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The MENA Blogs Part 9 – Marwan’s Story

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This blog post is the ninth in a series of posts from =mc’s Senior Associate Consultant Laurence Brady, who is currently undertaking an exciting piece of fundraising work in the Middle East and North Africa. During his time on the project, Laurence will be writing regular blog posts in a series called ‘The MENA Blogs’. This post, Marwan’s Story.

Marwan’s Story

Marwan is like a Lebanese Omar Sharif.  Not the Lawrence of Arabia or Dr Zhivago Sharif, but the more mature, bridge-playing Sharif with the trim grey moustache and the neat, wiry, silver hair.  They share the same piercing eyes too.

Marwan is driving me across battle-scarred Beirut.  Unlike the two other taxi drivers who have taken me to meetings, Marwan does not have rosary beads dangling from his mirror.  Nor is he intent in pointing out the places where recent car bombs have gone off.  In some cities, taxi drivers will draw your attention to this or that great museum or monument.  In Beirut, you are told that you are now driving past a spot that killed innocent people only weeks before.  But Marwan is not like that.  He tells me his story.

I used to work for the BBC in Beirut, he says.  But they are no longer in the city.  Too dangerous.  He looks above the wild traffic into the distance and relates how he loved his work at the BBC as a technical manager.  Marwan is unambiguous about his merit in holding such a post by providing the detail that he graduated with “a masters degree in telecoms from the US”.

But when the BBC left Beirut, Marwan was left without a job. Experienced, skilled, well-qualified, versatile in languages (he speaks Arabic, English, French, German and Greek) – it counted for nothing in the job market.  Marwan has no doubt about the reason why: age. Marwan is 61 years old. Speaking slowly in a cold, steely voice he simply says, “If you are over 40 in Lebanon they will not accept you as a new employee”.

At least Marwan could turn to taxi-ing. I thought about older and less able people in Lebanon to whom life and circumstance have not been kind, and who can neither rely on the State nor a well-developed third sector for support, I assumed. In a country constantly bordering on instability, who is looking after them?

So Marwan drives a taxi in Beirut, but he has a dream.  He is due some money from the government, and when that comes through he will leave Lebanon for good.  “I will build a paint factory in Athens”, he declares.  He has distant relatives in Greece and he sees a big opportunity there.

At the end of our journey, I pay him and shake his hand warmly. Goodbye and good luck.  I step out of the car to retrieve my bag from the boot, at which point he starts to drive off.  After several yards of being dragged along – though not quite Indiana-Jones-style – clinging on desperately to the handle of his car boot with one hand, and banging the window with the other, he stops.  I’m sorry, he says.  I forgive him, but am left with the impression that he is even more entrepreneurial than he led me to believe.  

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