Archives for category: Racism

My last few posts about life in Lebanon have been largely negative, so I thought I would write a little about a few thoroughly positive experiences I’ve had in the past two weeks. Two in particular stand out.

The day I was leaving for Istanbul (technically the day before) I headed to Beirut to spend the afternoon padding along the streets of the capital which, for me, is somewhat of an event. It was still cool then, the mountain breezes were still taking a stop in Zahle before rushing through the Beqaa to fill other souls with momentary bliss. Walking down to the monastic school down the street, I found that (I had forgotten) General Aoun was about to speak to a sizable crowd of neighborhood locals. Rassieh looked like it had walked out of The Netherlands, there was so much orange (the General’s party’s color) everywhere, on all the houses, flags, posters, everything. A woman, much in the same vein as World Cup fans had earlier this summer, refused to let people walk past her without stepping under her FPM flag (among whom I was one). Couldn’t avoid it. It seemed like my part of the neighborhood (noticeably cut off at the small LF office up the street) is a big fan.

I don’t have strong feelings for Aoun, only that it’s interesting to have a Christian politician swimming against the current, so to speak. As a former passive supporter of the Party, Aoun and the Free Patriot Movement stood out to me as something worth at least checking out – so I did, largely because it was so darn convenient. It was pretty fun: everyone was smiling, waving flags. Once inside the venue, the Lebanese National Anthem was played (Kulluna li-lWatan!) and the General started speaking, the topic being: “Stop Sacrificing the Lebanese Youth to its Elderly.” Interesting stuff.

Regardless of my political indifference, it was just fun to see everyone so happy when he got there: all the security guards were smiling, and they were very helpful with a few issues I was having, and the participants were all enthusiastic.

The other experience was later, as I had lunch at Sa7et al-Nejmeh in Downtown. A small family sat at the table next to mine: A Lebanese father, a Filipino mother and their two children. After all that I had heard and witnessed of the treatment of foreign workers in Lebanon, it was wonderful to see what looked like a happy, mixed marriage between a Lebanese Arab father and Filipino mother. The children all spoke Arabic, and the mother mostly English, but they seemed to be quite successful and were having a nice time.

Over here, life can be resistant to change. But it happens sometimes, creeping up on you – at least, it does here in Lebanon. You can call it whatever you want: the Lebanese expat community returning with new value-sets, the fruits of education, or some ingrained trait of the Lebanese people. One way or another, change comes along for the better if you wait long enough.

You just have to work on your patience.

Whenever I need groceries, it is always this little shop called “Hawki’s” that I turn to in my neighborhood of Zahle. Like many Zahlawi buildings, it’s situated in one of those classic Libano-Italian buildings from (I’m guessing) between the 17th-19th centuries. That is to say, golden-colored sandstone with a rough exterior, polished on the corners of the building; bright green shutters and black iron balconies, all topped by those lovely carrot-blush tiles.

Hawki’s is owned by a family, namely the father – I’m going to call him S. S is a nice guy (he has to be). He offers good advice and runs into the upstairs room to hunt for merchandise I might need. He knows everyone in the neighborhood. His son, who also works there, was kind enough to give me an arak glass (note: not a glass of arak) when I bought my first Arak from them, despite my protests. All in all, an alright place to do my shopping.

Because Zahle is relatively prosperous, it is not out of place to spy non-Arab faces on occasion, working as domestic help: Ethiopians, Sri Lankans, Filipinos, Nepalese. Someone from the building opposite mine has a Filipino maid, whom they send on errands to Hawki’s to buy a few items, like cigarettes. I have seen her come in several times now while I am there, shy and small-seeming, but trying hard to be confident. Chuckling with the locals, S will ignore her until he has served everyone else (even if she were before them), then turn cold-facedly to her to ask what she needs. She responds in heavily accented English, which he cuts through by interrupting and talking pleasantly to someone else, leaving her waiting again.

Why S feels the need to do this is beyond me. Well, actually it isn’t, but I don’t really feel like going into it right now. Regardless, the plight of domestic workers is not unique to the Arab world. It is however a good example of some of the things that make globalization either a jungle or a goldmine, depending on who you are. Transnational communities, remittance work, complete lack of labor protection – these are all part of the picture.

But it was great to catch this New York Times article discussing domestic workers in Kuweit, because it could have been about any Arab country, or anywhere at all – it even makes reference to the US somewhat. But it all makes me want to tie this into Ethiopian Suicides, the Lebanese blog associated with the Anti Racism Movement, which advocates on behalf of domestic workers and all issues of race in Lebanon. The reality may be gray, but some people are trying to bring in some color.

Last time I was in Hawki’s, before I left for Istanbul, it was just S, the Filipino girl and I. She was buying cigarettes, while I waited for her to finish. I nodded my head to her in greeting, and she smiled widely. An honest smile.

Though in some ways very worldly, the Lebanese suffer from an acute sense of pride – in both who they are, and who they are not. Lebanon is full of passive racism, some of which is not ill-intentioned, but for the most part it’s pretty gruesome stuff. For example, I remember exiting the Baalbek grounds with my (fully-Lebanese) aunt to a barrage of Lebanese selling tourist junk. After working our way with difficulty through the throng, my aunt mumbled to me that they were “almost as bad as the Syrians.”

Sheesh.

Of course, not everyone is like this, but it is surprising that a people with their shoes dirty from six continents is so OK with racism at home. An excellent post, from Mind Soup, takes a good look at the issue of racism in Lebanon, in particular regarding the Ouzai raid on the Sudanese charity party. For some more info, check out the Anti-Racism Movement on facebook.