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From Obscurity to Opulence… But Where is That?

TALA LADKI offers a glimpse of a country not known to many

A Hidden Gem of Turmoil

It is bordered by Syria, Palestine and the Mediterranean Sea, known for its delicious food, its nightlife, its greenery – specially the Cedar tree – and it has suffered from years of corruption and political unrest. Have you guessed where it is yet?

I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t - not many people know the answer, and even those who do take some time to guess it. Since my initial arrival in the United Kingdom, I’d been asked countless times, “But where is that?”, and I’d only been here a couple of weeks.

Sometimes, the answer comes easily, other times, not so much. After all, a nation recognized only because of a militia group, or our tumultuous history is not exactly the way we would like to be known.

In fact, there’s a lot to know about where I come from.

The Mosaic of Mediterranean Flavours

Hummus, Fattoush, Falafel, Baklawa – only a few of the staple dishes from the Mediterranean, known, loved, and cooked widely across Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, even Turkey and some other Arab countries as well.

Our cuisine is flavorful and rich in whole grains, vegetables, red meat and seafood. A staple herb used mainly in the making of Manousheh is Zaatar – thyme.

The changing ruling powers over this small geographical location have influenced the varieties of its cuisine. The Ottoman Empire’s gift to the land was the introduction of lamb and some desserts, such as Baklawa. Under French rule, a variety of cheeses and pastries were introduced.

Meals are usually very diverse, rich with different ingredients, herbs, and earthy flavors – you can even say each dish is a work of art. I’m proud to say our cuisine is one of the best, as it offers a healthy mix of fibre, protein, and carbs. It’s simply delicious. Have you guessed it yet?

A Legacy of Resilience

Complicated! That’s one word to describe our history.

First under Ottoman rule, then under French mandate. Eventually independent, but only somehow independent and not really independent.

A 15-year long Civil War started in 1975. An Israeli invasion of the South, a Syrian invasion of the country, liberation, a series of assassinations and bombings starting in the early 2000s, an attempt at an uprising in 2015, an actual uprising four years later, the world’s third biggest non-nuclear explosion only a few years ago…

That’s the history we’re not taught, the same one that’s rarely shown on TVs or talked about in books, and that’s because it’s just that complicated.

Despite these complexities, our history remains embedded in us. If some of us haven’t directly lived through a war, we have unfortunately lived it through our parents’ or grandparents’ stories. It’s not only war though. We had a “golden” age in the 1950’s and 60’s. Celebrities from all over the world visited and stayed in high-end hotels, dined at luxurious restaurants, visited casinos. In the mid-2000s, we’ve had several big artists put on great concerts in Baalbeck and Beirut. It’s getting easier to guess, isn’t it?

Unveiling the Cultural Tapestry

No matter how hard some try to destroy the heritage, the capital (Beirut), and many other villages in the country will not kneel to modernity. At least not fully. In many streets, you will see a contrast between the old and the new.

All around, you’re surrounded by structures that date back centuries, and that tell different stories. Lots of museums - some permanent, others not - are found, mainly in the capital, to document different perspectives and narratives.

Many youths write, do photography and film. Lots of them end up internationally recognized and win awards, to keep the cultural scene alive. Lots of festivals take place, some even with international recognition.

Home – a place where our culture is preserved by our people, and not necessarily by our government, when we have one. We’re known for openness, for art, for mixing modernity and history. Some of it is exaggerated to appeal to the West, but in the most part, we have so many stories to tell – in every nook and cranny, a story – and we don’t waste a minute trying to tell them. Have you guessed it?

The Nightlife Oasis

The party capital of the Middle East, until Dubai started to gain recognition. But of course, Dubai is more expensive, and parties are not as easily accessible to everyone as they are where I’m from.

In the city, you’re bombarded with different cuisines, international brands, rooftops, and party venues. Outside the city, you might find cozier spots to spend your day or night.

If you want to shop, you’ll find plenty of malls. If you want to experience different culinary journeys, you’ll find many restaurants and cuisines from different price ranges to pick from. Whatever it is, you’ll find it here.

Despite what many articles online may say, the country is relatively safe now. Ever since the uprising of October 2019, poverty and unemployment rates have increased, which have inadvertently played a role in the increase of crime. But what city doesn’t have crime?

Today, while a war continues to be waged against Palestine, I’m worried for the safety of my parents, friends and cat. What if our borders are struck, and what if it doesn’t just end at the borders and progresses?

It wouldn’t be the first time, but it would certainly be the first time that I’m away from home, away from LEBANON, my home.

Photo credits - Tala Ladki

Written by Tala Ladki

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