Travelogue

Bewitching Beirut and the Spirit of the Lebanese

Downtown Beirut

A place that I will tell anyone and everyone who will listen to me that’s a must visit!

More backstory on why I’m in Beirut here.

Lebanon has its way of seeping into your soul. It bewitched me not long after my arrival in November 2017 for the first time. While I knew a little about the country and mostly the things of the past, I tried to go without too many preconceived notions. Let the country unfold and take it all in if I was going to consider this place home. 

The first two weeks that I went I was able to meet up with a friend of a friend there, and she was dating a lovely Lebanese guy and had a whole group of friends. Within minutes, those friends became mine as well. They invited me to their homes, to other parties, and made me feel immediately ‘in the loop.’ And it just continued to spiral and spread my friend network. 

I would split my time between the US and Beirut due to work and be by my father’s side as he battled brain cancer (which ultimately he lost at the end of 2018). Each time I returned, I was back in the groove without skipping a beat and welcomed back. I got more and more comfortable going off around the country, and making my own personally guided trips. I just couldn’t get enough, exploring the history, eating all the incredible food, checking out the wineries, architecture, beach clubs (obviously!), and meeting new people at every turn. 

Lebanon is like a village no matter how many people live there. Everyone is only a few degrees of separation, and I found many mutual friends after a short while. I would walk down the streets of Beirut and see people I knew and waved. Spilled out of a crowded bar in Mar Mikhael to find a friend outside having a drink with friends. I would wave at my local cell phone guy as I passed. The people at the local saj shop on my block, who ruled the street, always had some funny quips and quick questions. “Tell me: Lebanon or the US?” I would say “Lebanon!” to cheers from the guys. I felt warm and welcomed. 

Maybe it’s because I’m an outsider, and they loved that an American wanted to tell everyone to come visit their country. I am in travel public relations, so my Instagram posts were inspiring my writer friends to come. Friends who I never thought would consider traveling to the Middle East, started sliding into my Instagram DMs asking about what it was like and how the images I post were in complete contrast to this image in their minds. 

I’ve attended Arabic rap battles, Beirut Pride, drag queen dance parties, hung out with Lebanese elders, business owners and my fellow travel industry professionals. I started a Travel Massive Beirut chapter to connect with more people and get deeply ingrained into the travel scene there with my friend Alexandra Talty, an American journalist, who had been living in Lebanon for nearly six years. With her Arabic and surfing skills, it was fun to see Lebanon through her eyes, especially in the small town in the north Batroun, dubbed her little Hamptons of Lebanon (where she is actually from in Long Island).  

When my friend Alex (in Wanderland – to her fanbase online) came to visit, it finally dawned on me (and her) to organize a trip there. So we set off to create this badass itinerary for a week for a small group of 14 women that we were very proud of and sold out in just over a month to Alex’s fan base. We made sure to incorporate and support the local businesses, especially organizations supporting women. Like I said, I was very invested in this country and wanted to show everyone how fabulous it was. 

Now that I’ve spent about 2.5 years off and on there, I have thrown myself into experiencing, talking to people, befriending anyone willing, and soaking up the energy. But even with all the amazing nightlife and socializing, I’ve had many serious conversations with friends about growing up in Lebanon. The constant struggles for basic needs (like trash disposal, continuous electricity, recycling) that should be provided by a government even to this day. Or the smoldering simmer among different religious sects that’s constantly wafted by the political elite to maintain their power. If you pin them against each other, it only divides them and keeps the warlords in power that dated back to and responsible for the endless civil war. 

You can tell the people have been through a lot. You catch it for a minute on their faces. But they keep their head up and will quickly move on to a lighter subject, because I’m sure it’s just too much to continuously talk about but feel never changes. 

I was there when the revolution kicked off in October 2019. It was inspiring to see the people unite and take to the streets no matter their socioeconomic background or religion. I went to the protests in support, and wanted to see a better future for all my friends and Lebanese there. 

Months went on, people kept the momentum for some time, and it really felt like an outdoor festival or dance party many times, but it was getting harder with little results. The politicians called in their thugs to mess with protestors and incite violence (ring a bell, America??). They were just swatting the people away like pesky flies, while they lined their pockets and shipped their money abroad. The Lebanese Lira inflation skyrocketed, jobs continued to disappear and then Covid came to deal the final blow….so we thought. 

On Tuesday, August 4th about mid-day, I started receiving lots of texts. Are you OK? Is Malte OK? I rush to my social media feeds to see what the heck is going on (the Lebanese are very into Instagram so knew something would be there). Seeing the initial videos, I was speechless. I am trying to reach Malte, and within a few minutes he responds that he’s OK. Selfishly, I’m relieved and start messaging friends feverishly. 

After seeing many visuals online, even one video vantage point of our apartment, what to expect, I don’t know. Everyone started writing back quickly on WhatsApp to say they are safe. Another big sigh of relief. All counting their blessings for their safety while some dear to me lost their homes entirely. Heart breaking and incredible to hear from some that have lost everything. And you have to remind yourself, we can replace things but not our loved ones. It’s a miracle there weren’t more casualties. 

 

Our apartment in Acrhafieh

I happened to be grounded in the US due to Covid. I had desperately wanted to get back to Lebanon for the summer, however, the virus had different plans, and the airport was closed until mid-July. Even still, I had planned and hovered over flights for August. Ultimately, our Wander Women Lebanon trip, which would have started next week, had to be postponed till 2021. While I hate this pandemic and the virus’ destruction, it saved me from being in our apartment when the blast hit or possibly in my favorite cafe to work in, even closer to the detonation. I shudder to think what would have happened. 

More and more, I am so thankful for my boyfriend and friends’ luck of not becoming casualties to such a horrible, erroneous, completely negligent outcome of the inept leadership in Lebanon to leave such explosive materials in the port for SIX YEARS! The Lebanese just didn’t need another pile dropped on them. The rubble continues to build and it feels hopeless.

As I watch from afar, I see the rage building online and witnessing a moment that the government finally cannot sweep under the rug. The whole world is watching. Planes of humanitarian aid, doctors, volunteers, supplies, and donations pouring in. The doctors were forced to help patients in the parking lots, no power, and under a completely failing healthcare system due to the economy pre-explosion. 

The humanity, camaraderie and unity is all I keep hearing from my friends there. The people are cleaning up their own streets with no help from the government that created this catastrophe. And the anger boiled over with a new resurgence of protests. One by one, the officials started to resign. President Macron appeared in downtown Beirut, among the people, listening to them, and pledging to really help. He acted more presidential and showed more leadership in one day than those in power had in their lifetimes. I hope he and everyone follows through. 

Because damn it, they deserve better. I love you Lebanon. 

For many asking (thank you!) what you can do to help the people, donate to the following organizations. And when it’s safe to travel, this country will need our tourism dollars. Please visit, because even in the ashes, I’d still recommend people to go.

Beit el Baraka: https://www.beitelbaraka.org/

Impact Lebanon: https://www.impactlebanon.org

Lebanese Food Bank: https://donate.lebanesefoodbank.org/

Lebanon Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org.lb/

No amount is too small. Shukran!