Tourism drive gets a little character

BEIRUT: Initiatives to get people to understand that Lebanon is about much more than bombs and baddies are far from rare. Both Lebanese people and foreigners living here often struggle to convince friends and family elsewhere that, overwhelmingly, this is a country with enormous amount of fun, beauty, warmth and pleasure to offer – a fact rarely reflected in the headlines. The most recent campaign, #LiveLoveLebanon, is sponsored by the Tourism Ministry and aims to show the side to the country that most travelers experience while here: beaches, wine, culture and ruins.

But for Khaled Shbaro, getting people to see his country in a different way was so important that he decided to take matters into his own hands.

“People tend not to want to come to Lebanon. They don’t think it’s safe and so on,” he told The Daily Star. “So I thought I would come up with a fun way to get people to come.”

By chance, Shbaro had a Lego policeman riding a motorcycle on him while he was hanging out in Manara, one of his places to relax with friends.

“I tried to make it as if the motorcycle was really there,” said Shbaro, who works for the U.N. Higher Commission for Refugees. “I sent it to a friend in London just to be funny ... and he said he really liked it.”

“Then I showed my sister the picture, and she said, ‘Do you remember how much fun we used to have playing with Lego?’”

Suddenly, all those boxes of tiny colorful plastic building blocks – carefully stashed away in his family’s attic – came flooding back to him.

“So I asked my sister ... How about we go to all the places we normally go to with our friends to hang out and take photos there with the Lego characters?”

So, equipped with a few characters from the Lego shop in Downtown Beirut, he set out to photograph the places he visited daily, from Byblos to Martyrs’ Square in the capital, and post them on a blog for all to see.

“I want to show that Lebanon is a fun place to come to. I talk about Lebanon a lot [with my friends abroad] and then I thought why not show a different side to it, let the pictures do the talking,” he explained.

He also has plans to create a Lego comic book set in Lebanon and will be entering a competition with a model of Beirut’s lighthouse, known as Manara.

“As a Beiruti it [the lighthouse] has a lot of meaning for me,” he said. “It has brought back life to the Manar area. I love it.

“I also see it as a symbol of the city – Beirut is the lighthouse of the Middle East because of its culture and heritage and education, the mixture of people and the co-existence. You can’t find a place like Beirut elsewhere.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 16, 2014, on page 2.




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