Mira Mira On the Wall
Baabda, Beirut, Lebanon
I met Mira about an hour after I had landed in Lebanon. Even though I was still in the Middle East, I was having some culture shock at how open, free-flowing, and "liberally dressed" many of the people were. I had heard that Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East but honestly, had no idea what to expect. I wandered into a shop that seemed interesting a few blocks from where I was staying and she was in there chatting with some friends. I just loved her look, her colorful clothes as total expression of her personality. Everyone in that shopped looked very different from all the people I had encountered thus far, and so I was drawn to photographing her. I got her number and she was kind enough to bear the Beirut traffic to grab me a few days later and take me with her back to her family home, to see what her life was all about.
I so enjoyed my time with her. What an interesting young lady. At first, I had assumed that she was around my age, around 30, mainly because of the way she carried herself. She is a mere 18 and already has such an interesting story.
She is Lebanese through and through (I met her grandma later that day who has been in the same flat in Lebanon for around 60 years, stay tuned for those photos) but she grew up mostly in Iran. She speaks so fondly of Tehran, how she misses the culture there, misses her friends. Her family is of Christian heritage, so we talked of the standards in Iran for covering and how that was for her as a non-Muslim woman. She has so many beautiful traditional clothes that cover the arms and legs anyways that she said it was no big deal. She would just loosely throw a scarf over her head and be done with it. I myself am having an obsessive desire to go to Iran, so hearing her talk about how Beirut (which is pretty liberal) just didn't measure up to her love for Tehran only made this desire stronger.
She is going to the American University of Beirut, a gorgeouse campus right on the ocean (again, another post coming on that). She is studying dramatic therapy. Basically, a practice that uses dramatization, acting, and group drama therapy as ways to connect with feelings, life experiences, trauma, etc. I rarely heard any talk of therapists during my time in the Middle East. I am a big fan of them, as are I know many Americans, so it was interesting for me to hear her process of seeking some outside help to deal with the death of a family member. The general attitude toward therapy in this culture that is extremely private and family oriented (and private about the family) is that therapy is for people who are sick and have something seriously wrong with them (we're talking schizophrenic, etc). She found much help and clarity through her experience and found a real passion to go down that path herself but in her own unique way.
She has traveled a lot with her family, and her parents are absolute world travelers, their home full of bits from the Far East and all over. She lives at her family home, which again, is the norm. Her good friend had spent the night the day I came over, they were enjoying the lazy days of summer college break. We spent some time acting as little girls, digging through her beautiful dresses and playing dress-up. Most of her beautiful clothing is from Iran, and I found myself wishing I could pull off wearing those dresses without looking like a very white girl with a major ethno-crisis. Besides being a normal young college girl who hangs out with her friends, goes out to the bars and listens to music, she is also getting involved with volunteering in The Red Cross in Lebanon. They run all the ambulances there, and she felt the need to give back to her fellows in Beirut.
We have been in contact since I have been back and I asked her about how it has been with the Hezballah acting up as of late. She said that, though it is sad, they are used to this. They risk their lives everyday by the simple act of trying to live them. I found her to be such a creative, alive, unique and inquisitive young woman. I am so happy to have decided to walk into that shop my first day in Lebanon.