Maybe it doesn’t make complete sense for me to welcome you to Lebanon because I’m back in Armenia now, but since we’re on a virtual journey together that is now headed to Lebanon, let’s just go with it.
I, of course, thought that I was going to have plenty of time to start posting about my Lebanese adventures while I was still there. Ha! You’d think I’d know better by now. I took all of my Armenian language study materials and didn’t even glance at them. Took my Kindle and never turned it on. Took sneakers to work out… guess what happened with those. Nothing. I wrote some notes while I was there to keep track of what I did and my observations and impressions, but I was too busy having the absolute BEST time to do much more than that (and I’m not just saying that because my hosts also read my blog). Between the place and the people, it was an unforgettable trip.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to fill you in on all of the awesomeness that happened. I have A LOT to tell you. Meanwhile, it’s back to the usual in my Armenia life. It’s still a daily adventure, but we’ll have plenty of time to keep talking about that later.
Okay, ready for this? Here we go…
Welcome to Lebanon!! My flight landed in the morning, so I stumbled off the plane all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to conquer the day. Badveli met me at the airport and asked if I needed to rest since my night’s sleep consisted of 9 hours of plane sleep and 3 hours in an airport. I obviously said no because I don’t believe in jetlag. Jetlag is for the weak! And for the people who can’t sleep on planes. And for the people who aren’t completely nuts like me. Anyway, jetlag shmetlag!
After getting back to Badveli and Maria’s apartment and organizing my stuff, we hit the town to walk around a little and help me get my bearings. Here are some of my first impressions of Beirut:
- Lebanon is OLD. I know what you’re probably thinking: “DUH, LARA.” This must be the same feeling that people get when they go to places like Jerusalem and Egypt. I don’t know. I haven’t been to those places, so that’s all speculation. In the Bible, in the OLD Testament, it talks about some of the cities in Lebanon. Places like Sidon and Tyre. Heck, how many times are the cedars of Lebanon mentioned? It’s easy to think of those places like something out of a fairy tale when you’re reading about them from halfway around the world. But then, when you’re literally just a drive away, it’s like… whoa. Those places are real, and here they are!
- Traffic. I had kind of forgotten what it’s like to fear for your life when crossing the street. As horrible as many of the drivers are in Armenia, I’m generally confident that they’re going to stop for me. I did not have that same confidence in Beirut. Besides that, I forgot what it’s like to have motorcycles on the road. Did you know that road rules don’t apply to motorcycles? I may have just completely made that up, but if it’s not true, you’d never know by looking at how they drive. Lunatics! Did you know that the lines on the road are meant to be driven over by the cars and not between? I may have also just made that up, but who knows? Certainly none of the drivers in Lebanon. Line painting is a waste of money.
Sidewalks. The sidewalks are horrible. Well, before I say that, I have a question. Can something be horrible if it doesn’t really exist? Imagine this. You’re walking on a nice sidewalk. After a few steps, the width decreases by half. After a few more, there’s a car parked on it. Or maybe it’s not a car but rather those bollards that are meant to keep cars off the sidewalk… but they also have the effect of making it literally impossible to walk because they’re in the way. So, you walk in the street with the motorcycle lunatics and horn-happy drivers.
- Horn-activated traffic signals. Credit for this one goes to Badveli. Did you know that if you make enough noise, the traffic lights change faster? In Beirut, everyone knows about this trick, so they spend their entire time at a red light exercising their car horns to make sure it knows that they’re waiting. And you know what? The light ALWAYS changes! It’s amazing! Question – if a car horn stops working and is unfixable, the car is totaled, right? I mean, how on earth are you supposed to drive without a horn??
- Construction. Everywhere. It seems like the kind of place where your walk to work in the morning never looks the same twice. Today, there’s a building here. Tomorrow, that building’s gone. The next day, a new one stands in its place.
Plant balconies. This might be one of my favorite things. The city is VERY developed which means barely any green space. People must have a thing for potted plants, though, because there are some magnificent balcony gardens. They are the coolest. Maybe I’m especially impressed because every potted plant I’ve ever had has died (sorry, aloe plants 1 and 2 and inevitably 3 when I get back to the plant-owning life), but I have a feeling they’re objectively cool too.
- Army. The army is everywhere. Carrying big, scary looking guns. I’m sure that you have nothing to worry about if you’re not doing anything wrong, but I have this problem where I literally convince myself that I must be doing something wrong and then proceed to act suspicious because I think, “Okay, don’t act suspicious.” I’m only guilty of being incredibly awkward, I promise.
- Internet. The internet is slow. Very slow. And very expensive. For all of Armenia’s struggles, the internet access/speed/pricing here is impressively good. The internet in Beirut is 10 steps below Armenia and like 3 steps above Ghana. It exists, but only just. Patience is key.
Power outages. Every day in Beirut, the power goes out for three hours between 6AM and 6PM. The time of the outage rotates from day to day. Say it’s from 3PM-6PM today. Tomorrow it will be from 12PM-3PM, then 9AM-12PM, then 6AM-9AM, then repeat. A lot of people either have generators or pay for generator service to their houses to fill in those gaps. I guess at least you know when your power is going to be out, but still. Annoying. It’s amazing how common power cuts are in so many countries, and meanwhile, it probably seems insane to someone who hasn’t had to think about it before. Even though I am pretty used to it by now, I STILL think scheduled cuts are wacky. I bet they could fix it but just don’t feel like it.
- Power lines. Speaking of electricity, there are power lines EVERYWHERE. And they’re hideous. And I’m guessing that half of them are probably inactive, but no one will ever know. There are the official power company lines, plus the shady generator lines, plus whatever cables everyone had sitting around the house because they thought it would look nice if there were a few more strung about. They’re like yearlong holiday lights but without the lights aka the whole point.
- Public transportation. Also not good. I asked if there was a place to look up bus routes, and Badveli laughed at me. Even Armenia has a place to look up routes, and they’re usually quite accurate. Beirut doesn’t have as many routes, they’re not as regular, and they’re not as easy to figure out.
- Handshakes. Picture this. I, a woman, meet a man for the first time. He introduces himself, looks at me like I exist, and offers his hand. We shake. He initiates polite conversation. *GASP* What a concept. In Armenia, it usually goes more like: I, a woman, meet a man for the first time. He kind glances at me and looks for a man to talk to instead. I stick out my hand. He looks at it like I’m holding out a rattlesnake. He decides that my hand won’t go away unless he shakes it. We shake. He looks for a man to talk to instead. It took my being treated like a full human again to realize that I have gotten used to being semi-ignored. Every time I met someone (especially a man) who actually acknowledged my existence, I was thrown off. Good job, Lebanon. Thank you for reminding me how these things are supposed to work.
There you have it, a few initial impressions/observations of Beirut. As with anywhere else, there’s some good, some less good, some weird, and some funny. That’s what keeps life interesting! Okay, I’ve talked your ear off enough for now. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more to come. Get ready to do some exploring!