We’re back in the hustle and bustle of the city after spending some time away in the mountains. Our first stop in Beirut was The National Museum. The museum was originally opened in 1942, however during the civil war it suffered due to extensive fighting. Luckily a good deal of the ancient artifacts were saved, the museum has many ancient Phoenician pieces as well as Roman, Byzantine, and Egyptian pieces among others. The museum is setup to allow you to walk through in a chronological fashion and was very interesting to see all of the different civilizations who have laid claim to Lebanon.
After spending some time at the Museum and then grabbing some lunch we headed to the Migrant Community Center. Lebanon, like many other Arab countries, has a large population of migrant workers. These workers are many times in Lebanon through something called a sponsorship system. These workers face a great deal of hardships, and unequal treatment in many cases. Most of the time their employers take their passports which restricts their ability to move about. There are many other issues that come into play with this sponsorship system, the contracts the workers sign are often times not honored, they end up working 7 days a week, and not being paid adequately. The more I heard about the practice the more it sounded similar to indentured servitude, the power structure in these relationships is terrible. The Migrant Community Center offers a place for migrant workers to learn new skills, languages, and how to fight for their rights. The community is currently working to unionize their workers and will hopefully continue to make progress towards abolishing the sponsorship system.
We spent the night in a very cool hostel in the Gemayze area of Beirut, the place is called Saifi Gardens and it offers a common place for people to meet in the heart of Beirut. There is an Arabic school attached, as well as a bar and restaurant. We also finally got the opportunity to experience Beirut night life for the first time on our trip. The Lebanese definitely know how to have a good time, and it was refreshing to see everyone out in the streets, enjoying drinks and food, as well as hopping from pub to pub. The whole Back to Roots crew got dressed up and we had a great time dancing, drinking, and enjoying Beirut.
The next day we headed out to Beiteddine, where we visited a palace that was built in the early 1800s. The Emir Bashir Chehab II reportedly cut off the architect’s hands who designed the palace after its completion to ensure he could never recreate the palace. The palace was being prepared for the Beiteddine International Festival while we were visiting, Lebanon has many festivals throughout the country during the summer.
The palace is located in the Shouf mountains which is the heartland of Lebanon’s Druze community. The Druze are an ethnoreligious group that play a large part in the Lebanese community. While we were in the Shouf area we were able to visit the Shouf Cedar Nature Reserve, this is a reserve that is popular for hiking, trekking, and biking. The reserve is home to many Lebanese Cedar trees, and many groups travel to the reserve to plant trees as part of reforestation efforts. We were taken on a tour of the reserve by an amazing tour guide who told us all about the uniqueness of the Lebanese Cedar. The oldest cedar in Lebanon is 3,000 years old, and something that I found extremely interesting was that the cones of the Lebanese Cedar actually grow upward and sit on top of the branches, above the leaves.
The Back to Roots crew was able to plant our own Cedar tree in the reserve and this was a great experience. I hope I get to return and visit our tree in the future.
Our next day was a somewhat relaxing one spent at the beach. We spent the day in Batroun at a beach called White Beach. The beach was covered in pretty stones, luckily there were plenty of chairs for visitors to lay out. It was a gorgeous day and the water felt great, the color of the Mediterranean Sea is an absolutely stunning blue that is lighter closer to the beach and slowly changes color the further you look outward towards the sea.
Once we were all nice and tan, we headed back to Harissa for a lecture on Lebanon’s economy by Maroun Keyrouz. Lebanon carries a great deal of debt leftover from the rebuilding efforts after the end of the civil war in 1990. Maroun offered a tremendous deal of insight into where money flows in Lebanon and went into more depth regarding the country’s electricity company. The company currently sells it’s electricity below cost to customers and there are an incredible amount of customers who just simply do not pay bills yet they still receive electricity. As an American it was difficult to wrap my head around this concept, however once it was explained in a bit more detail I realized that many of these people not paying have strong connections, or live in areas where the electricity company does not dare to enter. The electricity in Lebanon is also incapable of providing electricity for 24 hours a day to customers, therefore most people must also subscribe to private generators. These private generators are costly, and there is a strong lobby that owns these generators that actually opposes access to 24 hour a day electricity. Keyrouz estimates that privatization and localization of electricity plants could save Lebanon $2 billion USD yearly. Keyrouz also estimates that $21 billion USD have been lost since 1990 due to corruption within the government. This again is not unique to Lebanon, but is something that should be taken seriously, finding a way to elect accountable politicians is key to a successful Lebanon.
On a brighter note, we had the opportunity to visit Creative Space Beirut (CSB). This organization offers free fashion design educational programs to young people from various socio-economic backgrounds who lack the opportunity to pursue creative education on their own. Students come from all parts of the country, including Palestinian refugee camps within the country. The program lasts 3 years, and students are given the opportunity to become resident designers following their education. All expenses are paid for the students and the school is working to become more sustainable by offering their own line of clothing with all proceeds coming back to fund the school.
If you have the opportunity please check out their IndieGoGo page, and donate what you can to a wonderful cause.
Hope you all are enjoying the posts, we are getting closer to the end of the trip, but I still have plenty more to share from the trip! Talk to you again soon, and be sure to subscribe to my blog so you can be in the know as I post!