Shoo Beirut

Beirut’s been my most frequented work destination this year, surprisingly.

So far, it’s been rare for me to spend enough time anywhere to get to know somewhere that well, either because I don’t spend enough time there or because it’s not safe or practical to go around on my own. Vienna was the one exception, mainly because I had a great routine when travelling home from the Balkans*.

I can’t say I know Beirut, but it I am starting to know where on earth I am, where customers’ offices are, where it’s nice to eat and which hotel room to try and get. I know my customers a lot better and I know how not to get ripped off by the taxi drivers.

Most importantly, I am actually starting to like Beirut, as well. I have always liked the people I’ve met here, but it’s taken a while to really enjoy the city, with all of its traffic and general craziness. Plus, I’m getting to know certain individuals better and to see some projects to conclusion – well, start some projects off that will definitely be seen to a positive conclusion, in terms of business related to my new job, whilst seeing the result of work done when I was at Sun.

One of my customers was telling me today that they still have their radio network in place, ready in case the mobile phone network crashes. Hotels offer cigar bars and top level luxury, but the back up generator is kept well maintained and full of fuel for when the power goes out. The street light might be broken, but the advertising hoarding next to it is lit up for all to see, powered by a private source. ‘Be prepared’ could be people’s motto here. It’s not an environment I would like to grow up in, but it does give people an incredible level of flexibility and practicality. Baden-Powell would be proud.

The Lebanese have a reputation for showing off in a way that (most) Brits would never do. It’s a reputation that’s richly deserved (by some Lebanese) – but I love the fact that so many of my friends and colleagues – even the show offs – are very happy to have a good laugh at themselves or their fellow countrymen. There’s a level of self-awareness and self-deprecation that I can empathise with as a Brit. We’ve had some real belly laughs poking fun at ourselves. I like that.

I am also learning to understand and, I think, potentially navigate the various allegiances, family and religious links that drive who people prefer to work and associate with. I am a total amateur, because these are things that have never been a factor in any of the decisions I had to make as an Englishman, growing up in the UK, beyond proving to Northerners that despite my posh English accent I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth.

Above all, I am amazed that things function to the level they do. To make a comparison with the UK again, there’s almost what might be called a ‘blitz spirit’. I admire that, even when things drive me bonkers.

I hope to keep coming here for some time to come.

* Take the evening flight on Weds evening, stay in a nice hotel in the centre of town that’s cheaper than the usual ‘company approved’ places, have dinner in a working man’s pub, spend the evening chatting to people in the Johnnie’s English Irish Pub, have a good sleep and fly back to Dubtown in the afternoon.

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