.

The next step that Minister Hasbani and the ministry should undertake is to reform insurance laws in the country to get insurance companies not to stigmatize mental health, by having them cover it like any normal illness that they’d cover in any circumstance.

I commend the ministry of health for this step, with hope to see more like it from other facets of the Lebanese government. It’s a very important step, and an essential one at that, in our fight against the stigmatization of mental health, as we try to remove it from our long list of Lebanese taboos.

Beirut Will Have Super Fast Internet On April 9th, 11th and 13th; Other Regions Starting April 15th

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Let me start by saying this: Imad Kreidieh is the example of a Lebanese official that we need more of in every form of governance. Not only has he put his predecessor to shame in the 8 weeks he’s been heading Ogero, but he has also done so to every single Lebanese politician with how he has been clear, thorough and keen on making sure transparency is key in everything he does.

As such, Mr. Kreidieh held a Facebook live Q&A which you can watch in its entirety here:

 

In the parts that are relevant to us as consumers without all kinds of tech backgrounds, the highlights are as follows:

  • New plans with faster speeds and bigger quotas as well as reduced pricing should be available in the next 2-3 weeks pending a decree from the Ministry of Telecommunications.
  • Internet will not be as fast as it can be until infrastructure is changed, notably that of exchange sites (or centrals). The project regarding this will have its tender on April 19th with implementation following soon after. Drastic improvements should start being available in the Fall of 2017.
  • Unlimited internet might come back to Ogero users.
  • New ministry decree will slash the one month wait period between switching ISPs (Switching from Ogero to someone else or vice versa).

As for things that we will get to experience sooner rather than a later, Mr. Kreidieh announced opening up all of the possible internet speed in Beirut on three separate days, which will be April 9th (this Sunday), April 11th (next Tuesday) and April 13th (next Thursday).

Each day will see a different part of the Greater Beirut area receive as fast internet as possible, depending on how much your line can handle.

The regions are divided as such:

  • On April 9th: Badaro – Mazra3a – Elissar – Mrayjeh – Jdeideh -Hazmieh – Ras Beirut – Riyad el Solh.
  • On April 11th: Furn el Chebbek, Bir Hassan, Hadath, Amrousiye, Adlieh, Hamra, Choueifat, Nahr.
  • On April 13th: Dawra, Sin El Fil, Chiyah, Achrafieh, Mina el Hosn, Ras el Nab3, Dekwaneh.

Of course, since Lebanon isn’t only Beirut as one of the people asking Kreidieh said, other regions in the country will have on Sunday starting April 15th to benefit from the same event whereby internet speed will be uncapped with each user getting as fast a service as possible depending on how far they are from the exchange.

Faster speeds will be available from 8AM till 8PM and feedback is requested either on Twitter at @ikreidieh, or by emailing ogero on thepeople@ogero.gov.lb or at Ogero’s Facebook account, which you can access here.

April Fools’ Lebanon Style: We Were Promised Better Internet, We Got No Internet Instead

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If you’ve ever wondered how a whole country can be without continuous internet for hours on end, including any form of mobile internet on our smartphones, look no further than the glorious Switzerland of the Middle East, the Democratic Republic of Lebanon, circa April 2017.

Leading up to this stupendous first day of April were promises of better internet by the end of March. Some people had already noticed their modems syncing at speeds that were, previously, only a far-fetched dream in the country.

As it stands, they’re no longer a dream on April 1st, but probably an immense fantasy more grand than Harry Potter.

Even as they were adamant to deny the existence of any problem, as they usually do, even our mobile carriers had to admit that this whole business of you frantically trying to refresh anything on your phone to try and see what is up with your connectivity is not on you.

My bitching didn’t even help fix things and I wasn’t alone in my problems:

It turns out that Ogero, the supplier of all internet in the country, was doing some heavy testing which resulted in the entire country being taken off the grid, as per the tweets of Imad Kreidieh, head of Ogero:

Truth be told, Imad Kreidieh has been doing a tremendous job as the head of Ogero so far. If there’s anything good to come out of this, it’s how he has handled it: he didn’t blame others for the problems of the institution he’s running, he was clear about what was being done, and later on he tweeted the following:

I’m very genuinely taken aback by how professional Mr. Kreidieh is. Is he really a Lebanese person in a position of power? Maybe this is the actual April Fools’ prank being played on us? Tawa Nicolas, the creator of this blog’s iOS app, WHICH YOU CAN DOWNLOAD HERE, said it best:

It’s not all bad though. I mean, think about all those MBs you’ve saved everyone! Here’s hoping that on April 1st, 2018 we would actually have a country whose internet speed is not apparently:

Tomorrowland Is Coming To Lebanon On July 29th

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Tomorrowland is one of the biggest electronic music festivals in the world. Held yearly in Belgium, it’s attended by hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts. This year’s festival is taking place from July 21st till the 30th.

However, on July 29th, Lebanon was chosen as one of only 8 countries around the world to be “United” with Tomorrowland in a live broadcast of the festivities from Belgium in an event that start at 7PM and end around 4AM, in Byblos. It’s not yet clear whether this is in the official capacities of the Byblos Festival.

The line-up has not been announced yet, but based on some research I did on their website, guests can expect an event held in a setting inspired by Tomorrowland (a customized stage, decoration and special effects) combined with a massive well-curated line-up of local & international artists (at least 1 international artist).

The special effects in question are synchronised with the show in Belgium adding value to the global connection.

The announcement took place in the following video:

This event, unless Byblos – or some other festival – bring out the big guns by bringing in a top-notch international act, should be the highlight of the summer’s festival circle in Lebanon. It’s a great image for the country, especially given how tremendous the platform of Tomorrowland is, and it’s a great opportunity for those who can’t travel to Belgium to enjoy the festival itself.

To make sure you get tickets, pre-register at this link.