May 01, 2006

On Life in Lebanon & Summer in the City

A cousin of hubbie is in town, and he is thinking of moving to Lebanon. He’s never actually lived here, but his Mom’s from Beirut, and he still has two uncles here, so he figures he should give it a go. When you come here for visits or holidays, this place does approach paradise, I presume. The reason why he’s contemplating the move is that he’s fed up with paying 70% income tax. I thought Holland was bad as far as taxes were concerned, but Income Tax in Houston, Texas, seems to be pretty inconvenient as well.

It is true; taxes are pretty low in Lebanon. I think I pay about 5% income tax. I pay another 10% sales tax on all items I buy in stores, but compared to Holland that’s pretty low too. That seems like heaven, but then again, you don’t get anything in return. Health care does not exist, you pay your own insurance, or else you die. We do not have any public facilities such as libraries, musea (well, maybe two), concert halls, municipal symphony, and free vaccination programs (something that really bothers another uncle of hubbie, who’s a doctor in France, and who’s appalled at the fact that only the rich here vaccinate their children). Roads are often in poor condition if you don’t live in Beirut, garbage does not get picked up all over the country, the majority of public schools are of such poor quality that everyone scrambles to pay exorbitant fees to get their kids into private schools, there is no retirement system to speak of (you retire, you better have money, or you’ll have to depend on your kids to keep you alive), no social services, water and electricity supplies are not consistent, public beaches rarely get cleaned and the list goes on and on and on.

Now if you have money – which I guess only 10% of the population has, it is very easy to circumvent all these miseries. You chose a neighborhood where the government does take care of things (usually just central Beirut or certain suburbs), and you pay for the rest. You get your generator, have extra water tanks placed on your roof for the water, enter your kid in a top-notch private school, get a full-time nanny, take a membership at a private beach, you have your DVD’s and books flown in from abroad (although we do have some reasonable book and music stores), pay big bucks to see some good performers during the summer festivals (choice is limited though. This month we have to choose between 50 Cents and Ricky Martin. Ahum), or spend your summer abroad and inhale some culture, and get a driver that will move your kids from one venue to another.

But for the other 90%, which I often consider the ‘real Lebanese’, there is none of this fancy stuff. So low income taxes may be great, but you don’t get anything in return either.

Besides, I wonder how his wife will take the country. She’s a nice, polite, all-American girl; blond hair, blue eyes. She’s a little worried about her security here. That’s understandable; if you live in the States, you don’t get to hear the positives on Arabs. This place is very safe however. I feel safer walking around here alone at night than I’d feel in my hometown. People just don’t do weird stuff to each other. I know that sounds strange, as the Lebanese did try to kill one another for a good 16 years over the most preposterous reasons, and people do still get blown up now and then.
But other than that, it really is a very safe place, and I know: I’ve traveled all over the country, from broomstick-bearded North to the southern Hezbollah-heaven. I’ve hitch-hiked with Syrian soldiers, ran with Palestinians militias when they were getting shelled by the Lebanese army and lots of other not-so-smart stuff. But I never felt unsafe.
Still, this is not a country that can bee seen in shades of grey; it’s black and white. You either love it or you are disgusted by it. I am not quite sure what makes you hate it or love it. I’ve felt at home here since day 1. I love the chaos, the dirt, the dust, the unusual and the mess. I take it some people do not deal well with that.
Although this not-waiting-your-turn-in-line-up (What line-up?) still can get me pissed off in a New York minute)

And, on another note than; summer is in town! That means weekends outside the house. We started out with a street market in the morning, or actually, it was a yard sale run by kids, so we ended up with lots of Barbies, stuffed animals and children’s books. Then on to a free market, which is a party organized for Dutch children during Queen’s Day.

Lots of orange, games and fun. Kids had a ball. We continued the afternoon on the balcony with some excellent wine (Musar:Cuvee Rose and Wardy: Rose du Printemps ), and the day after we had a picnic along side a river. I have to admit in shame that I do not know the river’s name. It’s the one that runs out into the sea near the Beit edDinne exit on the highway to the south. Anyone?


Theo said...

Would like to add that one bottle of these excellent wines had such an amount of cork we didn't dare to drink more than a few sips.
What a shame....

Sousou said...

Read your blog, nice one. Will be back in Lebanon in July and looking forward to the summer. The name of the river you talk about is called the Litani River. Anyway, post more blogs... I enjoy them (",)

Sietske in Beiroet said...

Thanks Sousou.

BJ said...

I love your blog, this is the first one I have ever read. I too like the primitive countries. We lived in Turkey for three years while my husband was in the U.S. Air Force. It took a while to get used to the smell but I even learned to like that. It was a great place to travel and meet people from all over the world, we had many Turkish friends from all status in life. I took the time to learn Turkish and shop in the markets of Yoliva on the Black Sea. We had an apartment in town overlooking the water. Istanboul was just a ferry ride away and we camped all over the country. Weather was HOT in summer and Cold with SNOW in Winter. It is the one place in all of the world I would like to go back to visit. I might add too that it was the first Country I had ever been to out side the States. Write more of your life in Lebanon, sigh.