My name is Victoria Oakes, I am from Watertown, New York, and I am a junior at St. Lawrence University. I am an Environmental Studies major with a double minor in Arabic Studies and Anthropology. I studied abroad in Amman, Jordan during the fall of 2019. I was fortunate enough to receive a travel enrichment grant to go to Beirut, Lebanon, where I planned to study the region’s archaeology and environment. The donor that made this wonderful experience possible for me was the Cabot family.
The title for my project was “Studying Archaeology and the Environment in Beirut.” As an Environmental Studies major, I’ve become interested in the dangers of pollution, the importance of waste management, and the important intersection of politics and the environment. I even wrote a research paper for my Arabic 104 course about waste management in the Arab world. This research paper exposed me to the ongoing “garbage crisis” in Lebanon. As a result, I wanted to study Lebanon’s approaches to waste management and environmental preservation by visiting landfills, green spaces, and eco-friendly establishments. Furthermore, my Archaeology and Cultural Anthropology courses sparked my interest in ancient artifacts and the process of cultural development over time. I planned to study Lebanon’s cultural and archaeological history by visiting various sites, such as the National Museum of Beirut, Jeita Grotto, Our Lady of Lebanon, and others.
Unfortunately, everything did not go exactly as planned. Cassandra Kunert ’21 and I landed in Beirut four hours before the “2019 Lebanon protests” began at the airport and in central Beirut. For our safety, we were strongly advised to avoid crowded areas and protests. We were also advised not to travel outside of the city, as many of the streets in and outside of Beirut were blocked by protestors or police. All of the sites I had planned to visit were either located near the protests or outside of the city; so, I was unable to visit these sites. Our hostel was located in a quiet, residential neighborhood, so we spent all of our time in that area. We had planned to stay in Beirut for five days; however, due to the escalation of the protests, we returned to Amman after three days of staying in Beirut.
Even though I was unable to follow my original itinerary, I was still able to learn a lot about the environment in Beirut. One of the first things I perceived is that Beirut is filled with all sorts of beautiful plant life, in comparison to Amman. This was an unexpected surprise for me, but it made sense when I thought about Beirut’s location on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It was refreshing to see the juxtaposition of nature and the city.
Additionally, I was still able to experience Beirut’s garbage crisis when roaming the streets in our neighborhood. On several different streets, industrial garbage bins were overflowing with trash. In some cases, garbage bags had piled up into heaps on the sidewalk because the garbage bins were at capacity. Experiencing this first-hand allowed me to truly understand the reality and severity of the garbage crisis.
Finally, the protests themselves helped me learn more about the effects of politics on Lebanon’s environment. One of the main reasons for the protests is the government’s inability to provide basic services to its citizens, such as a consistent waste management system. Instead, garbage continues to pile up on the streets and beaches of Beirut.
I am incredibly grateful to have had this experience. As I continue with my academics at SLU, I will always remember this educational experience, as it has shown me that environmental preservation and proper waste management are vital to the stability of society. This is an experience that I will continue to refer to when discussing the intersection between nature and society in my Environmental Studies courses.