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!
Even though I didn’t get to celebrate Thanksgiving *on* Thanksgiving, I did have three celebrations to make up for it. I certainly can’t complain about that since Turkey Day is one of my favorite holidays. And, unlike my friend teaching in China, at least I have an oven to prepare the whole dinner myself.
My friend Helen had a big potluck dinner at her place to celebrate with all of her church friends and school friends. It was a good time, turkey mishap and all.
All of the teachers hired from abroad at my school live in the same building so Saturday we had a potluck dinner to celebrate together. Some of the teachers who don’t live in the building also came so it was nice to see everyone together to celebrate the holiday. We started off with drinks and appetizers in one of the apartments upstairs and then moved downstairs to another for the main course.
This was the dinner that I was most excited about because over the last five years in NYC I have come to love cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I enlisted my friend Kim to host with me and we both invited our Lebanese friends, most of whom had never experienced Thanksgiving. We had some trouble finding a few items for our dinner, but I’d say we did a pretty good job making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner here in Lebanon. The sweet potato casserole seemed to be the hit of the meal so I was happy to share the recipe. Mostly though, I was glad to share the Thanksgiving tradition with my new and old friends here.
This year is my first Thanksgiving abroad in quite a while. Five years ago when I moved to NYC I started a tradition of Thanksgiving with friends. Every year my sister would come visit from Arizona and we would go to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and then come home and cook a big feast for all of my friends (and of course go shopping the day after!). It became my favorite holiday and most cherished tradition. When I told my friends that I was moving to Beirut the first thing most of them said was, “What about Thanksgiving??” (And this was way back in February!) Before leaving the States, I passed on the hosting duties and taught a friend how to make my famous stuffing recipe, so as I type the celebration is being carried on without me. I know that I am with them in spirit (or at least in stuffing anyway).
Thanksgiving in Lebanon isn’t *quite* the same. Today went on just like any other day (although I did get lots of Happy Thanksgiving messages, even from Lebanese friends). I have to point out that the American school had today off, though my international school didn’t. Work isn’t stopping us Americans from celebrating though. In fact, as it turns out, I’m celebrating Thanksgiving more here than I ever did in the States.
Last Sunday, my friend Helen hosted a big pot luck Turkey dinner for her church and work friends. (Her Brazilian friend volunteered to make the Turkey and comically showed up to the dinner with the Turkey uncooked! It was his first Thanksgiving and let’s say it was a learning experience. At about 1 a.m. the Turkey was finally ready and it actually came out quite delicious.) Saturday, all of the teachers in my building (mostly American and Canadian) are having a potluck dinner together. Then on Sunday, I’m hosting my own Thanksgiving. This is the one that I’m most excited for. My friend Kim and I invited all of our Lebanese friends to celebrate with us. None of them have had Thanksgiving before so we are really excited to show them what it’s all about. Last count we had 14 coming for dinner. I can’t wait! The most challenging part will be the grocery shopping as some things can be difficult to find here. You would think celery was a delicacy it’s so hard to find. Cranberries, pumpkin pie, yams . . . all this stuff is not on prominent display at the grocery store, let’s just say that. We’ll make do though and I know Sunday will be great.
Finally, what would a Thanksgiving post be without mentioning what I am thankful for? As always, I am thankful for my wonderful family and friends. This year I’m especially thankful for the new things in my life, like my wonderful boyfriend, a job that I love, and the opportunity to live here in Lebanon and experience everything that it has to offer.
Want to know when is a good time to *not* visit the Jeita Grotto? During the Eid holiday. Wednesday my friend suggested we get out of town and check out the grotto since we were on break from school and her friend was visiting from Dubai. I was excited since it was one of the few nearby attractions that I missed out on last summer during my extended trip to Beirut. Both of us were expecting a calm and peaceful visit to a natural site but no such luck. From the moment our taxi started heading down the hill to the grotto we were met with a mess of cars and tour buses fighting to pass each other on the narrow road. Still I was thinking Once we get past the traffic and to the grotto it will be fine. I was clearly wrong.
There were people everywhere in the street and a massive line for both the tickets and the teleferique to take us up to the grotto. We waited in line for both since we’d already traveled all that way and even commented as we got to the front of the second line, Ok, this isn’t so bad. The line is moving quickly. We got on the teleferique, relieved to be done waiting in line. Then three minutes later (did we even *need* a teleferique to get to the grotto??) we got out of the car to find this . . .
I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home. Did we really want to see some old cave anyways? But alas, we’d already traveled all the way there and paid 18,000LL so we suffered through the massive line. We finally made it to the front of the line and entered the long tunnel and were greeted with this. (No pictures were allowed in the cave so unfortunately I don’t have my own picture. This one doesn’t even do it justice.) It was truly amazing and more impressive than I could have imagined. And the best part? There was plenty of space! It was worth it after all. Having said that though, none of us cared to brave another line to check out the lower grotto where you get to ride a boat through the cave. Our guide book said the upper one was the most impressive and we were satisfied with that. (And now if anyone can ever convince me to take the trip to the grotto again there will be something I haven’t seen.)
After exiting the tour we took a stroll through the small “park” which was actually quite lovely.
We could have done without the silly extras like a mini zoo and a train that honked like the worst of the Beirut taxi drivers.
P.S. Know what else isn’t a great thing to do on the Eid holiday? The teleferique to Harissa. Just sayin’.
Saturday night I was out with some friends and my friend George mentioned that he was going olive picking in his village, Jezzine, on Sunday. He recently acquired a piece of land from his uncle so this was the first time that he was going to be responsible for picking the olives himself. (So recently, in fact, that he’d already ordered 40 kilos of olives from someone else!) I’d never been olive picking and thought it would be a fun experience so I volunteered to come along and help.
We drove south to Saida and then up towards Jezzine. When I got the first glimpse of the valley I was surprised at how beautiful it was. George never mentioned that the location of his village was so scenic!
There are only four olive trees on George’s land, which doesn’t seem like too much until you realize that you are only two people, the trees are huge, and there are a lot of olives on each tree!
It was slow going at first but both of us quickly got the hang of picking systematically instead of randomly. George was the first one to climb up into the tree to get the hard to reach olives.
After clearing the lower branches I got up there too. I can’t remember the last time I climbed a tree!
We worked from 9:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. before stopping for a long 2 hour lunch in a nearby restaurant overlooking the valley. It was lovely and the food was delicious. I told George that next year he could market this as a cultural activity (Olive picking in a picturesque Lebanese village with spectacular views. Lunch in a typical Lebanese restaurant overlooking the valley. Wouldn’t you sign up for that trip??) and get a lot of friends to come help.
After lunch we returned to pick for another hour or so before it got dark. We got pretty much all of the olives within reach. Just the really high ones remain.
Apart from olives there were grapes and persimmons.
It was a lovely day!
P.S. I finished in one hour exactly! 🙂
So who’s running in the marathon tomorrow? I am! Well, the 10K actually, but as I’ve learned in Beirut if you’re running any of the races that take place on the day of the marathon you SAY you’re running in the marathon.
I am so excited for my second race ever! Back in May I did my first 5k race, which at the time was the most I had ever run in my life. A bunch of my friends on Twitter were talking about the Couch to 5K running program and one thing led to another and I decided to give it a go. If you know me, you know that I’ve DETESTED (yes, I use that strong of a word!) running since I was in junior high school and we were forced to run the perimeter of our school campus every Monday. So needless to say, this was definitely a random decision to try and work up to a 5K (30 minutes of running!!) but I did it! The C25K program works, people!
I don’t remember how, but one way or another I learned about the races taking place in Beirut on November 7th shortly after my 5K and I made the decision to train for the 10K race. I started training for the race when I arrived here about two months ago and last weekend I ran 6 miles. I am excited to run the full 10K tomorrow and am hoping to do it an about an hour.