Oh, the places we go: Beirut

Photo courtesy/Hayley Miller

By Hayley Miller, News Correspondent

I am writing this guest column to you from a bunker right outside of Beirut, Lebanon. Grenades are constantly whizzing by my head as I make my way to class. Everywhere I turn women in burqas surround me, judging me for exposing my hair and illegally streaming “Teen Mom.” Oh, and there is a dusty, landmine-ridden desert all around me, as far as the eye can see. This is what I’ve come to expect as my daily routine in this God-forsaken country. Jeepers, this place really is just like Western media makes it look!

In actuality, the only bunker I’ve been in here is one that has been turned into an after-hours dance club. Beirut couldn’t be any more Western if there were a McDonald’s right across the street from the main gate of my university – oh wait, there is.

While the city maintains a certain authenticity, Western influence emanates everywhere, from its unavoidable American food chains to its huge downtown Virgin Megastore. In fact, Beirut is a little too Western for my liking. I am thoroughly enjoying the nightlife, food and beaches, but practicing my Arabic (everyone speaks English and French on top of Arabic) and immersing myself in a new culture (even the old man in the taxi is playing Britney Spears’ latest auto-tuned wonder) has been, at times, a challenge.

I can’t tell you how many people asked me if I was going to have to wear a burqa while I was abroad. I’ve seen maybe 20 women in my two months here so far in burqas. For a group of people the American media portrays as so conservative and extreme, the Lebanese are certainly little hedonists by night. The nightlife here is rich to say the least, and much more commonly (and outwardly) incorporates hard drugs, sunrises and something called a doo doo shot – an ever-popular shot containing tequila, tobasco sauce and an olive – vomit.

The women here are as beautiful and exposed as any sorority sister on a Saturday night, only their dress is actually Prada and they are still sporting bandages from the nose job they got earlier that day.

One aspect of Western culture that doesn’t exist here? Bros. There are no Lebanese bros. It’s a beautiful thing.

One thing that holds true from a Western perspective – it’s a no-Jew zone. American University of Beirut is a haven for discussing issues such as Israel with little paranoia. However, even inside university gates, I wouldn’t recommend suggesting in any way that you are Jewish or have been to Israel. It just can’t happen. For example, my original roommate asked to switch rooms before we had even arrived because she assumed I was from Israel and Jewish based on a Facebook picture she had seen. (Oops, my bad for not removing those before friending her, though. Especially since, you know, it turned out she’s from Palestine). Long story short, I’m neither of those things, but she switched anyway.

My new roommate is an awesome Norwegian who shares in my fascination of crappy Nicholas Cage movies. Winning! I also have a Lebanese friend here who is the nicest guy in the world – when he’s not discussing his hatred for all Jews and his commitment to Hezbollah. Really. As the Beatles once sang, Hey, you’ve got to hide your Jew away. Or something like that.

I have learned so much in just two short months. The food here is amazing (think hummus, lamb kabobs, shwarma, falafel, etc. all for $2 or less). My university is challenging and the students are well read and intelligent. And the men, well, they’re sleazy, but at least they are good-looking and speak French and Arabic, oh la la.

All in all, it’s an exciting time to be living in the Middle East where it seems every country around me is literally in the midst of a revolution. Lucky for me, Lebanon doesn’t currently have a government in place to revolt against.


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