About this episode:
Cynthia Alpan knows money. She dedicated her career to understanding financial markets and advising others as they planned their fiscal goals. But her knowledge took a backseat to the wishful belief that what happened in her homeland of Lebanon would not and could not happen. Practically overnight, everything changed. Her story sheds light on the immense losses -- of money, access, safety, and future dreams -- now facing Cynthia and millions like her, and reminds us to find gratitude in the small things.
About our guest:
Lebanese native Cynthia Alpan came to the United States to attend college, and came to love the American way, working her way up the ladder in the financial services industry. In the late 1990s, love and motherhood brought her back to Lebanon, and she's still there today, struggling through one of the worst economic crises the world has ever seen.
Where to find Cynthia Alpan online:
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Kristen Cerelli 0:00
The interviews in this podcast, all of which are ultimately uplifting stories of human transformation may contain general discussions of depression, trauma, violence, abuse, or cultural and racial bias. On this episode of shift shift Blum,
Cynthia Alpan 0:16
I'm very grateful that God gave me a good life. And I saved money for my retirement years, but I never thought what happened to Lebanon will happen. Nobody saw it coming. I never thought Lebanon would be a country that would default and go bankrupt. Never.
Kristen Cerelli 0:41e her for the shocking day in:
My guest today is Cynthia Albin, a Lebanese born certified financial advisor, college educated in the US at the University of Memphis. Today, Cynthia is based in Beirut, where she and her daughter and millions like them, are living through one of the worst economic crises the world has seen in over 150 years. She's here today to share her ongoing story of immense change. Welcome, Cynthia. Hello, Kristen.
Cynthia Alpan 1:58
Thank you for having me.
Kristen Cerelli 2:01
thrilled to have you. You were born in Lebanon. Correct. When did you come to the US? Was it just for college?
Cynthia Alpan 2:12ally, I came to the States in:
Kristen Cerelli 2:24
So your mom, I was going to ask if your family was supportive of you coming to the States, but it was actually your mom who encouraged you?
Cynthia Alpan 2:31
Yes, because she was very worried that having the Civil War around me at the time, she was worried about my health and my lifestyle. So cat, she kind of tricked me to go to the United States. She told me we're going on vacation. And then she told me, you know, why don't you stay? She registered me at the university. She registered me in the dorms. And then she told me, this is going to be your room temporarily. We're going to Texas, and I will come pick you up after one month, and we go back to Lebanon. And she called me and she said, Guess what? I'm in Lebanon, and you're staying there. I said, Why mommy? I want to come back. At the time. I was a spoiled brat. I was living in a you know, fun life, even though there was a war. But we didn't have an economical crisis. We just had to worry about bombs and guns and stuff like that. And she was worried about me because I was 17. And I wanted to go out partying during the bombs. So she made sure that I moved to the United States, her home country.
Kristen Cerelli 3:40
How long did it take you to adjust and feel like okay, I'm okay here,
Cynthia Alpan 3:45
okay? To tell you just even though I was 17 and partying and going to school during the bombs, but bombs is to scare me. Like everybody, so I will never forget that day, the first week, or the second week walking to my class between classes, and the postman dropped his mailbox, a very heavy mailbox from the van from the post office van. And I'm sorry, my English is not good anymore. And I I jumped and ducked under the car and everybody around me in this university. They thought what's going on and that boom, made me you know, height and everybody's laughing. I got adjusted to the United States after one year. It took me six months to one year. I was homesick
Kristen Cerelli 4:43
about that's a big move. What did you study? At the University of Memphis?
Cynthia Alpan 4:49
I changed a lot of majors. At first, I wanted to be a journalist. And the teacher said you have a very heavy accent you will never be able to do it. So Then I moved from being a journalist to international studies.
Kristen Cerelli 5:04
And your first job was in finance.
Cynthia Alpan 5:09
As a college student, I was doing the odd jobs that all the American kids do, which I loved very much, and they build character. And my first job was the bank teller at American bank. Then I went as a stockbroker, yes, with a major brokerage firm in the United States.
Kristen Cerelli 5:28
And did you like that? Did you feel drawn to learning about finance and banking institutions?
Cynthia Alpan 5:36
I loved it. I was out at first. I was planning to become a stock broker. But I took it as a part time job. It was at the time with EF Hutton. And the night just to get to be a cold caller for a stock broker. And I ended up opening a lot of accounts, and the manager at the time felt untalented. He told me you should take this as your carrier. And that's when I started studying for my series, 763 and NSE. And he used to tell me just memorize the scripts. If the client says this say that, you know, it was great, and I had a great, great life. I mean, I had the American American dream.
Kristen Cerelli 6:24
I used that phrase when I was talking about you the other day that that's what it sounded like to me that you were living the American dream. How long did you stay in the states working?
Cynthia Alpan 6:33Until:
Kristen Cerelli 6:37
So you were in you were in the States? 18 years?
Cynthia Alpan 6:41
I love that. Yes. All told. What?
Kristen Cerelli 6:45
What are you dreaming of in your life as you're you're out in the world as a working woman, you're making your own money, you're in a field that still at that point is probably dominated by men, primarily men? What are your life dreams at that point?
Cynthia Alpan 6:59
I, when I was working in the United States of America, I never felt different from any men I was working with at the time. You know, that's why I'm a little bit surprised about the things I read about or hear about, on the international news or USA news. Now, I was four or five female stockbrokers at the time among 80 men and we I was treated equal to everybody, or at least I made sure I was treated to everybody. And I enjoyed life. The the companies I worked with, they invested in me. They they taught me everything I know right now. And I'm very grateful.
Kristen Cerelli 7:42
You're a Certified Financial Advisor among your other your series seven license that you have among all your other licenses, you're you're certified to give advice about finances to other people. I'm curious, do you have? Do you have your giggling? Do you have a philosophy? About money?
Cynthia Alpan 8:05
Yes. It's It's the basic philosophy that you tell everybody you know, the financial planning pyramid or the circle that you know, your salary 50% should go to expenses, 30%, luxury and 20% savings. And thank god, this is what I did. Actually, this is what is saving me right now from the 20% saving. But unfortunately, when I moved back to Lebanon, I moved my savings into Lebanese banks. Because I was living here, even though I knew something is wrong. And I was telling my clients don't do that. Don't do that. And I did.
Kristen Cerelli 8:49
When you talk to people about money, I go to a financial advisor. I see him once a year. I find it very emotional and very, very therapeutic to talk to him. What what is it about money that's so deep for us as humans.
Cynthia Alpan 9:10
Money is important. It gives us financial freedom, peace of mind. Knowing that you can pay your rent, you can go to the supermarket and eat. You know, it gives you a peace of mind. I'm not talking when I was in my 20s or 30s. Of course I wanted to have the luxury items I wanted to do things that I never had before. Also, when I was a stockbroker, it was easy money. I worked hard. I really worked very, very hard. But also it was easy. You work hard. You make money. That's it. And that's what's beautiful about the United States of America. Really, it's an amazing country. People. If you work hard and you are honest. People will invest in you and trust you At least with me,Kristen Cerelli:
I was going to say I wonder if everyone would agree with that. But I'm glad that you had that experience, ICynthia Alpan:
had the positive experience with my employers in the United States and with my clients. And my friends.Kristen Cerelli:
So what brought you back to Lebanon?Cynthia Alpan:
I fell in love with a nice man and man that I met during my summer vacation in Lebanon. And plus another major reason is my parents now who are who have passed away, got older, and I wanted to spend time with them. My father was getting older, my aunt was getting older. And I always, when I was in this state, I was always thinking that what will happen if I go back to Lebanon, you know, I wanted always to come back to Lebanon. And I always thought, you know, things don't work out. I'll go back to the States. So I came back to Lebanon, and it was a good life as well. At the time.Kristen Cerelli:
Were you looking ahead at that point in your life, I knew you weren't really even middle aged man. Were you but were you thinking about your retirement years long term planning, having a family what what what were you thinking about in terms of things you need to plan financially for at that moment, after the move back to Lebanon,Cynthia Alpan:
when I went back to Lebanon, I kept I moved from being a stockbroker, a financial planning advisor working with insurance companies. So it was mainly working harder for less money. But I enjoyed it, because the stock markets in Lebanon opens at 4:30pm in the afternoon, because of the timeframe. So I didn't want to be working at night and sleeping in the morning, I want you to socialize, I was single for a very long time. And I always enjoyed, I was not the type to get married early and have children. I always I was the type enjoying life, you know, going out, you know, work hard, party hard, you know, have fun, travel, discover the world and so on. I'm very grateful that God gave me a good life. And I saved money for my retirement years. But I never thought what happened to Lebanon will happen. Nobody saw it coming.
I mean, the, the first thing they teach you at school, is any company, or any government giving you a very high interest rate is a high risk investment. This is the first thing I learned at school. This is the first thing I advise clients, when they tell me we want to invest in Brazil when we want to invest in Argentina, or they want to invest in a higher high interest rate bond. And other than this high risk should be only 10 or 15% of your portfolio and not more. And guess what? I never thought Lebanon, even though giving high interest rate would be a country that would default and go bankrupt. Never.Kristen Cerelli:
I was going to ask you that very thing, which is because you're in the industry and you understand concepts and patterns and trends. Probably better than the average person. Did you have any intuition or sense that something wasn't right.Cynthia Alpan:
I knew what I knew it. And I even told people, but I didn't follow my advice. I didn't follow my instinct, because I couldn't believe it. I was in denial that it will happen to us. I thought it will it will recover somehow. What areKristen Cerelli:
the primary factors that you're noticing that you're in denial about? But you are noticing? You mentioned high interest rates, that'sCynthia Alpan:
a tight interest rate, very high interest rate. I mean, even in 1999 when I was working in the States, and my job at the time was with a very big bank in the USA. The banks and the insurance companies in the Middle East were our clients and they hired me because I speak Arabic That was my asset in the United States because I speak Arabic and I speak English. And they taught me to do they taught me presentation skills, you know, communication skills and so on. So my job was to go and tell the banks in Lebanon don't put all your money in Lebanon put some of it in the USA and all the mess will be no no the interest I was telling them this is high risk, move the money from the back part of it. 10% part of it and Put it out. And even the Central Bank of Lebanon used to allow banks to move out 10 to 20% offshore, where everything else has to stay in Lebanon, insurance companies also. So a lot of the major international companies that saw this coming stopped, like banks, insurance companies and investment companies they pulled out of Lebanon three or four years ago, before the crisis, international insurance companies start pulling out of Lebanon, because there was a low the Ministry of Economy. 50% of the premium had to stay in Lebanon and 50% was allowed to go offshore. So Zurich, financial services, HSBC, and all these international banks knew what's happening. So they went out of Lebanon, they just said, Okay, we're leaving. But as the Lebanese who got married, nine years ago, I started having ties. You know, my husband is Lebanese, my daughter is going she's Lebanese, she's going to a very well known school in Lebanon. So I couldn't any more pull out and go back to the States. I had attachments that kept me in Lebanon, and my father only passed away one year ago. So I had to also stay with him because he was too old. We I was the generation taking sandwiched generations where you're taking care of the elderly and taking care of the young. So you can you cannot just let go and say bye, you know, I'm moving like when you're 20 or 30.Kristen Cerelli:
So despite your intuition, you keep all of your money in the Lebanese banks.Cynthia Alpan:
Well, let me tell you let me be frank with you. I bought a house with some of the money I had. And I invested in, in some retirement plans in Lebanon, and I also invested in I kept money in Lebanon. And I didn't send it I didn't have enough. I mean, I didn't think of sending it offshore, I didn't think it's going to be that major. The problem.Kristen Cerelli:
So from what I read, they said it's August 2019. When everybody really realizes it is that bad. It's It's terrible. What do you remember the first day or the first moment when you realize this is very, very bad. What's happenedCynthia Alpan:
when the revolution Lebanon started, and the banking crisis started? I was with my daughter in Istanbul shopping. And then we start seeing something on the news. Like, there's a revolution. Banks are closing, all of a sudden they're blocking their doors, and we came back to Lebanon, my credit card stopped. And they said you're only allowed at the beginning to withdraw $1,000 per month. What's going on, you know, we start withdrawing $1,000 per month. And then now we reached a level. They're saying you can only withdraw Lebanese money and only like, like, let me tell you how much now it is 5 million years, which is nothing. It's almost like 200 or $100 per month. But we don't have electricity. So we have to buy like gas Massoud, I don't know how to say it anymore. Diesel and the diesel cost us $200 per month, my my salary is worthless. They have a certain salary that is equivalent to nothing now and Lebanon.Kristen Cerelli:
So it is literally overnight.Cynthia Alpan:
It happened six months gradually. But they put restrictions for us to withdraw money from the banks. It was like it went from 2000 to 1000 to $200 per month.Kristen Cerelli:
But by the time they're restricting your withdrawals, it's too late to do anything.Cynthia Alpan:
It was too late for me. The politicians they all took their money out people with contacts, they took their money out. For example, my cousin or my I live right now I'm roommates with my car. I mean, I bought the house with my cousin she is 78 years old. She has savings, like a big amount of savings in the bank. They don't. I mean, what can she do now? They don't they're not allowing her to move anything out of the money back. They're only allowing her $100 and she is retired. I mean, how is she supposed to live? I'm still working. I'm still managing somehow.Kristen Cerelli:
So as of today, the maximum withdrawal per month for an average citizen is 100.Cynthia Alpan:
Let me tell you, I'm gonna get my calculator out. Yes, sorry. I didn't do my calculations. So it's 5 million liras divided. And now the dollar is $29,272 $172. We're only allowed to take out of the bank per month.Kristen Cerelli:
What does that $172 buy you?Cynthia Alpan:
Nothing. Nothing? Nothing.Kristen Cerelli:
Stop and think for a minute about how far you could get on $172 a month. So it makes sense that the World Bank itself has labeled Lebanon and FCV of fragility conflict and violence state. But I wondered, how did it get there? A bullet pointed for you. Bullet point number one, Lebanon, pegged its currency, the lira to the US dollar rather than allowing global financial markets to set its value that stabilize things for a while. Sure. However, in 2011, this is bullet point two, between the civil war in Syria and political instability and the growing power of Hezbollah in Lebanon itself. Foreign investors basically dumped Lebanese assets lock stock and barrel bullet point number three, let's fast forward to 2016 when, by the way, the country of Lebanon had no president for almost the entire year, the central bank of Lebanon introduced something called financial engineering those crazy high interest rates that Cynthia was talking about before financial engineering is basically the bank offering lavish returns for new dollars. What are new dollars, money borrowed to pay existing creditors? Let me explain it this way. This month's investors pay off last month's investors and the bank is just sitting around hoping that next month's investors will pay off this month's investors. It's a Ponzi scheme. But unlike the mostly wealthy people who were victimized by Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme, this is the entire country of Lebanon over 6 million people who've lost everything. Inflation went crazy, and the value of the lira has plummeted by more than 90%. Since 2019. For every $100 you had in savings, you now have about a buck. Cynthia's description of how her countrymen are responding to this is sobering.Cynthia Alpan:
I mean, a lot of people are committing suicide now in Lebanon, or they're starving, or they're depending on donations, or there are people helping them families from overseas. So a lot of families like the wife, and the children stay in Lebanon, and the husbands are going to Saudi Arabia to Dubai to work. And unfortunately, back before the crisis, the Lebanese person when he used to travel to the Middle East, he was an asset and they used to give us good salaries like $5,000 $10,000 10,000 I mean for an engineer for a doctor for private banker. Now that the middle is not our crisis, they're giving them only 1000 or 2000. They're taking advantage of us.Kristen Cerelli:
I read that 75% of the population of Lebanon right now is living under the poverty line.Cynthia Alpan:
Yes, we are living under the poverty line. I am blessed that I'm working and blessed. We are managing. We have now relative we have a cousin of ours. Amira, Allah, the cousin of my cousin Nahida he's sending us money from overseas. If it wasn't for him, I don't know what we do. I wouldn't know what to do. If this human being is not helping us out. I would have to move I would have to go back to the United States leave my daughter with my ex husband and leave the elderly alone and I would have to be like everybody else and leave. And really it's hard because I'm divorced. You know if I was married, maybe my I would tell my husband Okay, let's go with my daughter and we unit outside of Lebanon. But there's also a law in Lebanon. I'm married to Muslim and the law for Muslims. The children stay with the husband or we don't have the woman doesn't have any rights. He they keep an eye on me how I'm behaving and they keep an eye on how I'm putting her up and I cannot even get married. Because in Islam, if I get married, my daughter is not allowed to be with a non blood relatives in the house. Wow, she will go to to have father. Her father is an amazing man. He's a very good man. I'm not saying anything about him, he will do a very good job bringing her up. But you know, I got my daughter at an elderly age, and I want to be a mom.Kristen Cerelli:
Yeah. How were you raised? What was your religious upbringing?Cynthia Alpan:
My daughter just Oh, very complicated. I have a very complicated life. And mixture. My father is Muslim Sunni. My mother is her. Her mom is Maronite Christian, and her father is Catholic. So my mom is Christian. And my father is Muslim. And I was brought up in a house that is both religions, we respect all religions, and respect all political parties, and we respect all human beings as equal. So I was brought up in a very liberal houseKristen Cerelli:
with that variety of viewpoints. And that respect that you just talked about, and the gratitude with which you talk about everything I there is a lot of finger pointing about why this has happened. What why why the country is in crisis economically. It's because the love and love the Lebanese Government is too tied into the religious parties. It's because of corruption in the central bank. It's because US and other foreign donors have propped up corrupt politicians and the elite for their own influence. What do you see, are the all those things true? Or is there another truth that isn't being discussed?Cynthia Alpan:
100% true. Unfortunately, the politicians and religious parties are all intertwined. They're all together as one. So even if the people go down for new revolution, the Army is with the politicians who are also shareholders of banks. So there's no way we don't I don't see any way out of this problem, to be honest with you. No, it is all mafias, we have 15 mafias in Lebanon. That's tribal community, a tribal community. We don't have any democracy in Lebanon.Kristen Cerelli:
Is that something you've always known or felt? Or is that something that's revealed itself to you, as you watch this collapse?Cynthia Alpan:
It was always around since I was a little child growing up. Remember, I told you the reason I went to the States in 1981, there was a political civil war. So all our lives in Lebanon, we were broken up. We it is a tribal community, and it's religion versus another religion, political party against another political party. And all the head of political parties are taking money from foreign governments, different foreign governments that they have their own war in Lebanon. Lebanon is a strategic location for many international countries. I don't want to mention them. And they are all having their war in Lebanon, using the political leaders that there are giving them a lot of money and allowing them to do whatever they want with the people. Do you feel hopeless? We are hopeless. We are hopeless. There's nothing, there's nothing we can do. Because when the people go down to the streets, the army who is not making any money from his salaries from the government, they're shooting at us because they have another source of income from political leaders who are the owners of banks.Kristen Cerelli:
Talk me through your day to day life, as it's impacted by this extreme limitation of the $172 that you can withdraw per month. And I know you mentioned you have a salary but I know explain to our listeners how that really works. What what do you see of that salary? What can you access on that salary? What is that salaries value at this point?Cynthia Alpan:
My salary was equivalent to $5,000 a month before that was the basic and I had commissioned plus bonuses. And $5,000 was a lot a lot a lot of money in Lebanon. Now my $5,000 is equivalent to $200 and I'm not I don't get it as dollars. I got it. I get it as a Lebanese liras when we go to the bank to get my salary, my salary, the owner of my company, where I work for he is a very good man, but what can he also do because his money and the company money is also stuck in the bank. It's not like he doesn't want to give me cash. He cannot give me cash. So now what we're doing is we go to the bank, and they gave us like a debit card. This This is the liquid cash you have. And whatever you want, if you want to go to the supermarket, you need to use the debit card. So for example, I want to buy coffee. I want to buy Nescafe coffee that everybody takes for granted you go to the supermarket, you just put it and you get out in the supermarket is much more expensive. For example, for example, it might cost me $25. In the I'm just giving a sample, I might find it somewhere else for $8. But somewhere else, they don't have a debit card, so I cannot buy it. I have to go buy it from the supermarket because they will accept my debit card. So we are all in Lebanon living via checks or debit cards. Is it clear? Does it make sense to you how we're living? Yeah, so the cash money, the liquid money, we pay for diesel, and we pay for things that we need cash to do. And everything else is we're playing with Monopoly money, but also with that we have a ceiling. So we have learned the bunnies people to survive. This is the funny thing that human beings, the first three months, four months, we went crazy. We went whatever. Now we have adapted. Imagine we are adapting to this lifestyle. But a lot of people who don't have debit cards are dying. They're dying of starvation, they're committing suicide. They're robbing a lot of people now are robbing because people need to eat. So they have to rob it's normal. I mean, if you have a man who has to feed his children, and he doesn't have an income, and he doesn't have access to his money, what how is he going to eat? So it's like the cowboy days.Kristen Cerelli:
You say you've adapted or some people have been able to adapt? What does that mean for you? Does that mean you eat less? you socialize less you use less toilet paper in the bathroom? How has this changed your habits and your consumption?Cynthia Alpan:
For example, before we used to go out and party it's sushi, it's steak, whatever, you know, I used to travel three four times a year enjoy life. I mean, I worked hard. So now for example traveling is out of the question. buying clothes. We don't buy anything. We just living on basics. Before we still be able to take long showers now we have to take quick showers because you have to buy water. Imagine you have to think before taking a shower. Is there water enough? Not enough water. You open the faucet there's no water because we didn't buy enough water before we used to have electricity all the time now. We just have rationing electricity for example, from 1am to 6am. No electricity in the morning three hours not accurate TriCity some houses. They only have one or two hours or three hours maximum electricity. This is a problem in the summer because the food will get destroyed. Gas imagine there were days there were no gas for the car. We walk everywhere. I don't want to tell you how my legs. I had tendinitis. Because I'm walking everywhere. I'm walking from the house to the school of my daughter. I'm walking.Kristen Cerelli:
For the first time in our entire conversation, Cynthia takes a pause. And I can see how listing these little everyday losses all at once has really triggered something in her so I asked her what's going on.Cynthia Alpan:
But Bailey now is that exactly. It's very hard. It's very hard. It's very hard what we're going through. For example, I cannot eat meat anymore. I used to I mean I cannot buy meat and I still throw parties and it means I cannot buy clothes anymore. Everything I have I buy for my daughter
all my life I save money for the government to do for anyone what we are doing and nobody is happy, no government the world is happinessKristen Cerelli:
has this change this external change this change of flow? Has it changed anything internally in youCynthia Alpan:
You know, when people are in trouble in life, they always go back to the to they go back to God or they go back to prayers, and we are all deliveries. People were thinking, why is this happening to us? Is there a lesson to learn from it? I'm sad, we are sad.Kristen Cerelli:
Are you scared as well? I mean, you mentioned the level and the, the depth of the poverty and looting and robbing and I imagine fighting that's still going on. Is it just something you're used to? Or is it scarier now, to go out on the streets and live life?Cynthia Alpan:
Well, I, Kristen. I'm a very strong person. And I took self defense classes in the United States of America. And they taught us how to walk and is an assertive way. So I think people are scared at so far to this moment. They're scared to approach me because I'm like a tiger. But other woman in Lebanon, they are scared other people. Yes, they are scared. They're panicking. But I always use my positive mindset and my strength. When I'm walking, the way I stare at people the way I look at people. They are scared of me. They move, you know, but that's me. But other people. Other people. Yes. They are scared to go out. They're not going out at night. They're worried about their children they're worried about the woman are scared. Yes, they are scared even though some of the men are scared.Kristen Cerelli:
You have a daughter? I am. How old is she?Cynthia Alpan:
She is nine years old. And I'm a helicopter mom.Kristen Cerelli:
You're you're confessing? Yeah. Now.Cynthia Alpan:
I'm like, I have I'm always surrounding her whenever she's moving out of the house. I have protection around her. Nobody can touch her.Kristen Cerelli:
How have you seen her cope with this change? Do you talk to her about things openly? Does she have her ups and downs about what's happeningCynthia Alpan:
then? I resilient? I never felt there's a concern. You know, do we have water not to take shower with extra water don't have water now. No water, no electricity. Some The good thing about not having electricity is that she's not playing on the iPad, we're talking more. So there's always the positive and negative for everything. But it may strongly when I told you my cousin Sameer invited us to Dubai. And it was something unexpected came out of nowhere and he said come you Nahida my cousin NIDA and Iraqis come to Dubai and dressed for one week and come back to Lebanon. And before she took her shower over there, she stopped. She said, Mom, can I have a bubble bath? How long can I take a shower? Oh my god, you know, I didn't realize how she was missing her bubble bath. Because now the showers we take we take them quickly. We jump in because we're paying a lot of money to have water to take shower weather and a lot of money to heat the water also. And the man looked at me said Mike cousin Semia. He said yes happy. You can take a look shower, do a bubble bath and my bubble bath bubble bath bubble bath. So, yes, they are affected, but we are not aware that they are.Kristen Cerelli:
Yes, they're affected. And yes, they do adjust. And yes, we are getting a really clear understanding of the financial crisis that's going on in Lebanon. But it's not just the financial crisis. There are three other factors that are taking a bad situation and making it worse. The first one is the large and often violent protests that are taking place regularly throughout the country, prompted ironically by the government's imposing attacks on WhatsApp calls, which many Lebanese families use, because phone calls are so expensive. Second, there's the pandemic which kicked Lebanon economy when it was already down because nobody's visiting and tourism makes up 20% of the Lebanese economy. Third, in August 2020. There was a huge explosion of the port in Beirut, Lebanon is capital which killed over 200 people and destroyed entire neighborhoods. If you can believe it, Cynthia and her daughter were right in the middle of it.Cynthia Alpan:
And we're close by imagine I was at work and she was alone at home with a nanny. All the glass shattered on her all the glass I mean she was sitting on the sofa and for some reason she went up to the kitchen to go to the kitchen to drink water. And in exactly where she was sitting on the sofa, the window fell on the sofa, hadn't she not gone to the kitchen to drink water, she would have been dead now. And she was calling me and I didn't realize that the bomb was so close to, to the home. I thought because it was so loud. I thought it was next to my office, I was taking care of the employees. Then I went. And I saw the glass on the sofa where she's sitting. I hugged her, you know, as oh my god, you know, I couldn't believe you're still alive. This this bomb destroyed us?Kristen Cerelli:
Would you leave if you could,Cynthia Alpan:
I'm blessed that I have a Turkish passport from my father and an American passport from my mom. But if you need money to buy an airline ticket, then when you go to a new country, you need money to rent a house. And you need money until we find the job. If you if I want to do that, in a normal situation, I would have money in my savings account, I would take it out and say yeah, let's go back to the States. And I'll use my savings for one year until I adapt. But none of the Lebanese can do that. And we will never put money in that Max. Nobody is going to put money in the bank in Lebanon. Everybody is keeping their money in houses now. Real Estate, no, and the house money and the house. The house under the mattress went back to the old fashioned way.Kristen Cerelli:
Has your philosophy changed now like as you advise people, do you say put your money under the mattress I think about that all the time.Cynthia Alpan:
You need to put now in Lebanon six times, or one year of your monthly expenses under the mattress and any other money you have to send it offshore outside of Lebanon. And the big problem is that if you have a house fire, your money is gonna get burnt. And that's why a lot of thieves are robbing houses because they know we're, we're stashing money in the houses.Kristen Cerelli:
You're obviously very strong and very resilient. ICynthia Alpan:
was not not always Sometimes I cry. But remember, I just came back from vacation. I mean, I just sat there at the sand. Absorb the sun looked at the blue beach. That was that was a blessing. That was a gift. A beautiful gift.Kristen Cerelli:
didn't restore some hope for you or some peace of mind.Cynthia Alpan:
During the donated vacation, I had a energy to come back and fight. But also at the same time. I was wondering, Am I doing the right thing to come back to Lebanon Should I pull my family out? I have the option. I have the education. I have the nationalities to travel. But a lot of people in Lebanon don't have what I have. A lot of people in Lebanon, they're helpless. There. That's why they wait for politicians to give them the money. They cannot do a revolution because they cannot cut off the hand that is feeding themKristen Cerelli:
I'm holding for the church bellsCynthia Alpan:
on my endless beautiful. They are so beautiful, so beautiful. We have in Lebanon churches and mosques next to each other. So you hear the church band and then you hear the axon of the of the mosque.Kristen Cerelli:
I did bring up your strength because I also know a little bit about your ancestral history of loss. Can you tell us about it your grandmother your great grandmother,Cynthia Alpan:
the Ottoman part of me my father, his mother is fact muscle down the great granddaughter of Sultan Abdul Majid. His father is the son of cousin Basha. He is the biggest General and the Turkish army and he built the Hejaz railway. So yes, the Ottoman family is is in my DNA.Kristen Cerelli:
And what happened to your grandmother what how did the family end up in Lebanon?Cynthia Alpan:
My aunt belong upon a smaller law and my grandmother fat muscle done. When attacher came into power in Turkey, they threw them out. They had to leave on the boat and go to nice and nice all the princesses. This will turn us they were married off to different Muslim kings of the world. One princess to India. She was married off to India skinks on the other one to Egypt, the other one to Jordan, and my my poor aunt. Below Susana Harnam she was married after Jerusalem, the son, the son of the judge there. And of course, you know what happened in Palestine. So they were they she was also evicted from Palestine, and she came to Lebanon. So she was evicted three times from three different countries. She was unlucky. And there's a movie about her, actually, you'll find it on YouTube. So she came to Lebanon. And when the civil war started, she said, I'm tired. You know, I don't want to move any more countries. I want to die here. So she rebuilt her life three times.Kristen Cerelli:
Do you think there is something in your DNA thatCynthia Alpan:
my DNA definitely I'm a, I tend to be a stillbirth boss, a leader, survivor. And also I take care of people, I love taking care of people. I protect, I mean, I'm a protector as well. So the Ottomans were leaders. And also were protectors and fighters.Kristen Cerelli:
You know how long it takes to have a nest egg to put money in the bank to plan for things to make changes in a practical way. On a personal level? What do you see for your country right now? People have to be in it for the long haul. What's the long haul? What's it going to take? How long is it gonna take?Cynthia Alpan:
It's gonna take 10 years 10 to 15 years to come back to where we are, we have garbage everywhere. People are throwing garbage on the streets. We need to educate the people with the basics, re educate the people with the basics, re educate, and not make quick money, re educate, re educate that to work for their money, re educate, not to steal, re educate, not to get bribed, re Educate to make the good service again.Kristen Cerelli:
Do you see examples of that? successful examples of that? Because this feels like a top down problem. As they say, you know, the the poison is trickling from the top, right? How do you combat that?Cynthia Alpan:
I'm not a politician. I'm not a politician. I'm a businesswoman. And I see things, we need to change the top and rebuilt from the bottom with small pieces. A lot of people make fun of me that I looking at the small details. I tell them, let's start with the small details and then develop the big things. Part of my job at work is to recruit, train, motivate and retain agents, financial advisors. So a lot of financial advisors came to me they didn't know anything they didn't know, they didn't even know they could work. And I train them. And I believe and training and educating the people again. And most important, we need to educate the clarity. The priest and the chef and the key people of areas. You know, we need to take two key people who influence their neighborhood, we need to find the key person of each neighborhood and re educate them. Number one, we need to educate about waste management. As simple as that waste. They throw another opening the windows, of course and they throw their garbage. God. I mean, you cannot walk on the streets. It smells so bad. There's garbage everywhere. Okay, we don't have money. But why throw garbage everywhere?Kristen Cerelli:
Wow. It's a huge task. Yes.Cynthia Alpan:
But we can do it. If we have the right people. We can do it. I believe in education, just like the United States. When you were cowboys. What did you do? You put clothes, right? You need to put clothes. First start with clothes and don't break the laws. We don't want to watch that here. If you have a car accidents, for example. It's so funny. They go down. And instead of calling the expert to see whose fault it is, each one will call his political party. And then they will come with guns and shoot each other.Kristen Cerelli:
It really is the Wild West.Cynthia Alpan:
Yes it is. And the funny thing each human being in Lebanon is backed up by someone powerful. And that powerful is the person who's who took stole the money from the banks. And each human being in Lebanon belongs to a certain political party and that political party is backed by a country outside of Lebanon fighting with another country who is supporting that other political party. So we're having a war in Lebanon of different international companies via political parties, these political parties, they influence religious clerks and these religious clerks influence the citizens.Kristen Cerelli:
Do you align with any of them? I mean, is there any nominee or party?Cynthia Alpan:
No, no, no, I'm a neutral human being my mother is Christian, my father is Muslim. Now,Kristen Cerelli:
tell me about the younger generation.Cynthia Alpan:
I'm shocked. I'm truly shocked, because I didn't think I didn't think any of these younger generation will be affiliated with political parties. And now, when we were down at the street a year ago, fighting for a resolution fighting that we want to throw the government out fighting for, to get money back and fighting for our basic rights, who showed up to shoot at us and make problems is the young generation that are affiliated with political parties. So it's going from grandfather to son to children. So it's ongoing.Kristen Cerelli:
What do you teach your daughter about being a citizen of the world she's young now, but in 10 years, she'll be a young woman,Cynthia Alpan:
I am blessed that the school she belongs to International College, they teach them to be a child of the world and no political discussions are allowed or political parties are allowed or guns are allowed or drivers or bodyguards are allowed, they're all equal at school.Kristen Cerelli:
You said that there are positives and negatives to all situations what has been a positive for you in this situation or what do you see as a positive for humanityCynthia Alpan:
for the people who are not working for NGOs and making fresh money or dollar money from outside we are now all equal in poverty. We used to have different classes there was an upper rich class the upper middle class with the class low class you know we still have a class society. Now all of us stand in line to get gas we all stand in line to get bread we all get our electricity is cut off. So now we're almost we are equal. And I hope this will teach us a lesson to respect each other. Lebanon has so much so much to give to the world we shouldn't be on the opposite sides. We shouldn't be taking who should be the ones who are giving we are all educated we are resilient. The Lebanese speak English or Arabic and French hardworking there are smart How can smart society and up like that I don't understand makes me angryKristen Cerelli:
Do you think you will stay when your daughter is an adult?Cynthia Alpan:
Where will you goCynthia Alpan:
USA definitely USA the best country in the world
of course I can go to Turkey and be a royal princess.Kristen Cerelli:
Option B Turkish princessCynthia Alpan:
but I like the freedom that I had in the United States. I like the retirement homes as well. They're fun but unfortunately in the Middle East, elderly are not treated also very well. And the United States elderly can go out have fun. They even they you know they live their life. But when I was living in Falls Church, Virginia is just see them dancing the elderly, doing fun stuff together. I remember when I was a toddler there was a retirement bus is to come up and they used to throw their money and go have fun.Kristen Cerelli:
Right now in this moment, what do you miss? If you could get one thing back that's been taken away through this crisis? What would it be?Cynthia Alpan:
I missed not worrying about going to the supermarket. I mean, I miss stupid stuff that I miss. I miss my facial cream. My body cream. I miss some of the food we store by eating a nice steak. There's a lot of things we cannot buy anymore. We're just buying the basics but we are saying Hamdulillah we say thank God we have them some people don't even have them. I'm just going out with my friends. Now we do still meet but we meet in the houses. Before we before the drama, we still have cheese and wine. Now we say let's have washer net and wine. Washer net is pastries that you do make from bread and flour. You know, cheese is out of cheese, so expensive. Now, you cannot buy cheese like before.Kristen Cerelli:
Instead you're angry. That makes, of course you're angry. Are there other primary emotions that visit you very regularly throughout this experience?Cynthia Alpan:
I am That's it. I'm just very angry, sad. And blessed yet on the other hand, that we're managing better than others. I feel sad that I cannot help the poor because before I felt a part of Islam, and part of Christianity is to help others. And I'm not able to do that. I mean, I worked so hard all my life. I'm 58 I shouldn't be starting life over again. But I am but it's okay. Maybe there's a reason for us to do that. But it's happened even in the United States in 2008. A lot of people that retirement plans crashed, but they were also invested in aggressive funds not conservative. So it's lessons we learned lessons life is all about ups and downs and lessons. And it was important to be resilient and stand up again. And during hard times, you know, what are your true friends? This is showing up now. And God always has a way to help us out.Kristen Cerelli:
We started with the fact that your financial planner, has this shifted your life plan? Do you see foresee that you will have to work much longer than you thought you'd have to what? What changes? Has this brought about in your in your own planning for your own life?Cynthia Alpan:
Correct? Exactly. So my retirement age is gonna be prolonged to work or I have to work harder. And I need to start thinking of maybe not moving to a foreign country, but starting selling or providing financial services for Lebanese living overseas who are making dollars. So I need to find clients who are making dollars and start working with them or at least work with a company or maybe even work online with the United States, giving training and so on. I would like to be able to work overseas. And yet also I would like to give back to my country and educate people empower women and Lebanon to stand on their feet, and not depend on handouts or men for a living.Kristen Cerelli:
Cynthia, I hope that someone out there who's listening hears that and connects with you and helps you make that happen. I am so full of admiration for your perspective and your desire to use education to change people's minds and thinking and practices. I think one of the great things about this podcast that I've learned across the board with every interview is if we can sit and hold space for somebody else's experience and then ask how we can help and then actually take a step towards helping that's really a high level way to live. I want to ask you some rapid fire questions if that's okay, so just the first thing that comes to your mind don't don't think the first one is a fill in the blank. Change requires blankCynthia Alpan:
If you could go back in time and change one thing and only one thing about your past what would it beCynthia Alpan:
to invest more offshore?Kristen Cerelli:
What is one thing big or small that you would like to see change in the worldCynthia Alpan:
to accept each other's differences?Kristen Cerelli:
What is one thing big or small that you hope never changes?Cynthia Alpan:
People like you're willing to help others.Kristen Cerelli:
What is one small or superficial thing about yourself that you would like to changeCynthia Alpan:
superficially I would like to have my eye you know I'm at the edge I would like to enhance my my looks. And I used to do that when I had money you know that I don't have money. So this is the joke in Lebanon now that we cannot ask towards Botox anymore or, or fix our teeth. You know, my plan was to fix my teeth, I was saving money to fix my teeth.Kristen Cerelli:
Here's another silly question. How often do you change your toothbrush?Cynthia Alpan:
Back? Back then, before this crisis was three months now, I haven't changed that for maybe one year, one year and a half.Kristen Cerelli:
I know that we all have aspects of each of these. But do you consider yourself primarily a change maker, a change seeker or a change resistor?Cynthia Alpan:
Both maker a seeker I like to seek knowledge and give it pass it on to the people around me.Kristen Cerelli:
Beautiful. What does your next change look like? And you can feel free to be aspirational or imaginative or fantastical about that.Cynthia Alpan:
I, what I would like to have is I would like to learn how to use Zoom the internet. Sure, you know, I would like someone to teach me how to be able to work on the internet more done this is I can't do that now I have to share folder you know how to share folder how to do you know To Become A Blogger, you know, something like that.Kristen Cerelli:
With all the changes that you've gone through in your life, what is something that has not changed about you?Cynthia Alpan:
My inner self has not changed. So this is something the inner soul, my inner soul has not changed. No matter where you put me up or down. I have not changed.Kristen Cerelli:
Thank you so much for sharing your story.Cynthia Alpan:
Thank you, Kristen, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. And your concern about Lebanon. I thank you so much for everything. Thank you for listening. Just talking makes a person happy.Kristen Cerelli:
I agree. It's been my pleasure. I hope I get to see you again soon.
shift shift Blum is a co production of T comm studios and actually quite nice. engineered by Tim fall and hosted by me, Kristen Cerelli episodes are available wherever you download your podcasts and are made possible by listeners just like you please consider supporting our work by visiting email@example.com forward slash shift shift bloom.Tim Fall:
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