Once you get me started on where I am from, it’s pretty much impossible to get a word in – I truly ramble on about Beirut at the expense of others. The truth is, there is so much to say about this place, and none of it is simple – 17 years on and I still don’t understand the politics of it all. This article, outlining Lebanon’s demographics, should give you some good background info though: www.beiruting.com.
Growing up in Lebanon was definitely unlike growing up in Europe, but I never felt like it was out of the ordinary. When I introduce myself to anyone in my university city, Edinburgh, I explain I’m from Lebanon without a doubt. Sadly though, I have not a drop of Lebanese blood in me – I am a pseudo-Arab of Scottish and Belgian decent. One of my biggest regrets is not pressuring my parents to apply for Lebanese passports. I have come to the conclusion that I’ll just have to marry Lebanese – returning on a 3-months visa with dwindling prospects of attaining a work-permit is not a pleasant thought.
The longer I stay away from this place, I increasingly appreciate and deprecate it simultaneously. It is easy to see Lebanon for what it truly is: a shambles, but growing up here, it was normal. Before leaving home and moving to Edinburgh, I never thought twice about daily power-cuts or bullet holes in walls dating from the civil war (1975-1990). In fact, it is easy to list all the things that don’t work in Lebanon, but I don’t want to. The news will inform you that my homeland is a mess – l have no need to.
And even though I consider myself a local, I still find in near impossible to describe Beirut. It’s too complex. One thing I can make my mind up about though, is that Lebanon is a place of organised chaos and the Lebanese people learn to live with and embrace the reality which surrounds them.
For example, political instability is ever-present: right now, we don’t have a president. And yet, in spite of this, there is an incredible will to live in the moment and remain optimistic. Issues such as this aren’t coming to any conclusions but the people of Lebanon remain resilient. In lieu of terror and corruption – we get on with our lives.
Just last Friday, even, I heard news of a hotel being raided in Hamra, one of the most popular areas in Beirut (a favourite of mine, and where my sisters and friends still study). A total of seventeen men were arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack. A half hour later, a suicide bomb was set off at a checkpoint on the way to Beqaa valley. However, regardless of the horror and terror which faced us, my day interning and the general working world continued on as usual. The events were mentioned a few times and the roads remained empty for several hours but few things were stopped and by the next night the streets of central Beirut were flooded with people attending a free music festival.
Lebanon suffered from a fifteen year civil war, and since then local politics have remained tense. Conflicts in neighbouring countries have also been spilling over the borders, and every summer things go wrong – as if planned purposefully to keep Lebanon from recovering. And yet no matter how wrong things go, Lebanese people are always willing to put the past behind them and move on, perhaps not forward just yet, but definitely not backwards. The streets of Beirut are undeniable proof of this.
One of the city’s most popular clubs: BO18 is built on the site of a massacre during the war. In writing it seems harsh, but actually it is a testament of people’s amazing abilities to always look on the bright side and moved pass the horrors which could hold us back. “Keep calm and carry on” has never been truer.
Holly Gavin is a fine art student at the Edinburgh College of Art. She grew up in Lebanon, although don’t ask her to speak Arabic – 18 years on and French is more her thing. Holly admits that she feels far too un-arty for to be an art student – although seeing as she obsesses over Doc Martens and one of a kind cardigans – we think she has nothing to worry about.
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