Blog Article: Expectations vs Reality – Arriving into Lebanon

Friday, 6 March 2020

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My journey to Beirut was simple and easy. My four-hour flight passed by quickly as it seemed that everyone on board knew each other. Friendly greetings, smiles and anecdotes were exchanged throughout the flight until I arrived at Beirut Rafic Hariri Airport, ready to start my month’s volunteering in Brummana High School. The only difficulty arose when I was called up to passport control, and they noticed that I had a Chinese visa from the previous summer. As we are currently in a global health crisis with the outbreak of COVID-19, multiple officers were called over. I tried to distract myself from the growing panic of being sent home, or worse, quarantined, by imagining what was waiting for me on the other side.

My father, who had spent the latter part of his childhood in Lebanon, had told me with great enthusiasm about the metropolitan city that is Beirut. From his stories I had conjured images of a vibrant nightlife, incredible restaurants with food from around the world, beautiful architecture and groups of friends elegantly drinking along the Corniche. I had heard of a few protests through Twitter due to the economic situation, but I had envisioned a few peaceful demonstrations. If I have learnt anything in the last few days, it is that British media does not do the current political climate in Lebanon justice.

I have only spent one evening in Beirut so far, and from what I’ve been told the nightlife and restaurants are to exceed my already high expectations. There are also many beautiful buildings, a number of which however, are vacant. Blocks of apartments are empty as no one can afford to live there, and many hotels have been left abandoned as the cost of restoring and maintaining them is simply not an option. 

Back in the airport, I have been asked for the fifth time when it was that I travelled to China, where in China I went, and whether I have any proof to back up my answers. It was at this point that it dawned on me that I was displaying a number of symptoms of the Corona virus. From a day’s travel, spent sitting under harsh airplane air-con, my throat was sore, my muscles ached and now I was starting to sweat from the pressure! So, once again, I tried to calm down by imagining my new life volunteering in Brummana.

I had initially thought Brummana was a small town with hardly more than the school and perhaps a couple of churches down the road. I knew it would be beautiful, but in terms of available services, my expectations were not high. Especially having moved from London, I was expecting a real difference. I could not have been more wrong! I have only walked through Brummana a couple of times, but it is vibrant and lively! There are many restaurants representing a variety of different cuisines, coffee shops, dollar stores and even a gaming centre. But now, the scenery. From the admirable way that trees seem to grow from cracks in walls and twist towards the sky in all their majesty to the gentle way the soft orange glow of the evening sun bounces off the buildings, Brummana is truly idyllic. Everyday as I walk through the school campus, I find myself thinking of how lucky I am that I get to live here for the next month.

Finally, passport control lets me go and I am allowed to enter the country. I collect my bags and meet Rabih, our House Master, and wait, unknowingly, to have my expectations exceeded! 

By Claudia Nashef