Posts Tagged ‘Lebanon’

I recently had a chance to be immersed in bedouin life in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. While the details of the project will not be disclosed for confidentiality purposes, I will share some great encounters and the fascinating bedouin cultural artifects that I came across.

Typical bedouin outfit (Photo Credit: Carine Daou)

Some might be surprised to hear that there are bedouins in Lebanon. Bedouins are nomads, who typically roam from place to another with their herds.

But the bedouins I met, are now naturalized and have Lebanese ID cards. They left their nomadic lifestyles and settled in the Bekaa among other places in Lebanon and the region.

Some have really adapted to their new situation, by moving to concrete housing as opposed to tents and increasingly leaving their herding and grazing practices.

Most however, have really preserved some traditional practices as markers of their own cultural heritage.

One of which I found most fascinating, was coffee roasting, grinding and serving. A specific protocol is observed when it comes to serving coffee for guests, and during special occasions and celebrations.

The origins of coffee are largely debated, yet it is widely believed that the first cultivation of coffee was found in Ethiopia and from there it spread into Arabia, Turkey, Europe and the rest of the world. Arabs have adopted coffee as an integral part of their traditions, and have used it as a sign of hospitality.

Traditional Coffee Pots (Photo credit: Carla Haibi)

Bedouins serve a special type of Arabic coffee, litterally called “bitter coffee.” To make this coffee, coffee beans are roasted. After they cool down, they are poured in a wooden bowl and then ground by a wooden stick to preserve the flavors of the bean. The sound of the beating movement of the wooden stick against the bowl creates an entrancing rhythm, that is typical of arabic coffee making ritual.

The “bitter coffee” is usually flavored with cardamom seeds, a spice that I am not particularly fond of, but that pairs very well with coffee.

Bedouin lady beating coffee beans (Photo Credit: Carla Haibi)

After grinding, the coffee is boiled with water in special copper pots. The caffeinated beverage is then served in traditional small coffee cups with no handles. The equivalent of one shot is poured in one cup and is offered to the guest first. The guest just takes it in one sip because this “bitter coffee” is strongly flavored. If the guest doesn’t want more, he wiggles the coffee cup slightly, the server moves then to the next guest and then to family members, all sharing this sip of “bitter coffee” from the same cup.


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After a six-month hiatus, I am finally getting back in the game.

To all my faithful readers and supporters, I am sure you would understand the reasons that kept me off my keyboard, but not off the screen. I was almost everywhere, except on my blog.

Now I need to blow the dust off, and just retrieve my favorite platform, my redemption.

I will take it easy for my resurgence post, so please bear with me.

"The simple bare necessities of life!" (Image from http://www.reelingreviews.com/ thejunglebook2.htm)

Following my last blog post, and as I was getting ready to re-adapt in Lebanon after being away for over five years, providence had decided otherwise.

I found myself packing my bags again and ready to go off to another adventure entitled: Istanbul.

The nature of my job in Turkey allowed me to fully immerse myself culturally. I even learned some Turkish words. Go figure! I was able to order from restaurants, negotiate  prices at markets and …well, greet people. I will write about this life-changing adventure in length. I won’t do it now, not yet.

Briefly, I presented a program about Turkish cuisine for a new TV channel that will broadcast for the Arab world.

One word that would perfectly capture this experience: it was a roller-coaster. I had absolutely no time to write on my blog then.

I am in Beirut now and I just want to savor the past and focus on my re-integration. I don’t want to be ranting, but I haven’t really had a smooth ride. Few days after my anticipated return, I fell while skiing and had a bad neck distortion that spun me into an existential crisis…of the ugly kind. Add to that some hallucination and long hours of sleep because of heavy medication. I could not read, write, cook, think.

For the first time in a very very long time, I was absolutely doing nothing. While this may seem delicious to some, everything looked so dark and miserable to me.

I was dealing with a serious injury and with transitioning into my life in Lebanon. I was not the same person. Everything about my life before leaving was very different. Now, I feel like a stranger to almost everything that was once familiar. Most of my friends are now married and/ or expecting. While I find this truly adorable, I definitely feel a social emptiness. I don’t have anything in common with most of the people around me. A harsh realization…but today I have chosen to embrace this divergence and celebrate it.

I have recovered from my neck injury, I am overdosing on Vitamin C however, to recover from a flue. A flue of the kind that blinds you when you sneeze. I almost had a car accident a couple of days ago because of a sneeze that filled my eyes with tears and made me lose control of the steering wheel. That was a really close call. So I decided to lock my self at home until I recover.

It will take time for me to feel that harmony in my life in Beirut especially with the many stomach-churning and frustrating things that happen on a daily basis.I will definitely have a say about those …

But for now, I feel positive and in love with life wherever that might be. I want to celebrate it.

And most importantly, I am just so happy to be writing again.

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In Lebanon, plastic surgery has become an intrinsic part of daily life. Some banks are introducing loans for plastic surgery, a clever move that has attracted many customers. Ads are now playing on the obsession with plastic surgery to boost the sales of whisky! Although there is no direct relation between physical appearance and consumption of spirits, marketers can simply use magic words that people connect with, or more likely words that characterize Lebanese customers: beauty, fabulousness and plastic surgery.

"Plastic Surgery made me fabulous...Live your way"...An ad on Achrafieh highway in Beirut (Photo by Carla Haibi)

In the above ad, plastic surgery as the only way to fabulousness is linked to living your life as you want it and whisky. Whatever the connection may be, it seems to be working…

All was calm and normal in the land where plastic surgery is used as a service in some travel packages…Until www.ANADiva.com, was launched. ANADiva, litterally means, I am a diva. A diva in this context is a woman with character, wit and a well defined identity. Through this online forum, Gwen Abou Jaoude, the founding diva and a friend wanted to tackle the issue of standardization of beauty in Lebanon. The website also aims at celebrating the beauty of the Lebanese woman and her identity.

As part of her awareness campaign she organized an event called “Be yourself or everyone else” this Sunday 20th of September 2009 at Gemmayze, the bar area in Beirut. Through this event, Abou Jaoude aimed at raising a red flag and at getting the debate started about an issue that has become a major social problem.

Using quirky installations, she booked one of the prominent bars in Gemmayze called Gem and a section of Saint Nicholas stairs that lead to it. The unusual set attracted a crowd of passers-by and media people despite the heavy rains that night.

I had the opportunity to write the concept of this campaign on flyers and the messages on the installations just because I really believe in pushing the envelope and providing an opportunity for a dialogue about the rapidly changing appearances of our society.

Finally, someone has dared to step in and make a statement not aimed at fighting plastic surgery per se, but rather aimed at questioning the obsession with it and its consequences on the identity of its heavy users. With most Lebanese women now looking alike thanks to the wonders of the knife and scalpel, the individuality of these women as well as their traits are lost and confused by increasingly high and unrealistic standards. Those standards are inspired by images promoted by media, images of plastic silhouettes and the glamour culture void of any emphasis on inner well-being or self-esteem.

Poster of the event (Photo by Carla Haibi)

As part of this special set, Abou jaoude installed a booth, she called the confidence booth where she invited people to go inside and have their pictures taken and enjoy a moment of fame where their self-confidence rather their concern with their appearance took over.

Black faceless models scattered on the stairs displaying messages of the negative consequences of an increasingly plastic culture (Photo by Carla Haibi)

Sewing machines set inside Gem Bar symbolized the mass-production of beauty in Lebanon where plastic surgery is increasingly sowing similar faces and bodies and crippling the society.

the confidence booth with the slogan “You are your own star… shine!” (Photo by Louma el Khoury)

Antique sewing machines on display at Gem (Photo by Carla Haibi)

Although this event was the first step towards a debate, Abou Jaoude has vowed that this will only be the start of a series of initiatives, the online forum ANADiva.com included, in order to promote critical thinking and preserve the true markers of the Lebanese beauty. Log on to the website to learn more and be part of the conversation.

A model trapped in a web in the ceiling symbolizing a crippled society by the loss of identity due to uniformity of beauty standards (Photo by Carla Haibi)

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I think this is it…the cherry on top of the scone of shocking and yet perfectly accepted practices in Beirut.

A recent article published in NowLebanon, informed about the concept of beauty stores for children.I chose the following excerpt from the article that says it all.

 “Kids come in to take care of themselves, to look good and to pamper themselves.”

…such outlets are primarily avenues for Lebanon’s young girls to learn the importance of hygiene and cleanliness, a rationale echoed by the owners of the country’s other two children’s spas. 
“They become more and more aware, they grow up knowing that they have to have clean hands and clean feet,” said Hilal.


"If I saw that look in my kid’s eyes I’d do the opposite of whatever I was doing" and Photo credit:hoitycoity.com/post/ 151795543/highglitz

"If I saw that look in my kid’s eyes I’d do the opposite of whatever I was doing" and Photo credit:hoitycoity.com/post/ 151795543/highglitz


Shouldn’t basic hygiene standards be taught at home and at schools simultaneously? or have beauty parlors taken over the education and the upbringing of the next generation?

What would a young girl, who at the age of four,is a regular at a beauty parlor, be doing at the age of 15 to live up to the image she was groomed to have? or at 25 for that matter?

In Lebanon, some parents from certain social classes have evolved their upbringing practices. In fact, they chose to just deliberately set the social expecations for their girls at a very early age. Those expectations will not only shape their children’s self-esteem but will also take away some basic elements of their innocence. The preoccupation with appearance and grooming should not be even on the list of concerns of a four year old, or a five year old and not even before mid adolescence. What about classic children preoccupations? Should girls be raised to believe that they have to conform to the expectations of the society for their appearance before they can even spell?

Reading this article, made me think of my childhood and what my concerns were at the time. I grew up during the civil war in Lebanon. Like many children of my generation, the so-called “war generation,” I have been initiated to flee my house leaving everything behind whenever the bombing got closer.

Apart from Chantale Goya, Ton Amie Lilianne and Zora La Rousse, Remy Bandali was my ultimate childhood idol. Two years my senior, Bandali was a child prodigy and a star at a very early age. We were in the same primary school and I saw her perform live on several occasions in Lebanon. I knew her songs by heart, every single one of them. I can still sing them to this day, 22 years later. 

But the reason I mentioned Bandali is because one of her most famous songs landed her a performance at the Champs Elysees in France and stardom as the youngest performer in the world. The song is called: “Outouna el Toufouli” which literally means give us the childhood. Bandali sings in Arabic, French and English in the same song. I will transcribe the lyrics of the english section of the song which is a translation of the sections in the other languages.

“I am a child with something to say, Please listen to me

I am a child who wants to play , why dont you let me?

My dolls are waiting, my friends are praying, small houses are begging…give us a chance…give us a chance

Please, Please give us a chance” 

In arabic, she says to give the children their childhood and to give them peace.

This song was a hit because it really portrayed with innocent lyrics, the tragedy of the livelihood of many Lebanese children growing amidst strife and violence of the civil war.

The irony of our evolution lies in the fact that many children of my generation were craving a childhood and lived in fear during a very tumultuous period in the country.While in 2009, values of education and civilization are making way for social decadence. 

As a result, some children and girls in particular don’t have a childhood to claim, because it has been already taken away by their own parents.

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When you land at the Beirut International Airport, and just as the immigration officer stamps your passport, he is also virtually offering you a pack of cigarettes with a label that reads: “Welcome to Lebanon!” instead of the usual public health warning.

As you’re waiting for your luggage, impatient smokers light their cigarettees right near “No Smoking signs” and with the sound of the Public Address in the background saying: “Smoking is allowed in designated areas only.” I never saw those designated areas and I think that it was established sometimes during the civil war in Lebanon that the entire airport is a designated area for smoking.

After having sworn off cigarettes for life in New York, I got right back on track while roaming around bars just after two weeks in Beirut. I figured it would be easier for me to smoke a cigarette rather than hold on to my abstinence and try to catch a breath in a fog of cigarette smoke.

In Lebanon, you can smoke almost anywhere. Lebanese people have become so nicotine-dependant that they can’t hold it together even when they are swimming. I am not talking about smoking at the widely notorious pool bars at one of Beirut’s beach resorts, where smoking has become perfectly legitimate. I am talking about smoking in the Mediterranean sea while trying to maintain balance at a rocky public beach in Batroun on the northern shore of Lebanon. This place is a beautiful secluded spot, that has not been entirely discovered by the main stream. Unfortunately, it is quite rare to find a clean public beach in Lebanon. This one was maintained by the municipality of Batroun. But for those two guys with big bellies, a clean beach is more than they can handle and that is why they decided to smoke and throw their cigarette ends in the water…I was not fast enough to catch their misdeed on camera, but the visual memory of it all and the subsequent frustration prompted me to write this post. 


Photo Credit: New Wave Creative (IMP Awards)

Photo Credit: New Wave Creative (IMP Awards)



I have to confess that I am not doing a great job applying strong willpower when it comes to smoking. While in New York , I was determined that I will no longer be the social smoker that I was (One cigarette doesn’t count). But at bars in Beirut where almost 99% of people smoke , breaking what is for me a social habit seemed harder than I thought.

But now that Beirut is in the international spotlight  with CNN’s recognition as a city of parties and luxury in the Middle East, would maybe prompt legislators to enforce smoke free policies, unless being the third biggest tobacco consumer in the Eastern Mediterranean will soon be used in the Ministry of Tourism ads as one of Lebanon’s attributes.

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On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I met a Lebanese Dominican man, who happened to be a friend of my friend’s family. Nabil Khoury, 75, known as Don Nabil, has built in 1970 a house in the province of Barahona near the borders with Haiti. His 1800-square meter summer estate, which he named Villa Miriam after his wife, resembles a jungle of tropical plants and fruit orchards that climb up a cliff. A river pierced its way through the center of the cliff turning into a waterfall that washes the entire estate filling superimposed pools, before joining the Caribbean sea at the end of the stream.

About three years ago, Khoury decided to open the house to the community for a negligible fee so that people can enjoy the estate in a tropical environment, breathtaking greenery and bathe in pure water constantly refreshed by the stream.

For a 100 pesos per person per day, about three dollars or 5,000 Lebanese Liras, visitors can spend the day at this Caribbean jungle. The water is crystalline and potable. It poors at high pressure creating in the pools a natural jacoozzi that massages the entire body.

                            Don Nabil Khoury, the lord of the Jungle! (Photo by Carla Haibi)
                  Don Nabil Khoury, the lord of the Jungle! (Photo by Carla Haibi)


Khoury immigrated to the Dominican Republic in December of 1947, from Akkar in the North of Lebanon. He was only 12 years old when he followed his dad already a trader in the Caribbean, his mom and his two sisters. Khoury started working in a small clothing store and then took on a granite and cement business that  has become prosperous and prominent in the province of Barahona.

That morning in June, he carried a basket full of fruits: different varieties of mango, avocado and coconut from his estate to his neighbors, a trademark of Lebanese hospitality mixed with the warmth of his upbringing in a Dominican environment.

“I am very grateful of the receptivity of Dominicans, I have never felt as an immigrant,” said Khoury in Arabic with a heavy northern Lebanese accent mixing in some Spanish words confirming his firmly established Dominican identity.

Today Khoury is settled in the Dominican Republic with his Dominican wife and children, but he still considers Lebanon the country closest to his heart.

The waterfall of pure crystalline water (Photo by Carla Haibi)

The waterfall of pure crystalline water (Photo by Carla Haibi)


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Every couple of days, an article about Beirut is published in some prominent newspaper. After the New York Times and the LA Times, CNN, ParisMatch.com, BBC News and Mail&Guardian.com are also putting the city in the spotlights.

The articles online videos focus on the food, nightlife or the mere fact that Beirut is marking its comeback with steadfast determination. Symbolized by the Phoenix bird, the city this year gives a whole new meaning to the word “resilience.” Half as many people as the country’s entire population have flown to Beirut this summer. With two million tourists, the streets are vibrant with energy, life and car honks. Yet, in my humble opinion and far from any cynical thinking, Beirut, the city of contradictions par excellence, has many obstacles to tear down before it claims its place among top world cities: Respect of human rights and foreign workers, gay rights, civil marriage, to name but a few. Don’t get me wrong, a dose of criticism by a citizen towards its country, has no intention but to shed the light on serious issues that us Lebanese have to solve when the music is turned down and the tourists go back home. After all, if this city was not my destination of choice, I would not even have bothered writing this post.  Cheers from Beirut.


targeting the right market. (Photo Credit: MEDIA - Middle Eastern Designers, Illustrators, & Artists)

Targeting the right market. (Photo Credit: MEDIA - Middle Eastern Designers, Illustrators, & Artists)

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