lebanon

remembering miss universe 1971

Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971

Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971

Last Thursday night, my mother proudly proclaimed, “check out my smokey eye - don’t you think I look like Georgina Rizk?”

My mother, a lover of natural make-up and vintage fashion, seldom does a smokey eye. She’s an au naturale kind of woman and rarely opts for the sultry beauty standards of the Arab world. Yet, that night, my mother seemed particularly inclined towards a ‘smokey-eye’, and was quite proud of her ability to make dark eyeliner look good despite - in her opinion - her age. “I am so good at this, I could totally be a make up artist! You know, I could’ve been better than all these so-called designers in Europe, I could’ve been, you know, a true artist. If only I had the opportunities and exposure as a child…” she trails off. “Anyway, I definitely look like Georgina Rizk”.

In 1970, Lebanon announced Georgina Rizk the winner of the nation’s beauty pageant and crowned her Miss Lebanon. She was crowned Miss Universe in Miami, Florida only a year later. She was the first woman from the Middle East to be crowned Miss Universe, and only 4th in Asia to ever win the title. My mom must have been around 4 years old at the time.

For many young Arab women, Georgina Rizk was an icon. She was beautiful and symbolised a kind of “liberation” that was revered by the then youth of the Middle East. She controversially once said that she was “for pre-marital sex” and thought that women should “experiment” before making a commitment because “marriage is not a simple thing”. This, of course, did not go down well with the older generation, but many women in the region idolised her anyway.

In 1972, when Georgina Rizk was due to hand over the Miss Universe crown to her successor in Puerto Rico, 17 Christian pilgrims from the island were killed in an attack on Lod Airport in Tel Aviv by the Japanese Red Army - a militarised Communist group acting on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Ms Rizk was, despite having nothing to do with the incident, banned from attending the ceremony in Puerto Rico.

That year, my mom must’ve been 5 years old - her family in a state of disarray having only left Palestine five years prior. As refugees, my Grandmother collected her children - all 5 of them my mother being the youngest - and moved to Jordan. Without knowing it, so much of my mother’s potential would be defined by forces outside of her control. In the mid-80s, when the Soviet Union was still supporting Palestinian rights, my mother obtained a scholarship to study Fine Arts in Kiev, Ukraine. About a month before she was due to attend the University of Kiev, an earthquake devastated the capital. My grandmother wouldn’t let my mother leave and my mother never got the chance to become the artist she wanted to be. My mom was, despite having nothing to do with the earthquake or the geopolitics of the region, forced to limit herself.

Georgina Rizk was banned from attending the Miss Universe ceremony in Puerto Rico due to “terrorist activities” which had nothing to do with her. The attacks were committed by the Japanese (she’s clearly not Japanese) on Occupied Palestinian soil (a place she is not from: her father is Lebanese and mother Hungarian). Funnily enough, a few years after the attack on Lod Airport, Ms. Rizk married a Palestinian man who was responsible for attacks during the 1972 Olympics in Munich (he was assassinated by the Mossad in 1979).

In many ways, Georgina Rizk’s life was defined for her too.

. . .

Many people think that Occupation and colonialism end at check points and borders but for me, it’s been inside my home my entire life. I look back at the privileges that my parents never got to experience simply because of their history and, therefore, the privileges I never got either. I sometimes wonder what “could have been” - I can’t escape the could-have-would-have. I guess its a symptom of inter-generational trauma.

Despite all this, my mother thoroughly enjoys a Thursday night smokey-eye courtesy of Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971.

'48 hours of holiness' 

Gemmayzeh, Beirut 

Gemmayzeh, Beirut 

Just a quick public service announcement: my Beirut photo-journal '48 Hours of Holiness' is now live! Check it out here

"Unlike many places around the world, Lebanon’s diversity is synonymous with religion. There are 18 officially recognized religions in Lebanon — the majority of which are either Christian (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Protestant) or Muslim (Sunni, Shia, Druze). Lebanon also has the largest community of Christians in the Arab world. Religion is a strong marker of identity in Lebanon, and Lebanese pride in the traditions, rituals, and history of their respective faiths is clear throughout the country. Many publications and outlets have made Lebanon’s religious diversity the scapegoat for its political instability. Yet it seems that it is precisely it’s ‘holiness’ that brings peace to many of those passing through.

Below are a series of images captured in the two days prior to Easter Sunday where biblical symbols and rituals are prominent particularly in the outskirts of Beirut. Each image tries to capture the spirit of the capital as well as the stories of those who have come to Lebanon precisely for a type of peace they believe only it can provide." 

Hope you enjoy it. All comments and feedback welcome <3

Darah

update: i'm back from beirut and it gives me hope

Bliss Street, Beirut.&nbsp;

Bliss Street, Beirut. 

Beirut, Beirut, Beirut... where do I begin?

I just got back from three amazing days in the Lebanese capital. It's been 8 years since my last visit. The last eight years have been disastrous for our region and it saddens me that the turmoil and destruction have kept me away from Lebanon for so long. Political instability and speculation about war have kept many of us from venturing around the region; a kind of ban on mobility and a barrier to exploring our history, culture and who we are as a people. Coming back to Lebanon brought back memories of summers there as a kid and premature partying as a teenager. It also made clear to me how disgusting the war in Syria really is.  My earliest memories of Lebanon have always been connected to a transit in Damascus - we often drove to Beirut from Amman through Syria - a kind of right of passage for any Levantine Arab. Syria connected us all by land, by history, by culture, by identity. 

Today, we fly over Syria to get to Beirut. The idea that I may never feel effortlessly connected to Lebanon in the way that I used to as a child makes me angry. And it makes me realize that the imperial drive to destroy the region is calculated - destroy the mobility, the connection - to drive animosity and difference. But in any case, seeing Lebanon once again made me feel hopeful. Beirut is relentless - it continues to be the home of art, culture and contemporary critique that we (as a people) always admired. 

I spent three nights in Beirut before Easter. On my second night, we danced till late to political songs of freedom and resistance. "I breathe freedom" - the lyrics of a Julia Butros song I still can't get out of my head. I almost cried that night while dancing and watching young Lebanese drink to the lyrics of resistance. It almost felt like we were no longer in 21st Century Middle East - we were transported back in time to the victories of the Civil War. My nostalgia was real. 

In any case, I am preparing a Beirut photojournal that I've yet to decide the title. I can't wait to share it with you all and show the beauty of Beirut that we haven't had the priviledge of seeing in a long time. 

xx 

Darah