Landing in Beirut was very emotional for me. I had lived there for 14 years in my early adulthood and had my children there. I have always loved it there but had to leave because of the war, which then turned out to last for 15 years.
Nowadays, from your seat in the plane, you can see via the camera, which is mounted in between the wheel struts, when and how the plane touches the runway at landing. I could see not only the runway, but also the lights in the mountains behind it. I lost a few tears. Revisiting old times…..
Friends picked me up and the traffic and new roads confused me thoroughly. I was excited, looking forward to next morning to see the beautiful city, my happy home of olden times.
Shocking – was my first impression next morning. The beautiful city and the lovely mountains were a pile of square concrete boxes. All over the city and all over the mountains there were those 6-8 story concrete buildings, sometimes higher – ruining everything. In addition to that the Christians have cut a relatively straight road through the mountains, only not to have to go through Beirut and drive the most picturesque road across the mountains. They just chopped off the mountain sides, and bare, naked rocks are sticking out and being an extreme eyesore.
Along the beautiful beaches, where decades ago I used to spend every day, are now more than 1.6 million Syrian refugees. Imagine Lebanon only having 4.3 million people, and now 1.6 million refugees on top, living in home made tin huts and rubbish shelters, all along the beaches south of Beirut. And more are coming every day.
Traffic is a s bad as in Delhi. Everyone drives seemingly with their eyes closed, waiting and hoping the other guy will blink first.
Former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was killed 10 years ago, was the man who was and still is loved by some and hated by others. He is the man who takes credit for rebuilding Beirut after the long civil war. Downtown was pretty destroyed and he rebuilt it, looking beautiful. He kept the Arab flavor, combined with modern styles and conveniences and the result is truly fabulous. However, under his regime the “old” had to go before the “new” could come in. 95%, I would say, of the old Arab buildings were torn down instead of being restored. In less and less places do you see a restored old building, – steel and glass have taken it’s place.
Next day downtown was on the schedule. My friends said: this road here is for instance “Al Hamra”, do you remember? Do you recognize it? I have to say that I recognized almost nothing, except for Rouche, the Pigeon Rocks, in Ras Beirut (Head of Beirut), the tip of the city on the water.
But I digress. I want to show you the new downtown. Beautifully built. It was very busy the first couple of years, especially when the Saudi’s descended upon Lebanon for their summer vacations. Busy cafes, expensive stores, the latest of everything. Now, to my big shock, there is no one downtown. Nobody can afford the rents for the stores, nobody can afford the prices or rents for the apartments above (it was built for mixed-usage). It is a ghost town. It is useless. What used to be a lively Soukh, where everyone went for their vegetables, dishes, clothes, where bargaining was done from morning till night – all empty now. The locals can’t afford to shop there, the rich Saudis are gone in the winter. The stores are not only empty of people, they are completely empty of furniture, looks like they won’t be opened again….. Sad story.
One of my objectives taking pictures was to show people around the world that various religions used to always live side by side in Lebanon, Christians and Moslems, as well as a few thousand Jews. Nobody ever hurt anyone. Everyone lived in peace with their neighbor. Also the divide between Sunnis and Shiites was never there. When I lived there it took me years to figure out who was of which religion. Later on, I could tell by the names. They were all our friends, no difference.
Of course, I had to go into a mosque to see the inside. I went into Al Amin Mosque, which is the big, remodeled mosque downtown where Rafik al-Hariri is buried. That is not the custom that Prime Ministers get buried in such prominent place. But he thought of himself as God, and so do some of the Lebanese. Not the other half, though…..
As we were exploring downtown, amid the new and often very contemporary glass buildings, we came across a small tomb. It had no sign on it, we didn’t know whose tomb it was. A little research showed that it was the tomb of a famous a holy man who lived in the 7th centrury A.D., Imam Ouzai. He was a native of Baalbek and known and admired for his religious tolerance, justice and mercy. He discovered early in his life, when he was drawn to religion, that being a good Moslem did not mean being a fanatic, that being a Moslem and fanaticism can’t unite. In fact he stood strong alongside his fellow Lebanese Christians, against the cruel Abassides, who ruled Lebanon in the first half of the seventh century.y
of human history.
Lebanon’s cuisine is unbelievably delicious. I was lucky enough to be taken to a small old village in the mountains to a fabulous restaurant, overlooking the Cedars and the mountain valleys.
Breakfast in Beirut:
And here is the modern Beirut:
Soon my visiting days were over. Off to the Airport. Gone is the old beautiful airport. Instead there is a bland, white, unimaginative building. It is not so bad from the outside, but inside it is just plain straight and white. Guess who built it and what it is called? Rafic Hariri International Airport. There are shops at the airport where you can buy the delicious Lebanese sweets on the way out.
If you are interested in reading more, please visit http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/beirut-rebuilt-its-downtown-after-the-civil-war-now-its-got-everything-except-people/2014/12/31/3b72e8b5-1951-409e-8b3d-1b16275d7f3d_story.html