As soon as I moved to Lebanon, people inside and out asked me when I would leave. “How long are you here for?” locals prodded. I’d shrug my shoulders and tell them I didn’t know. “I guess I’ll leave when it feels right…?”
Well, I guess now feels right, or, greater opportunities have arisen. I moved with my boyfriend Matias to his home country of Norway.
It’s not how I came to Lebanon — following my love that is. Remember, I came here with “no money, no plan, no man” and full of confidence because of it.
The months leading up to college graduation in 2011, everyone nervously asked each other “What are you going to do after college?” I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew where I wanted to be: Beirut. I was true to myself as you always should be, and although I booked my life-changing one-way ticket a full week before I had the guts to tell my mom, I knew it was what I needed to do to fulfill my dream.
These years in Lebanon proved to be a huge stepping stone in my life. A period of transformation. I moved here when I was 22 and I’m leaving at 25. I can’t speak for everyone, but those were defining years for me. I experienced a lot of firsts that continue to shape who I am and forever will.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, then ended up starting my copywriting career. I doubt it’ll be this simple everywhere else.
When I found my apartment, I scrubbed the dirty dust-caked space myself on my hands and knees. I bargained the rent down from $600 a month to $500 with only my cuteness, and word on the street is it’s going for $1300 now that I’m gone.
I lived on my own for the first time, in my own space that with the help of a wonderful roommate, built up and furnished. I paid rent to a concierge who invited me into his 9-m room for tea as I handed over the cash each and every month.
I paid my own monthly bills. I went on work outings with my Lebanese crew. I was awarded my first ever promotion and fought for my first raise. I made business trips to Dubai. I budgeted my money. To me, these are all essentially ‘adult’ things and I hadn’t done them anywhere before, but doing them the Lebanese way added a unique flavor to it all.
Learning how to navigate life on my own there made me so strong, so capable, and so competent — and a little wily too. I had to call the electricity guy to fix my blacked-out house after I dropped a power adapter and blew the whole apartment’s electro — in a language that I hadn’t mastered.
Running out of water during a dinner party, just to call the water guy who would not show up until the next night kept me on my toes.
Giving directions to the delivery guys was always complicated with a changing restaurant downstairs, you know, because directions only consist of landmarks. And screaming at him on the phone without being hung up on was a shock at the same time I realized my own strength.
Scheduling my life around daily 3-hour electricity cuts forced adventure and stress on me that have made me more accommodating and flexible.
Descending 4 flights of stairs (5 if you consider the ground floor the 1st floor) to stop at the vegetable shop, the butcher shop, the bread shop, and the regular corner store for a meal then ascending said stairs is normal. I like that. It makes me feel alive and full of purpose.
It’s been hard not to see my friends from home and family more than once a year. And it’s hard to live in a place that many Americans are afraid to visit or just can’t afford the $1k ticket to. I feel like that also made me tough, if not too tough, to live happily without my family even remotely close.
But I felt loved in Lebanon. The catcalls and stares on the streets didn’t fill me with joy, but according to people living in NYC they’re relatively tame. I loved when the grocery people told me they missed me after taking a day off from shopping. And I would just die when my nun-neighbor squeezed my whole body and squealed in her angelic voice “Adriana, I love you!”
Even though we complained that our street became a party, I liked passing all the pubs where the bartenders would peek out and insist we take a shot together.
It’s a sweet inconvenience to budget 10-15 extra minutes into a walking commute because you’re going to run into so many friends and acquaintances and stop to chat with them along the way.
And the food, oh the food, really does taste better. The cured spicy olives someone’s mother made, the pickles someone’s aunty makes, the succulent lamb that melts in your mouth. Tomatoes actually have a flavor. We eat raw green nuts as snacks! I never even knew nuts were green… Weird leaves and grasses prove to be delicious when prepared right. And once again I bow down to the deity of olive oil.
I’m not sure I’ll miss ground beef always tasting like Lebanese spices even when I ask for it unspiced. Or if I can’t help but love really awesome water pressure. Now those inconveniences seem exotic.
Early on I understood that Lebanon offered me opportunities I couldn’t have had the luxury to explore in other places. In NYC or Miami or whatever I’m not sure you can just start a live radio show in a bar with your friend and have the country’s most famous pop-singers stop by and perform for you without it even being a deal — in your first two months of your first show ever.
Do they even have radio studios in bars anywhere else?
I knew that being a Western foreigner is far different from being a local when it comes to some opportunities. Lebanon is kind of like the ‘mini real world’ in that speaking native English and having a foreign passport means you can get a job that’s regarded as HIGHLY competitive anywhere else very easily. I hate to say it, but I was hired as a Livingsocial copywriter and soon after promoted to ‘senior’ copywriter which would have been nearly impossible anywhere else — all because I wrote with a bit of wit and proper English.
I don’t want to sound pompous; I want to acknowledge the privilege I tasted there and express my gratitude.
Lebanon was also a wild, exhilarating place to live. I capitalized on a ‘freedom’ I never felt in the most ‘free’ of countries. Rules hardly applied. Rolling up to a drive-through bar where your Amaretto Sour is encased in a plastic cup with a top and a straw for a convenient ‘cruise’ in the mountains is dangerous sure, but incredibly fun.
Speed limits don’t exist and traffic lights are basically a novelty.
When you spent your last lira’s on overpriced phone credits but still want to buy your groceries you just tell ‘your uncle’ at the counter and he’ll remember your debt. When you start to put items back because you can’t afford it, your “uncle” gets offended and demands you add it to the debt. You’ll pay when you can. In Lebanon if someone has a problem with you it’s personally resolved — maybe with some bargaining.
Anything can be ordered and delivered. Anywhere, anytime.
Essentially, Living La Vida Lebanon is a great way to push boundaries you’d get in trouble to push elsewhere.
I never watched many movies at home before I moved, but when the DVD shop in the Armenian neighborhood sells everything past, present, and currently in theaters for less than $1 a lifestyle of movie-viewing blossoms. And hey, a new study just came out proclaiming watching movies as a couple strengthens and elongates relationships.
It was in Lebanon that I found the love of my life, Mr. Matias! I got a kick out of the fact that with him I could do some of the sketchy things I wanted to do but was concerned for my safety.
On our first ‘date’ which was just a walk through Geitawi and Karm al Zeitoun, we stumbled upon a small tin shed on a hill overlooking the highway. Two very old men popped out and invited us in to eat with them. I wanted to, but alarm bells sound in my head when two old men want me, a young perky 20-something, in their house. I looked at Matias and he was willing without a second thought and I knew that he could be my partner in crime.
I got the chance to fall in absolute complete love against the backdrop of a raw, beautifully chaotic city with no other cultural norms to dance around. Where else would I feel so free and uninhibited and non-judgemental to have Jorgen as our (loving and welcomed) third wheel!?
Now, together, we’ve left Lebanon, and honestly, I wanted to. Things are unravelling in the worst ways and the atmosphere is tense. Six suicide and car bombs in six weeks is horrifying and once again I have the luxury to leave, which I am grateful for.
I came and stayed because the excitement and pleasure of living in Beirut was so incomparably greater than that of anywhere else I had ever been.
And now things are a bit too dangerous in my opinion for me to feel as safe as I once did, and maybe I’m also discovering I am a wanderer who needs to move every few years.
I’m ready to peace out and can only look back and think how lucky I was to be there. I’m moving to Norway because Matias was offered a ‘deal he can’t refuse’ running an extreme sports TV channel and I love him so much that I’ve gone with him.
But Norway ain’t no Lebanon — they are polar opposites. Yet, I have hope that I’ll finagle my way into doing something cool once again. It’s scary to throw myself into the traditional ‘rat race’ that is finding a proper job in a country full of extremely qualified people competing for the same positions in a very regulated society. This time my language skills make me under-qualified.
And the fact that I cannot illegally overstay my visa and just pay a fee every six months is going to be an adjustment. My dance with corruption was fun, but that party is over now.
Leaving Lebanon marks the end of an era for me. I like to think I came, I saw, and I conquered. When it comes to living up your happiest, most exciting life when you can, I’ve been kicking ass at that and Beirut is very much to blame. To much more. Lebanon, I love you, thank you, and please stay safe!
Lastly, in Beirut I was able to tie together my passion for food with fun and adventurous video making. Once again incredible star chefs welcomed me into their kitchens to show me what delicious food the city is dishing out. Here is the cooking show we made called Something’s Cooking in Beirut, our attempt to portray how diverse, talented, and even funny the food world can be!
Electric Youth, cherished in my heart for their dreamy electro sound and renowned for their song ‘A Real Hero’ on the Drive soundtrack, just released a video for ‘Runaway’ which is directed by Noel Paul and cast and shot in Lebanon.
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