Samstag, 26. Dezember 2015

Syria in Beirut

In Beirut, Syria is everywhere. It's just 50 kilometres to the border, and 100 to Damascus. Syria is not far, and Syria is here. 

I had been told to be careful, told not to mention that my husband comes from Syria. I was careful for a few days, but everyone here asked about him. Abuk lubnani? Zowjik lubnani? (Is your father Lebanese? Is your husband Lebanese? ... because what else would bring anyone to Lebanon?!) No, he's not Lebanese, he's Syrian. La, huwa suri. I was not going to lie. I mean, come on. 

And the response, again and again, was ou ana suri, ana suriye (I am Syrian, too). 

Followed by a big smile. 

Ou ana suri. 

And Syria was everywhere. It was the big, black Landrover parked in front of a block of flats in Sanayeh, Syrian license plate. The young man who works for a local NGO who came to Beirut when he couldn't stay in Syria any more. The beggars on Hamra Street, young women, old women, almost always with children, toddlers, babies who run barefoot on the dirty pavement. The shopkeeper and his wife, who have been living in Lebanon for 30 years. The taxi driver with the toothless smile. The AUB student with the excellent GPA. The doctor who, when he needs help, speaks to the policemen in English because he knows they won't be as helpful if a young men with a Syrian accent approaches them. Layali and her daughter who live in Beirut now after having spent seven years in Abu Dhabi where Layali's husband's company had send him. Naya who says she can't go shopping with me because if the shopkeepers hear her Syrian accent, they will charge her double the price. The waiters at the Syrian restaurant where the most delicious Syrian food is served, the restaurant that makes its owner rich while 30 of his employees live together in one apartment, work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep, and the family is still in Syria.

Syria is everywhere in Beirut, if you look closely, if you care to listen.

Syria is here, when fighting breaks out in Tripoli, close to the border. They say you can hear the bombs targeting Aleppo on the highway leading north. It's a small country, the borders are never far.

Syria is here, when a bomb explodes in Dahiye, in South Beirut, where the Shia live, because Hizbollah fights on Assad's side, and ISIS fights Assad, and ISIS does not like Shia. 

Syria is here, when you speak with Halima, a Lebanese artist and women's rights activist, about the Lebanese civil war, and you say that in a way Syria has become the new Lebanon, and she says, no, shakes her head, and says no, Syria is much worse, much worse. With tears in her eyes, this strong, composed, confident woman, who has lived through the Lebanese civil war, with tears in her eyes, she repeats, no, Lebanon was never like this, Syria is worse.

Syria is here, when you sit in the park with your friend Lina, the kids play, its a sunny day in December, and it's beautiful here in the park. You need to make a phone call, and while you're on the phone she receives a call, too. Is everything ok, Lina? It was her family from Aleppo, who just wanted to tell her they are fine. A missile has hit their street, many people died, but their house was not hit, they are alive, they are not hurt, even though many people died, many children, the children... I need to tell my husband and my sister they are fine, and she starts typing on her smartphone. You would not want them to hear on the news their family's street was hit without knowing their house was spared, you would not want them to worry. She was fine until I started to cry. I cry, she cries, Syria was there, on the bench, in the park, Syria was in Beirut.

And Syria is the man at the local corner shop, who greets you with a smile and a friendly keif al-hal? keifek? (how are you?) every time you pass by, who reacts faster than you when Lieschen is sick next to their shop one summer day, it might have been the heat, or maybe something else. Almost every day you see him, the neighbourhood wouldn't be the same without him, and one day he asks you, mineen inti (where are you from?) and you say min Almaniya (from Germany), and since he asked, you can ask, too, and the response is, of course, ana suri (I'm Syrian). Min Haleb (from Aleppo). 'albi bi Suria, he says, my heart is in Syria, and there he stands in front of you, this rock of a man, holds his hand to where his heart is and he cries. 

'albi bi Suria, and in Beirut Syria is everywhere.

Mittwoch, 19. August 2015

A different kind of diversity

Of cultural diversity in Beirut.
African and Asian migrant workers. Their children. And my child. 
So how is Beirut? It's hot, it's humid, it's busy, it's crowded ... full of people who could hardly be more different. If you know anything about Lebanon's capital, if you have only read one or two poorly researched articles you'll know that there are 18 different officially recognised sects in Lebanon, that there are Muslims, Christians, Druze who call this city home, that you have more Christian sects in this country than you could probably ever name from the top of your head ... even if you identify as a Christian yourself. There are Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Syrian-Orthodox Christians, Catholic ones, Maronites ... to name just a few. There are different religious sects, different socio-economic classes, people who speak French fluently and others who hardly know a handful of words of English. There are those who live in London, Paris, Washington or Dubai for most of the year and those who have perhaps never left the city they were born in. And that's just the Lebanese. Add to that Syrians, many of whom recently sought refuge in the country, and Palestinians, the majority of whom have been here for much longer.
But that's not the only way in which Beirut is diverse. One stroll on one of the capital's streets, and you'd have to be blind not to notice all those African and Asian faces. Beirut is Eritrean, it's Nigerian, and Filipino. It's the African housemaid, the Asian nanny. Some of them in gingham uniforms, others in their regular clothes, they often accompany families of the upper middle class when they take their kids to the park or a walk by the seaside.
Doing research as a European in a country like Lebanon can be challenging. You don't really speak the language, you're not used to the heat, and things are different than at home. You are different.
Doing research with a child is even more difficult. Or so I thought. I didn't think I could just drag along ze baby to my interviews so I started looking for childcare. On a student budget. Ha ha, she's ambitious, that woman!
But I found something. In a centre run by an NGO providing all sorts of support services to Asian and African migrant workers living in Lebanon. They were kind enough to agree to let ze baby stay for whenever I needed someone to look after her for a couple of hours.
So that's how ze baby ended up spending a few hours every week with a group of little African and Asian kids. Originally from Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, or half Asian, half Arab, most of them have been in Lebanon for the majority of their life. They speak Arabic, some English (which is the language of communication in the centre) and sometimes also the language of their parents, be it Hindi, Tamil, Tagalog or Filipino.
That's how ze baby ended up spending a few hours every week with all the other children, and that's how I ended up hearing all those stories.
About recent changes in the law that don't allow maids, cooks, cleaners and nanies from Africa or Asia to keep their children. They don't get the residence permit they'd need to stay, so eventually the kids are being sent "back home", a country many of them don't know, where a language is spoken many of them have never learnt, or at least not properly.
About how much the children love that they can run around, sing and shout in the centre. Because at home, in their parents' employers' home, they are told to be quiet, not to disturb the employers with their laughter and their shouting - noise, disruption, not wanted, stop it please, can you be quiet now?!
About how some parents before they found the centre just locked the children alone at home until they were back from work in the afternoon.
Because doing research with a child is difficult, and working with a child is difficult, too. Childcare is expensive and hard to find, the European researcher from the UK knows that as much as the Sri Lankan cook in Lebanon. Or maybe not as much. But she knows, too.
And so ze baby plays and sings and paints with the other little kids. And while I sit there and look at them I can't help but think how much they are the same, children, funny, laughing, quite adorable most of the time and simply annoying from time to time, and how much they differ. They are five, six, seven, eight now and all play together, but Lieschen, just because of the place she was born in, the family she grew up in, the country the nationality whose nationality she holds, has the opportunity to such a different life. All the same yet still so different. That's Beirut, that's also Beirut.

Freitag, 24. Juli 2015

Beirut is...

After four days...

Beirut is hot. Beirut is humid. Beirut is big and busy.

It is old houses and modern buildings, broad highways and narrow streets.

Beirut is Hamra and it is all those people who are extra friendly to the German hijabi. Are they Sunni? Or just generally friendly?

Beirut is bushes of pink majnounieh, those flowers I know from Palestine. 

It is people advising me not to tell others that I have worked in Palestine or that my husband is Syrian because politics ... and me talking about it anyway because what the heck.

Beirut is full of Syrians, young people, families, poor rich, big cars with Syrian number plate parked outside of the 5 star hotel, and Ahmad who is going to the camps in the North, where thousands of Syrians are living surviving.

Beirut is Sanayeh with all its greenery. An urban jungle. Trees, bushes, palm trees, flowers. Green against the yellow and grey of the houses. Beirut is beautiful.

Beirut is the current waste management crisis, communication between the municipality and its waste collection company going wrong. 

Beirut is secretly guessing which sectarian group he / she / they belong to ... as if it mattered. It is seeing a cross, a picture of the Dome of Rock, a painting of Nasrallah, a hijab worn a certain way and  thinking 'aaaaaaah!'.

Beirut is sitting in a restaurant near the sea and realising that, even sitting so close to the water, does not really bring any relief from the heat.

It is sitting in a café with a former combattant, speaking about his past and the reconciliation work he is involved in now, before he buys Lieschen a fresh orange juice.

Beirut is full of foreigners. It is meeting an American-Lebanese family who used to live in Germany on the playground, it is Syrians, Syrians, everywhere, it is Italian tourists in Gemmayzeh, French volunteers in Dawrah, and all those Africans, Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Indians and Thais who came here for work.

Beirut is haggling with the servis drivers and making use of all those tricks you learned in Palestine. 

It is answering again and again, 'where are you from?', 'are you Muslim?', 'are you married to a Muslim?'.

Beirut is seeing, from your roof-top balcony, a mosque and a church ... and the sea.

Beirut is airconditioned rooms smelling of cigarette smoke.

Beirut is barely coping with the humidity and wondering how on earth they manage back in the days, without fan, no AC, God, what on earth did the French want here?! 

Beirut is hearing Arabic in the streets, English and French, marhaba, ahleen, kifak, ca va, yallah bye.


Currently doing fieldwork in Beirut. More pictures and texts to come inshaallah.

Montag, 23. Februar 2015

Wenn Muslime Christen in Pakistan schützen

"Habt Acht! Wer grausam und harsch gegenüber einer nicht-muslimischen Minderheit ist, ihre Rechte beschneidet, ihnen zu viel aufbürdet oder von ihnen stiehlt - ich [Muhammad] werde mich über diese Person [bei Gott] am Tage des Gerichts beschweren." [Hadith nach Abu Dawud]

Wir hören meistens nur die negativen Beispiele. Von Diskriminierung, Unterdrückung und Gewalt. Aber es gibt, immer, auch die andere Seite. Ganz unspektakulär das Zusammenleben im Alltag oder Aktionen, die aus dem Gleichgleich des Jedentags herausstechen. Christen in Pakistan sind vor allem eins - Pakistanis. Ihre Religion mögen sie nicht mit dem Großteil der Pakistanis, die Muslime sind, teilen, aber kulturell sind sie nichts anderes. Pakistanis. Umso schöner eine solche Geste, die (auch wenn von 2013, also nicht mehr ganz aktuell) genau das unterstreicht: Unsere Gemeinsamkeiten sind so viel größer als das, was uns trennt. Auch wenn ihr anders seid, stehen wir an eurer Seite und verteidigen auch eure Rechte. Davon bitte mehr, nicht nur in Pakistan! Hier geht's zum Link.

Samstag, 21. Februar 2015

Hallo Welt

...lange nicht mehr gesehen. Lange nicht mehr geschrieben, zumindest hier nicht.

Grade ein paar alte Texte durchgesehen und mich daran erinnert, wie sehr ich das Schreiben hier mochte. Und wenn ich mir die alten Texte so ansehe - irgendwie fehlt es mir.

Ich habe verdammt viel zu tun, mit der Promotion, Familie und anderen Sachen, aber vielleicht schaffe ich es ja ab demnächst doch wieder, regelmäßiger zu schreiben. Und wenn's auch nur ganz kurze Texte sind. Zu sagen gebe es so viel.