Posted on January 13, 2022
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!
Posted on August 8, 2020
Sofia, Maria and family recently celebrated Fathers Day, and the arrival of Maria’s first tooth! Next week, Maria will celebrate her first birthday. As followers can see in the below photos, Sofia & Maria look like most young sisters the world over, oblivious to the world around them. And thankfully, oblivious to the troubles around them at present, which are manifold in their passport homeland of Lebanon. Read More
Posted on June 26, 2020
Posted on June 3, 2020
Posted on March 7, 2020
Posted on December 6, 2019
Posted on November 15, 2019
Been a while since MB wrote about anything other than cheery weekend thoughts and photo challenges. Day-1 of the Middle East weekend is now upon MB and he is sipping coffee in a Doha coffee shop, having just wolfed back a warm chocolate tart. All, generally speaking, is good with the world. A short trip to the UK is imminent (of which more anon), and two weeks back home for Christmas break is eagerly awaited.
MB has been following the US Democratic Party primaries in recent weeks, watching lots of it on YouTube, and actually mentioned one of the candidates in a HX blog post of mid-September, related to Artificial Intelligence. As MB followers of old would expect, same candidate went from zero to hero in the following weeks and managed to raise USD 10M in a month. In the last week alone he has raised over USD 1M. So it seems that when MB gives a should-out, miracles are possible!
MB just watched a YouTube video of the same candidate, which is approx 1 hour long, but extremely engrossing. If there is a smarter guy running for the White House who understands the issues of the day, and how they might be solved, MB is unaware. MB will go a step further, and state – there is not (unless MB enters the race!). This guy is the real deal, and MB (again) wishes him well.
Back in the Middle East, there is much bubble, bubble, toil & trouble. MB has many Lebanese friends who are stressed out to a man and a woman at present. Past political mistakes have allowed rampant corruption and now chickens are coming home to roost. The people, regardless of their religious affiliations, which in the past might have kept them in check, are protesting at their poverty, lack of opportunity, and more recently at the failure of banks to allow full access to people’s own funds and to introduce ‘rationing’ of cash. The corrupt politicians are making matters worse every time they open their corrupt mouths and are pouring fuel on the fire. Recent days have seen matters regress further and most are fearful for their futures.
A similar story is unfolding in Iraq with the population protesting violently for the same reasons. However, the Iraqi army are far more trigger-happy than the Lebanese, and hundreds of protesters are dead.
Related to the above stories, and never written of previously by MB he thinks, is a very prevalent theory amongst Arab nationals. When things are going badly, one will hear many of one’s Arab friends blame “outside forces” who “control” their region (USA, Israel, the West generally). This ‘theory’ is obviously the easy option, so it’s grabbed with both hands by the locals. When you ‘know’ that ‘outside forces’ are in ‘control’ then you never have to look in the mirror and ask yourself any serious questions. In no other location that MB has ever traveled to has he heard locals so vocally blame others for their own troubles and mistakes. The coincidence of people’s protests in Iraq and Lebanon at corruption and poor governance in recent weeks was evidenced by an Arab friend to MB last week as yet further proof of “outside forces” pulling the strings and “controlling” the region. Strooth!
So dear followers have a good weekend.
Regards from MB.
Posted on October 4, 2019
Posted on March 29, 2019
Approximately two years back, with the permission of parents E&R, MB started to chronicle the life of baby Sofia. Post Nr 1 was on the occasion of her Christian baptism. The idea was, and is, to record her life and its bigger moments, against the backdrop of the political situation in the Middle East. Two more posts followed subsequently. Read More
Posted on December 5, 2018
HX Report has followed the progress of baby Sofia since her birth on 10 February 2017.
Sofia is the daughter of Lebanese parents R&E who are friends of MB, all earning their crust in Doha, Qatar. It’s MB’s intention to chronicle the life of Sofia in the years ahead as she grows up in the crazy Middle East, against the backdrop of regional shenanigans. Read More
Posted on May 4, 2018
Soon after Sofia’s birth over one year back, MB agreed with Lebanese parents R&E that he would chronicle Sofia’s life in the years ahead. She is the firstborn to R&E, and to date is not joined by additional siblings. On 10 February 2018, she was one year old. Already Sofia has been the subject of three of MB’s past blog posts, the most recent being a post on her Christian baptism.
R&E, continue to work in peaceful and prosperous Doha, Qatar, and are building a new house back in their Koura/north Lebanon home region where they and Sofia will one day return. The shell of the house is now complete and the more expensive internal finishings will soon start. Architect mom R will spend her 2-week August vacation painting arty pictures on the internal walls, as she informed MB in recent days.
The Middle East continues to provide a crazy backdrop to Sofia’s early life. Syria and Yemen remain in war-ravaged chaos. Neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan struggle financially and socially under the weight of displaced Syrian war refugees. Lower level extremist violence continues in Iraq and elsewhere. Qatar, where MB & R&E abide, remains under a non-sensical travel and economic blockade by (unneighbourly) neighbours UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. There is no end in sight to that particular saga. Recent comments from a senior Saudi politician maintained the high temperature, commenting that if the US closed its Qatar air base, Qatar would not last long, implying a Saudi-led invasion. The US, UK & France bombed Syrian government installations only a few weeks back in response to an alleged gas attack by the Syrian government on a rebel-controlled Damascus suburb. MB says ‘alleged’ on account of the fact that there is no actual proof, and international inspectors have not yet released their findings. An Independent newspaper article by reporter Robert Fisk makes for interesting reading in that regard.
Sofia remains oblivious to all the regional nonsense that goes on about her. At 13 months, she started to walk, cocking a snook of sorts to all the madness. A few weeks back, she travelled back home with mom R to visit happy grandparents and extended family. MB’s first below photo was provided by mom R from that trip. The second is from her recent birthday party.
Belated 1st birthday wishes to Miss Sofia from MB!
Posted on October 4, 2017
The ruins of ancient Byblos look quite pedestrian today. The history of Byblos is far from pedestrian however and is worth a read and some research if you have the time.
The below shot was taken during MB’s recent trip to Lebanon when he attended a wedding next to the ancient ruins. The shot even features three pedestrians!
Posted on September 22, 2017
A number of months back, MB welcomed baby Sofia into the world via one of his blog posts, mom & dad (R&E) being friends on MB, hailing from the Khoura region of northern Lebanon, but working in recent years (and presently) in Qatar. Read More
Posted on September 15, 2017
MB has some external shots of the Crusader Castle at Byblos, Lebanon, somewhere in his photo library, from a previous visit of a few years back, but he is too lazy to search for them. So, for today’s Foto Friday post, MB gives HX followers some shots that he took last week, from atop the castle, of the surrounding countryside, without any shots of the actual castle itself.
Some of the views are quite typical of the Lebanese coastline, countryside, and townscapes. Read More
Posted on September 8, 2017