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French Version

Between bombings, Lebanese hit the beach

'It's a way of letting our frustrations out'

There are few places in Lebanon where one finds people from all sectors of society gathering together and getting along. As the summer gets into full swing, deckchairs, lounges and barstools are packed with people of all shapes, sizes and ages; for one day each week, they try to keep politics at bay.

With tension unabated in Lebanon, beach resorts are making an extra effort to relieve people of the daily stresses of living through these circumstances. Sunday saw a gathering of approximately 2,000 people at the Oceana beach resort for its One Big Sunday extravaganza. Yet as the alcohol flows and the music pumps, the difficulties are never far from people's minds.

"I came here to enjoy the music and to have a laugh with my friends," says Dani M., who is on vacation in the country. Lying back on the grassy knoll next to the pool, with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other, she explains how going to the beach is not improper, even though people are dying. "I don't think it is inappropriate to have fun - just because the country is in a war, we should still be able to go out and enjoy ourselves. It's a way of letting our frustrations out, rather than staying at home and being depressed."

This attitude holds sway across the resort. Scores of people dancing poolside, on the bar and in the water to the music provided by Mix FM clearly show a crowd desperate to return to normality. Arms flailing in the air, feet stomping in time to the pulsating bass line, cheers go up intermittently during each track.

"In a way, we're all living a contradictory life," says Lama, a real-estate broker. "We're all here to have a good time and drink, but then at the same time we can't wait to get home for the eight o'clock news to find out what is going on in the country."

In Lama's opinion, people are getting tired of the situation. "We're all just getting on with it," she says. "We still need to live, and many people are doing that the only way they can: by blocking out what is happening."

At the same time, however, she feels that some people have taken it too far. "People are definitely compensating for the week of stresses, but it is also unnatural," Lama says. "They're always out getting drunk rather than just sitting back and relaxing. In a sense, they have become extremists."

People who are detached and ignorant of what is going on around them need to be more aware of events, according to Lama. "More patriotism is necessary, and more involvement in finding solutions," she adds.

In the nearby resort La Voile, a sign has been posted as a talisman to deter trouble and ensure security. "No politicians and deputies allowed in," it reads, indicating that politics is always accompanied by problems.

Oceana is packed with girls tottering in high heels and the latest bikinis, and men slathered in oil recline on lounges. Conversations revolve around the weekend's mishaps, where to go out and whether more alcohol is available. "Listen, the situation here in Lebanon is always the same, so that is the exact reason why we should be going out and enjoying parties at the beach," says Dani's friend, Nour Issa. "The situation in the North doesn't affect us, so why should we stop doing what we love doing?"

"Essentially, what can we do? The Lebanese people have gotten used to the situation, and this is their way of handling it," says Wael Amhaz, an MBA student at Lebanese American University, enjoying the day at La Voile. "It is the weekend. We need to have fun and just have a day away from all the stresses here."

His friend Rami is visiting the country for a few weeks from New York. Trying to leave the pressures of life behind, he goes to the beach, specifically to beach parties with a carefree attitude. "We're pretending we're all O.K. and we don't care about what is going on," he says. "I'm here to party."

Many of those who were attending the event on Sunday lived through last summer's war with Israel. They are currently applying the same attitude to this situation as they did last year. "We were drinking and clubbing in Faqra and Faraya all last summer when there was the war," says Mohammad Hakim from his deluxe chair by the pool. "The fighting in the North is very far. Unless there is a civil war, we won't stop doing these kinds of things."

Despite the full resort, few ventured into the sea. Many stayed away because they were afraid of repercussions from last summer's oil spill. "Until the government and non-governmental organizations give it the all-clear, I'm not going anywhere near the water," says Rami.

Reports claim that beaches up and down the coast are free of contamination, but people still remain wary. "If I were to go into the sea, I'd take my boat out first and make sure it is far away from the coastline - just to be on the safe side," says Hakim.

Yet the relaxed attitude of the people is short-lived. Oceana quickly empties as news spreads about the deaths of six UNIFIL soldiers in the South, demonstrating that safety concerns still take priority, no matter how good the party is.

Beirut 26-06-2007
The Daily Star

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