Wasta: The Tahini-flavored guide to the Lebanese Favor Bank

Here in Lebanon, wasta is served fresh with great hommos, home-baked pita bread and arak (the local alcoholic drink made of anis). It comes in every form, and can be brought with words, bank notes, sexual favors or just family.

Now wasta is indeed a derivative of our any other favor bank. Except this one comes with some oriental music in its back-ground (no, its not going to be Fairuz here). Now that I have lived in Beirut enough to have my own forms of wasta, I am going to attempt here not to reveal my little dark secrets (no, it ain’t no sexual favors), but do a little comparative analysis of my own little experiences at the gambles of favor banking.

Way before all the money notes came to harass people’s little heads, it was all about favor bank. This was during the good old days of barter system, when camels were traded for love (It reminds me of a man in Luxor offering me a million camels for my hand in marriage). But anyway, wasta ain’t all that new nor was it always considered as a non-traditional form of economic interaction since it did once form the very core of every economic transaction. Like if you grew wheat in your farm and I didn’t happen to have vegetables in mine to give it to you in exchange, you would “trust” me to someday pay you back in vegetables or whatever grew in my farm “someday”, hence attaching “favor” to the opportunity cost. But the game didn’t finish there, for the favor games continued to play an important role in economic transactions, being labels as trust or non-monetary economic transactions while being calculated as variables in the statistical data. Now you would wonder how you could give a number to the amount of trust. Well, guess we have our little dark secrets to be able to give numbers to anything, including how happy you are.

Favor bank has come to play an important part in the developing economy today. This form of wasta which includes certain aspect of top-down monetary transactions has also been come to be known as “good-corruption” (yes, wallah I am not joking). You would encounter such funky terms while reading economic papers for countries like Afghanistan, where the developed world has sadly waged wars yet not been able to get good data sets (really, good data sets is all I care about). So to put all the loops together, the economists take pride in the “good corruption”, a theory which according to them would help them (yes, the NATO) make friends with opium-producing farmers and hence not have all the drug money flow into the Taliban economy. Now they believe that the good corruption would help stop the farmers from growing interesting material, but if I were the farmer (I am going to be very pragmatic here), I would sincerely take in the “good corruption” and then sell my crop to Taliban, hence making more money. Now that is exactly what is happening.

Anyway, wasta or no wasta, corruption or no corruption, the point is that with good tahini, it always tastes good. And hence it happily lures people into it, especially where social relations have to provide for the lack of state-welfare systems. But at this point, it is easier to buy tahini than build a state out of an entity. So I am just going to be happy with my plateful of hommos!

PS: If you don’t know what tahini and hommos are, you shouldn’t really be reading this! GO GET YOURSELF A PLATE OF IT!

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About Shreya Parikh

I am Shreya. Project Rethought is my attempt to rethink my own observations as a brown woman of Indian origin. I currently live in Paris where I teach at Sciences Po Paris and Parsons Paris-The New School.
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One Response to Wasta: The Tahini-flavored guide to the Lebanese Favor Bank

  1. B says:

    You need wasta to live comfortably in Beirut like your body needs the proteins held in tahini to keep your body alive and strong 😉
    The secret sauce is so good…

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