The thought of international travel is mostly filled with dread and fear and the first time this feeling dissipated was when I entered the Abaad office on the day of the meeting.
I was on a 3 day trip to Beirut, Lebanon, along with Satish ji and around 15 other people from Lebanon, Pakistan, South Africa and US, organised by MenEngage Global Alliance, Sonke Gender Justice and Abaad- resource centre, based in Beirut. The plans for regional MenEngage work were discussed, especially in context of gender justice work with religious leaders and engaging men in women’s SRHR.
Amongst all the must- sees in Beirut, the Abaad office is itself one. It has the most beautiful interiors- the chandelier, the stained glass doors and windows, an enormous front door- all immediately filling you with a sense of warmth like a lazy summer vacation day during school time. I took photos of everything in the office- from the chandelier and doors to the lazy cat which would walk in and out of office the whole day.
The meeting and discussions were very interesting, starting each day with Arabic coffee. We learnt about each other’s work and challenges and innovative approach in involving men for gender justice. These discussions continued beyond the meeting and into our dinner where we had heated discussions Our hotel was on Damascus road, Museum district and the address made me feel as if I was going on a trip with Agatha Christie. I discovered two new things about myself- I love architecture and more surprisingly, I can read tourist maps!
We ate delicious food throughout the 3 day trip and the entire group looked forward to the 3-4 kms long walk on the Corniche- the seaside promenade. We passed signs of the civil war, the bullet and bomb marks on the older buildings, the flame shaped memorial to commemorate Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination 10 years ago- all sombre reminders of masculinities and war.
Our last day in Beirut afforded time for sightseeing. Rukia (from Sonke) and I were determined to find a crafts shop or a local market and we travelled from the Souk to the Mohammad Al Amin Mosque and Gemmeyzeh, Ashrafey and Hamra streets! The streets and shops and facades were so fascinating that I soon realised that I enjoyed the architecture more than what was being sold.
We did find the farmers market and merrily went about sampling organic chocolates- which made me very sick later! Surprisingly, I could decipher the tourist map and it made us take an interesting walk from a very desolate parliament square all the way to the ancient ruins and then to the ancient Roman Baths and public gardens. On the way back to the hotel in taxi, the driver asked us where we were from. We said India, he siad- Shammi Kapoor! Suku Suku!
I will remember this journey for many reasons, most importantly for the very interesting and inspiring work across the world but also the wonderful people I met and the beautiful city of Beirut, its cafes and buildings and its delicious food and that lovely sesame seeds dip called Zaatar!
By Lavanya Mehra