Riham's Blog


Rant: Lebanese reactions to smoking ban

I’ve been told by some very wise people that I should stop caring about Lebanon now that I’m outside of it. Unfortunately, I can’t exactly do that, and use blogs and news reporting sites to know what’s going on as long as it’s not related to politics.

This is why I was really happy to read about the smoking ban. Then I read an article on NowLebanon stating the reactions of people to this law, and I am seriously disgusted. I know this article is not representative to the population of Lebanon, but something tells me the reactions stated in it are really common. Reactions such as:

  • This ban violates the freedom of smokers. – If you had any common sense at all, you would realize that what you’re stating is that you’ve been violating the freedom of non-smokers for years. Since I’ve lived in Lebanon long enough, I know my typical-Abed will reply to this by saying non-smokers are free to not smoke, a statement I won’t even bother replying to because everyone knows about second-hand smoking.
  • I’ve been smoking for a long time, I’m not going to stop now! – Then it’s a good thing that no one is asking you to stop. We’re just limiting where you can do it so that you don’t violate people’s rights to breath clean air.
  • There are more important issues that the government can deal with! Like internet, electricity, weapons, road safety! – Every time a new law passes in Lebanon, this is the statement that drives me the most crazy. We have a lot of problems, yes, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t deal with anything. The bigger problems listed above require more time, effort and most importantly resources, so let’s start with what we can do now. If anything, change can start with you. It’s true that it sucks how easily you can get weapons in Lebanon, and that it’s something the government should deal with, but until then, how about you don’t shoot up the air every time your worshipped leader makes a speech or your dear son passes an exam that requires the IQ of a peanut (AKA Brevet)? It’s true that our roads are not safe, that car accidents are a big issue, but until this is fixed, wear the damn seatbelt, don’t drive through a red light, and for the love of god, respect your fellow citizen and don’t blind them just because you have a big car and you can!
  • This will harm my business, there’s nothing better than drinking and smoking at the same time, how will people drink – To that I have one thing to tell you: I live in Ireland. People smoke outside in the cold weather all year round. People are also drunk by 9pm. Your business will live.
And finally…
  • Whatever, no one is going to follow that law anyway – Unfortunately, this is actually something I’m scared of. But the fact people take it for a given upsets me. We keep bragging about how our country is “[Insert name of European city here] of the Middle East”, and yet we don’t want to embrace the good laws that these cities have been following for a long time now. I don’t want this law to be respected as much as the “No smoking in the airport” is, where everyone still smokes.
I never believed in some things until I left Lebanon. I always thought “noise pollution” was a made up expression until I lived in a city where cars very very rarely honk. I never understood the usefulness of a smoking ban until not only I left Lebanon, but came back and noticed the difference as I wondered why it was suddenly stinky as my friend lit up a cigarette in a coffeeshop.
This law is as important to me as faster internet or 24/7 electricity. Let’s hope my fellow Lebanese break their trend of disappointing behavior.

A simple equation

A patriarchal society.
A nation of families obsessed with boys and men.
Your first kid must be a son. Your son must be nothing less than a man.
Mothers in love with their sons that no woman is ever good enough for them.

The result?

A nation of men with a sense of entitlement, who think everyone worships the ground they walk on. Every man envies them and every woman wants them.

One girl disgusted by anything similar to this, and wants none of it in her life.


Those docks that I love

Wherever I go, there is always one area about each place that I love, that makes me happier than any other. The reasons behind each choice aren’t always clear, and it’s not always the best or prettiest area of the city. In Dublin, the grand canal square has taken this special place. What’s interesting is that it seems to be the case for several other people I know. I guess the reason behind this particular choice is that it is in fact a beautiful area.

During the day

I tend to express this love by taking a photo (with a crappy resolution due to bad mobile camera) every chance I get. Since I work and live in the area, this seems to happen quite often.

What can I tell you about it?

Another day shot from a different angle

Apparently, this area was not the best or the safest in Dublin over 10 years ago. A friend’s parent lived in Dublin at the time, and she informed him that whenever she passed by that part at night, she’d have to hurry in fear of being robbed or at the very least confronted.

The red sticks coming out of the ground all face (and lead to) the Grand Canal Theatre. They all light up at night, and there are some green parts around the ground. This was designed by an architecture and urban design firm called Martha Schwartz Partners. A friend told me that these sticks were supposed to represent trees, and the green lights on the ground is supposed to be the grass. This did not really click in my head; why would trees be red? As it turns out, these were just supposed to create an exciting and vibrant atmosphere for when people  go into a premiere or an event at the theatre. This makes more sense, especially since the ground is also a shade of red, which creates a red carpet kind of thing.

Yet another angle at a different time of the day

That area also seems to be paradoxal to me with the rest of Dublin. Dublin’s buildings are small and seem more traditional, while this is the only place I can think of that has a more modern feel. That particular idea reminds me of one of the places in New York that I absolutely loved. It was a a rock in Central Park that I loved as soon as I saw it for a similar reason. It was so rough and high, overlooking the park where you can see all the trees and the nature. Yet if you just look up, you see all the skyscrapers and towers, a “concrete jungle” even. The contrast was so interesting and beautiful.

As you can quite clearly see, a small part of the city is over thought and overanalyzed in my mind. When that happens, a rant needs to take place.

Well lit at night, unlike the rest of Dublin, which goes asleep way too early.

 

 

 


New York, I love you.

If you lived here, you'd be home now.

I came here today hoping to write a post about Dublin. This post was supposed to help me readjust to life here, remind me why I am in fact happy in Dublin.

See, a little over a week ago, I went to my dream city New York, and I instantly absolutely fell in love with it. All the thoughts that it might be disappointing because of all the expectations I had built up for it were not true. Then I came back to my dear old Dublin, with one idea in mind: this is not the city I want to live in forever. I do love Dublin, I would be lying if I said I did not, but seeing New York confirmed that it is not the city for me. So I decided to write about New York instead to explain why I loved it so much. It is a cliche to love New York, it is expected to be in awe in front of all what it has to offer, and everything I will say has definitely been said before, but I want to say them again nonetheless.

  • City with a soul – One thing that people often criticize about cities in the United States is that since it is relatively a new country, you can’t see ancient history in it, you can’t walk and visit where old civilizations have previously lived. This is also often said about Dubai, since that city is actually very new. When I was in Dubai, I agreed with everyone that said that it was fake, and I didn’t really have a problem with that; I liked the city nonetheless. However, when it comes to New York, I did not think it was fake, and I certainly did not think of it as being empty. You can definitely sense a certain culture in this city, maybe not in the same way you would if you were walking in Rome for instance, but there is something to it. It feels like it’s more than just a city where everything is big and well-lit. It isn’t like Dubai where the common principle is “The bigger the better”, but it feels like New York is what it is. The other cliche about it that “everything is possible” is something I did feel there, hopefully not because that’s what pop culture has been feeding me my whole life. Every building and every person on the street sends a vibe that says “You can do whatever the hell you want.”
  • Rough & intimidating – This city is not your typical welcoming city. It is certainly very rough and can be extremely intimidating. It is crystal clear that it is not for everybody and you can see that from your very first steps. Everything moves fast, everyone moves fast, no one stops for you, no one gives you all the time you need. Buildings are big, streets are noisy, advertising, billboards and commercials are literally everywhere. It is definitely a city that moves fast, and you can easily be left behind if you are not moving at the right pace, both physically and mentally. It is overwhelming, and I absolutely loved that. Who needs serenity when you can have exciting?
  • Overwhelming feeling of familiarity – I’ve heard this from a couple of people before I went there, I heard it from my friends there and I thought it while I was walking those streets. You really feel like you know this city, like you’ve been here before. It makes it a lot less intimidating. You’ve seen it on TV, you know these landmarks. On my third day there, I was able to locate myself easily, my sense of direction was working perfectly fine in a massive and supposedly unknown city. In addition to that, on my third day, it felt like we had been there for a long time. The week I spent there did not go really fast as is usually the case on vacations, it felt long because I was in a city that I kind of knew, if that makes sense.
  • City of opposites & extremes – How many extremes can you fit in one city? It is just amazing how many there are. From the posh areas, to the less fancy areas. You can totally see it clearly on the buildings and how the streets are. From the people walking with the Chanel bags and the Manolo Blahniks, to the homeless literally sleeping on the ground. The fabulous gay men, to the crossdressers. The fancy restaurants, the disgusting fast-food places, to the carts selling Middle Eastern food everywhere. The guys running half naked, to the old lady wearing the craziest thing and walking on the street, not caring if people are looking, especially since most of the time, they’re not looking because they simple don’t care. Not to mention listening to two local New Yorkers discussing one of the many famous hobos, who choose a certain subway station or a park as their preferred location. They are known to push you as soon as they see you, and when I said that this sounds terrifying, the response is “It is the first time.” People know and accept that. They live among these contradictions and find them normal.
  • One stereotype corrected – New Yorkers are actually nice. They walk fast, they shove you on the street to get to their destination, but if you need help and you ask for it, they will help you and be nice to you. It isn’t like Beirut where every single person on the street will jump to your rescue without you even asking, but contrary to what stereotypes say about them, they are nice when you ask for help and won’t totally ignore you.
I could go on forever with reasons why I fell in love with this city. But all I have to say is that I do not like it when people assume that I am saying this as a crazy tourist who was merely in awe. I don’t like hearing people tell me that of course you’d love it on a vacation, but living there would be different. I realize it is a rough city, and I realize that it is not for everyone, and I also realize that it is most likely stressful to live there. But it is not Times Square that I loved, it is everything that this city represented. The stress, the hurry, the noise, the pushing, the roughness and the beauty.

A question

When a person leaves life, and you go through so much after it that you become a whole different person, could they still say that they know you? Can you still say that you know them?

I am not sure which is more disturbing, having to say I knew them, or the fact that I was never given the opportunity to keep the verb “know” in the present tense.


Vintage Radio Museum

I haven’t blogged in a long time, but I went to a place that I felt deserved to be recognized from my part, which is the Vintage Radio Museum.

Who would have thought a museum could be located there?

It is located in the Martello tower in Howth, Ireland. You would think something this cool would be known among people who live in the town, but you would be wrong. I had heard of it from a friend, and I figured it’d be pretty easy to locate. I was able to find it on the map of the town, but when I asked people for directions to its exact location, they had never heard of it. Eventually, I was able to find it. There was a small sign followed by a pathway going upwards, that leads you to a very plain tower. The reason it was not painted or changed is because that would require approval.

This is what they used to make morse code. It would get printed on a different paper which would be deciphered by recipients!

When you walk in, you feel like you’re going into an old basement full of things that you no longer use, or that you went to your grandparents’ house. Everything in the museum was so well preserved and valued for what it is, and the guide (I don’t know what else to call him) just comes up to you and starts telling you the history of the radio, by showing you the radio from that period at every step. He doesn’t want you to come in and take a look at some old stuff, he wants you to know exactly when they were used and why, he puts it into context and is open to so many questions and discussions.

The best part was also listening to songs and speeches using a gramophone, or seeing him tune the radio using an eye that is on it. You get to see gramophones that need swinding in order to work, and you get to actually listen to them in action!

A radio from 1920s

Colored radios!

The radio came with Marconi, who was basically rich enough to get this “hobby” of his up and running. The americans developed it more later on and came up with colored radios, which were held by ladies like purses!

The radios started coming in sets later on, including the radio and a record player. They took up lots of space in your house, which I guess would serve as decoration as well!

From the radio set: the record player

From a radio set: the actual radio

An undercover radio! It has wires in the back, and was used in France when they were occupied.

It is just amazing to actually see all of this, and realize that this only dates back to 100 years ago. We often take for granted how much things have changed in that field. These radios couldn’t catch too many stations, which I would assume were often used for war propaganda. Yet here we are, some years later, with hundreds of options as to how to listen to music, get news and listen to talk shows. The museum was also full of old flyers and ads about this that even make this all the more fascinating.

 

Well, some things haven't changed. Who doesn't like waking up to music?

The old equivalent of "I read it on the Internet!"

50 years of Radio!


Mashallah: disOriented news

I heard about this project through a friend on the Mashallah team, and I found it very interesting. The launching of the website was on November 25, and you can check it out here: http://mashallahnews.com

I decided to blog about it and had a brief Q&A with them.

What is Mashallah news?
It’s a platform for social & cultural news from cities between Morocco and Iran where the expression “Mash’allah” is used. Articles are available in English, French and Arabic. Currently, we cover Casablanca, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Jeddah, Istanbul, Tehran but we’re looking to expand and engage new contributors from other cities in the region.

Why did you decide to create this platform, when you express the same opinions on your own blogs?
All of us aren’t professional bloggers. We come from different backgrounds but share the same frustration. We were fed up with the usual news coverage which usually communicates simplistic views and stereotypes about places in the region.

What does Mashallah team hope to achieve with this platform?
We want to cover stories that rarely make it to conventional media and thus reach a public interested in cultural dynamics and everyday life stories in these cities. We aim at gathering a community of readers eager to know about urban life, social initiatives and personal stories.

What topics do you focus on? What topics are not covered/should not be discussed on Mashallah news?
We focus basically on social and cultural issues and we are looking for original and surprising stories from the cities that we cover. There are already many websites dealing with national, regional and international aspects of politics – today they all speak about the Wikileaks for instance.
Overall, there is a shortage of news media that deal with non-political issues, and the ones that do this are often local. Mashallah wants to fill this void by being a portal for connecting a number of dynamic cities with a vibrant cultural and social life. We provide a space for an outlook that is both urban and regional.
Also, our way of working and publishing is focused on quality rather than quantity, so you should not expect Mashallah to cover hot news and: we prefer feature topics and less-told stories

Who can participate? How can readers help?
Everyone with some writing, translating or photography skills, who lives in one of the countries we aim at covering and shares our outlook. Readers can help by sending us their feedback to info@mashallahnews.com and also by spreading the word on the street, Facebook, Twitter: everywhere !

So, check out the website, browse through the cities and read the articles. If you like what you see, then spread the word, tell your friends and your friends’ friends, contribute if possible.

Follow them on Twitter: @mashallahtweet
Like their page on Facebook


Discover Lebanon first

Greenery!

One common thing you hear from the Lebanese who live abroad is that we take this country and what it has to offer for granted. I find this to be true, as many times, we do not visit all the historical sites that are available to us for free. We accompany our tourist friends to them when they are visiting us, but we never see them for ourselves.

Courtyard

I was at Beiteddine Palace last week. It was on a weekend, on a Sunday even, which means almost everyone does not have work. The weather is also perfect as it was very hot in Beirut. My expectation was that the area was going to be packed. I was disappointed to see that the whole area was almost empty, and that the palace was being visited by only several people. No school trips were taking place, and barely any Lebanese people. Those who were there were all foreigners, and by talking to one of them, I discovered that they had been there before, and that they were visiting for the second time because they think the palace is beautiful. I wanted to see kids on a school trip, a family, a group of friends visiting. None of that. Is the only reason to ever go to Beiteddine is to watch a concert during the festivals?

It is great to see foreigners taking interest in Lebanon, but I honestly find that we take what we have for granted. I am sure that you are able to find a Lebanese person who can tell you about any historical landmarks or touristic sights in a European city in great detail, but is unable to list more than three similar landmarks in his/her own country. It really is a shame.

Another thing is that not much effort is being done to promote all these locations. I have seen some ads to promote Lebanon in general, but not many for specific areas. As we were walking around in the different rooms of the palace, I noticed one room that I haven’t been in before. I told my friend that I don’t remember ever seeing this part of the palace, only to find out from the guide/security officer that this room has been opened to the public recently, so the reason I can’t remember being in it is because it was closed before. If new rooms are being opened to the public, why not inform the public? The guard overheard me by chance and told me about this, otherwise I wouldn’t have known.

Pretty & colorful room!

It isn’t enough to say that Lebanon is the best country in the Middle East, or that wherever you go, you will never find a country as great as Lebanon. The “patriotism” (if you can even call it that) you see in such statements isn’t very useful if what these people are referring to is only the night life, or merely the coexistence (or lack thereof) of different sects and religions together. If we want to truly love Lebanon, we should try to see it. This is why I am writing this post, as a call, as much directed to me as it is to others, to discover Lebanon. If not a call, then at least it is one thing I hope will happen. In other words, before you travel around the world to find beauty and discover yourself or whatever it is you’re looking for, discover Lebanon first.


Driving Radars; opportunity or curse?

I had been dreading driving lately. I know the topic of Lebanese driving has been covered over and over everywhere; just run a small Google search and see for yourself. But driving has become particularly frustrating. All those stories I have been hearing about people getting hit by cars and fatal accidents happening on the Lebanese streets made me nervous. It seemed to me that during the past few months, the drivers of Lebanon have become even more careless, paid less attention and lacked any sense of decency, more so than before. This blog post lays it down much more eloquently than I could

This is why I was happy to hear of new laws and regulations being set in place to force your average Lebanese driver to use his/her brain while on the road, and take into consideration the fact that we are not alone on the streets, and that believe it or not, we do not in fact own those streets we drive on.

However, many questions come to mind about these laws, and I hope that with time, they will be answered and clarified.
My first concern is whether this will really and seriously be enforced. We’re used to driving regulations being enforced for a while and then completely forgotten about (ie seatbelt), only to have everyone go back to their old ways as soon as the last ticket is given out. If we’re ever going to organize the way people drive here, consistency is needed. This means that I will get a ticket every single time I break the law, and not just during certain seasons.
Another issue is if we’re focusing on the issue of speeding, why aren’t there any signs that disclose speeding limits on most streets? I once tried to find out the limit on the highway leading up north, and it’s only until I got to the middle of it that I saw a sign that said “80”. The explanation so far is 50KM on every street where nothing else is put, and 100KM on the highways.
Many more come to mind. Will the money be used for better roads? Will people who have connections be able to get out of paying their tickets? Are the rates for the tickets really as high as the rumors have mentioned?

Driving is an issue that really matters to me. It is something that we do every single day, without realizing how dangerous it can be if not done correctly. I understand the reasons (well, the good ones at least) behind all of this, as the amount of accidents that have happened this year is unbelievable. However, I believe the effort should come from both sides. Citizens should be more considerate on the road, and follow the laws. But we should also expect better road conditions from our authorities.

I see those new traffic radars as an opportunity for sanity on Lebanese roads, but we shouldn’t forget that a lot can go wrong with this.


Yet Another GeekFest Beirut

I would like to add my voice to that of other bloggers, and share my account of the 3rd GeekFest Beirut.

The experience for me was definitely not a negative one. GeekFest did exactly what it should do; gathered technology loving people, whether they were simply interested in it or are “gurus”, in a casual setting, and introduced them to new things in that field, as well as allowed them to meet new people, or to put it in a fancier manner, to network.

Right before they randomly decided that I do not win anything AKA the draw

The sheer amount of people who showed up for the event was definitely pleasant, to the point that there were no name tags available anymore. I enjoyed looking at people’s tags to find out who they are on Twitter,  usually the majority of people who show up to this event, only to find out that they are either new to the community, or have their name listed as they are not Twitter users.

Octavia Nasr giving her interesting speech

The presentations could have been better, that is true. The subjects covered were interesting in theory, but it was difficult to keep up at some points, mostly because of the crowd. My personal favorite presentation was GoNabit, as it was very lively. All questions were answered, and many examples were given in order to introduce the concept of “Group Buying” and show how successful and useful it can be.

Learning about GoNabIt

Other bloggers mentioned that the venue, Plum Bar in Monot, was not perfect for such an event, and I personally disagree. If the GeekFest is “unorganized”, then it shouldn’t be in a formal venue. It should be in a place that can combine fun, interaction and learning. A pub can provide all of that if it is reserved for that purpose. Drinking and music for those who want it and an area for presentations.

One of the methods used to calm people down

There were also negatives. One of them being the music being way too loud before the presentations and during the break. It is true that this is a pub, but I’d prefer talking over screaming. Another one was the people who wouldn’t keep quiet during that presentations, although that didn’t stop me from learning something new.  My final criticism is the fact everyone left as soon as it was over; I looked over and the place was empty in a second. I was honestly looking forward to meeting and speaking with the new faces, and the fact they all left made it rather difficult.


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