Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I've been doing some cooking

Making sure to saturate the corners of my nest with the cooking smells of onions, olive oil, lemons, and garlic.


Potato kibbee. Inspired by Tante Malakeh. Lots of onions, olive oil, potatoes, bulghur wheat, and even a bit of cinammon. Can you tell I snuck a piece?


Baba ghannuj with lots of garlic (lots of garlic), eggplant, tahini, and lemon juice. Pour olive oil over it and sprinkle with sumac.


I even found khubus (Lebanese bread). It was thin like khubus but the size of pita bread and perhaps not the freshest. I bought it anyway. You can always heat it up.


Zaatar. Mansour's mom gave me some and it is now in my freezer. Stays fresher that way. What's in zaatar? I'm not quite sure, a sort of thyme, sesame seeds, ... Mix with olive oil and put on those premade biscuits that come out of a tube. A woman I met in grad school whose uncle lived in Roumieh taught me this. Mini manaeesh. Smells like the real thing. Mansour and Josette convinced me to put olives on one. Manaeesh is delicious that way.


What else? A sauce of lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. Brings the eyes to the back of my head in pleasure.


Chicken marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, cinnamon, and oregano. Leftover chicken juices over brown rice mixed with cinnamon and pine nuts.


What else have I cooked since my return? I also made mijadra, a version of it at least. Lentils, onions, brown rice, carrots, and spinach.


I love to cook.

Monday, January 29, 2007

1 in 3 women


Did you know that 1 in 3 women throughout the world is subjected to intimate partner abuse during her lifetime?

This is one of the disturbing facts that I learned while being introduced to the game “Zoom In…Zoom Out” at Kafa/ Enough, a non-profit organization in Lebanon that seeks to mitigate the causes and results of violence and exploitation of women and children.

What's cool about the game is that it gives participants the chance to gain awareness of women's situation worldwide on the individual or as we say in social work "micro" level while also "zooming out" to the "macro" level and looking at the economic, political, and social reasons why this violence against women occurs.

Kafa has only existed since 2005 but already they have done so much awareness building and advocacy work. It is truly amazing. Their energy is catching. I e-mailed my new friend there to see how they are doing and she e-mailed me back to say that they are organizing a women's protest against the war! While I wish that violence was not even a theoretical concept, I am so glad that there are women out there like the women of Kafa who are really making a difference.


[As long as there is violence against women,] ... we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development, and peace.

-Kofi Annan, Former United Nations Secretary General


If you are interested in reading the October 2006 UN study on Violence Against Women, click here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Blood


This is such a strong image.
Lucky White Girl found it.
grace*c* uploaded it.
Three women with numbers written on their foreheads, representing the number of U.S. civilians, U.S. military personnel and Iraqis killed in the U.S. invasion.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Along the river



Lingual Tremors is once again
a source of inspiration to me.
This time, her 365 blog
inspired me to get out of the house
and take a few pictures.
These were the best of the batch.
























Paralysis

I was moping a bit last night and succumbed to the dreaded capitalist elixir: SHOPPING! And, for a few moments the depression disappeared. But only for a few moments.

My moods are very tied to what is going on around me and the whole resurgence of violence in Lebanon has really gotten to me. Inside my active right brain, I was having these intense flashes that history was repeating itself and as one of my friends said: "It was 1975, all over again." Of the university students who were fighting each other this week, I replayed the statement, "We older adults taught them this." Another friend of mine commented in an e-mail, "I do not know how they will be able to go back into the classroom together." As an educator, this statement struck my every nerve, "How were they?"

I started doing what I always do: I tried to figure out how to address these classroom dynamics. I daydreamed about peacebuilding programs and even did some websurfing regarding possible programs. But, my rational interior voice soon surfaced to remind me that the students were only mirroring the larger problems that Lebanon has. A few classroom activities or even an entire program on peacebuilding is not the answer. In my layperson and non-Lebanese citizen perspective, the problem has to do with the sectarian political system and with the fact that the concerns of the neediest Lebanese are not being addressed within this system.

$7.6 million is all well and good, but a good portion of this money is in loans not donations. Plus, the largest portion of this money was lent by the World Bank who along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is famous for its structural adjustment policies that often do more harm to the majority of the people of the country that it "assists" than good. It requires countries to create reform packages like the one that the Lebanese government created that often include tax programs that have a harsher effect on the poor than on the rich, privatization of basic services, and limitations on social spending. If I had seen these reform packages benefit other countries, I would not be so depressed.

Talking to my father this morning, I was reminded that I like to fix and change things for the better. A big part of what I do with youth is help them realize that they can make a difference in their world through their personal relationships but also on the state and national levels. I live my own life the same way. When I see an injustice, I talk about it, write about it, get in touch with my political representatives and tell them about it. This summer, when Lebanon was attacked by Israel, I even had things I could do. The United States was supporting Israel. I spoke out against this and encouraged others to do so as well.

This time, I do not know what to do. I feel stuck, paralysed. I don't have anything, even something small, that I can do. And, I feel awful.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

This has turned out to be a crappy day, literally.

I went home to take this online CPR update class and found every excuse not to (including finding a word search program on the New York Times- see previous post.) I eventually started the online program but couldn't get the interactive links to work. And so, I ran over to K's office and asked him to help me after he got off work. In the mean time, I decided to make my house a little more presentable by cleaning Maya's litter box and in so doing, managed to clog my toilet.

K arrived and soon after informed me that the CPR program was not interactive after all (It was right there in the directions. And yes, I have two Master degrees.) We decided to go out to eat after I unclogged the toilet. After getting covered with wet wheat kittty litter and who knows what else, I was able to unclog the toilet. Yippeeyuck!

I came home and started reading blogs and news headlines about Lebanon. I could no longer deny it. Things are not good. It was time to send out e-mails to make sure everyone was safe. I wish that I could say that I feel like my insides are also covered in kitty litter. Then I could define the sadness I feel, the disappointment. Is cynicism finally gaining ground over optimism? Will humans always try to solve their problems with violence? Is peace always doomed to fail?

State of the Union Word Search

Thanks to Lingual Tremors, I found this really cool word search tool at the New York Times.

The word terror was used 22 times in his speech this year. It has consitently been in the 20's since 2002, the first address to occur before 9/11. In 2001, the word was used once.

Another interesting observation is that the word marriage was mentioned 9 times in 2004, the year W ran for reelection. He hadn't used it that much before or after. Perhaps his team wanted to polarize the nation around marriage that year to spark a values debate that could help W in the elections.

Lebanon was mentioned 3 times this year, twice last year, and once in 2005. Having W's attention may or may not be a good thing. In the past it has lead to war (i.e. Iraq, Afghanistan,..). Sure he and other Paris conference attendees did just pledge a few billion dollars of aid to Lebanon but what strings are attached to this money and will the majority of Lebanese people actually benefit from it?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Not being in Lebanon

I know people mean well when they tell me that they are glad that I am back in the States and am not still in Lebanon. They are trying to tell me that they care. I know this but I do not like the assumption that their good heartedness is based on: that Lebanon is dangerous and unsafe. Sure some parts are unsafe, they may have been especially unsafe this past Tuesday, but how is this different from living in certain parts of the U.S., say New Orleans for instance? Quite frankly, I felt safer in Lebanon than I have felt almost anywhere and I have done my share of traveling.

Another reason their comments make me uncomfortable is because they make me feel that Lebanon can be written off. Expressing positive feelings that I am not in a country that just had serious riots doesn't directly mean this, I know, but being able to see such political turmoil as happening elsewhere is a way to disassociate oneself from the events. Out of sight, out of mind.

When I was in Lebanon, people who may not usually have a chance to think of Lebanon were able to personalize it in some way. Now, people who know me do not have to feel connected to Lebanon anymore.

Some of my feelings of discomfort are also my own. There is a side of me that wishes I was there yesterday and today expressing solidarity and living through this difficult time too.

I know that this isn't realistic. I have a job and a life here. I am doing good work and am learning many skills so that I can continue to help others as life goes on. I can also use my resources to become more informed and to possibly even influence U.S. policies towards Lebanon and Palestine. This is what I tell myself.

And in case you follow the news, yes, the U.S. is planning to offer $770 million dollars and other countries plan to offer additional support. I just ask you to remember that many of the weapons that the Israelis used on Lebanon this summer were supplied by the U.S., that the U.S. dragged its feet this summer and let the Israelis destroy Lebanon for over a month, and that the U.S. publically supported Israel. In addition, this money will not be used to reform the Lebanese sectarian system or to decrease the disparity between those that have and those that do not. If Lebanon is ever to know longterm peace, these two things need to happen.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Visualizing balloons

Last night I didn't sleep well. I was having those anxious thoughts like "I have to remember to put my socks in the laundry basket" that are so ridiculously unimportant but for some reason seem so important and pressing in the middle of the night.

It turns out that there was a reason for my anxiety. I hadn't read the news on Monday and had gone to bed that night oblivious but Nasrallah had called a general strike on Tuesday. And so as I was trying to sleep, at least 3 people were killed, some businesses were closed along with the airport, tires were burned and Prime Minister was delayed in going to his Paris Summit, a summit that the current government is claiming will be the economic salvation of Lebanon.

I found out this morning in an e-mail from a former prof, "Are you back in States now that Lebanon is on strike?"

What can I say?
No.
As far I am concerned, we still don't know.
And if we visualize it, then it could very well happen.
Call it denial but I am not going to believe it until happens.
Hence the photo of a young girl being carried away by balloons.
Oh, go ahead read Fiske's latest if you want. He has been in Lebanon long enough to have some insights even if I do not want to hear all of them.
Can't the economic and political inequities in Lebanon be solved without violence?
Can't people just try?
I am going to visualize bright sunlight, the blue sea, and yellow balloons.
Postscript 1/29/07: Naharnet reported that the Israelis dropped poisonous balloons into South Lebanon last week. This was NOT what I was visualizing.
Postscript (2) 1/29/07: The Daily Star came out with another report about the balloon panic. Tests on the balloons have not shown that they have anything in them that is poisonous even though people were hospitalized due to nausea, breathing difficulties, and dizziness. In my opinion, this incident is a good example of the fear Israel stirs up in people in South Lebanon. Just seeing a balloon with Hebrew letters can cause symptoms. It could very well be post traumatic stress syndrome to me.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

New Orleans Now

I received this comment to my post about Helen Hill, who was murdered in New Orleans at the beginning of the month. I feel compelled to share it because the people of New Orleans are still not being treated equitably. For a few weeks after Katrina this country and the media actually made a correlation between racism and poverty. They seemed surprised at the level of poverty there and that people didn't even have the resources necessary to evacuate. The 9th ward was an incredibly vibrant area. And yes, it was primarily populated by African Americans. Now it seems that it is being turned into commercial property out of economic reach of its former residents. Where are the people who used to live in the 9th ward? What are their lives like now? Are they getting anything positive out of this rebuilding?
Here's the post:

Anonymous said...
I'm so sorry to hear about your friend M. Those who call NO home have gone through so much already that it hurts to know they continue to suffer so much. That city was a part of my childhoood and it is so hard to know that it may never be the same...especially for those whose roots still remain in that too soon forgotten city.

My husband's cousin is visiting us on a break from doing some work in NO. He says that the unofficial plan of the local NO govt is to not rebuild the 7th/8t/9th wards (some of the poorest wards closest to the levees). He has done construction for over 30 years and is down there doing the deconstruction of the buildings which are condemned/half destroyed. He says the city intends to take over that land and expand the commercial district. That can't be a good thing for those who called those wards home for generations given how the law of imminent domain is so cavalierly and ruthlessly enforced here in the south.

While none of that is "officially" on the books as a reconstruction plan, who better can speak to what the real plans are than someone being asked to assist in it? I am at a loss for words to describe that kind of hateful insensitivity to its former residents and the greed that precedes it.


A

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Putting a face to the protesters



Do you remember these photos that L. took of a destroyed bridge that is being rebuilt in South Lebanon? Well, I’ve been meaning to tell you all about a conversation I had with a young man that I met whose family lives right near this bridge and who was at home with his family during Israel’s war on Lebanon.

My new friend is studying computer engineering at the University. He would like to find a job in Lebanon when he finishes his degree but chances are he will have to leave the country to find work like so many other Lebanese.

For 18 days during the summer, my friend was awoken every morning at 6:00 am to the sound of the Israelis bombing this bridge. For 18 days his alarm clock was the sound of bombs destroying the bridge down the street from his house. Did it take 18 days? No, but bombing rubble does instill fear and kill civilians.

My friend says:
Israel controls us.
They take our land and we can’t say anything.
They enter our sky and we can’t say anything.
They do not like anyone to be stronger than they are.

My friend wants to have a voice. He wants his people to have this voice when Israel disrespects borders and he also wants to have a voice in the political system in his country. My friend believes that Hizbullah and the coalition it has formed with Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement is this voice.

It was a special date. I told him that I wanted to hear his perspective. I wanted to hear what the war this summer was like for him. I wanted to hear why he was going to spend New Year celebrations at Martyrs' Square with “the protesters.” I wanted to put a face to the protesters and to Hizbullah.
This photo was posted on Blogging Beirut. I found it on electronic Lebanon. I passed by this scene quite a few times on the highway on which the soldier is standing as well on the street below. Most of the time, drivers would shake their heads as they drove by, as would I. Martyrs' Square and the whole area were so nice to walk in before the protesters arrived, I was told. This whole area had been rebuilt by former Prime Minister Hariri. Many of the shops and restaurants that I saw when I walked nearby were upscale and were not places the protestors could frequent, which is part of the reason some people are protesting. My friend helped me understand this.

I told my friend that I have been struggling with how I feel about Hizbullah. I do not believe in the violence that occurred this summer even though I recognize that I never have been pushed. I do not know what I would do when words, negotiations, supposed “diplomacy” do not work and when my life and that of my people do not mean as much to the world as that of an Israeli soldier and/or citizen.

I told him that I want all people to have a voice in the political system and I want them to have justice, but that I do not believe that people have the right to start wars. He reminded me that Israel was planning this war and that the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers was just a good moment to proceed with the plan. I know this. I also know that there are hundreds of Lebanese citizens in Israeli jails that have not been given fair and legal trials. But no matter how you look at it, the result was war and people were killed. Neither side is blameless in war.

Since the war, more Lebanese support Hizbullah. The party is helping people rebuild and is now asking for more representation in the government. 1/3 of the seats would give the coalition of Hizbullah, Amal, and the Free Patritiotic Movement veto power just like the other groups. This is what my friend wants too. This is what the demonstrations at Martyrs’ Square are about.

In Lebanon, each political party helps its own. While visiting various non-profits, I learned that each political party and sometimes even the various leaders run foundations and give financial support to non-profits in their region. The government has given very little to the Shiites who have the least amount of political representation in the government and coincidentally are those with the fewest resources. It is Hizbullah who has provided support to the Shiites.

It makes sense to me that the Shiites need more representation in the government. I am not sure that merely having 1/3 of the seats will be the answer. It is my understanding that Lebanese must return to their place of birth to vote and that they only have the option to vote for people from their region and religious affiliation. It is like in the United States' primaries when people can only vote for candidates of their registered political party. The difference, as I understand it, is that Lebanese do not have the option to vote for a candidate in another party in the general election like we do. This sectarian system is what makes no sense to me. People should be able to vote for issues not for parties. And political parties should not be able to only provide social support to their own.
Besides doing away with the sectarian system Samah Idriss believes that "radical reform" is needed including:
"..holding all corrupt politicians accountable,... fighting all those responsible for the huge debts that Lebanon incurred,... articulating a clear socio-economic policy that helps the poor overcome their burdens,... giving Palestinians in Lebanon their full civil and political rights until their return to Palestine, defining a clear position that refuses the dictates of the World Bank ... "

I may never understand the current situation in Lebanon fully. However, I do know that I am not going to stop putting faces to the people involved in this debate. Everyone's voice deserves to be heard. A good take home message is that, like other parts of the Middle East, the political situation in Lebanon cannot be reduced to a bad guy=terrorist=Syria and Iran=Hizbullah vs. good guy=Western support=March 14 dichotomy.
If you haven't already, I recommend reading the two articles I linked to earlier:

Sad news

While I was away at my training, I learned that a mentor of mine has cancer again. I think it upset me more than I realized at first. I haven't known her long, just since last March, but she has been so encouraging and has really pushed me to use my enthusiasm to create excellent program and to get involved on the state level. Having someone in my life who has been in the field as long as she has is wonderful. Plus she is just an amazing person who is so easy to talk to. She listens and then reminds me when I may be making assumptions.

Why does she have to struggle again? She is such a good spirit. I know that with challenges comes learning, I just don't want her to have to go through this again because it SUCKS. How come so many of the amazing women in my life have gotten cancer? I am just going to think of her and be angry with her. I will continue to remind her how much she means to me and to the work we believe in. I will also make sure to push myself to continue with what we have been working on even if she can't always be there to help. I will just have something beautiful to show her when she beats this cancer for good.

I am with you in spirit, J.

Much love,
Margaret

I opened my front door and was greeted by...





Friday, January 19, 2007

Home, ...again

I'm home,...again. I am so wiped out. This last trip was hard. I had barely started reconnecting with Maya when it was time to travel again. I am so sick of hotels and am longing for a home cooked meal. The other day my mouth started watering when my neighbor told me that she was making brown rice. Simple brown rice with no frills. Not that I didn't have yummy food, especially the Ethiopian. I love Ethiopian food.

I just haven't been able to nurture and give my attention to all of the beings in my life such as Maya and my plants. Maya has quite a tummy now from the ever flowing cat food at A. my dear neighbor's house and my plants can use a little attention, the kind of attention that only someone who watches them everyday can give them. For example, my ivy needs more light as it is turning yellow.

I don't want to travel for awhile. I say this but knowing me, I will venture across the mountains again next month.
I also haven't been able to catch up on my writing. I am still writing about the past when there is a present to contend with.
Writing, giving Maya a whole lot of attention, and cooking some sort of homemade dish whose aroma can permeate the house and stick into the cracks and corners. Perhaps a curry?
This would be a perfect weekend.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

People's Revolt in Lebanon

I just read a very interesting article on electronic intifada, People's Revolt in Lebanon by Mohamad Bazzi, that had originally been published in the Nation.
I recommend it. It explains a bit what Hizbullah wants and why it has gained power. It also highlights Lebanon's $36 billion dollar debt and the glamorous yet impractical projects that Hariri undertook.

Posts

I have hardly had any down time since I returned to the States. I was barely home a week before I had to go off again for work and still am not back home. I have been working on a few posts but they are very important to me and I have not had the time to refine them the way I want. Even my Tripoli posts were rushed.
Right now I am working on a post about a young man I met and his thoughts and perspectives on what is happening in Lebanon. I am also working on a post about fear and another about the domestic violence project that I visited in Lebanon. I should probably just resign myself to the fact that none of these posts will appear before this weekend when Maya and I can curl up together on the couch and write.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Being in Tripoli

Tripoli this week is wet and cold. Colder still as Tante’s apartment does not have heat. Just one tiny little electric heater that she pulls out to warm her feet in the evening when she watches TV or entertains. While I am fine with cold weather outside, now that I have discovered the fine art of layering and shopping at REI, I still do not like the cold inside especially when I am already bundled up and am still cold! The cold reminded me of a trip I took to Potosi, Bolivia where I was so cold, I went to bed super early to keep warm under the sheets. I did the same my two nights in Tripoli.

Looking at pictures with Tante. Evelyne and her sister and brothers as children. Pictures of Tante as a young woman and before she was married and of her and her husband after. She married at 40 and her husband was 60. A pastor like her father.

Time passes and we have these faded two dimensional reminders of change. It is a subject that is on my mind a lot recently as I visit the place I grew up after 26 years. All the new buildings when expected green and space. My memories buried under concrete and asphalt. Mansour’s son, Jimmy, and how much he looks like the Mansour I remember. Being forced to think about things that I haven’t had to think about such as the place where mother’s plate fell on the stairway outside, the sound of it falling and breaking while I ate my first cucumber sandwich.

As Tante started putting away the old photos, the local mosque started letting out a sad call to prayer. It made me so sad thinking that yet again Lebanon is in this uncertain period. Rumors, what are they? Where do they come from? The radio? The television? The newspaper? Conversations and interactions between people? What I read in the paper is nothing, talks, talks, talks. I have no clear idea of what it all means.

Tante’s apartment is like going into a time capsule and going back 40 or more years. A midtwentieth century version of an apartment in one of Naguib Mahfouz’s novels. The apartment building’s entrance is on the side, down an alley. A men’s shirt store, a butcher, and a pharmacy are underneath while a minimarket is around the corner. A dark staircase with an elevator that works when there is electricity. Cold when we walked in, the kind of cold that comes from an apartment with no heat on a cold day.

We ate cheese and bread. Then the cold started creeping into my bones and when the electric heater wasn’t working, I decided to take a walk. Cold and rainy outside too but the walk did me good. Maneuvering around cars and pedestrians keeping a sense of where I came from so that I would not get lost. Lots of women with head scarves. No foreigners or light skinned people anywhere. Even in my raincoat on and a hood, I felt like I stood out. While I am used to standing out, I am much more uncomfortable about it when I know that my country is so disliked. Finally found a little shop with food. I stumbled around with my few words in Arabic that I can say. I can understand a lot more.

The apartment is so interesting. Fifties looking features including a fish tank with pictures of her late husband, awards and reminders like a shaving brush and a tie. His life instead of that of a fish.

A song for a door bell. "My Fair Lady?" Closed up rooms with old curtains covering the windows. Big windows open to the street. You can see all that is happening on the street from one large window. We ate all of our meals there.

Fatouche. Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint, lemon juice and oil. Potato kibbee and omelettes with parsley- bakdounis.

The sun brightly shines in the window. Tante likes to sit here and watch the neighborhood. I can see why. People go to work, young men stop for a smoke and to chat outside the 24 hour internet “cafĂ©.” A cat picks through garbage outside. Then a man picks through for recyclables to sell. People go shopping for el-Adha. Songs all night and day. Right now I hear a car alarm and mosque chanting. People walking in streets while honking cars go by.

One neighbor is Palestinian and Christian, married to a Moslem. She has to work today. 2 minutes after she drove off, her parking spot was taken by another woman. Tante does not drive, neither did her husband after he had an accident. They took taxis everywhere. This other neighbor always picks the garbage on the street. You can hear the banging and pounding of the butcher downstairs. Tante said that this apartment was bombed and destroyed in 1975. Luckily she was staying upstairs with her neighbor.

A friend of Tante’s tells me he likes Bush because "he is pro-family and against gay marriage and abortion." I laugh to myself as he must have no idea where I stand politically. I concentrate on asking him what he thinks is worse, over 153 thousand dead in Iraq alone or two people of the same gender loving each other enough to want to marry. It is hard for me to understand how anyone could support Bush here.

Later he tries to convert me and convince me to marry. He is a nice man but he tires me out. A minister also dropped by Tante’s and tried to convert me and tell me my job was to be married. I no longer have patience for these conversations and will not let them continue. I change the subject after telling him that I disagree and do not waste my time on the conversation. It’s not the politest technique but quite frankly, how polite is it to tell me that I live in the dark because I am not married and do not believe Jesus is the world’s savior?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

To Helen Hill

I only met her once
for five minutes
but even in that short amount of time
I could tell that she was special.

So genuine and real,
really there
-present,
acknowledging you.

She cared
. . . about humanity,
you could tell that immediately.

The whole thing is very sad.
She is dead.
Murdered in New Orleans,
a city I will always love.
A city in despair
that may not be fixable
especially when we send more soldiers to Iraq
and quibble over minimum wage.

She was the epitomy of a creative spirit
who also cared about people and the world.

Only five minutes and yet
I feel this weight that I have been dragging
around with me.

Live your life,
your dreams.
Push yourself.
Stare this shit in the face and believe.

Believe in you,
your ability to create
a beautiful world for yourself and others.

There is no time to waste.


More info? Check out:
http://www.helenhill.org/
Beloved animator Helen Hill murdered in New Orleans
Taken by the Tide
Light Reading: For Helen Hill

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Cyclamens and sadness

I'm feeling a bit down tonight. I can't completely dissect the myriad of reasons why but I know that I miss Lebanon and my friends.

What better symbolizes the country I love more than cyclamens? This first photograph was taken on my walk in Beit Mery. I wish they were blooming but that happens in the spring. Did I tell you that I used to pick them wild in the mountains behind my house?

When Mansour's son Jimmy discovered that I liked cyclamens, he insisted that I take a picture of the potted variety on their balcony. I miss Jimmy and Valery already.

I probably will have to go out and buy a cyclamen plant from the store. A poor alternative but that's all that is available here.

Patriotism and flags

I just took a walk downtown on the last evening before returning to work. My friend and neighbor pointed out this building that now has red, white, and blue lighting around the top rim. I heard myself say "Patriotism repulses me" out loud. But then I started thinking about what makes this light display different from the Lebanese flags that I displayed in my last post.

It is not patriotism that repulses me, it is its misappropriation. I have been having a difficult time with American flags and the colors red, white, and blue ever since 9/11 when the display of flags as one form of patriotism replaced the emotions that truly needed to be expressed: grief and compassion. Patriotism and the United States flag have been used as an excuse to commit unconscionable genocide.

So how does this differ from displaying the Lebanese flag? For one, Lebanon is not the super power that the United States is. It is a small country that often becomes the battle ground for other countries' disputes. The flag also can be a symbol of the great love that many Lebanese have for their country no matter where they are in the world. And yes, the Siniora government is currently using the Lebanese flag as a means of demonstrating support for the current government, a government that some do not feel adequately represents them. However, thousands of people aren't dying in the name of the Lebanese flag and a misguided need to bring "democracy" to the world either.

I long for a day when the colors red, white, and blue do not send me in a tither like they did today.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lebanese Flags

Earlier in December of what is now last year, the Siniora government asked the Lebanese people to display flags to show their support of the government. Some, such as the authors of Blacksmiths of Lebanon, claim that certain areas of the country are displaying more flags than others. According to this blog, the Christian areas have a low proportion of flags and the authors did not visit Shia areas but made an educated guess that one would not see many flags in these areas. I myself did take photos of flags in Christian areas but was not analyzing the quantity of flags in the various regions.

In the case of the Christians, the general feeling is that most are in support of the current government and so if what Blacksmiths of Lebanon says is true, perhaps people felt they did not need to display flags. In the case of the Shia, many would like the government to actually represent them and are therefore not displaying flags. Sunnis are most likely displaying flags much more frequently than Shia. This is sad and as Blacksmiths of Lebanon states, depicts the growing tension between the Shia and the Sunnis. This is the same division that has ignited in Iraq.

Let us hope that Lebanon does not become "Iraquized" as some would contend. And before you scoff this off with the statement, "People in this region have been fighting amongst each other for generations," please consider the various entities who have added fire igniter to the coals. As I heard from many Lebanese during my stay, "Lebanese politics mirror what is happening in international politics." It all just happens within the confines of a country that is smaller than New Jersey.

No matter whether you are for or against the present government and no matter how far you want to delve into Lebanese and Middle Eastern politics, even though I encourage you to do so; this flag represents Lebanon and for this reason it means something to me.

Lebanese flags in Saida.


Ras Beirut,

Ras Beirut,

And Roumieh...

As my trip comes to a close, I want to stress that Lebanon is a very beautiful country with exceptionally intelligent and multilingial inhabitants. I love Lebanon deeply and am already looking forward to my next trip. Perhaps the summer?
While my physical presence in Lebanon has ended, I still have a backlog of posts and so will still be writing of my experiences here. I invite you to continue reading.
Maa Salama,
Peace be with you

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Off to Tripoli

We took a bus to Tripoli, Tante Malakeh and I. Malakeh means queen by the way. I like that. She is definitely regal in the fact that she is a woman who has lived her life and has a deep caring soul. I like her.

It rained for a good bit of the trip and from what I hear; it was snowing in the mountains. The next day, the mountaintops were brushed with white.

The trip took about two hours. Tante said that it used to take less time but now with all the detours it takes longer. Yes, our friendly Israeli neighbors even decided to bomb bridges up here in the North of the country. I am sounding like a broken record, I know. Unfortunately this is reality, so tough.

One of the main reasons that I wanted to come to Tripoli was because I wanted to be able to take the drive past Antelias, Jounieh, and Jbeil (Byblos), places I remember living or visiting as a child. The road is so much more built up now. Everything is so close to each other. Beirut turned into Antelias without any clear boundary or definition, one merely shading into the other like my oil pastels.

Sooner than I expected, we were at Nahr El Kalb, the River of the Dog. I remember mother and me driving alongside this winding river road. It looks the same even though there are buildings on either side as the area is quite built up along the highway. I tried to find the building where we lived in Antelias but almost all the buildings could have been it. I also remember the tall grasses closer to the coast. They are still there. We also arrived in Jounieh before I thought we would, a place we often visited during the war like many others did when they could not visit Beirut.

Yes, distances seem much greater when you are a child which must have a lot to do with why I feel that everything is so close together. The fact that I live in the Western part of the U.S. where distances are great must also contribute to my sense that all of these places are stuck together like previously melted chocolate.

From the highway in Jounieh, you could see old stone houses surrounded by tall cement apartment buildings. I asked Tante where the large Jesus on the hillside was Jesus el Malak, Jesus le Roi. We passed it without my even noticing.

Throughout the journey, the Mediterranean was to our left. Because of the rain, the water was turbulent and rough. Wavy and unsteady, just like life is here now for some.

Railroad tracks disappear into the water and sand throughout the coast. There hasn’t been a railroad since the first war. Somewhere between the Casino du Liban and Jbeil, Dad taught me how to pee on these railroad tracks. If you are small enough and sit just right, you won’t splatter.

Bananas, oranges, and yet another destroyed bridge.

The United Arab Emirates have a poster on a small overpass that managed to survive the summer. They want Lebanon to know that they are helping support its reconstruction. How come everyone is willing to support Lebanon now but they were unable or unwilling to halt the attacks? The attacks could have been stopped immediately if the world had wanted them to.

Standing back and watching a country be destroyed and then contributing towards its reconstruction. There must be some financial interest in all of this that I am not seeing or understanding. In the case of the U.S., it’s even more insidious. Use tax dollars to supply military aid to Israel and then also put a pittance in for reconstruction. Money just flying around in spirals destroying and rebuilding, destroying and rebuilding.

At least the bus driver had great music playing in the background.

Future posts

I am still way behind on my posts. Here is a list of what I would still like to post:
My trip to Tripoli
A visit to Kafa
A conversation with a young man I met from the South
The meaning of the word "yaani"
Family planning in Lebanon
Some thoughts on fear
Flags
and perhaps more!
Please continue to check in as I will be continuing my posts shortly...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Where I was once a child

When I lived in New Orleans, I had a boyfriend who had grown up there. We used to take walks through this incredible city with so much history and a sense of past. As we walked on its cobble stoned streets where on a summer evening the humidity is still nearly graspable in the air and the streets are often enveloped in a humid fog, and as we passed its architectural uniquenesses, he would tell me about the time he fell off his bicycle on this spot or how he had engaged in adolescent mischief in that cemetary...

I always wished I could do the same and visit the spot where I scraped my knee when I fell off my skateboard, where I would play with barbies in bushes or grasses around my house, or where my friends and I built a road block in the mountains and the young Kataeb guy came and fired his gun in the air…

I am finally doing it and am sharing with you a glimpse of my past.


The staircase at Mansour's house

I can almost hear the plate breaking on the concrete the moment after my mother had her stroke.


El Aain: the spring or fountain (I am not sure which)

We used to get water from here when we didn’t have any.


My school: L'Ecole des Soeurs Antonine, commonly known as Mardoumet


We wore these ugly orangish brown uniforms and would stand in line in the concrete area used for recess right behind this black gate. Standing in line requires standing by grade level from the shortest to the tallest with your right arm spread out and touching the shoulder of the person in front of you, an arm's length behind. I remember an all school presentation where Pascale and I prepared some ballet and I also did a yoga wheel for the first time.


There are now Phalange party signs hanging against the metal fence of the playground.





Jihad 's little store
I had forgotten Jihad's name and I had to be reminded quite a few times before it once again stuck in my memory. While I am being confronted with all my memories, I am also being confronted with all that I don’t remember such as giving Mansour a skateboard. And Cynthia, who even remembers me falling off my skateboard. Chewbaca and Great Adventure. Is this because memory is tied to place and I did not have the luxury of being in the place in which or with the people with whom the memories took place?

Sometimes the only way I remember is by people telling me or through photographs. Pascale has pictures of the two of us at Great Adventure in the States. She also has pictures of us doing Grease Lightening at her birthday party, at the mountains skiing with Cynthia, and dressed up for Halloween in one coat. I do not remember any of this.

The neighborhood. The building in the distance was where we lived, in the Hilani's building. The Greek Orthodox church still watches up on the top of the hill, even though the steeple you see is a completely new one. During the war, its bell would warn us of trouble.

I took a little walk around with my camera. Mansour’s mom introduced me to everyone saying that I once lived there. One older woman remembered.

The Hilani's building is on the left. One of the hills we used to climb is in the background. There are a few houses on it now, but still it is not as built up as other parts of the mountains.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Change

Roumieh El-Metn is the town where I lived from age nine until thirteen. 1976 to 1981. My two closest friends were Mansour and Pascale and with a little help from chance, I was able to see them both as well as the town I grew up in.

The first chance occurrence occurred 3 years ago when I once again tried to find my old friends. I tried the Lebanese online phonebook with no result and then I tried Google. Over 5 years ago, a group of tourists were bicycling around the Middle East they stopped in Lebanon and were looking for internet access. Mansour helped them and they wrote about it in a blog. I e-mailed the company mentioned. Mansour no longer worked for them, he wasn’t even living in Lebanon anymore; however, they forwarded him the e-mail in Dubai. I eventually received an e-mail, “It’s me, Mansour.”

Second chance occurrence- Evelyne invites me to stay with her in Lebanon and guess where she happens to live? In the town right next to Roumieh.

This isn’t all. Mansour goes to pick up some photographs of his children. Pascale was at the same location waiting for photos. They hadn’t seen each other in nearly 20 years and guess who happened to be in town after 26? I had tried to find Pascale, but did not have any luck. And guess where she lives? Right down the hill from Evelyne’s. Small world Lebanon is and also a world of chance, lucky chances as well sad ones.

And so, for one of the first times in my life I get to look back very far back and reconnect with people from my childhood in the place where we did our growing up. This reconnection also has given me the opportunity to experience change in a way that I really haven’t before. Mansour and Pascale look very different. I see the Mansour that I remember in Jimmy his nearly 7 year old son. And Pascale now has straight long hair and not the short very curly hair of her youth. I myself feel that I look the same even though I suppose I too look different with darker hair and glasses.

This whole trip has been about how little and how much change has occurred since I left Lebanon and became an adult. It is also about looking at the past. I have moved around so much, so have many others that I know. Moving doesn’t stop change but when you are not seeing people and places change over time, change seems less obvious. Perhaps this is why I feel so young, so much younger than I actually am. I haven’t watched and experienced time go by in the same place with the same people around me for more than about four years, until now. Now the progression of time is magnified. One minute I am a young prepubescent 13 year old and the next I am a 39 year old woman.

Now, for the first time in my life it is not just by looking at my parents' hair turn grey and then white or by following the wrinkles, stretch marks and blemishes on my body that I can record the passage of time. Now I can see it all around me. The difficult part is trying to record it as faithfully to the experience as possible.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year! Bonne Nouvelle Annee!!

I am in much better spirits than I have been the last few days. I think it was a combination of the warnings and getting a bit homesick. Lebanon is home in part but I also have a life at home with dear friends, a job I love, and a cat that I miss terribly.

I do want to reiterate though that whatever happens here, I will be safe. I have alot of friends here and places to stay. My biggest concern is that the airport will close and I will have to leave a little later. This concerns me because I already miss Maya and my friends and because I am taking the teens on their lobbying experience the following weekend. This is the event of the year for them and I would hate to miss it.


I hope you all had a great New Year's Eve. I did. I was moping a little, watching television and napping when Pascale called me and got me moving. Thank goodness for friends in my life that give me that little push. Evelyne gave me the push I needed to come here and Pascale gave me the push that reminded me that I have friends and people that I have known for over 30 years here.


And so I passed a mellow New Year with Pascale, her family, and their friends. It was nice. I felt very comfortable. There was even a woman there that I knew from my childhood that is still friends with Pascale. pascale being the gregarious extrovert that she is, brought out the photo album and insisted on showing pictures of us doing "Grease Lightening" together at her birthday party among other embarrasing moments. It was alot of fun.


I am even going to post a picture of us so that my father can see how much she has changed. Doesn't she look just like her mom now, Dad? It will be the first picture of me that I have posted on here. I look awful but that's life.


Again, I wish everyone a wonderful year this year. Thank every single one of you for being in my life either through this blog or through my daily experiences.
May we all create a world of peace.

Bridge photos from the South

Here are the photos that Lynn took for me from the car window. This is just a small glimpse into the destruction that I have been describing.

The bridge below doesn't even exist at all anymore.
On the bright side, there is alot of money pouring in for reconstruction and I am amazed at how fast the country is being rebuilt.
I can't help thinking about what the Lebanese people could be doing with their ingenuity and determination if they did not have to keep on rebuilding their country. Its almost they are reliving the same moment over and over again like the movie Ground Hog Day.