Leb BloGosphere’s Brand New Two

Two great additions to Lebanon’s gay blogosphere came to life last month -- two new blogs that will cover exciting and still unrevealed facets of our gay life in Beirut.

One is Karim’s Rainbow Experience, the blog of a teenager living in Beirut who sounds extremely motivated and courageous, and who’s got a lot to say about how it is to grow up gay in Lebanon nowadays, to come out of the closet in our society and affirm oneself so early on in life. Keep it up Karim, we at GiB (for one) are really eager to find out if, and how, gay Lebanon has changed for the upcoming generation.

Skim through drugs, swinging and other Beirut
excesses... to gay confessions on Page 14.
The other blog is that of a pioneer of gay activism in Lebanon, human rights militant and founder of Helem, Georges Azzi. For GiB, the new blog holds a high promise, that of shedding some light into the knots and bolts of LGBT advocacy, community and NGO work in Lebanon... which might also carry with it a powerful message for those of us who’ve been stuck for too long in the 'silent majority'.

With these two new up-and-comers, it may seem that 2010 is ushering a new trend in the Lebanese bloGosphere. Together we’re boosting the online presence of the Lebanese gay community, which can only make us stronger, make our voice louder and serve our case better…

…And it seems we’re getting the general public's interest and getting free publicity, too! Gosh, some of us just made it onto Beirut TimeOut’s “baddest” issue!

-- by Gib#2
(Photo courtesy of Beirut Boy)


Part 7/7: “Ya Bash!” – Lessons Learned

“Ya Bash!”

That was probably the sound I heard most often during my weeklong stay. The sound echoes on the floor anytime a detainee tries to get the guard’s attention, be it for a cigarette, for food, for a status check, or because some detainees are pulling up a fight.

No shutting up! Speak out like these flower burgeons
on a blossoming tree in Geitaoui
Turns out “Bash” comes from “Pacha” and dates back to the times of the Ottomans, who ruled Lebanon in the early 1900’s and to whom we owe much of our carceral system today. No wonder then that the system seemed so archaic seen from the inside.

Besides getting acquainted with Jail culture, Jail etiquette and Jail jargon (as mastered like no other by this underground rap band called “Irhab” from Roumieh), I also had enough time to digest quite a few lessons that I hope will keep me on the safe side in the future:

We live under a corrupt Justice system…

Yes, we already knew that, but as much as I’d heard about it before I was still shocked to see it at work from the inside. If you get arrested in Lebanon, the legal limit on detention time (up to 48 hours) without getting a hearing, exposing the charges and proofs against you or speaking with a lawyer, simply does not always apply. You can linger in for days and weeks before they even turn to your case, especially if you don’t take the proper steps to get help from the outside. And even more than in our society in general, socioeconomic class plays a huge role in the kind of treatment we get and whether our rights are secured or not.

… where you really need to have your ass covered

Getting help from the outside in such an emergency situation meant I had to involve my family into the details of my case. They in turn had to attempt anything and everything to get me out of there, like trying to call Someone who knows Someone or hiring a “good” lawyer – and making 2,000$+ readily available for it. Ideally, I would already have a lawyer’s contact that I would have called myself. Getting this kind of help is the only way out of the rotten structure, for the system’s so corrupt that one guy can make it all the way to Roumieh to serve a jail sentence, while for the same exact charge another guy might get out straight from the courthouse without even a hearing with the judge.

… where they won’t hesitate to intimidate you

During what probably added up to 4 hours of interrogations and filling out endless sheets of Q&As in my deposition, my interrogators added a number of twists here and there to my own version of the events, sugarcoating it at places especially the beating part. I ended up signing on a declaration that I did not entirely agree with. While this probably spared me some physical torture in Hbeich, some others’ interrogations did not go as softly as mine. As for mental pressure, I did have to cope with the humiliating remarks of some of the guards, and almost broke down on my first day in the basement of the courthouse in Baabda, the closest place to Hell on Earth I ever experienced. I was lucky I did not catch the eye infection that many of us were starting to get.

… where drugs can aggravate any other case

Urine tests seem to have become commonplace in the detention centers, the airport and other security checkpoints. They can test you for THC (cannabis), cocaine and morphine regardless of whether you are being arrested for a drugs-related issue or not. That a test comes out positive from smoking up in the last month or snoring a line in the last couple days, would aggravate any other case with the heavy charge of ‘drug consumption’ (ta3aati), a charge that remains on criminal records for 2 or more years. And that’s regardless of which kind of drug it was, how much of it, how long ago, if it was found on you at the time of arrest… and even what country you were in when you used it!

… where homosexuality is still considered a real crime

Yes there is a flourishing gay scene in Lebanon, yes Beirut is full of horny guys and gay sex is everywhere, yes Beirut boasts loads of gay friendly places from bars to clubs to hammams to cruising spots, you name it, it has it all... So much that we tend to forget at times that it also has Article 534 of the Constitution, the law that makes homosexuality illegal in Lebanon, a law we keep in mental denial like only we Lebanese know how to. Most of the time it seems like this law is collecting dust in some chief officer’s drawer, but yet in other instances like in my case (which may be exceptional, I don’t know) it seems like they just take it off-hold and use it sporadically, like a joker card they can pull out anywhere, anytime.

… and we need to do something about it!

Seven packs of cigarettes, seven days and seven nights later, looking like shit, smelling like shit and feeling like shit, I’m finally out and back home. Apart from the scars, it already feels like a bad dream and I could easily act as though nothing had happened, call it a bad week and slowly forget it – But some good friends are telling me that maybe it happened for a reason and I have to do something about it. So I decided to write it down on GiB, share it with the local organizations such as Helem and Human Rights Watch to support their upcoming report on police brutality, and consider filing a complaint. Was this a courageous or a suicidal thing to do, a good thing for me and with a positive impact on the community or another drop of sand in the Sahara, and do I have this freedom of speech in Lebanon today... I guess I’ll have to wait to find out!

-- By GiL. Photo by GiB#2.


Part 6/7 – My Own 12 Angry Lebanese

I met my 12 Angry Lebanese during a week’s time spent locked up in three different detention rooms, trying to stay clean, well fed, positive and friendly – maybe even trying to make the best out of it. Every day had its share of hellos and goodbyes as some of us went out and new people came in. We shared a tiny space, a disgusting toilet, junk food, personal stories. Solidarity between convicts is something that comes naturally and is touching at times – Not everyone had enough money for food, or relatives sending them supplies.

This one goes out to these 12 and to all the others, some of whom made it out before reaching prison, some others probably up in Roumieh by now. Let this series of portraits also be yet another standing ovation to Zeina Daccache for her most moving and inspiring work with “12 Angry Lebanese” – a tribute to the thousands of people living through the horrors of Lebanon’s jailing system day in and day out, whether they’re experiencing it first-hand (the prisoners) or second-hand (their relatives).

29 year-old Mazen whom I met over in the “Mores” floor. An average Joe, a good guy, Mazen fell to the exact same modus operandi that they used on me. He was the first catch for that night, I was the second. When I could finally open my mouth to speak past the first night, we found support in each other. He made it out in about 3 days because he was clean on the drug test.

40 year-old rich kid from Cairo and his girlfriend are speeding through the security check at the airport as they’ve started calling their names for boarding, carrying loads of Champagne from the Duty Free. But remains of coke in a straw which was cut in half and forgotten in a box of cigarettes, added a prison stay to the couple’s 5-day non stop Orchid/Skybar Beirut marathon.

17 year-old Mohammed from DaHiye gets caught with 114 carefully packed one-halves of Freebase. Says business has been good lately, and that he’s been making up to $12k a month. Now he’s absolutely certain that it's the militia running up his neighborhood that sold him off to that other gang who busted him. But Mo’s almost happy to know that his next stop is Roumieh: he’ll be joining his four older brothers who are already in, and who continue to do their business from within.

Zeina Daccache's theater play "12 Angry Lebanese"
and the related documentary: Two must-sees.

28 year-old Rami is in for the eighth time. Says the fourth day without heroin is the most critical, that the withdrawal symptoms are worst. His stomach won’t take in anything. He’s vomiting water. Rami knows all the guards by now, and does a great job at guessing which one of us is getting sent up to Baabda next. Rami has never done a proper rehab, only 8 prison stays. Each and every time after he got out, he’s gone back to H.

19 year-old Karim’s car gets searched over and over again at a checkpoint, as though they knew there was something. The hair of his two friends and his looked too crazy indeed not be hiding something. The cop finally finds a tiny piece of hash: it’s the leftovers of these university students’ first-joint-ever. The three friends came in knowing virtually nothing about this world, but got out a week later from what felt like a crash course in Criminology and Toxicology.

38-year old family man Salim is so coked up when he gets thrown into the room at 4am that his eyes are shining in the dark. We are 8 people in a 10m2 room trying to get some sleep, but he won’t stop talking to whoever seems to be awake. Salem’s stories are so hard to believe it’s almost funny, but there must be some truth to them as he did end up spending time in each of the Drugs floor, the Mores floor, and the Gambling floor.

80-something year-old Abou Mezher is brought down from his village somewhere up in the mountains still wearing his gardening clothes. He was arrested in his own garden where it turned out he’s been growing one marijuana plant next to each plant of tomatoes. He calls it l nabte shareefe (the Plant of Honour) and has been making a living off it for years, but that’s probably the end of his little family business.

21 year-old Johnny has been helping his entire village get through the hurdles of official exams and paperwork, by forging legal signatures and documents. He’s been doing it for years now and has become such an expert at printing and faking techniques, he might be headed for a big career. While his crime appeared to be pretty big in terms of social impact compared to some others’, he was the first one to come out and without even a hearing (da3wa).

15-year old Abboudi has been away from his house for weeks. He’s still too high on Rivotril and Benzoxyl when he gets picked up, that he’s unable to recall why he’s getting arrested this time around. Something to do with Abou Ali, his older brother from another mother and also his drug dealer. As his fiercest protégé, Ahmed likes to hang out with Abou Ali all the time, it feels so light and mellow when he’s around, and all that counts is he is with him now.

35 year-old Abou Ali is the Pablo Escobar of his district, but only for prescription pharma drugs. Over the 15 years of his 5 past imprisonments, he has accumulated so many scars on his body that – by his own words – he looks like a zebra. Based on jail experience he’s found self mutilation to be the best way to keep the staff away. Abou Ali doesn’t mind pissing outside the hole despite the smell, and telling Hassan to clean after him.

16-year old Palestinian boy Hassan looks after everyone, keeps the room tidy and organized, even cleans the “bathroom” after Abou Ali, spreads the good mood. Hassan says he shouldn’t be here, that they’re trying to make him admit of raping a mute child from his neighborhood, and that he has no clue where they got this crazy idea from.

And last but not least…

50-something year old Umm Omar, mother of four, mother of all convicts, the only feminine presence around. She kept us well fed throughout the day and smoking cigarettes that she would smuggle in for us. Umm Omar makes a decent living as the cleaning lady to the floor, and also gets bonus reselling us goodies from the snacks and stores around Bliss street… at 50% percent premium.

(all stories as told, names were changed)

--by GiL. Photo by GiB#2

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