MB had not traveled to Lebanon since the financial meltdown of recent years and the August 2020 Beirut Port bomb blast. But in recent months, he received an invitation to the wedding of a young friend and work colleague and found himself on a 29 December flight to Beirut for the wedding festivities on following day.
Since MB’s last visit, Lebanon has changed.
The collapsed currency means that when you exchange 200 or 300 USD or Euro, you receive in return, (assuming you use a black market dealer and not some rip-off governmental controlled exchange) a very fat wedge of Lebanese pounds. In times past the same wedge would have been 5% of its current thickness, when the currency traded at 1,500 to the USD. Now, it’s hovering around 30,000; a loss of 95% of its value. Those that have access to foreign currency are doing well, such as relatives of those working overseas, which is, thankfully, a substantial portion of the country, maybe 40% of the population. For the remainder, however, life is a desperate struggle to make ends meet. The average Lebanese army soldier, for example, now takes home the equivalent of USD 30 per month, when previously his salary was worth USD 600. With many goods and services priced in dollars, the struggle is easily imagined.
Mostly, there is no electricity. On a good day, the governmental electricity company can supply 2 to 3 hours of power. After that, businesses and the public at large, depend on diesel generators to supply light, work their air conditioning, or whatever. When the electricity is out, naturally enough, there are no working traffic lights. It’s surreal to drive around a darkened capital city of some 2M people at nighttime with drivers playing chicken at every traffic intersection. Bigger or faster cars have right of way, smaller slower cars await their turn, seems to be the general rule.
People with education and skills are leaving in droves, to any country that will have them. And with the Lebanese Passport being one of the worst on the planet, the choices are limited. The Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar are especially popular. MB had a sad interaction with the immigration official which sums up the whole Lebanon situation.
MB hands his Passport to Passport Official (PO). PO scans the passport onto the system and looks carefully at it. And looks some more. And some more. And more.
MB is starting to wonder what the problem is and the people in the queue behind MB are getting a tad annoyed that MB is holding up the entire show. MB is thinking of many things that could be wrong. He worked in Saudi Arabia for a few years, and now Saudi and Labanon are having a bit of a spat about political issues. And other stuff.
Finally PO says to MB………
“Yes?” replies MB quizically.
“How can I get a job in your country and travel there?”
‘Phew’ – thinks MB to himself.
“Well my young friend, I see you are working all this IT Security technology here today, so I suggest you go online and try to get a job with one of the big IT/Social Media companies who are all hiring like crazy in Ireland. With your IT skills, MB is sure they will snap you up. Then try to get a working visa” says MB, giving the young lebanese lad some hope for his future, probably false hope, given the Passport situation.
[For the benefit of HX followers, the Passport of North Korea gets you ‘visa on arrival’ at more countries than a Lebanese Passport. Seriously. Reason – that’s a whole other story!]
“Actually Sir, I am not an IT professional, I am an Interior Architect.” – replied PO, looking pleadingly into the eyes of MB.
MB then threw PO a few construction company suggestions in Qatar, which PO could google and try to submit his CV.
After that final suggestion, which PO scribbled down on a piece of scrap paper beside the Passport Scanning Machine, MB and PO said adieu to each other and bon chance.
MB discovered a few days later that immigration officials in Lebanon, such as PO, are earning the equivalent of approximately USD 15 to 20 per month.
MB was sad for PO.
And for Lebanon.
But the wedding was great fun. It lifted spirits. It was a mixed-Muslim wedding, between a Shia boy and a Sunni girl. Such mixed weddings happen frequently in Labanon, but not in any country outside, or very rarely, as far as MB is aware. Lebanon is mostly a tolerant country, with all religions living side by side and in peace. They have moved on from the days of the civil war, thankfully. And in that sense, they are an example to their neighbours.
In the following video, which MB shot at the start of the wedding party, followers can see and hear traditional drummers and musicians welcome the bride and groom to the wedding ceremony – welcoming them in a special way to their new life together. This special welcome ceremony is called the Zaffe (Arabic word). Its all a bit crazy and noisy but very atmospheric and great fun.
As followers can also see, the dress style is very modern, with many wearing western-style dress, reflecting the open Lebanese mentality and the fact that the young couple getting married, family and friends are not religiously very conservative. The guests are a mix of religions. Apart from the lively Arabic music, it would be difficult to say which country, region or religion this service belongs to. It could even be an Irish wedding!
Best wishes to Adel and Meerna for their future life together. Thanks for the invitation!