“Recently, and after several years of working for Excelian in South Africa, I was fortunate enough to get my first 'overseas' project working with Murex in the Middle East on a two phase deployment of MX.3. The majority of the assignment was based at their offices in Beirut, Lebanon, with the remainder of the project being based on a client site in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Ironically, considering I am from Johannesburg, I held many of the misconceptions about Lebanon based on its troubled past (most were either proved incorrect or generally exaggerated). So disembarking from the plane in Beirut was initially terrifying, exciting and quite surprising.... terrifying as I didn’t speak the language (predominantly in Arabic and French with the third being English, but not very wildly spoken), surprising as I was greeted by a beautiful temperate climate similar to that of my home country of South Africa. Both the weather and the lush vegetation were completely unexpected as I assumed it would be a dry and arid land!

[img]images/img/down-town-beirut.jpg[/img]Driving in the taxi to my hotel was another experience in itself… on the way you see a mish-mash of middle eastern and European culture (French predominantly) and street names are either in Arabic or French. You also get the most eerie feeling as you see beautiful new buildings with middle eastern flair amongst the war-torn skeletons from the past war of 2006. Seeing such devastation was heart breaking, but at the same time inspiring as new buildings are being erected at such an incredible pace to replace old with new. But the most prominent feature, that will always stick in my mind, was in downtown Beirut where a new mosque has been built right next to a Catholic church to represent peace between religions.

The Murex office too was nothing I expected... From the outside it was a fairly old looking high-rise building, but from inside the building was well decorated, very professional and with an exquisite view of the city and Mediterranean sea. Communication was tough at first as my South African accent and expressions were not fully understood, but, after a few months of working closely with the team, we found an easy middle ground and the transition was seamless. My colleagues were exceptionally hard-working, always burning the midnight oil to meet some exceptional client demands.

[img]images/img/baalbek-lebanon2.jpg[/img]There is a lot to do here socially, with plenty of good bars, restaurants, and dance venues. My favourite pub was a place called "Knock on Wood", small and quaint with loud music and eccentric bar tender, and the most surprising of all was a projector displaying all 30's cartoons such as Betty Boop. All types of food is available from the Arabic cuisines to European to Mexican which all were excellent. However, for me the most interesting thing was how ancient the culture was, from the temple ruins of Baal Bek (550BC) which I visited, to the underground winery.

I would highly recommend Lebanon to anyone for a visit, especially if you have a yearning for travel. Not only is it a beautiful city but it is also steeped in ancient culture which is pulled through in every facet of the people. Working in in Beirut is definitely a 'hidden gem' and was a fantastic opportunity and experience for me - hopefully Lebanon will be able to avoid the on-going unrest and political problems in other parts of the Middle East – it would be such a shame to see such a beautiful country and people  drawn back into conflict