Pictures will come, I promise! I know that you’re sick and tired of me complaining about the molasses-on-a-frosty-morning-like speed of my internet, but it really does take a long time to upload pictures.
One of the ways that I used my Adha holiday was to finally get a handle on Beirut. This finally happened for a couple of reasons, namely that I finally had time to invest a couple of afternoons in just wandering and that I finally have friends in Beirut. My first friend is another Sarah who works for an American NGO here. Sarah graciously offered me use of her couch for crashing purposes and took me out on the town.
Sitting in a bar for the first time after a month in the village, I felt like a new person. I don’t typically think of myself as someone who needs alcohol to have a good time (cue the ABC after-school special music), but I did miss environments where men and women of more or less the same age could mingle without it being fraught. (Many Druze men—the religious ones, who use the title “Sheikh”—aren’t allowed to shake hands with a non-related woman or ride alone in a car with her.) I’m not going to lie, either—the bourbon tasted really, really good.
My friend Lily from New York is also here. It’s really nice to have her here, especially because our travel stars often align. We met in Dakar in 2004 (the only two Quakers in all of Senegal, so far as I could tell) and randomly ended up in Lebanon at the same time. It’s been wonderful to have a “pre-existing” friend, especially someone with whom I’ve already traveled! Lily is an excellent fellow wanderer, and so we’ve meandered through several Beirut neighborhoods in a quest to get to know the city. We walked from Hamra (the neighborhood where American University of Beirut is) to Pigeon Rocks (islands with natural stone arches and lovely little grottos) and along the Corniche (a walking path that goes along the lip of the Mediterranean) to the downtown area (devastated by the civil war and rebuilt into a pedestrian mall area dotted with designer boutiques) and Gemmayze (the East Village of Beirut). Lily’s girlfriend Suzy is a filmmaker in New York but she lived in Beirut for several years, so it’s been nice to take advantage of some of her contacts and meet more people through her.
Finally, there’s Kelly, who is the other English Language Fellow (ELF) in Lebanon. She teaches at Hagassian University (an Aremenian university whose classes are nominally all in English) in Beirut. This past Saturday, we got on a tour bus packed with student members of the Hagassian Heritage Club and had a tour of Northern Lebanon. It was pretty cool—we saw old forts, salt drying beds, an amazing monastery in the very dramatic Qadisha valley, and an artificial lake with the biggest fake Christmas tree I’ve ever seen. It was really funny to be on a bus full of students who were only marginally interested in talking to Kelly and me, but we entertained ourselves quite well.
OK: you’re probably as tired of reading this as I am of writing. I’ve been sitting at my computer frantically typing lesson plans all day. The upshot: Lebanon is beautiful and friendly, and I’m finally learning my way around Beirut! I’m becoming an excellent local tour guide (ahem, ahem) for anyone who wants to come my way!