As a millennial, I am aware of all the misconceptions our generation faces in the world, as I face many of them myself.
One of the most common ones is that we do not know what we are missing out on in this world. Many of us have certain ideas and stereotypes of countries and religions that we actually know nothing about.
We have not traveled or experienced enough to have any proper ideology on what is beyond the small cities that we have been used to our entire lives. When most of us hear the words, “Middle East,” our minds immediately turn to war, bombs, and terrorism, but completely steer away from all the beauty it has to offer.
The Middle East is one of the most misinterpreted areas of the world. We fail to mention all the good, and only focus on the negative because that is the only view we are used to having in our society. I used to be guilty of the same thing, until I took action and visited the country of Lebanon myself.
In the summer of 2017, my family and I took a trip to Beirut, Lebanon. My mother was born there and had not revisited for 40 years, so her expectations were high. It was a chance to revisit her childhood. When I first stepped foot on the plane, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought it was going to be the worst month of my life, but it just so happened to be one of the best. I went in with the same idea that most of you probably have; I was frightened of what was to come.
Beirut is home to about 2 million people, and Lebanon as a whole has a population over 6 million, according to the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism. It’s largest ethno-religious group consists of Muslim Arabs. However, an impressive minority of Christians constitutes 40 percent of the population.
What many fail to acknowledge is that the residents of this country actually live comfortable and normal lives, despite religious differences. Of course no country is perfect and not everyone can live a lavish lifestyle, but that takes nothing away from the enjoyment that encompasses the people. The average person there wants exactly what we want; an enjoyable and happy life.
Lebanon is known for having a very iconic nightlife. Here in Los Angeles, we worry far too much about every little thing. Our society has brainwashed us into having too many concerns over our appearance, who we hang out with, even who is watching us. I never experienced those emotions while going out in Beirut.
It was like a different world where everyone was relaxed and genuinely taking in every moment. When I reminisce on all my nights out, the top thought that pops into my head is how sincerely free and happy everyone would be when they would go out and be together.
The difference between our two countries could not be more evident. Nothing is for show; they live their lives authentically for themselves. The youth definitely controls the streets when it comes to having a good time. There is a neighborhood called Mar Mikhael, which is full of various pubs, restaurants, and clubs – it is the city that never sleeps.
Being in an Arab country, all the drinking and partying might sound a little untraditional. This just goes to show that they aren’t as backwards as we make them out to be, and how little we actually know about the culture there.
The people of the country are exceedingly social, and love to enjoy themselves with loved ones.
Hookah is one of the most common social activities for them, as it is present at almost every occasion.
As a Lebanese-American, I can confirm that we do the same thing here. Not only is it exceptionally cheaper than in America, but it is also delivered right to your front door. Sure, we have Postmates and Uber Eats, but hookah delivery is pretty advanced in my opinion.
The hookah is delivered right to your door and picked up from the same place the following morning. You just enjoy yourself with it, leave it outside your door, and allow them to come take it back with no additional charge.
They have so much trust in one another. In America, we could never just leave something outside our door without the fear of it being stolen. The people in Lebanon are immensely comfortable and trusting with one another.
Beyond nightlife, Lebanon has some of the most breathtaking hidden gems I have ever witnessed. It offers very astonishing topography that could never be duplicated in America. If you are interested in any of the Seven Wonders of the World, then the Jeitta Grotto is a must, as it was a close candidate to making it on that list. It consists of two karstic limestone caves full of the most beautifully formed icicles. They hang down from the ceiling and fold and bend into incredibly unique forms.
As much as it pains us, this will have to be a missed Instagram opportunity, as they do not allow phones inside. You can take a boat ride through the depths of the cave, or even walk along the sides and admire the beauty at your own pace. Both ways, it is completely mesmerizing.
Another must-see is an enormous statue of the Virgin Mary. It is located in the mountainous village of Harissa, and is referred to as, “Our Lady of Lebanon.” It overlooks the coasts and mountains, and is a very sacred and holy site.
A third attraction I can personally recommend is the ancient city of Baalbek. Not only does it hold incredible Roman ruins, but also some adorable camels just waiting to take you on their back through the streets.
Lebanon holds so much culture. It allowed me to see things that I could never witness back home. I got to experience a whole new lifestyle and a world of things I never knew existed.
Traveling to the Middle East would provide the chance to see what lifestyles are like over 6,000 miles away from us. They also have an incredible school system where the whole family can get involved.
One of the most prestigious universities in the Middle East is the American University of Beirut. My uncle works at the medical center of the school as a nutritionist, and my cousins attend as students. Residents of the country are extremely educated and often speak a minimum of three languages: Arabic, English and French.
Having an ample amount of family in Beirut allowed me to experience this trip in a different manner.
It was not just any ordinary city for me full of random people. It was somewhere that was truly able to feel like home. Knowing that my mother grew up there and that I still have so many cousins my age living there made it a much more powerful experience in my heart. This adventure shaped me in ways I could have never expected. It taught me that there is far more to life than we know, but we just have to go and find it ourselves.
Nothing is better than standing in an entirely new country and just slowly taking it all in. It is a way to educate us further, but to also see something fresh and exciting. It is certainly not your average trip to Palm Springs.
Lebanon is without a doubt very far from perfect, but where isn’t? So they have had wars, hasn’t America? We run away from the “danger” of the Middle East but never realize that we are living in that same danger now.
Lebanon is oozing with such radiant culture and tradition. We glorify cities that have hardly anything to offer, yet shred apart the ones with actual heart and soul. If the Middle East is not somewhere on your bucket list, it certainly should be. Famous writer and poet Khalil Gibran was very passionate about his homeland.
In his book, “Mirrors of the Soul,” he said, “You have your Lebanon and its dilemma. I have my Lebanon and its beauty. Your Lebanon is an arena for men from the West and men from the East. My Lebanon is a flock of birds fluttering in the early morning as shepherds lead their sheep into the meadow and rising in the evening as farmers return from their fields and vineyards. You have your Lebanon and its people. I have my Lebanon and its people.”
Gibran was right. It is a beautiful place that I am confident it will leave you with endless memories and utter joy.
Laura Tabanyi can be reached at [email protected]