Friday, December 12, 2008


The boys arrived safely--YAY! Cam's plane from London came in at the same time as two planes from Riyadh full of pilgrims returning from the Haj. Many people were still wearing the white robes of the Haj. There were quite a few women pilgrims, one sticking in my mind, a lady who just semed to glow.

The Beirut Moores are off on a flurry of travel. First I get to take B and C around Lebanon some this week while T is still in school: Tyre (Sur) in the south, Baalbek in the east and Byblos to the north. Then we are off to Aleppo, Syria (hopefully--we hear Americans may have trouble at the border) and on to Turkey and eventually to Greece. That is the plan.

A marvelous thing: I noticed (at our fancy health club, of all places) a creche scene under a Christmas tree that looked fundamentally different than we see in the States. It was a papier mache-type creation, but not our typical manger scene. But there were the wise men, animals, baby Jesus. I realized it was meant to be a cave. Caves are stables here, or can be. Tom points out how often we have seen livestock housed in caves in the Middle East. I think of all the Christians, and others, over time who have taken refuge in the caves lining the valleys in this part of the world.

We bought a cheap plastic Bethlehem scene featuring camels.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Eid #2

Ah the plus-es of working at the American Community School in Beirut. Last week Tom got two days off for American Thanksgiving. Next week its three days off for Eid al Adha.

This Eid (as opposed to Eid el Fitr, the one that ends Ramadan, or, for that matter, Eid il Milead, Christmas) celebrates Ibrahim’s/Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. Allah/God intervened and provided a ram instead, and for Eid al Adha some Muslims and Druze kill a goat or sheep and share the meat with family, friends and the poor. It is also marks the end of the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that the devout make once in a lifetime if they are able.

We are celebrating the planned arrival of our boys on Friday night!! (no plans to slaughter a sheep)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Petra, Jordan

Flew into Amman and were met by a man named Said holding a sign “Kristine and Mr. Moore”. He led us to the rental car we had booked online. Off we went, heading for Petra. Photo: Said, Tom and car outside Queen Alia International Airport.

Brown and biblical. Highway signs for the Saudi and Iraqi borders. Things are definitely more orderly than Lebanon. On the way we stopped at a coffee shop in a small town and the young man proprietor refused payment for the two best cups of coffee we have had the Middle East. We tried five or six times to pay but he refused, wanting to welcome us to his country. Later we deeply regretted we had not thought to get a picture with him. What a welcome! (We tried to go back and see him again on the way out of the country, but ran short of time)

We headed south and west, aiming for Petra but deciding to take a wee (?) detour to see the Dead Sea… Dramatic views as the road descends toward the water, Israel and the Palestine Territories beyond. Here is Tom overlooking the Sea, and a great map displayed there. The Sea is the lowest spot on earth, 408
meters (1300 feet) below sea level. It is six times saltier than the ocean, is shrinking at a fairly alarming rate--it has gone down 12 feet in just five years, attributed to diversion of the Jordan River for agriculture, a decrease in annual rainfall, and chemical plants at the south end of the Dead Sea.

Next stop: Krak, a Crusader and Mamluk castle built in 1142, in a city mentioned several times in the Bible as Kir. Reynaud de Chatillon was the sadistic leader there, and had the distinction of being the only crusader leader to be executed by Saladin. Old Reynaud would have wooden boxes fitted around people’s heads before flinging them off the 450 foot high castle, so they would experience the fall in a conscious state.

Back to the car and heading south, on the King’s Highway. Low Bedouin tents against the dirt hills. What we’d planned to be a 3 - 4 hour drive became 9, what with the Dead Sea diversion and a couple of unexpected detours. Tom managed well, and we made it into Petra about 7 pm. It was Thanksgiving Day.

The Amra Palace Hotel, mostly package tourists, but very nice. Tom indulged in the hamam (Turkish bath) experience one night (says he’s never been so clean). But it faced a good sized mosque that, at 4:30 am blared out Allah Akbar in song, not once but three times, about 10 minutes apart, just as one drifted back to sleep. It was Friday, Moslem worship day. Speaking of Allah, I noticed the Royal Jordanian Airlines pilot start his inflight announcement with three “Allah Akbar”s (God is Great).

Photo is the mosque from our hotel window.

Petra--monumental is the word. Pink sand underfoot. Towering stone, much of it carved by ancient Nabateans into remarkable shapes. You walk down a ¾ mile long 6 - 16 foot wide path (the Siq; you know it from Indiana Jones) lined with huge slabs of rock 100 - 200 feet high the whole way. Traces of 2000 year old terracotta pipes running the length of it is, still in place. There a quite a few tourists here, unlike sites in Lebanon, donkeys and carts carrying some of them along. The Siq ends dramatically at the Treasury, carved from the facing stone by Nabateans somewhere between 100 BC and 200 AD. It is 140 feet high.

Those clever Nabateans. They got rich from the camel caravans that passed by, carrying frankincense, myrrh and spices from Somalia, Ethiopia and India. They offered logistics, banking, product processing and fresh animals before the goods went on their way across the Sinai to ports in Gaza and Alexandria, to be shipped to Greece and Rome. They coexisted with the Romans, until they chose to ally with one of their foes, and were eventually invaded by Herod the Great. And increased sea trade began to bypass Petra. In AD 106 the Romans took Petra. They cut through some stone tombs to enlarge the theater.

During the Byzantine era some Nabatean buildings were turned into churches.
Here are some Byzantine mosaics in Petra Church.

K, a tiny speck, at the Monastery:

Above, Gnarlo the donkey, and friend.

After the famed Treasury we stop of tea with mint (me) and coffee with cardamom (T), some Bedouin guys sitting at another table start to play Bob Marley, hero the world over, on their MP3 player. “No woman, no pride”, with a kid on a donkey standing next to their table. Tourists on camels pass by. Boys with arms laden with necklaces, “1 dinar, 1 dinar,” ($1.50) they call.

Tea stop:

Hey Grimstads--how about them Husky colors!

Next day, the incredible Wadi Muthlim trail, with its 88 meter (almost 300 feet) tunnel, a yard wide in spots, 300 - 400 foot curving rock walls of assorted impossible hues and shapes--one photo-worthy, astonishing sight after another. At the end of the tunnel, an open area, and a Bedouin family sitting along side the trail wanting to sell us tea. Continuing the walk along a wide valley floor, rock sides dotted with Nabatean tombs.

In two days in Petra we also hiked to the High Place of Sacrifice and the Monastery, with views over the Palesitnian Territories, the Negev with Egypt beyond. Here is Mt. Hermon.

We found people so kind and welcoming. Even in tourist destination Petra, the Bedouin, at least some of whom live in caves and who everyday take hordes of rich tourists on donkey and camel rides, even these people are welcoming: as we chose a fork in the trail from the Royal Tombs, a guy on a camel on a nearby but not immediately adjacent hillside called out to us that it was the other trail we wanted.

Jordan has such a different feel from Syria to the north, conservative but more modern, a little richer, less controlled at least politically. Not nearly as cosmopolitan or as green as Lebanon. Lots of men in suits, even in what we might consider menial jobs--the money exchange guy, some shopkeepers.

Driving back to Amman and the airport we are stopped by a policeman with a radar gun for driving 100 km in an 80 km zone, though some other cars were flying by us. We are nervous. The officer’s first words were, “How are you?”. And later, “Can you drive more slowly?”. T says he hasn’t seen so many radar guns since he traveled from DC to Ocean City on a summer day…

Houses are square, solid and simple looking. There is nowhere near the level of roadside trash as Lebanon.

We never did go into Amman, just got the car and headed south. Amman doesn’t hold great appeal. My impression of Jordan is that it is largely flat and brown, but with spots of extreme interest, and with lots of friendly, laid back people. In the airport we were surprised to see some women workers in uniform.

Taxiing to the runway, I see planes:
Oman Air
Iraqi Airways (lots)
Libyan Arab Airlines
Rich International

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tree planting

Last weekend we went with some other people from our hiking group to plant trees in the Shouf mountain area. An NGO had raised seedlings of native species, several varieties including almond and cedar. We planted around 100 trees in a small village that had two large reception halls practically next door to each other, one Druze and one Christian, with their respective cemeteries beyond. We planted trees along the Druze hall, and across the steet at a small park, and along the road. As we started planting the mayor came along, and offered to help, first by sending two Syrian workers to help and then by actually grabbing a shovel himself, as someone captured the moment on camera. Later he went and got a huge pile of sandwiches for us.

Here's Tom, with his handiwork.

Odd signs seen on the way:

Bridge Lust

Gallerie Elegant Seat

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

another day

More, typical blurbs from the online news:
  • 4:40 pm: Three Israeli aircrafts coming from the west fly over Tripoli, Zgharta, Bshari, and the cedars region up to Baalbak; aircrafts later flew out of the region over Lebanese waters.

[these are way in the north of the country--the border with Israel is in the south]

  • 4:34pm: Security forces find an 81 mm shell inside a trash barrel in Tyre.


And, Tom will not want me to share this, but he was invited to participate in a swim race at our gym. It was the 10th anniversary of the place and there were all kinds of things going on. He was not wild about the idea, and up to the last minute wasn't sure he would do it. And it turned out to be the day after a strenuous hike, so the muscles weren't raring to go. But he went for it, and was beaten by half a length by a man 25 years younger who used to be on a swim team in high school. Go Gnarlo!

Monday, November 17, 2008

  • 1:20pm A Lebanese air force Hawker Hunter jet fighter roamed the Lebanese skies as part of a drill ahead of Independence Day.
  • 1:44pm Four Israeli warplanes flew over the Chouf Mountains, the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon.

    Typical listings in the online news.

We went on a loooooooooooooong hike in the aforementioned C/Shouf Mountains yesterday.

Beautiful country, home of the Druze. It was only 12 km (7 1/2 km) but felt (to me anyway) like lots more--plenty of uphill.

Above, me with MJ.

And here are some cool salamanders--black with yellow spots.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Return to summer

An 80-something friend at Brumanna Friends Meeting had told me summer would be back, and she was right. We’re having days up to 80 degrees in the afternoon a low of 65 at night. Bright blue sky, shirt sleeves, in mid-November--I love it.

Arabic class continues. I’m in a one on one tutorial now with a Palestinian teacher. She’s very good, but I wonder if anything is sinking in or not. A well-meaning neighborhood shopkeeper who knows I am studying invited me into his shop and labeled the fruits and vegetables I had just purchased. He has offered to help me learn but as he has no real patience and fluent English, it’s not likely to help much. What I need is Talk Time like we used to hold for the refugees at Tacoma Community House. I try to string sentences together but every fourth word comes out in Thai…

Tom had a great hike on Sunday up to Bcharre in the north. 13 kilometers, but not much up and down so very relaxing.

Other news: the American Community School in Damascus was closed by the Syrian government following a US attack on “insurgents” inside Syria on the border with Iraq. ACS in Beirut is getting around 30 students from the closed school, so Tom and others have been busy preparing for them,

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Update, and olive harvest

First, we are THRILLED with the new day that has dawned in the States!! Congratulations US and world.

There aren’t a lot of palm trees around, but there are some date palms that lately have beautiful clusters of (mostly orange) fruit.

We went north last weekend on an olive harvesting and oil tasting trip, in the far north of the country. Fun, because we went way south last weekend, and usually we go somewhere in the middle. We went beyond Tripoli, a familiar journey for me, and turned inland for another 40 minutes or so. Just nor
th of Tripoli we passed by Nahr el-Bared, the refugee camp K worked with UNRWA on. The photo isn’t very clear but perhaps you can see the flattened buildings. The whole camp is like that still. 30,000 people are still without homes.

It was a long ride as trips in Lebanon go--2 hours plus. K took the opportunity to jot down some news during the ride:

K went to a conference at AUB (American University of Beirut) last week, attended by most of the authors of the book she is editing--16 people, all men, from 7 mostly Middle East countries. The topic of the book is the lack of democracy in Arab countries, but it is coming out of the Institute of Financial Economics at AUB. It looks especially at the effects of oil wealth and conflicts on democracy. Anyway, she found out the book will be translated into Arabic. Wow. Her contract has been extended to December.

T found out that the high school principal position has opened at the school for next year and is looking into it. We have made no plans for next year yet, though the school is on bended knee hoping he will stay. He is trusted and admired, and has brought the academic support team to a new level. He is also now chair of the School Improvement Team.

Back to the olives…a knowledgeable and infectiously enthusiastic young man introduces us to his family’s 100 hectares (~250 acres) of olives. His family has harvested olives in the area since 1800. Some of the olives are organic, for sale in the US, UK and France--but not in Lebanon. These use goat manure for fertilizer. There are different varieties, green and black, larger, smaller, and
big pitted ones suitable for stuffing. The olives on the ground are used to make olive oil soap. The ones on the trees are picked by hand. Extra Virgin requires that hand picked olives be placed in crates, not bags, for air circulation and that they are pressed within 24 hours to prevent fermentation.

Here is a photo of some ladies picking out twigs and leaves from the day's picking.

A Filipino lady worker befriended me and showed us around. She has lived and worked here for six years. On a recent trip to the Philippines (she has gone back twice) she married. She is hoping her new husband will be able to join her here soon.

We toured two press operations, one traditional where they are ground between two huge stones (below)

(here, at right, is what is left at the end--they use it for fertilizer)

And the other modern press, producing much higher quality, cleaner oil. This one first blows the leaves and twigs off, washes the fruit, mashes and presses them.

Nectar of the gods!

And then we had to taste them, right? A sumptuous mezze meal followed. Ahhhh.

We had a tour of the very picturesque village of Baino, and even traipse into the backyard of a man who tends a single tree that bears 500 kilos (1100 pounds) of olives!. Photo at left shows K and T in front of the tree.

Random signs spotted in our travels:

Ghost car rental
Baby Light
Green Opium
Milk Time (a coffee shop)
Sea, Sand and Sun--Sexy
Best Clean
Babe Garden (a nursery)
Outpack Soul (on a t-shirt)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Weekend Outing II

Sunday we went hiking in Hasbaya, a UN controlled area in the far southeast of the country. We had to submit copies of our passports in advance.
Syria to the east, Palestine (Israel, on your map) to the west, Malaysian and India UNIFIL troop encampment across the way. Rather a long ride to get here--more than two hours from Beirut.

And a fairly long hike--five hours--along the Lebanon Mountain Trail, the 200+ kilometer trail running pretty much the length of the country. Here is an LMT trail marker.

We passed pomegranate trees, cactus fruit, grapes, quince, persimmons trees with fruit so large you could barely fit them in your hand, and lots of olive trees along the way. It started to rain as we reached the persimmon tree. What to do but stand there under the tree, eating persimmons. Here is friend Buchara, searching for some good ones.

The land here is a little dryer, a little less steep, less green than in the north. There is a statue of St. George slaying the dragon, next to his footsteps supposedly preserved in the stone.
In Beittedine castle just yesterday we had seen "St. George" standing above the dragon with a decidedly Muslim headdress. We will have to research that a bit.