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Jun 3, 2011

Diverging Threads

For this post, the plan was to find Intabli (as promised in Silence is the Most Powerful Scream Part II), and write about it. I did find Intabli, and although my intention here was to boast my discovery, I got distracted, and ended up contemplating how volatile our connections are to each other and to our city.

What got me thinking about this was a video that bloggers in Lebanon are working on whereby people are invited to submit videos or sound clips of their favorite places in Beirut. I wanted to contribute, but couldn't think of a single place I felt a definite sentimental connection to. My thoughts would instantly race to a rural scenario overlooking the city with the smell of pine trees and dust, somewhere in my distant childhood. At least, thats the only static image I can label and present with no complications..

But with the tourism season around the corner, here's what I can offer... 

Some days the city feels like a web of threads. Chords scattered haphazardly in my immediate space weave a suffocating net, from which I often yearn to break free. Other days, I am content in my connection to people and places through countless invisible threads, overlapping in patterned spirals that cast a web of meaning over my city. Through my safety net,  I forge personal in-roads on a map that I share with two million other people.

Thinking back six years ago to when Beirut to me was a discordant collection of unfamiliar places, I often try to trace how it is that the city in my mind became a whole. How I began to associate places in a mental map on which I define myself as a resident of Beirut,  rather than a resident of Labban Street, off of Sadat, in Manara.  

Like a new kid in school, your first sight of Beirut will be a messy anonymous crowd. With each day, a new face comes to stand out from the crowd and gradually routine is transformed into subjective meaning, which you may or may not share with the people around you. 

In Beirut though , not even the road I take everyday to work is permanent. Destruction brings down historic buildings, and construction spurs new sites and visuals, that eventually become old as the 'newer' new sets in. One day you could be ma'a el ser, the next day you can get in trouble for the road has become a one-way street.

If you are a Beirut resident, how many times have you thought twice about stopping at a red light that suddenly appeared overnight, feeling that it could be some kind of unofficial trial period? Have you ever walked down the street holding a parking ticket, and had a stranger offer to pay it for you at libanpost, because he is heading that way anyway? In a traffic jam, the most predictable state of being one can find themselves in, have you ever seen a white range rover climb a set of wheels onto the side walk, and whiz past you slantedly to make it home an hour before you do?

All I can say is that if you are coming to Beirut to trace the invisible threads flung over the city into a uniform and coherent pattern… consider an alternative option because that’s one thing you'll never be able to do here. In Beirut, when you leave your house in the morning, rest assured that the day ahead of you will be anything but identical to the day before. The dichotomous struggle between you and the city is what will make living in Beirut an addictive thrill, and its also what will drive you to pack your bags and get out within a year or two, depending on how perseverant you are. 


  1. Beautiful post :)

    And apropos my comment on twitter, I can't help but smile when I hear the name "sheri3 el Labban".. places are more like events than locations for me..

  2. So true... I hadn't noticed the magnitude and frequency of change in Beirut until I left and came back 2 months later.. it's hard to hold on to the city when it's changing so fast

  3. thanks for your comments!
    Jad,apparently there's 2 sheri3 el Labban... one is widely known by that name (although its not official), and the other is official..with the name and all on the wall, but nobody knows it by that name.

    Joanna, actually for me its not as much about the speed of change as much as it is about the unpredictability of it...change is good, but in Beirut it tends to alienate you because its not always the kind of change you need.