Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring in Beirut

Trees seemed to have burst into full bloom overnight. The main concentration of trees is at the American University of Beirut, which thankfully we walk through almost every day. A row of orange trees there covered with blossoms about knocks you over, maybe because you are in full swoon over a large jasmine just before it. As you reel to take it in you look out over the Mediterranean below. Ah. Further along, exotic (to me) trees sport hundreds of vaguely lily-like orange numbers, on the very ends of branches with no leaves. Wild.


Kurban Travel’s Easter specials include 3 nights at the Dead Sea, Istanbul or Budapest ($555). But you could also choose The Benediction of Jean Paul II package, all inclusive at $1230.


My birthday was lovely, with greetings from people of at least 6 nationalities, from here and a few other spots around the globe. Nice! Broumana friends celebrated two of us with birthdays the same week, with two cakes.

Broumana F/friends


Mother’s Day is March 21, the equinox. Festive atmosphere around the country. Flowers for sale everywhere. Gifts are given. At the local supermarket, a manager presents me with a “cadeau”—a box with the words Happy Mother’s Day and pictures of flowers on it. Not every female is a recipient; I am considered a “regular” here J I thank him and open my gift at home, to find: four cleaning products, two for floors and one for toilets, the fourth a kind of Clorox. What every mother needs, apparently. Hmm, but they all have [migrant worker] maids!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kandahar to Kyoto, and note on Khartoum

We are stunned and sickened by the horrific events in Japan. So many souls lost, so many more affected on the ground. And we thought we could control nature—ha. Two nuclear meltdowns to date.

The only bright spot: somehow the tragedy has served to bring together the global community. Aid is pouring in from many nations—70 nations, I heard. Predictable perhaps that the UK and US would help, but rescue teams were also sent by Taiwan, Korea and past and recent foe China. Blankets from India. More touching yet, Sri Lanka, itself devastated by tsunami, civil war and just this year by flooding; impoverished Bangladesh; explosive Pakistan. But Kandahar! The city of Kandahar, Afghanistan, witness to too much horror for too long itself, sent $50,000 to Japan for relief.


K tutored a Japanese young man on the day of the quake/tsunami, just hours after, during the school day. He had heard of the event but did not know the location; she was at least able to reassure him that it was not in the area where his relatives live. Hard to concentrate on vocab and grammr with images of 10 meter waves in mind.


K was invited to an event at the Sudanese Cultural Club, which has somehow been in operation for 30 years and occupies an impressive bit of real estate in Beirut’s Hamra neighborhood. The invite came purely as a result of having smiled and said hello to a friendly Sudanese shopkeeper over the past couple of years. J It was a singing contest, American Idol style, with several male Sudanese workers showing their talents, backed by a three piece band. They had invited several assorted western foreigners to enjoy the festivities. I had told the man who invited me that there was a new effort in place to offer English instruction to migrant workers, for free, and that there was hope of getting computer literacy classes up and running as well. Subsequently, he introduced me to the wife of the Sudanese ambassador, resplendent in swathes of diaphanous fabric and assorted jewels. She said I must come to her house one day and we could talk about the classes. She said some of the ladies have nothing to do during the day and it would be good for them, then floated away. Um, er—I didn’t get a chance to tell her that the classes were offered for migrant domestic workers—not for bored embassy staff wives! Interesting dynamics now that the country has split. The ambassador and most of those present at the Club are Moslems from the north, whereas most of the migrant workers are Christians from the south, less entitled, poorer.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's Beirut to Baku

Can you spell Azerbaijan? We can, now :-)

After four years, we will be leaving Lebanon in June for new adventures on a new continent, at the foot of the Caucasus mountains, on the Caspian Sea: Baku, Azerbaijan.

Tom followed the trail of his contract with the International School of Azerbaijan online. Traveling by UPS it left Baku for Moscow, then Koln (Cologne), and Abu Dhabi, before reaching Beirut.

We plunged into the planning phase: scouring the web for details from Azeri language to weather, Caspian to tourism, contacting the shipping company, and ordering the Lonely Planet for Azerbaijan. Moving on to phase two has me making a brown paper cover for said Lonely Planet, as it covers not only AZ but two other Transcaucus nations: Georgia and Armenia, the latter the arch enemy of Azerbaijan. There are stories of travelers having the book confiscated. Sigh. It is so bad that even US citizens who have Armenian sounding names are not granted visas.

Exciting to go, and hard to leave. There are so many things we will miss here. The friends we have made. The crazy, delightful (well, mostly) chaos. The PEOPLE. The FOOD. The beauty of the mountains and sea. Being able to walk everywhere. Reasonable internet access. Being able to communicate--in English, massacred Arabic, stumbling French. The weather, mostly.

No doubt there will be fascinating cultural events like the one witnessed by Tom last week from our balcony. A wedding party gathered on the wide stairs outside our building. A traditional band, in costume, played the drum-heavy music that has become familiar to us, and a beautiful white-gowned bride emerged from a building across from ours. The group made its way down the stiarway and on down the street. Tom caught this photo from our 7th floor balcony.