Ahla wa sahla! Welcome to Beirut!

Last Friday evening, I arrived in Beirut, Lebanon. Tired and sore from 15 hours of travel, I was anxious to pick up my luggage, get through customs, and find World Learning’s (the INGO I am interning with) Security Manager who was waiting with a driver to take me to my new home. As we drove from the airport to the apartment, I stared out the window – observing as much as I could – trying to find anything that would make this new and foreign city remind me of home.

Driving along the beach reminded me of both Ensenada, a coastal city in northern Mexico that I grew up driving through every time I visited family, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where I lived for three months a few years back. You see, lucky for me, I am able to call so many places home…making it a little easier to find comfort in new places.

I felt relieved as we pulled up to my apartment thinking this wouldn’t be so bad. So, naturally, I threw my suitcases on the floor, got the WiFi password, let my loved ones know I had arrived safely and soundly, and knocked out. It was around 6pm and I thought to myself, “I am so tired, if I sleep now I will wake up tomorrow morning and beat the jet lag!” NOPE. I woke up at around midnight. And the worst part? About an hour later, the power went out. This might actually be very bad.

I saw cellphone lights in the hallway and walked out to meet my roommates for the first time. FYI – this is a common thing in Lebanon. The power goes out at least once a day, but homes and businesses have back up generators. It’s supposed to come back quickly, but I was awake for seven long hours in pitch-black darkness.

I woke up at around 2pm on Saturday and settled in a little better, now that I had light to help me put my things away. When I was finally hungry, I decided I wanted dessert for breakfast at 5pm. So I walked around my neighborhood for a bit. Hamra. It is a quite popular neighborhood in Beirut. Filled with stores for just about anything you need as well as restaurants and cafes – busy and bustling.

But by Monday night, after having spent a few more long nights awake and my first day at my internship (where I met nearly 40 people), the unwelcome feeling of loneliness pervaded me. I was surrounded by so many people in such a busy city, but I felt so alone – so far away from my parents, my fiancé, my puppy, my friends… I mean, any personality test will tell you I am an extrovert (no, for real, I once scored 85% extrovert and 15% introvert), so this feeling was absolutely terrifying. I need people around me to thrive.

You’ll be happy to know, though, that apparently…so do Lebanese people. If I had to leave you with just one first impression of my time in Beirut so far (but I don’t, so don’t worry) it is how incredibly beautiful the people of Beirut are. In just my first week, my coworkers offered me their support in anything I might need, bought me lunch, included me in lunch time conversations and invited me out for coffee. They, themselves, admit to being social butterflies, and I am so grateful for that.

But beyond the very kind people, the history, the culture, and the food (OMG THE FOOD) of this city/country are also so special. From bullet holes in the buildings that survived the civil war (’75-’90) decorating the walls of cafes to the prayers from a nearby mosque  to the different kinds of  manousheh – there is always something to catch your attention. I can’t wait to experience all the things that in the future will make me say, “Ah, that reminds me of Beirut!”

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Picture: Downtown Beirut, just outside of the World Learning office (taken by me).

OH! I almost forgot – I talked about my awesome coworkers but hardly about my actual internship (which is why I’m here, right?). It was absolutely the cherry on top of a great first week. While it was a bit of a slow start with briefings on projects and such, it was so cool to know that the organization and my supervisors are a) pleased to have me on board for the summer and b) determined to make sure I get the most out of this experience. I have already been able to join two meetings with people in the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE), and have three more this week! What a rush!

So excited to keep you posted!

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