I hereby offer one final push of encouragement to the good candidates going forward in the municipal election battle. This is one final show of support to our fellow compatriots who have vowed to dignify our lives in the name of judicious equality, accountability, and citizenship empowerment. They are those who, tomorrow, will be taking an official stance against the incompetent system in the name of national betterment and, fantastically, decent livelihood for all.
Thus, I invite you to take a look at the short photo album I have included herein. All these photos were casually taken by me in the past ten days as I wandered about my exciting life. I do this to emphasize one thing: the detriment of the municipality, in photos, so that you may be fully aware what you are voting for or against tomorrow.
You see the thick brown fog covering the city of Beirut? That’s not photoshop. That’s real. And you, you live in that. Are you familiar with the expression “the top 1% live in their own bubble”? Well, this time, they’re not alone; we’re all in this together, all 100% of us. Our bubble is called smog. Now, smog is not entirely Lebanese, every polluted city has smog. However, for a coastal city like Beirut, this is abnormal. If a city is locked inland, and/or sits in a trench, the noxious mixture of gases and particulate matter condense easily. And if not regulated, the smog sticks to the atmosphere like Lebanese politicians to their chairs, and the air has a lot of difficulty recycling itself; thus, it stagnates. But for a city like Beirut straddling and french-kissing the coastline, doing regular full-frontal time in front of the entire Mediterranean horizon, sitting at the nexus of all kinds of cat’s paw breezes? It is not common. We have a problem, buddy. We have a big problem. Your health is in danger. And I don’t mean, “Oh, you might get a cold.” Nope, I mean your immunity will be so low, you will forget what it was like to be able to breathe through both your nostrils, (in fact, I bet you RIGHT NOW, one of your nostrils is clogged). You will also forget what it is like to have energy without having to take any stimulants (do you really wonder why you’re tired all the time?). You will also forget what it was like to have blood test results that don’t contain vitamin D deficiency, and/or an excess of heavy metals (that your doctor brushes off as “Maaleeeech, we all have that in Lebanon”). You will also forget what it is like to hear of a classroom where half of the kids aren’t asthmatic, or allergic to nuts, and wheat, and sugar, and salt, and oxygen, and life. Ask every single member of your family living in this country how they feel. Just ask. Everyone has a problem. This isn’t explained by the old adage that “well, with time, life takes its toll on everyone”… Nope. There’s a caveat there. With time, IN AN UNREGULATED POLLUTED ENVIRONMENT, life takes its toll on everyone. This is not normal. So this, buddy, is our SPECIMEN #1 of lawlessness; compliments of the Lebanese government and Beirut municipality. You still there? Onwards.
This is one of the most expensive areas of Beirut, Ain-El-Mreisseh, extending into Jal-El-Bahr and Manara. This exact spot marks the beginning of the corniche, which extends all the way to the public “beach of Beirut”, 4.8 km down this gorgeous promenade. That walkway is worth its weight in gold. Cities pay with blood, sweat, tears, and human life to be able to have a walkway by the sea, incorporated in an urban setting. Lucky us, we got it for free. Now, do you see the buildings? Do you think this is normal? In every sea city renowned for its coast around the world, it is categorically forbidden to build high rise buildings on the “first row” of the coastline. We soon will be the only Mediterranean city with no sea view. Congrats. Most of these buildings are uninhabited. Maybe there are foreign housekeepers there, but the apartments are mostly uninhabited by the owners. People can’t afford it; its owners are expats or foreigners. Once upon a time, in Beirut city, no building could exceed 5 stories. Are you hearing me? Reading me? Where are we, buddy? These buildings are not some bags of garbage lying on the streets causing us momentary nuisance. You can move the mountains of garbage, but you will never, ever be able to move these buildings. Why? This is SPECIMEN #2 of lawlessness, and neglect; compliments of the Lebanese government and Beirut municipality.
A continuation of photo number 2. See that middle building? This building, situated in the 1st row facing the sea, dates back to the early 70s. This building used to be the tallest building on the entire corniche, towering at a might 6-story height. My building (from where I took the photo) is “3rd row” from the sea. I took this photo from the top of my building. Do you see how insane this looks? The building on the right was erected maybe 5 years ago, it is literally 2.5 times the size of the middle building. Now, check out the building on the left, this is not formally legal by your and my standards. It may be by “their” standards, but not yours or mine. What is the law that permits all this to happen? Who are the people who are allowing this to happen? What kind of money did they receive as compensation for scarring the face of our coastal line? Why is that happening, ya byérteh? This is SPECIMEN #3 of lawlessness, and neglect; compliments of the Lebanese government and the Beirut municipality.
Don’t you find this funny? I laughed when I saw it, like ha-ha-out-loud laughed. This sign is literally erected right outside the airport in Beirut. Can you imagine driving to Heathrow airport in London and seeing a sign that says “own your house in France”? Or driving to, I dunno, the Shanghai airport, and seeing a sign that says “own your house in Japan”? Banking facilities available!! Wait. Imagine this: Driving to Mexico City’s airport, and you see a sign right outside the airport, “own your house in California.” That would probably be the beginning of a war IN the US. I am not saying that these ads should be forbidden, no way, I am all for freedom of speech and association and press and love. But, I am merely pointing to what has become of our culture… I bet you’ve passed that sign and you probably thought nothing of it. We suggest to people that life abroad is better than life here because, well, it is, and we want to BANK on it. This is SPECIMEN #4 of “interesting Beiruti behavior”; compliments of, well, in this case, PLUS properties.
This is a maid’s room. I couldn’t fit the room into the lens because it was too small. As you probably know, all buildings in Lebanon are built with a tiny, tiny room, usually by the kitchen, which is officially called “the maid’s room.” Super. Did you know that there is no law that obliges architects to put a window in the “maid’s room”? I have seen, with my own eyes, the “maid’s room” in multi-million dollar mansions in Saifi. There are no windows, and the shower is open to the bedroom, separated by an accordion, altogether they measure 3.5 sq m. The apartment costs about 2M US dollars, and the maid has no window in her room. This is SPECIMEN #5 of lawlessness and neglect, but furthermore, of humane atrophy. Compliments, of course, of the Lebanese government and the Beirut municipality. Savages? It’s okay, we can say it. We are savages.
Yes, yes, I know, you are familiar with this. Okay, look. This is not, “yi 3ayb, what will the world think of us?”, like some fucking idiotic people say. This is a major, major health hazard, to you, to your uterus (if you’re a woman), to your eye vision, to your lungs, to your food, to your groundwater, to your hormones, to your endocrine system, and to the health of all our future children (not immune to birth defects with these). But also, to the environment. Have you heard of global warming? It seems like such a distant problem when we have to worry about water sanitation and food and employment and corruption and traffic jam. But, FYI, solid waste (photographed here) is the single largest man-made source of Methane gas (CH4) in the world. Methane gas is 23 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than the most prevalent greenhouse gas – carbon dioxide (CO2). That is global warming. The stuff in the picture right here, that’s all mostly going to be methane gas, that’s all going towards global warming. Have you heard of COP21, the 2015 UN Climate Change conference? Yeah, global warming is one of the biggest threats on human life today. It is the responsibility of every nation in the world to regulate its GHG emissions. In Lebanon, we allegedly produce 6,000 tons of waste per day. That’s 2.2MM tons per year. Total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from this waste are estimated to be over 757,000 tons of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to burning 3,000 railcars full of coal, or burning 78 million gallons of gasoline, every year. And, all of this has been lying in the streets of Lebanon for almost a year, now; and counting. Can you imagine what we have done to our atmosphere? To other nations’ atmosphere? Lawlessness, buddy? Compliments of the Lebanese government, and the Beirut municipality.
This is a photo of a blackout. That’s what Beirut experiences at least 6 or 7 hours a day, if not more. Do you know why you don’t have 24/7 electricity? You don’t! If the municipality of Beirut allegedly has a billion dollars worth of funds, why don’t we, the capital city, have 24/7 electricity? These are valid questions, whose answer can only be, err, lawlessness. Compliments of the Lebanese government, and the Beirut municipality.
Listen to me. This is not “living room talk.” “حكي صالونات”… This is not, “oh I love Bayern, but my brother, the idiot, likes Barcelona, so we’re gonna argue over dinner.” This is not “Aoun is insane and Geagea is the best” type-of-useless-discussion. These are very, very serious livelihood issues. This is, your dignity, your health, and your quality of life at stake. Whether you like Saad Hariri or not is not the point; whether you think the late Rafik Hariri “rebuilt Lebanon” or not is not the point; your feelings about Geagea or Aoun or Jumblatt or Berri or Hezbollah are also not the point. Like ’em or hate ’em, that’s all sidetrack talk. But this, right here, is a private conversation between you and your city. This is not about ideology, this is about subsistence, your subsistence. This is about owning up to the violation and abuse your city has endured, and negotiating new terms of agreement for her sake and your own.
When the state of affairs in a country is so bad that the state literally coerces its own people to stride over piles of garbage in order to enter their own homes; when the state of affairs in a city is so dismal that it forces its own people to literally bathe in their own feces because the sewers and the slimy drippings of the mountains of garbage have leaked through the water pipelines; when the state of affairs in a country is so god-awful that unemployed youth with no security lifeline have to opt for being sectarian hooligans and follow corrupt political orders just in order to feed themselves; when public property is bought and sold for the benefit of a ruling political class that has closed the system and concentrated wealth and power only to be used by themselves, and abuse others; when the people have been getting sicker, hungrier, sadder, while the politicians don’t even show up to work, the fight is no longer just a psychological torment, it becomes physical. And physical it has become. Physical, does not pertain to violence; physical, means it has to do with your corporal attributes. There is a literal danger on your health, on your wellbeing, on your safety, on your sanity in our country today.
I stand with Beirut Madinati.
I stand with my aunt Ghada El-Yafi, candidate on Charbel Nahas’s electoral list, Mouwatinoun wa Mouwatinat.
Beirut Madinati, the pioneers, the champions behind the movement of gender equality, secularism, diversity, and this awesome change-mobilizing motion that is seeking to cater to the real public good, are a trailblazing force. They have accomplished independent, popular mobilization that very, very few people have been able to muster in the contemporary history of Lebanon. What a vaccine of optimism they have infused us with.
As for my aunt, Ghada El-Yafi, she inspires me with her relentless judicious quest for betterment and equality for all. Ghada is the daughter of the mighty public servant who gave the voting rights to women in 1952, my grandfather Abdallah El-Yafi, former Prime Minister. Today, being a woman, I am able to vote because of the law that he has fought all his career to pass; and my aunt, being a woman, is able to run for public office because of that same law.
As for Charbel Nahas, who for years has been relentlessly exposing all the corruption files to the detriment of his own political career: His personality may be controversial, but on a professional level, his integrity and dedication to truth and accountability are all I need to know of to respect his mission.
Whether this all-encompassing national spirit and this contingent course of action can empower our nation and result in long-lasting political reform will depend fully on us, and what we decide to create together. This is about your livelihood; quite literally, your life. Yes, to intelligent, decent, good-hearted, accountable people being in public service, yes to all genders, ages, and walks of life representing the public good, and paving the way to an empowered, accountable city, for all.