Sunday, July 03, 2005

In the valley of...

First of all, here’s a picture of a couple of the kittens that reside just outside my door. I can’t really play with them because they’re pretty shy and their mother’s quite protective.

Well, yesterday was quite the trip. My first thought is that wine tasting cannot really be done well at 10am in the morning. That said, it was still decent wine. At 9am we left, traveling by the Damascus road (don’t think that that means highway, it’s a road, and damn slow). After passing through the mountains at about 1500m (the lowest pass through the Lebanon mountains) the Beqaa valley opened up to us. It really is quite something to see. In Arabic it’s Wadi Beqaa, wadi meaning a place between two mountains, because it surely isn’t a plain. Even from the center of valley the mountains loom on either side. Also, it’s definitely a lot poorer than Beirut (which was surprising to some people, but seemed to me about the same level of poverty that I’ve seen in northern New Mexico, which is bad, but not for the world, Lebanon is still a very well off country in comparison). I guess it’s a very fertile area, but must get a lot less rain than the coastal side; it just looks more dry and desolate (maybe because I’ve become used to more crowded spaces in and around Beirut). We went first to Ksara Winery, started in early 1900s by Jesuits who discovered caverns that had been used in the Roman times. In the Beqaa, 30% of the agriculture land is planted with grapes, so obviously a lot goes into it. I must say that the wine is a bit different. Maybe a little sweeter and bit more like American or Australian style wines. Ok, so I really don’t know what I’m talking about, Garth, but I’m trying. I know they did give us a medium red wine that was chilled, which is odd, but all their wines were decent in the end.
Of course they use cellars for aging and the like. Also they make Araq (of which a purchased a bottle to bring back with me) and they used to make brandy. Arthur (this Swiss guy who works in the government and is quite knowledgeable) purchased a bottle of each, saying that neither would make it back to Switzerland.

After that we drove to Baalbeck. Our guide, Mohammed, was very neat, though the director of our program told him that the kids (and they are kids, in age and actions) wouldn’t be interested in history, which I suppose she was right. Nevertheless, he tended to exaggerate a little (“the ‘Phoenicians’, what I would exactly call the ‘old Lebanese’, discovered America, invented engineering, writing, and so on… though most times I suppose it isn’t so much of an exaggeration, maybe more linguistic), but there was something about his personality that I’m beginning to understand the more I’m here. Especially the kids in this program, all of them want to work for the government or something like that. Mohammed was saying that he’s come back here from Nuremburg, where his family still is, because he can be outside and that’s enough. Anyways, back to Baalbeck…

As soon as we got off the bus in front of Baalbeck, we were attacked by peddlers trying to sell us stuff. I feel torn by a natural curiosity to know what their selling and interest in it, and a repulsion of being a part this tourism for something that means nothing today, except for a livelihood for the people trying to sell us trinkets or hats. I bought a kilo, that’s over two pounds, of plums for sixty cents from a man, partly out of interest and partly because he was nice enough to give me an apricot just while I was looking. Something about the whole thing just doesn’t feel right to me.

So here’s the plan of Baalbeck from the Roman times. Like everything else the history and story just gets covered and change and remade bit by bit. One thing of particular difference to note about the temple is the hexagonal structure before the main court.

This is the main stairs entrance to the temple of Jupiter (or Baal).

This is across that main hexagonal structure, to get an idea of the size. Evidently this is one of the largest temple complexes from the Roman times, also in the best condition, especially the temple of Bacchus (Adonis).

This is across the main court. You can note the height of the columns as well a the nave (? The thing on the right, a half circle). Also on top of the walls are the reinforcements put in by the Ummayads when they took over this during Islamic rule and expanded it to a fort. In front is a large pool for washing animals before the sacrifice.

Here’s in one of those side rooms, with our tour guide in the middle.

This is from the great steps to the temple of Jupiter looking back on the courtyard. This level is 20m above the ground. The structure in the middle is an alter that the last German emperor rebuilt to make the site as it was in Roman times. Also he took about 320 statues from here, which then went to Paris or Berlin. If they went to Berlin, many got sacked to Moscow in WWII, or disappeared entirely, at any rate all the statures are gone. This was during the Byzantium times a church. Emperor Theodosius (my namesake) tore down the Temple of Jupiter and build a basilica in what was the main court of the temple complex.

Here’s some trees and the mountains with their everlasting snow.

The famous columns of the Temple of Jupiter, six out of 54, 22m high. Are you counting? The total height of the temple was over 120m above the ground.

The temple of Bacchus. Lots of partying in here. Like the Roman trinity, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury, the trinity of pleasures were celebrated here: Wine, Women and Opium. There’s a lot to learn from religion and history here, but quite frankly I’m too tired to write about it, it’s actually quite depressing (more in Anjar). If you want to know more about the history, this website is good www.destinationlebanon.com.

Some of the ruins, with the new mosque of Heliopolis and the hills.

After that we went for lunch in a restaurant in Baalbeck. We walked through the market to get there, not without being accosted (I really don’t like that word, because it sounds so angry and vengeful, when it’s nothing of the sort) by people trying to sell us this or that, or boys offering to polish our shoes (something I hardly do on my own, and would wish nobody to stoop to do for me what I could do for myself). The food was very nice, with Mazza first (and I ordered Arak) and then rice and chicken, and fresh cherries and apricots for dessert. Throughout the meal the lights might come on for a bit, and then go out for quite a longer time.

After lunch (this is like at 4pm), we drove to Anjar, 2km from the Syrian border, a symmetrical paradise built by the Umayyads as a summer home and never used again. Of course there were the remenants of great halls and the harem, the mosque and the Turkish baths, but the story isn’t there. I talked to one of the girls in the program, of Japanese and Iranian parents, who had never heard of anybody else like that. Maybe it is more common. There was a tree outside (Toot Ahmar, red mulberries), that had a few big juicy fruits, which I must say are also staining to hands and cloths. Sharing some fruit with her a man started talking to us. At first I think we both thought that he was Lebanese, which he was, but from California. He’d come to Anjar for the summer, because his wife’s entire family was there, and they were about to have their first child. Also afterwards, Mohammed was talking with Arthur in German (I’m getting it back as I work slowly, it got covered for a while by the new Arabic language) about the Ummayads and Muslims in general. “Sie haben die gleichen Fehlen gemacht, dass sie sollen niemand verehren.” They made all the same mistakes, forgetting that rule about representation had nothing to man’s inability to create as perfectly as God, but that message of Muhammed (PBUH) (and that of Jesus I would add, though as a comparision of Roman and Christian theology reveals it was lost), that no person should be worshiped above God, that none should be raised above the other. Seeing all this was depressing for that reason. But also seeing more clearly that there is this other way, a way that’s seems quite alien to my on hand, devoid of so many things that I’ve gotten to know as comforts, but a path that is more alive. I hope I’m not just being romantic about the whole thing.

Yesterday we saw enough ruins I think. I couldn’t help feeling that all these ruins are really quite destructive. Perhaps if people had no reminder of their past they would care more about their own people and situations. Instead of seeing a long and tumultuous history littered with remnants and trash of the centuries, they’d think about what they have yet to build. Maybe...

Friday, July 01, 2005

One week down

I've finished one week. And boy was it hell. For some reason they think that I belong both the advanced Fusha (Modern Standard Arabic, or the high language used in communication) and in the advanced colloquial class. It means I've hardly slept and have struggling to keep my head above water. No pictures yet, but I'll put some up when I get a breath. Tomorrow we're traveling to Baalbeck, the site many old ruins, Anjar and Ksara (where a lot of good wine is produced). Until then.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Back to the dorms...

Well, I’ve moved on again. I just moved into the AUB today. It’s alright I guess. For example, they said there’d be towels, so silly me, I trusted them. The room’s really nothing to write home about, so this’s it about it, it’s simple and not that great, but it has AC, power, and an internet hook-up. I walked around (around Al-Hamra Street) for about three hours, just wondering and sorta looking for a hotel, house and church I was supposed to find. Found the church, and some food, so that’s enough. I also have some pictures from Rafiq’s to post, so they’re up here too. It’s all Arabic from here out, except for this. Min shuftkum ba’adayn (see ya’ll later), peace.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sims and Reenactment

In less than a week I’ll be living in the dorms, and yet I still haven’t taken care of my visa situation. I’ve been reading Calvino’s If on a Winters Night a Traveler, but it will probably be the last thing I read, since I really need to devote my time to studying Arabic, and not just goofing of reading thing for enjoyment. It may be summer, and this may be a vacation more or less, but I’m still here to learn Arabic, not read a book that I’ve had the chance to read during the whole year.

Today, after staying up until 5am playing Sims 2 (which I’ve decided I hate, and deleted off of my computer, since it is horribly addicting and without any reward), we went to the chalet on the beach for lunch. I really wanted to swim in the afternoon, but after seeing the food, swimming, and not eating a lot before swimming was a moon’s throw away. I don’t think I’ve eaten that much meat in a while, nor that much either. But who can resist good kebab? Not only good Lebanese chicken (looking over this I originally had written chick…what was I intending “good Lebanese chicks…?) and steak, but all sorts of vegetables and kafta, as well as tabouli and Lebanon’s finest beer. So alright, maybe my plan of exercising and staying in shape (maybe more like getting in shape now), as well as staying up on my racquetball game has not quite worked out, but any sane person would do as much. Also while lounging after lunch, Rafiq’s wife, Marie Claude, put the fresh coals to good use and we lit up an argeeli (Hookah, or so, at least MS Word knows that word if nothing else).

Pictures from driving around Antilyas:


This evening we went to see Kingdom of Heaven, which I’ll rant on about for as long as I can before crashing. They talked about it in the car, but since my understanding of Arabic only permits me to get words and not really thoughts, my participation and further thought was limited to my own brain. In some ways it confirmed my worst fears as to what the movie would be, and then again I suppose it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, or what the usual fare is.

To jump ahead a bit, it ends with Richard the Lionheart looking for Balian, defender of Jerusalem, returned home to France, and a blacksmith once more. Of course the humble Balian does not acknowledge his role and Richard goes off. We are then given three sentences before the credits role, informing us of Richard’s reconquest attempts and Salah’din’s mercy or some crap like that, and ending with the note the Kingdom of Heaven has still not been found in Jerusalem, were there continues to be no peace. Thanks David Brinkley. The only acknowledgement of some measure of peace comes early on in the movie, where someone (Tiberius, or Balian’s father, I believe), says that Muslims, Christians and Jews used to live together, before the coming of the Crusaders.

Our hero leaves “the land where they speak Italian to a land where they speak another language,” though at least it appears that he didn’t pull a Columbus and end up on a sunny Florida beach. Because he’s in God’s hands, of course the ship is destroyed in a storm, and he is the only one to survive. With only his sword and a horse that he chases, Balian wanders across the desert. Of course this isn’t any desert, but as Salah’din himself informs us later, this is “the Lebanon.” Now please resist the temptation to associate with the place I claim to writing from, because I am quite sure this place does not require a definite article to exist, nor have I found any deserts or remains of ships on sandy beaches.

Further, while this place that I call “Lebanon” (or often called by many other names in other tongues…) is considered to be in the East, I have not yet found the sensual and sexual dreams that our hero experiences. Here again is a romanticisation and falling back on old stereotypes of the East. Our hero wakes up in Jerusalem, surrounded by Arabesque, ornate pillows, billowing sheer curtains, oh and young lithe women running around. For a worthless lord, he’s doing pretty well at the East business. Not only that, but Sibella encourages this ideas or a different, looser more sensual sexuality, that is completely different than what is found in cold, snowy France. She comes seducing Balian, holding a candle, a blows it out just inches from him, claims, “Here in the East, everything is light.” I wish that line worked with girls, alas I think this is another case of Hollywood tricking me. Sibella is always to be found in the most sumptuous Arabian clothes, always speaking in Arabic, except to Balian, who evidently is a little slow on the uptake. There are no images of sensuality and sexuality associated with France or the Westerners, except when they are imitating a perceived idea of being “Eastern.”

We’ve been asking why they teach just Fusha, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), in the universities across America when it’s only a language for official communication, and if you tried to speak it on the street you would stand out, that is if you could even be understood. But America has found a job for those who passed their Arabic classes, but are not smart enough for the CIA or State Dept; make a movie! Yes, the Arabic in this movie was like listening to one of our textbook movies, albeit a little longer and with a lot more blood.

While this is an action movie, I must say that all of the blood and violence seems like quite a bit much, though I can see where they held back a bit. In connection to the previous thought on language, while the Arabic translation underneath used either Muslim(s) or Arab(s), the characters constantly used the word Saracens. While I suppose they were trying to be “historical” to my and my self, it rubs me wrong like the Crusades. There’s really to much religious crap on both sides, most of it bad, and only a few saving words and actions.

Salah’din himself is one of those that seems worth saving, though he too is framed by a stereotype of the East, falling back on customs and phrases such as “Your enemies shall know your worth in battle,” without a reflection of the equally rich European tradition of thought, perhaps not present at the time. Salah’din seems to have lived almost two lives in truth, one as the leader of the Muslim armies and a ruler, and one as a devote Muslim who spent time in prayer and contemplation, reading and discussion with scholars and the learned of Islam. Such was his time spent that it seems to have gotten him a negative impression from those below him, and built a legend around him as a thoughtful, pensive leader whose military battles were no match for his compassion and strength. Of this we get a very small impression, and what we see from his actions cannot be divorced from being part of some Eastern mindset, not necessarily attributable to the man himself.

Even during the Crusades (from the perspective of this movie), Jerusalem is a city stuck in the past. It is a citadel of symbols, a pilgrimage in every steep, teeming with the masses of foreign humanity. Our hero doesn’t every come to terms with the city as a city itself, except for a slight glimmer at the end when he surrenders it and asks Salah’din, what is Jerusalem? Salah’din answers that it is nothing and turns away toward his victorious army, with Balian still standing there, looks as defeated as the burning city he’s sworn to defend. Salah’din turns around and says, “and everything.” Actually this movie likes to use quite a bit of parallelisms (as if Muslim/Christian, East/West, Good/Bad etc. etc. wasn’t enough).

Hmmm….well that’s enough rambling about this, though I made notes to write about more. Quite frankly while there’s quite a bit that I found offensive it worries my that I’m lacking in a proper way to explain it. Thus I need to study Arabic more, read more history and the like. I’ve been contemplating doing medicine after all, because it would provide a way for me to be well off and maybe have some time. That though has been blown away by the fact that I realized most of it I still wouldn’t enjoy. More and more I think I need to do something like what I was trying for above, albeit more organized and learned than the mess up there.

Here's a picture of Joel and her boyfriend Bassim:

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Shift...

Well, looking over the last post, it seemed a bit much. A change of thought and a change of scenery since then. Maybe, maybe not. I’ve since come to Rafiq’s house, and this is my second night here. Yesterday I got to spend more time with Eli, his son, and meet his two older daughters, Carla and Joel. We went to dinner at about 9:30pm, the usual time for dinner around here, everything starts later and goes longer. Joel works in the design department of Bank Audi, Carla worked with an architectural firm for two years and is going to U. Penn in the fall for her Masters, and Eli just finished his first year at AUB in Electrical Engineering.

These are pictures from when Rafiq came to Bscharra's to pick me up, first is Bscharra and his wife Ghada:

Nasri (I seem to have gotten a lot of good pictures of him):

Nelly, smilliing:

Rafiq and Marie Claude:
Along the way to eat, Joel asked me, “How did you find Beirut?” which grammar aside (leading to another set of questions and maybe answers), I tried to note all of the different aspects of the city that I’ve experienced so far. Little did I know that I was about to get a full blown lesson in that very question the next day. When we returned, some more family had showed up, but I was too tired to really talked or listen much. Before going to bed I leafed through a book, “Beirut through the Ages.”(A picture of their challet (sp?) from later on, spent the better part of a couple days there.)

The next morning I explored my room a bit further, another apartment window (a kitchen) across the way, a sofa bed, tv, stereo, computer, a drafting desk (definitely this room is used by Carla at least), CD’s, and book, oh my books. Ok, so not as my books to make me gasp, but quite enough to keep me interested. A set of Encyclopedia Britanica, not often used much in my experience anymore, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, photo albums and yearbooks, and a lot of architecture books. I started flipping through one, The Politics of Space, quite frankly too much philosophical ramblings and self-stroking to hold my interest, but the footnotes caught my eye because of Rilke used quite a few times. After that I found Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, along with two other books of his. Here it was, the answer to what is Beirut, and maybe more.

(Towards the mountains from their dinning deck.)
Except for an interlude of finding a cell phone (my cell number in Lebanon is 961 3 141 147 if you want to call me) I spent the day in and out of some sort of consciousness, reading the whole book. There’s so many things to take away from it from an architectural view, how Carla sees it, and then so much else about people and relationships. In truth our cities and buildings are nothing but perhaps the outward expressions of our lives, how they are lived, organized, destroyed and made. Lying on the sofa, half-way asleep, I keep seeing women that I knew appearing in the room and changing as rapidly as the fragmented cities came and went in the book. It was like the puzzle pieces in the book that I’d been trying to fit into Beirut, into a city, seeing seeing and names and desires in the invocations therein now in front of me.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Ruins and such

(From my walk, Mar Elyaas, Saint Eliyas.)
Today was a day mostly wasted in sleep or playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on their home computer. I’ve forgotten what a wonderful waste of time computer games can be. Also listening for about the 5th time this week to Sheherazade, I really need to find something else… but I suppose I have my reasons. Garth if you read this, sorry but I too like to listen to things over and over.

After taking a (/another) nap this afternoon, I went for a long walk with Ghada and a friend from the building. We walked back along the road up into the mountain, some ways below us a river that’s pretty small now, but quite large during the winter. I guess I might actually learn more from doing that than trying to study from my Arabic, though I need the written background to build from. Along the way I kept asking about different plants and trees, which I think the other woman thought was a bit queer (not in the American sense, though maybe she thought that too). Halfway through there was the ruins of a Roman bridge. Neat, but I suppose not that much to marvel at, since they were everywhere building useful civic buildings. I have some pictures of some flowers that I found, and what I learned about them. One thing in Lebanon is that there seems to be not much of a care for the environment, and people throw trash everywhere as if it wouldn’t matter. Also I’ve never seen so many stray cats, for some reason they just don’t seem to like cats at all either. Along the way I came across two kittens rummaging around, and tried to pet them, but they were pretty feral.

These pictures are from a morning after when I got up and took a two hour walk by myself and took pictures (and listened to the Rite of Spring and the Firebird, very appropriate music I think). This is along the Wadi of the river going up into the hills:


And this is the Aquaduct of Hazmiya, famed throughout the ages. Ok maybe not really, but Beirut was one of three great cities of legal learning (among Rome and Al-Iskandariya (Alexandria), before the massive earthquake leveled the city one time out of six others it was completely destroyed):

And this is an Orthodox Church that I was excited to learn about, but it's still underconstruction. Definately not a antique.

In the evening at supper (like at 9pm), we talked and as usual all the kids came around and crowded around the table. Eli is evidently quite upset that I’ll be leaving and wants to go with me. I suppose I should tell Bscharra to tell him that I’m leaving him for that girl (more later). Personally I have a special fondness for the oldest, Stephanie. Bscharra was telling me how from very young she would always want to sit and listen to adults talking, and was not afraid to talk to somebody and look them straight in the eye. Also, the other day at the beach, she swam with me out to the floating dock. I thought I’d have to help her, but she did it on her own (with floaties, but that’s still quite a leap). Bscharra bemoaned all of the work that she has to do, saying that she always is slow in everything, so maybe I see a bit of myself in that. She never seems in a rush to go anywhere or get or homework done, or go to bed, despite easily falling asleep forgetting to take off her glasses.

Maybe I don’t Rafiq and his wife well enough to judge how their family works, but it seemed to me already to be a bit colder and more distant that what I’ve experienced here. Maybe it’s having younger kids, maybe it’s not being so rich (and some sort of mindset that goes with it?). Anyways, it’ll be a nice change of scenery, and of course I can always come back here.

Also at dinner, I asked Bscharra why he was giving me mixed messages, which launched into a longer talk on lots of things. Included in that was how he met Ghada and their relationship, and how he set up my cousin Danny, who evidently didn’t want a light skinned girl, but darker, not Lebanese. At any rate he said that when I was first talking to Elise he was on the beach yelling at me and trying to get my attention because he thought she was too interested in me. I don’t know if it’s my intuition or imagination, but I would tend to agree with him. Nevertheless, what I was really interested in is having somebody my age that I knew to talk to and do things with, especially if she free. Bscharra said she was too dark (I don’t agree with that) and that (as he said it in Arabic) she has no meat on her, that she’s to skinny, as well as that too many Lebanese just want to go to America because they think it’s better there.

Which brings me around to my current predicament. I think that yesterday is when I started really feeling homesick at all. Not really homesick per se, but I’d like to be talking more with my dad about what I’ve been seeing, and missing a bit the way things were working for me in Lawrence. I don’t much feel bad about Kim, though I wish I could know how she’s doing. I feel resigned to the fact that since I’m in Lebanon, that means not seeing her, which I don’t know if that’s really a bad thing that I don’t feel emotionally wrought by that, but I don’t think that’s ever been me. But I do feel again the same sort of crisis (maybe crossroads or so is better) that I felt when I was visiting my family in California before I started college. It’s between two things: one, what am I going to do that useful and I can make a living, and two, what sort of life (relationship/family) am I going to have. Tied up with it I suppose is an enthrallment with Lebanon, with so much about here that I feel comfortable with my surroundings. Some things are small details, some seem like entire outlooks.

I suppose part of my family life is already decided for me, since I didn’t pick my extended family upon arrival. Listening to Bscharra talking about his wife, and finding Danny’s wife, and his disregard for Danny wanting to marry somebody like from Sri Lanka or so, I feel a bit of the same sort of repulsion that I always would have to it, and yet it’s hard to deny it and still keep a claim to something of culture. I don’t know how it works, in America, with somebody of a different culture/language/etc, or even with myself, as a now a transplant here, Lebanese, but still not really. Marwan insisted that I was Lebanese, but I doubt people would see that at first here, and I certainly don’t feel it. Quite frankly I’m not sure what to do with any part of my life after this.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Berries and Burns

I see that I sort of trailed off in my last post, and didn’t get back to it until quite a few days later. Hmm…..remaining thoughts….Anyways, here’s pictures of the animals from around here, and the garden as well. In this building we have a doorman of sorts. It’s a mother and her two twenty-something children. Of course when you think of a twenty-some year old guy, you might imagine them decked out in the latest trends, driving a fancy car and going to all the hot parties. Not like a dirt poor family that became refugees from Iraq because they were going to kill the guy. At any rate, they’re in a bad situation, but better here than there.

Bscharra seems to have less sympathy for them than I might, but I suppose he has to deal with them, and they are hired to work around the building. I talked with the mother for a bit when I’ve been hanging around while Bscharra works on his boat. They’re from Mosul, and Christian, whether that had something to do with them leaving I’m not sure. Bscharra says it’s because they don’t like Christians there anymore, which may or may not be true. I have noticed though a strong wariness in the least to a disdaining dislike of Muslims from Lebanese Christians. It’s definitely not the inviting mindset that I’ve know from the Ecumenical Christian Ministries. I suppose it comes with the civil war and a lost of power from the Christians hands. It makes me uncomfortable on hand, and yet I feel it. Maybe it’s just a dominating force, but it seems that Lebanese Christians see themselves as the holders of Christianity in the Middle East, and more and more the only safe place, though they greatly fear loosing their grip.

That’s why Shi’a are such a problem to them. If a Muslim takes four wives, as he’s allowed to do, and does happen here in Lebanon (mostly in the South), that’s a lot of kids he’ll have, whether rich or poor (that majority poor). That’s a big demographic problem. Bscharra applied two times to go to Canada, but was rejected both times. He said that the head of the Catholic Church here told all the embassies not to let any Christians emigrate. Since Christians have been more educated and better off financially, they’re much more likely to head for anywhere else.

There’s quite a few Christian groups here. Michael Aoun, the former general of the Lebanese Army, returned earlier this summer. His part has been uniting a lot of the opposition (Jumblatt, the Druze leader, Sfeir, the Maronite head, etc) and they use the omega symbol. Also there’s the supporters of the Quwat Lubnaniya, the Lebanese Forces, that Geagea had a lot to do with. Quite frankly they all scar me a bit, but especially them. There’s more, but I don’t feel like going into it really right now.

The goslings up close. And the kids, feeding the rabit
Nasri, Bscharra's brother, holding the rabit for the kids:This is the boat they've built by themselves (the two brothers), it's named after the daughter of my cousin Dani:
Of course, one of the best things from Lebanon is the grapes:

Nasri in the garden:
A flower (Khitmiyah) that is dried and used medicinaly:

One of the fruits and flower of their bananna trees:

Nasri in the garden, the stalks beside him are sugar cane:


And finally, the goslings trying to eat a piece of bread:
Since then though, there’s been a lot of excitement. To begin with, a neighbor came and “helped” me with my computer. From the get-go I didn’t like, evidently enough that Bscharra’s wife noticed. He talked big about all the things he knew, which the more and more I saw him work on things, I realized that he was far from the computer genius he claimed to be. He claimed to have written voice recognition programs and do all sorts of hacking and stuff, making a relative’s computer in Romania catch on fire. Also that he’s trying to get money from Microsoft, who stole his program that he wrote. Anyways, he offered to update my computer to XP Pro and maybe fix some problem, I don’t remember. At any rate my mistake was letting him touch my computer to begin with. I’ve since found out that he can’t read very well and that he doesn’t know about Alt-Tab or Alt-F4, among other things. This is not a man to be trusted around your important documents. Unfortunately, nobody warned me before hand. After much trial and tribulation, my computer is sorta working. I need to reinstall drives for my wireless card among other things, the cd of which is still in Wichita. Oh well….\

Friday evening after the kids had been put to bed we (Bscharra, his wife and I) went out. First we stopped at a teeming little shop to buy some sandwiches of Sujuq, a (tasty and) spicy sausage. After that we drove to downtown and walked along the edge of a marina for a bit, until we came to the area where the former Prime Minister, Hariri, was killed in a planed car bombing. The army still has the area closed off, and it still looks pretty bad. I read before I left that an international team was going to do an investigation, but I wouldn’t put much hope in that.

After that we drove past the AUB to the coast along Rawche (raowschi?), the large rock formation just off the coast. It used to be a popular place to off yourself, and people still dive off of it, or get wedding pictures on top of it or take romantic boat rides under it.

As a side note, there’s a lot of stray cats here. Not many people seem to keep cats as pets, in fact they seem to view them as pests.

Yesterday (Saturday), we traveled to some historic sites (at least to my family). We went to Bscharra’s home in Khaldi, next to where my grandmother’s house used to be there, as well as the rubble of my great grandparents’ house (picture below). We went there to pick to white mulberries, about six gallons or so in total. The whole area has been changed so much. Of course that what happens, but it’s still sad when it’s connected to you. In front of my dad’s house in Khaldi now is a large highway, and the sea that used to be just next to the house has been pushed two hundred yards out.

There were some hills behind it, which I imagine that’s what my dad talked about, fortunately not completely covered with buildings. I would have liked to go and climb around, but there were berries to be picked, and it felt a bit cliché and all. Then again, I suppose I regret it now, so I might try to get somebody to take me back there.

Picking there berries didn’t take all that long, but the kids were no help. I don’t know when I started helping my parents, but I must have been ten when I would at least marginally help. Bscharra showed me around the house, now deserted and quite desolate looking, though not as bad as much of what I’ve seen. He told how in his bedroom they (the invading Israeli army) had dropped a bomb, completely destroying the room and the surrounding houses. On the roof he showed me where the family had patched up the damage from twelve rockets that showered everything like machine gun fire (and not small ones either, like 2½ inches). One of the favorite weapons of the Israeli army was the cluster bomb, a 1½ ton bomb that would explode above the ground, spreading bombs over two square kilometers. My grandfather died long before all this from his kidney disease, but Bscharra’s father was killed by shrapnel from bombs that were dropped.

On a happier note, Bscharra keeps calling me Danny, the name of my cousin in Boston. I guess it’s flattering, since Danny’s always been one that my parents have put a lot of trust in to take care of us, and keeps a good name. Maybe, maybe not important, Bscharra said that he is the one found Georgina, Danny’s wife. I wonder if it’s not a subtle hint…

After picking all these berries, we drove to Hadith, in Beirut, where my father lived. This too I imagine changed a lot. The house is still there, riddled with bullets and dilapidated, but around it so much has be rebuilt. I’ve been trying to tell my dad, and show him on the internet, the country that he wouldn’t recognize anymore.

In the evening after the kids had be put to bed we went out again, got some more tasty food, then visited a relative of mine (the son of the brother of my grandmother), whose other brothers are in Cleveland, Ohio. He owns a small juice cocktail shop, quite different. I’ve never had avocado as a sweet fruit, it’s always been either in guacamole, in salads or straight. I suppose it works. Also in this cocktail was this sort of sweet crumbly cheese, and the usual, strawberries, bananas, oranges, nuts, raisins and so on.

Today was our trip to the beach. First of all I must say that typing this at the moment is not as fun as I’d like. I’m pretty tied and very burned. It took quite some time to get everybody ready to go (not me, I put stuff in my bag and sat down and read for bit), and to get there. We took a long route to get there, I think because we were planning on going to another beach. In the end we went to the military complex. It’s a beach and center (indoor pool, salon, weight training, etc) all run by the military. Nevertheless, it was a very nice beach. I swam quite a bit, though I still can’t stand any little bit of the water in my mouth, nose, or eyes, as it really burn from all the salt. The kids played close to the shore, except for one when I got Stephanie to swim out with me to the buoyed dock out in the middle of the clove.

Besides swimming I sat in the sun and baked. I really should have had more than SPF 15, not really waterproof or water anything sunscreen. But last time it was cloudy and not bad at all. About halfway though the day there I noticed that it seemed a little warm. Then again, I thought my forehead was really burned by it seems fine now. After we ate (pizza, fries and Pepsi, I still can’t understand why anybody would prefer that over good Lebanese food), Bscharra’s wife, Ghada, and her sister wanted to swim out to the buoyed dock. Her sister’s husband doesn’t really know how to swim. I had spent most of the day so far looking around, besides stints swimming around the clove by myself. I spent most of the time sitting being quite, sort of trying to listen to what was said, but not taking part and not really paying attention. I think spending more than a few days with people makes you too comfortable, and to easy to stop trying to speak Arabic and drop back into English.

I start in the water after Ghada and her sister to swim out there when I notice somebody yelling at me. Strange, I thought people generally liked me, but I didn’t imagine that my fame had spread that far across the globe. At any rate, Elise happened to be at the beach as well with a friend of hers. We talked for a bit then (you know, the usual, oh how is so and so that’s our mutual friend doing, etc) and then before we left. We agreed to get together (with Sami and company) to hang out and such. One thing that I don’t get is how their school goes until the beginning of July. Also bad since when I get busy with my school, everybody else is done and enjoying Lebanon and such. But it would be nice to be around people my age, as my day of sitting and burning reminded me.

In a related vein… You know, everybody (well Arab) and my family always keeping telling me to get a Lebanese wife. Funny, since I didn’t think I was in the market, but these are the same people that have repeatedly told me (as a vegetarian at the time) that chicken is not meat so it’s ok to eat it. Besides starring at what was going on around me my family again repeatedly reminded me to pick up a good Lebanese girl from here. What vexes my understanding, is that when I do talk to a girl, albeit not in any interest besides out of a friend and having somebody my age to talk to, they say now that she wants me, and to take me away from my girlfriend, and so on and so on. If somebody ever decodes this mixed messages, please tell me.