Beirut = Nightlife, guns and soap bubbles

Trip Start Sep 18, 2010
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Trip End Jul 27, 2011


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Where I stayed
Fady's sister Nayla and her boyfriend Serge

Flag of Lebanon  ,
Friday, November 12, 2010

It is no coincidence that Manu's gig (to those that don't know her, she is a journalist) in Beirut includes an article about the night life. I have to force myself to my rule of only going out every other night. I can't imagine attempting this to be harder in any other city.

Before we test out the nightlife however, we are warmly welcomed at Fady's sister Nayla's place by her and boyfriend Serge. A request to grab a quick snack run turns into love at first bite with Lebanese food. The next day, Manu's first interview appointment is with someone who started an organic farmer's market, Souk El Tayeb. It so happens that Nayla and Fady's mom works at that market, selling her home made goodies as a hobby. So there our love affair continues and we keep eating our way through mint- and yogurt/Labneh heaven, baklava paradise and our favourite, Zataar.

That night, we have reservations at Music Hall, a club with traditional life music that is impossibly hard to get into. Between Manu's appointment with the owner and Nayla's circle of friends having a reservation for a birthday party, we have no problem getting in around midnight, even though we are running late. The $15 beers are keeping us from getting quite as jolly as everyone else. But regardless, the music is amazing, the atmosphere wild and super fun. Short of Nelson and Gilbert's wedding, I have never seen a place, where everyone without exception dances all night long. Unusually, the men are just as into it as the ladies.

Things I learned in Beirut:

- It is the most diverse, extreme city I have seen so far. Everything goes. You will see fully covered women alongside botox-overdosed, skimpily dressed 'species'. Old ruins, fancy new buildings, decrepit housings, gun-shot covered walls and flashy malls, all side by side. Heavily armed military guards at every corner and kids blowing soap bubbles next to them.
- Everyone wants to help you. Getting directions is a challlenge. There are no maps and three different people will send you in three completely different directions. If they don't know the way, they will ask the people around, call their cousins or try to walk you there.
- Everyone drives everywhere and has at least one car. That's why they rarely know how to provide directions to walk places. Someone told me where I am looking to go would take very long, he reckoned one hour. It took me 15 minutes including stops at every few hundred meters.
- The hospitality is amazing. Nayla after speaking to Fady tells us that she now understands the reason we don't just help ourselves from the fridge is of cultural nature. Apparently, it is what people do here if they stay with someone. We are also blessed to be driven around a fair bit by them.
- It is called the 'Paris of the Middle East' and deserve its nick name.
- Real estate prices are quite comparable to T.O. The investments of some Saudi King make a real estate couch surfer host I met confident that it will remain politically stable. He feels they would not put their money here if their ties to to the government wouldn't guarantee stability.
- We might or might not be able to get a visa for Syria. Everyone has a different story about our chances. I think it will depend on who we meet at the border and how they feel that day.
- Before a wedding, the couple needs to undergo a blood test, excluding STDs, drug use and illnesses. The men also undergo a fertility test.
- If caught in a gay act, the legal punishment is 7 years in prison. Hard to believe at what otherwise seems such an open culture. I wonder if it is really enforced.
- If you have kids outside of marriage (even if from a long term, seriously committed relationship), that will be noted in the kid's passport and he/she will not be able to get a job in a government or similarly official role. This is utterly nuts in my mind, isn't it?
- Listening to church bells and muezzin call at the same time, competing with each other is quite the spectacle.
- What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. What happens in Beirut, ends up on facebook. 

For the first time I feel truely hindered not being constantly online or reachable via phone. There are so many plans to be made and people to meet in Beirut that it is hard to not be reachable to coordinate.

Another couch surfer (CS) spends a day driving me, two French guys, one American and another German girl around some Lebanese cities and sights for no more than our share of gas.  Couchsurfing.org by the way is not just a place where budget travelers can find a couch to crash on. There are plenty of members that only offer their time for a coffee, drink or to show you their city, culture, night life, or generally a good time. The idea is of cultural exchange, not free accomodation.Yes, of course there are those who join in hopes of using it as a dating site. But you can easily identify them based on their profile, other members' feedback and how they communicate with you.

On our second last day, I take another walk by the water front. One tourist with covered hair and stiletto boots is climbing down the cliffs in that gear! There are famlies sitting on benches atop the cliffs, enjoying a picnic complete with rice cooker right there. Watching some of the more 'traditionel/Middle Eastern' tourists be tourists, I am conflicted. On the one hand my prejudiced Western point of view, judging their behaviours such as flashing their wealth in my eyes inapproproate ways, like a little girl decked out in a head to toe fur outfit at 25+ degrees C. On thother hand seriously wanting to be accepting and open minded towards their different culture.

We are meeting loads of CS people, some of which are Eurpeans and Americans livinging in the ME. We are excited to get invited to stay with a French guy in Amman and a Belgian in Damascus. Brilliant!

Fingers crossed for our Syria travel attempts!
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Comments

Markus Farmerus on

I want your life.

henniterness
henniterness on

You can have it too :) Read 'Vagabonding' if you are not sure how!

Jordan on

I am headed to Lebanon/Syria/Jordan in a couple weeks so your blog is very helpful! I am looking to stay with Couchsurfers.

henniterness
henniterness on

You'll have a blast. Let me know if you need contacts or look up the names I mention on couchsurfing.org

miskiman on

one of the ugliest cities in the world ever ... rasicim , discrimination , no human rights . no law . no electricity . no water . corruption ...traffic jams . idiots drivers . no politness , no ethics . no respect .polution ....and lot of lies ... after 22 years of finished war , no electricity in lebanon or beirut 24 hours . im lebanese and i know this dirty place .

henniterness
henniterness on

I am sorry you feel that way, miskiman! As a visitor, I only had amazing experiences and found it to be a beautiful place, with beautiful people and beautiful sights. Surely, my view is extremely limited with the week I spent there. But I daresay that your description seems more fitting to other places I have traveled. If there is one thing I learned on this trip: We live in a world of stunning beauty and too many times one of incredible sadness.

miskiman on

stimmt , well u said it .. a a visitor ... yes it is incredible because u cant see everything in even 1 month , lots of contradiction in one place , hot cold . naked conservative . relegious and atheist ... i do like the same .. i like that people are super friendly . we like people , what makes people here sad is that lebanon is not a poor country but lots of corruption , taxes paid nothing in return no free medical system no free educational system nothing in return ... but u have to know here that me myself i left canada after living there and came back here because i enjoy more here than anywhere else in the world .. more than canada und deutschland beide :0

henniterness
henniterness on

So it isn't all bad then for you either :) Glad to hear that. As for corruption and such, show me a country that doesn't have that. Even the Western world does, just not as blatant as other countries. Sad, but that's what I am seeing.

miskiman on

Gut naechste mal , wen du in beirut Bist , sag mir . ich zeige dir mehr Von beirut . den echten Gesicht Von Beirut : )
meanwhile check my store www.facebook.com/birthdayinn my numbers are there machs Gut . Bis bald .

henniterness
henniterness on

Will do, though unfortunately, that might not be any time soon. Frohe Feiertage!

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