Interiors Project: Jodie Thiel in Beirut, Lebanon

This week’s issue of the Interiors Project features the Beirut home of American Counselor Jodie Thiel whom I met at a conference in Lisbon in November. Jodie attended my presentation and, afterwards, she approached me to introduce herself. (She also thanked me which was very sweet!.) We got to know each other a bit during conference sessions and I was consistently impressed with the quality of Jodie’s comments and questions; she is wise beyond her years! I have also been following Jodie’s lovely blog Small Corner Perspective.

First off a massive “thank you!” to Monna for dreaming up and organizing this neat project! As one who loves and very much needs the personal-ity and haven of a home-space, and is infatuated with design and spacial configurations, it has been fantastic to get a glimpse of how others create their spaces as well as share my own.

An Oregon native, I presently work at the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon. This is my first international posting and (paid) job in my field of school counseling. On my second year, I’m half way through what has morphed into a three year commitment, and this year so appreciative of a good space to retreat to (last year’s left something to be desired…) Said space is roughly 98 square meters, comprised of two bedrooms, two and a half baths (yes, I too wonder why there are more bathrooms than bedrooms…), a kitchen, and a living/dining space. Additionally, I am fortunate to have a massive terrace, a rare commodity in Beirut.

{I live in a somewhat eclectic neighborhood where new architecture rubs shoulders with that of a bygone era. Graffiti art is commonplace, and the Mediterranean is a block away.}

{Foyer // A collection of favorite things including: an Oregon road map, photos from New Orleans, Oregon, and of my fantastic family and friends, a screen print bird found at the Alberta Street Fair in Portland, nick knacks I have had since childhood (the First Aid box, Chinese tea cup, marbles, and the like), and an odd assortment of books and journals.}

{I love the light in my apartment, and the somewhat open, flowing floor plan.}

On living abroad…
// In what countries have you lived? To what place would you most like to return?
While this is my first international job, I have been fortunate to have traveled a decent amount in my life, primarily in Europe, as well as to have lived in stunning New Zealand as an exchange student when I was 16. I think for most anyone who chooses international work, part of the allure is the possibility to move around the globe and experience new cultures and vistas; definitely this is true for me. While my heart will always feel most at home in my native Pacific Northwest but I’m also keen to eventually get back to the New Zealand/Australia area. There’s something about the hospitality and practicality of the culture and people that is captivating, not to mention the breathtaking beauty of the physical land/oceanscapes.

{Living RoomFoyer // Though there’s not much in this space, it still feels full and lived in. Somewhat boxy furniture is constantly being rearranged and an assortment of photos and unique finds or creations offer color and personality.}

{I found a piece of bright green raw silk that became a pillow case; the yellow case was an Ikea find.}

{The apartment came with several so-so lamps. A tall shade constructed from thick packing paper makes for a great effect and hides the mediocre design. The sea urchin fossil I found at a junk shop and I made the candle holder from a piece of cedar wood. The candles didn’t hold up well in the summer heat but I liked the effect so haven!t changed them out yet.}

{ I tend to live in piles.}

{A vintage camera and flash, both thrift store finds, favorite prints re-framed by yours truly, antique cup and vintage frame, and rocks picked up here and there (Lebanon, Prague, New Zealand, and Paris)}

{The paper lanterns help the dining space to feel a little more defined.}

{Again, a self-framing project encasing favorite photos. The candle stands are Ikea.}

{Kitchen}

{Kitchen: The spice rack is a more recent design project and the owl wine stopper was a gift from my sister and brother-in-law. I try to use reusable bags whenever possible; the Lebanese shop keepers are amused by this. Favorite people and places. An old bluing bottle is perfect storage for matches and a small rock serves as flint.}

{A simple, cheerful calender and a print from the MET in NYC- a silly note penned by Proust.}

{The small laundry porch is also home to the garden bench though the AC unit directly above makes setting out seedlings a little difficult.}

{Master Bedroom // I took the large photo at a favorite place in Eastern Oregon and the smaller ones are vintage photos taken by my grandfather in the 1950s. The pillow cases are Ecot from Istanbul and a colleague brought me the pashmina thrown from Nepal.
The bed linen is from Ikea and the paper covered lamps are yet again hiding mediocre design.

{Spare Bedroom // I covered an ugly mirror frame with packing paper and the dresser has become a staging area for various projects. The pillow cases were summer projects and lend some color to the room.}

// Have you ever been evacuated?
No, but living and working in a place where this has occurred before, the question of “What would that mean for me?” has been and continues to be a part of my process. I have found the possibility has influenced micro-decisions such as what I brought with me (heirlooms that I love did not make the final packing cut in part because I’d rather do without them then potentially lose them all together) and elicited a personal tension of sorts with being part of a largely local-hire staff; it’s unsettling to consider that while I would likely be able to leave in the event of conflict, many friends and colleagues would be stuck.

// How do you know when to leave?
Having just re-signed for a third year, this is a really thought provoking and raw question… As cliche as it sounds, I think for most of us we just know, and often cannot reasonably verbalize that to others no matter how hard we try. Personally, I have to know that I have left a dynamic better than I found it and that I am leaving it “well”.

The life of an international educator is pretty sexy at the day’s end; sure we put in long hours and blunder through countless cultural faux pas but we do so in the context of great locations and generally with a lot of implicit social privilege. In that can be the temptation to be on the move every two years, “contract hopping” if you will. I have to continually remind myself of why I’m in education in the first place, and make my decisions to stay on or exit from that place, not the allure of the unknown, or a better salary package. If it’s a fit to leave after two years, okay. But if me being able to leave a place “well” means I stay for longer, that’s what I need to do. And when I’m no longer able to make decisions from the place of a genuine love of education in all its beauty and mess, when I’m only motivated by the next location, it’ll be time to get out altogether.

// What do your friends and family members think/feel about you working overseas?
I think unwittingly I’ve made any location after Lebanon a shoe in… No, really, I am fortunate to have a fantastic, and massive, support system of family and friends, none of whom were surprised that this was the route I chose. Specifically with my current location there were many questions about safety but in the same breath was the encouragement to go for it. I don’t think that there was an opinion to change about me working overseas – it’s a fit for this season of my life – but what has changed are their opinions about the Middle East and Lebanon. I’ve really appreciated the humility of many people in my social and familial spheres who have owned having gross misconceptions about this part of the world, and then continued to ask great questions to understand it better. I’m lucky.

On creating a home-space…
// How did you find your current home?
Part of the ACS contract for foreign hires is housing. We’re spread throughout the neighborhoods around the school and I was fortunate this year to get into an all-ACS building in a quieter neighborhood. I’m grateful to have housing as a part of my contract as my limited Arabic and complete ignorance of Lebanese housing law makes me nervous about how successful I would have been in finding a good situation on my own near work.

{What I love most about my house is the outdoor space and its potential // Grand planting plans for the terrace and the largest of my summer projects: making pillow cases and procuring pillows to create an additional seating space. I!m envisioning outdoor movies, late, laughter filled evenings, and many a book read in the sunshine.}

// When you move to a new country, what kinds of things do you do/find/purchase to make that place home?
Without fail, I seek out good coffee shops and bakeries. These are PNW mainstays and being able to have a favorite place to enjoy a cup of coffee helps a place to feel a little more like home. I also try as much as I can to get into whatever wilderness can be found, preferably mountains and hiking trails.

// What do you always unpack first?
Nothing in particular, more so I unpack it all in one fell swoop. I like having bags empty and things at least in the areas they belong in before spending my first night in a place. Sometimes that has meant very late nights but there’s something settling about it for me that outweighs the lost sleep.

On traveling…
// How many countries have you travelled to?
16: England, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Scotland, Cambodia, Lebanon, Jordan, Portugal, and Turkey.

{Winter Mountains}

{Qadisha Valley}

{New Zealand}

{Masaya Vineyard}

// What do you like to buy when you are traveling?
I’m a sucker for small unique items, the kinds of things you would come across at flea markets, or textiles. In any place I travel to, I’m most keen to visit markets and always have an eye out for something small to bring home. In Cambodia last spring I picked up two large pieces of silk (I have no idea what I’ll do with them but the colors are gorgeous) and a small ceramic pot while my find in a recent trip to Turkey was Ecot textiles. I am a minimalist at heart so any purchase is governed by two principles:
1) If I don’t love it, I don’t buy it.
2) Hesitancy means sleeping on it, returning the next day if the allure remains, and if it’s not there, it wasn’t meant to be.
Usually my travel purchases are gifts for others. That plus the minimalism has helped keep my bags light when I’m moving to a new location.

// Where will you travel next?
Spring hols are coming up in mid-April and I’m weighing options. The most appealing is somewhere warm and “beachy”, which might translate to a venture to Jordan (Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Dead Sea) with a few colleagues.

// What secrets have you learned to make your travels more enjoyable?
Pack light, and then pack lighter. It’s a personal challenge to get my bag as light as I can when traveling. Especially because my current flight pattern home is three flights and 17 hours, the last thing I want to deal with is a heavy bag upon arrival. And usually so many things are unnecessary. The same goes for my carry on. I also take an empty water bottle in my carry on and then have it filled at a cafe once I’m through security, always pack some sort of fruit in my carry on (it’s usually what is most lacking in flight meals), have a lot of reading material on hand, and splurge on coffee or tea as I please (so comforting during a layover of any length….). I think though the most important thing is remembering to be patient and kind to those I interact with; a smile or offering to help someone by grabbing a bag or opening a door really goes a long way in the zaniness of travel.

// Do you ever get tired of traveling?
Yes. Don’t get me wrong, I do love to travel, and very intentionally try to stay in B&Bs or hostels so as to interact with a range of people (I really am not keen on hotels at all…) but I also love to be in my own space. I find that after several consecutive trips I’m craving my home-space, a good book, and the ease of routine.

On food…
// Has living overseas changed your eating habits, diet or food preferences? How?
I thought it would more than it has. If anything, it’s been easier to eat the way I prefer in Lebanon due to the abundance of inexpensive fruits and vegetables and local foods being based on legumes. I find I don’t eat meat as much as I used to, but this is more practicality than preference; I eat at home the majority of the time and cooking meat for one person is a pain. The biggest change has been consuming less chocolate products. I try to be mindful of what my purchases communicate and the reality is that a lot of mainstream chocolate products are produced without much care for farmers and workers. When I’m state-side I buy Fair Trade products whenever I can, specifically chocolate. While I can find some organic food in Lebanon, Fair Trade is impossible. So I stock up when I’m home, and ration my stash.

On education…
/// What makes you excited about being an educator? And what is the same about kids all over the world?
There is something amazing about helping shape a young person; every now and then the full scope of what I get to do for a job hits me and I just sit for a minute, taking in the weight and beauty of it. Time and again I come back to the old Greek proverb “I am planting trees under whose shade I will never sit” as it really sums up how I see my work; I get to invest in students, and while I never know the full outcome, I can say that I have done my best to be a positive, honest, supportive adult in a student’s life.

Working with high school students, I feel as though I am perpetually shaking my head with a smile playing at the corner of my mouth. Sure they are each very individual in so many ways, but at the core they are also each trying to sort out life and how to become an adult. So far, regardless of students’ cultural layers differentiating from their parents, wrestling with the ageless question of “Who am I?”, and navigating social angst are common threads. And Chuck Taylors, Birkenstocks, American Eagle jeans, and North Face backpacks also seem to cross cultural divides.

Please leave your love notes for Jodie in the comments section below.

25 comments

  1. Jodie,

    I don’t know you but I like you a lot! Beautiful pictures and lovely writing. You said many things that struck a chord with me and got me thinking. And you reminded me that I can be the one on a plane whose smile goes a long way for someone else. I feel like “ration my stash” could be a theme song for or movie idea about expats!

    Enjoy your holiday floating in the Dead Sea,
    Ashley

  2. Beautiful, my friend, just like your heart! 🙂 I love that you intentionally surround yourself with reminders and pleasures and that you splurge for coffee in the airports. I am so very excited to come see you in June and sit out on that balcony! xoxo

  3. Hi Jodie,
    Thank you for sharing your lovely home and inspiring designs. I am going to steal your match-bottle idea and install it today! Fab!
    What an interesting part of the world you live in. Your comment about shopkeepers/recycled bags made me chuckle because I live in Austria where you would be laughed at, or possibly frowned at for NOT bringing your own bags…
    I love your photos and am interested to know how you processed them. I have no photographic experience other than the usual point n snap! I would really appreciate it if you could let me know, so that I can possibly have a go:)
    Thank you!
    Have a good week,
    Mandy

    1. Hi Mandy,
      Glad you enjoyed the post!
      Regarding the photo processing, for the most part I take no credit. I use Poladroid for giving my SLR photos a fun filter and am really dependent on the Instagram and Hipstamatic apps on my iPhone- which is what the majority of the photos in the post represent. If you have an iPhone, the apps are worth downloading, and Poladroid is a free download useable on both PCs and Macs.
      Best!
      Jodi

  4. Thanks for sharing Jodie! Some friends at my current school are going to Beriut next year and I passed your story onto them. I loved your pictures. 🙂

  5. i am one of the friends that april mentions above! thank you for this post (and for the venue to begin with monna, and to april for sharing it with me). mike and i are very much looking forward to moving to beirut, being a part of the school and the surrounding culture. seeing your HOME…it truly conveys personality…makes me even more excited.

    the life of an international educator IS sexy.

    sunshine sent on the wings of flying flamingos…have a stellar weekend*

    1. Gretchen, nice to “meet” you (sort of)! I just had dinner with a friend who works in elementary and your name came up (I think- unless there’s another Gretchen whose been hired as well). Glad you enjoyed the post, and please let me know if I can help with any questions as you get closer to making your move here.
      Best!
      Jodi

  6. I loved reading this Jodie! I spent 3 months travelling around the Middle East (Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Syria), and always regretted not making it to Lebanon. I loved the area so much; reading your beautiful blog sparked so many memories.

    1. Thanks Nancy- I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I suppose it’s fair to say that Lebanon is now perhaps the most easily accessible of all those places you mentioned- perhaps once day you can add it to the list : )
      Best,
      Jodi

  7. I would expect nothing less of you my dear friend! Your place looks amazing and I’ve already hired you in my mind to decorate my future home! ha! I love everything you’ve done with it and I wish I could be there to see it first hand…and lay on your couch, drink coffee and chat with you of course! you inspire me…time and time again! Love you tons! -mon

    1. Thanks! And there’s something to be said for sharing space with dear friends too! Miss living with you all, though I don’t have to be as mindful of who is and isn’t a morning person 😉 Love you too!

  8. This is great Jodi!! I love this!
    Your space looks like a treasure, just like you. 🙂
    Great to see a glimpse of your world over there. Love seeing your creativity in all of it.
    Hugs and love to you!!!

  9. Hi Jodie
    Loved your article, so many aspects that I could identify with, collecting fabric for unknown future projects, looking for the special small treasures while traveling and unpacking! Thanks for sharing and I agree, Monna had such a great idea when she thought of this project,
    Karen

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