The flow of Yoga, the flow of your mind – led by Elyssa Skaff.

For those who are not familiar with Yoga, this may sound like a hobby for dedicated vegan hippies flexing your limbs to every direction which you can’t even think of. At least, this is what I thought before I start practicing Yoga.

Yoga has various forms, or disciplines, and the intensity and the quality of the physical workload vary a great deal. Some are more challenging than others but everyone starts from somewhere, and there is always a master you can follow if you a still new to this journey.

On a sunny Tuesday evening at Beit Al Atlas, qualified Yoga teacher Elyssa Skaff leads a session of Vinyasa Yoga, a form that emphasizes sequence of movements from one posture to another, while fully aware of your breathing.

Sweat seems a mandatory for anything you do during summer in Beirut, and this is no exception here. Repeated series of poses are meant to increase your body heat, and sweating out the toxins which you may have in your body and/or mind, is the reward of the practice. You only have to experience how you feel, the sense of cleanse you recognize after the session makes it worth the effort.

Elyssa led the practice with easy-to-follow explanation and pace, accompanied by the soothing music which made the up-stair hall of Beit Al Atlas something of a wonder space.

The house will host this Yoga evening regularly, followed by tea and vegan dinner social. Anyone who would like to start your own Yoga experience, or experienced Yogi are more than welcome. Come and join us Yoga evening at Beit Al Atlas, you wont regret it.

My day in Beirut with Saleh.

Guest post by Satoshi

Being a Japanese non-fiction writer living in London for many years, I’ve travelled many countries and I don’t even remember how many countries I’ve been. However, Beirut in Lebanon was my un-known territory, especially I don’t speak Arabic apart from saying a few greeting words.

I was on a mission to capture the real story amongst real people on the streets of Beirut for my Japanese readers. The place I have stayed in my writing mission was picked from AirBnB, a house near the famous Al Hamra. The house is called Beit Al Atlas, managed by a certain Mr. Bilal Ghalib.

All the nice people hang out in this magnificent yet friendly house for us all. This is where I have met Saleh.

With my true honesty, I am grateful to befriended with those two, Bilal the elder brother, and Saleh the younger brother. When I saw those two, I knew it would be a great long 2 weeks going through Christmas to New Years in Beirut.

I was fortunate enough to be well connected to lots of Lebanese people who guided me to various interesting places for my non-fiction writing, but if I have to pick one as the best guide, I’d pick Saleh.

One of many places I’ve been to in Beirut was Borj Al Brajineh. Young Saleh is from this small town, working his socks off to make his living and helping his family. Lots of people on the street of Borj Al Brajineh greeted him with smile, they were from old geezers who knows Saleh since he was a baby, to young boys who look up him as the great big brother. Peanuts are sold on the street, and the vibrant busy street has the real buzz of life.

The name of Borj Al Brajineh, has some meaning in today’s major media outlets. Immigrant area in south Beirut, tends to attract lots of un-necessary attention. Of course it’s Middle East, of course it’s Muslim, and of course there are Palestine immigrants. And of course for me, it’s a dangerous place….? No. Not with Saleh.

So that I have stepped into this this “apparently dangerous” Borj Al Brajineh. Was it intimidating? Did I feel like I was in that notorious Fatah stronghold which is an absolute no-go zone for foreign visitors who can’t speak Arabic?

The truth is, things are not as bad as you see on mainstream media and it seemed no more than just a busy town centre with vibrant shops creating usual buzz of day-to-day life of ordinary people.

All this was thanks to Saleh, my young brother, my best friend and a real man on the street. I will see you in Beirut by the time summer arrives. Salute!

Beit Takes its House Meeting Outside

Sunday morning April 28, 2019, we decided to have a Beit Al Atlas meeting outside of Beit, down the street along the Manara at Rawda Cafe, a local open air restaurant/cafe and Beirut trademark. Resident dogs Lulu and Bodhi tagged along with us. Our dogs make for quite an interesting contribution to Beit’s expanding sense of compassion, mindfulness, keeping calm, and sending out only love.

We opened the meeting by each sharing how we are doing on a personal level and how we are feeling about Beit. We are continuously evolving in how we conduct meetings, but a constant remains in giving each other the space to be and in exploring and navigating Beit issues and opportunities together.

We are living at a time in the world where people’s identities are increasingly hyphenated and while it is true we live here physically – significant parts of our lives are scattered across the globe in the US, India, Australia, Germany, Iraq, Syria, France, Denmark, and Norway. In spite of the energy it consumes to keep up with one’s own multilayered existence, these meetings remind us that everyday we are intentionally choosing to live in togetherness across cultural, identity, and socioeconomic differences. Instead of living our lives as if we are apart going about doing our own work, the meeting creates space to communicate without denying any one their feelings, thoughts, and opinions, and affirming that “I see you”. Often, its little things that can cause a sense of separateness, a look or comment, and these emotional subtleties can slowly magnify the differences. In acknowledgement we offered generous forgiveness where any one may have been unintentionally offended by another.

Beit also discussed some more practical house items such as an electric outage in the bathroom, air conditioning assessment (as we head in to hot and sticky summers) with the exciting possibility to improve our sustainable living practices. We also went over room rentals, air bnb, and agreed on a lights out and no door bells after 10 pm as some of our rooms are by the front door and entry ways.

After a little over an hour together in the sun sipping on fresh juice, we came out smiling with an improved sense of clarity and understanding of one another.

This is a snapshot of Beit Al-Atlas’ greater journey of love.

A word for home

I’ve lived a nomadic life for a year and a half now. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that it never gets easier to leave a place, to leave a project, to part from friends.

I want to thank everyone who came to our workshops at Beit al-Atlas and near Burj Barajneh, everyone who contributed writing or drawings or rap or food or good company to our project. Every person I had the privilege of meeting during my month-long residency in Beirut left their mark on me in their own unique way. I learned so much from your words, lessons that I’m taking with me as I move on to my next horizon, my next writing project, the rest of this still-new year. The Beit al-Atlas zine is out of my hands now (keep an eye out for updates from Beit!), but the words that you all contributed, read to me, and gave me the honor of receiving and commenting on are still with me. Thank you for trusting me with your words, your thoughts, your feelings, your experiences. Thank you for letting me hold space for you and for teaching me about your worlds, your cities, your hearts. I hope that, together with Beit al-Atlas, we succeeded in building a home infinite enough to hold all of us, if even for a few afternoons.

This is the third part of a 3-part series of essays about my residency at Beit al-Atlas. Read the first two essays here and here.

Making a Home of Language

When I first envisioned creating a series of workshops for Beit al-Atlas, I began by thinking about place. What had brought me to Beirut? What relationship did I have with the city and its residents? What does it mean for me to call this city home, if even for a short time?

This is why I decided to focus our writing workshop series here at Beit al-Atlas on the theme of “home.” As someone who was born in America and grew up in the Syrian diaspora, the concept of home is fraught for me. It becomes even more tangled when I spend periods of time outside the US—where, exactly, do I come from? Our relationships to place are affected by our identities and by the places—and people and languages and diasporas—that we come from.

This month, I spent 4-5 hours each day working on my Arabic so that I could connect more deeply with workshop participants whose first language was Arabic, and also to connect more deeply with myself, my family, and my heritage. Sometimes, language itself can be a home. When I’m learning a new language, I imagine myself building a house, erecting the walls and adding the roof (pronunciation, pronouns, conjugation in the past and present tense) and filling it with furniture (prepositions, the first few hundred nouns, words for time and feelings and food). It isn’t until I have these basics down that I can settle into the house; that is, to force myself to form sentences as I speak them, to not translate in my head, to make myself think in that language. It’s only after I’ve begun to really live inside the house of a language that I can add comforts like curtains, a bookshelf, perhaps a nice lamp or a colorful carpet, building my vocabulary and gathering expressions and conventions as I go.

Because language can be a home in this way, it was important to me that we conduct our workshops here at Beit al-Atlas in both Arabic and English. And, because it was important to all of us to reach out as well as to welcome in, we held our second workshop near Burj al-Barajneh rather than in the house. It was an honor to hear the work that came out of that workshop, and to hear as much of it as possible without translation.

It’s important to me and to everyone at Beit al-Atlas that the final product of our workshop series reflects the place and the languages it was produced in. For this reason, we plan to translate the pieces we choose for our “zine” (a mini-magazine; we’ve coined the word “مجيلة”, a diminutive of مجلة, for this in Arabic) as much as possible between English and Arabic. We want the content of the zine to be accessible to non-English-speaking readers, and to ensure that no one’s voices or ideas are privileged over others just because they feel more at home in one language than another.

I hope you’ll join us for the third and final workshop in our series, which will take place at Beit al-Atlas tomorrow, January 27th, from 11-2 (writing/drawing portion) and 2-6 (assembling the zine). (Beit al-Atlas would also like to thank Prototank for helping to fund our production of the zine!) Feel free to drop by anytime during the afternoon that you would like. We’ll be spending time writing new work for the zine, creating drawings and spoken word performances, and finally putting our pieces together to assemble a zine that hopefully reflects all of us, as well as the city that brought us together.

This is the second part of a 3-part series of essays about my residency at Beit al-Atlas. Read the first essay here.  Read the third essay here.

Language is a Door

On writing, connection, & alternative ways of seeing

The universe likes to put people in our paths that open us up to new ways of being in the world. That was how I found Beit al-Atlas seven months ago, after I met one of the house’s former residents, Tanja Van Deer, through a mutual friend. The house’s name refers to its role as a meeting point between people from different walks of life, and its founders, Bilal Ghalib and Saleh Saleh, envision it as a sustainable community house able to support arts programs, workshops, residencies, performances, readings, and gatherings for local as well as international artists.

I originally came to Beirut to visit friends, but also to work on my Arabic. Growing up Syrian American, I was constantly aware of the way that I and my family didn’t fit people’s expectations. I’ve written about aspects of this experience before, in the Paris Review and in Salon, and the intersection(s) of my relationships with both Syria and America have been major themes in many of my short stories and poems, as well as in my debut novel, The Map of Salt and Stars (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2018). My Syrian-born father experienced a lot of racism and Islamophobia in the United States, and by the time my sister and I were born, he had already decided not to teach us Arabic. He must have believed it would make it easier for us to belong.

But belonging is not that simple. The Arabic I heard at home—but was not allowed to speak—stuck in my ear, incomplete. Over the years, it became dangerous to speak Arabic in certain places in America; it has become more and more difficult to be openly Muslim as well. I sometimes think of my Arabic the way I think of my faith, as a part of myself that I water and nourish like a plant. Neglected, those parts of me will wither, but they won’t disappear. Our roots and our experiences, like the people we meet and the places in which we find ourselves, become a part of us.

As I’ve grown, I’ve embraced the fact that I can build a different future for myself than the one my father imagined I would have. I can shed other people’s expectations and limitations. I can direct my efforts toward developing the parts of myself that I value, like my writing, my family, my friendships, and my faith—and my Arabic. And by being authentically myself, I can open the door to connect with other people, and hopefully encourage them to be authentically themselves, too.

Language is not a goal in and of itself, but a door. Language is only as good as what it’s used for: to tell a story, to comfort, to connect. I speak five languages and understand several more for the same reason that I write: I want to connect with people who are different than me, including people I might never otherwise meet. I want to hear from them. I want to open myself up to other ways of seeing.

Beit al-Atlas is all about making these kinds of connections, which is why I’m so honored that Beit offered me a month-long residency during January. This month, we’ll produce a series of three workshops for local writers—in both Arabic and English—to produce a zine (a limited edition, hand-made mini-magazine) full of writing, drawings, and multimedia/music available here on Beit’s website that will document what’s going on creatively in Beirut right now. Hopefully, these workshops will also invite artists in different disciplines to get to know each other and help forge new connections and collaborations around the city.

As my first week here at Beit al-Atlas comes to a close, our work is just beginning. I hope you’ll join as at one of our workshops on January 16th (at the house), 18th (in the dahiyeh), and/or 27th (also at the house) and stop by to see what’s happening. Check out Beit al-Atlas’s Facebook event for more information about our first workshop!

This is the first part of a 3-part series of essays about my residency at Beit al-Atlas. Read the second essay here. Read the third essay here.

Photo Gallery Nov 2018

Photo gallery of Beit Al Atlas:

Celine’s brought her Documented Experiences writing workshop to our rooftop 🙂

I guess we can add: To find out more about documented experiences, a reading and writing club, check their Instagram out:

What should I paint? (Saleh):

Rachel’s Awesome Mural project (followed by much dancing):

Saleh’s Family and Shantanu… And Lulu come for a visit

Family Breakfast:

Hanging out: