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)