Oct 31, 2012

Coffee Shop Photo Session at Al Baba

It wouldn't take me much to think of how splendid the idea of asking the management of Al Baba sweets for a photo session a while back (Passion for Food blog post) at their Beirut Branch, it turned out to be even more amazing ever since I got another chance of being there at their Zouq branch to hold a photosession in their coffee shop. Technically speaking, two cameras were used. My own Sony for its powerful artistic features, and a 450D Canon with a standard 18-55mm lens for closeups, great image quality and a powerful manipulation of the depth of field.

F/8, ISO100, 1"
Ambient lighting was the hardest hurdle at the moment, different light sources were there, with, obviously, different temperatures and tones, thus leaving me with no solution but to be my own light manipulator, of course with the help of the great staff. Here's a shoutout for Mrs. Amani by the way who was the first person to ever see this collection and gave me the push to share it here. Occasionally I asked one of the guys to model for me by using the surrounding props as the set, but found out later that such sessions needn't any models for the sake of preserving objectivity and leaving subjectivity to the observers themselves to freely project their own perception upon the scene.
F/3.5, ISO400, 1/30sec
I honestly loved the closeups on the cups rather than the whole scenery photographs. I myself am a detail lover, especially when it comes to consumables with an artistic touch. Enough with the blabbering, I'll leave you to the photos. Full album can be found on Facebook [Link]
F/2.8, ISO320, 1/15sec
F/5.6, ISO400, 1/25sec
F/4.5, ISO400, 1/15sec
F/5, ISO400, 1/40sec
F/4.5, ISO400, 1/40sec
F/3.5, ISO400, 1/40sec

Oct 20, 2012

Restoring Faith in Humanity

This post is to talk about Lebanese humans, nothing more, nothing less. And for your information, Humanity STILL exists in my country, whether you've seen it or not, whether you agree or you don't.

A few minutes after 2:30PM yesterday Friday OCT 19th 2012, a huge explosion shook the building I work at and of course, the whole area, to the point that I thought glass was going to break all over. It was easy to see from my window people in the street looking towards one direction, that is of the nearby Ashrafiyyeh. My colleague thought it was the nearby gas station that exploded, but going to the building's roof, it was more than clear. Sassine was on fire.

I had so many friends over there, Reine worked in the Hotel Dieu Hospital, Maryam lives there, Navia and Riwa also live/work there, Chris also, and they were all one minute away from the explosion. Lines were down, both fixed and mobile, congestion prevented anyone from calling any person that was there. I managed, through one call and social network as Facebook and Twitter, to be reassured that all of them were safe, except for Reine who was still no where to be found, but knew afterwards that she was stuck in the hospital until the moment she could've gone out. She kept telling me of the anxiousness that was filling the hospital seconds after the explosion; no one knew what had been going on outside. It didn't take too long before the news spread, a booby-trapped car exploded in the Sassine roundabout, the heart of beirut and one of the most crucial and vivid areas of the capital. This was a bold message, and it was only a matter of time before insults and political debates among the lebanese parties erupt into pointing fingers and accusing this and that.
A car burns at the site of an explosion in the Ashrafieh district of Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 19, 2012. (Mahmoud Kheir / Reuters)
Street talk was indicating no one could gotten out of this explosion alive, and thus alerting me and many others that there will be deceased people, in big numbers unfortunately. That incidence was an alarming occasion for so many people to react, to stand up and fight terrorism with all they got, sometimes with the only thing they got, their humanity. In the blink of an eye, Donner Sang Compter, "An NGO which promotes responsible citizenship and safe blood donations in Lebanon", sent a loud call immediately for everyone capable of reaching nearby hospitals to go there and donate blood, especially O negative.
The fire service said eight people were killed and dozens wounded by the huge exlosion that detonated in a residential and commercial street in central Beirut on Friday [STRINGER/REUTERS]
The queues of blood donors, very alike in nearby hospitals [via Donner Sang Compter]
The moment Reine in Hotel Dieu, I knew the amount of young enthusiastic people standing in line and filling the hospital's corridors awaiting their chance to provide their blood for those in need. Faith in humanity can never be restored but in such actions, where politics are no where to be found, races and genders mix, and the only flag that's raised is the one belonging to human solidarity alone. My timelines in both Facebook and Twitter were instantly flooded with the humanitarian requests for blood donations around the country. Apparently all tweets and FB posts got so many retweets, shares and spread-outs trying to diversify the outreach so that the most people would be able to know and respond accordingly. It is known that blood donation is so easy it would take only a few minutes of time, and is utterly efficient in saving other people's lives. I can never hide the emotional waves that hit me while sitting in my office staring at the laptop's screen insanely pressing that keyboard trying to follow all news around me, the efforts put by DSC and the donors brought me goosebumps several times along the way..

On the other hand, it is a blessing to me to meet someone whose goals in life are solely to help others, to dedicate one's breath's and moments in helping those who were in need, instead of taking the time to rest or get busy in own's favor, even it that meant to go there by herself. Meet Reine (so called rain), a girl who finds it so hard to be a social person and giving away fake smiles, while offering help to the needy is a bliss. Hugging someone who needs the hug, making someone smile or offering help to a grieving mother would simply make her day, that's how she, along with so many others, define her direction in life, her goal in this world. Right after checking on her and arriving safely to her place, she called me expressing her need to do something. A simple act of humanity was launched that same moment we closed our lines, we decided to go to Sassine square, the place where the assassination took place, to lend a hand for the injured, to check on their families to see if they need any extra hand, to clean the area and to support everyone around there basically.
It was crucial for our act to succeed to have the names of those who died that day, and it would've been a plus to also get the names of the injured, along with the hospital they've been to. But to our bad luck, no hospital could hand out the names of neither the deceased nor the injured. Here are a few tweets of the campaign that was held today morning from 8 AM till 12 AM

we are meeting tomorrow near abc achrafiye at 8 am, to see how we can help with the cleaning and other ways. @achrafiye @beirut

i ask u to visit the patients who were injured in the hospitals, provide any kind of help even if it was simply emotional support.

The so many road blocks along the way from Tripoli to Beirut prevented me from going there and taking part in the act, even if I managed to be there, I should forget about returning back to my town on the same day: that was more than impossible apparently. Two others were banned from going there by their parents and therefore, Reine went there with one friend that put great effort into helping her out with the injured and those coming in and out of emergency rooms. From what I can remember telling me of her first impressions right after she got home saying: "So we went inside and waited for the doctor, we met him but he couldn't give us any of the names of the deceased, he said most of those who came in already left. There were only 5 left, 3 of which were in ICU (intensive care). So we visited the remaining two women, one whose eye was injured, the other was young. She was inside with her family. Her sister came to me and I proposed that we're here to offer any kind of help, she asked us to wait for the mother to finish talking with the priest. We listened to the mother telling their story to the priest: they lost their house, their car, her daughter was badly hurt. When they finished the priest and the mother asked us who we were, who sent us and such questions. I replied with "we are not related to anyone or anything just random people", and the mother was emotionally moved, shock was on her face. She said "they all came to cover the story for their media venue, but no one actually came to ask us whether we needed anything for nothing in return". I hugged the mother and we started both crying... I was shaking the whole time and then grabbed my hand after promising to check up on her and her promising to call if she needed anything. She asked us for our names and then said that we have to.be strong "ma tenhare""

Chris was utterly supportive to Reine throughout the day, "he was my rock" she told me. Here's what Chris had to say of what he's seen that morning:

When i heard that the blood banks were full in all three hospitals (rizk, roum and hotel dieu) for the first time in history to the point of sending people away. It restored my faith in humanity a bit. People in general want to help, but too often there's no awareness as to how and where, and they're conditioned by the system to adopt the helpless victim mentality.

Another heart-moving tweet crossed my timeline, was that of a guy apparently living in Ashrafiyyeh, who asked to spread his tweet where he offered his place for anyone who lost his home and needed somewhere to stay at: 

Ralph Choueiri's tweet got so many retweets in minutes, for any humanitarian act needs no publicity, no begging for sharing. Ralph amazingly replied to a tweet telling him he was famous after yesterday's retweets, with a "I wish I wasn't"
I wish I could have the chance to sit down and have his say about what happened later, but I can fully understand trying to stay away from lights, and I utterly respect it.

Eventually, looking at the people of my country ACTING united instead of talking for years about unity, gave me a stench of refreshment: the touch of humanity was felt across the country in the past 24 hours. The deceased are being mourned at the moment, and the injured are being healed and hospitalized. All we can do at the moment is wish (though i'm not a fan of wishing) that this would be the last of our country's miseries, because we had enough, really...

Oct 7, 2012

Free Hugs in Eskisehir

I think you'd love to hear what happened before the free hugs, much more than the flashmob itself.

Taken by Talha
It was Saturday, the day that the factory works only half a day, and thus we finished work at 2:00 PM, went back to the hotel and headed directly to a nearby mall for a quick meal. Meanwhile, I had had sent a msg to my Turkish friend Talha to see whether he has some free time for the afternoon or no. It was a confirmation indeed. Fast forward to 5:30PM, I met him outside the hotel and he automatically notices my camera, asking me about my photography chances in Eskisehir, I replied with "none so far". He was kind enough to withstand my blabbing, my on-going sudden stops in the middle of the crowd only to get a photo I needed to take. Honestly, if it weren't to Talha's tour yesterday, I might've left Eskisehir without visiting anything but the hotel and its surrounding. The town's history is one more marvelous thing added to my experiences.

Eskisehir is the type of town that's filled with young people, actually what amazed me yesterday during the day was seeing two children down the road, and a mother. The town is always alive, vivid and energetic; in fact it's a 6:30AM Sunday morning now and you can still find people filling the streets. Alas, more about the city in another post. It was already 7:15PM in that afternoon & I asked him to help me buy some cardboards and a big pen. That done, we went to a local restaurant, he had his meal and I was preparing my free hugs sign while bypassers were wondering what's been written in English, a language that's so rare in Turkey. Talha helped me find the word for "Free Hugs" in turkish that would give me the same exact meaning. But then there was a problem, the word "free" had two separate words in the turkish language, one that meant "no money", the other meant "freedom", and basically this same contrast in the english word "free" was made on purpose to deliver both meanings, but now I had to choose one..
Talha looking for the proper translation on the web
I told him it's better to stick with the "no money" word because it's already internationally famous and of course people will not get the message if they read "Freedom Hugs". One more thing to add though, the whole period prior to the free hugs, I made sure I asked everyone I know from Eskisehir about the free hugs activity, the reactions and answers that I got were dissimilar, but at least all of them agreed that no one has ever tried this before, and people might not be ready to see a man holding the free hugs sign. I've watched the anxiousness arise in Talha's eyes, and I understood that pretty well: I was doing something that might be highly offensive to the local culture and traditions, and people might react aggressively, or at least throw an insult or laugh it away. I was fine with most of the reactions, and people have the right to think that I'm maybe trying to sexually molest someone or maybe pickup a girl, we've already had this before in Lebanon. But the point is that it was too late to back up, and to me personally? I couldn't say "well it doesn't work" without trying it. We reached the hotel, put off all of my stuff, took the sign, and here we go.

Getting ready in my room minutes before the flashmob
He asked me if I had my camera on, I replied with a no, so he suggested to take a photo of me with his phone. The street I chose was, in my perception, the most liberal and open-minded street in Eskisehir. Most people were secular there, and all of them, of course, were of a young age. Talha's anxiety grew larger when I decided to hold the sign and stand on a busy corner. I have to be honest here, if it weren't to the Turkish translation, people of Turkey would probably never understand what I'm doing, but I found out, 5 minutes later, that the translation we had picked was misunderstood for some other meaning. That explained the mockeries I received while standing there not understanding a single word they're telling me, replying to them with a simple "Sorry, English only". Talha, who kept his distance from me, worried about me and getting prepared if anyone becomes aggressive, suggested, 5 minutes later, that we stop the flashmob since, from what I've felt, I was apparently delivering the wrong message. It turned out later that the Turkish word also meant "Free Fucks", well go figure!

Sign was down, and we went to the edge of the street, all worried and me thinking of what would the next step be. Talha, being a local, was a bit ashamed to being spotted with me, the foreign tourist doing the Free Hugs. He put himself in a position where he might be made fun of, and for this I thank him. Finally, I asked if we only kept the English words, would that make it better? He replied with a yes, but I'll be losing the majority of the people, since as I said, no one understands English, and at that point exactly, it was fine by me.

Eventually, it was time to plunge back in again, timidly holding the sign below my chin, not expecting much of people, and honestly the early signs of a complete depression had already taken their toll. I felt like doing something wrong, and I had this big urge to cry. Having stood there for more than 30 minutes receiving nothing but insults and mockeries was not the most pleasing situation I been to, but it gave me this instant flash of the pain other free huggers we always see on youtube need to go through, before receiving their first free hug and breaking the ice. The moment came and it was FINALLY my time, when I saw a guy standing in front of me speaking in Turkish I instantly thought he was making fun of me and said of course "Sorry, english only". And, to my surprise, he spoke in English "I need a hug". That moment was nothing but AWESOME! I still have goosebumps even though it's 12 hours later. All the worries and the anxiety were vanished when I received my first hug. Moreover, he was kind enough to thank me for my hug! From this moment on, I honestly didn't want to put the sign down whether people accepted or rejected it.

I have to admit though, even though some people were very accepting, I must say it was not the kind of reaction I used to receive in Beirut for instance. During the one and a half hours I spent there, I received a total of 12 hugs. Right after that guy came, a fuss was created around me, and everyone was wondering now what was I doing and why. Next, came two girls, although I'm sure they didn't need the hug, and that they came only to post their photo on Social Media, one of them actually wanted to borrow the sign for a few minutes and try it herself. So she held the sign, and started dancing on the rhythms of the nearby club's music. I giggled a bit and taught her how to properly hold the sign so that people can read it. I said: "you have to stop dancing, lift it up and scream the words Free Hugs so that people notice you". One other example was a guy who was sitting inside that bar right on the pub's border and thought it was a good idea to receive his hug over the plants, but I managed.

One more thing I have to add though. I had already spoke of the idea in front of my Turkish friends in Couchsurfing, and to my colleagues in the metal factory we're working at. Gizem was the mechanical design engineer in the factory, and as I thought, she would understand me the most. Once she knew of what I was going to do, she said I'll come with my friends to give you the support you need. And they came indeed, Gizem and her two other friends spotted the sign from afar and instantly made me happy by surprisingly standing before me, smiling and cheering, while her friends couldn't hide their laughs at certain times, the kind of a laugh that I would perfectly grasp and understand. A note on the side, Gizem and I were having this conversation where she transferred to me some of the impression Turkish people have for the Arabs. She was stating that the Arabs were conservative, and thus, indicating that Turkish people, at least in Eskisehir, were more liberal and open-minded. But to me personally? The kind of a community that is afraid of free hugs, could never be more conservative.

Eventually there was this moment when I needed to turn down the sign and call it a day. One and half an hour later, the first Free Hugs flashmob in Eskisehir had to be wrapped for the night even though I swear I didn't want to stop. We went to a nearby place where I met my other friends, Sajid and Mutlu, who dropped by to say hi and ask about the Free Hugs "thing". I was so delighted to see them all.

In the end, I have no other words but utter thanks to each of Gizem for her honest support and not backing up, for walking with me and probably being mocked at too. Thank you Talha of course for being such a great supportive friend, I know he could've just went to do what he loved instead of staying there watching for me. Thank you Mutlu and Sajid for your compassion and understanding, your support made my day.