Lebanon: Forgive, Forget and let’s eat KFC
Ramahdan ends, Eid-Al-Fitr Celebrations in Beirut, Lebanon
30 days of fasting by the nation of Islam ends on November 14 culminating in one of the biggest festivals of the year — Eid Al Fitr — when everyone stops work in the Middle East for 3 days.
It was a Sunday,
we were in Beirut, Lebanon and we decided it was a good idea to find a church to worship in true contrarian spirit.
We learned there was a Protestant church in downtown area called — All Saints church, and so we set off that morning to find it.
Locating the smallish church however took us all over downtown Beirut following maps that are strangely inaccurate. The area was deserted that morning except for a few armed policemen on duty to keep the area safe.
was the scene of much of the fighting during Lebanon’s 25 years of civil war and almost everything has been destroyed or reduced to rubble.
Since the 90s, after peace broke out, there has been tremendously fast-paced reconstruction but as we walked around that morning, it dawned on us that
much of it remains a fantasy.
Planted all over downtown are glossy noticeboard maps detailing the elegant site but everytime we look for a particular landmark, all we see are half-complete buildings with cranes, tractors, dug up sidewalks, construction sites and scaffolded towers. It is a city waiting to be unveiled, it seems.
What exists is a confusing maze of modern glass buildings, french balconies which aims to turn Beirut into just another Mediterranean city. But even these completed sections are half empty. Luxury shopping with branded shops like Timberland, Nike, Armani and a starbucks coffee or a TGIF restaurant occupy a shop here and there in what is otherwise a ghostly city.
After walking for about half an hour,
we passed a dock with private yachts and boats, and what we thought would be the Four Seasons Hotel, as depicted on the map.
Instead, only the foundation of the hotel seems to have been completed thus far, along with a unfinished building marked as Hilton Hotel opposite and the scaffolded Beirutower.
Hidden within this massive construction site, we found what we were looking for — the All Saints church.
This is the place
where a international community of Europeans, Africans and Asians gather every Sunday to pray together.
As the preacher, who looked Indian, talked about having to move house every six months, I dozed off and thought a bit more about the Beirut I have just seen….
Even as most beirutans have embraced economic development in place of divisive religious squabbles, the tension remains.
One of the most telling rubbles in downtown is that of
the “garden of forgiveness.”
In the blueprint for years now, this is a project to put a ambitious symbol of co-existence right in the heart of the city.
This will be a garden made up of churches, a mosque, roman ruins and plants from all over the country.
We passed by the Garden and as yet it remains unrecognisable. We asked the tourist information office when this great project may complete but they could not tell us.
We can see a very big mosque is being built in the Garden whose shadow alone will dwarf all the surrounding churches.
It stands in stark contrasts to its message of co-existence.
Maybe, they are not ready yet to forgive.
The same sentiment was echoed by Amimin, a 26 year old, who returned to Lebanon from France, who earned himself a listening ear from us after declaring himself a owner of a Malaysian-made “proton saga” car. He mans the oft-unvisited
Bible Society shop in downtown.
Amimin declared Lebanon unstable and predicted civil war may break out again soon, in the same breath as he had talked about his acceptance of Christ in his life. Strange.
And so, that morning in the All Saints Church, I stood up with the rest of the international community gathered and said
a personal prayer for Lebanon
— that it will remain a beacon of peace and a example to how Arabs of different religions can co-exist.
The rubble or what is replacing them are testament to the spirit of Lebanese to rebuild.
And women in dark glasses driving around in BMWs are testament to the country’s new found wealth, with more than 30 banks already set up to store the inflowing money from the Lebanese expatriates.
After the church
we set off in search of lunch and as many places were closed due to holiday, we seeked out mundane but fair-priced KFC, McDonalds and Hard Rock Cafe, just near the long corniche which defines Beirut life.
We stood outside McDonald’s at 10:59 am with the manager who declared it “closed” and then a minute later, took out keys, opened the door and ushered us in. We however walked out after due to an unattractive menu and after this hilarious scene met serious looking soldiers with semi-automatic machine guns outside guarding the restaurant.
“Any problems?” I asked in jest.
“No, maybe next year,” the soldier answered.
I am guessing he means “maybe in the future.”
Apparently, McDonald’s Beirut has received bomb threats. As we walked away, we saw Ronald McDonald statue sitting on a bench outside, grinning widely, as the soldiers stood guard in what must be one of the more surreal “I’m loving it” moments.
The hard rock cafe opposite has a giant guitar and quotes the beatles, wisely — “maybe someday you will see that we are all one.”
A lebanese flag waves gently on top, as workers are washing the windows, preparing for tonight’s party.
We walked and decided to eat at KFC instead.
As we bit into our “hot and Spicy” pieces, the crowd flooded in.
Families holding buckets of chicken ate themselves into a frenzy and fumbled towards ecstasy, while children either threw food wastefully or ran around like crazy.
Behind us sat a table full of Philipinoes, who were presumably workers getting the day off.
And then as we were about to leave, a strange sight.
We saw women, one in her 40s, conservatively dressed Muslim with head covered and black gloves lighting up a cigarette.
Without a care as to who was watching, she puffed and puffed away gloriously.
Yes, Ramadhan is truly over. Hallelujah.