Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lamba Labs Beirut September 19-24, 2012

Marc picks me up from the airport. We have been tag teaming emails to help setup the into to Interactive Electronics workshop that I will be teaching on thursday evening at the new hackerspace in Beirut.  Marc is working with Bilal on starting this hackerspace, aptly named Lamba Labs. In arabic, Lamba means light bulb... so I guess 'idea labs'.

We pull into a parking lot. A guy pulls out an instrument with a long antenna and scans the car for bombs. It is a sign that the region is still highly volatile and I cringe just slightly. The Radio channel that Marc tunes to in the car is chock full of  western music, from pop to rock to techno and the voices sound like you never left the USA.  

Arduino Light Painting @ Lamba Labs
The Lamba labs new hackerspace is located in Karaj beirut, a coworking space that is started and affliated with Ayah Bedir (little bits founder, TED speaker). It is a really nice old building just to the east of Genmayze, the party central district in downtown beirut.

The first night I arrive, Marc and Maya help me plan out a beginner's Arduino workshop for Lamba Labs, a hackerspace. I only heard about this place a few weeks ago from Bilal who is working on an initiative to start Hackerspaces in the Middle East ( see GEMSI.org)  Since Istanbul is so close, and I've always wanted to see Beirut, I volunteered to help out (as part of my vacation) with the fledgling hackerspace. It was also of good fortune to know the people who were making the initiative which made organizing really easy!  In my week in Beirut, I also helped create some marketing materials and participated in the weekend hackathon where we did had fun making light paintings with arduinos! 

Iraq’s First Hackerspace Will Run on ‘Irrational Optimism’

The Middle East and the Global Hackerspace Movement
In my opinion Beirut can feel a little scary if you don't know anybody. Technically the city is safe, but everywhere you go they scan you for bombs. There are old building riddled with bullet holes and extraordinary graffiti, followed by super high end shopping areas and bars, as well as gigantic new developements.

There are a lot of syrian refugees and they had a miniwar the week before i got there in Tripoli - a hour's drive to the north. Lebanon is a super small country. Its a less than an hour's drive to the Syrian border, and if you've been keeping up with the news, there's been a ton of violence and refugees there in the past few weeks from the explosions in Damascus to Syrian refugees pouring over the border and still fighting amongst themselves in Tripoli. The eastern part of Lebanon is also getting shelled from skirmishes in Syria.

I'm told Beirut is full of contradictions. You have super religious sects here from sunni to shiite and then uber christians.  Apparently, the civil war in 1975 split the city down the middle and then became a religious war. While a lot of the city is rebult in parts, there are old buildings that still show scars, riddled with bullet holes. There are extremist sects of every kind of crazy type. They say the government set up didn't help the situation because in parliament there has to be separate representative from each religious community... i.e. the prime minister is one religious group, and the president is from another religious group... nuts.

I feel tired a lot when I am outside of a non-air conditioned area. Not sure if its because of the air pollution, the heat and the humidity but I am more easily exhausted and cranky here in Beirut than Istanbul or any other hot/humid location. I'm not sure about the reports on cities with the worst in air pollution, because I am sure Beirut takes the cake compared to Istanbul's old city. It only takes about an hour of walking around or standing in the air outside before I start to feel really tired.

All in all, Beirut was a productive, exciting and busy visit. If the opportunity arises again, I certainly hope to contribute to more hackerspaces internationally during my travels. Its nice to get to know locals and also feel like I'm contributing as a traveler, not simply passing through.  I hope that Lamba Labs has a great future. The hospitality and the energy of the people were wonderful as well.

No comments: