Thursday, December 11, 2008

Images from Beirut

This will be the first part in a series of interesting photos I gathered in Beirut.

This home belonged to my great grandfather, Mardiros Baloumian.  My grandmother and her seven siblings grew up here.  Today, it is in an unfortunate state of disrepair and is for rent or sale (let me know if you're interested).  It is located in Gemmayze, very close to one of the main night life districts.

This plague is located at the entrance of Haigazian University's library.  To me it represents the American government's efforts to insert its monetary influence into as many aspects of Middle East society as possible.  The library looks good - very different from another USAID funded academic institution I worked at: a school in the Armenian village of Ptghni in total shambles - shattered windows, no heaters, cracked steps, broken blackboards, unsanitary bathrooms, etc etc - and atop it all, a USAID plague adorned over one of the classrooms in which new desks and a new computer was found.

This is Akaar, where the American University of Beirut's Nature Conservation Center for Sustainable Forestry helped fund a group I joined to plant trees near the northern city of Tripoli.  I imagine we would enter lush cedar forests in a sweet mountain shade, but as you can see, the experience itself was quite different.  We mostly planted on the side of a road which most citizens consider viable territory for depositing trash.  Often we found discarded shoes, parts of sweaters, beer bottles, candy wrappers, banana peels, plastic bags, and anything else you might see in the picture filling the holes we planted trees in.  

This is the Bechtel Engineering Building on the campus of the American University of Beirut.  That's right.  Bechtel.  To fully appreciate the significance of this, I would highly recommend reading "Confessions of an Economic Hitman".  To summarize, Bechtel is one of several elite American engineering companies that turns immense profits every time the US government scores contracts to develop infrastructure and telecommunications networks in developing countries.  These developing countries take on tremendous debts to afford the work of these American engineering companies whose extremely influential CEO's blur the line between the public and private sector, like Dick Cheney.  I found the toleration of Bechtel's predatory lending philosophy on a university campus in the Middle East highly disturbing.  

This photo is taken in my grandmother's apartment building in the Geitoui district of Beirut in Achrafieh.  It shows one of the old doorbells that used to belong to a former resident of the building, last name Tankian.  You might recognize the last name, and it is not a coincidence.  Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down, was born in this building, in the garden of the home that was later passed on to my uncle after the Tankians left Beirut.

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