Scenes from Beirut, Lebanon. April 8-11, 2010. I had initially envisioned a much broader trip around the Middle East, a region I have long been very interested in learning more about, but had to scale plans way back due to time and money constraints. My two weeks split between Istanbul and Beirut was a nice little dip of my toes into the sands of the Middle East, so to speak. I had a great time and a very interesting introduction to cultures not often familiar within the confines of Chicago and the rest of America. Lebanon is a tiny country set immediately North of Israel along the Mediterranean Sea. It is in many ways a Westernized nation full of shiny new skyscrapers and lax laws on alcohol and other things shied upon in many Islamic nations. Beirut is a nightlife capitol of the region. It’s also in many ways a nation deeply engulfed in the modern struggles of the Arab region. With a direct boarder to Syria to the West and a strong governmental presence of Hezbollah–a group viewed by many nations as a terrorist organization and one that was directly responsible for sparking a recent war with Israel–Lebanon also finds itself in rough waters. While I won’t claim to be an expert on the country or Arab relations, I will say that the transitions between cultures is very apparent just walking down the streets. There are Muslim neighborhoods and Christian neighborhoods, churches and mosques. People speak Arab, English and French, and in many places, the remnants from a 15-year civil war is still very noticeable. The war weakened the country, destroyed its economy, and brought upon occupations from both the Syria and Israel. I get the feeling that Lebanon remains a country struggling with numerous influences and one looking for a distinct identity of its own. Increasing hostilities with Israel could eventually lead to more troubles (they checked my passport for signs of Israel no less than three times) but for the time being, Beirut is enjoying a relaxing period of stability and if you have the chance I would recommend a trip to see for yourself.
Politics aside, Lebanon reminds me a lot of Mexico in almost every single way (climate, terrain, great food, the people, the cars…). And I love Mexico! I’d also like to thank my friend Charlotte for her hospitality while in Beirut!