I start an internship with Lebanon’s biggest English language paper, The Daily Star, on Monday. My nervousness is battling my excitement at the moment and I’m not sure which is winning. I have been doing some freelance writing and translation since I’ve moved to Lebanon, but this will be my first time in a news office – first time in an office at all for that matter! Any tips on how to make a good impression would be very welcome – while I’m not expecting a short internship to lead to a job offer it can’t hurt to give it my best shot…
Yesterday I spent the morning interviewing a graffiti artist for my graffiti article (more on that soon) and then went to Karantina, a big industrial area of Beirut near the docks, to photography some of the graffiti in a less residential area – lots of wall space and factories plus less people milling around at night equals bigger, bolder and more imaginative graffiti. On the way back I took a servees and met a fascinating man, in some ways the epitome of Lebanon’s two sides: modern, liberal and forward-thinking, while at the same time still very traditional and conservative about certain issues.
He immediately began talking to me when I got in the taxi and said that he’d stopped to pick me up because I reminded him of his daughter. In the space of 15 minutes I learnt that he had seven chidlren, was a qualified nurse and had lived and worked in 42 different countries, mostly in Africa, taking his wife and children with him from place to place. He is now “retired”, but works as a taxi driver because the company he worked for, an American firm, did not provide him with a pension. He told me he loved to read and study, and that he had his own private library of 6000 books, some medical, some philosophical, some political – some of them banned in Lebanon. His favourite musician is Beethoven, his favourite author Shakespeare. ‘I have read every one of his plays’, he told me ‘and I try to live my life according to them’. He must have sensed my confusion beuse he continued ‘Shakespeare teaches us how to talk, how to move, how to love’ – and how to speak poetically too, it would seem!
He asked where I was from, and then where my parents were from, and when he heard that my mother was from India he said that he had read all the teachings of the Buddha and thought that he was a great man. ‘He is like Jesus’, he told me, and then went on the explain that although he was Christian he had studied all the great religions, read the Quran, the Torah and had also studied Hinduism, because ‘Ghandi was a great man and he was a Hindu’.
He told me I was very courageous for moving to Lebanon, and that I was a good girl for wanting to explore the world and learn things. He asked me what I was doing and I told him working as journalist. He told me that his wife used to work as a professor at the American Univeristy of Beirut ‘but when we got married I made her quit her job’. At first this surprised me – he seemed like a man who was both very open-minded (the religious study) and who valued education (the 6000 books). But he carried on to say that Arab men are traditional, they don’t like their wives to work, they like them to live like princesses. He added, ‘Why should she work? If I can cope why should she need to work? If I can’t cope, then she can help me – but it’s not necessary’. Then he said to me ‘I’ll tell you a secret… What you should do is try to find someone to marry you. If you need help I can help you. I have two sons, you can choose between them’.
I told him that it was very kind of him to offer, but that I would try to find my own husband, and we parted the best of friends, he handing me his card and urging me to add him on Facebook.
All in all it was an interesting journey, and gave me pause for thought. While he said that Arab men don’t like their women to work, he was talking about the traditional view that a woman’s place is in the home, a view is by no means limited to Arab culture. In many countries women were traditionally expected to stay at home, perhaps not ‘living like princesses’, but raising the children and keeping the house. This view does seem to be altering in much of the world, due in part of course to economic pressures. In Lebanon women do tend to go out to work – far more than in many countries in the Middle East. Women are waitresses, pharmacists, doctors, shop keepers, artists, business women, teachers – clearly whatever the traditional view times are changing.
While I like working, and wouldn’t want to quit my job just because I got married, I can see that it would be nice for a man – or a woman – who was earning enough to support someone to be able to offer them the option of a life of leisure. Just as long as they are given the choice!