Bourj Hammoud; Safe haven for the survivors of the Armenian Genocide

Disclaimer: “Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a new Armenia.” William Saroyan

Today we mourn the death of 1.5 million Armenians, 950,000 Greeks and 750,000 Assyrians under the directives of the Ottoman Empire rulers. This extermination policy led Armenians to flee (warned by their Kurdish neighbors) to neighboring countries in what is known as the death march. Many settled in Der el-Zor (Syria) and more reached the coastal city of Beirut (Lebanon).

You can read my blog post on on the centennial commemoration of the Genocide by clicking on the link below; https://patylsperspective.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/the-story-of-an-armenian-genocide-survivor-my-grandmother/ 

Today I wanted to share with you all a glimpse of the safe haven Armenians built in Beirut city known as Little Armenia to some and Bourj Hammoud to most of you. This neighborhood, built out of a swamp, turned into an industrial and residential area for Armenians and other ethnic minorities over the years.

This past month I have visited Bourj Hammoud more than I have in the two decades I have lived in Lebanon. Many errands kept me going back and forth but it is mostly the genuine, cozy interaction with its residents, the real-feel of intimacy from its narrow streets and that old/vintage vibe that kept me going up to more than three times a week.

The infrastructure of Bourj Hammoud is an interesting one. Unlike its neighboring district, houses are built three/four stories high and the buildings stack up one next to the other each being polished its own unique way. The survivors of the first genocide of the 20th century did not despair about their fate. They took matters into their own hand and started building their future in this welcoming unknown territory. Most of them got employed just so to put aside some money in order to feed their families and eventually open their own businesses.

When strolling through the streets of B.Hammoud you will instantly notice that Armenians are handymen i-e they excel in the craft of art. They are known to be famous jewelers hence the stretch of jewelry shops on its main road. Furthermore when you enter the streets parallel to the famous Arax street, you will come to notice small shops selling dried food, spices and unimaginable artifacts (sometimes all sold under one roof).

The streets are narrow and permit one car to pass through (very slowly). Pedestrians walk in the middle of the road as well as on the pavement when permitted since most items from shops overflow onto the pavement. Although it is a busy street, you do not feel overwhelmed. People are lively, interactive and very much happy. If you have not heard Armenian before, be prepared to be drawn by its hubbub. Clothing shops tend to compete with each other and if you look closely you will notice that most of them sell to an extend the same products. I don’t know what you have heard but it is not easy to bargain with an Armenian. But you will most probably have heard before (and many times) that they are the most honest businessmen and their work speaks for itself.

How many of you have gone out of your way to buy in bulk from an Armenian vendor in Bourj Hammoud?

How many of you go first to an Armenian jeweler for an honest opinion about the price of a stone?

How many of you fashion designers have settled a deal with an Armenian clothing manufacturer to produce your collection pieces?

and again I’m going to ask you

How many of you swear by the work of Sako, Ara and Garo?

There you got it.

We might have been persecuted a century ago. We might have fled our home country. We might have spread worldwide. But we maintained our integrity, our faith and our trust in God that no matter where and no matter the circumstances we are going to remain and fight against all odds thrown our way.

I encourage you to visit Bourj Hammoud, take unique pictures, mingle with its residents and have a bite of some delicious Armenian food.

Trust me, the experience is one of a kind.

 

 

 

From Bentley to Uber; an upgrade!

I was 18 years old when I started taking driving lessons with my father’s driver. I was not to keen to learn ‘manual’ and opted for the easy ‘automatic’ because like most Lebanese drivers I wanted to buy my license. However to clear my conscious (and that of the driver/teacher) we decided that I would get my license only after he didn’t feel threaten for his life on our daily lesson. And the day came and I graduated from “Anto’s Driving Academy” with flying honors and started cruising in the city in my mom’s car (to the rather arched eyes of hers).

Flash forward 13 years, after three car change and a promise of a Bentley Continental GT as my wedding gift, I made the drastic decision of selling my car as I was moving out of the country for good. For someone who has, all her life, been used to being chauffeured around and driven herself from a place to another, the mere thought of being car-less brought a panic attack onto my pampered ass.

Abroad we are all use public transportation whereas in Beirut we do not acknowledge them, which is understandable when looking at those filthy buses roaming the roads of the capital. Thankfully, the ‘service’ has upgraded itself from the famous 1980s Mercedes. But then again, we think twice before riding one (rather I do).

I learnt a lot from letting go of my comfort (place/toy/zone) and here is what I have come to realize:

We are way too attached to material things. We think that we will not be able to survive without them in our life. That they are what keep us going everyday. Slight wake up call guys! We can do without them and there are alternatives to ease us around (Uber? Private cab?).

We only acknowledge BMW, Audi and Mercedes in this country. These cars bring status. As a previous owner of one of this brand, I admit that was my sole reason behind owning one, although the gift came unexpectedly one spring day 6 years ago. I realize now that this is so over rated given the number of people who can afford one if their credit history permits them through the bank. + you cannot buy class through material things (thats a proven fact. Look around you!).

The country’s infrastructure is not too well developed to be parading with the latest model of any given high end car. I know too well how many times I had to change a tire because a nail had ruptured it. It is only these past couple of years that I came to realize how much money is thrown on unnecessary luxury when we can all do well without (what if you owned a Honda?). Here it is wise to mention that with each passing year, the price of your car depreciates. My 51K straight from the dealership merely brought me back 13K. Talk about fairness (and another panic attack).

Too much traffic. Yes. Too much due to unnecessary cars on the roads. Carpooling anyone? Or has that concept not reached the shores of Lebanon? I guess it hasn’t yet.

Now that I am back for a couple of months I am happy that I do not own a car. Why? well for the simple fact that I got my sanity back from this stressful sport. I gotten used to being driven around in Canada, (hey!!) subway station everyone. Buses too. More importantly I walk walk and walk. Just a few days ago, I walked under the rain to get to my appointment. 40min walk daily > what better way to keep your blood flowing. And I realized once again how shallow and Lebanesey I was by driving from X to Y instead of just walking the 15min trajectory (and instead of drowning in traffic for 30+min). If those reports of 500K tourists visiting Lebanon in a few weeks true, I wish you luck my fellow people.

Btw did I tell you how addicted I have become to Uber? Yeah that too.

Good Week to you all 😉

 

What they omit telling you about Lebanon.

They love to brag about everything that is cliche about the country; the beach, the snow, the different sects living within, the rooftop parties, and blablabla…. but most importantly they omit to describe to you the truth.

The truth that every Lebanese knows about his 10452m2 heaven on earth but dare not say and sometimes shuns away from.

Bullet pointed below are few of these points based on reality fact checks:

  • First of all, and most importantly for anyone coming from abroad, the country stinks. Yes it stinks. If you do not believe me, please do travel for a few months, come back and tell me what hits you first thing you set foot outside the airport. A lousy stench. That’s what slaps your nostrils in the face.
  • Second of all, we all agree that Lebanon is no longer the Switzerland of the Middle East. Neither, can we be all high and mighty by thinking that we are better than the UAE. We are not. We are by far, worse than any of the Arab countries we so love to look down on. Take a mere example of how they abide by their rules (ex:transportation/road system/labor) and societal norms, while we live like pigs by disrespecting the law every chance we get or bending the rules to suit our livelihood and further trashing our already (literally) trashed country by throwing tissue out of our car.
  • The social rules and regulation set aside, this country is not only polluted, its citizen lacks hygiene. By the latter, I mean you cannot walk down the street without stumbling on dog poop. You just cannot have an enjoyable walk because you are too busy staring at the ground. To all dog owners out there who do not clean up behind their four legged furs I have one thing to say: I hope you slide and fall on dog poop next time you are out with ‘Vanilla’ / ‘Vodka’ (yes, because c’est pas cool de donner un nom commun a son chien-chien ).
  • Men are pig? Yeah maybe.. but Arab men are far worse. There is an alarming frustration /sexual tension among men from this part of the world. I think all women living in Lebanon will agree with me that one cannot go out in public wearing as she pleases without being harassed. Before you jump down my throat, I am not talking to the fashionistas who wear their mini shorts and parade from one place to another in their cars hence cannot be subjected to such degrading behavior. I am talking about women who prefer to walk their way around like me and although wearing your basic jeans and t-shirt or knee length shorts are subjected to ogling eyes and orgasmic interjections from men (young/old alike). Do not tell me you haven’t witnessed slow moving cars and the generosity of drivers letting you cross the street while their eyes focusing on your Bs (boobs & butts ladies!).
  • I think one thing that I have not, till this day, understood, is the popularity of the New Range. Range Rover, New Range, whatever the name and model, I think you visualized the car. Lebanese love this car. No wait. They worship this car. This mean of transportation equals status, class and wealth. Oh how I would love to slap some sense into this visual cliche. This car might be worth 150,000$ when bought the latest year of production, full option and brought from the nest (Europe), however I have seen so many buying them second (if not third) hand from car dealerships and on installment (end price say 25,000$) just so they can parade on the ill-made roads of the city. Still acting like a snob because of your vehicle? Well think again, my mechanic (with all due respect) has just bought his NR and I am pretty sure he is not as wealthy as he wants to show / be. Your car is so overrated!
  • Open minded? Free? No we are not open minded. Nor are we free. We like to show that we are. Thank God we are not oppressed like the citizens of the KSA. But we are not open minded nor are we free to act as we please. If its not the stone age laws that sets us back, it is the social norm/ mentality that does.

I don’t know about you but a caricatural image of a sort has formed in my mind when re-reading this post. I am not trying to mock the country. I am simply stating facts and the truth of every day real life in Middle Eastern Lebanon.

Tell me you haven’t felt, witnessed and thought about the above mentioned points.

Be honest.

xo