domingo, 15 de mayo de 2011

Welcome to Lebanon

When you walk the streets of Lebanon, people will greet you in a million ways. Some examples are:
  • MarHaba (Hi)
  • Kifik? (How are you? for a girl)
  • Sabah al khair/nour (Good morning/afternoon)
  • Bonjour (if you are in the Christian side)
I am sure there is a hidden key to which one is the most appropriate, depending on the person you are talking to, but I personally mostly use MarHaba since it generally applies to everyone, no matter what time of the day it is.

What really intrigued me since I got here was that people will 9 times out of 10 reply "Ahlan" or "Ahlan Wa Sahlan". However, people also say "Ahlan" when you come in a shop, when you ask for something, and when you say "Thank you". So I figured out that "Ahlan" was the equivalent of "You are welcome".

However, like everything in Arabic, I knew there was something more to it than the simple straightforward English "You are welcome". So I asked a Lebanese friend and did a bit of research online and this is what I found:

"Ahlan" literally means "family, kinfolk."
"Sahlan" literally means "easy". So '
Sahlan' might refer to something equivalent to "May you tread an easy path (as you enter)."

Another explanation I found read: "The word 'Ahlan' means something like "You arrived among your family", or as we sometimes say "Make yourself at home". It's the same idea : with us you're home, you're in your family. It an expression of hospitality and friendliness.

I know that many times I use words automatically without meaning them. Or even worse, I hear things without really reflecting upon what they mean. Recently, a very wise person told me that the highest thing one can do for another is to welcome that person with respect and love. And when I heard that, it dawned on me that people in Lebanon have been welcoming me as their family every day, in every encounter.

I have written before about Lebanese hospitality which already blows my mind. So this little word "Ahlan" has truly transformed my experience in Lebanon and my experience of the Lebanese. How generous is it to welcome someone they don't know with the respect and love they would offer a family member? And how can they say "You are in your family" to a total stranger?

For a foreigner, who has been taught to mistrust strangers, this is a revolutionary concept. By learning to apply it, I can see how this will improve the quality of my interactions and the overall quality of my life in Lebanon. I will also maybe loosen up a bit and not be so stressed out or focus on the differences between "them" and "me".

What a paradigm shift! I walk among my family in Lebanon... The challenge is "Will I be able to drop the BS and truly welcome them back?" I think it is definitely worth trying.

sábado, 7 de mayo de 2011

Snogging in Lebanon

Lebanon, like Mexico, is a rather conservative country.

Do not be fooled by the nine inch heals, leather pants and cleavages. Girls and boys in Lebanon behave in public. PDA is not appropriate. I wouldn't say that it is as conservative as how I have heard the countries in the Gulf are, i.e. not even hand holding is permitted.

Here in Lebanon, it just doesn't happen that much. You would see the occasional snogging couple in a club, but it is still rare.

It sort of reminds me of my teenage years in Mexico. You see in Mexico, as in Lebanon, people live with their parents till they get married. But that doesn't mean that you don't have a boyfriend/girlfriend. Or that you don't have needs. Especially as a teenager. So, yup, the car is usually the only opportunity you get. Parked in a dark corner, or next to a park... It's not like you are going to do it at your parent's house. Come on... Who hasn't done it??

Lately, I have heard of some underground snogging scene... the "Lover's lane" they call it. It is in the Dbayeh area, a bit North of Beirut. This area was planned to attracts developers, so the town invested in roads and all. But somehow the developers didn't come, so it remains this big open space. And since in Beirut there aren't loads of parks, people have reclaimed this space for running, walking around and yes... snogging.

Last night at a friend's house, a friend told me that she used to go to Dbayeh at night and park behind the cars, and then turn the lights on. I thought of this as a bit mean but also hilarious. Pfewww, that's the worst feeling. When you think you got caught. But that doesn't stop you from doing it!

Another place where I have heard some action happens is near Pigeon Rock. One can see some teenagers in the area snogging, far away from the eyes of pedestrians. Teenagers from all religions that is. Which makes me smile, since teenagers will always be teenagers, not matter where they come from. Maybe we can learn from them to be a bit more fearless. To do those things that are a bit risky, but that gives us a sense of adventure. Even if that means getting caught in a bit of an embarrassing situation...