Saturday, December 24, 2005

Lebanon 2005-6: Christmas Eve...

This is the second Christmas I've spent away from home...and what a different one it is this year. Though, not quite as devoid of Christmas spirit as I fact, there are probably just as many Christmas trees in the city here as back home...and poinsettias all over, potted on the side of the road, in front of stores, name it!

Husayn's mostly on holidays now, so tonight we're going into Achrafiye, the Christian side of Beirut, for dinner. It's raining, but really it justs seems more like home this way!
So dinner tonight, and we'll have cake tomorrow to celebrate Christmas. The muslims believe that Jesus is a prophet, so I guess this isn't terribly strange for them. Though they won't be celebrating Christmas as such.
I've found everyone to be so tolerant and understanding of divergent religions so far. But there's no doubt that politics (and religion plays a role there too) is the most frequent topic of conversation. The civil war seems so fresh in people's minds here - and no wonder, some people have lived longer in war than without. Considering this, it's amazing that people can coexist so well.
All I do is listen around here...the stories I hear are amazing, and they're told with such...nonchalance.

Anyways, I'm having a great time. I went into the Achrafiye the other day and on my way back, encountered my first sticky situation...A service picked me up (which means they agree to take you to your destination) and the guy spoke english...I usually choose a taxi with someone in it already, and with an older driver, but I was cold, it was night, and raining...(I think I'm foreshadowing here...ah english 12) ANYWAYS, long story short, the driver was crazy (majnoune in arabic). He headed off in the wrong direction and wanted to stop to get his palm reader to tell his future. He said she'd come into the car. "She's so good. Look," and this is where he wrote his name (?) on a little piece of paper and put it under his shirt on his generous belly "i put my name, in my stomach, she'll tell everything"...and...well, in his "kind of" english this MAKES NO SENSE. He stopped the car (like parked the car in front of a building) and text messaged someone. I got out of the car.
He was being SO weird. It was night...And I got scared...went up the street and called home (home here, in the bourj). A Syrian man helped me find the road to more taxis.

From now on, no taxis at night alone. Too scary!

All this being said, the people here are incredibly kind. You want something? you got it. Use the phone? don't worry...directions? this is the best way.

Okay my friends, merry christmas to you! Love and peace!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Lebanon 2005-6: Another Grand Day Out

I did it. Caught the service TWICE today, no help. I'm gaining confidence by the day..."I have confidence in sunshine...I have confidence in rainnnnn" (Julie Andrews, anyone?)

Went to the AUB (American University of Beirut) today. Beautiful place. CLEAN. and there were...those big green things...look like plants? Oh RIGHT, TREES!! I think so far, it's my favourite place.
Embarassingly, I think I have to attribute this to being in an environment which resembles, even slightly, my own regular life. I even saw a couple girls cramming for an exam as they walked by me. Oh boy am I ever relieved to know I'm school-free for the moment!

The picture is of the first building of the AUB, originally built in 1878 (?)...this building has also been completely rebuilt, following original blueprints, expanded about 20%, and shifted to the left a few feet. It was reopened in 1999 (civil war ended in 1991).

NOPE, still no pictures.
Takes too much juice from the server, I guess...any suggestions?

Enfin, I'm gonna get outta here!
Thanks for those who've replied...I do love a good email.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Lebanon 2005-6: Up, Up and Away!

Well, my fifth day in Beirut...and I feel like I've been here much longer! I'm staying with my brother and his family in Bourj el Barajneh, about 15 minutes outside of Beirut. This neighbourhood is filled with apartment on top of apartment, and the labyrinth of streets is taking me some getting used to!
This area still shows significant damage from the war, newer apartments next to rubble, or vacant lots...and cats. and roosters.
The driving here is NUTS - no street markings, and the few lights there are in the city aren't obeyed. I think the cars must navigate by echo-location; if all's well in the city, you'll hear honking.

I'm in a shii'a muslim neighbourhood, I'd say about...80% of women here wear the hijab while it's about 30% in the city. It's actually more complicated than I had imagined - for example, Zeinab (Husayn's stepmom) doesn't wear the hijab if we're in the home and she's surrounded by women, or her kids - or nephew, but when her brother-in-law comes in (or any other man), she has to put one on. Even Husayn's cousins have to wear a hijab around him. Coming of age for a girl is 9, whearas for a boy it's 15, so Husayn's the only one out of his brothers that has an effect on the hijab.
I've seen these women without their hijabs be silly and giggly, while with them on, they can appear reserved and severe (though, obviously, not always)...This only increases my curiosity about what a woman looks like under her hijab. I feel really lucky to be able to stay with family, I'm eating really well, and I love having kids run around and make people crazy. Fatima, Husayn's cousin, stared at me for a full day before she talked to me (Like really stared. Sat down beside me and watched me chew). And once the floodgates opened...oh boy!

Anyways, in the last 5 days I've had about a bazillion cultural epiphanies...but the big deal is that I finally left the house on my own today - the "service", like a taxi - but not door to door, and shared, drops you off at a central point in the neighbourhood, and can refuse you a ride if you're not going where they want to go...and despite what people said, really not a whole lot of english going on around here! (at least, not in the suburb!!). I went to the National Museum, where you can see about 5000 years of relics in two floors, it was quite small, but full. I think the most remarkable thing about is its survival through the war. They put the articles in the basement, and concrete around the sarcophagi when the civil war started, and twenty years later, released and restored. They showed a video of the restoration : incredible. The place looks like it's never been touched.

The armed military men standing all about the city still give me the heebie-jeebies...I guess I'm just going to have to get used to it! One army man was interested in why I was taking a picture of poinsettias (outside the national museum), he said "helwe?" (which means beautiful/pretty), I said yes, and showed him the picture...then he posed for me. So there we go - not so scary after all!

Okay, well, this has been a particularly good day for the internet - usually it's painfully slow, and later at night, the guys sit in here and smoke smoke smoke. Eeeeeyuck.
Point being, who knows when I'll write next, but I'll try to make it soon, and brief!

yella bye