Boarding the plane to Beirut already gave me a glimpse of what the city would be like - fashionable people, young Lebanese children speaking in English or French, instead of Arabic. Women were dressed in sleeveless tops and skirts above the knee - attire that would be frowned upon in Cairo and/or would attract some unwanted attention.
The fight to Beirut is short, only taking one hour. The city looks gorgeous when flying in because it is located on the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains are in the backdrop of the city’s skyline. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Hadi, whom I meet while he was visiting Cairo and a soon-to-be graduate of the American University of Beirut. Stepping out of the air conditioned airport I was immediately hit with Beirut’s humidity - it is definitely a change from the intense heat I only experience in Cairo. Waiting a couple minutes for the car to take me to my hotel, I was still boggled by the amount of skin that everyone was showing on the streets. There are men and women wearing shorts. Women’s arms, legs and necklines all exposed! I guess that’s what a place like Cairo does to
While en route to my hotel we experienced some traffic. Enduring Cairo’s traffic for the past 10-months did not match up to the light congestion we encountered during the ride from the airport. I thought to myself ‘Ha ha ha, you call this traffic?!’ Lebanon is known to be politically unstable and it was interesting to hear Hadi explain, as we drove past the futbol stadium, that very few futbol (soccer) matches are played in Lebanon because it tends to elicit political tension. As we drove along he pointed out parts of the city and providing background information.
After taking a 30 minute power nap at the hotel, I headed out to wonder the city for a bit. At each new city I prefer to walk around aimlessly (and hopefully remember my way back) to experience the vibe and to see what the city has to offer. Hamra, a neighborhood in Beirut and the location of my hotel, has plenty of chic cafés, restaurants, and fashionable clothing stores. Along my walk, I stumbled upon the American University of Beirut and decided to do some exploring. I ended up visiting the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service
Street next to AUB's campus
office, the co-hosts of the training that I am organizing in Beirut - the reason why I’m here. There I met with the student volunteers that assist with initiatives at the Center. They showed me around the campus and the city. Izzat, one of the students, had dinner with me at Bliss House, a shawarma sandwich place and I was able to get to know more about AUB, Beirut, and Lebanon.
In the evening I headed out to Café Younes, a suggestion from the Mounir the director of the civic engagement center at AUB, to check my e-mail. It’s a nice place, with tables inside and on the sidewalk: the weather during the evening is wonderful and it’s a great place to sip on a coffee. While I was there, a 2-man band was playing which created a great atmosphere. Another observation, Beirut is much quieter compared to Cairo, especially a huge decrease in horn-honking.
Thus far, it has been a great introduction to the Beirut and Lebanon and I hope it stays that way. But I also want to make sure that I’m not only providing you with just the positive aspects of the city and country.
Hopefully, throughout the week I will gain a better and more comprehensive picture of Beirut and Lebanon, and take a lot more pictures.
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