Saturday, February 27, 2010

February 27, 2010-- Happy Milad-un-Nabi!

Last weekend I took advantage of some downtime to visit the Corniche, a beautiful walk on the Mediterranean...


Fishing off the rocks of the Corniche

...and Pigeon Rock. All week I have been crazy busy with classes.

Pigeon Rock

Yesterday was Milad un Nabi, the Prophet’s birthday and I celebrated with a trip out of the city to Bekaa Valley. Bekaa is infamous as Hezbollah’s strategic headquarters, and hawkers near the tourist sights definitely sought to capitalize on this by selling yellow Hezbollah tee-shirts and flags.

Hezbollah flag

I decided against purchasing such souvenirs, figuring that coming back from Leb with Hezbollah paraphernalia in my bag would be a surefire way to bring unwanted and time-consuming attention to myself from airport security officials on the way home.

Cardboard cutout?!

I went with this girl Hibbah, who lives in nearby Beiteddiene and some Greek guy, who had the really annoying habit of being stuck to my hip. Whenever I stopped to take a photo, he waited for and watched me. Drove me nuts. I told him that I wanted him out of my personal bubble and he thought I was being funny. One thing I have learned from my travels is men are retarded across the cultural spectrum.

Our drive out to Bekaa in the rain was a bit unnerving. We drove through windy mountain roads dotted with broken-down cars and standing water, undoubtedly made scarier by the Lebanese need for speed and tendency to pass slow cars into oncoming traffic. Hibbah took us to Aanjar first, which is a predominantly Armenian town founded by refugees from the Turkish genocide. We visited the Umayyad city ruins, the Umayyads being, I believe, the first Islamic dynasty.

Umayyad ruins

We drove to Baalbek, the site of amazing Roman ruins.

Temple of Jupiter

It’s a huge complex of three temples, one to Bacchus, one to Jupiter, and one to Venus.

Temple of Bacchus

Inside the Temple of Bacchus

The ruins are amazingly intact, and many of the ruins still had a lot of detail too.

We made a quick pit stop to the Biggest Stone in the World, as advertised by the gift shop nearby. It’s known as the hajar al-hubla (Stone of the Pregnant Woman) because women who touch it apparently get pregnant like magic. I stayed far, far away.

We went to a couple of vineyards after, the most notable being the Ksara Vineyard. Lebanon’s oldest vineyard, it was founded by Jesuit monks who were eventually ordered by the Vatican to sell their profitable wine-making complex, as, well, it’s not very Catholic to make mucho dinero off of alcohol. The vineyard had really cool underground caves where the wine matures. During World War I, the Jesuits hid men from Ottoman conscription in the caves, and in return the men widened the caves to their present state.

Ksara wine caves

After lunch at a nearby hotel restaurant (mezze, of course), we loaded into the car and headed back to Beirut. After a long, rainy day, we were greeted with a rainbow in the valley below the mountains.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

February 19, 2009--Hail Hezbollah, Stop Uncle Sam, but don't touch my KFC!

Today was my first journey out of Beirut, and I must admit I loved being outside of Beirut. Everything was so calm and beautiful. A definite breath of fresh air!

My first stop was Beiteddiene, a village and palace in the Chouf Mountains that is home to Byzantine mosaics that were found in a nearby village and moved there during the 2006 war.

It was so beautiful I couldn't choose one photo.

Beiteddiene village

View from the palace
View from the palace

After that, I stopped in Saida and saw the Sea Castle, but unfortunately the souqs—what I really wanted to see—was closed. Depending upon time, I may go back to see that.

View of Saida from the Sea Castle

After Saida, we went to Tyr, which was what I really wanted to see. After going through more than a handful of Lebanese army checkpoints and passing through miles upon miles of banana and orange groves, we reached Tyr.

al Bass, with a Palestinian camp in the background.

I am having difficulty putting into words my thoughts about Tyr. It was amazing to see the first site, the al Bass archaeological site. There are about either 300 or 3,000 sarcophagi there (I can’t remember which), and a roadway that leads past a Roman hippodrome and aqueducts. The site is in the shadows of one of the biggest Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. They’re not even camps anymore—now, these ‘camps’ are build up with permanent dwellings. Seeing the camps neighboring the Roman ruins puts American politics and our squabbling (see: death panels) into perspective.

It was interesting to contrast the propaganda in the south to that found in Beirut. In Beirut, one can’t go two feet without seeing a poster of Rafiq Hariri. In the south, the posters of Hariri were defaced and posters of Hassan Nasrallah, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Hezbollah martyrs were everywhere. In one traffic circle, there was a pyramid that said, “Stop Uncle Sam.” Despite the apparent hatred for all things Western, I saw about five KFC delivery guys running around.


What was Rafiq Hariri

Hassan Nasrallah

Ayatollah Khomeini

Lunch was so good. We ate little restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean, with plenty of mezze and steamed fish and rice for the main, with dessert of bananas and oranges. We walked along the beach for a while, where there was so much sea glass, I couldn’t believe it. In the States, my family and I scour the beaches for sea glass and consider ourselves lucky if we find one piece during our week-long vacation. Here, I grabbed about a handful but could have easily filled bags upon bags of the stuff. After lunch, we went to see the seaside ruins at the al Mina archaeological site. From there, you can see Israel in the distance.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

February 17, 2010

After the initial class meeting yesterday morning, I wandered from Ashrafiyeh, the neighborhood where I have my classes, to the Downtown area, where I saw the Place des Martyrs, an open area where notable national gatherings occur (14 March revolution, 5 year anniversary of Rafiq Hariri’s death), the Nejmeh Square, with Beirut’s famous clock tower, the main mosque, and some mosques, churches, and archaeological sites.

Inside memorial to Rafiq Hariri, slain prime minister.

It was really interesting to see some buildings still in ruins with bullet holes, and compare it to the Parisian, newly-rebuilt and kind of without soul, Downtown. I ran into a kid named Max who was in my class meeting, and we grabbed lunch at a neighborhood, hole-in-the-wall restaurant, which was really good. I got hummus and a Moroccan couscous dish, which wasn’t like any Moroccan couscous dish I’ve ever had, but that’s neither here nor there.

Bullet-riddled building

I finally made it back to my apartment after getting wicked lost (but helped by a hot policeman), studied a bit, and watched W. I’ve noticed there are no legit DVDs in Lebanon; they’re all burned.

Posters of Hariri are everywhere.

I didn’t have class or anything today, so I was a bit lazy. I made a stop at the grocery store for Raid. Last night I saw a ginormous bug, which I’m assuming was a cockroach, in my bathroom. I tried to kill it, but was too scared so just kind of swatted at it with a shoe and then it scurried away. I’ll admit, that was one moment I was wishing I was home, although I think cockroaches are more of an urban then Lebanese problem. I slept with the door to the bathroom closed (it’s always going to be closed now), closed the door to the bedroom, and put a scarf in the crack underneath the door. I feel a bit better now with the bug killer.

The city has some interesting, albeit politically-charged, graffiti.

I met up with some AUB kids I met two days ago, and we got went dinner to Kebab-ji, a good chain right behind my place, and then went to a café to sit around a bit and enjoy the weather.

Monday, February 15, 2010

February 15, 2010--Welcome to Beirut!

I arrived in Beirut last night, and after settling into my apartment walked to a nearby grocery store for the essentials—Nescafe, pita bread, couscous, hummus, Nutella, and fruit (Payal and Chandi, they have my apple H2Oh, like in Colombia!)

The apartment is pretty nice, big and spacious, but half the lights are burned out so it’s kind of dark. Before I left, my mom asked me if I wanted to pack toilet paper because she heard they use something else. Rest assured, mom, they do indeed have toilet paper in Lebanon, but there’s this thing near the toilet that I’m assuming she’s referring to. Not sure about that, but I’m pretty sure when the Daily Show’s Jason Jones went to Tehran and used it as a water fountain is not how it’s to be used.

I woke up this morning at noon, partly because of jet lag and partly because electricity was cut from 9am until noon and I didn’t feel like getting out of bed without coffee.

I’m beginning to think I definitely did this the hard way. Since I know absolutely no one, at times I felt a bit lost. Which way to Hamra? How do I get to my school tomorrow across town? People told me about a servees, but what is that, what does it look like, and how do I know I got in the right one? Where do I take out the garbage? Perhaps most importantly, what happens when I run out of clean underwear—where can I do laundry?! I guess I will find the answers to these things soon enough.

After walking around all day, I definitely feel a lot better. Hamra is a good area, there’s a bunch of shopping, cafes, and yes, a Starbucks (Madre and Padre, I can’t be in a place that’s all that dangerous if there’s a Starbucks).

After fighting with my converter and adapters for an embarrassingly long amount of time this morning, I went out and bought an international plug set for my laptop and a straightener. Honestly, why do we have to make things so difficult as Americans? Because we want to do things our way, whenever I go anywhere I have no idea how warm it is, how far I have to go, how much food I’m getting (perfect example: I bought two kilos worth of apricots at a stand in Morocco. It was a lot), and none of my plug-in electronics work.

I joined a local gym, which is probably the most interesting place ever. The people that work there kept on trying to talk to me while I was working out—a no-no in the States but here I don’t think they’re being shady about it. They were talking to everyone, and I was just being the grumpy American.

Lebanese women don’t sweat when they work out. They just walk or bike really slowly, making the sweaty American running on the treadmill (translation: me) feel a bit self-conscience. Lebanese men like to tell women how to work out. Also, I apparently run too fast for Lebanese treadmills. I got on one and asked the owner how to make it go faster. He looked at me like I was crazy and said that’s as fast as it goes. It only went up to 12, and were I not from the States and had a clue how to convert kilometers to miles I’d tell you how fast that was.

Despite the minor and major annoyances, I’m happy to be here. Everyone’s nice, people have (amazingly) mistook me for a Lebanese girl, I found the Colbert Report on TV, I love the smell of hookah, I love the music, and I love the call to prayer. Also, I’m not going to lie—the really, really good-looking police officers and military officers don’t hurt.