When Georgio Abou Gebrael first heard about bitcoin in 2016, it sounded like a scam.
But by 2019, as Lebanon plunged into a financial crisis following decades of expensive wars and bad spending decisions, a decentralized and borderless digital currency operating outside the reach of bankers and politicians sounded a lot like salvation.
Gebrael was an architect living in his hometown of Beit Mery, a village eleven miles due east of Beirut. He had lost his job and needed to figure out another way to quickly get ahold of cash. In the spring of 2020, Gebrael says, the banks were closed and locals were barred from withdrawing money from their accounts. Receiving cash via international wire transfer wasn’t a great option either, since these services would take U.S. dollars from the sender and give Lebanese pounds to the recipient at a much lower rate than market value, according to the 27-year-old.
“I would lose around half of the value,” explained Gebrael of the experience. “That’s why I was looking at bitcoin – it was a good way to get money from abroad.”
Gebrael discovered a subreddit dedicated to connecting freelancers with employers willing to pay in bitcoin. The architect’s first job was to film a short commercial for a company that sold tires. Gebrael was paid $5 in bitcoin. Despite the tiny amount, he was hooked.
Today, half of Gebrael’s income is from freelance work, 90% of which is paid in bitcoin. The other half comes from a U.S. dollar-denominated salary paid by his new architecture firm. Beyond being a convenient way to earn a living, bitcoin has also become his bank.
“When I get paid from my architecture job, I withdraw all my money,” continued Gebrael. He then uses that cash to buy small amounts of bitcoin every Saturday. The rest he keeps as spending money for daily needs and home renovations.