Last weekend I went on a fantastic weekend trip to Egypt. It might seem like a strange time to travel to Egypt but my friend Kim had planned the whole trip before the start of the revolution. I put her in touch with my good friend Emily who has lived in Cairo for four years so that she could help her make a decision on whether or not to go. Just days before the trip Emily convinced me that everything was fine for a weekend trip to Egypt so at the last minute I purchased my ticket.
We had such a great trip. Perfect weather, very few tourists, and a weekend packed full of sights and adventures. We couldn’t believe we had even thought to NOT come. Kim and I joked that it seems as though immediately following a revolution is actually the *perfect* time to visit a country.
Here are some photo highlights from the trip as promised.
I just got back from a fabulous impromptu weekend trip to Cairo. I have a million pictures to go through and edit, and I’ll definitely post a bunch here, but in the mean time, a few thoughts on the taxi situation in Cairo.
First of all, we took only the new-ish white checkered taxis that all had meters and were quite cheap. Apparently these new metered cabs were part of a government program a few years back where the oldest cars in the city were traded in for new ones with meters, and therefore a standard price (hint, hint, *Lebanon* hint, hint).
Not once did a cab honk at us to try to give us a ride for merely standing on the sidewalk or crossing the street. When we wanted a cab, we hailed one. What a concept! (hint, hint, *Lebanon* hint, hint). OK, to be fair, when we were coming out of our hotel or in a super touristy area there were drivers standing on the street saying “Taxi? Taxi? Where are you going? Pyramids? Tour of the city?” But this is completely different from every taxi on the street honking at you for a ride when you are just standing on the sidewalk or walking to your destination.
Finally, we were almost to the end of our weekend trip when I had a realization: not one single driver refused to take us where we asked to go. Not. One. Imagine that! Taxi drivers actually wanting to do their job, make some money, and drive you to your destination! (hint, hint, *Lebanon* hint, hint).
OK, that is all for now. Stay tuned for pictures.
In January I heard about a new photography group via a contact on Twitter. The group was the Beirut Street Photographers and they were planning their first outing: a photo excursion to Tripoli. I’d never been there and I’m always up for a good photo walk so I decided to join. The trip to Tripoli was great fun and I met an awesome group of local photographers. In February we went on a trip to Douma, another place in Lebanon I’d never been. We didn’t get to take quite as many photos as before since it poured for most of the day but we did have an awesome Sunday lunch. This month, we went to Saida. I’d already been there at least three times but going there again with the sole intention of taking photos helped me to see Saida in a new light.
Here are some of the highlights of the past three trips.
Last year my most popular post was one where I ranted about Beirut not being a great place for athletically minded people. I guess everyone loves a good rant and I appreciated all of the supportive comments, but . . .
Since last year I’ve continued to run in Beirut and I’m starting to change my tune about running in this city. Last fall I joined up with the Nike Running Club and the Elite Running Club here in Beirut and found a huge network of supportive runners. Running with these guys (and some gals) has pushed me to run farther and harder than I ever would have on my own. (I remember the very first day I showed up for the Nike Running Club guessing we’d run 3-4 miles only to find out we were running a 10K!).
I’ve also started getting bolder with my running routes in Beirut. There’s almost nowhere I won’t run in the city. I love seeing all of the nooks and crannies of the city at the speed of 6 miles per hour. One long run in Beirut covers such a diverse landscape that you get to see everything from local butcher shops with meat hanging in the windows, to the high fashion shops of downtown, to the sparkling blue of the Mediterranean. I’ve even come to welcome the long stares of the people I pass on the streets and in cars. Yes, I might be a sight to see for them, but I’m doing my own people watching right back. (And haram to the bored security guards of this city; they barely get to see anything interesting all day. At least I’m providing them with entertainment!)
Exploring Beirut by running made me love and appreciate Beirut even more than I did when I first arrived here over a year and a half ago. Come with me on my 10 mile run and see what I mean . . .
Hope you’ll run with me again sometime!
February 14th: a day for sweethearts and remembering Rafik Hariri.
First, the sweethearts.
As of a few days ago, I started noticing shops completely decked out in red for Valentine’s Day. It is unlike anything I have seen in the States. Even the souk in Saida had it’s fair share of Valentine’s trinkets and lingerie. Saturday night I went to grab a bite to eat in Zahleh and the restaurant was filled with red heard balloons and the outside was lit up with red lights for the occasion. The Lebanese sure seem to love Valentine’s Day.
And for Hariri.
For my non-Lebanese readers, today is the 6th anniversary of the assassination Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. As of last week, it was declared a public holiday so we unexpectedly got the day off of school. Yesterday I went to Saida with some teacher friends and we saw these billboards plastered all over the highway and city for the holiday. Apparently this is how we remember assassinated Prime Ministers here in Lebanon. All of us (Canadians and Americans) thought the image of Hariri surrounded by flames (images from the bombing that killed him) with a lei, and the phrase Allahu Akbar (God is Great) was a curious way to honor the dead, but perhaps you have to understand Islamic culture better to get it?
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!
With all the stuff that has been going on in Egypt this past week it has got me to thinking about what might have been. For the longest time I wanted to teach in Lebanon but thought it probably wasn’t the safest. Ever since I got hooked on Lebanon (2003?) I had told people that I wanted to teach in Lebanon but I’d probably teach in Egypt instead since Egypt was more stable/safe. Then came the wars in 2006 and 2008 to confirm my hesitation.
Last summer I visited Lebanon and stayed for a month and loved it so much I knew I had to come back. If it hadn’t been for that trip I very well may have been in Egypt right now.
Not that that would have been the end of the world.
My friend Emily has been teaching at an international school In Cairo (Maadi) for the last five years. At the beginning of the week we were both joking about the protests in our respective host countries and how the news blows it out of proportion and freaks out our loved ones back at home. (Actually she was complaining that at first the international news wasn’t giving Egypt the coverage it deserved, though she herself was safe.). Now, a week later, it’s clear something huge is happening in Egypt and no one knows how it will turn out.
We spoke in the phone today and she told me that her school has been closed for a few days and about a third of the students have left the country. Even though many Americans in Egypt are being evacuated, her school isn’t evacuating teachers just yet (though they can leave at their own expense if they wish). She says her neighborhood is being patrolled by locals who are protecting the area and drinking tea by “campfires” in the down time. From 8am until 3pm people are walking their dogs and going about their errands (she went for a pedicure today!) but everyone is sure to be back home in time for the curfew. With no internet now (and no text messaging either!) her biggest concern is boredom! She’s going to keep me posted and if she does get evacuated, may just come to stay with me in Beirut to wait it out (imagine the irony!).
So all I can do is think of how I sorta dodged a bullet on that one. (Well, for now anyways.) I’m also wondering if this could be me in a few weeks(?), months(?). All is quiet here now, but I guess you just never know.
Today has been such a surreal day.
I got to school at 9:15 (I start late on Tuesdays!) to find my third period English class only had nine students (half the class) present. A lot of parents kept their kids home either due to the overall uncertainty of the day, or because they live in areas where the roads would be unsafe to travel due today’s planned “Day of Anger.” Our school campus is arguably one of the safest areas of Beirut but I can see how parents would want to keep their kids close by. As the day went on, more and more kids were picked up by their parents and there was a constant line outside of the middle school office of parents waiting to sign out their children.
The teacher’s room was all abuzz with talk and rumors and questions. Some of the foreign teachers agreed that at times like this it is almost better to not speak Arabic as we were oblivious to the conversations going on around us, although we could tell that many teachers were anxious.
By fifth period, my class only had about a third of the students but we still tried to get some work done. We had just started working on a persuasive essay yesterday so this was a nice chance for the students who were present to get some one-on-one attention.
After lunch, school had all but shut down. Officially, we were still open (and would remain open) but there were so few students left that we ended up combining all the students on each grade together in one room and even then didn’t have full classes. Teachers that lived far away were allowed to go home while the rest of us who live nearby stayed to finish the school day. We let the kids watch movies to finish out the day.
On the way home I stopped by the gym to see if it was open but there was a sign stating that “due to the current political situation” the gym would be closed. I needed a phone card to refill my credit and had to pass at least three phone shops before I found one that was open. I did manage, but felt lucky that I was able to as pretty much everything on Hamra Street was closed down. The street was totally free of cars and traffic.
I’m home now and just cooking, grading papers, and hanging out. I have Arabic class tonight in Gemmayzeh and was going to call and see if it was still on but, after learning that there will be a speech in Martyr’s Square at 6pm (the time my class starts), I think it’s best to stay home whether class is canceled or not.
For those who know me and aren’t in Beirut, I assure you that there is nothing happening in my area and I am safe.
For all the Beirutis reading, how was your “Day of Anger”?
A few weeks ago I heard about an organization called “Healthy Basket” that delivers weekly baskets of fresh, local, organic fruits and vegetables right to your door. A few people in my building were already getting it and from what they described it sounded a lot like a CSA, or community-supported agriculture, which I had always wanted to get when I was in New York. I checked out the Healthy Basket website, and sure enough, that is exactly what it is. According to the website:
Healthy Basket started in 2001 as a project by the American University of Beirut to improve Lebanese farmers’ livelihood in rural areas, preserving the environment and protecting human health by adopting organic agriculture as a key strategy. Fresh , certified organic fruits and vegetables sold by HB are produced by small farmers throughout Lebanon, closely supervised by the internationally accredited Lebanese Certification body “LibanCert”.
I love my weekly delivery because it’s a fun surprise to see what’s in the basket each week. Sometimes I have no idea what something is so I have to ask my neighbors or take a guess and do a Google search and check out the images to try and figure it out. Normally when I go grocery shopping I just buy the same few vegetables so I end up cooking the same things all the time. Since I started getting the basket I have been cooking all sorts of new things: pesto, potato and carrot soup, vegetable soup with lentils, green bean stir fry, cilantro pesto, and on and on. All of this inspired by my weekly vegetable share.
Some of the things that have come from my basket:
The retail shop is just down the street from my apartment in Hamra so I’m not sure where exactly in Beirut they will deliver. I know that they also have a stand in the “Souk El Tayeb” farmers’ market. Definitely check it out if you love to cook!