The First Week in Beirut

Just a few thoughts on my first week in Basmeh and Zeitooneh

On the positive side:

  • We have found a flat in Beirut.
  • I have figured out which corner shop owners ( who double here as a type of ‘utility mafioso’) to pay monthly cash to, so that we have (almost) no electricity or wifi cuts.
  • We have signed up for a gym only 3 minutes walking from our place. It opens at 6.30 in the morning, so my gym sessions before work are secured.
  • My Arabic is beginning to lose its rustiness. Taxi drivers are no longer replying to me in English.
  • The people at work are nice. In fact incredibly nice. I love the atmosphere in the office.
  • Work is exciting. Time flies by.

The view from our kitchen window.


In my first week at Basmeh & Zeitooneh (B&Z), I have:

  • Written a funding proposal to help Syrian refugees set up their own businesses in Tripoli, in the North of Lebanon, where B&Z runs a community centre.
  • Visited two of our community centres – in the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut and the refugee camps in Bar Elias in the Bekaa valley. I’ve spent a day at each centre, meeting staff and understanding the scope of our work. The list is long. It includes: setting up schools, providing long-term psycho-dynamic counseling, running art therapy classes, delivering women’s sewing workshops, offering vocational training, helping to set up small businesses, and of course providing relief. When necessary, B&Z distributes warm winter clothes, medical aid and mattresses.
  • Become very, VERY excited about recycling, up-cycling, waste management. I would love to find a way to help B&Z establish a social enterprise in this area. For two reasons: it’s one of three industries in Lebanon(the other two are construction and agriculture) where Syrians are allowed to work. And because I believe that it is an industry of the future. And with that in mind I’m now reading ‘The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ by C.K. Prahalad. This is a fascinating business book on how the private sector can help alleviate poverty. I have also started my research into the technology of waste management.
  • Delivered a speech at the European Parliament in Brussels on women, literature and working for an NGO.

The view from B&Z office in Shatila.


On the challenging side:

  • Richard insists on driving a car in Beirut. I fear for my life. Moreover, there is Beirut’s road system to deal with. Totally chaotic, even the sat nav recalculates every 2 min. Going to work should take us 10 minutes. At the moment we have managed to reduce the journey from 1.5 hours to just under an hour. And needless to add: with a few marital rows on the way, especially when he begins to second guess my map reading skills – which, I have to admit, did fail me last Wednesday when we ended up during the most frightening thunder and lightening storm somewhere in Hezbollah land.