The farewell mood of things: Beirut’s persuasive airport

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Last week, I was the designated driver to the airport; three trips in one week. I despise our airport. If Lebanon were a bathtub, Beirut airport is its hair-clogged drain, a bottleneck of a despicable orchestration of everything that’s either disgusting or tiring in this god-forsaken place. On one hand, it’s quite an honest welcome message to anyone who’s arriving: this country you are entering will rip you off without sweating over providing any quality to what it serves. On another hand, it’s as honest to its sons and daughters bidding their farewells to their crying, but glad, parents: don’t come back.

Within emotional reactions of how messed up this place actually is, one cannot but admire how flawlessly honest it is. Its boring architecture is a totem to the country’s lack of interest in investing any finances or thought into reviving its glorious architectural heritage. People still feel nostalgic about the old airport. They remember the previous building’s huge windows overlooking the runway. They reminisce the sensuality of a dysfunctional building that this airport was supposed to evolve from. When an old, rusty building beats its new, shiny successor, there’s a problem. But that’s okay; anything other than a problem would have been a confusing conceptual shift.

The airport’s spatial demise does not stop within its grounds. The road to the airport is as spellbinding as one would expect. A stampede of cars carrying travellers and their loved ones to the airport are funneled through a bottleneck army checkpoint to make sure everything is safe. Everything would have remained safe if not for suicidal tendencies caused by trivial, unnecessarily intense traffic. Slowly, very slowly, I reached the airport three times last week calming myself with an “all will be fine” mantra hoping for quick and efficient trips around the “Departures” lane.

“Quick” and “efficient” are mortal sins that this airport avoids at any cost. Double-parked, narrow lanes of cars emptied of their owners due to the necessity of waiting hall crying, wailing and hashtag-ridden selfies while avoiding the enormous tariff of the airport’s parking lot make it impossible to move. Officials in uniforms act out a performance of “trying their best” to solve the situation that isn’t even good enough to diffuse anyone’s anger within seemingly eternal traffic. At the end of the airport road cycle leading to either the way back to Beirut, or into the parking lot, a large brightly lit electronic billboard emulates the sun, blinds drivers and reinforces our belief in a higher power as our only hope to save us. Here, a real estate advertisement is much more important than drivers finding their way along intersections at night.

Blind, our eyes sullied with virtual blurry stars after surviving the intersection on the way to Beirut as our loved ones either consume overpriced beverages or are left to dehydrate in morbidly boring waiting areas, the city ahead becomes more despicable than ever. Within countless gestures of amiability in this “home,” we live in is a shameful place. Everyday, it very bluntly asks us to leave. Everyday, as we pretend we’re not writing our farewell chronicles, we are being propelled outward. To stay, one needs to be one form of an activist or another. It’s tiring. It’s too tiring. It’s tiring enough to stunt us, as we perceive the simple act of going through the day as a productive activity. Survival is an active task by itself. In this day and age, this just can’t be right.

Driving along the dark highway on this side of the airport heading towards a darker Beirut, because light is a luxury in this place we call home, the future remains a consequence of laws of physics, the presence of time, the inevitability of the universe in its rolling onward. The future is not something we can gauge, plan or look forward to.

On the other side of our hideous airport, we seem to do much better. I don’t know anyone still on this side that doesn’t have a loved one that they haven’t envied for the other grass they now walk on. Research will show that grass is indeed greener on the other side. It would be a quite simple research unable to find any grass here to start out with.

As we stay here, our struggles will remain those trying to claim space for our basic grass to seed our basic dreams and futures in. Our fights will remain those demanding things such as public space, electricity, proper healthcare, education, human rights, etc. We will remain exhausted, too exhausted to add new words to the dictionary, redefine the laws of physics, invent, innovate and do things for the sheer purpose of self-realization, without having to worry whether there will be enough oxygen for us to breathe tomorrow.

We’re lucky that when the time comes and we’re on our way out, the airport will confirm that we have made the right decision. We should be grateful for the condensed national exhaust it allows us to intake in one go; one that would kill any feeling of guilt or regret that we are not staying to make Lebanon a better place. As one flies off, it is not advisable to look out the window onto the beautiful Raouché and the corniche. Beirut’s silent charm could mask its underlying rot. It is recommended, however, to look out when crossing over the Normandy landfill and its adjacent gory skyline. It makes it easier to close the shutter, order a complimentary drink and move on.

Raafat Majzoub is an architect, author and artist living in Beirut

Comments

I am flattered that you put my "----" up for others to read.
You are a real dude, man !
Always be up to something guy - it makes them wonder about you - hey !
Just to let you know that Wall St has killed itself - they just don't know it yet.
When a boulder is hurtling down the mountain you get out of the way - such is the case here.
Raafat; feel good about this, it is significant...
May the force be with you
Nanu, Nanu - ( MORK would say this at the end )
Beam me up Scotty.

For those of you complaining about Raafat's negativity I suggest you wake up and open your eyes! This country needs people like Raafat, a lot more of them! If that were the case perhaps there would be some positive change in this god(s – way too many of them) forsaken place. He is still here & he is trying to clear that rosy tint you have on your glasses. You live in a country where there has been relative peace since 1989 (25years). In 25 years your (& my) wonderful government has not managed to repair the electrical grid and provide 24hrs of electricity. It has not been able to provide water. It has failed to provide adequate infrastructure & I could go on & on. These are the most basic needs that any citizen is to be afforded by a country that dares call itself a country! One needs at least the basics so that one can aspire to more noble things but the politicians occupy you with issues you have no control over to make you look past your basic rights as citizens of a country, any country. We should have revolted by now not just complained as Raafat has! He is an architect, an artist and a writer, this is his way to revolt, what’s your excuse?! He is trying to reach you, to make you see your sad truth, but you are either blind, mentally challenged or rich enough to be able to ignore reality! (I envy you). Rise up & do what Raafat is doing; if you’re an artist - make political art, a lawyer - give justice back & fight corruption, a doctor – help those who cannot help themselves and fight for free or cheap healthcare, in other words fight the corrupt system from whatever position you are in and then maybe, just maybe, we can go back to calling this place “home”.

Why all the negativity? Beirut airport is great compared to some other airports Ive been to (also overpriced) like London airport which looked shabby the last time I was there. If Beirut is so terrible, why do the Lebanese keep flocking here every summer despite the precarious "situation?" What we need is less Lebanese nagging about all the imperfections found in Lebanon and more Lebanese actually trying to do something for this country. The only people who inspired me this summer were my 8 year-old-nieces who established The Earth Club to take care of the environment in Lebanon and my friend Miriam Maatouk who suggested we collaborate to clean a cave from trash in the North of Lebanon.

very inspiring indeed

Why all the negativity? Beirut Airport is great compared to airports like London airport which is shabby. The airport during the war was in very bad shape. And if things are so terrible in Lebanon, why do the Lebanese flock here in droves every summer despite security warnings and concerns about the situation. I would like to encounter one Lebanese person who does anything about Lebanon except nag.

Maybe you have not left - because you are afraid you will miss something.
Maybe you sense that things are changing & that is why you have not left.
Maybe it is your impatience with the 'new coming' not having arrived yet & yet you remain patient because you can feel in your bones that it is on it's way.
Hence the morbidity & restlessness.
Think about it.

You think too much.
I saw your facial hair - you definitely look like a Middle Easterner. How do I know this - Victor & his brother Raafi are Lebanese. Victor is a friends of one of my sons.
You write the way you think - too much & all at once. You are a fast thinker in a short space of time & place -
Do you really want to leave Lebanon ?
You see I would have thought that you are the kind of person who just goes & the just comes back & the goes again - a traveler of sorts - maybe I am wrong. It is not that you can't settle down but that you have a lot of places to be - a lot of ground to cover - a lot of thinking to do - like many persona in just one body .... alas !
Be true to your self & don't try to make yourself fit in any mold of any particular dimensions - it's pointless & so uncool.
If it makes you fee any better - their time is over & a new beginning is on the way. It doesn't look like it at the moment - never the less it is true. There will be lots of thing to rebuild - tangible & not tangible.
Go to Cuba for a couple of month - take a friend & partner - they are just like you but different.

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