Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lebanon Days 3 and 4--abridged


Our Lady of Lebanon
We did indeed return from Lebanon (on a flight overrun with extraordinarily loud children left to fend for themselves while the parents sat rows away....but that's another story)--so I'll quickly give the low down on the rest of our trip.

We had dinner in a beautiful mountain town (Bromana) in the outskirts of Beirut with Lebanese friends.  The food was delicious and there was way way too much.  Some of the new entries were raw chicken livers with some lard and garlic (I didn't test this one, but Manuel said it was great).  An interesting tasting cactus fruit which we later found out makes you constipated and of course, to wash it all down we had some Arak.  Arak tastes much like Pastis and is very refreshing.  The couple we were with, by the way, was the epitome of Lebanese tolerance--he is Druze, she is half-Christian, half-Muslim...very interesting take on things.

The following day we travelled to the Jeita Grotto (in the running to be one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world).  We couldn't take pictures but it's an ancient cave discovered by a priest.  The upper chamber is beautiful with it's stalagmites and stalagtites.  The lower chamber is still in water and requires a short boat ride.  Very cool (quite literally) and a break from the ruins.

phoenician ruins of byblos
We then went to Harissa, home of Our Lady of Lebanon statue and a pilgrimage site for Christians.    From there we moved further north to Byblos.  Byblos seems like the kind of historical, laid-back seaside village I could spend some time in...

That night we explored a little bit of downtown Beirut and had dinner at La Plage.  The traffic in Beirut is pretty impressive.  One of the things that cracked us up is seeing the valet parker at KFC.  I guess parking is so difficult that no one will go to Kentucky Fried Chicken if they don't have a valet parker. ...  I hear all my American friends scratching their heads and saying, "hello, what about a drive-thru".  Ironically we didn't see any of those.

Place de l'Etoile, Beirut
All the Lebanese from the stranger that walked us a few blocks to a bookstore we couldn't find, to my Arabic teacher who spent some of her precious weekend with family showing us the downtown area were charming, friendly and welcoming.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lebanon, Day Two

Anjar ruins

Today was a full-blown touring day.  Early this morning we headed over Mount Lebanon and into the Bekkah Valley where we spent most of the day.  The valley between the Mount Lebanon range of mountains and the Anti-Lebanon range is the bread basket of the country and extremely fertile.  Lebanon may not have oil, but it does have water (and ideas!,  the Lebanese are quick to tell you) and they can feed themselves.

  We visited the Anjar ruins first (the lesser ruins if you will.  Anjar is a very pretty town that was settled by Armenians after they were persecuted and thrown out by the Turks.  
The ruins are cool in and of themselves, they are dwarfed by the fame of the Baalbek ruins.


Baalbek was originally a sacred place for the phoenecians dedicated to the god Baal.  It was later a worship site for Christians and later still a fortress.  Baalbek sits currently square in the ultra-conservative Hezbollah region.  The Hezbollah flags (a kalashnikov on a yellow background...charming :) are everywhere as are posters with pictures of their political leader Hassan Nasrallah.  Signs that Iran's money is finding it's way into this part of the Bekkah valley are evident in the new mosques (in particular a beautiful blue mosque just next to the ruins).  The area is heavily pro Iran as they are mostly Shia' .

After a long visit of Baalbek we headed to the beautiful town of Zahle and it's riverfront, tree-shaded restaurants.  Here one of the incongruities of the Middle East hit us when a Saudi man walked in with four young women completely covered in black (unlike the UAE, they did stand out from the crowd).  They sat at the next table and ordered mezze and then proceeded to order nargileh (shisha, waterpipe).  It just seems odd to see these young women smoking shisha in full abaya with their dad/husband/brother (who really knows??)  
On the way back to Beirut we stopped in a winery (Ksar) and then made our way back through the military checkpoints and over the mountains to Beirut (about 45 minutes away).  They say that in winter you can ski on Mount Lebanon in the morning and waterski in the Med in the afternoon.  I'm sure it's true.  One thing that takes away from the natural beauty is the garbage strewn everywhere in this country.  People just throw stuff out of their cars--very unpleasant.

More news tomorrow....

Friday, September 10, 2010

Greetings from Beirut

Eid Mubarak!  The fasting is over let the festivities begin...
Lots of people travel for Eid (this year's hotspots for Emiratis are Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur apparently) and we're no different.   We are in Beirut for three days.  I'm sure many of you are wondering .... why?   as images of an embattled city flash.  We've always been fans of interesting.  So here we go again.

the view from the ferris wheel (thanks Julian for getting me up there!)
pigeon rocks
fisherman in front of the Corniche
First impressions from Beirut:   I haven't seen anyone wear a seatbelt but have heard lots of music and lots of people out celebrating Eid.  Gone are the ubiquitous white flashy four-wheel drives -- we're back in the real world...We walked along the Beiruti corniche and rode a ferris wheel along the water, saw the pigeon rocks.  People are out enjoying the good weather and the start of their holiday.  Not an embattled feel.  In fact, it's got a very mediterranean feel while at the same time being very middle eastern.  Interesting combo platter.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Girls from the Labor Camp

Here are the girls from the Iftar at the labor camp last night.  You can read the article from the National here:

The Home Stretch

We're in the home stretch heading for Eid al Fitr. Last night the Minister of Education announced that Eid holidays will start on Wednesday (ANOTHER day off for my kiddo's...very happy kiddo's), although the end of Ramadan and the actual Eid will either start Thursday or Friday. So we're nearly there! (I would like to say that moments after this announcement there was a waiting list for mani-pedi's at Tips and Toes all the way through Thursday).

Part of celebrating Ramadan is giving to others through zakat (giving donations) or good deeds. I've described how many local families in Abu Dhabi give meals every single night to those less fortunate. My neighbor has done that for two years now. Every night they have a cauldron full of food that dish out for whomever happens by. There are numerous scenes such as this throughout the city.

Last night the girls and I served an Iftar dinner to female workers out in a labor camp in Mussafah. We picked up the donated meal at the Beach Rotana Hotel and drove it all out in a convoy of cars. One of the families with us was muslim. They, too, had been fasting all day, but when it came time for Iftar they discretely went to the car to drink some water and then came back to serve the meal. I know from our own experience with fasting how kind that is!

I remember last year being overwhelmed by all the miniscule laws governing Ramadan...and it seems muslims are often in the same boat. There was a reminder recently from the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (Iacad) that Muslims need to express their intention to fast each day before dawn or their fast isn't valid. about a trap. If you eat or drink by mistake you should spit out what's in your mouth and continue fasting (that seems fair). Nicotine patches are allowed as is acupuncture (you can't smoke while fasting) but they remind people that Ramadan is a good time to give up smoking permanently (except that smoking shisha is a huge part of the Iftar celebrations for many).

We're almost there...I can smell the coffee....and I managed to get a nail appointment!