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!