2010
01.29

LEAVING LEBANON – THE GOOD AND THE BAD

Good morning.

It is 6 AM in Beirut.  I am on my way to Syria today.  I have to find a hotel, settle in, check out the internet situation, exchange money, etc.  If you don’t hear from me for a couple of days, all is fine.
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Looking back at my two weeks, there is some good and some bad:

I will miss that feeling of being familiar with my surroundings.  I had two weeks here and I am like a pro now flagging down that minibus heading to Cola, finding the right bus in the right place going in my direction.  On the way back from the mountains I dared get out the bus early when I saw a sign to the port of Beirut.  That’s where I live.  Why bother going to Cola if you can get out and just wave down the next serveece taxi. The driver did not know the famous exhibition hall “Forum de Beirut” near which I live.  I told him not to worry; I would tell him where I would get out as long as he was heading for Dowra.  Wow, I have come a long way.  When I got out I pointed out the forum to him.  Perhaps, he can take note of this cultural institution in case the next person asks for it.    Taxi drivers certainly have not been great in responding to cultural institutions for a destination, not even the National Museum…

I felt so safe here.  Walking down any dark, dirty, smelly little alley way at night – no problem.  I think this will continue in Syria.  Made me wonder why we are a country with so much crime?!  There are poor people here – but no crime worth mentioning.  There is the whole spectrum of have’s and don’t have’s – but no crime.  What makes one country safe and another not?  In communism there was the iron fist that kept crime under control.  But that is not the case here either.  I am really baffled.  Any ideas out there?

I despised the smoking.  Despite the high cost of living and salaries that do not match the needs, people smoke thousands of dollars away.  From the youngest boy to the oldest grandmother, and pregnant mom’s in between.  Everyone smokes in the most inconsiderate ways.  In tight elevators, in small buses, while eating – regardless of the effect this may have on others.   It made me sick!  Again – I think this will continue.

The traffic… I got hit one night by a car flying around a corner in the dark.  He caught my backpack!  That’s how close he was.  One split second later on the road and he would have given me a full impact collision which at his speed I may not have survived.  He did not even slow down.  Jihad told me that the driver most likely would not have stopped even if he had knocked me to the ground.  Traffic here is barbaric.

In just two weeks I saw a man limping away from an impact with a car – the driver kept going and even laughed at him.  I saw two shattered cars and heard a huge collision from my apartment.  I saw many cars with indentations, side, front and back…  I watched at one busy intersection how people coming from opposite sides of a road made left turns, U-turns, and went straight all at the same time while some people from the perpendicular directions could not wait their turn and started to move in on the mix.  Traffic here is insane.  It’s the only real danger I felt.  I am afraid, that will continue, too.

The food – what little I ate that can be called Lebanese was delicious!

And the people – wonderful, helpful, a bit distant.  Strangers looked at me standing at the corner with a map in my hand looking lost, but won’t initiate to talk to you.  But those who I met were warm and friendly;  and if they spoke English eager to share their views of their country with me.

I am deeply impressed about how resilient Lebanese people are.  After that brutal civil war and the constant danger of armed conflict hanging over them, they cope.  They build and live and construct in the hopes that what they build will make it through the next conflict.  They seem to be on guard at all times, but they don’t give up.  There still is a daunting task ahead of them if one looks at the amount of damage still visible.  I deeply hope that lasting peace will come their way.  I am grateful that I could be here.

To think that an area of 1/10 of the size of Michigan boasts five UNESCO world monuments!  That says it all.   I am grateful for all I saw.  Every day was filled with some expected and some unexpected encounters and at the end of every day I had gotten more than I had hoped for.

Thanks, Lebanon!

2010
01.29

Day 14 A Lesson

SYNOPSIS:  NO NEED TO READ THIS. NOTHING HAPPENED TODAY. JUST THINKING OUT LOUD.

I simply could not get up.  My last day in Lebanon was to be split into a visit of the famous Armenian treasure saved by brave people from the time of the genocide and displayed at an Armenian church at the outskirts of Beirut, and a good-bye lunch with Setareh.  But I just could not get up.

As every morning, I did my email and chatted with David on Skype between 7-8 AM.  But after that, I don’t know what it was.  My chest hurt, my throat hurt, my head hurt, but I knew I was not sick.  So I slept for another hour.  Then I decided to skip the museum and just sleep for another two hours. And by 2 PM, after I had slept for another few hours, I had to get up and tell Setareh that our lunch would not happen.  I was just too exhausted.  She was very understanding.

I guess, I have run myself into the ground.  Diane, you saw it coming!  No, I don’t have boundless energy and looking back at the last two weeks I have to wonder who on earth can sustain a 16 hour day every day?

I took count:  I got up every day between 7-8 AM to take care of emails and business at home.  By 9 AM, I was out the door doing stuff, usually back around 7 PM.  That was a 10 hour day of walking, photographing, being in transit.  The down time I got in the buses usually was stress:  The smoking – yes, 15 people crammed into a bus and people still smoke! They think they are considerate by opening a window which only blows the smoke full blast into the back of the bus and makes the bus drafty.  My stomach was always at 50% by the time I got out, my eyes were watery, my face burning…  That does not count as down time.  From 7 PM to midnight I would write my blog and download the blog photos.  When the internet was slow that could take until 1 or even 1:30 AM which only left 6 hours of sleep.  Even at home I know I do best with at least 7, better 8 hours.

The good thing is that I have no outside obligations.  Nobody to socialize with, no homework, no house work, no entertainment.  But still.  It’s not working. I can do this for a 2-3 week trip, but I have 3 months ahead of me.

Who do I think I am?  I am not 20 or 30 anymore!  I have to figure something out.  I like to write my blog as it helps me to think through the events of the day.  But I also realize the difference:  Scribbling into my personal notebook and writing for an unknown audience is a different ball game.  I don’t mind it – I will benefit from careful notes in the long run myself; but it takes a lot of time.

In an apartment where there are no curtains, I wake up by 7 AM.  Can’t help it.  So sleeping in is difficult.  Perhaps, I need to give myself a curfew of 11 PM to get 8 hours of sleep.  OK, I will start with that.  I will stop my blog work mid-sentence if I have to at 11 PM.   I am sure you will understand.

After I slept today away, I should be fresh and ready to go.  I got caught up with my blog.  There is something I accomplished today after all.  🙂

Off to Syria!

Good night.