Thursday, February 28, 2013

Live, Love, Beirut

Well, here I am, back in Beirut. Five hours on a plane and I have returned to the land of H & M stores, Mcdonald's, a variety of available foods, sidewalks, hot showers, running water, fancy shops, pita bread and hummus and, best of all, smoky sheesha bars. Maybe I am indeed a spoiled westerner, but truthfully, I like these things and am not ashamed to admit it. Minus the occasional power outage and suicide bombing, and it's just like being back in Canada! Sort of.

Today, after spending a few bucks on some new shoes and leggings and shirts (Oh, how great it is to be able to buy some new clothes while traveling!), and a few hours wandering the busy Hamra district, my "servicee" taxi took me on a long, scenic drive back to my hostel in Gemmayzeh. It was almost like having a grand tour of Beirut - all the gorgeous, dilapitated old buildings with their ornate iron details and yellow and baby-blue peeling paint, these half bombed out relics shakily standing next to colourfully graffiti-ed concrete flyovers; glossy new apartments and shopping complexes watching over, the contrast of new and old, worn out and half destroyed, completely rebuilt and still under construction. Street sellers hawking roasted pistachios, neon hotdog stands, the smell of falafel and car exhaust and processed meat; an old pickup truck full of sapling orange trees, old men in suits drinking coffee at dunkin' donuts while hijabed women in high heels talk on their smart phones- the wonderfull fusion of cultures that is modern day Beirut.

I think why I personally like it here so much, even with all its frustrations (a woefully non-existent public transit system, European prices for Middle East inconvenience and chaos, insane drivers, a seeming obsession with wealth and Louis Vuitton chic), is that is seems to best embody to me the resilience of the human spirit. Cities may be bombed, suffer through wars, chaos, and unthinkable horror and destruction, but people will always rebuild, find the positive even when everything has gone to hell, have fun, eat, drink, be merry and carry on. There really is no other choice, and it is nice to be reminded of this, especially coming from Canada where we have it so easy. The traces left by the civil war, and subsequent attacks by Israel are seen constantly here - and yet there is life everywhere to be found, people constantly out and about, enjoying food, drinking until the wee hours, talking non-stop and generally just living it up. There is something inspiring about it, as well as the fact that despite some tensions in the suburbs, there seems amongst the general population, a peaceful coexistence of religion - for now. The saying goes that Lebanon is completely safe - until its not, and that change can happen literally overnight, and without warning.

I think of all the destruction going on next door in Syria, and it makes me feel somehow slightly better, imagining the cities of Aleppo and Homs one day perhaps being like a Beirut - the old souks will have to rebuilt, the historical buildings replaced with second fiddle new structures, the Citadels repaired- but life will go on, because it has to. It has no other choice. Of course no amount of rebuilding can ever replace all the lives lost, and it still pains me to think of how quickly countries can be ruined for nothing, (all because of Religion and sectarianism, and the trappings of the typically human impulse to fight and kill people in the name of some greater cause), but, as it is demonstrated in Beirut, it is the people that really make a place, not just old buildings, relics, historical sites. And the people of Beirut are wonderful, truly, just as in neighbouring Syria. I hope that this is the path of Syria, to be like a Lebanon, and not an Iraq...I suppose only time will tell, and I really don't know enough of the complex details to make any predictions - I am just stating my hope.

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