Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Two nature outings last weekend—wow!

Snowshoeing #2—laid back Lebanese style. This trip was organized by a teacher at T’s school. We were 10 staff and 5 kids of staff. We went to the same area where we’d gone last week (Faraya), but beyond it some. It was a much shorter hike, but superb views and lots of sun. We could see Mt. Hermon, that is on the border between Lebanon, Syria and Israel. Israel reportedly operates a ski resort there that brings in $5 million a year. There were snacks, and more snacks, snowball fights, molasses on snow to dip our fingers into (see photo), sitting around chatting while the kids built an igloo, and singing on the bus...

Hiking. The next day we went on a trip organized by an ecotourism NGO into the Qadisha Valley, which we had seen from above on our trip to the Cedars in August. Traveling with Lebanese folks is so fun—our first stop was to get warm, made to order pastries…. We descended a rocky trail maybe 1000’ to one of the many monasteries lining the cliffs above the valley (actually the Qannoubine Valley). Over the centuries, Christians have sought refuge there from Mamlukes and Ottomans. We met a monk named Pablo Escobar, who hails from Colombia, via Miami, and who’s rather known for flirting with the ladies. A real character, but with the definite air of a holy man. A holy place, to be sure. Dramatic stone dotted with caves and waterfalls, snow and anemones (flowers!), high above a fertile, picturesque valley. The valley is about a quarter of a mile wide where we hiked, double that elsewhere, and holds terrace after terrace built—how many years ago??—of stone. Olive trees and other crops are grown, and there are only a few houses to be seen.
So lovely and energizing to get out of the city.

Weekly snippets:

From the daily UNRWA “Situation Report” which tells what is going on if anything (usually not) in the 12 Palestinian refugee camps around Lebanon.:

· Beddawi Camp: UNRWA installations are operating.
Yesterday, five students from Grade “9” in the Prefab school were dismissed due to their misconduct. Upon leaving the school one of them addressed a member of the Security Committee with improper words. Consequently, the Security Committee member shot on the air to end the quarrel. No casualties were reported
(hey, at least it was in the air)

· a store near us is called “Clash In Unisex Fashions”

· I notice it isn’t just Christmas that lingers here. It’s 26 Feb. and Valentine red teddy bears are still everywhere

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

This week in Beirut

Tom started Arabic class, once a week, led by a teacher at ACS. Now he practices at home, which is good for K because much of what she learned in her classes last Fall is slipping away…
On the UN shuttle bus to work, marginally awake at 6:45 am, I see a guy walking down the street and think, “he’s Jewish.” Huh--where did that come from?? Of course, lots of folks here look like lots of folks across the border in Occupied Palestine. This na├»ve outsider, speaking from a place of incredible privilege, and from a baby of a country, finds it quite fantastic that people, neighbors, who even look like each other can cause each other so much pain, so very much pain, basically over religion or beliefs. Can’t you just love your God, try to be a good person and get on with life? Clearly, I do not grasp the mission concept, or fully appreciate what it is to be far down the stream of generations of people hating each other. I know I've said this all before, sorry. Don't get me started on the oppressed turning into the oppressors.

Last week in Beirut there were a couple of flare ups—at one party’s HQ and in one of the south Beirut refugee camps—that were quickly extinguished by the army and followed by words of peace and reconciliation from various sides. The Arab League is meeting soon in Syria and there is some shred of hope that they can affect the political deadlock. No violence has taken place anywhere near us, though we admit to jumping when a fire cracker goes off, as they did on St. Maroun’s Day and the Hariri rally day recently. The 5.0 earthquake was an added thrill, but fortunately it caused little injury or damage.

Tonight Tom said there is another tantalizing bit of hope. The various powers that be seem to be rallying around a 10-10-10 proposal, wherein the majority, the opposition, and the president each have equal power. We shall see. Things have been quiet this week.


Assorted tidbits:

In the Things Taken for Granted in the US Dept.: storm water drains
Billboard: Gold Egoiste
Sign: Abu Joade Foaming Co.,
Shop: Plexy & Linen
Restaurant: The Brunch Concept
On TV: a football (soccer, to you) team with jerseys emblazoned FAG, right across the chest

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Big, peaceful day in Beirut--14 February

We really hadn’t planned to go to the demonstration. In fact, I was planning definitely to stay away. But my cell phone had given me no news alerts, we had the day off, and the fever was catching—thousands of people, families, streaming down the streets toward the Corniche (waterfront) carrying and wearing Lebanese flags and scarves in light blue, in commemoration of Rafik Hariri’s assassination (blame Syria) three years ago today. Should we follow the throngs, we pondered. Let’s flip a coin, we decide. One toss, came up tails, a “no”. We look at each other—let’s go for 2 out of 3. Two more tosses, both heads, and off we went. I hoped no one from the UN would see me, as we had been instructed to stay home.

A steady flow of people, down the hill, along the water, heading one way toward “Martyr’s Square,” and away again, as if going to pay respects and then turning back. Loads of families with small children. A very orderly procession, police and army standing watch and, at one point, checking bags of all who passed by. A million people gathered in memory of Hariri and better times, in peace, for peace.

We didn’t go clear up to the square—it was too crowded. We looked from down below. And we felt a bit out of place. We were there to offer support, hope and faith in the future, and to be a part of history, but we were not Lebanese. We headed back, stopping for a Valentine’s Day lunch mezze at a fish restaurant on the Corniche, the only patrons there aside from one army commander having a cup of tea.

At the same hour, across town in South Beirut, people were starting to gather for the funeral of a top Hezbollah leader. We definitely wouldn’t have gone to that one. But it, too, attracted thousands, and was peaceful. Yay Beirut—you did it. When it’s the people speaking, the words are reasonable and sound. If only the leaders would listen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Snowshoe adventure

Beautiful—a little less hazy and we could have seen the Mediterranean from the ski slopes! We went on a trip organized by a local environmental NGO. There was a whole busload of us, mostly Lebanese but 6 of us Americans and 5 or 6 French. We went to Faqra, one of the smaller ski areas, with two lifts and just a few runs (that we could see, anyway), less than an hour and a half from Beirut. We stopped at about 45 minutes to pick up snowshoes—one size fits all [REI fans cringe here], and 15 minutes later a snack (a saj, dough rolled thin and cooked to order on a large, domed griddle; we ordered our sprinkled with thyme and sumac mixture). Fortified, it was on to the slopes. The weather was comfortable, the trail moderate, and the views gorgeous. I was walking with a preschool teacher from Texas (Austin, Jill!) who had never seen so much snow—that was fun. [--See her You Tube video of the trip at">]

After 5 kilometers or so we came to a fairly steep hill to descend, and proceeded by sitting down and lifting our big, snowshoe-clad feet to slide down. Ever graceful, I wobbled about along my slide and headed straight toward a rock outcropping. I reached out with my hand to help steer my unwieldy self, and emerged at the bottom of the hill with a finger that wouldn’t bend in the correct place. It didn’t hurt, just looked odd. I grabbed a handful of snow to keep it from swelling.

Later, back in Beirut we headed to the American University Hospital, just a few blocks from our apartment, to have it looked at. They wanted to X-ray but the wedding ring needs to come off, they say. Various quite painful attempts to remove it. I decide their ring cutter is one of those tools that you get here that are made in China out of some soft metal that is just not worth it: our hammer is totally pitted from efforts to pound a nail into the concrete wall; our frying pan rusts; various other metal items have bent or snapped.. Finally they say they can X-ray it with the ring on. The X-ray has a stair step look; the finger is dislocated. Later we will learn a small piece of bone chipped off as well—probably while trying to remove the dang ring, I think. They will have to anesthetize the arm to remove the ring, which requires hospital check in, and as it is after 5 pm I will have to spend the night…

Differences between hospitals in the US and here include:
• 5 men in white coats come in to my room for rounds (well, it is a teaching hospital, but there do seem to be lots more staff attending patients in general, especially the emergency room)
• Paperwork. The volume is less but the process more cumbersome—stand, or more likely, bunch, in one “line”, get a paper passed to you, stand/bunch in another line which happens to be exactly next to the previous one, with the employee sitting arm’s length from first person, to hand same paper to them
• It is actually quiet. I am woken up only once during the night
• My room has a Mediterranean view, visible from the bed!!
• The 10th floor window actually opens, and has no screen
• Breakfast! Hard boiled egg with zatar (thyme mixture) and salt, a whole tomato, a thick slice of cheese like feta, a pat of real butter, three types of bread (square white slice, pita, and a roll), halvah (sweet sesame butter), a large sprig of fresh mint, five olives (with pit), and--ready?—a chocolate croissant. Also instant coffee, tea bag, hot water, large thing of hot milk, container of orange juice and bottle of water. And then a cart passes by with newspapers in three languages. That, and my Mediterranean view--Ahhh I could have stayed all day no problem.

Not different from US—nurses speak two or three languages

The finger doesn’t hurt, by the way, which is nice. I do have to wear a contraption on it for a couple of weeks or so. The wedding ring sure looks like toast but will be taken to a clever Lebanese jeweler to see what they can do.

Signs seen on the way to the snow:
Happy Electro House
Happy Wall Paint
Snack Eat & Meet

Note: plenty of odd French ones, too