VIDEO: How to Access Banned Websites in Lebanon

Here’s a very simple way to use Hola! to access websites being banned in Lebanon (free, super simple). It’s an unacceptable practice which needs to stop, but it probably won’t in corrupt Lebanon, so, as usual, we need to find the right loopholes!

Oh, and as a cherry on top, you can also access stuff like Netflix and Pandora, which aren’t banned by the Lebanese government or judiciary, just not available outside the US and a few other countries.

Hope it helps!

And, if you’re pro-freedom of speech and anti-censorship too, join us in March!

 

How to Screen Banned Movies in Lebanon Legally

MarchI am an extremely staunch advocate of free speech and expression, and a radical fundamentalist when it comes to anti-censorship. No one on the face of this earth or the imaginary gods they believe in has the right to tell me what I can write, read, act, watch, make or listen to. Who the fuck are you? A general? A priest? A sheikh? A politician?

You are a nobody, just like me. You have absolutely no right to tell anyone what they can and cannot do. You don’t like it? Criticize it. Call for its boycott. But don’t you ever dare to ban or censor it. Ever. People have the right to say and listen to whatever they want. Period.

Unfortunately, with the inept, corrupt, childish, naive, bigoted, egotistical clowns we have in uniform and black robes and the vague, archaic laws that they can abuse to crush free thought and expression, we need to go the extra mile to get our way.

Time and again, I feature work that has been censored in Lebanon on these pages. Whether it’s paintings, websites, ebooks, everything except movies. Why? Because I don’t want to rob the makers of the movie from the payday they deserve after the work they put in. However, my desire to make them accessible hasn’t been quenched, and I feel we’ve found a very viable solution to this Dark Ages dilemma the old men in black robes and uniform and cheap suits enforce on us, and here it is:

Universities

The censorship bureau and the government have no jurisdiction on university campuses. That’s why military and police personnel are not allowed on campuses unless given express permission by the administration and only in extreme circumstances. Universities across the world have always been breeding grounds and incubators for free thought and revolution, where the educated, driven youth gather themselves and go froward. Lebanon is no different, and campuses like AUB, my alma mater, and USJ, have churned out Lebanon and the region’s most forward-thinking leaders, activists, intellectuals and executives. So, we need to capitalize on that.

  • Reach out to the makers of the movie and ask their permission to showcase their film/play/album, etc.
  • Get permission from the university administration (I recommend AUB, their Student Affairs Office will respond positively) and if permission isn’t granted, pressure the administration and make them say OK.
  • Make it very public online
  • If you cannot get a physical copy (since it’s banned), ask if the makers can set up a secure link so you can stream it online. No hard copy, no foul.
  • Do not charge people. If money-making is involved, the government can cause trouble. So, instead, set up a “donation” box where people who want to can put a small amount of money. Use that for your club/NGO that is organizing the showcase, or send it to the makers to reimburse them for their trouble.
  • Start clubs to consolidate your efforts, build awareness and put pressure to abolish censorship
  • Show people that freedom isn’t something to be afraid from, it’s something you should be afraid for.

Good luck university peeps, and I am at your disposal if you need any kind of help, and so is the entire MARCH team and advisory committee, who I am proud to be part of with all my awesome peers. Also, here’s a directory of all the banned things in Lebanon.

7 BBM Questions Answered

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1- Do I Need To Subscribe to the Blackberry Service?

No, you don’t. BBM used to be a service provided by RIM (the Blackberry company) and you used to get an email too back in the day. Today, it’s a cross-platform application which only needs Internet connection (WiFi or a mobile data connection)

2- Where Do I Download it From?

Last month, it was a “leaked” version, that’s why we had to supply you with links to file sharing websites like 4shared, Zippyshare and Dropbox. Now, it’s finally been officially released on Android and iOS, and here are the download links:

ANDROID  // iOS

3- Why Do I Have to Wait if I Downloaded the App?

If you already had a BBM account (like I did), you just need to sign in. If not, you have to wait for RIM to send you an email since they wanna roll the app out gradually to make sure the servers don’t overload like it did with the leaked version. So, have patience, or try to remember the account you had if you ever carried a BlackBerry before.

4- What’s a BBpin?

The BBpin is sorta like your username, it’s one way others can add you on their BlackBerry Messenger. To access your pin immediately, all you need to do is type: “mypin” and hit space in the app, and it’ll automatically turn into your pin (which is an alphanumeric code that’s a bit hard to remember). Of course, you can also text it to someone, scan their barcode or just search for their email.

5- I Added Someone, But Can’t Talk to Them

Make sure they accepted your request. Unlike Whatsapp, people need to confirm you before you can chat with them. Also, having their number in your contact list doesn’t mean they’ll automatically appear like with Whatsapp. Think of BBM as more private, user-controlled chat platform.

6- What’s S, D and R?

S meant sent, which mean the message was sent from your device to your contact’s

D means the message arrived to your contact, but they haven’t read it/opened the chat

R means that they read your message/opened the chat

This is awesome because you can ignore someones’ message without worrying they’ll see your “last seen”. I’m sure this will make a lot of relationships less stormy =P

7- How Can I Remove the BBM Icon from my Status Bar?

On Android, all you have to do is go to the BBM app, hit settings, and turn off “BBM Connected Icon” (that’s one new thing in the official version)

8- If You’re Cool, Add Me

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Special Thanks to Georges Asmar for his help gathering these FAQs

The Real-Life Heisenberg: Ross Ulbricht

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Traveling through the States for the better part of last year exposed me to a lot of the things you never really hear about when you don’t live there. Drugs in the US are a much easier find than most other places in the world, and if you’re at a party or rave, people will randomly come up to you and either ask you for drugs such as “Molly” or weed, or ask you if you’re interested in buying. From large scale events like Coachella and Virgin Mobile Freefest, to local clubs and bars, even street corners, it’s very easy to come by whatever your fix is.

One particularly surprising way I saw many people use to get their drugs, was a website called SilkRoad. It’s basically like Amazon.com, complete with product listings, user reviews and price comparison. The catch? It was completely anonymous. You had to be using Tor browser to be able to access it. Tor is awesome if you don’t want anyone finding out who and where you are, by relaying your data through dozens of different locations around the world, “masking” your real location and IP address. This is of course an extremely valuable tool for activists and journalists operating in countries ruled by oppressive governments, but, it can also be used for illegal purposes, which SilkRoad did brilliantly.

Another catch was that you couldn’t use your credit card (duh, that would defeat the purpose of anonymity) but instead, the currency used was BitCoins (which is a really interesting form of online money independent of a central authority and instead reliant on cryptography to guarantee its creation and transaction). A BitCoin’s value has been very unstable since 2011, going for anywhere between $2 per BitCoin, to an all-time high of $366.

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SilkRoad online might be easy to grasp (sorta), but you might be wondering how the actual drugs got from the suppliers to the users. Simple, the US Postal Service. Drug dealers would simply vacuum seal their products, making them really hard to detect, especially since normal postage doesn’t go through the rigorous security checks like the ones at airports. Also, it is illegal to open mail in the States without a court order or subpoena, effectively making it like searching for a needle in a hay stack (with a fake return address, making it hard to trace to the roots even if it is detected). Plus, since the amounts ordered were usually only a few grams, dealers could easily conceal them in what looked like a standard A4-sized envelope with bubble wrap coating on the inside.

Vacuum-sealed Foil Outer Bag

On Wednesday, October 2nd, at 3:15PM, SilkRoad was shut down and the mastermind behind it, Ross Ulbricht, was arrested. While reading all the reports and analysis on this 29-year-old San Francisco resident, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between him and Breaking Bad’s Heisenberg. Both look like sufficiently ordinary people, completely uninteresting. Ulbricht shared an apartment in San Francisco with two other flatmates, with a rent of 1000USD/month, and he’d operate his SilkRoad empire from a coffee shop across the street’s free WiFi. He also used a public library’s free WiFi.

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It made me think, could I have been at the same coffee shop as Ulbricht at some point during my time in that wonderful city? Perhaps when I was sitting and discussing potential (legitimate) startup ideas with my good friend Nick, while on the table next to us, a sandal-wearing kid was running his own billion-dollar “startup” of illegal drug trafficking. Of course, odds are no, but it’s chilling to think the man behind the 1.2 billion dollar secret trade that had the FBI working tirelessly for 2 years to track down, was just an average Joe, a face you wouldn’t look at twice in a coffee shop or public library.

And, in equally Heisenberg-ian style, it appears as though Ulbricht commissioned hitmen to take care of “loose-ends” who might have threatened his empire. A former associate with the username “FriendlyChemist” was apparently knocked off after he threatened to out Ulbricht and 5000 other SilkRoad users. Fake passports and documents were also reported to have been used, making Ulbricht’s 78 million dollar fortune (in BitCoins) from commissions similar to Walter White’s blue meth “blood money” bounty.

Anyway, SilkRoad is gone, and Ulbricht will probably spend the rest of his life in jail. It’s astonishing to see how powerful a tool the Internet can be, both for good, and bad. What’s also astonishing is how little control or understanding anyone has when it comes to the online world, where virtual currencies are created, have real value and can be used to a operate half of the daily volume of trafficked drugs in the United States. I guess a lot of college kids in the States will be bummed to know they can’t mail-order their magic shrooms anymore. But I’m glad to see that the ill-gotten gains from potentially harmful substances being curbed, at a time when most of the developed world is moving towards decriminalizing and legalizing the harmless “drugs” such as cannabis, taxing them and making sure they don’t get into the wrong hands.

Beirut’s Weekly Flea Market: Soo2 El A7ad

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Every Sunday, a large plot of land in the Jisr El Wati area between Ashrafieh’s Karm el Zeitoun and Horsh Tabet, “Souk El Ahad” takes place, which roughly translates “Sunday Market”.

It’s a collection of dozens of small stands, each selling different groups of items at an extremely low price. From tools, groceries and pirated DVDs, to pairs of shoes, brasswork and even some sexy lingerie. There is pretty much everything you might think of, and you can find a lot of gems for a really good price.

However, a word of advice. Don’t be cheated by how authentic certain things look. For example, you will find detergents, deodorants and shampoos like Fairy and Nivea, etc. at a bargain (3 for 5,000LBP for example). However, when we purchased them for a scouts camp, it was quickly evident that the product wasn’t Fairy at all, same goes for the deodorant which smelled like the handgel you get for free on gas stations =P

Another thing you should be careful of are the electrical supplies, such as extensions and adapter plugs. They’re faulty, and I wouldn’t recommend you risk your gadgets, or life for that matter, to save a few thousand liras.

BUT, there are a lot of cool things you can find at a really good price. Tools such as hammers, nails, screwdrivers, hinges, locks and pretty much anything you can imagine, are available for dirt-cheap prices. It’s like 8-9 times cheaper than a supermarket! Also, farming tools as well, and fabrics! If you wanna do your curtains for example, you could find something for a bargain that is pretty decent.

The true gems though of the Flea Market, are the vintage stands. There are about 4 or 5, nestled at the far back of the market. They have the most precious of antique and vintage pieces, from collectible coins and money, to vintage eyeglasses and shades, jewelry, vintage cameras and what most of you hipsters will have an orgasm over: phonographs (record players) and their records!

The people are generally nice, but it gets very crowded, and with so many knives, tasers, ninja stars, brass knuckles and other weaponry readily available, you might wanna be extra careful and maybe go with a bunch of friends. Another thing not many people know, is that it also opens Saturday, and is often much less crowded (go in the afternoon, the stands will be done being set up by then).

Here are a few photos I’ve taken there, and I hope you can feed your hipster cravings and maybe your needs for tools and hardware, maybe even those huge aluminum pots and pans we use for scouts!

A Guide To Clubbing in Lebanon This Summer

This summer might be rougher than others, with the conflict in Syria and instability in Lebanon that is scaring off tourists, especially from the Gulf. However, since when do we go to the same places they go to anyway? This summer is in fact epic in every sense of the word, especially when it comes to the non-mainstream party scene, which is booming like I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams.

Below are my personal suggestions for what you could do, 6 days of the week, based on going there myself several times and checking out the music, vibe, crowd and venue.

Wednesdays

YOLO at White

If you like Hip Hop, there is no better place to be on a Wednesday night. Devon spins brilliant sets every week, and recently, has been incorporating some beautiful Trap music into his mixes, adding some grunginess to the glitzy rooftop club. It does get crowded, but comfortably so, with enough room to move around and dance. You can’t wear shorts and flip flops, but you can go all thug-chic for the night. Choose your favorite satirical hat, maybe some blingbling and t-shirt you wouldn’t go to a family lunch to. In other words, wear the stuff you probably wouldn’t on any other night out clubbing. Oh, and if you forget a cap, the guys at White provide you with custom-made YOLO hats every Wednesday (I have a collection at home now)

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Thursdays

Alter Ego at Pier 7

When you think of Pier 7, you think of commercial playlists, not underground music from names like Steve Lawler, Pete Tong, Mark Knight, Gui Borrato and Claptone. You also think of fancy tables with fancier minimum charges, not a 20USD entrance fee at the door and a cleared-out area to create a dance floor in the bottom-most arena of the mini-Colosseum-like club. It started out a bit slow this season, with many of us not used to clubbing this hard on Thursdays. But, week after week, I see a lot more familiar faces and the dancefloor gets going early and keeps going on till late. If you’re an EDM lover, check out the lineup, you’re bound to love a few names on the list. I for one, can’t fucking wait for GUI BORRATO!

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Mix FM 80’s Night at B018

I have come to terms with the fact that not everyone is an EDM fan (for reasons beyond my comprehension) So, here’s a suggestion I’m sure a lot of you guys will like, or most probably already like. Every Thursday of the year, B018 is completely packed for the now legendary 80’s night that has been going on for years and still is a pillar of the nightlife scene in Beirut. Rodge is a god on the decks when it comes to the music of the polaroid generation. He chooses just the right tracks, depending on the crowd’s mood (I’ve seen him do it live countless times) and you can see everyone singing along and dancing around with the goodies they distribute every week depending on the theme. They do go all-out too, with a complete revamp of B018 and props that included a gigantic Michael Jackson statue for his tribute earlier this summer. Recently, Rodge has been adding a Lebanese touch from the 80s, with the iconic ads of “Yes, 3 bi wa7ad” and “Shu Bittariytak, Rayovac” and even “Grandiser”s Arabic theme song!

Now, I am a “90’s bitch” but I do enjoy it a lot, and the thing I enjoy most is the crowd. I do confess, 80s music is not my favorite, and I never really imagined I’d enjoy this night, but I have been for many months now and I know a great party when I see one.

Come early, because it really does get packed really fast (by 11:30PM you can barely stand in there) especially if you’re walking in, cause if you’re late, the bouncers won’t let you in (for the simple reason you won’t fit, oh, and I saw a man offer the bouncer a check and he still got a no =P). Also, no shorts for guys, but no need for heels and clown makeup either. Oh, and make sure you pick up one of Rodge’s special CDs!

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Summer Jam at BLVD 44

In keeping true to making glitzy rooftops more real, the newest rooftop in Beirut is doing one hell of a fun party every Thursday. Wear your swimsuits, and prepare for beachballs and watergun fights on the Jal El Dib rooftop! And girls that party in only their swimsuits, get all the free drinks they want. So, hot, scantily clad people, water guns, beach balls, inflatable pools and a far cry from the usual stuff we’re used to on rooftops! Definitely worth a try if you’re willing to let go of your hipster outfit and clown makeup and heels!

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Fridays

Stereo Club Nights

After the cops wouldn’t budge, the venue has finally changed (and it’s right on the Lebanese shore), and it is a MILLION times better than Solea V. It also has a new date now: Fridays, since Saturdays are getting a bit too overcrowded with party crews! I’ll be revealing the venue early next week, and Stereo Club Nights will be back better than before hopefully next Friday. Stereo Club Night’s have been a blast, even when the cops tried to ruin it for everyone there. Awesome talents from around the world, awesome DJs from Beirut and an extremely fun-loving crowd that has the “smile-while-I-dance” attitude, instead of the “I’m-taking-this-too-seriously-or-maybe-I’m-just-too-high” attitude that’s on the rise in Beirut.

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Electric Sundown At Iris Beach Club

Beirut gets suffocating sometimes. Luckily enough, Iris Beach Club in Dammour, 20 minutes from Beirut, plays host every Friday to awesome talents from Lebanon and abroad. The party starts early, and things kick off at 4:00PM, so you can enjoy a swim in their infinity pool or the beach while listening to beautiful, sexy House music. Iris Beach Club is a delightful venue, with two nice bars, a very nice infinity pool, and small pools surrounding some of the tables and beds. Picture the sun setting into the Mediterranean while you dance in your swimsuits and barefoot. Yes please! And it lasts late into the night, so don’t worry if you have a family dinner or other boring stuff before going there.

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Bazaar Nights At Caprice

Ok, this night I’m sure many of you guys who read this blog might not know about. But, it’s worth mentioning cause it’s doing really well, and it’s something new, for Beirut’s older crowd. Bazaar nights include decorations to make the venue look like, obviously, a Bazaar, the famous marketplaces of old in our Arab World. What’s new is that the music are classic oldies, both English and Arabic and sometimes some French. So, if you’re into trying something you’re not used to, the atmosphere is usually really nice there on Fridays. I passed by a couple of times, and I confess, definitely not my first choice for a Friday night, but I feel some of you who read this blog will wanna try it out.

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Decks on the Beach

This is another heavyweight party crew dominating the nightlife scene in Beirut. Located at Sporting Club with the iconic illuminated dancefloor tiles, this Miami-Beach-like-branded party attracts the post-teen crowd. It’s mostly people in their 20s and early 30s, who love music and are regulars at Decks on the Beach party. It’s a laid-back attitude, not the uptight, overwhelmed organization you might expect at a beach-side event. The music is always amazing and the crowd is definitely one of Beirut’s finest, which is my favorite thing about DoB!

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Saturdays

The Garten by Uberhaus

This is my favorite club this summer. The massive pop-up club at the entrance of BIEL has a domed-shape dance area, a bar in the middle, and a chill area where live art is performed and you can rest your tired feet on poufs and sofas and hammocks.

You can wear whatever the hell you like, chill wherever you want, and come as early and leave as late as you want. The Garten is undoubtedly the hottest ticket in town this summer and a lot of work has been put into making it a reality, and if you are a fan of House music, this is a must-be-at on Saturday nights, at least before your other engagements, or preferably, after them. It’s also the venue that is attracting the biggest amount of clubbers this summer, and  Read my review here.

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Updates: The disco ball that fell and injured 4 people, 2 of them very dear friends of mine (Magz and JP), in a freak accident, is gone now and the rest of the club has been inspected for anything else that might be dangerous. I’ll admit, I was horrified when I heard the news, but I think it was handled well given the circumstances and that the suppliers of the faulty equipment won’t be doing business with anyone in Beirut any more. Also, happy hour is now shorter (7-9) and the long lines at the door early might not let you get there in time for the free entrance before 9PM, so plan ahead!

C U NXT SAT

Sporting’s a hotspot this summer, with Decks on Fridays and C U NXT SAT on Saturdays with their new setup. The music is curated and played by the colossal Jade and Hady, the titans behind the Basement, with an adapted new sound and mood to fit the awesome eccentric crowd that are regulars at C U NXT SAT all throughout the year, and especially in the summer on Beirut’s shore. We all love House music, and this party crew is another titan that is making this summer the best in Beirut’s clubbing history.

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Wed: Pier 7 and White

Walking distance, both hip hop music.

Thu: 80’s Night Then Pier 7

Go early to 80’s night, you can dance and sing your ass off, and around 2, when people at b0 start getting tired, the folks at Pier would be in full-party-mode with some good House music. Why not?

Fri: Electric Sundown and Stereo

Spend the afternoon and evening at the beach, then shower and go continue your night at Stereo. Why not?

Sat: C U NXT SAT then The Garten

If you’re in the serious dancing mode, start off at sporting on Saturday and when you feel it’s time, switch to The Garten for an after-hours experience that’s actually the continuation of your night, by making the most of what Beirut has to offer.

Pyramid Schemes and Lebanese Folks: A Perfect Mix (GoldQuest, Q-Net, Herbalife and Cube 7)


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It’s like every other week, I get invited by an acquaintance to a meeting about “an exciting business venture that’ll make you easy money”. It’s always the same thing, an unexplained urgency, very vague details prior to the actual meeting and a very emotional shower of compliments like “you have a lot of followers” or “I love what you do and think it will help a lot.” It’s perhaps important to briefly explain what a pyramid scheme is before we go on to see why it flourishes so much in Lebanon.

What is a Pyramid Scheme?

A pyramid scheme is a fake business model that counts on recruiting others for a fee to generate profit. Of course, it’s unsustainable and wrong, because eventually, there won’t be any more people to recruit and there is no real product or service that you can actually sell to generate real profit.

Let’s assume I come up with a brilliant plan about a revolutionary way to clean clothes without using a washing machine and dryer. I don’t tell you how exactly, and it’s not “in production” yet, but I offer you a chance to be an investor in it, or a direct salesperson when it actually comes out. I charge you 100$ and promise you’ll make it and more in very little time. Let’s say I tell you that if you get 6 of your friends to become investors/partners/salespersons, you’ll get a cut of their profits too.

Let’s say you give me the 100$, and get me 6 people to sign up and pay 100$ too. I give you 50% of their “investments”, so now you have 300$ in your pocket when you went in with just 100$. You didn’t really have to do anything but get those people to sign up and pay. They didn’t really buy anything, and the promised product is just as mythical as all the gods you don’t believe in.

Let’s assume your 6 friends each get 6 friends, we’re at 36. Those 36 get 6 people each, and we’re at 216. After a dozen or so layers, we’ll need double the population of the world today to keep it sustainable, which obviously will never work.

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Why Isn’t It So Obvious?

We tend to think of sociopaths as people who kill prostitutes by deceiving them with charm and good looks, with no remorse for what they do. In reality though, our sociopathic tendencies rarely amount to serial sexual homicide and are often characteristics we see all too often everyday: bad bosses, bad partners, bad spouses, etc.

So, deception is a very important part of making a pyramid scheme work. Instead of just promising you a mythical magical product that’ll revolutionize the world, some schemes rely on selling useless, overpriced products by hyping them up to be something they’re obviously not. One of my favorites is a “chi energy pendant” that a Q-net representative wanted me to fork 500$ for. Apparently, according to her, “hospitals in Germany force their staff to wear them because it helps keep them healthy and energetic.” Wow, I’d much rather put that money in a church collection basket and watch it go to shiny new Mercedes Benzes for priests who vowed poverty!

Of course, some attempt to be a bit smarter, and tickle your “health and weight loss” concerns in a less mystical way than “chi energy”. One brilliant example is Herbalife, which we see on football player jerseys and plastered on cars all over the world. The absurdly overpriced milkshake and tea that is supposed to make you lose weight, attracts people for the potential to make profit off of it, rather than actually lose weight. The products, with no real scientific evidence to back them up (other than just eating one less meal a day, hence losing weight, DUH!), 99% of the time, cause their “partners” to lose money according to pyramidschemealert.org and reports how an EU court has ruled it as an illegal pyramid scheme (the most successful ever btw). A close friend has fallen for that, and has lost the money trying to sell off the miracle products to friends, which of course ended up in her losing money but not weight (which she lost after going to a licensed dietitian).

So What?

Many folks, especially the “7arboo2″ Lebanese, will realize this isn’t really a real thing. But, with the catch that if they get a handful of suckers to sign up, they’ll make money themselves, then why the hell not, right? Using the ways demonstrated in booklets often distributed to them about deceptive persuasion tactics that include faking “being in a hurry” and “flattering the person” you are trying to sign up as well as intensive training (complete with drawing fancy graphs and charts on the back restaurant place-mats) as well as what vocab and tone to use, it often does work, unfortunately for the victim of the fraud.

But It’s Too Good to Pass Up

With abysmal salaries in Lebanon, less fortunate people will undoubtedly jump on any opportunity that seems too good to be true, but looks like it’ll at least provide them with a few hundred or thousand dollars if they just get others on board. What they don’t unfortunately foresee is how hard it might be to find potential folks to dupe since the potential “market” is often saturated very fast. So, they’ll jump on board and do their best to sign people up, that will hopefully sign other people up and just get the commission ball rolling for them, with easy money that is being harvested from those on lower levels of the “pyramid”. What if you’re on the bottom level of that pyramid though? No smiling faces and extra Benjamins in your pocket.

What if it really does work?

Some potential pyramid schemes, like the newest fad launched yesterday, Cube 7, that promises to group all your favorite social networks in one place, look like they’re gonna work for sure. But, one thing about the cyber world we do know, is that forecasting an untested product rarely ever works. Myspace flopped, AOL is history and Yahoo can barely pay the bills. No one expected Facebook to have most of the connected world on it, or for Instagram to sell of a billion USD. As for Cube 7, one thing we do know about the internet, is that if it’s not free, it most probably won’t work. Why would I pay for a service when someone else is providing it for free? Proof is that Skype, though awesome, never made money, and now, after Microsoft bought it and is trying to make it profitable by making features that were once free, paid, free versions of VoIP, like Viber, are quickly catching up because they’re still free.

So, why would I invest in something I haven’t seen or tested? Why would I throw in money, and count that the recruitment process of a would-be social network would generate enough profit for me from stuff that already exist for free? Let’s go out on a limb and say it’ll sweep the world by storm. Then why have most of us not heard of it yet, especially the online community? A quick Google Search will land you nothing but dummy sites and blogs and reviews peddling false promises and reassurances that appear page after page on search results thanks to SEO and paid ads.

The so what always exists, heck, some people buy 10,000LL bottles of Sohat water because it can be sprayed on your face, so useless stuff do sometimes get success. But, that Nigerian prince who inherited millions of dollars and needs your bank details and small fee to be able to get it, and share it generously with you, also sounds plausible too, but that poor prince has been looking for help for years, and he still can’t get that damn inheritance!

Direct Selling and Marketing

Remember that university student that came to your parents’ place and wrinkled your dad’s finest shirt and then demonstrated how awesome the new “home dry laundry product” was? Remember how your mom bought it? Then how she gave that university student the numbers of all her siblings and friends who’d also “want a demonstration”? That’s direct selling and marketing, and it is a real thing. Whether or not the products are useful though, is up to you. But, these direct sellers don’t count on recruiting others for a free to make money, they make money off selling those products. So, they don’t really have to be a scheme every time, just a waste of money for you, and tuition for some kid who has to iron shirts in people’s homes on his weekends to try and sell their new “Swiss Maid” machine.

Conclusion

  • Do you really want to be a person that makes money off of duping others?
  • Do you really want to open yourself to losing hard-earned cash by being duped by someone else?
  • Do you really think such a successful business model or product would be kept “secretish” and that you can only get in on it if someone recruits you for a fee?
  • Do you really want to trust someone’s word for it, instead of seeing actual facts, figures and models in the real world and economy?
  • Do you remember GoldQuest? If not, ask your older friends or parent. Do you know that it’s now called Q-net?
  • Do you really think flashy parties and Forumal-1 branding means a business is successful?
  • Do you honestly believe weight loss needs you to recruit others for money?
  • Do you really wanna take the risk with your 500-1500 dollars, or 380-1200 euros or whatever the fee is, instead of saving it up or investing it in something real? Like a promising start-up? Or stocks in a company you like?
  • Do you really want to be the asshole 7arboo2 Lebanese folks are so proud of being, or do you want to do real business, that is sustainable and actually serves a purpose?

 

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon: Exams, Curfews, Hospitality, Animosity and Teddy Bears

I strapped on the blue vest with the words UNHCR emblazoned on its back, and made my way up to the concrete skeleton of the complex that was housing 300 Syrian families. It took me a few seconds to take it all in, and I struggled to keep up with Joelle and Dana, who were already high-fiving kids they know and making small talk with their moms. We were in the Ouzai housing complex in Saida, where a planned private university agreed to let the UNHCR transform it into a major housing complex for the next two years, in return for rehabilitating the building for the would-be students when the crisis is over.

The men were always out of sight, probably searching the city in vain for odd-jobs at a low price, angering local Lebanese who can’t compete without receiving aid. The women sit inside their rooms or in the hallways together, pealing potatoes to prepare some fries. Joelle said to one of them jokingly, “fries make you fat!” to which the portly Syrian woman with the kind face absentmindedly said “really?” as her 4 kids hovered around eagerly awaiting the Belgian dish we all love.

The only inhabitants that were out and about, loud and restless, giggling and laughing, were the kids. Dozens of them, flocking together, running around the aid workers, singing for them and even reciting playground rhymes while jumping over a make-shift jump rope fashioned from electrical wire that had me wince every time a little girl swung it, afraid it’d slap someone in the face.

The ill-fitting clothes were dirty, and their hands and faces showed signs of playing in the surrounding unpaved area. These kids were happy, despite everything, they were happy. Perhaps given the circumstances many of them had to go through, there is some reason to be happy, their smiles overpowering the scars from shrapnel wounds on their tiny faces. But their boredom and frustration becomes evident when they ask us for school. I never thought I’d hear an 8-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl ask when will school start, that they’ve already prepared proper clothes for their classes… I guess you really don’t know the value of something till it’s gone, and for these kids, one thing they miss was a classroom and their classmates.

Below are some photos I took in Ouzai, and a small description of each child under it.

IMG_20130613_152015These three girls were among the oldest of the group there. They were calmer, observing from the sidelines, jumping in when a younger kid needed help getting up, or was being bullied or even left out of a game. They were the caring patrons of that group, volunteering to answer our questions if someone else was too shy and making sure everything was alright. It’s amazing how much maturity these three young girls showed at such an early age, girls that are part of what the UNCHR aptly calls “the lost generation”

IMG_20130612_182929This picture for me captures the scene at Ouzai perfectly. The surroundings are modest (too modest) and the spaces are cramped. Yet, these little guys and gals never wipe the smile off their face, and that put things into perspective for me. I worry about a lot of day-to-day things in my life, and right there and then, they seemed too insignificant to even give a second thought. As I took this photo though, I could overhear a conversation in one of the tents, a foreboding one, a man telling his neighbors who came for a visit that he heard there’s going to be a massive influx from Aleppo in the coming days, which jolted me back to the bleak reality of the situation after forgetting it for a second with the kids.

IMG_20130613_143634It cannot get any more adorable than this 6-year-old girl. During our entire visit, she followed us around, staying a few steps away from the rest of the kids and quietly observing. Her serious demeanor didn’t go too well with that cute floral dress of hers, and after several minutes of her friends showing off her new clothes and explaining to us that these are her new school clothes, she finally decided to join in and tell us about herself and the new dress her father had found for her that she was really happy about. I think it looks perfect on her, and this particular young girl left a deep impression on me. If only we could sit down with her, and try to find out what she’s seen and been through that made her so stern-looking and unphased at such a tender age.

IMG_20130612_160219This was perhaps the most powerful photo I took. The girl, her teddy bear, the splatter on the bare concrete floor under her tiny bare feet… Imagine being forced to flee in a matter of minutes. What would you carry with you from all your worldly belongings, which you probably won’t see again? Well, for this girl, it was this battered up purple teddy bear that she hugged tightly as she observed all the commotion of TV cameras and aid workers downstairs. Her piercing gaze coupled with her embracing the teddy bear show how her childhood is being stolen. How this generation really is the lost generation, with their faces turning hard and stern, but vestiges of their once happy life clinging on like she clings on to her teddy bear….

But amid all the heartbreak and anger at what the situation has come to, I reminded myself that there some success stories among the roughly 1 million refugees currently in Lebanon (546,000 registered with the UNHCR, Lebanese government estimates another half a million unregistered). A few hours before, we were on the Israeli border in a town called Marj El Zhour.

The tiny little town has an impressive public school that is staffed by arguably the most generous, friendly and accommodating principal and staff. It also happens that the top 3 pupils in different grades are Syrian students, who we went down to meet and ask about their new lives in Lebanon. A quick reminder though, despite the generosity and hospitality the teachers and administration displayed, the Lebanese government was lacking in reimbursing the staff for what it promised to: books and supplies, which the staff themselves paid for months ago, and are still waiting for the promised funds.

IMG_20130612_113803Noureen is an adorable little girl whose timidness made conversations with her tough. But Joelle’s vast experience and her genuine compassion broke the ice and allowed Noureen to trust her enough to stop glancing at her caring mother sitting with us before answering our questions. She told us she’s made lots of Lebanese friends, that she hasn’t felt any discrimination from her Lebanese classmates and teachers and that she loves the English curriculum in Lebanon, her favorite subject, that wasn’t given as much importance in her hometown in Reef Deemashk. She admitted it’s a bit harder here, but that she was glad. When asked where she preferred, she said her school back home, were all her friends were. When Joelle asked her what her friends’ names were back home, Noureen paused for a few seconds, as if struggling to remember the friends she had lost contact with so many months ago. It sent chills up my spine, and I felt so proud of this young girl I met only minutes ago, for displaying fortitude in the least ideal circumstances, and shining bright despite them.

IMG_20130612_113345Ziad is the little man that moved me the most that day. This mathematics wiz was as gentlemanly as a boy his age could be. Soft-spoken and calm, he explained to us how he hoped to one day become a lawyer, to, in his words, “help the nice people who need it.” The teachers and UNCHR staff fell silent for a moment or two, their faces showing how deeply those spontaneous and unexpected words had touched all of us, an extremely welcome pinch of happiness, determination and hope in the usually disheartening and helpless world of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Numbers

viewersource (with constantly updated information)

chart

Things you should know

  • Lebanon is not a signatory of the 1951 Geneva convention related to the status of refugees or its 1967 protocol and therefore does not have any legal framework to deal with the issue of refugees. As a result, UNHCR is the international body mandated with the protection of refugees including their registration.
  • By December 2013, the number of refugees in Lebanon is projected to reach one million (registered) individuals, a figure equivalent to 25 per cent of the total population in a country that is experiencing debt to GDP ratio of over 180 per cent and with a land surface area of only 10,452 km.
  • Refugees in Lebanon are distributed among 1,200 municipalities which makes UNHCR Lebanon’s operations one of the most complex urban operations in the world.
  • Over 4,200 refugees approach UNHCR offices every day (either to ask for a registration appointment or are coming for their appointment).
  • Only 26% of the needed 1.7 Billion USD had been raised (a scheme that will benefit both Syrian refugees and their underprivileged Lebanese hosts via better healthcare, education and infrastructure)

How you can help

  • The UNCHR and its partner NGOs are always in need of certain supplies. Try to organize drives in your local communities, schools, universities, scouts groups, etc. to gather supplies the UNCHR and its partners need. Get in contact with them via the links provided, and ask them what they need. Any help is welcome, but coordinate so you make sure your contribution is the most useful at a given time for a given place.
  • Educate your fellow Lebanese. Don’t let the racist and hateful rhetoric by some individuals and groups cloud your judgment or the judgment of those around you. The refugees need our help, and we have been as gracious as hosts as possible so far, so let’s not stop now.
  • Donate money to one of the partner NGOs who work with the UNHCR
  • Volunteer at one of the partner NGOs who work with the UNCHR. Give some of your free time to help the refugees and the amazing people working with them. Imagine yourself in their place, and remember, if you’re Lebanese, at some point in history, you were a refugee here too, no matter what your sect or ethnicity. Remember that without the hospitality and help of the local population then, you wouldn’t be alive today.

Thank you for reading this, and thank you for helping, because I know most if not all of you will pitch in. Thank you UNHCR Lebanon for letting me tag along and explaining the situation for me, the numbers, the expectations and how to help. And thank you for every single Syrian I met, for the new friends I made and the new lessons I’ve learned.

Links

UNCHR Lebanon Get Involved Page

UNHCR Donate Page

UNCHR Partners Page (such as Caritas)

Wezank Explainer Video on New Mobile Phone Regulations

Everyone is confused about the new laws and regulations that came into effect this month that are supposed to stop illegal smuggling of devices into Lebanon. However, vague text messages weren’t enough to illustrate what’s actually happening. Luckily enough, Wezank, a new Lebanese startup, has saved me the trouble of actually writing a complicated post by creating a simple video that should help clarify everything. Also, check out their other videos. They can video-fy any idea you have, which I think is an awesome service for anyone trying to get a point across on a nice, easy way

Via Najib

 

Lebanon Bus Routes and Map

The other day my car was in the shop, and I realized how long it had been since I used public transportation in Lebanon. Back when I used to take taxi services and buses, it used to cost 500LL per bus ride and 1000LL per taxi service ride. Today, it’s more like 2,000LL for a service and 1000-1500LL for a bus ride. Still though, it is markedly cheaper than filling up your own gas, given that their “tankehs” are subsidized after they went on strike a couple of years ago and left us normal people to pay the hefty price of gasoline.

Anyway, that is not the point. As a teenager, I used to walk a few kilometers from my home to the Bikfaya-Antelias highway, take one of those huge Dodge buses with funny names and titles on them like “3arooset bteghrine” or “mar charbel 7amiha, w abou charbel ra3eeha”, to Antelias and from there take a Bus #2 to Hamra, where I used to go meet one of my first crushes *wipes tears of nostalgia*

Anyway, the point is, I never thought what the other routes were numbered and where they actually led or in fact how many there were. Turns out, there are 15 different routes connecting Beirut to it’s surroundings, but that’s about it. Going farther, you’ll have to look for independently-owned minibuses that go up North, South or Inland. Or use companies like Connexion that link Beirut to Tripoli (which are very comfortable and ACed I might add, and pretty affordable and spacious for 4000-6000LL).

Usually, it’s one of the 150-200 grey and red buses you see, but some independent owners also stick route numbers on them to make it easier for passengers to identify the right bus for them without having to ask the driver or attendant. Below is the map with all the routes:

Bus Route MapThe main problem though is the chaos of it all. Bus stops are not clear, payment methods are too complex to try and prevent freeloaders (which a lot of Lebanese folks do and thus cannot be trusted except with multiple attendants at different stops), the buses are extremely poorly kept and it’s way too hot or way too cold to ride comfortably. It also never arrives on time, with unscheduled stops, longer than expected ones and sometimes even taking detours.

It’s unreliable, to say the least. I wouldn’t recommend making it your preferred choice to commute to work or school, or plan your trip much earlier than your appointment to make sure you get there. It’s not much, but it’s there when you need it and if given a decent enough choice, I’d definitely use public transportation over my car, and wouldn’t have to worry about fuel, stupid Lebanese drivers, worry about parking and valet parking and the other elements of the daily struggle and adventure that is motor transportation in Lebanon.