From Beirut, This Is Paris: In A World That Doesn’t Care About Arab Lives 


When a friend told me past midnight to check the news about Paris, I had no idea that I would be looking at a map of a city I love, delineating locations undergoing terrorist attacks simultaneously. I zoomed in on that map closer; one of the locations was right to where I had stayed when I was there in 2013, down that same boulevard.

The more I read, the higher the number of fatalities went. It was horrible; it was dehumanizing; it was utterly and irrevocably hopeless: 2015 was ending the way it started – with terrorists attacks occuring in Lebanon and France almost at the same time, in the same context of demented creatures spreading hate and fear and death wherever they went.

I woke up this morning to two broken cities. My friends in Paris who only yesterday were asking what was happening in Beirut were now on the opposite side of the line. Both our capitals were broken and scarred, old news to us perhaps but foreign territory to them.

Today, 128 innocent civilians in Paris are no longer with us. Yesterday, 45 innocent civilians in Beirut were no longer with us. The death tolls keep rising, but we never seem to learn.

Amid the chaos and tragedy of it all, one nagging thought wouldn’t leave my head. It’s the same thought that echoes inside my skull at every single one of these events, which are becoming sadly very recurrent: we don’t really matter.

When my people were blown to pieces on the streets of Beirut on November 12th, the headlines read: explosion in Hezbollah stronghold, as if delineating the political background of a heavily urban area somehow placed the terrorism in context.

When my people died on the streets of Beirut on November 12th, world leaders did not rise in condemnation. There were no statements expressing sympathy with the Lebanese people. There was no global outrage that innocent people whose only fault was being somewhere at the wrong place and time should never have to go that way or that their families should never be broken that way or that someone’s sect or political background should never be a hyphen before feeling horrified at how their corpses burned on cement. Obama did not issue a statement about how their death was a crime against humanity; after all what is humanity but a subjective term delineating the worth of the human being meant by it?

What happened instead was an American senator wannabe proclaiming how happy he was that my people died, that my country’s capital was being shattered, that innocents were losing their lives and that the casualties included people of all kinds of kinds.

 

When my people died, no country bothered to lit up its landmarks in the colors of their flag. Even Facebook didn’t bother with making sure my people were marked safe, trivial as it may be. So here’s your Facebook safety check: we’ve, as of now, survived all of Beirut’s terrorist attacks.

 

When my people died, they did not send the world in mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.

And you know what, I’m fine with all of it. Over the past year or so, I’ve come to terms with being one of those whose lives don’t matter. I’ve come to accept it and live with it.

Expect the next few days to exhibit yet another rise of Islamophobia around the world. Expect pieces about how extremism has no religion and about how the members of ISIS are not true Muslims, and they sure are not, because no person with any inkling of morality would do such things. ISIS plans for Islamophobic backlashes so it can use the backlash to point its hellish finger and tell any susceptible mind that listens: look, they hate you.

And few are those who are able to rise above.

Expect the next few days to have Europe try and cope with a growing popular backlash against the refugees flowing into its lands, pointing its fingers at them and accusing them of causing the night of November 13th in Paris. If only Europe knew, though, that the night of November 13 in Paris has been every single night of the life of those refugees for the past two years. But sleepless nights only matter when your country can get the whole world to light up in its flag color.

The more horrifying part of the reaction to the Paris terrorist attacks, however, is that some Arabs and Lebanese were more saddened by what was taking place there than what took place yesterday or the day before in their own backyards. Even among my people, there is a sense that we are not as important, that our lives are not as worthy and that, even as little as it may be, we do not deserve to have our dead collectively mourned and prayed for.

It makes sense, perhaps, in the grand sense of a Lebanese population that’s more likely to visit Paris than Dahyeh to care more about the former than about the latter, but many of the people I know who are utterly devastated by the Parisian mayhem couldn’t give a rat’s ass about what took place at a location 15 minutes away from where they lived, to people they probably encountered one day as they walked down familiar streets.

We can ask for the world to think Beirut is as important as Paris, or for Facebook to add a “safety check” button for us to use daily, or for people to care about us. But the truth of the matter is, we are a people that doesn’t care about itself to begin. We call it habituation, but it’s really not. We call it the new normal, but if this normality then let it go to hell.

In the world that doesn’t care about Arab lives, Arabs lead the front lines.

 

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Can We Get Over Beirut Being Among The World’s Best Cities?

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I’ve debated whether to write this or not. Then whether to publish it or not. Then I figured, screw it.

I am a proud Lebanese. And it’s because I like my country that I can’t sit aside and pretend that fake accolades mean more than they are, that void accomplishments are fuller than they actually are.

Beirut isn’t a bad city, sure. It’s perhaps the best city that we have given that our centralization policies have put everything only in and around it. But, forgive the bluntness, there’s no freaking way in hell Beirut can find itself on a world’s best cities list. Unless the person doing that list was high on some Bekaai hashish.

Beirut recently found itself to be on a list of the world’s top 25 cities, courtesy of CN Traveler. Those same people, for those who remember, voted Byblos as the #1 city in the region, with Beirut coming in second. Take that Dubai! We celebrated back then. That little triumph our cities had, although meaningless in itself, meant a lot to us.

Beirut is given the following description as per the CN Traveler website:

The capital of Lebanon has “much to offer the adventurous traveler.” Find “exotic cuisine and cocktails” at the “most exclusive clubs in the world” in what one reader calls “the Paris of the Middle East.” This city offers a “tapestry of sects, religions, and lifestyles that provide a feast for the mind of the intellectual.”

Visiting Lebanon is for the “adventurous,” it seems. I didn’t know my country was such a wild ride. Point me to the next safari why don’t you?

Perhaps Beirut is a great city for a visitor who came here to experience our unparalleled joie de vivre with someone who decided to show them Gemayzeh, Skybar and White, then spend a weekend in Faghaya, pretending that’s still Beirut, before spending the day at some beach that has more plastic than in the bodies of the women strutting their heels in its sands.

Yes, that sounds great indeed.

I don’t know what criteria were employed to rank the cities of that list. But the mark of the greatness of a city isn’t by how well and how great it treats a tourist coming to it for a week. It’s by how great it is for someone who lives there and calls that city home.

When I think of Beirut today, I think of unparalleled urbanization. I think of concrete masses upon concrete masses. I think of cultural demise that manifests in monument demolitions and old houses getting ripped off their foundations. I think of so little monuments that need to be seen in the city. I think of no public transportation. I think of no electricity, no water, of traffic, no public spaces and parks.

When I think of Beirut today, I’m being told I should think of Skybar and Dubai-esque malls because that’s what my city has to offer lately. I’m not sure how that qualifies as greatness honestly. Or I could just be the rare Lebanese who doesn’t like pubs and night clubs and all their derivatives.

Don’t let some silly list fool you into believing the city we call home doesn’t need massive plans, massive reforms, massive work, massive restructuring. Because what Beirut is today, a city living off the ghost of its luxurious past, is only great in the eyes of its beholders. And that’s not really great.

Paris – The Most Beautiful City I’ve Been To

I’ve been to quite a few places in the past few years. Some were enjoyable, others were underwhelming. But there’s one place out of them all that stands out, completely and irrevocably drawing me in every time I think of it: Paris.

Paris is the city of the streets that might as well be museums, the frisson that sends shivers up your spine as you get lost around the city marveling at wonder after wonder, the metro that closes at who knows when leaving you stranded and walking back to your hotel at 2 AM, the lovers huddling at Pont Des Arts kissing to a Parisian sunset, the artists singing around Montmartre while you slither your way around winding roads taking you up to Basilique du Sacré Coeur.

Paris is the city of the monuments that you had thought were cliches but can’t really appreciate until you’re standing at Trocadero, looking at the Eiffel tower shining as the sun behind you dies down at 10:30 PM or when you buy an impromptu lunch and sit with your best friend on the grass that is really greener there, under the Eiffel Tower.

Paris is the city that convinces you to splurge on the food that makes your mouth water at the mere mention of it, the ice cream that tastes like the fresh fruits from which it was made. It’s the city of you walking up the Champs-Elysées slightly tipsy from the wine that flows down smoother than water.

Paris is the city which, after two visits, I’ve yet to get enough of. It’s the city that makes me both happy and nostalgic at the thought of it. It’s the city that quickly turns into a main discussion between the people who have been to it. It’s the city that has charm in every step of its sidewalks.

Is there anything more beautiful than Paris? I don’t think so.

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Carrefour Lebanon’s Tough Path To Success?

Carrefour was one of the simple pleasures of my life in France. It was close to my apartment – a two minute walk. I would find everything that I needed among its not so numerous shelves: the place was as small as a mini-market in Lebanese standards.

Carrefour also represented an entire shift in my thinking paradigm when it comes to grocery shopping. For starters, they didn’t offer plastic bags for your purchases for free. I no longer needed hypermarkets to find mundane things I had come to believe only existed there. But most importantly, it made me deviate from buying the brands I had grown used to in favor of its own offering: the brand Carrefour.

Let’s take a simple example: fruit yoghurt. 12 Carrefour little packets of the substance cost €1.23 whereas half that amount of other brands such as Danone or Nestlé cost at least 3 times that much.
This quickly perpetuated to my purchases of my entire grocery: from cheese to bread to toilet paper. The amount of money I was saving up because of that kept me from thinking about any potential difference in quality which I frankly didn’t even encounter: the brand Carrefour offered stuff which were equal if not sometimes better than the more expensive alternatives.

Today, Carrefour is opening in Lebanon in Beirut’s City Center – a new mall in Hazmieh, because places outside of Beirut and its suburbs are not supposed to get malls. It has ads spreading all the way to Tripoli announcing the place. This is proof if you don’t believe me:

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Is Carrefour overdoing the marketing blitz? Definitely. How so? Well, ask yourself this simple question: regardless of how much money you’d be saving, would you be willing to drive 81km in Lebanon in order to buy grocery?

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But that’s not the major hurdle Carrefour will be facing in Lebanon: it’s getting an entire country to have the paradigm shift I had when I stayed in France, something that other brands tried to do and failed.

Spinneys, for instance, does the same thing Carrefour will be doing in a few days: it offers its own tissues, its own grains, soda, chips, etc…. But people rarely buy them because we, as Lebanese, have somehow associated the cheapness of the brand and the fact that it isn’t as trustworthy compared to others with it not being good enough.
Carrefour, which is sending text messages to almost everyone in Lebanon, will not be cheaper than any of their other already present alternatives if people refuse to buy its brand which begets the question: will it be any different and do we really need another chain in the country?

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Besides, will the Carrefour brand be cheaper than what the market currently offers? For instance, will Carrefour yoghurt be cheaper than the one Taanayel offers? Or will it feature a price hike because it’s “signé” and imported from “Paghis” à la Paul and Fauchon and other French outlets in Lebanon?

Moreover, the success of Carrefour in Europe stems from it being accessible to everyone through small shops like the one I described previously. Few are the Carrefour hypermarkets across France but many are the mini markets, which makes any customer’s shopping experience more personal and less hectic.
In fact, the entire city of Lille, France’s 4th in size, has only one major Carrefour store in the city’s main mall Euralille. However, it has dozens of smaller Carrefours spread around the city and its suburbs offering almost the same thing.

Will Carrefour adopt the same approach in Lebanon? Or will it be the same thing all over again: spreading across the country in huge chains that won’t offer anything different from what’s already present?
If Carrefour wants to spread in Lebanon and offer a true alternative to the Lebanese, shouldn’t it start differently from what others did and not follow up with the current trend of you finding everything you need in malls only?

If Carrefour moves to Tripoli for instance, it will have a very hard time battling it out for market share with the wildly popular Spinneys. But if it offered smaller shops around the city, then people might end up making it their go-to place.

Perhaps market research showed some room for an alternative. But I don’t think the alternative is necessarily another grocery chain but a whole new approach to what’s already here: to get people to buy cheaper and equally good products, make things more accessible and make them need driving from Achrafieh and nearby Spinneys or TSC to said alternative.

I don’t think Carrefour will do that in its present form.

Joe Kodeih’s Le Jocon – Review

Le Jocon Joe Kodeih

Lebanese comedian Joe Kodeih’s latest offering is Le Jocon, a play whose title is a play off the french name of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa.

Le Jocon starts with Kodeih visiting a psychatrist who immediately subjects him to hypnosis and asks him about his mother. Running for approximately 60 minutes, Le Jocon is a more or less autobiographical portrayal of some key moments in Kodeih’s life – all of which are given a comedic twist, obviously: from his moment of conception to his first days of school to growing up and going to Paris for a few days of vacation.

Those events are all done to the backdrop of a Lebanese life in Achrafieh, which makes the play very concentric. If you haven’t spent time in that part of Beirut or are not familiar with the many stereotypes associated with the people of Achrafieh, there are many jokes that you will miss.

Moreover, one of the key moments in the play which takes the biggest fraction is Kodeih’s visit to Paris which is told in three parts stretching over the three days of his visit. I personally found it hilarious because I had been to Paris but for someone who doesn’t know what Châtelet-Les Halles is (a subway station the size of Beirut’s airport) or what happens on the many different streets of Paris that he mentions, the jokes will come off flat or how difficult it is to take that infamous schengen visa picture: don’t smile, head at a 90 degrees angle, let the sadness erupt from your depth. Hilarious. Unless, of course, you were never submitted to a schengen visa picture.

My main problem with Le Jocon, however, is – and I understand this is overly analytical from my part – the stereotyping of the psychiatry experiment which Kodeih uses as a vessel to tell his story especially that it only serves to reinforce the misconceptions that many people have about the field, one which is more or less a taboo in Lebanon still. Of course there will be hypnosis. Of course the psychiatrist will ask about his mother. Of course he will turn out to have issues with his mother. I don’t feel we are at a point where that field should be an open field for comedy yet.

In general, though, Le Jocon is an entertaining short play. Tickets are for 20,000 and 30,000LL. Only two shows remain next weekend. It will make you laugh. So why not?

3.5/5

 

Amour [2012] – Review

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In an old Parisian apartment, with its yellowing books, rusty sinks and creaky tables, Georges and his wife Anne, two eighty year old former music teachers live. They go about their lives normally, attending concerts of former students, going through family albums that remind them of their younger days and caring for each other after all the time they’ve spent together. “C’est belle, la vie,” Anne says.

One day, as they’re having breakfast, Anne stops responding to Georges’ talk. He looks into his wife’s eyes and sees nothing there – she remains transfixed, unresponsive, a shell of the woman she was a few minutes earlier. He damps up a towel with water and tries to wipe her face but to no avail. As Georges gathers his things to call an ambulance, his wife comes back – but Anne has had a stroke. A carotid-stent operation going wrong later, Anne needs Georges to take care of her all the time, which he’s more than willing to do. A second stroke leaves her with right side hemiparesis, her right hand curled up in a fist. But Georges keeps taking care of his wife. He brings her a nurse three days a week, tries to sing with her “Sur Le Pont D’Avignon” when she can’t speak anymore, tries to get her to drink water when, in the rare lucid moments she gets later on, the only thing she makes him know she wants is to die.

Boasting beyond brilliant performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as Georges and Anne respectively, Amour is a heartbreaking, stunning and chilling portrayal of life in old age. Georges, the husband giving his all to care his dying wife, reaches a point where he knows what he’s doing is not enough but he keeps going anyway. The husband’s resiliency facing his wife’s forced surrender is a contrast that transcends the confines of the previously described Parisian apartment they both live in, which is the movie’s only setting though never feeling claustrophobic. The clash between the wife who wants to die and the husband who wants nothing but for her to live boasts an intense aspect of humanity that many movies fail to grasp even if they tried to. The nuances in the actors’ performances are striking. The way they look at each other through their wire-rimmed glasses, the adoration that radiates off Anne’s cheeks towards her husband… those are things you come across very rarely and you can’t but appreciate them when you do.

One of the main reasons Amour is this brilliant is Michael Haneke, the Austrian director, who has also written this great screenplay of life, love and death. The visual style he gives the movie is masterful. The pace he sets is poignant, never faltering. The movie he made draws you in, grasps and doesn’t let go. His style is shocking at time such as in Georges’ last act of love towards his wife, a stunning scene that will leave you haunted.

At a certain point in Amour, Georges tries to give Anne water, and she lets it roll angrily down her chin with a look of violent denial of life. Georges unwillingly slaps her, then apologizes like the exasperated caregiver he had become. Later on, he tells her stories of a time when he went to camp he didn’t like. He had agreed with his mother to write her daily. If he had liked his day, he’d draw flowers. If not, he’d draw stars. Amour shows us that life is a mix of flowers and stars. The love this old couple has to each other is the true embodiment of in sickness and in health. Amour is so intimate that watching it feels like you’re prying on these people’s private lives. It is so heartfelt that you can’t but feel touched by what you see. Amour shows you love. And it shows it spectacularly.

10/10

22.

As my friends sat around me singing happy birthday to you on that cold Saturday night which wasn’t even technically my birthday, I felt happy. The rain glistened off the window in front of me, it was cold outside but I felt the warmth of the party that was celebrating me turning 22.

I wish I knew in that moment that some of those friends were not there to stay. I wish I knew in that moment what year awaited me as I blew off those candles and people applauded.

/Trust.

I was standing alone in a crowded room on a cold February night and I was just realizing I knew absolutely no one there even those people whom I thought I knew all too well. And they’re not speaking to me, pretending like they didn’t know me. The fake smiles, the fake truths, the fake nods, the contest of who’s acting like they could care less… I had gotten tired of them all. The amount of insecurity that people had was way too unacceptable for me to handle anymore. And as everyone smiled and hugged each other, I started wondering: what did I do wrong not to be the one being welcomed like this?

It took some time for me to realize that I had done nothing wrong at all. It took some time for me to realize that keeping your guard up is a necessity. Trusting people easily should never be a possibility because the amount of assholes in this world is way too high. I realized I shouldn’t be surprised to have been let down because your expectations out of others towards you are very rarely met. So you do your best because you hope that this would somehow return good upon you. But you expect nothing.

Even people whom you thought would never ever disappoint you end up doing so. And they throw around lame excuses to justify doing so but you would have reached a point where you couldn’t care less anymore.

The theory is easy. The practical aspect of it is still a work in progress.

The saddest part though is that for a while after that I had to fight the urge to pick up the phone and call.

Foreign Home.

Your home away from home where you are foreigner and yet you fit like a glove to your hand. The lack of complexity with people. The lack of the need to be two-faced in order to get ahead. I remember the great people I met all too well. I remember the good times I shared with them. I remember the places I went through. I remember standing in front of that Royal Palace and feeling infinitely happy. I remember sitting under the Eiffel Tower on a warm Paris night. I remember walking through a cemetery where people I could only dream of approaching were laid to rest. I remember being at the place where the world’s major decisions are taken. I remember Porte des Postes. I remember Cormontaigne. I remember the grey August clouds overcast on the city as I saw it from the ICU of the hospital where I had spent most of my time being treated like a colleague. I remember those walks I took just to be alone amid the greatness of the place whose air I breathed. And I remember her with her blond hair and red lips and that rainy night in the streets of Lille.

So Small.

It’s easy to get lost inside your own problems which always seem so big at the time they’re happening. It’s very easy to make them seem like they are the worst thing that could ever happen to a person. It’s very easy to over dramatize them: why me?

But on a Monday, in a waiting room at a hospital in France, I realized how pitiful it is of me to dwell on the friends that were no longer there, on the grades that weren’t that good, on the things that I could’ve done. I saw people trying to convince that twenty year old boy of the need to cling to life as much as possible as his body rejected the heart transplant he had spent the previous year undergoing. And I realized then, as I tried to get him to feel better, that my problems are just so small.

Diagnosed.

She’s not invincible. She’s not going to be here forever. She’s weak. Her own body is killing her. As you look upon the worried face of the woman who gave birth to you, it can’t but kill you inside to see her hurting and to know her thoughts are about the potentiality of her not being there for you anymore. And you go in with her to her surgery because you know that being there for her will make all the difference. And it almost kills you to see her there, a shell of the person that she is, because of the drugs they injected into her veins. But you know it’s all for the best. And your senses perk up when the surgeon is stunned to find the procedure he had thought would be fairly straightforward was not. And your worry increases when you find out that the cancer was not as localized as they thought it was. Then when she wakes up from the anesthesia and the first faint word upon her lips when she sees your face is “habibi,” and despite the severity of it all, your worries in the world subside for just one minute.

Even thought she might lose her hair. And even though she might lose her weight. You’d still do anything for her to be there for you. And it may be selfish but it’s really not because you know that there’s nothing more she’d want as well.

Life/

Despite your guard being up, some people roll Into your life who end up surprising you. And you feel happy about them being there. things end up getting better for you and you remember the good times you spent and you realize that you regret nothing at all. You find the family which you had taken for granted will always be there for you. You meet new family members who were taken away from you by life and and time space and you find more in common with them than you’ve thought possible. You grow, you become more critical, you stand up for what you believe in. You take things in and hope that your life isn’t going to waste.

At least now you know where the 13 in State of Mind comes from. And right now, I’m felling 22 one last time, one last day. And thank God for that. Hello November 13th. Hello year 23.