Having recently returned home from my year abroad in Beirut, I find myself torn between feelings of love and hate for this muddled metropolis.
Beirut is a city I both love and hate. A city full of dualities, contradictions and conflicting emotions. A city marked by billionaires and beggars; diamonds, debt and dysentery. A city full of opportunity and hopelessness. A city which is a playground for some and a prison for others. A city which both inspired and disgusted me, but all the same, my love for Beirut never truly left me.
Walking the streets of the Paris of the Middle East, you hear French spoken by elderly ladies who have never left the Levant, American English whispered by teenagers, and heavy Levantine dialect being hurled around by weathered Taxi drivers. Most people you meet will have the notions of three languages, yet few people fail to find a true common language. Citizens are divided by language, wealth and religion. The war may have ended years ago, but the line which divided the city between East and West still remains luminously in the city’s subconscious.
Every day is full of conflict. Arguments between participants in the daily traffic jam wrestling match, the sound of gunshots in the background and the eternal collision of Eastern and Western ideals. Chaos and corruption threaten to destroy Lebanon’s hard fought for democracy, and conspire to create a political system which can only be described as inefficient, stagnant and exploitive. Yet there is so much beauty to be found in the ugly. Bullet holes decorate abandoned villas, orchid gardens blossom 25 stories high and mesmerising graffiti covers construction sites.
There is so much to inspire and uplift. Artists, architects and authors flood the winding streets of the city, crowding in packed bars, trying to talk to their friends over the thumping music at happy hour. New galleries, boutiques and restaurants open every week, and innovation and creation is everywhere. Laughter, love and local wine flood through the city, which is so much more alive than anywhere I have ever been.
New architecturally inspired buildings blossom on foundations full of history. Roman, Greek, French, Armenian and Ottoman influences shape the fabric of such a modern city. Lebanon may be a young country, yet her roots are old. The cedar trees that live here have witnessed far more than we can imagine to know. They have seen so much war and suffering, yet so much hope and happiness, and will continue to see so much more after we go.
Even though my experiences in Beirut shaped me greatly, I will leave no lasting mark on this hub of regeneration. I would implore any keen traveller to visit. It is safe, exciting and accessible. Also for those eager to learn Arabic, or with time of their side, it is an ideal destination to spend a few months or years losing and discovering yourself in this labyrinth of Lebanon.