Lebanon as a wine country

When you think of wine countries you probably think of France, South Africa, Chile, Australia, sure, but there are many countries that produce good wine but are less known for it. This also applies to the the Middle East; while Israeli wines are sold at HEMA, Lebanese wines still have to find their way in into Dutch stores.

When the French got their mandate over Lebanon in the 1920’ies they found that the Beqaa Valley is perfect for growing grapes. While they were not the first to produce wine there, they were able to scale its production. The oldest winery in Lebanon was actually founded by the Jesuit monks in 1857 and was only sold by the church in 1973. While Lebanon is native to three types of white grapes, the commonly known non-indigenous grapes are grown the most.

90% of the wines are still produced in the Beqaa, however more regions have become popular with wine makers such as the Mount Lebanon, South Lebanon and the area around Batroun, leading to a total of almost 50 wineries in the country, ranging from old and commercial estates to small family-owned wineries. The Lebanese whites, rosés and reds are definitely worth a try if you are looking for something new. For people in the Netherlands: Lebanese wines can be bought at anderewijn.nl.

Side note: the Lebanese wines are more expensive than some of the French wines here in Lebanon. Prices start around 8 USD for a Lebanese wine, which isn’t cheap. Up to date, I have not found a convincing explanation whey they are more expensive than some French ones. If you do know, let us know!

First days of working in the refugee camp

  1. Do not promise anything
  2. Do not give them anything
  3. Do not show too much affection

These are the three rules LOYAC gave us for working with children in the refugee camp. During six weeks, me (Jazz) and five other volunteers are working in a camp in the Beqaa Valley with LOYAC twice a week, in which we will organize a diverse set of activities for the children. Every week we try to educate them on a different topic; e.g. environment, mindfulness or health. I have already noticed this is quite a challenge: , the children range from aggressive to extremely sweet, and some of the children lack access to basic facilities and knowledge.

I really understand the third rule of LOYAC, but it also leaves me with mixed feelings. The children are in need of affection and actively seeking for it, however we should not give it to them since we are leaving after six weeks. I understand that it is for their own sake, but if a 8-year old hugs you and holds you very tight when the day ends, you want to do the same, right?

Contrary to what I expected, the refugee camps in the Beqaa Valley are completely unorganized. I expected a large camp, but in reality the tents are scattered all over the valley. Farmers rent out their land for approximately 30 dollars a month per tent. Based on my experiences so far, the Lebanese try to help out the Syrians wherever they can. But then again, these are probably also the only people I meet.

The camp we are working in consists of 175 people of which 120 are children. Some of these children don’t have parents and live there with their grandparents. Then there is also a tent reserved for children without family. This one honestly breaks your heart. I therefore believe that seeing the camps, and especially the children in the first place, might be a good experience for many people in the Netherlands in order to develop a more nuanced opinion about the refugee crisis.

Brain drain Beirut

Rather than spending my Saturday doing nothing, my plan was to head north up the coast to the ancient town of Byblos (Jbeil in Arabic). However, due to the Beirut traffic I soon deviated from this plan and got off at the first city along the way. While grabbing something to eat I got into a conversation with a Lebanese guy and soon we were discussing politics (of course). The general rule in Lebanon is that people start talking about politics very soon, even though everyone says you should stay off the topic. He told me that after graduating in mechanical engineering he wants to move to France or Canada and that basically 8 out of his 10 friends already left Libanon. Many universities follow the American or French education system so that it is easier for people to move to these countries. This in in line with what I have been hearing a lot; there are more Lebanese people living outside Lebanon than within Lebanon. According to him, there are even more Lebanese in Brazil than Lebanon, but I am have my doubts about that statement. On my plane to Beirut, I was also surrounded by Lebanese from Australia, France, the UK and US. Most of which have left during the civi war and visit Lebanon over the summer which makes Lebanon more of a touristy place then you might imagine.

He believes that change is not going to come any time soon; the Lebanese society suffers form an extreme version of “verzuiling” and since the people are so embedded in their bubble,the political parties will remain to be corrupt since their voters are loyal to the party regardless. With many educated people leaving the country, this process will only be reinforced.

After our conversation he had already paid for my lunch, said it was Lebanese hospitality and kissed me on the cheek when saying goodbye. That is something I still need to get used to.

Jazz