I have no doubt I am going to offend some people with this post, but being totally honest is my thing.
Almost 2 years ago now, I went to Greece to surprise my gay husband for his 50th birthday. We met in Athens at The Hilton hotel where I surprised him as I told him I was unable to make the trip. We had a fantastic few days in Athens, before heading to Mykonos, and then to Santorini where we ended our trip together before he headed off to Turkey and Amsterdam, and we went to Beirut.
Now I had heard some wonderful things about Lebanon. “The Paris of the Middle East”, “The Switzerland of the Middle East”, were the most common ones, however I was still a little nervous venturing into such a volatile region, particularly as there was a travel warning at the time (which I would suspect it is still in place), “to reconsider your need to travel” to the region. I also had a cousin that was in Lebanon when it was bombed by Israel a few years back, and she had to be evacuated by ship to Greece so it was a bit daunting going there. And I was soon to discover there were a lot of things that people had failed to tell me about it.
We landed into Beirut airport and went through customs where the staff were predominantly male, and the security personnel were carrying large rifles. Extremely unnerving. On the way from the airport to the hotel we were staying at was definitely an eye-opener. When countries go through war, the first place to be hit is generally the airport. The surrounding areas were mostly reduced to rubble as a result.
Now all Lebanese people have always bragged about the fact that everyone drives a Mercedes in Lebanon.
“Even the taxis are Mercedes!” they proudly exclaim.
And indeed they are – however they fail to mention that they are the first Mercedes ever invented and generally missing the side mirrors, have torn interiors, are mostly smashed, and without indicator lights. Another strange thing that I’ve not experienced before is that anyone can hop into your cab. Unless you reserve a private vehicle, the driver will stop and pick up anyone on the street to take them where they need to go. Almost like a paid hitchhiker service. Very bizarre indeed.
We stayed at The Movenpick which was beautiful, and in a great location, however upon venturing out of the hotel to start exploring the city, we were immediately accosted by Palestinian refugees who were missing limbs, or just simply begging for money. They would come and run their hands through my long blonde hair, and tug at my clothing which was pretty scary, but the longer I stayed in Lebanon, the more I realized that apart from other Arabs, there were no actual tourists here, particularly no westerners, so I was somewhat of a novelty I guess. However, I think they may have mistaken me for one of their Russian prostitutes, as they seem to be the only blondes there.
I became incredibly anxious, and a little further up the road there were two men screaming and fighting with each other, and an army tank on the side of the road with men dressed in camouflage holding machine guns was a disturbing sight to add to the mix. There was litter everywhere from the side of the road, to floating down in the Mediterranean Sea. A very filthy city indeed. Every man was staring at me in disgust as I wandered by them, like I was an alien come to visit from another planet. And I was dressed modestly too might I add (I had been to Dubai a few years earlier and was very aware of the need to dress modestly) so there really was no excuse for the obvious stares.
The buildings in that particular area had mostly been repaired from the recent bombings however as we ventured further into the city it was evident that this was nothing short of a volatile, war torn country.
Lebanon used to be a predominantly Christian country, however today it is predominantly Islamic. There is a call to prayer each day heard all over the city via loud speakers, and the unemployment rate is up at around 80%. So this creates a lot of socioeconomic problems in itself.
Most of the cars are damaged due to road accidents as they are the most reckless drivers I have ever seen. No speed limits, one set of traffic lights that are ignored by the drivers, no one ever indicating when turning corners or changing lanes (of which there are no lanes or any order for that matter), parking where they please – across driveways, on the footpath – complete anarchy. I was told by one taxi driver that the number one cause of death amongst men under 30 is car accidents as they speed everywhere and drive recklessly. I guess when you have grown up through war and living each day as if it’s your last, you lose any sense of fear you may have had. They are also the angriest people I have ever come across.
Another thing I noticed was the few public attractions that we visited had all been defaced by graffiti. They seem to have no respect for their history or monuments which is quite sad, as there is a long and interesting history there.
Everyone goes on about how fantastic the night life is in Lebanon so we went out to a few of the most popular bars there to see what the hype was about. Whilst the venues were certainly nice, and played good music, the people were incredibly rude and not friendly at all – in fact “stuck-up” springs to mind, and having been to a bunch of super fun and really cool bars in other parts of the world, particularly LA, I can only come to the conclusion that the people who are going on about how great the clubs are there, are ones that have never visited any other parts of the world aside from Lebanon, because there was nothing remarkable about anything I personally experienced. Having traveled the world extensively myself, I had a lot to compare it to, and like I said – unremarkable.
On my last day in Lebanon, I decided to stay in the resort and take advantage of the pool facilities as I couldn’t possibly handle anymore of the absolute chaos that is Beirut. It is utterly exhausting and relentless in its disorder. It was a Sunday, and as we made our way down to the pool area, we noticed that it was completely packed. The locals buy a membership each year at the hotels to use the pool facilities as they mostly live in small units and don’t have the luxury of space. It was so jam packed that they actually had to go and retrieve some chairs from the storeroom.
Once we were seated around the pool, this was when I got a taste of how Lebanese people truly are. The first thing I noticed was that NO ONE was in the pool. The woman were generally a decade or more their husbands junior, and they were all dolled up which was quite bizarre for a swimming pool setting. And when I say dolled up – think ballroom dancing contestants for a television show. I’m serious. False eyelashes, lashings of black eyeliner, caked on foundation, lipstick, long acrylic fingernails and perfect pedicures, long hair perfectly blow-dried, and dripping in jewelry – I am not kidding. Oh, and they wear high-heels. No joke. And another thing I noticed was their strange looking cat-like faces. Foreheads immobilized by botox, restylane filled trout pouts and cheeks, as well as their big breast implants – they all looked like extras from the real housewives of wherever.
I have heard that Lebanon has the highest rate of cosmetic procedures, and looking around that day, I’d say that’s pretty much on the money. And another thing that was intriguing was watching what they ordered to eat. They are all a size 6 (size 2 US), and they dine on salads with dressing on the side, and diet cokes to save calories, whilst chain smoking to feign off any appetite they may have. And not one of them get into the water. They sit there in uncomfortable looking positions as if they are on a photo shoot for Vogue magazine, sucking in their stomachs and propping themselves up awkwardly ensuring their limbs look as slender as possible. What a bunch of posers. I think i was rolling my eyes the entire time. I was literally the only person in the swimming pool on this 35 degree Sunday, and the women were staring at me in contempt for reasons I can only imagine. And again, everyone was incredibly unfriendly. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
After leaving the resort later that afternoon, we took a cab into the city and I went shopping at H&M (why they have one in Beirut, and not in Sydney still perplexes me). Everyone was staring at me whilst I browsed the racks, to the point where a little girl tugged at her mothers sleeve and pointed at me. I shit you not. I have never felt more self-conscious in all my life.
On the cab ride back to the hotel, a woman got into the cab with us. She looked me up and down, with a look of disgust on her face. By now I had had enough and my husband noticed, so he asked her in Arabic “Why is everyone staring at my wife?” to which she answered in the most disrespectful manner I have ever been spoken to “because Lebanese people dress classy – not like her” as she waved her hand dismissively in my direction before turning and staring out the window, says she who was dressed in jeggings and sequined flip flops. What a fucking rude bitch.
I have never been more mentally fatigued from visiting a country, nor more relieved to leave a place. I could have quite literally gotten down on all fours and kissed the ground when I landed back in Sydney. So somewhere i would go back to? Not even if you paid me…