I arrived in Lebanon on a moonlit summer night in 2019. Beirut welcomed me with its intricate blend of Western sophistication and Oriental opulence, crosses and minarets, bullet-riddled buildings and futuristic skyscrapers, chaos and contemplation, tradition and avant-garde. It was love at the first landing.
As I was heading to the lively area of Ain El Mraisseh the next day, I met Abu S., an old man whose warm smile and innate kindness instantly reminded me of my beloved grandfather. Curious about my presence, he started investigating the details of my visit. “Is it your first time in Lebanon? “, he demanded, lighting up a cigarette. “Yes”, I replied, despite my broken Arabic. He looked at me over his glasses and took a deep inhale before elaborating his answer: “Welcome! I’m sure you will love it here”. His words marked the beginning of an incredible journey that took me from the hedonistic capital of the “land of the cedars” to the delightful coastal town of Saida, the majestic Roman temples in Baalbek, the peaceful mountains of Shouf and the enchanting Crusader fortress of Tripoli.
During my stay, I quickly realized that Lebanon is a country like no other; a land where the only constant is uncertainty, scarred by a tumultuous history and situated in a region historically characterized by social unrest, conflict and political turmoil, yet able to defy all expectations, charm those who have the chance to explore it, overwhelm their senses and find its way to their hearts thanks to the humanity of its people and its unparalleled beauty.
A crossroad of ancient civilizations and the home to timeless landscapes, archaeological treasures and countless natural wonders, Lebanon challenged me, shaped me into the person I am today, changed the way I perceive culture, religion, history and diversity and ultimately became a part of me. It’s my endless source of inspiration as a writer and my favourite destination as a traveller. Its capability to effortlessly remain suspended between two worlds, East and West, never ceases to surprise me.
Over the past year, as I have been watching it dealing with a global pandemic, severe political, economic and financial crisis, water shortage, electricity cuts, hyperinflation, and trying to cope with the tragic aftermath of the double explosion that devastated Beirut on August 4th, 2020, I have felt restless. Anger, indignation, frustration and a sense of powerlessness have been accompanying my days, but faith in the Lebanese people and their unfailing generosity even in the darkest times have never abandoned me.
To them, I say thank you for not surrendering to the rubble. Thank you for keeping Lebanon alive through your daily efforts towards the recovery of the destroyed neighbourhoods and beyond. Thank you for fighting to save your cultural heritage, as there is no bright future without a vivid past. Thank you for showing the world that Lebanon is its people, not the sum of the adversities it faces.
I believe that like your national icon Fairouz sings, ” the days that are coming hide a sun within them”; we will dance till dawn at Biel Waterfront, sip cocktails in Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael and watch life passing by while smoking double-apple arguileh at Ka3kaya in Hamra. We will chase the most touching sunsets in Jbeil and will be speechless in front of the best views over the Mediterranean that Harissa can offer. We will enjoy the legendary Southern hospitality in Nabatieh, get lost in the souqs of Saida and Tripoli and feel like royalty at Beiteddine Palace. We will feast on hummus, shawarma, kebbeh, tabouleh and creamy mutabbal. We will celebrate the rise of the land of the cedars and its capital once again.