A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘garbage’ Category

more housecleaning: at home and in Tripoli

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on August 23, 2008

Yesterday marked the two-month “anniversary” of my leaving Lebanon to come back to New York for a bit.

It doesn’t seem like its been that long, my friend T said over a drink on Thursday after work. T was being kind – but then again, she had just arrived from Beirut herself, so perhaps she was still in that between-world state that (for me, at least) characterizes halfway-around-the-world travel.

For me, these two months feel like a very substantial amount of time: enough time that my experience of Beirut living has become historical rather than contemporary. When my friends say that Lebanon is “impossibly” crowded this summer, I can only nod and smile. I barely remember what a Beirut packed with khaleejis and overseas Lebanese returning on holiday is like – and for me, those memories come from 2006, not from July or August 2008.

So I’m feeling a bit out of it these days when it comes to Lebanon.

I’m also taking stock, in a way – at least in the literal sense. I’ve been going through my photos, tidying up and trying to caption them correctly before my memories melt into a puddle of “hmmm … great image, but where – and when – was that?”

And I’m still thinking about Tripoli, where for me one of the most shocking things was the utter absence of Lebanon’s greatest heroes: the Sukleen cleaners.

Its not that Tripoli has no garbage collection or street cleaning service, but it has no Sukleen. Instead, cleaning services are provided by a company called Lavajet:

That’s “lava” as in “lavar” (for Spanish speakers), “laver” (for French speakers), or “lavere” (for Owlfish, Abu Owlfish, and any other Latin lovers out there). It refers to washing, not to volcanoes. And “jet” as in … I have no idea. Cleaning at jet speed? Cleaning with jets of water?

According to Zawya, the company is owned by a man named Badawi Azour, who owns several construction and waste management subsidiaries, with main offices near Dbayyeh and operations in Lebanon, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE.

The Emirates outfit may be a semi-separate entity: it apparently partners with a local firm called Batco, as most foreign companies operating in the Gulf are required to do. Here is its website, which is in the process of relaunching. The branding may be distinct for the Emirates, or it may simply be new: Lebanese-Canadian graphic artist Mustapha Sabra includes the new Lavajet branding in his online portfolio.

(Mustapha’s blog also has a very nice deconstruction of a Lavajet ad he designed for the Lebanese market – which he has commented on below. When I first wrote this post, I stated that this ad would be considered false advertising in the United States, since rather than use actual Lavajet trucks, he simply digitally added the branding to a generic North American garbage truck. But Mustapha has clarified that the rebranding accompanies the roll-out of a new fleet of trucks, and that the digital design was simply a cost-saving measure. Thanks for the explanation, Mustapha – and I hope that the new branding is a big success!)

Anyway. Why is she so into garbage companies? you might be wondering. Well, let me tell you.

My understanding was that Sukleen is a Hariri-owned company that functions as a concessionaire, providing cleaning services for Lebanon without much of a competitive bidding process. At some point during the building of the current downtown, it was decided that Lebanon needed cleaning services, and that Sukleen would be the provider.

Of course, I have no hard data on this, nor have I done any research on the subject – this is just my impression, based on what I was told. And I certainly don’t object to having professionals pick up all the bits of garbage the Lebanese toss out onto the streets and sidewalks, as if trash cans are an utterly foreign concept to them.

But I’ve never paid a bill for garbage collection, which has made me rather curious as to just how Sukleen gets its revenues.

Seeing Lavajet’s trash bins in Tripoli made me realize that the cleaning services concession might be one further indication of both the importance of Beirut and the limits of central power – not to mention Hariri power – in Lebanon.

According to Averda, Sukleen’s parent company (and yes, in case you are wondering: its headquarters are in Beirut’s downtown), Sukleen provides services to Beirut and most of Mount Lebanon, or to more than 2,000,000 people – about 55-60% of the country’s population.

Tripoli is supposed to be a Hariri (or at least Sunni) stronghold. But Beirut is, as I noted earlier this week, seen by many as the head, beating heart and all other essential limbs of the country. So if claiming the cleaning and waste concession for all Lebanon was not possible, claiming the Beirut concession was probably the most important.

I don’t remember seeing trash bins in south Lebanon, but I am sure (or at least I hope) that they exist. Does anyone know who has the cleaning concession for the Bekaa, for Saida, etc. etc.?


Posted in Arab world, Beirut, garbage, Lebanon, politics, travel, Tripoli | 3 Comments »

clean-up crew

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 16, 2008

Yesterday afternoon H took me across town for my bi-monthly surrender to vanity, otherwise known as a facial. Yes, I know: grooming while Rome burns. But there’s no sense in having my skin care regime collapse just because the Lebanese state is.

We took the Fouad Chihab overpass – the same one we tried to take last Thursday. There were no burning tires this time, but there were plenty of dirt mounds. It was a funny kind of blocking: we couldn’t go all the way across the overpass, but we could go part way, exiting onto a small side street that looped us through the back end of Zoqaq al-Blatt before depositing us on the road that leads up to Sodeco with Monot on the left. Well, the road that usually leads up to Sodeco – in order to get there, we had to cross over to Tariq al-Sham, the old Green Line.

We had done the same trip the night before on our way to dinner at Monks, so we knew all the ups and downs and loops all around that it required. But yesterday was the day that the Arab ministers were expected to propose a framework for solving the current Lebanese crisis, and on Fouad Chihab both government and opposition were preparing to do their bit when the time came:

 See the two bulldozers and all the men gathering around? We saw opposition men in regular clothing, darak/ISF soldiers in their white and black camouflage uniforms, Sukleen workers ready to sweep the street clean of any remaining garbage, and the beginning of a press cotillion to cover it all.

Its still not totally normal here – the requirement for today’s scheduled dialogue session in Doha is a return to the status quo of May 5, but Hizbullah security men (boys, really) are still lurking in my neighborhood, and I saw the same SSNP “protection forces” in Hamra when I walked through this morning.

Or maybe this is the new normal. After all, the Lebanese are nothing if not adaptable. So perhaps in a week or so I’ll think of my neighborhood’s invading goons with the same affection that I feel for the coffee vendor. Especially since I think that the reason he no longer sells coffee on my street is that he’s too busy with his other job: as supervisor of the Hizbullah boys. The new normal, indeed.

Posted in Arab world, Beirut, garbage, Lebanon, media, politics, Qatar | 1 Comment »

his & hers spam emails

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 30, 2007

I usually identify pretty strongly as a woman. I like men, but I’m very pleased to be on the hair & nails side of the gender divide (not to mention the more reflective and better organized side).

Recently, however, my sense of womanly self has been taking a beating. My work email has become the darling of spammers, all of whom appear to believe quite strongly that I am a man – a man with rather pressing needs and some deep insecurities.

This morning, I received an email from Lenny, who promised that “she will love you more than any other guy” thanks to his pharmaceutical offerings. This was rather cheering, since I was already regretting Friday’s decision to pass up Cheri Levy’s “last chance to super-charge your performance”. After all, Kristen was telling me: “beautiful Russian women are waiting for you”.

It may be good that I held off on the PEP, Viagra and the Russians – as it seems that I, or at least my male alter ego, have the chance at some 1950s style domestic bliss:

Good day, dear

I dream of a family and of a loving husband. I know this happens rarely but I indeed don’t put shopping, beauty salons, friends or new shoes on the first place. I wish to be with my loving husband and our children. I love to cook, and I dream to cook for my husband. I like to grow flowers and to read books and I dream to read fairy-tails for our little kids. I know how to keep the house clean and tidy and I will be happy to sit with my husband on a porch with a cup of tea and watch the sunset… If you are that person, if you are my man, you can find me at http://loveisaclick.com/feelheal and I will answer you with my best respect and honesty… I will impatiently wait for the beginning of our future.

Waiting for your reply

Cecy P

It is tempting – I would love a live-in cook, not to mention a housekeeper. But I’m going to decline Cecy P’s offer. After all, I grew up in the post-women’s movement world. I expect equal pay for equal work, Title IX sports funding, and spam emails that address me as the lovely woman I am :-).

Posted in advertising, garbage, internet, research, romance, vanity, women | 2 Comments »

desert love

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 17, 2007

I have the anonymous arabist to thank for this laugh-out-loud hoot of a website:

Sheikhs and Desert Love: a Database of Romance Novels

and no, its creators did not develop this site as a joke. Visitors can search by title, author, publication year, topic and theme, editors’ choice and … country.

Yes, country. The site creators have created a clickable map of “fictional Arabia” so readers can search for novels from their favorite, mostly non-existent countries. I’ve copy-pasted the image here (but for the full clickable experience you must visit the site):


Its well worth a visit, not least for editor’s choice reviews like this one, for Diane Dunaway’s 1982 Desert Hostage:

The novel, which spans two generations, is searing hot. Beginning with Englishwoman Anna’s capture by a powerful desert sheik, the story unfolds to tell the story of her son who is born during her captivity–though unbeknownst to anyone but Anna, the boy is not the sheik’s biological son. Raised as an Arab, Karim soon finds himself on a mission of revenge when the sheik is murdered by an English soldier, Clayton. He vows to avenge his death by detroying Clayton, as well as his family. The story takes a sharp twist when the very woman he falls deeply in love with, Juliette, is the daughter of the hated Clayton. Naturally he imprisons her in his harem, but his feelings for Juliette run deep. There is no way she could just be another concubine destined to live the lonely harem life…and plenty of hot encounters between them make it abundantly clear that she will soon become his one and only. Good fun, and a great read!

What qualifies a book as an editor’s choice, you might wonder?

Books are chosen based on the strength of and the chemistry between the characters, the development of storylines, and the swoon factor of one or more romantic scenes. Novels with an attempted-escape-through- the-desert segment and that take place in a lavish yet remote palace are generally given high marks.

Happy perusing!

Posted in Americans, Arab world, books, garbage, guilt, holidays, maps, media, romance, women, words | Leave a Comment »

Beirut by any other name: beer pong debates in Lebanon?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 28, 2007

Last night I saw The Queen with Charles (who wrote about our fellow movie goers at Chou – infijar?). I tend to drag my feet at going to the cinema but the film was quite good. Charles proved to be a very amiable cinema companion, although he did insist on our finding “our” seats, despite the almost total emptiness of the theatre. I understood, though – I like to be anchored, too.

The best part of the Tuesday movie night might have been the walk home. We walked west on “Charles’s street”, Avenue Charles Malik, whose other name, Hikmeh (Wisdom), referenced a character trait that was not our strong suit. Walking through downtown was easy, but getting back to the west side involved several rather undignified fence and guard rail scalings. The city was beautiful by night, though, as it always is. We both deeply regretted our camera-less states.

BEFORE all this, though, I went for drinks in Gemmayze with G – a delightful evening of laughter and wide-ranging conversation. Our talk took a sudden turn from politics to sports, about which I know nothing. I soon learned that the owner of the vodka & seven keeping company with my Ksara rouge was quite an expert in … table tennis.

Wait. Do you mean ping pong? I asked, sitting up in my seat. Fantastic, I thought. Now my darkest, most potentially awkward question about life in Beirut can finally be answered.

Err, I began eloquently. So … you know … I mean … do you … do people … does one … mmm … is beer pong played here at all?

You mean ping pong, but with beer? G asked. How does that work, exactly?

Mmmm, I replied, Its a game of doubles with cups of beer and with funny distinctions made about hitting the rim versus sinking the ball into the cup. Oh, and … there’s a variation, called beirut.

Wikipedia, the current go-to site for relatively accurate first-dip research, has a brief post on beer pong here, although it lists beirut as an alternate name for the same game.

When I was in school, beirut was a slightly different game, involving more cups and no paddles. “Pyramids” of plastic cups half-filled with beer were placed on each side of the net, and players competed by attempting to “sink” the ball into a cup.

Why “beirut”? Because the sinking was like the fall of a missile, or a bomb. Hence the awkwardness: US college students have co-opted the site of a long, brutal, and bloody civil war for Thursday latenights.

I have for a long time wondered whether beirut the game had entered the consciousness of twenty- and thirty-something American raised Lebanese (and also whether they found it funny, or offensive). Wondered, but been too shy to ask until G’s fortuitous table tennis side showed itself.

*** I should note that as a non beer-drinker, beer pong and beirut were games I watched from the sidelines. White Russian or Midori Sour pong would have been more to my sweet-tooth tastes.

Also, things seem to have changed since my college days. Judging from the recent spate of articles in college newspapers and college oriented websites, beirut has become the standard form of beer pong. See for example Beer Pong vs. Beirut, or Naming the Game: Beer Pong or Beirut.

Posted in Americans, beer, Beirut, college, friends, garbage, news, words | 3 Comments »

something rotten in the state of Syria: food related conspiracy theories

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on February 12, 2007

A few weeks ago my friend Charles posted a fiercely funny (ri)post(e) regarding the terrible Lebanese journalistic coverage of the “poisonous balloon” issue.

(For those of you who somehow missed this story, a bunch of balloons intended as a PR promotion for Israeli newspaper H-Ir apolitically wafted across the border into southern Lebanon. Residents there reacted by 1) catching the balloons and inhaling the helium and/or 2) calling the ISF, the Internal Security Forces, to secure what they called dangerous Israeli weapons.)

Charles said:

The Lebanese media is claiming that Israeli warplanes dropped poisonous balloons on Lebanon.

That sounded absolutely ridiculous to me when I read the headline. Have you ever heard of something like this before? Only someone who believes that the evil Zionist will stop at nothing to harm Arabs would believe this. Poisonous balloons? And what were people doing inhaling them, anyway?

I searched UN sites and found nothing about the alleged incursion. Then, I found this in Haaretz. It seems much more plausible.

When rabid apes escape from the Beirut port and invade the downtown, I’ll make sure to say they came from a Zionist ship. Israel will stop at nothing – NOTHING! – to keep Arabs from living in peace. Their seductive balloons entice people to sip their poisonous gases. And did you hear, it was a Zionist medical facility in China that invented bird flu while they were trying to create a virus that will kill all Muslims?

Reading his tongue-in-cheek declamation that “Israel will stop at nothing …” still makes me giggle.

Whiffs (pun intended) of another conspiracy came from a late-breaking SANA news story published at 2 this afternoon:

Rotten meat is confiscated on Syrian-Lebanese borders

The security men existed on the Syrian-Lebanese borders on Monday confiscated three tons of rotten frozen meat on the archeological al-Qantara Bridge allocated on Al-Assi River (Orontes) when a group of smugglers were trying to enter it into Syria by a truck.

Veterinarian medical sources in al-Qaseer town in Homs governorate, central Syria, said that the data recorded on the meet are not correct, asserting that the analysis of the meet showed that it may be not a buffalo or veal meet.

Rotten non-buffalo non-veal meat smuggling sounds like a very niche market to me.

Still, what a refreshing change from all the weapons smuggling.

Posted in animals, Damascus, economics, food, garbage, Israel, Lebanon, media, politics, shipping, Syria, travel | 2 Comments »

the streets of Beirut, where hygiene meets politics (ii)

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 28, 2007

A new advertisement from Sukleen appeared this weekend, and again (see: the streets of Beirut, where hygiene meets politics) I am not sure what to make of its timing:


(I stole this jpg’d version from the Daily Star, to which I have an online subscription. thank you!)

The text is, at least to my eyes, ambiguous:

An announcement from Sukleen SARL.

“Sukleen SARL” is undertaking to replace a large number of trash bins [al-7awiyyat] which were damaged during the past days [al-ayam al-ma`9diya] in the different areas in which Sukleen works [lit., of its work] with new trash bins, just as the company is carrying out the elimination of what remains of the debris and cleaning the roads and streets. This is to inform you that the completion of these works will require some additional days.

At the same time, the company thanks the honorable citizens [like “gentle reader”, a rather stock phrase] for their cooperation, and promises them that it continues to work for all Lebanon and in all circumstances [or, under all conditions].

Were trash bins a casualty of the past week’s unrest? Is the company merely hoping to prevent unpleasantness for its workers should residents object to the (unexplained) removal of their trash bins? The wording is either extremely euphemistic (“al-ayam al-ma`9diya”) or the scheduled bin switch-out awkwardly timed.

At times here it can be quite difficult to decide whether I am reading too much or not enough into things.

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, economics, garbage, Lebanon, media, news, politics, religion | 1 Comment »