Beirut Flea Market: A humanitarian renaissance in the very heart of Lebanon

Flea markets challenge stereotypes, and what people have been accustomed to, through selling secondhand merchandise.
by Salma Yassine

5 September 2019 | 16:30

Source: by Annahar

  • by Salma Yassine
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 5 September 2019 | 16:30

This photo shows shoppers at Beirut Flea Market. (Annahar Photo)

BEIRUT: Beirut Flea Market is a revelation that encompasses a collision of authentic merchandise for all people.

Running from September 3 to 5, the three-day market featured a plethora of homemade jams and rural dips, vintage furniture and clothing, plants, handmade crafts like accessories, wooden designs, posters, authentic Nigerian clothes, as well as secondhand books, movies, and musicals. Live bands, tattoo artists, traditional oriental cuisines, and artsy niches contributed to the event, which took place in Furn El Shebbek.

The event was organized by Chams Network, which is a youth-led social enterprise registered as an NGO. They provide communication services to other non-profit and humanitarian initiatives. Their motto is “we help people who help people help more people.”

They are a network of media freelancers who work on social projects to break the cycle of poverty and to support social entrepreneurs, such as Hajje Fatme with her homemade jam or Nora with her accessories that promote body positivity.

Chams’ mission is to give a voice to these entrepreneurs to reach a political level where the international community is aware of them, because world leaders and policy-makers don’t know the needs of young people.

“I’m here because I love this country and I want to help because I can. It is a third world country with a lot of limitations, but it does have the freedom where if you want to create change, it’s possible,” Serene Dardari, the founder of Chams Network, told Annahar. Her vision is for Chams to become a pan Arab network where there are several Chamses all over the Arab world.

The market featured a group of women from Shatila camp who came up with the idea of selling their own merchandise despite it being at their own expense and without any external funding. Their works embody a deeply rooted cultural background representing Syrian and Palestinian handmade artisans, such as embroidery on traditional gowns, prayer beads, accessories, Koufiyyes, as well as copybooks with an oriental twist.

“I’m raising three kids on my own after my husband passed away, and such initiatives allow underprivileged people to sell their merchandise and make money independently. They sustain the role of women in society, especially the marginalized of them,” Amina Moussa, an artisanal entrepreneur from Shatila camp, told Annahar.

Flea markets challenge stereotypes, and what people have been accustomed to, through selling secondhand merchandise. They refrain from promoting commercial products that fall under the parasol of capitalist consumerism.

“These events are opportunities to meet like-minded people to collaborate and create a cultural and artistic heritage for Lebanon to reap. These are the initiatives that would boost the Lebanese economy,” Mnawar Mohammed, the founder of Kulturel online store, said.

Jad Akar, a visitor, said that “the idea of buying original material that is sealed with plastic is very prominent in our modern culture because it is a token of a “reputation” that shouldn’t be dusted. These practices are problematic because we aim to replicate the Western world blindly.”

As for the uniqueness of this market, he further noted: “I really enjoyed the setting, the old Lebanese house, the tiles, it’s very nostalgic. The vendors’ shacks are set at very close proximity where you wouldn’t know where one ends and the other begins. It’s very reminiscent of the old Arab Souks.”

Rida Mortada, another visitor, said that “this is more creative and it feels more personal to come here because you’re actually seeing someone’s work rather than something commercial in a store.”

Chams Network has collaborated with a vendor from Hama who worked on establishing and institutionalizing several artisans and artists within Syria. They produce soaps in Aleppo, silk and cotton weaving on loom in Hama, and cotton weaving with handprint serigraphic prints in Damascus.

“When you focus on survival, you don’t really give much attention to the culture. This effort is to try to sell in Lebanon, different regions in the U.S., Switzerland, and Spain because the sale of one bar of soap with the exchange rate actually satisfies a family of four for a week,” Anthony Zahr, an organizer, told Annahar.

“I love collaborating with platforms in open doors. Everything they’re selling is not letting people be systematically trapped in a system. The merchants are profiting for what is fair. They are not helping manufacture work that is polluting and damaging the environment. Most importantly, they are creating their merchandise with love, talent, and dedication by putting their soul out,” Omar Sfeir, the founder of Le Marchand de Reves, told Annahar. 

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