On my flight home, I sat trying to think of how to summarize one of the strangest and most wonderful places I have ever visited. But my reflections were confusing. When I tried to think of a word to describe Lebanon, it didn’t seem quite right because the exact opposite word also seemed to fit. And suddenly I realized this is the essence of Lebanon. This is the Lebanese way. Things must be done a certain way, but they also must be done the other way. And you are never doing things right unless you are doing it both ways at the same time. Lebanon is where the impossible is possible. Let me try to explain.
Lebanon is tiny. Driving more than 4 hours any direction and you are out of the country. So at times, everything seems smooshed together and piled on top of one another. It feels crowded and dense, even suffocating at times. Though not without its charm.
But Lebanon is also vast. You drive 40 minutes and it is like you enter a portal into another dimension. All of the sudden you are the smallest and most insignificant creature in the universe when standing next to the paramount beauty of the mountains and valleys and sea.
Lebanon is hot. It is at sea level in the Mediterranean, at a latitude comparable to Florida. So yeah, you sweat a lot and get sunburnt if you are as white and non-Mediterranean as me.
But Lebanon is also cold. The mountains reach over 2000m. The way Lebanon has designed the roads allows you to climb 1000m in ~10 minutes. And before you know it, you can have snowball fight in July while simultaneously staring out at the Mediterranean sea.
Lebanon is fragile. You look around and it is as if it is going to break at any second. It is tangled and trying to find its way. You question how it is possible anyone makes it through the day. It’s “in God’s hands”, so they say. The fragility is also a metaphor for the political climate. In a country where most politicians have been a mass murderer at one point or another (unless they too were assassinated, which is not mutually exclusive from also being a mass murderer), it tends to cultivate a bit of tension that lingers for decades. Now that I’m on the topic, this fragility also seems to resonate with the economic situation in the country. After years of war and terror, perhaps the most beautiful country in the world lays abandoned. Driving through the mountains, you see extravagant hotels, which used be beaming with tourists mostly from the Gulf area, completely deserted with little hope they will ever see again what once was. Walking through bars and cafes in downtown Beirut, not a soul can be found on a Saturday in July, when it used to be you could barely move through the streets without bumping into someone. New, but likely hasty, efforts to build luxurious skyrise apartments line the shores of Beirut. But no one lives there. Where is everyone? It’s as if the groundwork is all there, but it is laying in a million different pieces. Though there is this feeling that at some point, it will all come back together. But when? My point is, just freaking visit there. I have come to realize the world would not be here right now without Lebanon. The world needs Lebanon. Though right now, Lebanon also needs the world.
But Lebanon is also bulletproof. I am convinced that when the world ends, Lebanon will still be standing. The country has been dragged through the coals for centuries, and it prevails. It has been earthquaked, tsunami-ed, and bombed to bits, but there it stands. People going about their daily business as they have been since the beginning of modern humans. Let me give you some context of what I am talking about. I walked out from the place I was staying, and the building across the street from me is littered with bullet holes. Buildings remain completely bombed out and abandoned.
The Holiday Inn, once one of the most iconic hotels in the world with a rotating restaurant at the top, towers over with its ominous presence of what people would never think could be possible.
I sometimes try to classify countries by their color. But with Lebanon, there are too many. Everywhere.
Lebanon is yellow.
Lebanon is green.
Lebanon is red.
Lebanon is blue.
Lebanon is also grey.
Okay, I’m almost done, I promise. But I had to save the best for last.
Lebanon is food. It is fresh. It is fattening. It is hours on end eating, digesting, and eating more. It is also devouring a falafel in nine seconds flat while standing on the street. 2-3 kgs later, I’m basically rolling home, but every minute was #worthit.
Lebanon is not one thing. Lebanon is everything at once. Before you realize it, you are completely swept off your feet, sometimes speechless, by what is happening right before your eyes. The only way to really understand is to see for yourself.