Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Among the 30 member cabinet are 6 Sunnis, 6 Maronite Christians, 5 Shiites, 4 Orthodox Christians, 3 Druze, 1 Catholic, 1 Protestant, and 1 Armenian Orthodox.
In the What a Difference a Vowel Makes Department
For sale sign in a car window:
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
However we missed the previous day's offering of a two-ton serving of hummus.
We can't form a government (now four months after elections) but at least we can unite to make stupendous food.
And had just a few minutes to dry off before joining in an elementary school folk dance ensemble (no photo, sorry).
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Tom has got a pirate costume ready for the ACS carnival tomorrow, and has signed up for a couple of hours in the dunk tank...
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Dubai airport. Wow. Photo is the foliage surrounding the “water feature” I had previously noted on the airport website in preparation for my 13 hour layover here. I take advantage of free internet and the free dinner offered by Emirates Air. I am there through three calls to prayer, broadcast over the PA. There are large duty free shops, fancy lounges, restaurants, a spa, and free lounge chairs for those of us needing to get a nap in.
I see and feel Calcutta's lush tropical climate as I disembark, but note that the airport arrival hall sports fake plants. Cam is not at the airport to meet me. I manage. “Is it Wednesday already?” he says when we meet. The traffic is scarier than Beirut—and that is saying a lot! People e v e r y w h e r e, simple lives—no, not simple, but basic.
There are so many people, and so much noise. Constant honking, for one thing: the yellow Ambassador taxis, the three-wheeled autorickshaws, the bicycle powered rickshaws, all honk. There are not so many private cars. The streets are clogged with people and vehicles.
Mother Teresa’s. [photos show Mother House", where the day's volunteers gather, and a nun registering volunteers] More than 60 volunteers from many different countries are here this morning to work. I spot Canadians, French, Japanese. The day starts at 6 am with mass. We intended to be there and I rose at 4:45 to check out of my hotel and meet Cam by 5:3o, but the outside gate to his hostel is locked, and after 10 minutes I succeed in rousing someone there, but then, up the three flights to the place, it’s gate is locked as well. He finally hears me calling from outside the gate (what a hideous fire trap!) but then it takes half an hour to rouse the man with the key to it.
So we miss mass, but arrive in time for tea and bread, then head off to one of several work sites. Our is a 20 minute walk through increasingly poor areas, lined with open sewage troughs, people sleeping everywhere, people walking everywhere, so many people, through a particularly dilapidated shanty town alongside railroad tracks.
Later we head to the train station for an overnight train. There was a strike and it was hard to get a taxi, but in the end we arrive early and have three hours to wait. At 10:30 at night we are still sweating. The scene is a proverbial sea of humanity. A constant stream of people moving along and around the people sitting or sleeping on the floor. There are no seats. I buy a Hindi newspaper to have something to spread on the floor to sit on.
Once on board, I discover to my dismay that the 2nd class sleeper does not come equipped with bedding. We survive and reach Bodhgaya, site of the bodhi tree where Buddha attained enlightenment. At right is the temple built next to the tree.
Devout Buddhists come from all ofer the world to see the place, and in addition to the large Mahabodhi Temple compound in which the tree sits, there are beautiful temple monasteries built by Thailand, Japan, Tibet, Bhutan, Burma (see a few photos below). There are also meditation centers offering courses and retreats. Cam tells me around 10% of Indians are Buddhists.
Here is the tree, with two Tibetan nuns.
And with Cam.
Another photo shows a group of monks listening to an abbot speak.
The next day we took a bone-rattling autorickshaw (= tuktuk = 3 wheeled, two seat, umpteen passenger vehicle) ride 20 some kilometers into the Bihar countryside to a cave where Buddha spent time fasting and meditating.
Along the way I spot dung patties set to dry on walls (see photo) and tree trunks, to be used for fuel, kids playing cricket, goats, dogs, rubbish heaps, and cows painted (mostly in purple) for Diwali. My fav sports pink plastic ribbon on each horn. Photo shows one with lovely pink and purple circles and a necklace.
In India men seem to pee just about anywhere. In a jam packed country with no privacy, I guess this makes sense. They do always try to face away. What about the women? They are a great deal more discreet. Now there is a big advantage of wearing a sari over the two piece salwar kameeze...
While we are on the subject of unmentionable items, there are lots of advertising signs for various brands of Male Innerwear (well, as opposed to outerwear of course).
Here is a photo of the view from the mountain the Buddha cave sits in. And Cam and
On board we enjoy snacks bought from vendors: chana (?) = sprouted grains with chopped onions, chili and a squeeze of fresh lime; gulfi (?) = cardamom and saffron flavored ice cream. (I was leery at first, to join Cam in all the street-prepared food he eats, but amazingly I suffered no intestinal issues the whole trip).
At 6:45 am we pull in to Calcutta’s colonial-era Howrah station (see photo), miraculously only three hours late, and in time for me to get to my plane if I dash. A much too short goodbye with Cam, who helps me negotiate a taxi to the airport. It is hard to leave him there.
Lesson from India: life is troubling, difficult, annoying, and also beautiful, and you have absolutely no control
Monday, October 12, 2009
A Lebanese man and his American wife returned from the US to take over his grandfather's land, and started the small winery. The wine is organic (they are actually going biodynamic--unheard of in Lebanon!!) , has won a number of prizes in competitions in London and in France, and is pricier than most of our group of teachers were prepared to spend...
Hope you can make out a stash of their barrels, on the right.
The bus broke down for awhile here, sigh, putting us off Tom's carefully planned schedule by close to an hour.
Intrepid wine connoisseur Sharon, above, who made the trip despite a broken leg.
Next, at Domaine des Tourelles in Chtaura in the Bekaa Valley. Everyone's favorite, I think. It is a lovely spot, a great tour of the wine making facilities, and excellent, affordable wine.
A family run business (fourth generation!) Domaine des Tourelles also makes one of the most famous Araks in Lebanon (Arak = think ouzo or raki). Originally made by Pierre Brun, they have kept up high standards of quality and use the best ingredients. Below are sacks of anise seed imported from Syria.
On to Chateau Khoury, in the hills above Zahle, also the Bekaa Valley. It was a little hazy that day, and I was probably preoccupied with the win, so no photo of the view....
Back to Beirut way later than planned, due to horrendous, typical Sunday evening traffic trudging back into the city from all directions.
Your photographer is pretty lame, but perhaps you can make out some of the agricultural delights we saw on the way: pomegranate tree and olive tree below.
Monday, September 28, 2009
At left, Ben and cedars.
Then the real fun began. We headed over the mountain pass on a decent road, meaning paved, but not without occasional dramatic potholes or chipped off bits, and definitely sans guardrails. Up and up, lovely views all the way to the sea, and then over and suddenly views of the Bekaa Valley on the other side, with the sparse vegetation more scrubby and brown. We descend and then make a bold left turn into the unknown.
On the map it looks like a main road, a big red line. But on the ground what little pavement there may once have been quickly disappears. For close to two hours we tread over the rocks and ruts in our rented car, passing only 2 houses the whole way and, oddly a restaurant where they rent ATVs, which is REALLY WHAT YOU NEED for this road. Honestly, the road has the feel that it was possibly destroyed on purpose, perhaps something to do with the marijuana fields we start to see?? We had heard about this but never seen it before. We spot a sign lauding USAID and the European Union’s projects on watershed development and miss the opportunity for a truly memorable photo as there is some pot growing right next to the sign! But the road is so cruddy and our navigation so tense that we are reluctant to stop. Thankfully we reach the crossroads of an actual highway and enjoy a few minutes of smooth sailing before the turn off to Al Jord Ecolodge, our destination.
Unfortunately, another rough road of several kilometers lay between us and the lodge. But our rental is up to it, with Tom's able navigation. The scenery is really lovely and the accommodations nice enough—traditional (Bedouin) style tents—but not worth the $65/person/night we pay. Apparently that was supposed to include all meals for two days, but we had only one dinner and breakfast. They even wanted to charge us for the coffee we had on arrival but we protested.
Well, OK, maybe the stars at night were worth it. Incredible array, full Milky Way. Just breathtaking.
In the morning we have a nice hike around the area, led by a boy of about 10.
Above, men making fire inside the tent. At right, on the hike, no idea what Ben is doing.And below, right, wonderful stone steps to the lodge's owner's home.
On the way back to Beirut, somewhere after the mountain pass, we stop to buy some apples from a family along the road. The lady was selling whole crates of apples, but we wanted just a kilo or two. So she wanted to just give them to us, and we had to force the money on her. She invited us for coffee, several times.
Photo at right is a gorgeou gorge, on the Bieurt side of the mountains, near the apple lady.
Coming back into Beirut we see “Xtreme Paintball/For once, war is just a game”
Other local interest items:
-Another paintball sign: “Veit [sic] Nam Paintball” with drawings of jungle scenes and people in fatigues, at a facility that is part of a large KFC, near Bourj Barajneh Refugee Camp in southern Beiriut
MAN the lion truck
-ACS is experiencing hits highest enrolment since before the Civil War—that’s 1975.
-I skype Bank of America to let them know I will be using my new credit card in Lebanon. “Can you spell ‘Lebanon’ for me?,” the customer service person asks.