Even Dogs Wanna Leave: BETA Launches Lebanese Expat Pets Program

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.25.10 PM

It’s no secret many of us dream of a a visa to live and work abroad. Lebanese folks with dual citizenships are often seen as the lucky ones, and even a good catch if you’re looking to get married. This sad reality isn’t just for Lebanon’s humans though, it’s also applicable to Lebanon’s shelter dogs.

BETA’s shelter is full, but local adoption rates are very low. The fact that most dogs are not puppies, pure-bred or have a permanent injury because of abuse from Lebanese people, means that many dogs don’t find a loving home here. Also, BETA has a no-kill policy, which means dogs that never get adopted are not killed like in other animal shelters.

So, BETA has decided to ask expats and foreign folks to adopt their dogs. They launched a website, www.xpatpets.com in hopes of both encouraging local adoption, and finding a loving home for these cutie pies anywhere around the world.

I really hope this encourages some of you to adopt a doggie, or at least donate or volunteer whatever you can. And if you’re abroad, consider this, and just look at their adorable faces <3

Train Train: Trains in Lebanon Again?

10505401_341595856000646_884157835895384363_n

Traffic in Lebanon is insane, and for many reasons. First, Lebanese people are horrible drivers. Lanes and traffic lights and signs might as well just be modern art to them. They speed, overtake each other dangerously, go in the wrong direction, etc. Our traffic cops are good at Whatsapping their friends and whistling at girls walking on the street, the only thing truly enforced are the unfair parking tickets, which are haphazard and mean, given that no alternative parking is ever available, and if it is, some scumbag valet services that’s friends with the cops gets them.

Second, infrastructure projects in Lebanon are always geared towards how much money the contractor will make, not how useful it is for the flow of traffic and taxpayers’ wellbeing. Useless bridges with 8 lanes, just to allow for one lane under them, with a pricetag that’ll add many millions to the companies constructing them who are friends with the government at the time the contracts are awarded.

Third, very poor planning, like the Jounieh bay highway, which magically squeezes into two lanes after being 3 to 4 lanes before and after the Jounieh part. Imagine Lebanese drivers split into 4 lanes (5 actually, I mean, who cares about the lanes, right?) squeezing into 2 lanes in a battle to the death with crazy cab, truck and bus drivers. And with so many buildings crowding that strip of highway, it’s almost unimaginable that it can ever be expanded in a feasible way.

Trains might not be the silver bullet to solve our traffic problems, but it surely is a major part. Here are a few cool facts from the Train Train NGO’s Facebook page:

10351262_318486034978295_8330545528591238353_n

10369215_320354491458116_4804961381555749628_n

10378304_326589040834661_754371084432851142_n

10491973_335282419965323_6982083521024503903_n

10527773_332198950273670_2162965543379465081_n

Kalam Ennas Cool Reports

Here’s a cool report about the Lebanese railroads’ impressive history

And this one is a heartbreaking account of one of Lebanon’s train conductors, now 85 and abandoned by the country and government he served for almost 50 years.

Byblos-Batroun Rail Plans

Mr Maalouf has been trying to relaunch the line between the coast cities of Byblos and Batroun, to show the feasibility of having trains running again. “We need a success story,” he says. The project, with a budget of £430,000, should take only a matter of months to complete, but Mr Maalouf is still waiting for the green light from the Lebanese government.

via The Independent

It’s hard to believe the government would ever OK this. After all, our members of parliament are only good at a handful of things: punching taxpayers, suing taxpayers, extending their terms and increasing their wages.

But, there are other ways to make the money and get the projects done: the private sector. With enough public support, maybe, just maybe, we could rebuild that railway. I’m not sure how useful a train between the relatively close and congestion-free Byblos and Batroun would be, but still, as Maalouf said “we need a success story”.

Now, many of the remaining tracks and stations are government property: public property. But, so are our beaches, and almost every single centimeter of beach has been built-up by the private sector. So, why not do the same with the railroads, but at least this time, it’s for a nobler cause than making people pay 50,000LBP to swim in a publicly-owned beach.

It’d cost around 700,000 USD according to Train Train, why not let brands sponsor each segment or station, having for example the “Sanita Station” in Halat, the “Bank Byblos Station” near Jbeil, etc. I’m sure 700,000 USD won’t be too hard a sell for such an epic comeback for something our generations never saw live, despite it dating back almost 120 years…

Imagine the jobs it’d create and the momentum it’d kick off to resume rehabilitating our railway all the way from our northernmost tip, to Lebanon’s southernmost and hopefully into the Bekaa. It’ll also be interesting to see how Lebanese will adapt to blocking railroads, like they so casually and consistently do to roads…

Major Victory Against Censorship in Lebanon

10371492_741637102540352_3913011538697511593_n

One struggle I’ve been part of for the past few years has been exceptionally fruitful. I’m proud to be part of March, the NGO that stands for freedom of speech and anti-censorship in Lebanon. For the better part of the past 2 years, we’ve been in a bitter fight with the General Security’s Censorship Bureau. A play we originally wrote with the title of “Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta3″ was censored, and the former team at the Censorship Bureau launched a vicious and juvenile media attack, citing anonymous critics’ opinions as reason enough to justify their ban (“expert opinions” included that the “language was too poor” and that the writers “did not have the necessary mental capacity and maturity”.) The play satirized the censorship process in Lebanon.

Unwilling to give up, we rewrote another play titled “La 3younak Sidna”, which was essentially the story of how “Bto2ta3 aw ma Bto2ta3″ was banned. We also included basically the entire script of the original, plus what happened before and after we applied for approval.

Days ago, we were pleasantly surprised to find out that our second attempt, was approved fully as-is. Flabbergasted would best describe our reactions at this unexpectedly positive decision by the Censorship Bureau. It’s important to note that since our last attempt, the chief of the bureau and most of the team have been replaced and the new chief and team seemed far less intent on censoring free speech.

This complete shift in attitude and contradicting verdicts only reassure what we’ve always said: that the law is too vague, and allows for interpretation either way depending on the person wearing the censorship hat. So, here, I’d like to thank the bureau for taking the right decision and respecting taxpayers’ right to express themselves freely without consequence. I’d also like to thank the Interior Ministry, who followed up on the process and encouraged a more lenient performance. I also hope that this will be the first of many steps towards a more pragmatic stance on censorship from the government far more acceptable than the past few years’ policies.

We’ll be debuting our new play soon at AUB, more details in the coming few days!

Visit Beirut’s Newly Paint Up-ed Staircase!

10411215_980782825282174_1793525698535287238_n

It’s the 7th time the Dizhayners have organized a Paint Up project in Beirut that transforms one of the city’s iconic, deteriorating staircases into an urban art masterpiece. The events are always fun, with volunteers from all over Lebanon joining in to finish the monumental task in just 6 hours.

This time though, Chad the Mad (Chady Abousleiman), one of my favorite street artists in Beirut, collaborated with them and added his awesome signature, surreal touch to the middle-section of the stairs. Meaning, it’s even more awesome than the other staircases we all love and know around Beirut, like the one in Mar Mikhail most Lebanese people have a profile picture or two on.

But, the staircase is supposed to undergo much-needed renovations “soon” (which hopefully isn’t anytime soon given the Lebanese government’s track record), and with other staircases being threatened by the monstrosity that is the Fouad Boutros Highway, these amazing, world-renowned stairs are a very endangered species.

So, make the most of them while we still have them, and participate in the next Paint Up event to help preserve these rare pedestrian lifelines in a city choked with useless, absurdly-priced cement skyscrapers with sidewalks that are not wheelchair-accessible and often serve as a parking spot instead of a safe pedestrian path.

The Azariyeh stairs are located here, and below is a screenshot of their location (the space-age looking thing on the right is ABC Ashrafieh for reference)

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 3.30.42 PM

Beloved Nahr Ibrahim and Chouen Being Destroyed

20130616_134758

Greed. Greed characterizes most legislation in Lebanon. It’s never because it’s for the common good. It’s usually to force something upon the country, with one or many of the legislating sides getting a LOT of cash for it. It’s in everything, from sanctioning ads for ministries when your relative owns the ad agency, to forcing people to buy fire extinguishers when there’s only one supplier, who just happens to be also related to those that enacted the law.

Nahr Ibrahim is the latest victim to this insatiable greed at the expense of Lebanon’s environment and its people. Many of you have camped there, I wrote about it 18 months ago, and I know for a fact many of you went up to check it out because of that. Nahr Ibrahim, Chouen, Janet Artaba and a lot of other historic, legendary and irreplaceable locations and ecosystems are being wiped out as we speak.

It’s not supposed to be legal, since in 1997, the Ministry of Environment designated the river, and 500 meters from each bank, as a “natural area under its protection.” 10665345_662089907232203_3523364722333692898_n

Of course, with a little money, anything can be changed in Lebanon, and that’s what was done. Ground was broken, and over a MILLION square meters of forest is being cut down right this moment. When a group of local activists filed a lawsuit, citing the above document, the judge initially ruled in their favor, and the environmental slaughter was halted. But, unfortunately, 48 hours later, that very same judge went back on his decision, and allowed the work to resume. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you why that judge did that, you’re old enough to know how this works in Lebanon.

Dams take too fucking long, cost too fucking much and are too much of a liability. One earthquake could destroy the hundreds of millions invested. It devastates the ecosystem both up-stream and down-stream. It never really works in Lebanon, just look at the Karaoun Dam. It’s just a cesspool of human feces and animal carcasses that’s already dried up.

There are plenty of other alternatives to fixing our electricity problem, like letting the private sector and private citizens generate their own electricity, instead of forcing us to pay and adhere only to either the disgusting EDL zoo or even more disgusting “moteur el 7ay” gangs. We could invest in much smaller dams, which would not devastate the ecosystem, but could still provide us with enough electricity generation (like small steps along the river, instead one MASSIVE dam that would have severe consequences on everything).

Why You Should Care

You might not be a conservationist. You might not really give a fuck about trees being cut down. But, imagine not being able to go there to camp anymore. Imagine Chouen disappearing forever. Imagine all the sites that Nahr Ibrahim feeds disappearing. Imagine the birthplace of Adonis and Astarte gone forever. Imagine all the beauty, the biodiversity, the rich history, one of the only mostly “untouched” parts of Lebanon, suddenly gone. Why? So that greedy men can fill their pockets with the hundreds of millions that are going to be spent on this useless, harmful cause. Imagine not being able to take your kids there one day, show them a side of Lebanon that’ll remind them that not everything in this country sucks and should be despised, but some remind us that it’s actually pretty fucking awesome, if it weren’t for some douchebag Lebanese politicians and people (the people who leave their garbage behind, assholes.)

How You Can Help

There’s a Facebook group which coordinates all actions and provides all the necessary information, news, studies and legal matters. There will be action on the ground soon, so, stay up to date here.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some photos I’ve taken in Nahr Ibrahim, and read my post on if you wanna go camp or spend the day there.

 

Art for a Change at The Garten Saturday!

unnamed

When I saw the boys hanging up an old VW beetle cut in half in the chill-out area at The Garten, I was like, “lolwut?!”. But then I realized it was gonna be a canvas for live graff by a series of awesome Lebanese graffiti artists, it was more like “bring it.”

The finished masterpieces were displayed in the food court area for the summer, and now, it’s time to auction them off for the benefit of Kunhadi! They include:

The artists and their artworks:
“Apollo” by CHAD THE MAD (Chadi Abousleiman)
“Sibelle” by EL CHAKH (Ziad Chakhtoura) & LE MAUVE (Rami Chahine)
“Dare to Dream’ by M3ALIM (Rami Mouallem)
“Love Bite” by EPS (Alfred Badr)
“Isabel” by TAZ (Georges Tabatadze)
“Z is not dead…” by ZED (Eli Zaarour)
“El battikh ykasser baado” by PHAT2
“The Blob vs Godzilla” by FISH (Sari Saadeh)& MATCH STICK (Raul Mallat)

RSVP here, and please, always drive responsibly or order a cab if you’d had too much too drink <3

Embrace: A Suicide Every 3 Days in Lebanon. Help Stop This!

10370960_810024525695099_3452561785803967405_n

Mental illness is still a taboo subject in Lebanon. Mentally ill people hide it, and when they can’t, their loved ones hide it for them from the rest of society. It’s still seen as something to be ashamed of, and to some people even as something that’s a deserved “punishment” by god or whatever.

But, its impact is real, and given the striking numbers of psychoactive drug prescriptions in Lebanon: 1 million tranquilizers, 642000 anti-depressants in 2011 [source], coupled with the devastating reality that every 3 days, someone in Lebanon takes their own life, goes to show you that a LOT can and needs to be done.

That’s why I was very happy to find out about the Embrace Fund, a regional and national campaign to raise awareness and provide support for mental illness. It’s in partnership with the AUBMC’s Psychiatry Department, and earlier today, they had their “walk into the dawn” activation towards the Raouche Rock (Pigeon Rock in Beirut), which is infamous as a top choice for people committing suicide by jumping off of it into the Mediterranean Sea.

Here’s their Facebook page, so you can find out how to help. On their website, you can submit your own story about a struggle with mental illness, and read those who wrote their own and wanted it to be published. You can also sign up to become a member, or make a donation, or both! So, head to EmbraceFund.org and sign up!

DSC Lebanon’s New Campaign: SIGN UP AND SAVE LIVES!

I’ve been in DSC since the very early days, and even though I admit I haven’t been as much help as I’d like to be, DSC’s always had a special place in my heart.

Since its humble beginnings with one man’s wish to make people dying because lack of available donor blood a thing of the past in Lebanon, DSC has achieved seemingly the impossible in just a few years.

With an ever-growing database of healthy, willing blood donors in Lebanon that fulfill hundreds of requests for blood donations, and save and improve thousands of lives every single month, DSC has become a household name. Their weekly blood drives with their brand new donation truck, visits different parts of Lebanon and collects enough blood bags to make sure local hospitals have enough supply in case the worst happens.

Their new initiative is to add 10,000 new awesome donors in just 10 months, and if you still haven’t, please sign up here! And if you can’t donate blood (if you’re too young, or for medical reasons), you can still support DSC by being a volunteer! Check out their Facebook page and apps if you don’t like traditional websites.

This is NOT the Official Lebanese Red Cross Instagram Account!

LRCFake

The Lebanese Red Cross is my absolute favorite NGO. I love them, and the one regret I have in my entire life is not trying to become one of their volunteer life-savers. They save tens of thousands of lives every year, and help hundreds of thousands of others. They do the immense job our government is supposed to in an extremely professional way, on a volunteer basis.

So, I was appalled when I saw this screenshot being shared all over Facebook and Twitter criticizing them. Of course, I couldn’t believe it was actually the official account, and made some calls to my very dear friends, the heroes in the LRC and inquired about this.

This is positively NOT the official account of the LRC. Instagram has been contacted and they’re awaiting the account’s suspension and hopefully transfer into the proper hands.

This post was more appropriate for a cheap Lebanese brand, “zoozoo ibba” style, not the beyond-reproachable Lebanese Red Cross affiliated with the ICRC. It’s sad when people hijack big names and NGOs like that on social media. People should know better.

I believe the LRC will release a statement in the coming few hours on their actual official Facebook page here.

We love you girls and guys in red and white! Be safe, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything you do for us.

EPIC: Electronic Music Using Lebanese Cedar Tree Rhythms

This is pure gold in every sense of the word for me.

It’s absolute geek porn. Bioacoustic Engineering to extract the natural rhythm of an ancient cedar tree? Well, that definitely gave me a biology geek tingle. But, when I heard the result: an electronic music track built around that 3000-year-old frequency, that tingle definitely exploded into a full-on bio-geek-party-animal eargasm.

For the cherry on top, it’s the one thing we identify with as Lebanese: our Cedar tree, that gorgeous, majestic tree that you can sit under for thousands of generations, and no matter how hot the weather was, you’d feel the priceless breeze in the shade of the symbol of our tiny, turbulent nation.

Our cedar trees never change, but Lebanon has transformed more times than we can count. And these changes have made it impossible for our Cedars to survive today, much less procreate for tomorrow. I bought the album, and you should too. I also want to hear the tracks in the summer parties in Beirut, spun by the DJs to a crowd of people like us, who if we ever survive to have children and grandchildren, can never take them for a hike in a cedar forest, but merely show them the stencils of one that cover the streets of our polluted cities, a remnant of an ancient past that predates us, which we managed to obliterate with our negligence and shortsightedness.

Listen, dance, support. I absolutely loved this initiative. Here’s the link to listen and buy (for just 3$)