11 Life Lessons I Learnt Living in Lebanon

By on February 7, 2019 in LEBANON, Middle East, Musings with 5 Comments

11 Life Lessons I Learnt Living in Lebanon

I fell in love with Lebanon almost from the moment I arrived in the country.

Maybe it was because I’d been travelling in countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and Jordan by myself, directly before I got to Lebanon, that this Mediterranean nation with its semi-western influences suddenly felt more relaxed and easy to me.

Without sounding too culturally insensitive, but still being honest, it was just amazing to arrive in Beirut, get a flat white coffee with almond milk and to meet locals who seemed more culturally close to me as a European than I had in several months, yet still exotic and different enough to entice me!

Over the course of my stay in Lebanon, I slowly fell more in love this country, its vibrant, youthful, energy, its exciting edgy vibe and its dazzling diversity.

And so it was that I then decided to visit and revisit this country several times, choosing to actually base myself there, shall we say, for a period of 3 months.

I had an apartment, a coworking space, a yoga studio membership and a growing a circle of contacts.

Now 3 months is short, and I don’t pretend I understand much more about this confusing country than when I arrived, but while some people may disagree this isn’t enough time to claim I lived there, I nevertheless wanted to share what I learnt during the time I stayed in Lebanon …


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#1 That Travelling and Living Somewhere Aren’t the Same Thing

Lebanon, Cedars, Road Trip

I fell in love with Lebanon as a tourist, no doubt about it.

I was intoxicated by this tiny nation I knew nothing about – its capital’s bustling cultural scene, as well as the vibrancy and politically-liberal, active people I met.

It was a like a drug, I was hooked and I just wanted to absorb and immerse myself as much as I could.

But when I moved to Lebanon – namely the capital Beirut – to live, the experience of enduring an everyday reality there was very different.

The traffic is chaotic, the pollution is insane and the driving is crazy.

This means walking in the city basically involves taking your life into your hands on a daily basis and nothing, and I say nothing, here is straightforward.

There’s almost no public spaces in the city, you have to pay ridiculous amounts for every sort of service you can imagine and the amount of time it takes to do anything can wear you down.

When you swan in as a travel blogger, stay in cool areas, go on epic tours and don’t worry too much about timekeeping, Lebanon is amazing.

When you’re working, trying to get stuff done, not wanting to drink every night and to chill occasionally, Lebanon is a very different place.

This isn’t to stay you shouldn’t travel there, you should.

It’s amazing and I still want to go back.

But to live?

Maybe one step too far… for me!

 

#2 That Living Somewhere Hard to Travel From Isn’t for Me

Lebanon, Aakkar, Sheep

And this frustration was exacerbated by the fact that getting in and out of Lebanon is hard – an issue more compounded when you work as a travel blogger and need to be able to move to other countries as easily and cheaply as possible.

Landlocked by its hostile relations with neighbour Israel and the Syrian crisis, basically the only way to get in and out of Lebanon is by flying.

And with no budget airlines operating to Beirut, this is an expensive business.

To add insult to injury, many of the cheapest flights involve a connection – either via Limassol in Cyprus, Istanbul in Turkey or Athens in Greece.

For me, it was like living on the little island of Jersey where I’d grown up – to get anywhere in the world, you basically have to take a flight to London first and then connect internationally.

It’s a pain in the a*s, it’s pricey and it’s rubbish if you’re a travel blogger.

So life lesson learnt – if you love to travel and if that is your source of income, live somewhere it’s easy to get in and out of!

 

#3 That There Are Things You Will Never See as a Tourist

Lebanon, Cedars, Jesus Carvings

Now this may be a pretty obvious third lesson to spell out, but I think it’s one many of us understand on an intellectual level, but perhaps not on an experiential level all that much.

Because trust me, living in Lebanon opened my eyes to what we don’t see, or what gets hidden from us, as a tourist.

More than anywhere else I’ve stayed for a long time – and that includes Nicaragua – Lebanon hammered this home!

One obvious example is that as a traveller in Lebanon you’ll probably never notice that there are scheduled power cuts across the country on a daily basis because the national grid cannot cope with the load.

You’ll never notice, because almost every hostel / hotel you stay in will pay for private generator access to fill the gap when the power cuts out.

But when you live there and don’t pay for the private generator you are without power – period – for multiple hours every day.

And then you learn that just about every successive government in Lebanon has promised to resolve the power issue at every election and every government has failed to do this and that the private generator suppliers are laughing all the way to the bank.

I’m sure you can read between the lines here.

But let’s just say that the corruption in Lebanon is out of control.

When you live there, it’s depressing beyond means.

Not the lack of power – I’m used to that.

But the corruption, oh boy.

 

#4 That Good Food Comes from Good Ingredients

Lebanon, Beirut, Saj Making

But please, I do not want this list of life lessons to sound depressing.

As I’ve said before, I still love Lebanon – it holds a very soft spot in my heart – and I would encourage anyone to visit there.

For one the food is amazing and while it might not be a groundbreaking point to make, one of the life lessons Lebanon taught me is that good food comes primarily from the best, fresh, local ingredients.

It isn’t about complicated recipes or fancy restaurants, it’s about homecooked meals using the best quality ingredients – and Lebanon smashes it out the water on this front!

E V E R Y T I M E!

 

#5 That Homelessness Needn’t Be an Issue

Lebanon, Bcharre, Poppies

Ditto the lesson that homelessness needn’t be an issue.

After Lebanon, I returned to London and was completely and utterly shocked by the homelessness issue that presented itself in my own country’s capital.

Honestly in London now, every station, every supermarket, every bridge has people living under it.

And it’s shocking.

And it’s deeply saddening that in one of the most wealthy countries in the world this issue should be so prevalent.

In Lebanon, I hardly saw any homeless people.

Even in Beirut, I can maybe count on my hand the number of people living on the streets I saw.

Just goes to prove homelessness needn’t be an issue.

Or at least not a BIG issue.

Good life lesson to hold onto.

 

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#6 That Seasons are Something to be Proud Of

Lebanon, Cedars, Reserve

I have to be honest, growing up in the UK,  I’d always scoffed at the seasons.

I hated winter, autumn was depressing and spring was just the waiting period before the summer came.

“Get me to the sun” was my mantra and honestly, one of the main reason I moved to live in Australia.

But the Lebanese, or at least those I met, are incredibly proud of their seasons.

They absolutely love their 4 season climate.

Let’s not go into the whys and wherefores of it all or how it allows them to differentiate themselves from other countries they are often associated with, but let’s just say they are happy delighted to live in a 4 season country.

This taught me a lot about the things you can be proud of when it comes to your home nation.

Or the things that can make you happy about where you live.

Seasons being one of these things had literally never occurred to me before and it was a good lesson to learn.

 

#7 That Governments are a Privilege

Lebanon, Baalbeck, Syrian Boy

And something else I also took for granted coming for the UK, is that we have a government.

People complain about it, it doesn’t always work as we want it to, but it exists and operates in some capacity; it’s pretty transparent, it upholds democracy (largely) and we can shout about it freely if we don’t like it.

Lebanon taught me that, of course, this isn’t a given.

I mean, I knew that, but to experience it directly shows you just how amazing it is.

When there is a government working enough to provide public spaces, free exhibitions, public transport, reliable power etc, you’re onto a winner, a freaking huge privileged winner.

Lebanon taught me that not having that is a complete nightmare.

End of.

 

#8 That Social Networks are Everything in Instability

Lebanon, Bcharre, Old Man Face

And following on from this is the lesson Lebanon taught me that when you live in a politically unstable country, or one that has experienced recent war or civil unrest, your social networks are everything.

Lebanese people are incredibly sociable.

As a traveller this is great – you’ll have more friends here in a day than you would in just about any other country in the world – but when you live there and you like your own space, it can be a bit hectic!

There’s few social boundaries and there’s a million social events you need to attend, show your face at, make an appearance at, network into etc.

It gets exhausting.

Also, everything must be done in person – bills made, meetings scheduled, questions asked.

It’s all about the personal connections and the networks here.

I mean, it makes sense.

In a war, who else is going to look out for you but the people you’re connected to?

However as a privileged European, the level and depth at which this social networking necessity still operates in Lebanon is baffling and bizarre!

Again, another lesson Lebanon was kind enough to teach me about my own luck!

 

#9 That Honesty Isn’t a Given

Lebanon, Beirut, Gemmayzeh

But sadly, when there’s such a need to play a social game, to put on a face, a show, a front, a social role, what you see isn’t always what you get.

Of course, you can make this assertion about all people anywhere, and maybe it’s just the company I usually choose to keep.

But honesty, I found, isn’t a given in Lebanon and relearning this was an important lesson this country taught me and one I feel very grateful for.

The world is full of trickery and there’s many people who will say whatever they can to get whatever out of you they can and it can be a very polished act.

I tend to have a very rosy view of people and the world at large, and as much as I love Lebanon and its people, I did learn a valuable lesson there about not always being so trusting and open.

Sometimes, keeping your cards close to your chest can be a wise move.

 

#10 That We Judge Safety All Wrong

Lebanon, Beirut, Architecture

When I said I was going to visit Lebanon as a solo female, let alone spend a good amount of time there, so many people expressed their shock, it wasn’t funny.

Beirut? WHAT?

“Isn’t that at war / in war / a war zone / dangerous as hell?”, were the usual responses.

Well no, it’s actually very safe in my opinion.

Ok it’s maybe not the most politically stable country, but does that mean it isn’t safe?

Would you think it was safe if I told you that the doors and windows to my city apartment were left open continually in the summer, or that I would walk home late at night, in the dark, with my laptop and feel perfectly at ease?

Compare this to London, where I got broken into the first night I was back – literally happened.

That’s when we really have to question how we define safety and how we judge what is and isn’t safe.

When the same people who expressed to me that Beirut wasn’t safe, said they felt that London was, I couldn’t help but draw the conclusion that their notions of safety were being linked more to ideas of familiarity rather than actual danger; of perception rather than reality.

Lebanon taught me to look again at how we judge, perceive and attribute safety and to reassess this.

 

#11 That I Need to Speak More Than 1 Language

Lebanon, Trekking Lebanon, Hiking

And finally, one of the last lessons Lebanon taught me is that I really, like REALLY, need to become fluent in another language.

Language is power and when a lot of the population speak 3 languages, you realise just how great a skill that is!

And how rubbish native English speakers are in this regard.

Lesson learnt.

I’m on it Lebanon, thanks for the kick in the butt!

 

So there you have it the 11 life lessons that Lebanon taught me.

I loved my time in this country and it certainly helped me grow… enormously.

That’s nothing but worthwhile in my book!

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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There Are 5 Brilliant Comments

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  1. kamal abbas says:

    dear,
    its my pleasure to invite you to discover more hidden gems in Lebanon i discovered and big thanks for what you talk about my lebanon

  2. kamalabbas says:

    dear…first i just want to thank you about your article and what you say about my lebanon and its my pleasure to invite you to dicover more hidden gems i discovered in my lebanon

  3. Diala Aksamawati says:

    Big respect for this honest article! I wonder what could Lebanon learn from you. If the people could learn how to be themselves and speak their minds without considering it a “weakness”, then I’d say it’s a miracle. Next time you come over make sure you give lessons as well. You’re mostly welcome. But I fear for you because whoever is not honest can not perceive honesty… Way to go Steph!

    • Steph says:

      Thank you Diala for these amazing words and from a Lebanese citizen, it means even more. I literally never considered that culturally, speaking your mind, could be considered a weakness. Wow, more I’ve learnt! And about the honesty of a person… you are so right. Great insight 🙂

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