“15 dollars to get in. 20 dollars with a drink, 20 dollars without. 40 dollars per person. Ah, you are with your kid, how old is he? 16? Sorry, he can’t get in, minors are not allowed here.”
One might think that we are trying to get into a nightclub, but we are just a few metres away from Kfarabida, a small village in northern Lebanon known for its rocky seafront. The fares are the entrance fees to get in and swim from the stones and rocks.
The sea and Lebanon have a lot of history, and not necessarily in a good way. The question people ask themselves each year is: “Will we be able to swim this summer?”. Infested with bacteria, the Lebanese Mediterranean suffers from humankind continuing to toss its waste in the water.
But let’s forget about that for a moment and imagine diving into it, eyes shut. When we stick our heads up above the surface, gazing towards the seafront, what do we see? Private beaches, restricted access, over and over. Over and over.
Law 144/S of 10 June 1925, passed during the French mandate, guarantees all Lebanese citizens the right to access the sea. The law, still in effect, forbids building below the highest point reached by the waves in winter. Still, one would think that over the last century, winters have become summer and waves have become still, because there is only one remaining unspoilt beach in Beirut: Ramlet El-Baida. Law 144/s has been violated numerous times and, as usual, the victim has been kept quiet.
The attempt to privatise this last bit of sandy beach in Beirut has created a great outcry and people have started mobilising to stop the project.
But places outside Beirut rarely get the same attention as the city. When people ask me where I am from, I sometimes answer Kfarabida. It is a white lie because I was not born there, but there is still some truth to it. I used to spend the summer months there, as it is my mother’s village. My surname comes from Beit Chabab, a village perched on the Lebanese mountainside; my father’s den. But the beaches of Kfarabida unquestionably dominate the depths of my heart.
I still remember the unspoilt coast around Kfarabida. It is an unforgettable memory for a sea lover: a long coastline where fishermen, families and divers would gather. A few “Saint-Balechs” (free swimming spots: balech means “free” in Arabic) remain today, even if many have disappeared and been replaced by the likes of Saint-Georges, Saint-Michel, Orchid and many more.
What can we do about these privatisations? As I write these lines, the government is targeting Kfarabida to transform the remaining untouched rocks into yet another private beach and yacht club. A gathering has been organised for this Saturday to denounce the decision.
The photographs below, taken from family and personal archives, pay tribute to the free beaches of Kfarabida, where numerous of people have learnt how to swim, drink and love. On a more personal level this is also a testimony to my mother, the one who passed on the love of the big blue to me and to whom I have promised that we shall meet there again after our deaths.
Translation from French by Sofia Carlos.