Lebanon’s rooftops provide relief, inspiration for residents under Covid-19 lockdown

Usually the kingdom of water tanks and satellite dishes, the roofs of Lebanon have recently been graced by improbable scenes of trapped residents fleeing their apartments.

Deprived of rehearsal rooms or workshops by restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, or just needing a little extra breathing space, many people have found comfort without leaving their buildings.

Several have ventured on their rooftops to escape isolation after taking to the streets in recent months as part of nationwide protests against leaders deemed corrupt and incompetent.

AFP photographer Joseph Eid spent weeks climbing stairs to see how people took control of underutilized roofs, the only visitors of which were caretakers, plumbers and electricians.

“When the internment started, I couldn’t take it anymore and that’s when I thought about checking the roof,” said Sherazade Mami, a Tunisian dancer who has lived in Beirut since 2016 .

Every day, she goes up to the ninth floor of her building with her water, carpet and music to stretch and practice.

Like others uncovering their rooftops during the lockout, Mami said his vision for the city had changed.

“Once you are up there, you realize – I have a breathtaking view of the whole of Beirut. It’s beautiful, the city is so peaceful,” she said about of the sprawling metropolis generally known for its noise and chaotic traffic.

“You can hear the birds singing, you’re in the sun, it’s paradise … It’s better than rehearsing in the theater in some ways,” she added.

A place to “feel free”

A bird’s eye view of Beirut at sunset since mid-March would show largely empty streets and shops closed at ground level, but unusual activity above.

During a hedgehog flight over the city, perhaps yoga instructors Rabih al-Medawar and his wife Alona Aleksandrova could be spotted trying new acrobatic movements on their roof.

Traveling north towards the seaside town of Byblos, Lebanese gymnast Karen Dib could appear, overturning the red carpet she had placed on top of her building.

And in Tripoli, the main city in northern Lebanon, artist and activist Hayat Nazer could be seen while working on his latest canvas.

Others also went upstairs to sunbathe, read or smoke a shisha water pipe.

Nazer said she hopes the lockout weeks will leave a positive mark on how residents think about their city.

“I really hope people will start to plant and green their roofs to protect the environment,” she said.

“They have been underused. You can play sports there, organize barbecues, party.”

Mami, the dancer, said she would not abandon her roof when the lockout was completed and her theater had reopened.

“I have found a place where I feel free and I will continue to use it,” she said.