Beirut International Marathon
"Peacemaking is not a sprint. It is a marathon." May El-Khalil Founder Beirut International Marathon
I first learned about the Beirut International Marathon in 2006 when race organizers were tasked with the decision of whether or not to cancel the marathon, as a result of, the 2006 Israel–Lebanon 34 days War. Just one week before the event Pierre Amine Gemayel, a prominent anti-Syrian member of Parliament, was assassinated in Beirut. The Beirut Marathon Association chose not to cancel the marathon, but rather to hold it as a testament to Lebanese resilience. The fourth edition of the Blom Bank Marathon "For Love of Lebanon" went ahead as planned on November 26, 2006.
Twelve years later I arrived in Beirut to run the 2018 Beirut 8k. The race starts at the Beirut waterfront, winds through East and West Beirut ending at Martyrs' Square. Finishing in the top three in my age group, based on previous years' results, seemed attainable. I finished 2/7 in the women's 60-64 age group.
Phoenicia Hotel Beirut
The Phoenicia Beirut, which opened in 1961, was destroyed during the Lebanese Civil War during fighting known as the "Battle of the Hotels". It remained a burnt-out shell for 25 years before re-opening in 2000. The war-ravaged Holiday Inn, located directly behind the Phoenicia, remains gutted.
After 15 years of civil war from 1975-1990, the cash-strapped Lebanese legislature headed by prime minister Rafik Hariri approved a contract with the private real estate company Solidere to rebuild downtown Beirut. Private property was seized from owners who couldn't afford to rebuild through special powers of eminent domain. As a result, many historic and culturally significant buildings and neighborhoods were destroyed.
Beirut Central District is a mix of Porsche and Lamborghini dealerships, luxury Gucci, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton stores, fine dining restaurants, and five-star hotels.
As synchronicity would have it, I came across the Phoenicia Hotel Art Photo (PHAP) competition when I was searching for a hotel on the Phoenicia Beirut website. I applied for and was selected as one of twelve photographers; one photographer a month for one year. Nour Chaoui, the Phoenicia hotel PHAP coordinator, observed that Beirutis are either very rich or very poor. There is no middle class.
Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp
The Shatila Palestinian refugee camp was originally set up in 1949 by the International Committee of the Red Cross for Palestinian refugees fleeing Palestine in what is referred to by Palestinians as the nakba or catastrophe. An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Palestinian refugees live in Shatila - less than one square kilometer in landmass. It is located in Ghobeiry municipality about 4.8 km from the Beirut–Rafic Hariri International Airport and is accessible by local taxi or "servees" and bus. Children and Youth Center (CYC)
The day after the Beirut 8k, I took a taxi to Shatila and spent the night at the CYC Guesthouse. The guesthouse is located inside Shatila and is run by the Children and Youth Center (CYC). A one-night stay costs $15. Internet is available. Power is intermittent with public power limited to 4-6 hours a day. CYC is one of the few buildings in Shatila that has solar power as a backup source of energy.
70-year-old Abu Moujahed founder of the Children and Youth Center and the CYC Guesthouse has lived in Shatila for most of his adult life. He was born in Palestine and educated in Cuba. This may account for his avid interest in education and the collection of over 7000 books in Arabic, English, and French in the Children and Youth Center Library. Abu and I spent a couple of hours exchanging opinions and thoughts over tea.
I received an email from Abu when I arrived home:
"I consider your staying at the guest house in spite of the difficult circumstances of the camp is a kind of support and solidarity... " Abu Moujahed
When a situation feels hopeless and you can't see a solution on the horizon solidarity is a beginning.