This week I’m posting a piece I wrote back in 2014 on an extremely warm, humid evening in Hamra, Beirut. This piece brings a smile to my face and I realise that while much has changed, much remains the same.
It’s hot. Unbearably hot. On Fridays, when I step outside of my apartment to catch a cab to take to the Charl El Helou bus station, I do nothing but stand there. The humidity makes things gross. I don’t know how the posh people fare with it.
Anyways, I don’t want to doodle on the subject of sweatiness Let’s talk Lebanon. Let talk Beirut and Hamra. Hamra is where I tend to spend most of the time due to the fact that I work in the American University of Beirut, and it is a grubby little part of the city that feels “Lebanese” and “real”. I do enjoy Downtown, but yes, there is that feeling that it is a bit overdone and just a tad elitist.
Hamra is always jam packed. There is no real “rush hour”, because it is always pretty rushed. I am sitting in a Hamra café right now, Brisk, if you know it; it’s 7:30 pm and the movement of traffic is still congested.
Apparently, this is where the “intellectuals” get together. I haven’t really seen or met any yet. But this is only my fourth month in the city. But then, is there a specific look for an intellectual? I’d like to think of myself as an intellectual, but I’m sure when the Lebanese see me they do not think that. Yes, you see the largest proportion of young guys with long braided hair, low jeans, hipster bags, a “cool” look about them and cigarettes popping out of their mouths. But, I mean, intellectualism isn’t in the way that people look, right?
It’s strange to describe gender politics in this city (Yes, I will be jumping from topic to topic, because this is my stream of thought). Or the Hijabi laws. I get a lot of respect for being a hijabi, sure, but here, in the Middle East, you are also judged. It’s hard to explain. In the West, the majority of people see us as stifled or oppressed, “wrapped up” by force, unable to enjoy the pleasures of life properly. Because this piece of cloth on my head might get in the way (It’s actually 2 pieces; one on the bottom which is like a swim cap, which binds the hair together, and the top cover that is the actual Hijab). The choice to don the Hijab is accompanied by a commitment to adhere to the set boundaries of the faith and attempts to pursue happiness as best as one can.
But yes, back to the societal judgement of Hijabis here. Well, not necessarily “in the Middle East” as much as it is by Arab culture, because that is what I can actually talk about. Yes, highly educated and eloquent Hijabi girl. Well it’s a shame that you aren’t married. I mean, why aren’t you married? Can’t people see you? What’s wrong with these people? Truly a shame. And a bit of a waste.They never say the waste bit, but you can hear it in their sympathetic tone.
Hijabis are seen as inherently domestic. They may be neurosurgeons but ultimately, they are destined to become nice wives and good mothers. And if you don’t manage to achieve that as a hijbabi, or non-hijabi, for that matter, by your late 20s, people start feeling sorry for you and the members of your family start to get worried.
The society can be paradoxical at times. Men raise their daughters to be confident, highly educated, witty and charming; often the complete opposite of their wives, who may be smart, but are, in most cases, not the dominant person in the relationship and most certainly not the main breadwinner. So why raise your daughters in such a way that most guys in their age group would be intimidated? I guess I can now understand the rising “spinster” phenomenon in Lebanon. Most of the successful, “kick-ass” women I have met so far, are single. And if they are over 40, that means they are spinsters.
Anyways, more on that later. I will be in Beirut for a while, and am hoping to take advantage of the time and roam around the city, find my writing “groove” in one of the many Hamra cafes, and ramble on about my experiences and miscellaneous thoughts that may wander into my head at any given time. Not that anyone really cares, but hey it makes me feel good. I will try my best not to let my entries be narcissistic (me, me, me) or sound like the pre “Ride” Lana Del Rey monologue: I’m a wild girl bla bla so I like to jump on motorbikes and ride off into the sunset with random 60 year old looking bikers that are really hairy. I’m not really a wild girl. No really, I’m not. I’m pretty conservative, actually. But trying desperately to make sense of the world around me (honestly, I’m in the Middle East, there is A LOT going on around me). And trying to attain coherency at a time when there is so much information to be absorbed, that one can become so overwhelmed and confused.