What an unforgettable week! We saw so much of the country – north, south, mountains, sea. You may have heard that Lebanon is the size of Rhode Island. But as Maria says, it is much, much bigger if you flatten it out –I’m guessing the size of California after touring around the mountains. From almost every point you can still see the sea – it’s so amazing – but to get there? There are a lot of windy roads and when you come to a fork, more often than not there are no signs telling you which way to go. Fortunately Yaser does not fit that stereotype of the man never asking for directions. It was entertaining to watch him hop in and out of the car along the way. Not that I understood the Arabic words exchanged but, it was never just, go left or right. Always a lot of shouting and smiling and hand waving.
Here we are in my favorite spot in the mountains. This home turned b&b in Douma is one of the most charming places I’ve ever stayed. The mountain air was so clear and crisp. And the dinner and breakfast they served – if only eating locally could always be this delicious.
We were rewarded by incredible views of the varied landscape on our drives and we reached each destination we set out for, but I think a helicopter service would do really well in Lebanon, because as the crow flies everything is very close. You can see where you are going, it just takes a long time to get there – perhaps a metaphor for the country? And the one main highway north and south is always packed – so I’m imagining a ferry service doing really well, too. If only there was a functional government, someone no doubt would have already implemented these ideas, but they haven’t had a president for almost two years. There is a common expression here, “Just throw it in the sea.” It translates into “Don’t let things get to you.” Maria says it’s the only way to survive here. Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” could become the national theme song. And maybe it would prevent people from actually throwing trash into the sea (a big problem here, even though it looks so clean). Here we are at the iconic Pigeon Rock…
And in Byblos, the oldest city in the world, exploring the Phoenician, Roman and Crusader ruins…
We had a special dinner at Maria’s father Munir’s lovely apartment one night, toasting and missing Maria’s mother on her birthday. Munir told us great stories about growing up in Syria and his education in Tripoli, Chicago and Beirut.
Another night Maria and Yaser threw a beautiful dinner party, catered by a woman from Aleppo. She made so many delicious specialties that I wish I could remember how to pronounce forget about know how to spell. Maria and Yaser’s friends symbolize Lebanon to me – eclectic, funny, warm, creative, stylish while also being totally down to earth. It was wonderful to finally meet in person these friends I have heard so much about over the years – and to catch up with Nadya, who recently relocated from Smith College to AUB. Below are pictures of their friend Mehar entertaining all of us by singing and playing beautiful Persian folk songs on an instrument I have never seen or heard called the tar.
Speaking of Beirut glamour, the girls began one afternoon getting mani/pedis, moved on to El Douree for tea and then visited the modern Soursook Museum. I am standing in front of a sculpture of a Christian woman and Muslim woman holding hands, praying for peace. We need more women running the world!
A few more pictures from other great meals…
I expected to see many more Syrian refugees on the street, considering there are over one million who have fled to Lebanon. And there are only four and a half million Lebanese in Lebanon – compare that to America taking in about 2,000 Syrian refugees or .0007% of our population. When I think of how congressional republicans and Trump have behaved, it is horrifying. We saw several women and children begging in Beirut, but frankly not many more people than you see asking for money in Northampton. Many refugees are in camps of course and many are working. When Maria was making french toast one morning, I went to the grocery store across the street to get maple syrup. I asked the young guy at the store, “Do you have syrup?” He pointed to himself and said, “Syrian,” thinking I was asking if he was from Syria. I said, “No I’m looking for syrup. I think it’s near the cereal,” which of course sounds even more like Syrian than syrup. So I smiled at him and said one of the four Arabic words I know that seemed the most appropriate – “Shukraan,” (thank you) – and indicated I would look around. Luca is hoping to join Jad who volunteers after school helping young refugees with homework. Even if Luca doesn’t speak Arabic (yet!) he can help with English and play soccer, the true universal world language.
At the airport on our layover, Téa asked, “Why do people think Lebanon is unsafe? The crazy drivers are the only thing to worry about!” I know a lot of people were concerned about our and Luca’s safety, but even down in Tyre, where Hezbollah flags were blowing in the breeze along the highway, we felt totally safe and had one of the most fun, relaxing days of our trip. We started the day lounging, swimming and running on this gorgeous beach…
Then had super fresh fish at “Captain Bob’s” restaurant on a dock overlooking the sea, which we discovered while visiting the Roman ruins. When we got to the end of the ancient road, we saw this place tucked around the corner. Sunny, 75 degrees, delicious local food, a long, lazy meal we didn’t want to end -it was the perfect final celebration of our wonderful week.
As difficult as it was to say goodbye, we are so excited for Luca that he gets to spend two and a half more months here and to attend the American Community School of Beirut (ACS) for their fourth quarter. We are grateful beyond words to Maria, Yaser, Zayn and Jad for all they did to make this visit so special for us and for welcoming Luca as another member of their family. Below the kids are standing in front of Zayn’s powerful mural, which he painted on the wall at ACS. (The artist is absent from this and most pictures because he has been studying for exams.) The other person missing from these pictures of course is Alex! If only spring break at Tufts was a week later.
Note to our Amherst friends – this is a trip you do not want to miss. Just give the Abunassrs a little time to recover from our visit and book your tickets. Before you go read Come with Me from Lebanon, by Ann Zwicker Kerr. I read it right before our visit and it gave me wonderful insight into the country and also on how to live an extraordinary life, even when things don’t go as you planned.