Lebanon – an amazing land with amazing people…a land which soul you should feel on your own skin.
On request of Ivana Krsmanovic I will share my Lebanese story with you that started after I graduated on The Faculty of Technical Sciences, University of Novi Sad, Department of Civil Engineering. At that time I had already worked for a construction company from Lebanon and I had the opportunity to visit that country. Negotiations about payment and conditions started. Of course I wanted to get out as much as possible from these negotiations but what really mattered to me was „just to get there somehow.“ I got the visa within two days. At the embassy were no crowds, people from Serbia do not often travel to Lebanon. The trip was delayed twice because of bomb attacks. At the end, my boss told me: Come if you dare, on your own responsibility. And I dared. The reaction of my boss in Novi Sad was – I do not like that you’re going because of the situation there … Imagine then my parents. I packed the most essential things in a suitcase (clothes, gifts, scarf „FK Vojvodina“ …) and went to the unknown.
People say the first impression is always the most important. My „first impression“ was not like that at all. I arrived in Beirut shortly after midnight. The taxi driver who had to take me to Tripoli was 1.5 hours late – by now I have learnt that it is quite normal to be late there. The drive to Tripoli lasted a little longer than an hour and looked like the shooting of a Rambo film, army at every step – at that time the US accused Assad and the Syrian army of using chemical weapons, and everyone was waiting for the US attack on Syria and according to local logic the attack of Israel on Lebanon as well (try to understand this logic only if you’re born there!). Then I asked myself whether I am crazy, stupid or brave? Some combination of the three or three in one? Luckily they all stayed at home (US and theirs).
The first days were stressful. Everything was new. New culture, new traditions. But it did not last long. I made new friends and we went on trips together. The first city I visited was Byblos – officially the oldest city in the world and the place where the alphabet came to Europe from. The capital Beirut I visited twice. Unfortunately only twice, because this city is a story for itself. Contrary to the claims of the „West“, people in this city, being either Muslims or Christians, live together without any problems. I’ve never seen so many churches and mosques side by side before.
The most of the time I spent in Tripoli. Tripoli is the second largest city in Lebanon and also the capital of sweets. The city is divided, like the whole Middle East. Some parts are developed, while other parts could be dangerous (as my colleague and friend from work Denny told me, I have never gone there so you neither should you). Public transportation does not exist. All drive by taxi – every taxi driver drives between two points in the city. As long as there is a free place they beep and someone is constantly entering or leaving the taxi. The taxi is only full when there are four people at the back two on the right of the driver and one on his left. The first mistake, that every foreigner makes, is to ask how much the ride costs. Then the ride can be (and it is) expensive. Clients should judge by themselves how much to give and often noone complains.
I also made new acquaintances in the village where I stayed. One afternoon I went to buy a sweater. I went into the shop, said: Marhaba („greeting“ or something like that in Arabic) and somehow explained what I wanted to buy. After a successful transaction the worker asked me where I come from. When I said – from Serbia – he went on asking: Milosevic?! Fortunately, he is not always the first association to the word „Serbia“ for everybody. I had the honor over my best Lebanese friend Georges to meet the police captain of Tripoli. He shook my hand and asked: Djokovic? – And I proudly nodded.
While searching for similarities between the two countries the first impression is – the guest is the most important! Family values are still important there and more generations live under the same roof. During his stay the guest is a part of the family. In some parts of the country there is no electricity four hours a day (when I found it out, I asked if it is because of the war in Syria? The answer was: No, it is as it has been for thirty years!). Instead of turning on generators (who has), they assemble in the garden of a neighbor and talk about different things, play something like chess. Everyone brings something, to eat or drink. It reminded me of my childhood, when computer games were not so important, everybody played out in the street, at the playground. People are simply happy in there own reality, each in their own way. I did not notice they miss the „Western democracy“.
We Balkans are also similar to them in the way of thinking about things that determine our lives but we do not have any influence on them. Colloquially speaking – do not worry, it will be somehow. I was also adviced how to behave in embarrassing situations. E.g. one tip was – If someone stops you, and demands your wallet or mobile simply give it to them, do not argue! Or when they asked me if I had heard that there are some new positions for snipers … Now joking aside, with this I did not want to present them in an unserious light. They are just trying to live a normal life (which in its own way it is really normal because the above written should not be seen as a war report) in the circumstances the European would call abnormality. To understand abnormality as seen by the Europeans it could be explained like this: When someone asks me if it is wise to walk in the streets of Beirut and Tripoli after 11 pm, my answer is a contra question, whether it is wise to do that in the streets of Belgrade and Novi Sad? As a third similarity I could mention the Lebanese national football team (they do not have a national stadium), but about that I will not write now (fans know why).
As of every experience some lessons can also be learnt here. In which way has this trip helped me? It has helped me to overcome all prejudice toward this world. Europeans say – Oh, these people are rude; and what about us (and this is true for the rest of Europe too), the most famous shows are shows like The Farm, Big Brother … When older people get on a bus or train in which there are no more free seats, almost all young people turn their heads away (even in Germany). We say they are dangerous. Just look at our high schools where students beat teachers or fan (sport) groups terrorize entire cities. After meeting local young people, I have realized that we have very similar problems. Being normal is not fancy. I suggest to everyone to take the advantage of the opportunity and go there. You should not believe me or to others, you should „feel“ the soul of Lebanon on your own skin. That world is not better or worse than ours, just different and in its own unique way, wonderful. This is my message to you and this is the reason for my involvement to this text.
Although I spent only three months there, I earned experience for three lives, not to talk about friends. After two years (in December it will be two years from my return) I have only now found the answer to the question if I am crazy, stupid…etc. Someone else, privileged. I had the privilege to get acquainted with an amazing land and its amazing people. When I call some stories, excursions or my friends from Lebanon to my mind I feel homesick like in the way I think of my family and friends in Serbia or in general of Serbia. Although I left the company in the meantime through which I was there – and almost a year looking for new challenges in Germany (which is undoubtedly more developed than Lebanon but can not be put in a line with it) – through Facebook, Skype and WhatsApp I am always in touch with my Lebanese. Among the first they congratulate me for Christmas, my birthday. They always aks when I’ll be back, and my answer is always the same – I live for that day because my Lebanese story is not over yet!