Living among the locals

Crashing Beirut over the weekend

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Lebanon

Beirut is just four hours by plane from Dubai, and the sudden announcement of a long weekend here in Dubai offered the perfect chance to plan a last minute trip to Lebanon’s magical capital.

To me, Beirut is more than just great nightlife and snowy mountainous terrains a mere hours drive from the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. The city offers a type of liberalism that didn’t lose its Arabic identity in favor of western ideologies.

This made the experience for me more than just about breaking the rules. It was more about being liberated while at the same time celebrating my Arab identity and heritage.

Looking back, I realize that I broke so many rules over the course of just two days, which would have otherwise had repercussions had I done so elsewhere in the region.

  1. Went to a gay bar

Usually, I’m not into clubbing and loud music, but I couldn’t have let that opportunity slide. I spent one of the most fun nights of my life at one of the city’s famous gay bars. In the Arab World, only Lebanon and perhaps the some countries of North Africa’s Maghreb region show some support to gay rights.

Homosexuality is still considered a crime by the Lebanese government, but Beirut is home to numerous NGOs that support young homosexuals throughout various stages of their lives.

Just a couple of months ago, the city saw its first Gay Pride, which, instead of the usual parade, consisted of exhibitions on gender fluidity in fashion, storytelling sessions that revolved around coming-out stories, and a gay-themes party in one of the night clubs.

  1. Bought banned books

You can’t imagine my ecstasy when I first laid eyes on the Egyptian author Nawal El Saadawi’s books in one of Beirut’s bookstores. At the time I was fascinated by her and was quite frustrated at the fact that only some of her books were available in Dubai and non in Egypt.

The majority of the region’s publishing houses are in Cairo and Beirut. Had it not been for the Lebanese capital, El Saadawi’s books would have disappeared from the Arab World.

I must admit, her writing is not the best I ever came across but I think she definitely offers a good sample of the region’s radical feminist views.

  1. Did some completely random flirting

I forgot to mention that during my visit to the gay bar and the local bookstore, I ended up pumping into two cute Lebanese guys. The one at the bookstore was well read and modest while the waiter from Bardo was a student nurse and probably a big playboy too.

The idea of giving my number to two random guys was very thrilling I must say. But, a few WhatsApp messages later, I acted like an Arab girl and they acted like Arab guys and it was a dead end from there.

  1. Stayed at a hostel

The very definition of a hostel in most parts of the region does not exist – and if it did it would not be safe. So staying at one in Beirut’s hostels was a blast. Not only did I love the place, the restaurant and the location.

Being located in the vibrant Gemmayzeh Street, my friends and I were able to walk to some of the city’s central districts like Rouche and Hambra Street.

  1. Drank beer in the street

I visited Beirut in late March and, despite the cooler evenings, the afternoons were still sunny. Drinking beer was very soothing not just in that I was breaking some rule but also because it was a relief from the warm weather.

I would not do it again in all honesty since I got looks from some passersby, but still it is far more acceptable than anywhere else in the region.

Yasmin Helal

About Yasmin Helal

Having lived in the GCC, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran, Yasmin is a journalist who enjoys writing travel and culture features.

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