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.?