10 weeks down; 2 to go – and I still feel like I’m just getting started. I’m finally making a life here in Beirut, but I leave so soon, and I am pretty bummed. So here’s a bit of a glimpse into the life I’m creating here.
I started Arabic classes a few weeks ago; and though I still can’t get passed the basics like “Hi!”, “Good morning”, “My name is Katya, what is your name?”, and my ultimate favorite shoo fee ma fee “What’s up?”, I am proud of myself for being able to get by with a bit of Arabic now.
And despite my deceivingly ambiguous features, locals know I’m a phony as soon as I open my mouth to speak, but I think I still get an A for effort, right? No, honestly, I really do get an A for effort because it is so easy to get by only speaking English here, and when I do encounter someone who doesn’t speak it, they understand just enough to keep the conversation going and save me from feeling entirely clueless.
My roommates and I get along great. When we’re not all having dinner together, we’re still usually all hanging out and talking. We talk about our day, our relationships, our cultures (it’s a pretty diverse bunch: a Syrian, a Yemeni, a Lebanese, a Jordanian-American, and myself—a Mexican-American), language, and we spent many nights sitting around the couch yelling at the TV cheering on this or that team during the World Cup. I have to say, we’re all pretty lucky and a little spoiled with our Syrian roommate. She does most of the cooking…and any rice dish she makes is OMG kteer tayeb – very delicious (lol check me out)! I feel like I have a little family here now.
Because I’ve been involved in a few more projects at work now, I feel like I am getting to know more coworkers, even if most of the time they’re making fun of my Arabic or teasing me by expecting me to have full on conversations with them.
Lamia and Rouba have become my work besties! I love my impromptu language exchange with Rouba, who helps me with my Arabic, and I with her Spanish. Lamia is my go-to for all that is fun and hip in Beirut and Lebanon – from trendy coffee shops and eateries to fun tours and hikes, she knows where it’s at. It definitely helps that she’s my desk neighbor, so all I have to do is swing my chair around and bug her when I have a question or need a break from staring at my laptop. The three of us are even planning a weekend trip to Greece in a few weeks!
I was invited to Mira’s wedding after we bonded over the difficulties of a long-distance engagement, and even though I couldn’t make it, it was a sweet gesture. Fadi and I bonded over, well, over a bunch of stuff as we spent many hours in the car travelling to our ICT Training locations for two weeks. He was like my own personal Lebanese tour and history guide (but I won’t let him live down the fact that he forgot a very crucial date in Lebanon’s history LOL). Tanios is the KING of dad jokes – and because the joke is often lost in translation, I am usually the only one actually cracking up, and not even at the joke. Then there is Samer, who I worked closely with on the RFP I mentioned in my last blog. I love picking his brain at lunch time. He can and will find any topic to discuss with any and all coworkers and will fervently debate for as long as possible.
The WL teams is huge, which can make it easy to slip between the cracks, but I think I’ve definitely befriended all the right people.
And work has still been a blast. I was invited to participate/observe a two-week ICT Training workshop (the one mentioned above). The WL staff in charge of this, Fadi and Mira, were to visit 5 CERD (Center for Educational Research and Development) centers and train CERD staff in basic ICT and computer skills. There were 5 locations (lucky me got to see more of Lebanon – even if it was at 6:30/7am) and each was visited twice – the first day dedicated to basic Microsoft Word and Office Outlook skills, and the second day was basic Excel skills and a part-two of the Outlook lesson. Though all the material was all already developed, I got to participate by assisting Fadi and Mira when they’re hands were full (the CERD staff mostly consisted of older men and women with little exposure to computers). Even though the language barrier was a bit difficult to overcome at times (most CERD staff speak Arabic and French), most terms used were in English, so it made it easier to help them. I think the most surprising part of these trainings to me, though, was the fact that these CERD trainers work in education, wearing many hats in the ministry (from teachers to counselors to administrative staff), but many of them had little to no basic skills. I mean, obviously, that was the purpose of the workshop, but it was quite shocking. Additionally, I was surprised to discover why the CERD centers we visited were empty except for a few custodial staff, one or two administrative people, and us and those being trained. Apparently, these centers used to be used for those studying to become teachers. Previously, in Lebanon, teachers required two years of special vocational training only – but now, anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any field can be a teacher. These centers have since been most empty and gone mostly unused.
Other than that, I’ve still been helping on proposals, old and new! I really feel I am gaining so many skills in proposal writing, especially seeing how differently each proposal can look. While there is a somewhat universal outline of proposals, some of the expectations of what be submitted are different.
Also, I started volunteering at a refugee camp.
A few weeks ago, I was rushing through the AUB (American University of Beirut) campus to meet with my supervisor and a professor to go over the Request for Proposal we were working on when I bumped into a woman from the States. In the past year, she’s been between Lebanon and NY fundraising and developing programs for the Ketermaya refugee camp. This camp no longer has support from UNHCR and has very little support from UNICEF now, and it is evident that the camp lacks basic resources. Though I don’t speak Arabic (I’m the only volunteer who doesn’t), she was kind enough to invite me to be a part of their four-week summer art program. I have gone to the camp twice now, and will be going twice more.
I came to Lebanon hoping to get the opportunity to volunteer at a camp but found it difficult to find a program that wouldn’t interfere with my internship, so running into Danette was more than coincidence if you ask me. The kids are amazing, and I’ve learned so much about the impact this crisis has had on these children. I could (and probably will) do an entire blog about my experience at the camps, but for now it’s all still a learning experience.
Had you asked me even last week how I felt about Lebanon, I would have said “ehh, it’s alright.” Don’t get me wrong, you’ve seen how great of a time I’ve had, but I’m not sure I felt the charm all other foreigners claim to instantly feel. But it’s their now. I’m even a total regular at a local live-music restaurant in Hamra – Caravanserail! And I have yet to properly visit the wineries in the beautiful Bekka Valley, or get coated in the dusty sands of Tripoli, or see the puzzlingly precious museum of Mleeta.
I’m totally committed to this whole Beiruti thing. I’m not ready to leave.