I arrived in Beirut, capital of Lebanon in the early hours of 2nd March 2018. I quickly discovered that people are, for the most part, friendly and hospitable. A 15-minute taxi journey took me from the country’s only international airport to my hostel, Saifi Urban Gardens, on Pasteur Street , Behind Coral Gas Station. The short ride in the cool evening air cost US$25 or 38,000 Lebanese Pounds, the local currency. The taxi driver struggled to find the hostel’s entrance, but after a few minutes and asking several padestrians, he found it and we descended a flight of deep stone steps before entering a building and ascending three flights of modern steps. The security guard helped me to my wooden bunk and I gained the wifi password, paid for the taxi and hit the sack. The hostel is attached to a language school for people wanting to learn Arabic. Breakfast is included in the price of an US$18 bed in a 6 or 4 bed dorm. Wifi is free. I spent my first full day in Lebanon sleeping and relaxing. I’d spent the Wednesday night, 28th February at Stansted airport, ensuring I didn’t get stuck in the snow descending on the UK and miss my flight. Thus, it meant Friday was a day of relaxation. On my second full day, a Saturday, I met up with a freelance photographer named Jacob Russell from England and, together, we did some filming for a show called the ‘Big Story’, a subciddery programme of CNN. It was during this filming that I discovered Beirut is rather difficult to navigate alone if you’re disabled! Many of the pavements/sidewalks are broken or full of obsticles such as small posts, rubbish, overhanging trees, plantpots and, most noticeably, parked vehicles! I found a phalanx of mopeds on the pavement, moments after departing from the hostel, these I was able to negociate and move around. The traffic was continuous and the fumes were heavy, an unpleasant smell and sound combined with constant banging and drilling from the seemingly, never-ending construction – horrific! I guess it lends the city an atmosphere of sorts! My first mission was to find the Place de Martyrs, crossing roads was a major challenge as there are no audio crosswalks or lights, so I had to simply lisson for when the traffic in front of me was quiet and chance it. Jacob helpde me, but there seemed to be very few padestrians in that area and doing this alone would have been more difficult. We kept having to leave the pavement and walk in the road alongside the busy traffic due to obsticles and unpassable pavements. Rubble was everywhere. On my third day, when walking into downtown with fellow travellers I’d met, we had to climb over low, concrete walls and walk over thick gravel – a challenging way to traverse a city! Once Jacob and I reached Place de Martyrs, a small square surrounded by traffic with a high monument in its centre, consisting of a tall stone base with 4 metallic figures on top. Two were nealing while two more were leaning back. They are a tribute to the martyrs who rose up against the Ottaman Turk dictaters during the First World War (1914-1918). They were just out of my reach, so Jacob found a plastic chair for me to stand on and I was able to explore the knee of one statue. It contain many bullet holes from the recent Lebanese conflicts! Jacob move the chair along to the right and I was able to grasp one of the figures’s hands. The figures are on a large scale and made of rustic metal. From Place d Martyrs we continued to the nearby Mohammed Al Amin Mosque with its striking amber-coloured blue-dome and 4 minerits. Jacob described the dome to me. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to film outside or inside the mosque due to the paranoia of the nearby security due to the mosque’s close proximity to parliament! Notwithstanding this, I took a couple of photos of the mosque’s outer colomns and we ascended the steps, removed our shoes and entered. I Enjoyed the soft carpet under my feet and listened as a local guide gave me a brief history of the mosque. Its construction began in 2002 and was finished in 2008. When people stand in line, one behind the other, it can, apparently, hold 5,000 people. We exited and took a taxi to Hamra, another of Beirut’s afluent districts. On Hamra Street which, amid its many shiny shops and tall tower blocks, contains the Red House, the oldest building in the neighbourhood. I don’t know if we passed as I only learnt about the famous landmark building later, but it was probably captured in the filming. I walked up and down a couple of streets, including passing a delightful florest with its aray of fine sents wafting towards me from the shop’s inner doorway. Jacob filmed me crossing a couple of roads before we headed to the Cornish, a long pedestrian walkway that parallels the Mediterranean Sea and runs from the harbour all the way to the point, where The Pigeon Rocks can be viewed just off shore. He noticed a small stony beach below the wall and helped me clamber down a series of broken rocks, put together as rough steps! Lebanon doesn’t have helth and safety! Once on the pebbled beach, I used my cane and stumbled towards where music emanated from some kind of boombox, found a largish rock and put my arse on it and listened to the Arabic music and the waves. I relaxed in the warm 22 degrees celcius sun. Eventually, Jacob found us a public minibus back to the area where my hostel was located and we headed home. The following day, Sunday 4th March, I met up with a group of travellers, who were staying in Beirut Hostel, roughly a 15 minute walk from my location. An English guy named Jason, from Surrey, had contacted me on facebook after viewing one of my recent documentaries. We arrived in Beirut around the same time and he asked if I wished to wander around Beirut with him for a day. I agreed so he, along with another English guy, Dave, a delightful guy from Turkey named Anil and a Dutch girl, Claire arrived around middday. We headed to the Mosque I’d visited the previous day, but this time, spent longer there relaxing on the exquisite carpet whilst people prayed all around us. Eventually we departed and wandered along the street, photographing nearby attractive buildings, including the closed 19th century Maronite Cathedral of St George and a series of roman colomns, reportedly once part of the grand colonade of Roman Berytus. Our wanderings led us to padestrianised Nejmeh Square with its famed clock tower and clusters of military personell, armed to the teeth and over-ancious! As it was a Sunday, it was alive with families and music booming from large speakers. Kids were on trampoleens and the aromas of various international cuisines could be smelt all around. I was in my element and absorbed the lively atmosphere. Eventually, after finding no Lebanese food in the near vicinity, we took a taxi to Dora District, my suggestion, and went in search of other food. We ended up upstairs in a tiny restaurant called New Indo-Lanka, recommended to me by Jacob. It was crouded and busy, alive with noise and conversation. Elbow to elbow, the 5 of us tucked into a delicious lamb curry, washed down by very sweet Indian tea! This accomplished, we haled another taxi and honked our way back to the area of my hostel. Unfortunately, someone got the name of the street we wanted slightly wrong and the taxi tookus in a wrong direction before gaining the correct information. Upon our arrival, the taxi driver, behaving aratically to begin with, became irate and demanded more money. He became angry and aggressive shouting loudly and demanding $20, even though we’d already agreed a price. The matter finally resolved. My new friends walked back to the hostel with me. There ended my first few days in fascinating,but complicated Beirut!
Your documentary in Israel this week has been an inspiration to me that ALL is possible we just have to dream big enough!
THANKS for your show of courage