Time’s Corner

I met this elder man while strolling along Armenia Road in Bourj Hammoud. He sets up shop right in the entrance of a residential building. No sign, no windows, no storefront: just a desk and modest chair.

But that little corner is very much his own with posters of watches and maps hung as ornaments or perhaps a makeshift window display.

He let me watch as he got to work. I wasn’t really sure if he was really fixing it or just tinkering with it for the photographs, but he seemed engrossed enough in what he was doing that I really didn’t mind.

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© Loryne Atoui 2012

Hair Craft and Ethiopian Coffee

A few friends and I recently stumbled into an Ethiopian hair salon in the Karm el-Zeytoun neighborhoods where we curiously explored this intimate setting. Hair is very much a craft for the ladies and getting it done is a full day’s affair accentuated with plenty of coffee, arguileh and gossip. They graciously welcomed our group in and allowed us to observe their Saturday afternoon ritual more closely with our cameras.

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Let’s Zambo!

Have you ever heard of the Zambo festival in Tripoli? Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. I only recently found out about it from a friend who’s from there.

Upon hearing about this year’s Zambo festival, I marked my calendar for February 26th, got my camera ready and did a bit of online research (just to know what to expect). Covered in black or gold body paint, residents of the port town of El-Mina eagerly plan for this event and go all out to celebrate the start of lent. Wigs, masks and ridiculous costumes have also become a part of the tradition.It’s always interesting to find out about such festivities that are more or less local to the different cities in Lebanon.

Apparently not that much is known about this colorful street charade, but there is a local history behind it and many claim it has origins in Brazil. From what I’ve gathered, a Lebanese man who’d been living in Brazil wanted to bring the spirit of Rio’s carnivals (which take place around the same time) to his hometown of Tripoli. Whatever the reason behind it, it’s become a local tradition and there’s a fun spirit behind it. Families, teenagers and the elderly gather on the streets. There’s no guarantee you will leave unmarked with the black paint of the paraders, but for one day of the year, it’s perfectly fine to be dirty.

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We joined the main group of around 30-40 teenage boys and men in a small alleyway by the seaside before the parade would start into the little alleyways that make up that part of town. Preparations were heavily underway and one of the old houses was transformed into a body painting room. A local tattoo artist was decorating the topless men covered in black with silver tribal designs.

As expected, Zambo was certainly a memorable event. Putting the silly costumers and weird tradition aside, what we enjoyed much during those few hours was the sense of community it brought forth. Along the way, people were either standing by their shops or had brought their families to watch. I can also imagine that the boys spent the few days prior planning for it. It might even be a sort of rite-of-passage for the younger boys to be able to join once they were old enough.

The best part, and for the boys’ mothers definitely, was that all the paraders would jump into the sea after completing a tour of the coastal neighborhood. We missed that part as we had to head back to Beirut, but it would have been interesting to catch it. There’s always next year!

What Remains…

Two weeks ago, there was a devastating building collapse in the Achrafieh neighborhood of Fasouh. The tragedy was naturally widely-covered by various media outlets (report) who made a big fuss about the whole event.

It was one of those events that leave you numb for a few days and you stare blankly at the TV as reports come in. I was left with (almost) the same dumb shock emotion as I did during the 9/11 attacks a few years back. I felt the same anger at those responsible for allowing the warning signs to get dismissed, the same sadness for the loss of lives and the pain the families are enduring, the same frustration that this had to happen in the first place and the same helplessness of not knowing what to do to help.

Today I passed by the site with a few friends who were photographing in the area. It wasn’t really planned that we would visit the site (and I didn’t feel comfortable visiting it before), but a curiosity of wanting to see it for ourselves drew us closer. It kind of makes it more real when you see things in front of you.

At first, I was a bit hesitant to share the photographs I took there today, but I believe what remains of such tragedies also reveals a lot – both about the incident itself and those who once called this now-flattened plot of land their home. And you’re left, as an outsider, with only little clues of what their lives were like before..

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A silent echo of mourning can be felt so deeply while visiting the site. You can’t help but feel something stir inside of you upon seeing this huge mark of loss and tragedy.

As days pass and news makes way for other tragedies (unfortunately, that’s the way the world works), people start to forget and move on with their lives as if nothing happened. The building collapse should be, at the very least, a testimony for change and prevention of other similar tragedies. I would hate to see more buildings collapse because of neglect, by whoever may be responsible.


Post originally featured on LBC News’ blog here.

Tiny Feet, Big Hands

A few weeks ago, I came across a young man working on a machine that repairs shoes. Nothing special if you think about it really, but what caught my eye was the tiny shoe he was repairing, a dainty child’s shoe with shiny straps and obviously a special shoe for that little girl. Almost like a dance, I was entranced by the stark contrast of rough hands working so carefully on something so tiny and delicate.

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Styling Sabah

Sabah’s former stylist lives along the coast of Tripoli, in the quiet port-side part of town where the winding alleyways with hanging rusty shutters and netted baskets smell of fish long after the morning catch.

I entered the shop to take a look after spotting all the photos on the glass outside. You wouldn’t think much of the shop from first glance. I didn’t believe him at first but if a shrine of their photos together is any proof of his devotion to the pop icon, then I don’t know what is (and his shop does little more than just do that). It’s a museum of that signature flowing bleach blonde hair with that painted on make-up that will remain as frozen in time as the woman herself.

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Although I’m not much of a fan of Sabah, but like entering any well-preserved museum, you can’t help but walk out with a little sense of appreciation for the life she’s lived (and the hairstyle she’s managed to keep all this time). Something about seeing it unveiled through the eyes of her stylist leaves you wondering what that journey’s been like and why they parted ways. Does Sabah miss Nicholas as much as he misses her?

Ya Jaggal

The past few times I’ve been out taking photographs, I’ve run into men that fit into that typical stereotypical male image people like to refer to as “jaggal”. Trust me, I don’t mean it as a term of endearment or find them jaggal-like in my eyes, but rather that they possess that attitude of macho where no other word fits better.

Each of the photographs below were taken in different cities in Lebanon and it was made very clear from the moment I saw them that they “own this town” (how true that is is certainly debatable) and enjoy the attention they get for being a bit over-the-top in their style. Try and prove them wrong (I don’t recommend it). It’s interesting to see how these men are individually very different, yet possess some very similar and unique features.

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