After moving to Luxembourg at the start of 2010, I had finally managed to save enough money to go on one of my first holidays in over a decade.
For a multitude of reasons, I didn’t see much outside of the UK during this long period in between; mainly, university cost money, and trying to survive in London on £17,000 gross per annum after university was practically impossible – I still don’t know how I achieved it to this day?! – so travelling was pretty much off the table. The last holiday I had been on was with my first boyfriend, back in 1998 (I think), so I felt I really deserved this treat.
I had never even visited the country where my mother was born, and so I decided to go see some relatives I hadn’t seen in a very long time, in Cyprus and Lebanon, over two weeks. As the plane made the short 30 minute hop from Cyrpus to Lebanon and began it’s descent as the sun was setting, and despite the incredibly loud passengers on board, I had a tear in my eye. It had been 20 years since I had stepped foot in the Middle East… and my first step onto the land of my mother’s birth.
It was all a bit of a blur really – I met my cousin, Stewart, who picked me up in his old-school Land Rover that had been pimped out for the desert and harsh climate driving conditions. I hadn’t seen Stewart in years, and he’s 15 years older than I, so I’m sure the last time he saw me was when I was “a little annoying brat” (his words, ha!). It was already dark outside so he took me straight to the youth hostel which wasn’t far from the bar he owned at the time. That hostel was clean and welcoming, and really busy at all hours. I was sharing a room with 3 others, all of whom I remain in contact with today – the amazing thing that technology is and all.
The next few days I did a little exploring around town. The colours and sounds and scents of Beirut quite fill your senses when wondering down Al Gemmeze and the surrounding area. It was such an odd feeling to see a mosque right next to a church, or a really old Mercedes driving up next to a brand new Porsche, huge private gardens brimming with hibiscus and other exotic flora, and hiding wonderful houses to the bullet holed fronts of building rubble lining some of the streets, electrical cables and phone lines spanning sides of buildings, across streets and with junction boxes open to the elements.
Canon, Snapseed filter & edit
What struck me most was the amount of art peeping out everywhere. Under garage rooves, down alleys, colleges and homes open to public view exhibiting the artistic tastes of the Lebanese – elegant, colourful, playful, intelligent, and full of both a depth of seriousness and humour.
Graffiti I found along my way:
Canon, Snapseed filter & edit
All the people I met had huge smiles on their faces. There were busy restaurants and bakeries, later on the mosque’s call to prayer and the church bells chiming, and bars with music and laughter spilling out on the streets. Our group from the hostel had Turkish, Finnish/Iranian, Canadian, and I in it. We were Muslims and Christians. We laughed all the same. We met Lebanese, Syrian, British and American. We laughed all the same.
Canon, no filter & no edit
Some people are apprehensive to visit this stunning country – I have only shown you a small part, it’s capital city. You really wouldn’t believe how beautiful the countryside is, up into the mountains, winding bumpy roads and ceder trees, and looking out to sea. The red earth that is such a symbol of Lebanon, the beautiful yet bullet holed Baalback Roman ruins, Jaita grotto and it’s stunning crystal like formation on stalagmites and stalactites. The Sidon Sea Castle and the warren of tunnels forming the poorer district, filled with food stalls and hawkers selling their wares – spices, herbs, leather sandals, tobacco and fish. A druze throws down her prayer rug and bows her head in prayer.
Lebanon is a hot pot of religions, colours and ethnicity. Somehow it’s quite normal for them to live together, side by side. I’m being sardonic – it’s bloody wonderful and awe-inspiring to see so many different people in one place, and with so many different cultures thrown in too. It’s so dramatic, and ALIVE.
And yet, the divide between rich and poor is phenomenal – it’s certainly not a completely functional country.
When you see all the soldiers and police officers armed up on most street corners throughout the city, you get a subtle reminder of an unrest lying beneath it all.
Because most of the time those soldiers are their to protect their citizens from international attack from their neighbour, Israel. The Lebanese are incredibly proud of their military – they are Muslims and Christians, and they protect Muslims and Christians.
The sad thing is, while there used to be a lot of Arab Jews in Lebanon too, they fled Lebanon over the years. There are none left now. It’s really sad to think that all three religious peoples lived quite harmoniously until the events that led to the creation of the State of Israel and the displacement of the State of Palestine in the late 40s.
There are Palestinian refugee camps in south Lebanon housing 1000s of refugees – a lot were born there, live there still, grow up in resentment and hatred, and certainly a pit of despair, leading to the most natural thing for man to do when backed into a corner – fight back.
It’s not normal for people to so publicly pass open air prisons every day and for that to have gone on for more than 60 years… it’s unbelievable.
I can only hope that one day Peace will reign in the region again. Till then, those sitting so far from the situation like myself can only keep trying to let the voice of reason be heard by those people in power who have the power to make the necessary policy changes.
Because the situation in their neighbouring country does affect Lebanon and the Lebanese people. The situation affects the entire region. And sadly, all these little, beautiful secrets of Lebanon may disappear, along with the rest of the area.
Lebanon, you definitely won my heart!
Photographic and written content are ©. All rights reserved. February 2018.