Al Hitaan in Hakat
|Poetry on the walls of Abdul Aziz Street
“AUB gives students a great idea of what it means to be a leader in the sense of civic engagement,” said AUB alumnus Benjamin Hourani on Abdul Aziz Street. He was watching AUB students as they painted walls of streets near the AUB campus. “Poetry on the Walls,” a one-day (January 12) activity co-organized by the Neighborhood Initiative and the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS), invited students to brighten the dirty city walls with verses of Arabic poetry and song lyrics.
AUB students dedicated their weekend to painting the walls surrounding the AUB campus. They were well prepared. Responding to an open call for proposals, students had already submitted selected quotations a few weeks earlier, and they had participated in a workshop to finalize the design plan and receive last-minute advice.
Following a quick manakeesh breakfast on Saturday morning, students moved to their work areas. After scraping off layers of posters, then cleaning and painting the walls in light yellow paint, the approximately 60 student volunteers started writing quotations in Arabic on the walls. Verses by Nizar Kabbani, Adonis, Khaled Al-Haber, and others captured the essence of Beirut. Graphic design, fine arts, landscape design, and Art Club students then painted the quotations in Arabic calligraphy.
The Saab Library wall, covered with multiple layers of posters and graffiti, needed the most work. The wall of the Diana Tamari Sabbagh Building on John F. Kennedy Street proved to be the most challenging; the rigid texture required multiple layers of paint. Working to the sound of music and wearing bright yellow T-Shirts provided by the organizers, the students scraped and painted tirelessly. Although ground protection was used, litter and scrap were unavoidable: the students cleaned up the sidewalks at the end of the day.
President and Mrs. Dorman, stopping by to encourage the volunteers, stood for photographs with the students and the freshly painted walls.
Longtime Ras Beirut residents were appreciative. A resident of the Agial Gallery Building said the painting revived “the secular, mixed spirit” of Ras Beirut. Armine Fattouh, pleased to see the students painting the dirty city walls, said, “The culture of citizenship should be spread. . . . Beirut is more than Hamra. The intiative should be duplicated elsewhere.”
This is the spirit the Neighborhood Initiative is attempting to create through this and other activities such as the end of the year people places dancing party held a the Gefinor Plaza on December 30, 2008. Cynthia Myntti, director of the Neighborhood Initiative, and her student assistants Lamiece Jamil and Dima Rachid moved tirelessly during the day up and down the streets, trying to respond to the volunteers’ needs. Pausing for a minute, Myntti said, “Poetry on the walls is a good way to show that AUB cares about its neighborhood. We thought it would be more inspiring and pleasant to put quotations in Arabic, and to make people think about Beirut.” But psychology student Khadija Mohammad thought the Arabic was limiting. “Why not add pictures and mix in a little French or English? Lebanon is a multilingual country,” she said.
Most participating students found the experience enriching: “We socialized and contributed in making our own community a better place,” said Karim Abu Jaoudeh, a landscape design major. Students like Abu Jaoudeh are the main targets of CCECS. In fact, the center, established in 2007, aims to promote a sense of civic engagement at AUB and spread a culture of giving through community service activities.
The very title of the activity, Al Hitaan in Hakat (If walls could speak), implies a never-ending conversation between the walls and passers-by, and, by extension, between the students of AUB and the citizens of the neighborhood.