Sunday, December 31, 2006

A trip to the South

I was thankful to go to the south with Evelyne’s family. I would not have felt comfortable going by myself. On our way, we were also able to drive through Ain Roumaneh, an area of heavy fighting during civil war. We also drove by the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps where there was a massacre in 1982.

I lost count of all the destroyed bridges along the way. More than 10, that’s for sure. Lynn took some photographs for me as I was in the back of the van. I am very grateful to her for the photos. I really want everyone to get a sense of the destruction that still remains. (I will have to post them next year:) Photo uploading is proving difficult this afternoon.)

I was able to see the spot where the petrol tanks were blown up causing a large amount environmental damage. Some people’s livelihood depends on the sea, not too mention all the marine life that was affected. Thanks to groups like Greenpeace and Greenline, the beach looks pretty clean but I cannot say what lies below the water’s surface. I was thinking of this as I also felt great joy in seeing the flat craggy rocks that I remember.

Near Saida, we passed by a huge stadium that was not touched. Why not? Evelyne commented that the Israelis must appreciate sports. The sport of war was my thought.

There are pictures of the martyr and former prime minister Hariri everywhere in Saida. This is his town. He left and made a fortune in Saudi and then came back. I feel that it is important to remember that he had his own interests too. One perspective that I have heard is that he rebuilt areas of Beirut that he owned or stood to gain from. Politics for personal wealth. Does this sound familiar?

During the summer attacks, this second war, people had to stay in the area if they did not have means. They had no place to go. Please try to imagine what this is like, being attacked from the air. It is more than just fear, it is terror.

Due to the summer destruction, the main roads are closed and we had to take old single lane narrow roads. So much squeezing. Even the van’s side mirror was hit. But nothing stops people here. There is so much perserverence. What would we do if our main artery- I-90, I-5, I-10 or whatever it, was bombed, destroyed, reduced to rubble?

What am I saying? I know what we would do. We would wave flags, invade another country, and call those who disapprove unpatriotic.

There are billboards everywhere.

Children with Lebanese Flags on their faces, “The future will be brighter.”


A visual display of all the different types of unexploded bombs that people may still find all around, "Keep away and notify the authorities immediately." A gift to Lebanon from the United States via Israel.

1,200 killed in 34 days
4x this amount wounded.
And people are dying and being maimed still due to these unexploded bombs.


I feel so sad here. So helpless. People having to live through such terror and now having to function around the destruction of war. I feel like all of this is my fault. My taxes and my supposedly liberal politicians caused and allowed this to happen.

I know that it is not exactly me that caused this but I am complicit so is everyone that pays taxes and votes for representatives that don’t speak up. I stand here with light hair and my helplessness and all I can do is cry.

Hizbullah poster above a bridge, “Victory will come with your resistance.” In Arabic and English. They wanted to make sure I could read it. Nasrallah photos on the sides. Have I mentioned that Hizbullah is much stronger now than before the Israelis attacked? What has Israel really gained? One of my nonpolitical friends believes it is all about economics. Whenever Lebanon starts doing well economically, Israel pushes it back down. There is a lot of truth in this. No milk, no tourists, and much more.

As we enter Tyre, Sour, we pass through a gate of yellow flanked with posters of Nasrallah and Nabih Berry from the Amal party, a collaboration that very well may bring the country to a standstill and cause a third war.

Evidence of an international presence abounds. A United Nations logistics center, and I see UN jeeps much more frequently now. Red Cross, Caritas, Handicap International signs on trucks, cars, and buildings.

This whole trip, I talk about destruction and rebuilding of the first war and the second war. When I get confused I even ask, “Which war? My war?”

Why all these wars? How many wars can a country, can a person withstand in one lifetime? I even feel a desire to not call the summer attacks a war. Why? For my own selfish sanity? When people are savagely attacked under the pretense of defense and the kidnapping of two soldiers, when civilians who had nothing to do with this die, is it a war? When an attack that was supposedly a response was actually planned for months beforehand, is it a war? Whom is fighting whom? Do the “good guys” and the “bad guys” need to be clearly identified? It is a myth if we think they ever can.



This is my last post for the year. May next year have more promise than this year has had.



Who am I kidding.

Childhood haunts during uncertainty

I continue to visit childhood haunts as the future of Lebanon is uncertain. I feel a bit selfish and idealistic wandering around feeling so happy and positive during the current stalemate. Nevertheless, as I have been given the opportunity to revisit my past I will continue to share my feelings and observations. In some ways it is quite fitting that there is so much political uncertainty as this is very similar to how it was when I was growing up. It is giving me a new perspective into what it must have been like for my parents living in Lebanon during a time when U.S. citizens were not advised to be here.

My walk up the mountain to Beit Mery was good exercise even though I had to be careful not to get run over by cars, trucks, and buses as there really isn’t such a thing as a pedestrian walkway. I walked around and found the roman ruins I remember from my childhood and took pictures. Then I walked over to the Hotel Al-Bustan. This fancy hotel is where my mother had her first sign of a stroke.


It was the summer of 1981 and we were getting ready to leave Lebanon. The house was packed up. We were staying at the Hotel Al-Bustan as a special treat. Her voice changed for about five minutes and I asked her what was wrong. She told me nothing was wrong. I mentioned it to her quite a few times after her voice came back but she wouldn’t listen. She was fine.

As I walked around the grounds, I tried to remember where it happened. I seem to remember being on a balcony either off of our hotel room or while we were eating a meal. I walked on the outside veranda and looked up at the balconies. Just being on the grounds meant a lot to me. I have never been able to go to the place where I had so many memories. Now I am here. It doesn’t really change the memories but it is somehow comforting to revisit where they happened as an adult, an adult who is also lucky enough to feel rather content and stable at this point in her life. This is my past. This is when one of the hardest points in my life began and I am OK. There is something reassuring about that.

Later in the evening, the family was all together and we had a wonderful meal that included a buche de noel! Honestly, it looked better than it tasted but I was super happy just to see it there. All this food that I remember from my childhood that I finally get to see, smell, and taste again. It makes me so happy and I will rejoice in this happiness as I do not know what tomorrow will bring. The fleeting nature of my happiness only adds to its preciousness.




Oh, and this is a picture of some of the trash I saw on the side of the road during my walk. It made me laugh. How is Viagra connected to all this violence and uncertainty???

For the record

Just for the record, I do not condone Saddam Hussein's execution. Killing as a form of punishment only breeds more killing. Anyway, what makes Saddam Hussein's massacres any worse than those committed by my beloved country? Robert Fisk wrote a piece about this.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Lan Nansa

This seems to be the photo of the evening. Posting photos takes forever and I have had it with the smoke. Remember that I wrote about "Lan Nansa" earlier? Well, here is an example. Please remember that the real martyrs aren't getting posted everywhere and do not have family names that surpass generations. They are Lebanese who just want to live ordinary lives like the rest of us. And yes, some of them like to smoke at trendy cafe/bars with free internet access :)
Goodnight!

Pascale

I interrupt my insistence on chronological order to tell you that I have reconnected with an old friend and it has been a wonderful experience. I have been harboring this deep guilt for losing some tiny little toy that I vowed never to lose. I can't even remember what the toy is. It all sounds so silly when you write it down.

Well, the toy is lost but thanks to a gregarious friend that I do not even remember being so, our friendship has been rekindled. Pascale is back in my life.

I had a wonderful afternoon with her. She is real and alive and has three beautiful children and a very handsome husband. We are from very different worlds but yet are not. She pushes me to remember things including moments I would rather not. Amy T. my dearest, yes I too chose to block things out. Pascale is my Margaret!

We had lunch at this very mod Lebanese restaurant in the ABC mall in Achrafieh. Very posh and not my usual type of haunt but the design and presentation was great, not to mention the food was yum. It is always good to leave comfort zones I feel.

I started the day wondering if I should change my ticket and the thought is still there. However, I have always been a risk taker and in this case, the risk is not that great. Pascale reminded me that I have lots of friends here and have safe places to stay and if things do get precarious before my departure, I will manage to be on my way very soon after the intended date.

These are my thoughts at this point at least. I have an opportunity to create a sense of continuity, a past that fuses into a present. I am around people that know me and sense parts of me that I have never verbalized. I owe it to myself and to those that I have contact with throughout my life in the future to explore this. It will make me a stronger person who understands the complexities of life. That is what we really live for, non?

Happy New Year! Happy Adha! I know that this will be a great year even if it is intense, trying, and deeply sad at times.

A moment of mindfulness

I want to make it clear to my readers that what I write here are nothing more than my impressions and what I can grasp with my limited language abilities. I may not always understand the complexity of everything that surrounds me no matter how much I would like to. It is also very important to me that I am respectful of the experiences that I am being exposed to and that I relate them to you accurately yet remaining mindful of the delicacy of politics and viewpoints. I want my writings to ultimately create peace, not more violence and strife. I have seen way too much of this in my lifetime.

Friday, December 29, 2006

War reminders all around

I tried to post this photo last night but was having difficulties. It's an example of the bullet holes from the civil war that still decorate some buildings. This is a house in Beit Mery which is very close to where I lived as a child. I forgot how close I was to the war. I was surrounded by it.

The Eve of Christmas Eve

The eve of Christmas Eve. Pretty much just Accad family events. An all-family breakfast with knaife, a trip to the grocery store, the hypermarket Bou Khalil where I had my first chichi Lebanese grocery store experience. I bought two good bottles of white wine that A picked out for me the Kefraya Blanc de Blancs is the best. Very dry. Have I said that A reminds me of my father? Well, he does. He’s funny and easy to talk to the way my father can be when he isn’t feeling the pressure to be a father.

Also somehow in that very busy day I found time to take a drive with A and J to a camp that Evelyne’s father’s church runs. A was sweet enough to drive through Roumieh so that I could see it. We took the turn off the Mansourieh road and A said that we were in Roumieh. When I didn’t recognize anything at first, I was worried that he would want to turn around and so I asked a man passing on the road where l’Ecole des Soeurs Antonines was and he explained it to me. Once we found my old school, it was easy for me to get around. I found Mansour’s house and the apartment building where my family lived. I also saw the spring where we would get water and the Catholic church.

We drove into Broumana where we looked for the movie theater where I saw the first Star Wars. We never found it. Mansour later confirmed that is now a Dunkin Donuts. Up the road to Baabdat we went where there are Lahoud pictures everywhere. It’s where he lives it turns out. We drove past the old Marmousa convent and then onto an apartment building owned by the family that, because of its location on top of a mountain, was completely gutted during the civil war by every group with guns passing through. Honestly, everywhere I go I see some reminder of the civil war mostly in the form of bullet holes in walls and shelled buildings. All the towns surrounding the town that I grew up in, Roumieh, have such signs. And Roumieh does as well. Mansour and family drove me past an old-style Lebanese house that I remember from my childhood. It is now roofless due to shelling.

After the gutted apartment building, we drove up the road and got out for a few seconds to look at the place where his parents were buried. It was just about two seconds, really. I later commented about this to A. He said “What do want? They are dead. I am not Catholic, I don’t worship the dead.” The guy makes me laugh. Later that evening, we had a wonderful get together with cheese. Pate, and wine at Evelyne’s.

cafeblogging and warnings

I'm in Beirut now and very behind in my posts. What's new? I've been to the childhood romp of Beit Mery, to South Lebanon, have spent the afternoon with my old friend Mansour and his family and have also managed to go to Tripoli, none of which is posted. I'll catch up eventually.

At this moment I feel like I am in some pre-war Left Bank cafe excitement as I sit in this hyper cool cafe/bar called the Prague checking my e-mail and blogging at the bar with my capuchino and chocolate cake. The place is buzzing with activity and unfortunately smoke but that may just make it all the more European and artsy. Jazz is loudly skipping, prancing and thwarting out of the speakers. Sentences include bits of Arabic, French, and English. I try very hard to use French instead of English just to stay on the safe side but people keep on talking to me in English and so it is hard.

The pre-war ambience may also be due to the fact that Evelyne's sister, a warden for the U.S. embassy, just forwarded me a warning that she received right before Christmas. I had mentioned that the U.S. embassy had issued a warning earlier. I debated not including it in my blog but I want this blog to represent my experience here as much as possible and unfortunately, this is part of my experience. I welcome any comments you may have...

December 22, 2006 > > > This Travel Warning is being issued to alert American citizens to the> ongoing demonstrations and political tensions in Lebanon. The Department> strongly urges U.S. citizens to defer travel to Lebanon and also urges> American citizens in Lebanon to consider carefully the risks of> remaining. This Travel Warning also alerts U.S. citizens to the ongoing> safety and security concerns in Lebanon. It supersedes the Travel> Warning issued on September 28, 2006. > > > The Department remains concerned about the personal safety and security> of American citizens in Lebanon. American citizens traveling to or> residing in Lebanon despite this Travel Warning should exercise> heightened caution. Since the August 14 cessation of hostilities between> Israel and Lebanon, political tensions in Lebanon have increased and> have become a cause for concern in recent weeks. Hizballah maintains a> strong presence in many areas of Lebanon, and there is the potential for> anti-American actions by other extremist groups in Tripoli, Sidon, and> the Palestinian refugee camps. Americans are urged to avoid large public> gatherings, including the Martyrs Square and Riad El Solh areas in> Beirut when demonstrations occur. Conditions in Lebanon can change> quickly and dramatically, including with regard to access to Beirut> International Airport and the ports. Sporadic violence has occurred and> there remains the possibility of further violence. All U.S. citizens in> Lebanon are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut where> they may also obtain updated information on travel and security> conditions in Lebanon. Registration details are discussed below.> > > U.S. citizens in Lebanon should at all times be aware of a possible> deterioration of the security situation. Americans should pay close> attention to their personal security and consider fully the necessity of> remaining in Lebanon at this time. Accordingly, Americans and their> family members should ensure that their passports and U.S. travel> documents are up-to-date. The lack of valid travel documents will delay> the ability of the U.S. Embassy to provide assistance. > > >

I am so angry at my government right now. They allowed the situatio this summer to continue for over a month. According to some like Seymour Hirsh, they even knew months beforehand. The US even supplied the military aid and the weapons that caused so much destruction and death in Lebanon. The attacks this summer and the U.S. support of Israel also made Hizbullah even stronger here in Lebanon. And now look, I am in the middle of a bustling cafe wondering if the country is yet again on the brink of war. I need a glass of wine. Lebanese wine.

So what should I do? I have one more week here? Tomorrow I am going to spend the day with Mansour, Josette, and their kids Jimmy and Valery. Mansour also ran into my friend Pascale whom he hadn't seen in nearly 20 years and we are trying to arrange a time to meet. Next week I have made appointments with the local Family Planning Association and a project that works with sex workers. I also am planning to call Laure, whose blog and drawings I have frequently referred to in this blog. I also will probbaly be meeting with a domestic violence project called Kafa, No More. I have no desire to leave yet.

On the other hand, I do not see this as my last trip and I want to be able to come back and to also have something to offer.

Evelyne has told me many times how much people appreciate the fact that I am here, despite it all. I am once again being a sort of informal accompanier. The longer I am here, the longer I feel comfortable here. It makes sense to me and I cannot begin to describe how amazing it is for me to finally walk on landscapes, urbanscapes, tiles, and stones that I walked on as a child. I hear words and I just know them. I eat certain foods and I feel so comforted in ways that I imagine people feel when they eat their favorite childhood meal. I tell everyone that I lived here during the war, that I feel that this is my country too, because it is despite my infintessimal spoken arabic vocabulary (I can understand alot more than I can say.)

Should I be leaving at the first threat after it has taken me so long to come here? Will I lose it forever if I do?

Tomorrow, I will spend the day with a good friend that I trust and I will think. I welcome your insights.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A drive into Beirut





Evelyne and I went to the port to pick Tante Malakeh up from the bus station as she had come from Tripoli. Tante Malakeh is 85 years old and quite nimble. She had no problem walking around the streets of Beirut as she says she walks a lot in Tripoli. Evelyne and she wrapped shoulders as we took a little walk around the souk area that former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed last year, built- past the al-Nahar newspaper headquarters with a big banner to Gebran Tueni. I will try to translate the banner later. I will need help.



I diverged a bit and took some photos of Christmas trees dedicated to the martyrs who have been killed since last year with the mosque where Hariri is buried a short distance away. People would stop and silently look at the trees and the plaques, paying tribute. I took some photos of the trees with the mosque in the background. Uploading photos is very very slow so I may have to upload more later.



We walked up to the Place d’Etoile. Everything is so new looking and quite haute couture here. TGI Fridays and Dunkin Donuts interspersed with pricey looking cafes and stores. People were praying in the mosques and the streets were nearly deserted until prayer finished. Then the streets filled up some, but not enough to fill all of the restaurants that were also opening up after prayer. We sat down and had a cup of ahwe at the Place l’Etoile Café/Restaurant.

Afterwards, Evelyne sweetly took us to Ras Beirut via the St. Georges and the Corniche. We drove by the still destroyed Holiday Inn on the way. A skeleton amongst a skyscape of cranes. While it has remained in its civil war state, there is a lot of rebuilding taking place around it. I took some pictures from the car window but will try to return to take more.





The newspapers were reporting that the US State Department and the French Embassy said that Americans should not be entering the country and should avoid Shiite and Palestinian areas, French citizens should have a bag prepared to evacuate. Why the alert? Is it related to here or is the U.S. preparing something in Iraq? Is it instead time to put pressure on Iran? I don’t know and I am not going to pay too much attention to it. I am here now and am quite happy to be. I cannot live in fear. I would rather be here in Lebanon than sitting in front of my T.V. watching alerts change from orange to red to flaming fear.

I am glad I am here despite the insecurity. One day they say that talks are progressing, the next they aren’t. Stalemate. Tension. You can even feel it a bit in people’s interaction with one another. I’ve noticed between family members who live abroad and dream up projects and those that live here in Lebanon and are worried about just maintaining what they already have.





Sunday, December 24, 2006

A trip to Baalbek

We were out of the house by 6:30 and on our way to Baalbak. Evelyne’s brother was the “taxi driver.” That was the joke at least because he took a van and there were 7 of us. Le frere ainee was driving. Evelyne’s younger brother sat next to him in the passenger seat. Evelyne and I sat in the middle seats and J, J, and a Westerner who has been in Lebanon since 1982, sat next to her.

Off we went on the Damascus road before trucks could join us. Trucks are not allowed on the road until 10:00 am. Most shops were closed, the metal roll down doors shut tight as we headed up the mountains still driving in the fast paced quick change lanes too close to car in front style that I notice that I have a tendency to drive in at home as well. People even drive on the lane divider here though. A two lane road can have as many as four makeshift lanes.

I think I recognize things along the way. A military compound with white buildings? Trees with the bottom painted white, a place where you can ride ponies, the restaurant/bar China Rose…

A stop in Aley and away we go up towards Zahle. We crossed another small World War II bridge. People here are becoming very familiar with World War II bridges thanks to the Israelis.

Then soon after, the "piece de resistance," a detour under the highest bridge in Lebanon that the Israelis completely destroyed. You can see a photo I found online. I regret not taking a picture now but it was first day and I was trying to not be to experience instead of being behind my camera.

I could only shake my head in disgust. One side was nothing more than metal structural poles/wires strangling out of the crumbling cement into the deep crevasse below. My tax dollars at work. Now the United States may help rebuild it. It would have been easier to just use the money to help people beforehand. Now we are canceling our financial assistance out. A makes a joke that Haliburton can now come and rebuild. Sad joke but true. Just what we did in Iraq. Destroying in order to create business opportunities for an elite group of Americans. This makes so much sense.

The US is going to contribute between $20 and $30 million for it to be rebuilt. They have only put $148 million into reconstruction so far. Peanuts compared to billions we give to Israel in military aid.



Lan nansa…We will not forget. Posters with a picture of Rafiik Hariri are everywhere. Before and after the destroyed bridge and along the road during the entire trip. The phrase does not suggest vengeance just recognition and justice. I think of 9/11 and my evening of remembering the victims that turned into patriotism and the vengeance that led to war. And yet some families said “Not in Our Name.”

It is much drier up here as we get closer to the plateau. We stop for gas and receive free coffee mugs and Arabic coffee. My first cup of coffee of the day. Soon after, we stop for breakfast at the Laiterie Massabki near Zahle. I change a little money at the bank next door just trusting that they will give me a fair rate. I have him write down the rate and describe the money to me. I speak French, not English. I refuse to speak English if I can help it in front of people. I am not proud of being American, especially here and if I can pass, I will. Not sure that I do because my French has gotten so bad. When I arrived in the laiterie, I was greeted by a delicious khubus sag with cream and local honey wrapped inside. Perfection, childhood memories, sweetness, excitement and comfort all wrapped inside my favorite bread. Soon after, a man with a big long grey mustache gave me a café au lait with fresh milk. The refrigerated display case was full of many types of cheeses, creams, and yogurts. On the shelves above and on the counter were jams, honeys, bread, pasta, and wines. I bought a jam made with rose petals and some labeled local honey to give as gifts.

I was frustrated with myself because I can’t speak Arabic. I asked the woman at the counter if she spoke French. She looked at me blankly. It is helpful that I can read and pick out certain words from text and conversation but this doesn’t replace speaking it and the relationships that occur as a result. Ana bidi …. Was even a struggle with this first “I want”… it sounds like baby talk, without extra feeling and words that turn interactions into moments of sharing and exchange. I had to ask for help and tried to remember everything that was said as I even struggled with asking for two honey jars. Tnein, tnein. I smiled and looked her in the eyes and said “shukran.” I didn’t get much of a response. Can people tell I am American, is this why? Or is it just a cultural thing. I’m not from here and do not speak the language and so I cannot expect it. “Shukran” seemed to be about the only word that I could say and I kept on saying it feeling slightly stupid. The man with the long grey mustache helped me figure out my favorite bills so that I could pay. He called me halwe, pretty, I remembered that word.

I have been feeling in this in between place and language is accentuating it. My French is far from perfect and then my Arabic, I remember words and oh yes, I know the alphabet. In the States I feel so impressed with myself when I can even remember the alphabet. Here knowing the alphabet and speaking out of practice French doesn’t feel like enough around all of these polyglots. And yet, in fact it is part of the reason I love it so. It’s a challenge and I welcome those, right???

I am not from here, I understand only words and yet everything seems so familiar to me and comfortable besides. The clear bright sunlight. A full sky of light with the mediterrenean blending into it at some unidentifiable point, the horizon. The smell of cement in the apartment and various building stairways, the tile and marble floors, the small not always working elevator. The clothes used to wash floors and the smell of pine cleaner. I looked up from Evelyne’s balcony to see the Al-Bustan hotel at the top of the hill. Beit-Mery is right above and the ruins…. The place where mother had her first signs of a stroke. Coffee has to rise three times before it is ready. Information that I did not even know I had, stored in some drawer inside my head that I just happen to open as I begin my time here.

A Bedouin community up on the plateau. It was cold. I put all of my layers on. The leader was happy to see us. Evelyne’s family started a foundation that supports the school. Classes up to 6th grade. Small classes with a heater in every room. The children were bundled up in sweaters and hats. They all had these beautiful little back packs. The foundation bought them. One brother said that the children now had a place to store their packs even when they were at home. The kids were so cute. They stood up the way I remember we would when someone entered the classroom. Respect. The girls all had their heads covered with scarves. Small classrooms. I don’t think there were more than 15 students in any classroom. One boy was not doing well in the school for handicapped children. he had been there for five years and hadn’t learned how to read. He had been at the Bedouin school for a year now and he could read. They can’t get through Lebanese bureaucracy to get school credit yet but they have arranged credit with Syria. Ironic.

We were on the roof overlooking the brown fields. Brown because the summer crop spoiled because of the war and they were not able to replant. No work in the nearby fields. One man explained that the Bedouin only work the fields, they do not own their own land. This year the crops were left untouched in the fields because of the bombing. Israeli bombing to make that clear. It turns out that Hizbullah were storing weapons in a warehouse right nearby. Right next to a Sunni mosque. They thought it was an import/export business and were pretty upset when they realized what was there.

One man talked about how great it would be to do a real needs assessment for the community. To figure out what the needs really were and to address those. His church was helping build a well, the Bridges of Love and Peace were helping with the school, $36,000 to run the school, but what else? What were the underlying needs? What would make the community self-sufficient?

Good ahwe and sitting at the eldest son, now the tribe’s leader’s house. We listened to a reading from the bible in Arabic. The son read from a quote on the wall by Tagore it was translated. Much more powerful for me in part because it was translated.

Leaving, we drove through the Bedouin community after moving past the school surrounded by other simple concrete buildings. Long term tents, with doors and layers of plastic and some wood, winterized. One man says that they are open in the summer. People had to leave during the bombing. Many went to Syria others were given refuge by other Lebanese. Throughout the journey, we were reminded of how everyone was affected by this new war. Some were forced to flee, others took people in. In some ways he said this war was worse because there was no going to the bomb shelter in the basement. Entire buildings were destroyed. People who took refuge in bomb shelters could be stuck underneath rubble for weeks if not forever.

More destroyed roads being rebuilt, repaved. I asked by whom and I did not find an answer. Money is flowing from Arab and other international governments including European and the United States. Municipalities doing the work? Impressive how fast everything is getting repaired and rebuilt.

We drove by a destroyed milk factory. Why a milk factory? The story goes that the company won a contract with UNIFIL, the other contender was an Israeli company. Now the Israeli company has the contract. Reminded of the destroyed milk factory when we went to get milk at the local store today. Where is the Lebanese milk? There isn’t any, the factory was destroyed.


Finally, Baalbak. Sorry agin for the internet found picture. I wasn't feeling comfortable behind the camera especially as an American in a Shiite area. Nasrallah posters everywhere. Palestinian concrete “camp” on the right. We stopped to see the largest stone in the world. A man was cleaning up the area and found the stone. Now it rests on its side in a protected area with a Lebanese flag placed on top. The pregnant stone. If women touch it they supposedly get pregnant. Luckily I didn’t. It is now a tourist attraction. For all of the tourists that are now flocking to Lebanon and to Baalbak. I bought more olive oil soap than I can use. I had to buy something. It looks like people are getting olive oil soap as gifts.

Bekaa close to the sun. The land of the sun. Pagan ruins under roman ruins. Early Christians used the ruins as a cathedral. We drove through and around the ruins and then to the school started by A in 1963. A is the aunt of the leader of the other community. They are Bedouin. Evelyne’s father gave her money to go to school and then helped her start the school. It know has over 700 students.

Again we were taken into the formal living room to sit and socialize. More delicious ahwe and stories, lots of stories.

The families lost touch and one of the brother's wife, was looking for a place to volunteer when she came upon the school. When she told A her name, the connection was reestablished.

This is going to end abruptly now because I have limited internet access and must go. I am planning to go hiking up to Beit Mery today. I'll report back later.

Have a great Christmas if this is something that you celebrate!

Friday, December 22, 2006

I have arrived

I have arrived and have so much to write and tell. I have already been to Baalbek and Beirut and have been trying to work on my Arabic. It’s so wonderful to be here. I am excited about almost everything but especially food. I get ecstatic about food.

It seems that I will be a little behind in my posts. I have been keeping a journal and was hoping to post revised portions here along with pictures.

The flights were fine, uneventful until Frankfurt. Frankfurt airport is a pit. I have been in many airports and I have to say that it is the worst airport that I have ever been in. I realized how much of a Pacific Northwest of the United States woman I am when I was shocked by smoking stands where people just stood around in the middle of the airport and smoked without any glass enclosure or anything. In fact, people were smoking EVERYWHERE and there was no fresh air. I was getting claustrophobic until the gate to Beirut opened and I was able to sit in an area with no smoke and natural light.

It was in the waiting room that I got my first taste of Lebanon as it was full of very cosmopolitan Lebanese as comfortable speaking in French, English and German as they were in Arabic. When the plane landed and before we got off I was again struck by the murmuring of at least four different languages. This is Lebanon. The land of polyglots.

I cried when I first saw the Lebanese coast from the plane. I was really returning after all these years.

Evelyne and her brother were outside behind a crowd of waiting families. Those who can are returning for the holidays. Evelyne was worried that she would not recognize me but I knew I would recognized her. Her brother saw a foreign-looking woman approach and asked if it was me. Evelyne said that she that I wasn't that haughty looking. In other words, she remembered what I want people to remember about me.

We walked outside into perfect warm weather and bright light and the drive to Ain Saade began. We went through a Shiite part of town near the airport. You could see posters of Nasrallah hanging from the lampposts and bombed buildings in the distance. This area was heavily attacked by Israel. There was traffic as we waited to cross the World War II bridge put up after the Israelis destroyed the other this summer. We went through both Christian and Sunni areas including Ain Roumaneh an area of heavy fighting during the first civil war, the civil war that I knew. Cement apartment buildings now interspersed with old. Older ones with patched up bullet holes. A reminder of the first war.

Lots of traffic and a car just stopped in the road for no apparent reason. And a drive up the mountain to Ain Saade past the memorial for Gibran Tueni, a journalist killed last year after Hariri was killed. I will write more about him in later posts.


The view from Evelyne's apartment of Beirut is beautiful. You can see this in the photo above. So built up. I remember so much more room to walk and hike in the woods. On the next hill to my right, I recognize a set of buildings with a cross on top. Evelyne says that it is a monastery. I think Roumieh, the town that I grew up in is on the other side.


Beit Mery, another town that I remember is right up the hill and Antileas, where I also lived, I believe is at the foot of the rainbow. Lebanon, my pot of gold, I finally am visiting you, my childhood home, after 26 years.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Trasmundo

Trasmundo, Remedios Varo, 1955, Oil on Canvas

Off across the world and into the beyond I go. Tomorrow morning, I am setting off on my journey to both the present and the past. Everything is in piles or in ziploc bags, but it won't feel real until it is all packed.
Until I write next. A bientot!

Lebanon is making history, potentially

I thought this opinion piece by Rami G. Khouri of The Daily Star was much more thoughtful than alot of what I have been hearing and reading about Lebanon recently.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Dearest Dad,

I love you dearly, but please do not project your own fears onto me and my trip. It hurts me that you do not feel that I make responsible thoughtful decisions and that you think that I cannot take care of myself. I know where it is coming from and I am trying not to take it personally. It's hard though.

Yes, I am opinionated and passionate. I would not do the work I do and have the position I have if I wasn't. But I also know when to be diplomatic. I do push more than you do and always will. This world is unjust and I cannot morally sit back and let it remain so without doing my part to change it.

I have no idea how Lebanon will compare to the land of my childhood. I am also very conscious of the tenuous political situation, but I am going. What I need from you, Dad, is for you to embrace the strong female who has your genes and support and believe in her.

With much love,
Margie

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Who's running Lebanon?

What we are watching across the whole region is the steady but increasing collapse of American imperial power. It will not be a joyous event. It may prove to be terrifying. It will definitely be bloody. And Lebanon may now be the mirror that proves it all true.

This is part of a powerful article, Who's Running Lebanon? by Robert Fisk. Just click on the title.

Yes, this is what I am flying into on Tuesday afternoon...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

returning "home"

I have insomnia again. This is new for me. I have just decided to accept it and either write or read, whatever suits my mood. Luckily, I always fall asleep after engaging in one of the two activities.

When I was writing earlier, I wrote about a few of the still uncategorized amalgam of sensations, questions, thoughts, images that I have been having as I prepare for my journey. After writing about cyclamens, bread, and water I had the desire to put down a word but was afraid. I actually typed it out in a tiny font but later erased it. The word was "home."

I wasn't ready to send the word out into the public world. I still am not completely ready or sure about the intensity of my feeling around this. It hasn't been analysed into place quite yet and instead is simply there.

I have never felt that I have had a home. Not one home at least. I have made my home wherever I happen to be. Whether it is in a friend's kitchen as I study for exams, a casita in South Texas with no electricity and a compost toilet, a run down cockroach ridden dive amongst those that cannot complain, a wooden hut in the mountains of Guatemala with a board for a bed, a windowless room in the Sunset Park house of a Colombian family, a clean new room in an apartment complex with the comfort of a new very quickly close close friend, or a small two-roomed loft in the trees with a funky garden below, kindred sister landladies, and a "Save the World Impeach Bush" sign above the driveway.

Jeanette Winterson writes of Orion:

She found that the whole world could be contained in one place because that place was herself. Nothing had prepared her for this.

I believe that I have made my home inside myself, no matter where I am in time and space. But there has always been this yearning for one place to call "home."

I have felt that I have been returning home no matter where I have been. I remember feeling happy about coming "home" this summer after a trip to the "other side" of the mountains, the great Cascades.

And I felt this sense of returning "home" earlier this evening as the hopes and memories came rushing out and I could smell the pine and salty Mediterranean. Yes, I am coming home. But whether it will be the "home," I cannot say. My home has been everywhere that I have been and with all of the amazing people that have invited me into their lives and that I have hopefully impacted in some small positive way

as they have mine.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Quote of the day

"No nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others."
- Kofi Annan

Random images, thoughts, and questions

A "Buche de Noel" with tacky plastic Christmas trinkets.





Touching soil with my hand as soon as I can.

Will I recognize anything? Will the drive from the airport look familiar to me? I see dry open space with a concrete divider in the middle. Is it all built up now?


How soon after I arrive will I see a shopping mall?


A cold that came by surprise.

I want to bring a bunch of female condoms in case I am able to visit Dar al-Amal.


Hiking in the mountains and picking cyclamens and thyme.

Why is it that just around the time I started thinking seriously about visiting Lebanon the political situation there became worse?


Is there something that I haven't planned for at work?


Being surrounded by the sounds of Arabic and French,

Khubus, maybe even mountain bread, fresh from the black dome,

Manaeesh,

And a large expanse of water.

Monday, December 11, 2006

today


live with intention.
walk to the edge.
listen hard.
practice wellness.
play with abandon.
laugh.
choose with no regret.
continue to learn.
appreciate your friends.
do what you love.
live as if this is all there is.

-mary anne radmacher

This quote was on the birthday card that I received from my coworkers today. The woman who picked it out said that she thought that it was perfect for me because I do all of these things. Inside I was told that I was an inspiration! What a nice gift.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Happy Birthday!


It is nearing my birthday: Monday, December 11.

This is always a powerful time for me. I feel that there is a great deal of positive energy around this time. It is always a good time for me to reflect and make decisions. I feel strong and connected. This may partially be because I always have other Sagittarians in my life, no matter where I move to or what I am doing.

My best friend from my childhood, Mansour, will celebrate his birthday on Thursday. And Loona, my dear unique and friend forever Loona, celebrated her birthday this Sunday.

Sometimes my relationships with Sags are close yet strained, as was the case with a metals professor I once had. Sometimes they are reassuring, as is the fact that 3 out of my 4 colleagues who do the same work I do in other parts of the state are all Sags like me.

Dynamic, ethical, humorous, generous, open-hearted, compassionate, and energetic. Definitely.

Impulsive and impractical. I keep this under control- somewhat. Until the fire starts beneath the souls of me feet and I must travel, move, "pursue to its lair."

Loona is the same way. Mansour I do not know. I haven't seen him in 26 years. Perhaps I will discover this in the next few weeks.

Should I tell a story? It is one of my favorites.

I was living in South Texas. 10 minutes from the border with Mexico. I had been there for at least a year and a half and was at the height of living as simply as possible, as an unofficial accompanier in the South Tower colonia, trying to understand, raising awareness for myself and for others. I spoke Spanish most of the time and saw very few "gueros" or "gueras" like myself.

One day I went to the small town post office. As I walked across the parking lot, a shabby bumper sticker covered car pulled into the lot. I can't remember what the bumper stickers said. They could have told me to a hug a tree or to strive for peace. I'm not sure. I had very similar ones on my own car which is not the norm except among liberal white "do-gooders" in South Texas.

I stood in line and the car's owner, a woman with a nose ring and a tattooed hand, kept on trying to get my attention. She would try to catch my eye. My memory even has her jumping out of the line, grinning and waving at me like a joker. My memory knows that she was testing me. Testing my still new understanding of how the world really functioned and how to act upon this as a person of priviledge who is also self-righteous.

I ignored her. I knew she was looking at me and I refused to look her in the eye. I was trying not to be reminded that I was white. I was trying to fit in, "slumming" some may say. To Loona's credit, she is a Sagittarius after all, she did not give up. She followed me to the parking lot and as I got into my car shouted "Excuse me, excuse me, I think we are supposed to be friends."

She was right. It's been at least 8 years. And we live on opposite ends of the country in two of the most progressive states. Both far, far away from where we grew up. We are also still idealistic wanderers. She walked across the country on a peace march. Now she does her wandering through her always active projects and dedication to the trees of her beloved state. And me, I still wander. Settled in my current position and in my nest with Maya where I can finally feel earth beneath my feet, I am planning my big trip next week. Wishing it was tomorrow, really today, on the first day of the last year of my third decade. Loona just entered her fourth. Mansour has two more years, I believe, before catching up with me.

Happy Birthday, Loona!

Happy Birthday, Mansour!

I wish us ongoing and renewed friendships.

Sectarianism

Thanks to the Perpetual Refugee, I discovered this very interesting social marketing initiative, the Stop Sectarianism Campaign.

Here is a little background copied from their website:

Since 1920, Lebanese society has been structured according to religious confessions or sects. Within a country of 10,000 km², we have over 17 official religious sects. Sectarianism is intertwined in our daily life, and has been so for years, officially and in society. Most official positions are based on religious denominations. Sectarianism was one of the main factors leading to the civil war, but even today, everybody still thinks along religious lines and divides people into sectarian groups.

The topic was always a taboo subject, until the “Spring Revolution” of 2005. With this movement, the creation of civil society groups brought together people from every religion, and made it clear to many that civil society-led initiatives could effectively make a difference. The campaign focuses on the ridiculous/harmful side of sectarianism/confessionalism and its excesses in our every day life.
If you want to read more about sectarianism, Laurie King wrote a good overview of Lebanon's political history on electronic intifada.
Sadly, sectarianism is still an issue today.

Melting Crayons

I spent my late evening peeling and melting crayons. The idea was Martha's and was inspired by Wendy.

Beware of keeping them in the oven for too long. Mine are beautiful on top but not so much on the bottom. I ended up keeping the heat very low. I went back to 150. You do not want the crayons to melt completely and thoroughly mix.


The house now smells like melted wax.











Meanwhile, my dearest slept.




Saturday, December 09, 2006

Strong Women Candles


I made this candle for my secret person at work. I bought a plain religious candle and pasted on a picture of Rosie the Riveter. I also found these beautiful stickers of roses which I stuck all around her and used glitter glue and my glue gun to paste on sequins. I used funky letter stickers to spell out, "You Can Do It!"
I had wanted to do a whole series of them and give them as gifts for the holidays but I haven't gotten very far. I have been collecting pictures of strong women. So far I have Rosie, Margaret Sanger with her mouth gagged, Emma Goldman, and Arundhati Roy.

U.S. at root of effort to topple Lebanese government

Analysts: U.S. at root of effort to topple Lebanese government
By Tom Lasseter
McClatchy Newspapers

BEIRUT, Lebanon - American political leaders watched with alarm during the past week as the Hezbollah militia laid siege to the U.S.-backed Lebanese government, but few would acknowledge publicly what most analysts and politicians here say is obvious: American policy may bear much of the blame.

Many in Beirut say that U.S. failure to stop Israel's onslaught against Hezbollah last summer crippled the Lebanese government - a U.S. ally - while strengthening Hezbollah - a U.S. enemy. That created an environment in which the Shiite Muslim militia could call for overthrowing Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and his Cabinet.

Click here to read the whole article.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Yes!

All day today people at work have asked me if I am still planning to go to Lebanon.
I say "Yes!"

I read the news and blogs and the more I read, the less I know.
It is difficult to assess a situation from the few headline topics that make it into the written press and the two minute soundbites that travel the airwaves.

Paris, Berlin accuse Damascus of orchestrating crisis in Beirut

Was This the First Casualty of Lebanon's New Civil War?

Lebanon Military Chief Says Army Can't Contain Mass Violence

Man Killed in 3rd Day of Beirut Antigovernment Protests

"Will there be a civil war?" is on everyone's minds, including mine.
I have no answers but people are continuing to go on with their daily lives with only a slight bit of disruption (at least for some, but not for others.)

Some of my readings get me excited to walk down Beirut's streets.
The walk downtown is about 30-40 minutes and there's no street in Beirut that isn't beautiful to walk down (body on the line.)

While others remind me that people want to live and are sick of war.
Living is NOT surviving. It is not merely finding a way to reach tomorrow. Living is having the possibility to dream, to hope, to create, and to excel! Yes, "badna n3ich", we do want to live (hopeful beirut.)

And even others give me insight into confessional power and imperial interests.

Nonetheless I have no answers, just a dizzying mind and a collective voice whispering "Don't leave" and "Come back."

I really want to come back after all these years and unless the airport closes, I will.

Post script:
I know that people only mean well when they ask me about my upcoming trip and reference the current news headlines. They are trying to let me know that they care. And so, why am I a liitle annoyed by these questions? Is it displaced perturbance at the fact that its so hard to get "real news" and that I am forced to question what real news is anyway? Or is it more selfish as my trip is at jeapordy for a second time? Or am I just pure sick of mostly male politicians quibbling over power whether it be internally or externally? Can't I just kick a soda can and have it all be over?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

Getting to the Core of People's Souls

The teens were incredible this evening. They performed a poem for World AIDS Day. Basically we brainstormed a list of what they thought of when they thought of HIV/AIDS, wrote them all down on newsprint and organized them into a poem.
While the fact that this is the 25th anniversary of the pandemic and there is not only no cure but funding for services is either being cut or being offered with a moral agenda, I am as usual reenergized and uplifted by the sheer creativity of human beings especially our youth in response to such sadness.
This is how we get to the core of people's souls. This is where change will happen.

Let us believe . . .

When you decide to go to a place that has experienced so much war, you tend to keep up with current events every day.
I recognize that it is a privilege to check out from time to time.
There is a demonstration occurring most probably as I write this. Let us hope that it does not lead to war. As Laure expresses, let us not succomb to pessimism. Let us believe in the human spirit's desire for peace and coexistence.
I am finally going to say goodnight and dream that things will have turned out to be positive and peaceful by the time I awake.