Even from across an Achrafieh café, one can see that she is Maya Zankoul, the blogger who draws herself in her online posts. She is the same slim, black-haired young lady with animated expressions that appears in the blog, Maya’s Amalgam.
Maya Zankoul, a 22-year-old graphic designer from the southern village of Hasbaya, had had it with work one day when she decided to let out her frustration on an online blog. She drew sketches of her ideas spontaneously, unaware that the images posted on her blog also conveyed grievances shared by the youth of the country.
“I didn’t know so many people would like it, but I get encouraging messages all the time. People tell me ‘This is exactly how we feel’,” Zankoul told NOW Extra. From eight to 24 posts per month, Zankoul’s blog has grown in both activity and popularity.
Zankoul is also active in Lebanese civil society and volunteers for NGOs and organizations that promote religious and political diversity, as well as projects to help Lebanese youth use multimedia to express themselves. Meanwhile, she posts comic sketches on the country’s social and political problems on her blog.
NOW Lebanon sat down with Maya to discuss her blog, her talent and her frustrations as a young Lebanese woman continuously adapting to her own society.
Could you tell me more about yourself, your personal and educational background?
Maya Zankoul: I graduated as a graphic designer from Notre Dame University (NDU) two years ago and started working in a company in Beirut. Before university, I had lived in Saudi Arabia my entire life. I was in a French-system school; I used to visit Lebanon every summer and it was my dream to live in Lebanon. I came here in 2005, right before Rafik Hariri was killed. That was the year that all the political problems started. Moving from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon was a difficult switch.
When did you decide to start the blog and why?
Zankoul: I started the blog four months ago. My first idea was “the Monotony of captivity,” showing me sitting at my desk at work. I was feeling like a prisoner because of the full-time job and the corporate, serious type of projects. I needed a way to release my tension… I started the blog, aiming to draw everyday events and thoughts.
I was familiar with comic blogs and with the idea of blogs in general. I have seen many blogs used as diaries and I thought why not drawings instead of words?
How long does it take you to draw one post?
Zankoul: It takes me around an hour a day for one post and I am willing to sacrifice that hour because I enjoy it. I have fun and I laugh while drawing it.
How have people reacted to your blog?
Zankoul: I get random people telling me that they identify with my drawings. I get good comments from people who post their feedback on my blog. They have told me that it starts to get addictive and that they like to check my blog with their morning coffee. It makes me really happy because I never thought about it this way.
We live in the same city and country and go through similar experience… We face the same problems on the road, at home, everywhere. Dealing with Lebanese people is also not easy because most of them have a certain mentality. I learned this mentality when I moved here. There is religious, political and social narrow-mindedness. People want to know your name to figure out your background and then be able to judge you. This really bothers me.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Zankoul: I have an overload of ideas because I come across things when I am out every day. In addition, I have people come to me telling me about their ideas as well.
Do the posts on elections or politics come from any affiliation that you may have?
Zankoul: I have no political affiliation and I am not into politics; I don’t even watch TV. But when I see billboards around me, I criticize them but from a neutral point of view. I am appalled by political fanaticism. People are so politically charged because the elections are around the corner.
What are the issues that concern you most as a young Lebanese woman living here?
Zankoul: I feel motivated by issues related to art, movies and design and how they can relate to or improve daily hassles that I have to face, such as driving in Lebanon, deforestation in many areas of Lebanon, conservation of cultural heritage and the environment, involvement of young Lebanese in social issues… [not only] political.
I think this political fanaticism is hiding other more important issues that would make Lebanon a better, more reputable country.
Are you active in any NGOs?
Zankoul: I am a member of the Youth for Tolerance NGO which aims to raise tolerance and respect of religious and political diversity as well as inclusion of marginalized groups. I’m working on a website for the youth, maw2af.com, where they can post essays, photographs or anything they would like to share or express. We’ve published a newsletter called the 961 Report and we distributed it in Lebanese universities because the youth are the target. We’ve tackled in it various topics such as domestic workers’ rights, elections, etc.
How would you rate the blog culture in Lebanon? Do you communicate with other bloggers?
Zankoul: I don’t know many bloggers in Lebanon but I know them through their comments. The Lebanese blogging scene is not very strong in Lebanon; people in Lebanon are not pro-active and they don’t take the time to create blogs and post photos or articles. It would be good to see the people’s opinions on a personal level.