European-Arabian Dialogue in Beyrouth 2016

My name is Vivien Gysemberg. I am eighteen years old and am in the final yearof secondary school.

A few weeks ago I visited Lebanon from the 7th to 11th of December. There I was aparticipant of the Euro-Arab dialogue and represented our school as a UNESCO-projectschool.

On the 7th of December I met other participants at the Hamburg airport. They came from Ahrensburg, Emden and Wismar. Together we travelled to Frankfurt, met the other fourteen participants from Germany and flew about three hours to Beirut,Lebanon. When we arrived in Beirut we stayed more than two hours at the passport control at the airport, because the controller worked very slowly.

A former Catholic monastery in the north-east of Beirut was our accommodation.Together we lived there with the sisters. Each participant had his or her own en suiteroom. We appreciated the privacy. After dinner we met the other participants fromJordan, Tunisia and Lebanon and played some ice-breaking activities to get to knoweach other a bit more. The conductors of the Euro-Arab dialogue arranged a circle ofchairs, with an inner and an outer ring, so everyone could look into the eyes of theperson opposite.

We talked about things we like to do in daily life, hobbies, opinions and culture, madejokes and laughed a lot. In the late evening some of the German participants and Italked to two students from Jordan. One of the guys lost his luggage at the airport andjust had some chocolate but he shared his sweets simply because he thought it's obvious to share. We also played a game. They mentioned some Arabic words and we had to guess what it could be. I was pretty bad at this game.

On Thursday the organisers had five workshops for all the participants, both teachersand students. Each workshop was scheduled for 75 minutes. In small mixed groupswe talked about energy, consumption, poverty, global citizenship and interculturaland interreligious dialogues. For each workshop we got tasks and questions such as,“What could I do to make the world a better place?” or “What is your personalfootprint?” In the groups we discussed many topics. I will give a small overview of thediscussion of each workshop.

The first workshop was entitled, “Energy for all - a utopia?” One question was whether it was possible to do without energy for a period of time. Nowadays it is hard to do so,because some need WhatsApp, others Facebook, etc. For younger generations it ismuch more difficult to spend a period of time without electricity or energy becausethey are more adapted to energy and technology than older generations. Havingenergy is a privilege, not everyone has electricity. Having energy means feelingcomfortable. Globalization in this case could be an achievement but also a problem,because countries depend on others. The fact is, most people all over the world haveno energy and they are fine with it. We have to ask ourselves if we need all the energyand technology that we call our own or if we could live with less energy than we currently use.

The second workshop was entitled, “Consumption - my personal responsibility for climate change?” Therefore we talked about what we do for our environment. One person said they had a programme in Jordan where they recycle. Another mentioned that in their family they do not buy products with palm oil. Others said they often use their bikes instead of cars and public transports. We came to the conclusion that we should buy what we need and what we don't need we should not buy, in order to do something better for our ecological footprint. The small things can change a lot!

In the third workshop the task was to find a definition for “Global Citizenship,”focussing on aspects like mobilization, economy, tourism, etc. The results: “Globalcitizenship means citizens all over the world have common values, rights, goods and nearly similar principles in a society.” A fair distribution of goods would help all people to be equal. In each country, the equality of men and women should be stipulated inlaw. Nobody should live below the poverty line. We have to think and act sustainably in order to maintain basic life conditions for future generations.

“Traditions as an obstacle to intercultural dialogues” was the penultimate workshop.We discussed the traditions in our countries, which festivals we like and celebrate andwhich we do not celebrate and whether there are huge cultural differences betweenthe cultures.

The last workshop differed from group to group, depending on which subject areathey chose (poverty, water, humanity, health, resources, etc...)

On Friday the whole group worked on “Democracy vs. Totalitarianism”. We had to find definitions for both. We defined democracy as follows: “People can decide the politics of their party. The citizen has the right to vote and elect a candidate and party that represent their interests. All people are equal and free, because they have the same rights in law.” Totalitarianism means that one person has the power over the country and can make decisions for everyone. It is a one-party system where fear is a powerful factor.

Later we had to rank state forms between democracy and totalitarianism and also countries according to their democracy rank. In an outer chair circle we did something called “Standing up for democracy”. One of the organisers read out loud new laws and all students could decide whether they wanted to veto this law or whether they considered it useful. At the law that allows marriage between two homosexual people the views were totally different.

In the afternoon all students produced a silent role play for the teachers. The play was about immigrants who came into a new society where all the people were intolerant, living in their own world, accepting only what they already knew. Later after conflicts the people began to accept the others, because they had realized that although different, they were still people like themselves.

Saturday was excursion day. We went to Tripoli - a big city in the north of Lebanon.There we ate some typical sweet food from Lebanon. It was very delicious, although very sticky and sweet. After lunch we did some sightseeing, including a castle inTripoli. From the top of the castle you got a beautiful overview and could see the Syrian border, 30 km away. We went through the old town where the electricity is tapped from public lines. The Street of Gold is there: a street where the only shopsare those that sell gold jewellery. Tripoli is known for its soap sales. Previously Aleppowas the City of Soap.

After visiting Tripoli we went to Byblos - one of the oldest cities in the world. Thewhole city is a UNESCO heritage site. There in Byblos we saw a catholic church built in1115 AD (900 years ago). Byblos is a beautiful, small city.

At 2am Sunday morning, the German participants had to go to the airport. Nine hours and thirteen passport and luggage controls later I was back in G-Town.I had a lot of great experiences and met very friendly people. The food was extraordinary: for example whole fried fish with the head still attached! I learned you do not have to be afraid of other people or other cultures. But you might have anaccident because there are no road traffic regulations!

It was a bit weird that all the Arab students seems older than those from Germany. I am eighteen and I was asked by others if I was fifteen.

Lebanon is much more advanced in terms of cultural openness than Germany. There were a church and a synagogue next to each other and the people came out, shaking hands and talking nicely to everyone. This would not be imaginable in Germany. I learned that it doesn't matter which culture or religion you belong to. The best thing we can do today is to accept other people as they are, accepting their decisions and tolerating them as citizens. The best that we can do is to be a good human, being asfriendly and helpful as possible.

Lebanon is a beautiful country and I am really glad that I had the opportunity to experience it.