In my last blog entry, I commented on the international service workers in Lebanon. As these workers are often from underdeveloped countries (relative to Lebanon), this group represents a fascinating social dynamic in the country. Also interesting is that a sizeable chunk of the Lebanese population is engaged in work abroad, often in African countries. However unlike the thousands of Egyptians that work in manual labor or service jobs in countries like Jordan or the United Arab Emirates (both places I have lived and worked), many of the Lebanese that work in African countries are there as independent entrepreneurs or salaried employees in a diverse range of industries (food production, electronics, general commerce, etc.). I continue to be impressed by the high educational levels and business savvy of Lebanon’s people.
The strong linkages between Lebanon and the African continent are clear at all levels of society. The “service” (shared) taxi driver that masterfully negotiates the traffic of Beirut’s morning commuters has worked in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. He was an employee in a food services company. The father of Ameen’s marketing officer is an established businessman in the Ivory Coast; he has been working there for nearly 20 years. A Kiva borrower I met in the Southern town of Tyre had spent five years working in the Ivory Coast for Philips (electronics company) before moving back to Lebanon to get married. Ameen’s all-purpose man (driver, office assistant, and unofficial tour guide) spent several years working as a commercial trader between Lebanon and the Central African Republic. The two cousins of the Ameen Kiva Coordinator are company employees in Nigeria. I was really surprised to hear from one of Ameen’s Area Supervisors, who lives in the Southern town of Nabatiyeh, that it is common and expected in his community that at least one son or male member of every family is working in an African country.
As I spend more time in Lebanon, I am more and more intrigued by the interweaving and clashing of cultures. I am making a sincere effort to understand the country’s complex and rich political and economic history, which has proven to be a daunting task that will surely extend beyond my Kiva Fellowship. In so many ways it has been the wrongdoings, selfishness, or complete neglect of international actors that has left Lebanon to struggle and suffer over the past few decades. Yet at the same time, the Lebanese have also capitalized on the international influences that have drifted through its mountains and valleys in terms of language, business, religion, and economic policy. The significant business relationships between Lebanon and African countries are excellent illustrations of the country’s truly international experience.
I am beginning to understand that the only common aspect of the Lebanese people is in fact their uniqueness and diversity.
Nishita Roy is a Kiva Fellow (Class 10) serving in Lebanon. Get involved with Kiva’s Lebanon partners, Ameen s.a.l. and Al Majmoua, today! Make an impact by lending to a Middle East entrepreneur today!