A few days after I had come back from Panama, a long time colleague from New York messaged me. We have not spoken in a long time, but have always followed each other’s paths on social media. I knew that he was doing a lot of cool things in the field of international medicine and even traveled as far as South Sudan with Doctors Without Borders. I think I might have even caught a glimpse of him on CNN 🙂
Rajeev’s message was simple. He’s started doing some NGO work in the refugee camps in Lebanon and since he’s been following my photography for a while, he wanted to know if I’d be interested in helping him out. He flat out asked me if I would consider coming to Lebanon with him to take some photos for his upcoming fall fundraiser. Without giving it much thought, I immediately blurted out YES.
Then, as soon as I agreed to go, negative thoughts starting swirling in. Lebanon??? Where exactly is it on the map? It is the Middle East, isn’t it? Is it safe? Could I get kidnap by ISIS? Could I get blown up by a bomb? Would I have to wear a burkah?
I then proceeded to ask people around me about the potential trip. “So, would you go to Lebanon?” “Have you ever been to Beirut?” “Do you know anyone who lives there?” “What’s your opinion on traveling to the Middle East right now?” Almost unanimously, people were shocked about my decision to go and responded with fear. “Lebanon? What, no, why would you go there? No way, it is totally unsafe. I think there is a travel advisory issued for the country. Absolutely no, I wouldn’t go there.” The number of definite NOs was a lot bigger than the number of a few YES’s.
And there were a few supportive yes’s around. The first YES came from my best friend Monika, who eventually decided to travel with me. Monia got incredibly excited about the trip and told me she has always wanted to go to Lebanon, but could never find anyone to travel with her. As soon as I told her I decided to join Rajeev, she decisively exclaimed, “I’m going with you!” I could not have been more excited for her to accompany me on this trip. A few other friends were also excited for me and my colleague Jonathan was the first to re-assure me that Beirut was actually super safe to travel to. “Don’t even think twice about it,” he said. I also did some travel research on my own and found several articles and travel accounts about Beirut, all incredibly positive and encouraging. My decision to go did not waver. My desire to visit the camps and curiosity to witness first hand what I have been hearing about on the news for so many months now were stronger than my trepidation.
However, despite all the good stuff I’ve found out about Lebanon during my research, my fears were not entirely squandered. The US Department of State International Travel website warns against traveling to Lebanon in some pretty bone chilling statements. “Threats of terrorism, armed clashes, kidnapping and outbreaks of violence” are not exactly the words you want to hear while preparing for your vacation. Both Monia and I had multiple freak outs several days into the departure date. I saved all the positive Trip Advisor articles about Lebanon and started following random Lebanese people on Instagram just to make sure they were alive and well while living in Beirut J I spoke to Rajeev multiple times who reassured me he has never felt unsafe during his previous trips to the camps. I knew I was going to go, regardless of my fears, doubts and all the freak outs I put myself through daily. Lebanon was waiting for me and I was ready to meet her…