We have returned to learning in Harissa with our first lecture and discussion coming from Jad al-Cham who covered Lebanon’s recent political history. I’m not going to go into extensive detail on this subject as it can be a pretty dividing topic here in the country but I did want to share a few anecdotes that Jad shared with us. The first story he shared was about a group of foreign consultants that were hired to come to Lebanon in the past and offer their guidance for the political future of the country. After extensive research the group came back to the government and first offered their resignation before handing over their findings. This sounded peculiar at first, however once the results were read it made some sense. The group found that Lebanon is an anomaly, with the incredible amount of political and religious groups in the country the consultants felt that Lebanon could not exist anywhere else. The country has somehow found a way to survive despite incredible hardships, their recommendation was to not change a thing. The Lebanese people are extremely resilient and are always looking forward. The more I talk to everyday people on the streets I hear this more and more.
The second thing I’d like to share from Jad is a quote that he offered, “If you think you know how Lebanon works, you were told the wrong explanation.” This quote is very true as there are many differing opinions on Lebanon and how politics, and especially the civil war have shaped the country. Following the Lebanese civil war from 1975-1990, there has not been any post-conflict education, Jad feels that learning and sharing the different stories from the war would help the country to avoid future disputes.
We had the wonderful opportunity to meet the Bishop of Beirut, Elias Audi on Wednesday morning. This man is incredibly wise, and offered us many stories from his life and how the different religions in Lebanon play a part in shaping the country politically. Bishop Audi was wise and caring, and is very close with high ranking members of other religious groups in the country. These high ranking members are often calling for peace and more dialogue between politicians in the country. He mentioned sharing love between Muslims, Christians and Druze peoples. My favorite quote of his was; “Peace is not brought with force.” This visit was one of my more favorite parts of our program.
After meeting the Bishop and then having lunch, we headed over to MTV Studios also in Beirut. This is not the MTV you might be thinking of from the States. MTV is a major television station here in Lebanon and we were given a tour by Philip Yacoub who hosts a couple of shows on the station, most notably Autofocus. The station is massive, with many studios underground, as well as hosting the NRJ (Energy) radio station, which is very popular in the country. It was pretty cool to see live shows, as well as all the behind the scenes work that goes into running a major television station.
Next, we headed over to Zaytounay Bay, which is an upscale bay with many high end hotels, apartments, and condominiums surrounding it. This area was built up tremendously following the civil war, and you see yachts, sailboats, and all sorts of fancy water craft from all over the world in the bay. The area feels extremely exclusive, and unfortunately there is not a tremendous amount of activity in the area.
Near this area is the Rafic Hariri memorial which is very close to the location of where he was killed by a bomb. We were able to see this memorial. It is a bit ironic that he was murdered next to Zaytounay Bay which is an area of Beirut that his construction company, Solidere, built into what it is today. Some people do not like the way this area was built and feel it doesn’t represent the same architecture and inclusiveness as other parts of Beirut. Below you will see a hotel that has refused to sell itself to Solidere.
Following our excursion in the city we started heading back to Harissa for more lectures and discussions, instead of taking the bus up the mountain we had the opportunity to ride the Teleferique from Jounieh up to Harissa. The Teleferique is a cable car that takes you directly up the mountain and offers some fantastic views of Jounieh Bay. It is definitely not made for those afraid of heights!
Once in Harissa we were treated to two lectures, the first discussed the emerging Oil & Gas sector in Lebanon. Within the last few years the potential of drilling for both natural gas and oil has emerged as a possibility off the coast of Lebanon in the Mediterranean. It is unknown until actual drilling occurs whether this is the case, however the country is very excited by this possibility to potentially reduce its dependence on outside energy sources and the possibility of exporting this fuel. The green movement is not very strong in Lebanon, as one might guess, however the current laws in the country do not allow for fracking.
The lack of a president and gridlock in the government have slowed the efforts to move forward with any actual drilling for the time being. Norway has been tasked with helping Lebanon with its’ efforts in this arena, and if fuel is found it would mean many new jobs for Lebanese people and the Lebanese diaspora, as 80% of the jobs must go to these people.
Our next lecture was by far my favorite of the entire program. We were able to hear from Habib Battah, who is an investigative journalist, filmmaker and author of beirutreport.com. Habib works hard to cover happenings in Beirut that are not covered by mainstream media, he gave us a version of his TED talk, titled “Welcome to Lebanon.”
“Welcome to Lebanon,” is what you hear people say when they speak of something that is broken in Lebanon. It unfortunately is heard far too often, when you see the insane traffic, power outages, lack of adequate water supplies, and other issues in the country you are bound to hear someone use this phrase. Habib has been working tirelessly to address issues and bring them to people’s attention, he is working against the privatization of public land, including the beach surrounding the iconic Raouche Rocks which have been frequented by Beirut families for decades, as well as the demolition of ancient artifacts and sites, and green areas within the country.
Habib is also working for faster internet acces in Lebanon, which I have noticed firsthand. Sorry for the delayed blogs! Having adequate internet access would help the entire population gain access to news and information, as well as allowing them to organize and share issues that are affecting their local communities.
Habib has brought many issues to light through his blog and investigative reporting. He has helped save ancient ruins, one of Beirut’s last green areas, and much more. He was very entertaining and informative and I definitely recommend checking out his website and TED talk.
After our lectures, we had dinner and got to bed as we had a long day ahead of us. The trip is nearing the very end, I have another post full of Lebanese adventures coming up in the next few days and then I’m off to Jordan. Be sure to subscribe to my blog so you can be in the know!