Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year from Budapest!

I cannot believe that our vacation is coming to an end! The time has just flown by, but in a very good way. Alex and I accomplished so many things in such a short amount of time.

In every city we were in we utilized, and came to know pretty well, the public transportation systems. We were able to explore all parts of each city, the center and surrounding areas, and really get a feel for each city.

Also I did so many firsts: going to Europe, going to a ballet, having mulled red wine, dancing with a native Hungarian, doing karaoke, getting a professional massage, and going to a club. Ok so one of them hasn’t happened yet, but it will tonight! To celebrate New Years we are having a nice dinner then we are going to a dance club down the street from our hotel. It should be some night!

As for our stay in Budapest thus far, we have gone to a couple very interesting museums and eaten a lot of good food. First we checked into our room at the Radisson, by far the best hotel we have stayed at on our trip. And just a really nice hotel in general. Then we took a stroll in the city center and ate dinner at a family-run restaurant by the British Embassy. Its name was the Golden Lamb, but in Hungarian. The service and food was amazing, but the live traditional music and dancing was even better. While we were waiting for our food the main man and woman dancing made Alex and I dance…it was quite entertaining.

For the most part we took it easy. We visited a couple of museums including the Ethnographic museum and the Museum of Terror. They were both nice changes of pace because they weren’t the same old stuff, they were actually really interesting and very explicit.

The Ethnographic museum started off with a display of Jeans. It was a fun exhibit illustrating how the jeans culture came to be, and how it has played out in Hungary. Also it touched on the theory of uniform, or people wearing certain outfits, etc, when they belong to a social, sports, education or work group. The rest of the Museum showcased a history of Hungary.

We just happened to stumble on the House of Terror. It was a preserved building that the Soviet Hungarian Secret Police and the Nazi Arrowcross both occupied. They used the building, and later building on the whole street, to hold prisoners and bring them to trial. It may be one of the best museums we have been to. It showed the extent to which Nazi policies effected Hungary, and what happened to the groups of people – either because of religious or ethnic affiliation or oppositionists – during the Soviet and Nazi occupations. It was just as chilling as the National Holocaust Museum in DC. If you ever visit, it’s a must.

Fast forward to about 11 pm. Alex and I decided to go to a bar that was having karaoke night. It was mixture of people singing English and Hungarian songs. Everyone was really good and just having fun. Alex got up the nerve to sing Ain’t Nothing but a G-Thang. He was a big hit. THEN he convinced me to sing with him. Not just any song, but probably the most difficult karaoke song – Bohemian Rhapsody. I’m just going to skip the story and say it was a disaster. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to try it again. Alex even told me later that night that I turned him off with my lack of karaoke skills! It was horrifying.

Hopefully I’ll redeem myself tonight. We are going out to a nightclub for New Years, called Bank Club. Alex picked out my clubbing outfit, which is not at all conducive to the weather haha. So hopefully we will be counting down on the dance floor with a glass in our hand and dancing Hungarians surrounding us. I will give you the morning after report soon…hopefully the headache isn’t too bad.


Vienna: Synopsis

Right now my life could be something straight out of a movie. Alex and I have just ended a busy two days in Vienna and are now bundled up in a cold train on our way to Budapest. Its foggy, gray and cold outside. We are passing miles of farmland, littered with fields of trees and rows of windmills. And here I am just staring out the window huddling under my long coat and scarf. Everything seems so archaic…

Anyway, our trip to Vienna was much more hectic than our relaxing stay in Prague. After arriving in the cold city we found our way to our hotel, which was a feat in itself. It was freezing outside, I would’ve bet that it was colder than Prague, if that’s possible. And we couldn’t seem to find our hotel.

Hotel Geblergasse, when we finally found it, was nowhere near the city center. Relatively speaking it wasn’t too far out, but it wasn’t in the center of town. And for the price we were hoping for a big better of a deal. Luckily we didn’t really spend that much time there.

The first night we spent in Vienna was great! We found a little place to eat, had our fill, then napped until we were to attend a ballet. Alex had bought tickets for the Weiner StaatsOper, or the State Opera House around the same time we bought our plane tickets for the trip. And although he spent quite a bit of money on tickets we still had seat in the nosebleed section. Our view, however, was great for the seats. The Opera House itself was beautiful, and the ceiling and walls were enough to wow us.

This ballet was the first I’ve seen, and it was Die Bajadere. It was based in India, and had some exotic qualities to the dancing and music. During the intermission Alex and I shared a small bottle of champagne and just enjoyed the beauty of the building – we decided it was definitely worth the time and money because we will probably only do this once in our lives!

After the ballet was headed to the dining area of an upscale hotel across the street, called Hotel Sacher. We enjoyed their tea, coffee and apple and cheese strudels. The dining area looked quite upscale and I though the prices would be tremendously high, but the prices were very reasonable – I would recommend it to anyone.

The second day in Vienna began early, although not as early as we hoped. In our room they pushed two bed together so while I was sleeping I keep getting caught in the crease in the middle, and it was a bit cold in our room and we had inadequate covers, so I was constantly waking up during the night. Because of my lack of sleep I slept in a bit, and we started the day a bit later than we wanted to.

When we finally got out the door we began by going to the Schloss Schonbrunn Castle. It was the imperial seat of the Hapsburgs, most notably Franz Josep and Maria Theresa. We went on the grand tour and saw 40 different rooms of the castle. It was mostly in Rocca style, and there was a great variety of styles and colors used in different rooms. Like many other castles, artwork and grand pieces of furniture decorated the whole palace.

Then we stopped by the University of Vienna, and it was one of the most ornate colleges I have been to. It could have been a museum. Next was the Museum of the Imperial Treasury. Alex gets deathly bored in museums, and in this one he was obviously hurting. It was much like other museums…of pretty things that only the elite collected. But some of the displays were very interesting, such the Hapsburg empire having a piece of the cross Jesus was crucified on. They also displayed what was supposed to be a piece of the tablecloth the Last Dinner took place on. Most of the other stuff included Jewels and religious cloths.

We also hit the Jewish Museum, whose permanent exhibit included an unfinished room and a display of a hidden synagogue. It was extremely small. The visiting exhibit was of a Jewish Viennese architect, Josep Frank. This exhibit was definitely larger and more interesting.

The last of our day included trying to visit a cemetery where there were memorials of very famous musicians such as Mozart. However, it was closed so we just got really cold in the meantime. We didn’t have much more luck when we took a tram to the Nausmarket, an outdoor market place. Everything was starting to close up, so we settled for eating dinner at one of the small restaurants in the middle of the Market place.

After an hour of trying to find a place to eat breakfast the next morning, we finally decided on the familiar McDonald’s McMuffin. Afterward we didn’t have much time to do anymore sightseeing so we returned to our hotel, gathered our luggage, and headed for our train to Budapest….

Friday, December 28, 2007

Prague: Last Day

*Disclaimer: Our last hotel did not offer internet connection in our room, thus this blog on our last day in Prague is three days late. Sorry!

Sadly we are leaving the ornate city of Prague. And we are riding out in style, on a European train to Vienna. We will only be in Vienna for three days so our stay will probably not be as relaxing as Prague, but just as exciting. I’ve decided to sing Sound of Music songs until we arrive at our platform in Vienna. Alex probably won’t be too happy about that, oh well.

Our final day in Prague was the most relaxing of them all. Only restaurants, souvenir shops and the Christmas markets were open on Christmas day, so there wasn’t much to do around the city. So we spent all day watching Christmas/Old movies on youtube and google videos. We watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas, WHAM music video to “Last Christmas”, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Nightmare before Christmas, Babes in Toyland, The Shining, and ended the night watching comedy clips.

Sometime in between laying around and watching tv, I took a stroll around Wenceslas Square. Alex wasn’t feeling well and I was restless so I went out for a brat for lunch, then took the 9 Tram to its end, and back. I saw another part of town and realized that all of Prague isn’t like the city center. The city center is very nice, and outside of it the architecture becomes bland and it looks more slumish…like any other country I guess.

Even now, as we are leaving the country we are just beginning to see how most of the country is. There are areas where it looks like a shanty town – just shack after run down shack. Some of the suburbs we are passing do not have paved roads and some of the houses are literally falling to pieces. It kind of puts a damper on all the beauty we saw in the city. Not that Prague’s image is ruined, just a reminder that there is a reality behind the well-kept city center.

Also I mentioned to Alex two days ago that I could count, on one hand, how many black people I’ve seen since being in the Czech Republic. Or Arabs, or any minority markedly different from the Czech peoples. I’ve seen many Asians, and many European looking people, and that’s all. I’m not sure if there is a significant minority here with a significant difference in skin color, or if the minority is something more like a community of people who identify themselves with Slovakia.

Coming from a country that is so diverse, it sometimes amazes me that places I’ve traveled to have populations that are so homogenous. I realize that America is much bigger than small countries like Lebanon, Czech Republic, etc, but it still amazes me.

Now off to Vienna!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Prague: Day 4

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! According to custom in Prague, Alex and I celebrated Christmas today. Like many Christmases before this one, I got up much later than usual. It must just be something about the day, where you just want to lay around and just enjoy doing nothing.

After a big breakfast we went back to our room to lay around again. I’m telling you, its just something about the day.

We began our Christmas adventures by walking over the Charles Bridge. It was a beautiful structure, lined with stone carvings of individuals and scenes. From there we walked to the Jewish Quarter. One of the synagogues was closed, but the Old-New Synagogue was open.

The Old-New Synagogue was filled with history, from its architecture and all it had been through. There are also many legends attached to it.

Afterward we just walked around Wenceslas Square, drank some mulled wine and enjoyed the cold weather. Then we returned and took a long afternoon nap.

Finally we ended the night with a nice Christmas dinner at the restaurant around the corner from our hotel. They had a Christmas special of Christmas Chowder, Duck leg, Cabbage, Dumplings and Apple Strudel. It was my first time eating duck and I really enjoyed it.

After we ate our fill, Alex opened the gifts I bought for him. This year I got him some special gifts to last a long time. A black leather Business card holder with his name inscribed on it and a matching keychain with an engraving. I also got him a nice tie clip and a flask with engraving, so he can be a handsome and smart business man!

We are now relaxing and watching Christmas movies. We just saw Babes in Toyland, another first for me, and now The Nightmare before Christmas. Definitely a classic. Hope everyone’s Christmas is going just as well! Miss everyone and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Prague: Day 3

Not breaking our Sunday tradition, we woke up late today and took our time to eat breakfast and get ready. Unfortunately we missed Mass, but we are planning to attend one in Budapest. Around noonish, we stepped out to confront the cold and do some more exploring of Prague.

It was nice to just stroll around the city and see all the Christmas shoppers. We even saw some people carrying Christmas trees back to their homes. Getting a late start, I guess.

Our first stop was the Museum of Communism. It outlined a brief overview of the history of big communist leaders, but also communism in what was Czechoslovakia. Much of the museum focused on communist propaganda, either to promote the lifestyle or against capitalist states like America, and it was very interesting. Propaganda infiltrated even sports and such. They also had a short film of demonstrations against the communist regime in Prague, which was really moving. Alex really liked the museum and I would recommend it to anyone interested in history.

Next we passed by the Astronomical clock, which is a clock on the side of a church with significant historical significance. There are turks on the clock, and one the hour all these mechanical figures move and a Turk wags his head. The turk is supposed to represent the bad, it’s interesting to say the least. Supposedly the man who created the clock was blinded by the ruler at the time so he could never make another clock like it. There was a huge crowd to see the hourly ritual, so it was hard to see everything happening.

We sat down for some lunch at a cute little restaurant. The soup we ordered was great, but the cokes were $6 a glass. That was a bit of a shock.

Somewhere in between that and the Christmas concert we attended I bought a very warm wool hat, always a must. Anyway, the Christmas concert was a lovely find. It was in a small church with a pretty small crowd. The musicians, however, warranted a bigger audience. It was just a string quartet, three violinists and a man playing a big stringed instrument (maybe a cello, but I really have no idea). Despite my ignorance of the instruments used, the music was beautiful and moving. We heard some Handel, Mozart, and two versions of the Ave Maria.

We finished off the night with a visit to the Sex Machines Museum. We were on our way back to the hotel when we came across the reddest building I have ever seen, with an even more interesting title. This museum showcased toys and machines for sexual enhancement, devices for the opposite effect (including chastity belts and anti-rape devices) historical pornography, and much more.

Most of it was either interesting or funny, except for the third floor. That floor covered all things sadistic and masochist, and very disturbing things for the alternative lifestyle. I will leave it up to your imagination. This is a great stop for those who don’t take life too seriously!! But if you must choose between this one and the Museum of Communism, go with the latter.

We are really enjoying Prague! We forewent brats again tonight, but tomorrow it’s a must. The Jewish Quarter is on our agenda for tomorrow, as is a trip to the Charles Bridge (which, by the way, we bought a nice painting of today. It was exactly what we were looking for!).

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas Eve, and hope you enjoy the beginning of parties and celebrations!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Prague: Day 2

Despite the cold, our first full day proved to be really satisfying. We woke up pretty early, ate a fulfilling Czech breakfast and we were out the door by 9:30, ready to do some exploring.

We first walked up to Petrin Hill, which is a little touristy village very close to our hotel. We rode up a funicular tram to the top of the village where there was a small replica of the Eiffel Tower. Two hundred something steps later we were overlooking all of Prague, and had the most beautiful views of the city.

Also I made Alex pay for tickets for a mirror labyrinth. It was exactly what you would expect – a small building with a small mirror maze, probably more for little kids, one historical painting to justify the building, and another room with silly mirrors. I though it was great…Alex was a little less enthusiastic, but it was still a fun time.

Afterward we walked around some nice village-like streets, walking in and out of little shops. We also visited a small art gallery, we are thinking about getting a piece of art as our souvenir but Alex has a specific idea, like a painting of Prague during the winter as we are here during that time. We have a couple days, hopefully we will come across something really nice.

To warm up, we stopped for a bit in a little café an enjoyed a great cup of cream of mushroom soup and really rich hot chocolate. We finished in time to witness the changing of the guard at Prague Castle, said to be Prague’s most popular tourist site. The guards are much like the British guards, unmovable and fun to take pictures next to!

We paid for the long tour in the castle, which included passes to the Old Royal Palace, the Story of Prague Castle, the Basilica of St. George, the National Gallery and the Golden Lane. And everyone had access to the Cathedral. The Cathedral was really something else. It was like pictures you find in history books of really beautiful churches. This one was in the Gothic style and it took five hundred years to complete it.

The Cathedral was huge, over 160 meters long, and housed some of the most beautiful displays of stained glass and artwork I have seen. This is not saying much becuase I haven't seen many ancient cathedrals, but it was definitely worth seeing. It was pretty crowded, but all of the artwork and mini chapels surrounding the nave justified the crowds. We invested in the audio tour of the Castle and the Cathedral alone took up soundbits 1-25. Most of it was history of the cathedral, and the saints, members of royalty and patrons buried there, or memorialized in mini chapels.

The artwork in the National Gallery is alone worth the visit. A lot of religious-themed paintings are housed there, but there were a lot of Bohemian historical paintings as well. In the Story of Prague Castle they displayed skeletons of people buried in the castle community, as well as the artifacts and dress they were buried with. The displays, among many other things, illustrated some very interesting parts of their historical culture.

We will post pictures as well, but here is a link with some history and pictures of Prague Castle:

By the time we left it was getting dark already. Alex wanted to buy our tickets to Vienna ahead of time, just in case, so we utilized the public transport (which is almost as extensive as New York’s) and rode the metro down to the train station.

Then we finally headed out to get lunch/dinner. We were both in the mood for Italian, and after a brisk stroll trying to find the nearest tram we luckily found a restaurant called Pizzeria Coloseum, and sat down to eat. Alex ordered Lasagna and I had the best plate of Spinach Ravioli with Cheese…one of the best Italian meals I have eaten. The price was really good as well. Unfortunately, we ate pretty late so we didn’t get brats today, but I am definitely looking forward to one tomorrow!

So our long day ended with a brief tram ride back to the hotel, us immediately jumping under the covers to warm up, and almost directly after lying down we feel asleep for a refreshing two hour nap.

Our itinerary tomorrow includes attending mass (not sure of the church yet), hitting up the Jewish Quarter, Christmas concert in Wenceslas Square and who knows what else!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Prague: Day 1

We safely landed in the snowy city of Prague, after a comfortable 5 hour flight from Beirut. Leaving Lebanon at four in the morning was ideal – I slept through the whole 3 hour flight to Milan, and through the 2 hour flight from Italy to the Czech Republic.

Our first view of Prague from the plane was what looked like a blanket of snow covering the whole country. Literally it looked like nothing but thick snow…no buildings or anything. We actually couldn’t tell if we were close to the ground or still above the clouds. We soon realized, after flying through the thick sea of whiteness, that it was the fog that had settled over the whole city. The sun that was warming us in the plane could not be seen anywhere from the ground.

And of course it was FREEZING! In Beirut this year, like every year before it, there will be no snow. And it can be warm enough to wear a jacket out sometimes. But here it’s a totally different story. I was definitely not prepared for the -9 degrees Celsius (Farenheit?).

Otherwise we had no problem getting off the plane and catching a tram and metro to our hotel. Well, that is, after we missed a stop because I didn’t know how to work the tram door. Four frozen thighs later we found our hotel and dropped off our luggage before heading out for lunch.

We ate lunch at a homely warm (keyword) restaurant right next to our hotel. By this time we were dead tired and really just wanted to take a nap. However, Alex got it into his head that he wanted to walk down to the Charles River and take a peek. Not being very well dressed for it and a little cranky, I wanted to nap first then do some sightseeing. But Alex was suddenly incredibly hyper, and it was just so cute. So I got some pics of him being silly and looking out at the River.

After a couple hour nap, which turned out to be really refreshing, we layered up and went out for a little stroll. We crossed the river and walked around Wenceslas Square. How fitting, eh?

As we walked it was impossible not to admire all of the beautiful architecture – it’s almost like stepping into a scene from two centuries ago, except everyone is wearing modern clothes. We also did a little window shopping, and found it very nice to be back in a country with outlets and department stores.

Best of all, while walking around an outdoor Christmas market in the square, Alex and I stopped for bratwurst sandwiches and mulled red wine. The wine was pretty strong, but warm and spicy, and the brats (which I cannot find in Beirut, and yes I have tried) were fantastic! We decided we would just buy brats off the street for dinner every night until we leave for Vienna, and go out for lunch instead. Supposedly lunch is the main meal here anyway, so it works out perfectly.

When our fingers told us it was time to get back to the hotel and thaw out, we bought a map and headed back. Now we are spending the rest of the night watching dubbed American movies and planning our adventures for the next few days.

Unfortunately I’m having symptoms of a small UTI so it is putting a damper on our plans for tomorrow. I’m trying to water it out, so hopefully it will just leave me alone for Christmas vacation. But I can’t let such a small thing get to me. To name a few places, we are planning to visit the National Museum, the Museum of Communism, the Jewish Quarter, a big castle (in Alex’s words), and a couple villages outside of the city.

We will try and get as many pictures as possible. Actually today Alex noticed my lack of picture taking, and rightfully pinned it on the fact that it is just too cold. If the sun peeks through tomorrow maybe we will get some good shots. Stay tuned for many Xmas vacation updates!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December Update

Updates on everything:

*The Thanksgiving dinner went extremely well. All of our guests, and about 25 people came, really got into it and helped out so much. They brought pies, dishes, drinks and we had more than enough for everyone. The two turkeys I made turned out great and so far no one has reported any food poisoning. The stuffing tasted like Grandma’s recipe and that alone made me more than happy. The night turned out to be great, and Alex and I didn’t miss Thanksgiving after all.

*Sayidaty magazine is paying me for my first article. I interviewed a woman, and a friend, who is publishing a comic book and the character is based in Lebanon. So I did an article and the mag is using it! I have also spoken with the editor about a couple of other story ideas and I think that I may be doing another story very soon.

*We began taking Arabic with our new tutor and its working out great. She’s young, smart and a great teacher. We are moving much faster than we were with the other center.

*Things are starting to look hopeful for Lebanese politics. Since Nov 24, Lebanon has been without a president because the majority March 14 coalition and the opposition March 8 camp could not agree on a consensus candidate and neither one could secure a 2/3s quorum to hold an election. Now, however, the majority has agreed on a candidate that the opposition also agreed on: Army Commander General Michel Suleiman. However, the Lebanese constitution says a grade-one employee, such as Suleiman, has to step down two years before running for office. Right now the two camps are in the process of discussing if and how to amend to the constitution to allow Suleiman to run for president. Also last week there was a bombing in Baabda, where the presidential palace is. A top army official was targeted – Brigadier François Hajj. The assassination has stalled the process once more.

Otherwise Alex and I are doing great. This past week we were a little sick, which put a damper on the beginning of our break. We were worried that our vacation we had planned would be ruined, but we got lots of rest and hydrated a lot and we have both definitely seen improvement.

Alex is now getting published in The Executive, where he has worked as a researcher for a couple of months. I’m so proud of him – he is doing really well. And his boss, Matthias, is trying really hard to convince us to stay longer. Guess he realizes just as much as I do how big of an asset Alex is – in everything he is part of!

Alex and I kicked off our Christmas celebrations last Friday when we attended a Christmas party put on by the American and British ladies of Lebanon. It was held in the ballroom of a really nice hotel. We danced all night, listened to great music, won a raffle and really enjoyed ourselves.

And on Friday morning, at 3, we are getting on a flight to Europe for you Christmas vacation! I’ve never been, and am really excited about experiencing another continent. I will definitely try to update during the trip, and will post our pics as soon as possible. Hope to hear from everyone soon.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Moment of Silence for Victims of Bad Hair Cuts

Today will go down in history as a day of mourning…for all those women who have experienced really really bad haircuts. And I don’t mean a bad experience with a hairstylist who has a few unresolved issues, or a few hairs out of place. No! I mean the kind of haircut that stays bad until it grows out, and nothing less than scarves or a wig will make it remotely cute. Will explain later….

So today was possibly the worst day of my life. It rained all day. Within three hours of getting up I knew that it was going to be one of those days where everything was going to try its hardest to go wrong, and I wasn’t in the mood to entertain it.

Rewind to 7 a.m. Alex had a man date today and went out with one of his new coworkers to Faraya, to ski and snowboard a little. We usually spend a bulk of our day apart and I really wanted him to go out with a guy…you know how women can get after a while. He deserved it anyway. I had a busy day ahead of me anyway. I had to finish up college applications, send out more mail than I have in my life, combined, and I wanted to run a few around-the-house errands.

Alex leaves and I get straight to it. By 9 I’m ready to go out and print extra materials for applications, pick and go to a friend’s house to pick up a bank draft they got for us. Well, right about then it starts to rain heavily so I decide not to take the laundry and just wait until a little later. Luckily, however, my friend is almost right outside my apartment and happens to have the bank draft so I forget about the rain and head out to the shop to print.

I ask the owner how much it will be to print and he confirms it will be 200 Lira. Great! Actually, I used the color printer so its five times as much…and the homemade Christmas cards I printed out in color are now six times more than if I would have just bought hallmark ones. Oh well. At least I had all my college materials.

I’m heading back to the apartment and I realize that almost five minutes after stepping out it had stopped raining, and now I would have to make the trip again when I brought my laundry…and I had soooo much to do!

Trying to be really optimistic, I finally made it home. By that time I was really frustrated because I had to deal with really careless people on the sidewalk. I tried to not think about it, and I was bound and determined to get my stuff done. But it was just one thing after another. First the webpage I needed to get one wasn’t loading…then the computer froze at least four times while I was trying to access Seton Hall’s website…then we had a blackout and our internet connection was out (this happens everyday and our internet goes out for hours at a time). Not to mention me running into things, dropping things and just having to run up and down the stairs every time I forgot something in the room.

I made my way downstairs to use the wireless, which worked for a while….until our server went down and then I couldn’t get any of the college addresses I needed. AND I had no one to complain to because Alex was gone…so I took it out on the door.

Finally I reconnected and did speed addressing to get it to the post office by 2 in the afternoon – the time I was told that LibanPost closes. Now I know they close at 1…so I didn’t accomplish that.

I had brought my laundry with me because it was kind of on the way, so I dropped that off. Pretty painless. Here comes the good part. I decided to get my hair cut because I had been wanting to for a while and I finally saw a salon for women (usually I only see salons for men).

I should have known when I walked in and there were only two old women there. I should’ve know…but anyone can say that afterward. But I waited for half and hour anyway to get my hair cut by a man. I showed him a picture of what I wanted. He didn’t speak much English and I didn’t know how to tell him in Arabic exactly what I wanted, so I just pointed it out. I figured he couldn’t mess that up.

Well thirty minutes later, when the cut was only halfway done, I remember thinking that it wasn’t going how I thought it would but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. By then I couldn’t concentrate on the book I was reading because I wanted to see how my hair was progressing. By the end, I was almost in tears. It looked nothing like the picture and is the WORST haircut I’ve ever had. I don’t even know if a stylist could fix this because it’s a little shorter than medium length. And yes, my friends, I cried a bit over my hair. I know, I know it’ll grow out but it just sucks. It’s going to take a couple months to get to the length that it was and I hate having to worry about my hair. All the self-conscious thoughts that I suppress every day had a chance to scream out.

I wore a hood home, and as soon as I could I got on the internet to see if anyone had any advice on how to cover up badddd haircuts. There was nothing that I couldn’t figure out myself, but interestingly one girl had a story uncannily similar to mine. The way she described her awesomely bad haircut sounded exactly how mine did. More importantly her blog entry was dated the same as today, just a few years back. It was an intense moment…so I decided that today was to be the official Bad Haircut Day, where everyone who has experienced it puts a little time aside for remembrance…to remember what its like to be plagued with a bad bad bad haircut.

And this is why I’m taking time from finishing college application essays and blogging. I’m going to be fine, but I just wanted to share my traumatic story with those who may benefit from it. Well actually, it probably more likely because it’s after five and Alex still isn’t home.

To make a long story short, what was supposed to be my most productive day turned out to feel like the least productive….and it’s still raining.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Beginning of the Holiday Season

I think I should see a psychotherapist…I am officially addicted to Christmas music and am getting too excited about the holidays. And we haven’t even had our Thanksgiving dinner yet!

Actually, I’ve been a little homesick this past week. Alex and I went out to get a Christmas tree and some decorations, and I’m really missing the American way of Christmas. What I really love about the season is that everybody knows and loves the same songs, and people just really get into the season.

It all begins with Thanksgiving, when people really start traveling and spending time with family during the season. I don’t think I will ever spend this part of the year away from America, because it’s just so disappointing to be in a place where they don’t have the slightest idea about your traditions. Of course, I don’t expect people here to, but it just makes me homesick.

I remember last year I spent Thanksgiving with one of my favorite families – my boss Clarke from Other Mothers, her husband Tim and her two children Alex and Jenny – and even though I spent it in New Jersey away from family it was still so wonderful! It was all about family and friends sharing time together and just relaxing and enjoying life – and so it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you are surrounded by people who can really enjoy the season.

After putting up the tree, and reminiscing about all those years I put one up with my family and spent the winter break just laying around with a book and some tea, I just wanted to hop on a plane and come home. Its funny how, however ambitious one might be or however busy one becomes, they just can’t get away from the contagious spirit of the holidays.

So I hope everyone is really enjoying the Christmas preparations, and the cold weather. And for all my fellow Christmas lovers, be thankful you are not in a country halfway around the world because it’s just not the same!

This week, I am just running around trying to get a lot of stuff done. I am slowly working toward finishing college transfer essays. I am glad that I have an early start on them, and hope it really pays off.

Otherwise I am really busy trying to plan a Thanksgiving party. So far I am cooking two turkeys, mashed and roasted potatoes, stuffing, veggies on the side, deviled eggs, chocolate chip cookies and a cheesecake. To participate in the American way of Thanksgiving we encouraged everyone to bring something to the party, and people are really helping out! People have said they are bringing pies and other desserts, beverages, side dishes and helping out with decorations.

We expect 25-30 people, so it should be a lot of fun. At least it will help to diminish the disappointment in missing Thanksgiving in America. Best of all, the rushing around to make sure everything goes well has turned into a kind of high. I really think that I could make a career out of planning and hosting events. I just love everything about it. And Lebanon is definitely the place to do it – the social atmosphere is great here! I will definitely post all the pictures from the event…and for all our dear friends and family, we will be thinking of you during our Thanksgiving Dinner, because we could not be with you this year!

Although I mentioned that the organization I work for was hosting Swedish journalists for a week, I did not get around to the best part! At the end of the week they hosted a sightseeing trip to the Ksara Winery, Baalbek and Anjar.

Our first stop was Ksara. We arrived there at ten in the morning, and we were given a tour of the winery. We were able to see the fields, and their legendary caves dating back to the Roman period. They are not sure what the caves were used for, but they uncovered an extensive underground network of tunnels.

The caves are now used to store wine during their fermentation process and to store sealed bottles that are either being aged, or just kept for historical reference for the winery. The best part, of course, was the wine tasting. We tasted seven different wines, and then had a chance to buy from their store. They also gifted us each a bottle of wine, which happened to be my favorite from the tasting.

So after a little wine tasting at eleven in the morning, we all took naps on the way to Baalbek. Baalbek is a site of Roman ruins, including the only surviving temple of Jupiter. The site, for being through an earthquake and centuries of weather, was in relatively good condition. You could really see the beauty of the architecture. It was surprising that there was little guarding of the site and people were able to just pick things up, or write on the structures. But, it was still a very cool site to see.

And our last stop was Anjar. It’s an Armenian town close to the Syrian border, and it was full of good restaurants. We ate at a restaurant right on a little lake, where they actually got the fish people ordered. The food was really good, and it was the first time I ate a fish that wasn’t filleted for me.

As for our trip this past weekend, it is definitely going to be one of my best memories during our stay in Beirut. We definitely achieved what we set out to do, and that was to get away from Beirut and all aspects of city life.

We stayed in a small ski lodge called Chbat, in the village Becharre and the owner Wadih was great! He made sure that we had a safe trip there, and everything was perfect for us! It may have been because we were their only customers at the time, due to the unstable political situation, but nevertheless it was an amazing experience.

The first day we were there we just walked around the town and visited a museum dedicated to Gibril Jibron, a famous author and poet. The town was really quiet and the weather was chilly, in fact the first layer of snow fell on the mountains only a few days before we got there.

The second day was the highlight of the trip. We went on a half day hike of the Qadisha Valley, also called the Valley of the Saints. On one side of the valley there is a village called Dimone, and it is where the Maronite patriarch stays for the summer. Also in the valley there are numerous monasteries and hermitages, some of which date back to the first century. Given that I have not hiked many mountainous regions, the valley was one of the most beautiful regions I have ever visited. Every kilometer offered a beautiful view – each one very different from the other. I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as we enjoyed the hike.

On our last day, we visited the town of Dimone and another town known as the highest village in the Middle East. Also we went to see the Cedars. Although the Cedar tree is on Lebanon’s flag, they are no longer prevalent in the country. Now it is illegal to cut them down and they have small parks dedicated to preserving them. We happened to go to one such park, which was disappointingly small. The trees looked old, and were very pretty. Everyone told us that we had to visit while we are here, because it is what Lebanon is know for…so I’m glad we went.

The weekend was a huge success, and we didn’t want to come back to Beirut on Sunday. We had a chance to sip hot chocolate around a fireplace and just talk about life. We also had a chance to go to a Maronite mass. We went to a short version of mass, but it was much like a Catholic mass except it was in Arabic. Overall, it was nice to get away from the car horns and away from work.

To wrap up I want to update everyone on the political situation. Lebanese President Emile Lahoud’s term ended at midnight on Friday, but the election was postponed for the fourth time until this coming Friday. Lebanon, therefore, is currently presidentless. As stipulated in the constitution, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and his government (his cabinet, that is) took over presidential powers for the time being.

For the past few months there have been worries that Siniora would not be allowed to take over in case of no election, because the president and opposition parties (including Hizbullah) sees the government as illegitimate. This is due to all of Lebanon’s Shiite ministers pulling out of the government, claiming to not be represented fairly.

However, power transferred without any objections or violence/rioting. Thus far the political temperature has remained steady, although there are fears that if there is not an agreement soon things may change for the worse. We feel pretty safe right now, and we are just taking it day by day.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! So we are not having a lick of Turkey today, but don’t worry we are saving it for our Thanksgiving party next week. However, we are really missing the holiday spirit. Tomorrow Christmas music will start playing on radios across America while dedicated mothers and daughters get up in the wee hours of the morning to go Black Friday shopping….(big sigh) oh how I miss it.

But! It is getting really cold here….definitely coat weather. The air is crisper and the overcast weather is creating that drowsy continuous Sunday afternoon feeling…its such a great feeling! I almost felt like I was back in Jersey. And, in preparation of the coming holiday, we have found an online radio station to listen to non-stop Christmas music. Excuse me if my language seems overly peppy, but this music is putting me in a great mood.

It has definitely been a busy week. We stopped taking Arabic classes at the American Language Center to begin private tutoring. The class we were in has come to a stopping point and Alex and I have surpassed their level, so we hired a tutor to move our studies along. Also the private tutor is almost half of what we were paying at the center, so it works for us!

Also I am working with a magazine as a proofreader and a freelancer. It’s a famous Middle Eastern women’s magazine, called Sayidaty. Their December issue will be the first in English, as it is usually in Arabic. So I’m proofreading once a month, before it goes to print and I am doing an article or two a month for them. I’m very excited because I have a good amount of experience in politics, but not in fashion or girly topics – in writing, that is.

So I just want to say that it is obvious that I’m going places:

This was the dinner party that MER, the media organization I work for, threw for the Swedish journalists we hosted for a week. Although the Daily Star does not mention it, Robert Fisk and some reps from the Arab newschannel Al Jazeera were also in attendance. Actually, Robert Fisk, who just wrote The Great War for Civilization and is considered by some people to be THE expert Middle East reporter, ate at my table. We had an interesting conversation to say the least, and it turned out to be a really fun night.

Please note, however, that my picture is not correctly labeled. Of course that is one step up from Alex and my friend, Matthias, who are only mentioned in the explanation paragraph below.

Concerning the situation in Lebanon, it seems unstable. I say that it seems so because its hard to tell. Where we live things are pretty normal, expect for the obvious increased security. Today was Lebanon’s Independence Day and there were no celebrations in sight. This could be due to the rain, but I don’t think that is the real cause. Lebanese President Emile Lahoud’s term is going to end on midnight Friday and there are no indications that consensus is going to happen between the ruling party and the opposition.

There are rumors that if a president is not elected there will be two governments, a possible civil war, a coup d’etat, or rioting. We are all hoping that something miraculous happens in the next few days. If it gets too bad we have a back-up plan…and we will keep you updated.

To get away from it all, Alex and I are taking a long weekend close to the Cedars, Lebanon's famous mountain region with preserved cedar forests, which double as a national symbol, appearing on the country's flag. Its in a village called Becharre and we are staying at a cute little place that one of my bosses told us about. We plan on just taking walks in the forests, and just loving the fresh snow that just fell. Its going to be a weekend next to the fireplace in a cozy salon with a book and a cup of hot chocolate. What a way to spend Thanksgiving away from home, eh?

P.S. Don't worry about the photo of me Grandma. Just because I'm holding a wine glass doesn't mean Alex has driven me to alcoholism!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Thoughts on Diplomacy, and Everything Else

Diplomacy is so funny sometimes. I never realized how amusing it is until I began to read the news everyday. Some of the statements I read by politicians really baffle me. In today’s news Iranian President Ahmadinejad released statements on Interpol’s issue of five arrest warrants of Iranian citizens suspected in the 1994 bombing in Argentina. Interpol can issue warrants, and last year it issued over 2000, but it cannot force the country housing the accused to arrest them.

Iran slammed Interpol’s accusations against five of its citizens, saying that the police force is being dragged into politics. Last August, in retaliation of the warrants, Iran issued warrants for five Argentines, saying they were a threat to Iranian security. I hope this sounds vaguely familiar. After the U.S. labeled Iran’s Qods Force, the elite branch of their army Revolutionary Guards, as terrorists, Iran responded by branding the U.S. army and the CIA as terrorists.

All of this diplomatic discourse gets so tiring. Of course I understand the need to preserve state security as well as maintaining relations with other countries, but sometimes the things states do seem so unnecessary. Would Iran really be seen as weak if they just let the Interpol thing slide? They know they have the choice to arrest them, isn’t it diplomatic enough to just ignore the ruling? Even more importantly, since Iran seems to be hurt that Argentina would implicate them in the bombings, wouldn’t it be a better show if Iran handed over the suspects in a cooperative manner? I guess that just wouldn’t fall in line with Iran’s personality.

I’m sure someone will tell me that I’m missing the bigger picture, but I think it unimportant to spend a lot of time analyzing why Iran wanted to respond in such a way to Argentina. I really think I would be the worst diplomat because I would just dismiss everything as being silly. I’ll leave it to others to handle those kinds of things, haha.

Like most women, I go through little phases like twice a year when I promise myself that I’m going to lose 10-15 lbs. And this month is one of those times. Since winter is coming on, its time for me to do a bit of warm clothes shopping…but who wants to try on clothes with a flabby body? Thus my 10-15 lb goal over the next month, and my subsequent reward of spending Alex’s money on cute clothing! (Shhh, I hope he doesn’t see this!)

So, if anyone has any weight loss tricks up their sleeve, including healthy eating or exercise tricks, feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment on the blog. It doesn’t seem like many people do dieting here, probably because the women naturally have great figures until they are old enough to not care anymore, so I won’t be getting any good advice here.

Speaking of clothing, Alex and I happened to take a friend’s advice and go to a little place called Bourj Hammoud. It is an Armenian district in Beirut, and it is basically streets of strip malls. The clothing was the cheapest we’ve found in Beirut, at least for the above average quality of clothing. Alex was able to get a nice black wool suit, tailored and everything, for 100,000 Lebanese lira (approx $65). I didn’t do any personal shopping, but I was impressed with what I saw. Now I’m starting to feel a little more at home!

Also making me feel a little more at home are the plans Alex and I are involved in for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately we will not be able to celebrate the wonderful American celebration of Thanksgiving, and we will miss seeing turkeys made from silhouettes of hands, pictures of Native Americans and pilgrims, the orange, brown and yellow colors of the season, and of course all the great food. But we are going to do our best to have a big gathering for Thanksgiving – co-planned with a German friend. Yes, he is German, but he says that he loves Thanksgiving….it works.

So, I have one more favor to ask. Send us your favorite Thanksgiving recipe to give us some ideas for a buffet variety. We’ve got the turkey and stuffing on the list, as well as a pumpkin pie, and sides like potatoes and veggies. Thinking about it just makes me really happy! Can’t wait to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thank God for Rain!

We had our first winter rain! It’s almost mid-Nov. and we finally had a heavy and cooling rain. It’s about time – we have maintained 80 degrees during the day here and its starting to really take a toll on my body. I just shouldn’t be sweating so close to xmas!

I have restarted the process of filling out university applications. I’m starting to get that senior year (of high school) giddiness all over again. The first time I applied to college, however, I only send in my application to one school – Seton Hall. Fortunately I got in, but this time I’m playing it a bit more safe. Thus far I’ve begun applications to American University, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, University of Virginia. University of Pennsylvania, George Washington University, and possibly Drexel University.

Also Alex and I have finalized plans for Christmas. Instead of spending it at home, which we will miss terribly, we are going to vacation in Eastern Europe. We just bought the tickets two nights ago! We will fly to Prague and spend Christmas there. Afterward we will go to Vienna for a few days, and then onto Budapest where we will fly back. On the way back, we have a one-day layover in Milan! Four countries in one vacation! Not bad, eh?

Lately we have just been working, studying, working and studying some more. Everyday I am missing the rigors of college even more, but I am still learning a lot. My Arabic is 2000x’s better than ever, and I could hold a pretty decent discussion on a variety of subjects related to the Middle East.

For some light reading this past month I picked up a book by Robert Greene called The Art of Seduction. You may have heard of his other book, The 48 Laws of Power, which also happened to make the Harvard Review. It was definitely a great read; he was a classics major so he infuses the analysis with examples from old and modern history which makes for an interesting layout.

Although, after reading halfway into the book, the chapters can get a little repetitive the anecdotes of historical figures are always fresh and entertaining. It is a non-fiction book that reads like fiction.

Much like his book on power, The Art of Seduction illustrates how a person can be sexually or politically admired by manipulating situations – including the environment, material goods (clothes, gifts, props, etc) and people.

He first defines the kinds of seducers, depending on what the person’s objective and personality are. Then he defines the victims of seducers, particularly what the person is missing in their life to make them succumb to a seduction. Finally he elaborates on the phases of seduction and their respective components. That is, what you want to achieve during the first phase, the second, and so on. He further outlines the qualities of the “anti-seducer,” and in the end how to either break clean from a seduction or keep the seduction alive.

Greene’s analysis of human psychology is right on, although put in simple terms and more common sense than science. More than anything I enjoyed it for the analysis of the human mind, because it always good to know how a person ticks. Even if you have no desire to seduce someone, in any form, I would still recommend the book.

The only problem I have with the author is that both books, on power and seduction, he makes it seem as though the person who employs these tactics achieve their goal(s) is above the people who are the victims. Yes, he admits that the seducer can fail in his task, or that she can be counter-manipulated by her chosen victim; but he does not address the fact that the seducer can wind up in a worse state than his/her victim.

A seduction or power-play is fine, but when someone becomes dependent on it, as did the libertines in Greene’s book, they wind up becoming detached from their victims. That is to say, they are now always in charge and have lost the fantasy of seduction or of being in love. Then the seduction becomes a job and not a pleasure. When one becomes disenfranchised then they are more apt to be the victim, than the seductor. He, although making it seem as if it is quite normal, does not talk about the effects of what I would like to call “chronic seduction”.

Now I am reading The Story of Philosophy by William Durant. I have always been interested in the topic and Alex suggested the book to me, as a good survey of philosophy.

For a brief update:
There are already rumors that the Lebanese parliament’s third attempt at electing a president, on Nov 12, is going to be postponed – again. So far there has been no violence here between group loyal to the majority or opposition. Lebanon is becoming increasingly popular among Western and Mid Eastern states, especially the last few months, so we will see how things pan out.

The same old discourse is being passed around – The majority says it will elect with a simple majority if there is no consensus. Hizbullah and opposition parties threaten to create a second govt, and now President Emile Lahoud is making really immature comments saying that if the majority elects with a simple majority that the opposition will elect with a “50 minus one” vote – trying to signify that both moves are unconstitutional. Who knows what will happen.

Interestingly the US just placed sanctions on two Lebanese and two Syrian politicians, claiming that they were undermining Lebanon’s sovereignty. That didn’t go over too well with Hizbullah or opposition parties in general. Actually, I didn’t know a state could do that, or did that. Amusing!

Hope to hear from everyone soon! And hope that everyone in America is enjoying the fall weather for us!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Laptop Revival

A dying laptop can be really annoying. For the past month our internet time has been really limited and unproductive because our universities laptops, which we had to pay outrageous fees for, couldn't handle two years of usage. We initially wanted to wait to buy our next laptop until we were back in America; our IBM thinkpad thought otherwise.

Constant bluescreening and random shut-downs severely hampered any blogging, research, and emailing. We might as well have fallen off the face of the earth, since we also rely on it to keep in contact with employers and friends in Lebanon. Needless to say, it was a pretty hectic last couple of weeks.

However, Alex and I were able to find and buy an amazing laptop. We had almost given up after a week or so of asking around and walking into shops to make inquiries on selection and prices. We actually went across town to a mall that some people had recommended, but it bore no fruit. There we ran into one of my co-workers and he turned out to be our savior. We, of course, had to buy him a little gift for being so helpful - a cute little bag of chocolates.

So now I am back to being in touch with the outside world - it feels wonderful. Moreover, our new laptop exceeds my expectations. We bought an HP Pavillion with Microsoft Vista operating system. Vista has had bad reviews from some of my friends, but I am in love with it. Its so efficient, and esthetically pleasing. And our HP laptop is great. The features are user-friendly, which is a big plus. Of course, it is brand new so that may be why everything seems so great. Only time will tell how long this will last.

Last weekend, Alex and I were able to have dinner in the mountains with a friend. We went to a restaurant that was in the middle of nowhere - it took us a couple of times to find the street that it was on. It was an Arabic restaurant called Fadal. It was on the edge of a hill overlooking all of Beirut, the view was gorgeous. The food was almost as good as the view, and the company was equally as enjoyable.

The best part, however, was how brisk it was up in the mountains. Since being here there has been no rain - except a few drops one night - and it is not even close to being chilly. The weather has been more bearable, but it has been hard to adjust. For twenty years my body was used to one weather schedule, which was for the most part consistent. Now, it's almost November and my body had no idea what is going on. This has been the longest summer of my life and its still not over.

As for daily life, we have been falling into a good schedule. Alex is now writing for the media organization that I work for - so we are working together in the mornings. He also picked up an internship at The Executive, a business magazine much like The Economist. He is really busy, much more so than I, but it is a great learning experience for the both of us. Now I just have work in the morning and then I have the whole afternoon to myself to get things done - study, exercise, socialize, etc - until Alex and I have class in the evening.

Our weekends have been just as busy as our weeks. We are really taking initiative to explore Lebanon and meet new people. This past weekend we had two parties and a dinner, this coming up weekend we are attending a Halloween party and may be hanging out with some other friends. It is great how much we are doing. Of course, we have met a big ex-pat community but we are trying to befriend more Lebanese and other Arab people. So far, so good.

Working and going out is a lot of fun, but I have found myself getting restless. I love the international experience and really enjoying our stay here, but I miss school. I can't wait to get back to my studies and apply what I have learned here to it. This is really benefiting me and I am opening myself to many opportunities. But I know that my most important objective right now is to finish school. I will be doing that as soon as I get back to the states, but in the meantime I miss it. Classes used to take up a large portion of my time and I didn't realize how much I enjoyed it until now. Soon enough, I guess. Once I've started again I'll probably regret this blog, haha.

Speaking of the states, we have met many Americans who have no desire to return to America. Some have been young people, usually still students, and some older who are working. Of course I have my own criticisms of the country, but it seems baffling to me that these people never ever want to go back. I love adventure and traveling and experiencing new things - but never go back to the states? It never even occurred to me.

It may be that I have very selfish reasons for being here, and I am not traveling for altruistic reasons. I didn't come to work in refugee camps or work with an NGO for women's rights. Instead I'm here just to experience and enjoy a new place and then come back with more on my resume to make myself more marketable. Maybe this is why I don't understand where the ex-pats we met are coming from.

So far living here has just increased our appreciation of life in America. Everything takes four times longer to get done here - grocery shopping, clothes shopping, traveling - and it is just frustrating. Living in America is just convenient. Someone told us that we would get addicted to the lifestyle here, but I doubt it. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the culture and the differing qualities with Lebanon. I am enjoying being here. But going back to America is going to be a breath of fresh air. I like convenience, efficiency, urban sprawl, and the liberal lifestyle of Americans and I miss it.

And to finish off, I want to do a little praising of my fiancee. He officially proposed to me last week and I said yes. Of course we won't be taking any vows for a couple of years, but it is official. I don't think anyone will be very surprised, haha.

Our first couple of months here were pretty rocky. You really get to know a person when you are both in a very foreign place and have no one to vent your frustrations to except each other. Although we lived together for a while before moving to Lebanon, we didn't expect the high tensions we experienced here. We managed to survive as individuals, and as a couple.

Never before have I met someone so encouraging and giving. He has really helped me to take hold of this opportunity and cultivate it into something unforgettable. I feel like I am doing what some would kill for, and he really made it possible. I would never have done it on my own - at least not to this extent.

Now that we have a great computer I will be trying to blog more often. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A News Update

From 8 am to the early afternoon I am constantly reading coverage of the Middle East - this is basically my job description as copy editor of the Middle East Reporter. Compared to my understanding of current events in the Mid East region my first two years of college, I feel like a Mid East expert.

During the four weeks I have been at the Middle East reporter I have read stories on every major Middle Eastern country and then some. Undoubtedly it is great to be able to talk intelligently on numerous Mid Eastern subjects, but its even better to realize that I love doing it! In other words, I know that I am going to love the field I am choosing as my career path.

I have not yet taken time to compare the news I read everyday to news sources in America, but it would be interesting to see which stories they do and do not choose to cover.

So just to share a couple things going on in the Middle East (ME):

The United States has offered to host a ME peace conference in Maryland, with the specific aim of pushing forward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Only recently did the US release the invitation list, as some hesitancy to invite certain ME countries existed - Syria being one of the main ones. Last week Syria declined the invitation saying it would only attend if the issue of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights was on the agenda - Israel said it would not consider putting it on the agenda.

Regarding the conference, Egypt issued a statement a few days ago suggesting a postponement. There have been issues between the Palestinian authorities and Israeli authorities over a timetable and agenda should be a precursor to the conference, or the result of it. There have been promises on both sides to begin drafting resolutions, and promises of follow-up meetings after the conference to settle any unresolved issues. After these statements by Palestinian and Israeli authorities, and a brief visit from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Egypt says it has renewed confidence in the conference.

Turkey made headlines the past week, after asking its Parliament for permission to possibly send troops into northern Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels. The Kurdish separatist PKK party has a support base in northern Iraq, where the majority of Iraq's Kurdish population resides. Turkey has had problems with the PKK rebels, who have committed numerous attacks in the country. America and Iraq, however, have argued against such a move by Turkey saying it could destabilize a a relatively calm region, allied to America. Iraq and America are jointly calling for Turkey to settle the problem diplomatically, and Turkey has responded that permission from Parliament does not necessarily mean an immediate attack but an option if they deem it necessary. Turkey's Parliament officially approved the request. Syria bolstered Turkey's legislation saying the country had a right to defend themselves against a terrorist group.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, after ignoring warnings that he may in danger of assassination, visited Iran to hold meeting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The two leaders met to discuss Iran's nuclear program, and Iran's consequential row with the West. Since his visit, Putin has publicly stated that any military action by the West on Iran would be unacceptable to Russia. Talks over the Bushehr complex, where Iran is building a nuclear reactor, was also on the agenda. Russia, who is going to supply the fuel for the reactor, says Iran has been defaulting on payments whereas Iran claims that is not the case; rather, Russia is fearing a backlash by the West and is stalling the plans. Regardless, Iran requested Russia's help with the creation of two more reactors. In response, President Bush said a nuclear Iran could spark World War III. The UN and the US imposed two rounds of sanctions on Iran thus far. Further sanctions by the EU are being discussed but will probably held off until current reports are released by the IAEA.

Adding to the already low expectations of the US-sponsored ME peace conference, Israel announced that it was going to confiscate more Palestinian land to build roads, saying it would improve the quality of life for Palestinians. The move has led many to question the intentions of Israel amid peace talks.

In a shocking and rare occurrence, Hizbullah agreed to a prisoner and body swap with Israel. Hizbullah released one Israeli soldier and a body of a civilian for some of their comrades. Hizbullah boasted that the move proved their strength after the three month war with Israel last summer.

A German general visited Algeria today to discuss strengthening Algerian forces in order to combat terrorism. Nothing else really interesting in that respect.

Lebanon, however, is a different story. Besides the ever confusing presidential election (or lack thereof) and the prevailing discord between politicians, Lebanon has begun talks to potentially allow America to build a military air base in the country. The stated reason by Lebanon is to enhance security after the three month battle with Fatah-Islam militants in north Lebanon that left over 150 Lebanese soldiers dead. Opposition members, those allied to Syria and who believe Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Sinoira's government is illegitimate, however, believe the rival majority party is encouraging the base to counter Syria and gain backing from the West.

Although the Lebanese presidential election is what I read on the most, it is the hardest to discuss. Everyday we cover stories on what leaders have publicly said - and everyday it gets more confusing. The second attempt for parliament to elect a president is slated for Oct 23, but there are doubts anything will come of it.

The majority party is sticking to its claim that if the parliament cannot achieve a two-thirds quorum for the election, then it is legitimate for them to elect a president with a simple majority quorum. The opposition, however, argues the move would be unconstitutional and they will not recognize the majority's government. If that is the case, there have been threats by the opposition to elect their own government, thereby splitting the country into two. Furthermore, Hizbullah stated it had a list of "options" it would take if needs be and they would employ them at the opportune moment - although they did not say what those options were.

The Maronite Christian Patriarch, Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, is heading a committee to push Christian opposition and majority leaders to agree on consensus candidates. However, the meetings have not yielded any results, as both parties disagree on the other's candidates. Another initiative was introduced, suggesting that four neutral candidates be put forth and members of parliament vote for them by ballot. No one has yet claimed to support or reject it.

Ummm...I'm really racking my brain for more news. Its so hard to keep all the stories straight sometimes. That's all the news I can remember for now, but I will keep you updated on any other interesting stories.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Before I break out with a recount of our trip to Damascus, I have a few announcements. They may be surprising, so sit down. After a week of frustration with the AUB staff and a following week of exhausting studying and emotional breakdowns, Alex has decided to drop out of the Economics graduate program and be a full-time language student. He is also looking into an internship.

Consequently my plans have changed as well. I will not be beginning coursework at AUB, or any other school in the Middle East. Instead I am going to continue my Arabic courses at the American Language Center of Beirut, and continue with my job at The Middle East Reporter.

We are going to remain in Beirut until March of next year, when we will move to Damascus. The rest of our time here will be split between studying in Damascus and Yemen. We are not sure of the exact details, but we are pretty sure that we will spend the rest of our time here studying Arabic and making contacts.

Since we are now full-time students of the Arabic language, for the next year, we are planning on cutting our trip short. Instead of two years, we are going to spend one year in the Middle East and return before the fall semester begins in America. Instead of finishing up my undergraduate degree in the Middle East, I am going to wait until we return in August and begin a school, probably around the DC area.

Like I said, we are not sure of the exact dates and plans, but we are pretty sure that we would rather study in America and just spend our time studying the language and the culture here.

Now to Damascus:

As I mentioned earlier, after coming home from work on a Friday afternoon I found Alex in a really bad state. He had a semi-nervous breakdown after a week of studying economics for 12 hours a day. I tried my best to calm him and we both decided that he needed a break. Surprisingly he immediately suggested that we take a trip to Damascus for the weekend. An hour later we each had packed a backpack and were on our way to the bus station.

The cost of the bus to Somalia Station in Damascus was $6 a person. It was about three hours travel time, from Beirut to the border of Syria. The terrain was beautiful, and it was a nice surprise to get out of the bus on top of a mountain and feel a cool breeze.

Leaving Lebanon was no problem, but when we got to the Syrian border crossing it was another story. The officials told us that they would have to send a fax of our passports to the government and get our visas approved – so we waited. We went to the Syrian Duty-free shop and played with Legos – I made the coolest military base and Alex built Israel on one side and Lebanon on the other and we did a little war-gaming.

Three hours later we were eating Iftar at an “Italian restaurant”. Finally we went to go wait at the border building and were told they STILL didn’t have our approval. Alex wanted to go back to the café but I decided I was just going to wait there until they let us pass. Not more than five minutes passed before they called me over, by referring to me as “America”, and told us that we were ok to go. I’m pretty sure the whole spectacle was for show, but oh well.

Since it was ten at night there were no empty cabs passing by, but we finally caught a ride with a government official who was making a night run from Beirut to Damascus. As sketchy as the ride seemed, we made it to Damascus around eleven at night. We also managed to check in a chic hotel, a little bit on the expensive side, but better than nothing.

Instead of hitting the sack, we went to the Hammidiyah souks in the Old City. It was the most happening thing I’ve seen since being in the Middle East. It is a whole city of shops revolving around the famous Umayyad Mosque. It doesn’t close until midnight or one in the morning and is packed with women, children and men all day. The prices were dirt cheap and they had everything you could imagine.

The next day we stopped by the military museum which was really nice. It was very unlike museums in America, where you can’t touch anything and everything is encased in glass. The displays inside the Museum were behind glass, but they had artifacts outside the museum that you could walk around and touch. In the artisans’ square we came across a painter who did magnificent work! I picked out a black and white scenery painting and bought it for $16.

We also went to the New City which was more miles of shops. These, however, more closely resembled shops in Beirut - in quality and price. That night we hit the Old City again and had dinner with an American we met at a different hostel.

After roaming around the Old City for an hour or so, we wanted to sit down and smoke argilah and have some tea. We stopped by a couple of places, but it was so unlike Beirut – there were no women sitting with the men and definitely no women smoking! We kept walking around until we remembered a restaurant we read about, where Syrian President Assad occasionally goes to have big parties. We found it on the outskirts of the souks and it was beautiful! We sat there for a couple hours just smoking and sipping on chai.

Sunday, our last day in Damascus, we stopped by Hamaams. They are like Turkish baths, where you sit in a steam room, get an exfoliation, soap bath, and massage. It was a liberating experience. I am definitely not used to being completely unclothed around other people, but it had the opposite effect on me that I thought it would. I was completely comfortable and it was extremely relaxing. I went to one in the early morning, when they had hours for women, and Alex went to one for men a little later. Alex learned the hard way that the male souks were a little more reserved!

We walked inside the Umayyad mosque, including Saladin’s courtyard and the prayer room. I had to cover up in a hooded full-length robe, and everyone had to take off their shoes to walk around the Mosque. The mosque was very extravagant, from the intricate deep red carpet to the walls designs outside and inside the Mosque.

Our remaining time was spent picking up some souvenirs at the souks in the Old City. My most memorable buy – a black and red beaded robe for a woman with a matching headscarf! Now I can convert if I am ever so inclined!

Highlights of Damascus:
~Pictures of President Assad everywhere – his face had a place at the border-crossing, hundreds of billboards throughout the country, and on a wall in almost every shop and restaurant.
~Almost no Westerners, but of course some of the first people we saw in Syria were Asians
~Arabic speakers – most everyone spoke Arabic, and a few English. It was nice to practice!
~Night-life – women, men and children were up until all hours of the night.
~Traffic – most drivers actually paid attention to traffic lights.
~Dinners – we ate at some of the most popular and famous restaurants for nothing!
~The terrain – view after view of cities built into the side of mountains.
~Syrians – they were very hospitable and helpful, well except the taxi drivers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Written in September, Posted for Memory

Am I feeling a bit sentimental? I am definitely feeling a bit lost in nostalgia. Perhaps it's the chamomile tea I'm sipping on, the Beatles-Elton-Sinatra-McGraw compilation I'm listening to or the overall feeling of relaxation coming over me as I lounge out on our balcony. Regardless, I've taken a break from studying and relapsed into the old me.

I'm surprised that I haven't gone through some life-changing transition. Take away all the experiences I can now put on my resume and nothing has changed. I'm unsure of what I expected to happen but it is a comfort knowing my "self" is tried and true.

Of course my politics are always adapting as I become more educated. Yets it's also comforting that I do not change when my politics do. Then again, ideas as abstract as politics have never meant much to me. Experiencing life in another country and being happy with my choices, that is meaningful.

No word less than awesome can describe the fact that I was able to travel across the world to live and not sacrifice the things I've kept over the years.

Alex and I were discussing culture the past few days. We mainly focused on the differences between countries labeled "highly developed" and their cultures and those "lesser developed". We didn't come to any conclusions, but we remarked on the simplicity of continuing our daily rountines in a foreign place.

I love learning about the culture in Lebanon - finding out what the younger and older gernerations do, tasting the food, listening to the music, observing tradtions. But the simplicity of turning on iTunes and listening to music that I grew up with and feeling completely at home, really gets me.

If I did not have all the conveniences, would I have completely changes my preferences due to limited choice? Who knows. It's easy for me to say yes as I continue to listen to John Denver - but I don't have to make a choice. I have to exist in another culture, but Lebanon is nowhere near forcing me to accept all of its peculiarities.

Again, I am amazed at how easy it was for us to settle down comfortably. And that I can be myself and indulge in music, food, etc that I love.

Not to say that I am not participating or exposing myself to aspects of Lebanese culture. It is just great that I can add those things to my preferences.

Anyway, its bedtime. As the younger generation of Beirut is beginning their night, I'm off to bed to get my required 7 hours of sleep. Until next time...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

From Cabbage to Politics

Until now the only way I’ve eaten cabbage is boiled, usually on St. Patrick’s day or with Polish sausage. But I’ve joined the cabbage leaf revolution! I first had it raw with Tabouli, a traditional Lebanese salad made primarily with burghal (type of wheat) and chopped parsley. Instead of eating with utensils, we simply broke off a piece of cabbage leaf and scooped up the salad with it.
I recently discovered a second use for the refreshing cabbage leaves. Because many dishes come with types of bread, and subsequently a high intake of carbs, I decided to use cabbage leaves as an alternative to bread. Instead of a turkey sandwich on white or wheat, change it up by wrapping your meat and extras in a leaf of cabbage. 100 grams of cabbage, which I am assuming is about 3 big leaves, adds up to 24 calories instead of the 80-100 for 2 slices of bread. And its surprisingly tasty!

So – this is what you’ve all been waiting for: my views on the Lebanese presidential elections! I’m 98% positive that none of the local news channels are covering the complexities of the elections and I would be surprised if BBC world news was covering it at length. So, let me give you a run-down.

In Lebanon, the parliament elects the president – not the people. Of course citizens vote for their parliamentarians, but they have no direct say in the election of the President. This is not to say that it is a silent process. On the contrary, the elections have been successful in fomenting emotions. In day-to-day events it is most apparent in the lack of political advertisement and propaganda.

Most political tension comes from the disagreements between the pro-Syrian (March 8 coalition) and anti-Syrian (March 14 coalition) camps. Syria occupied Lebanon for 29 years until withdrawing in 2003 when riots broke out after the assassination for Former PM Rafik Hariri. Syria was accused of being involved with the assassination, although it strongly denied the allegations. The resulting rift was a division between those parties that continued alliances with Syria and those opposed to Syrian interference in Lebanese politics.

Current president, Emile Lahoud, is pro-Syrian. His term was extended for three years after pressure from Syria. The decision to extend president Lahoud’s term was heavily criticized by anti-Syrian politicians, and now the anti-Syrian groups are ready to elect someone uninfluenced by Syria. This desire to elect an anti-Syrian president may be blocked by the ambitions of the pro-Syrian camp and Syria itself.

Election day was set for Sept. 25, but House Speaker Berri postponed until Oct. 23, when and if the camps could settle their differences. This decision came after months of dispute over how the elections would precede. In Lebanon’s constitution the first round of votes will only result in a president if it passes with a 2/3s vote. All other rounds of votes, if they do not yield an agreement, can pass with a simple majority. However, the issue now is not over the actual voting in elections, but the needed quorum - the amount of parliamentarians in attendence to begin elections. The constitution does not stipulate if a 2/3s quorum or a simple majority quorum is needed to begin the election process.

Pro-Syrian Berri proposed that a 2/3’s quorum is needed and the Majority party welcomed dialogue but has not agreed to any required quorum. However, anti-Syrian groups boycotted the election and parliament was consequently lacking the needed quorum. There has been no agreement on a unity government, a compromise candidate or on quorum. For these reasons the elections were postponed until next month.

During the dispute over the issue of quorum, there was talk of the two camps agreeing on a compromise candidate. The problems with the compromise candidate include the lack of both camps publicly stating what their qualifications for the president are, and not officially putting forth candidates with a platform or a vision.

The prospect of compromise seems bleak, and it will be interesting to see how the situation develops as the Oct. 23 comes closer. For now the camps continue to accuse each other of trying to pull a political coup and not respect the wishes of the other. The deadlock is setting the region up for violent eruption, or possible intervention by another state – namely Syria. Although this is highly unlikely, I do not think that Syria is willing to let a staunchly anti-Syrian candidate be elected thereby limiting Syria’s influence in Lebanese politics. If Lebanon seemed to be dissolving into sectarian disputes, I’m sure Syria would love to take on the responsibility of “stabilizing” the country. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that and that the international community keeps giving Lebanon the support it needs to get past these petty disputes.

Whew! I tried giving the least confusing run-down possible, but if anyone has questions just let me know! If anything I will provide links to new sources giving the best views of the crisis. If you want to read up on it the Daily Star always has great coverage!

Moving on, Alex and I went out to a club last night called White. It’s a restaurant/bar/nightclub. We sat down with some Lebanese and American friends for drinks. Then we joined in on the dancing when the music picked up. It was a beautiful place – with no roof because it was on the rooftop of an eight story building. It was fun to get all dressed up and stay out all night!

Other than that our lives have been pretty standard. Alex started classes this past week – econometrics is already kicking his ass. But he’s doing great and studying so much!

Today is all about relaxing and preparing for the week ahead! I’m getting ready to make brownies – always a treat – and Alex and I are going out to dinner and we’re having Lebanese cuisine! Hope to hear from everyone and all the interesting things happening outside of the Middle East. We miss home and everyone back in the US!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


My schedule has become as such: getting up at six in the morning, working until one-ish, studying, napping, class and then trying to fit in more studying before I collapse from exhaustion. Alex and I are still working on finding time for each other and to go out and have fun, but we have the weekends. Most importantly I’m relieved that I am now on a schedule because for a while I thought I was going to have more free time (which also means time to slack off) than I preferred.

The speed with which Alex and I were able to settle in and begin enjoying our time here is astonishing. We, however, did not escape a bout of travelers’ blues. Our antidote was finding a huge market -ironically right up the street from our apartment – finally getting out with some new friends to a jazz concert, beginning to cook meals and not eat out everyday and clearing up some issues at AUB. The small period of frustration we went through has come and passed. Thank God!

So what’s taking up all my time? During the week my schedule is pretty packed (refer to first sentence) due in part to the editing job I began this week. I have not encountered any significant problems thus far. My only editing experience is from high school and college and sometimes I feel that my editing skills are inadequate. Although I do not lack confidence in my writing abilities, I found that some of my changes do not make it to the final copy.

When editing I try and respect the writer’s style, maintain consistency throughout and make everything as concise as possible. However, I get just one chance to go over the page I’m editing because I have such a strict time limit. The first couple of days I came home upset from frustration.

I want to be better and quicker, so I’ve been spending a few hours everyday studying the art of editing. I put together a few note-cards with common names of state leaders, etc, so I wouldn’t waste time asking the writers if they themselves checked the names. Furthermore, I am refreshing myself on vocabulary, tricky words to look out for, proper punctuation and subject-verb agreement. It is like taking a middle school English class, all over again. But hey, I’m doing my homework.

While we’re on the subject of homework, my Arabic classes are intensifying! Our class was cancelled last Thursday because of the assassination of MP Antoine Ghanem, but we were right back at it on Monday. Moving onward from simple greetings and requests, our professor decided we were ready to start conjugating verbs in the past tense. Memorizing the vocab has been simple and up until now I did not have to put in much effort.

On Saturday Alex and I took a trip to the South of Lebanon – only 12 miles from Israel! The name of the town is Tyre, known as Soor in Arabic. First, we visited a site of famous Greek/Roman/Byzantine/Egyptian ruins. Near the end of the site, which happened to be at the beach, a man carrying a wooden cigar box approached us with some “historical” information (Howard, you are going to like this story). He seemed friendly enough but, of course, he had an ulterior motive.

Soon enough, he had us in a conveniently secluded spot in the ruins showing us artifacts he dug up out of the ocean. His treasures included currency from three different empires and carved dolls. Claiming to need money for his child, he ran down a list of reasons we should buy them. If Alex wouldn’t have been there I probably would’ve bought the whole cigar box. I loved the thought of owning a little part of history. Alex, on the other hand, was the reasonable one.

Not only was he reasonable, but he informed me that there are many international laws against selling and buying such artifacts. I had no idea! I agree that the trinkets could have been fake and that they probably should be reserved for display at museums, but illegal to buy? One can buy famous art, surely a historical artifact, and it is not illegal. Needless to say, I didn’t come home with the Greek coin of two people making love!

The rest of our trip was browsing through the souks (little shops) and swimming in the Mediterranean. The beaches were actually sandy and less polluted. It turned out to be a great day! Oh and there were flags of Nasrallah all over…it really is Hizbullah land!

I’ll have to wait until my next blog to talk about the Lebanese presidential elections and other things on my mind. This is about the time I collapse from exhaustion! Good night!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Heavily-industrialized and overwhelmingly populated, Beirut should have a comprehensive and well-equipped recycling center. All the reconstruction projects and aims to make Lebanon more attractive would lead one to believe organizations exist to take more care of the area. Yet, other than the hired trash collectors on Rue Hamra, there are no signs of initiative to clean up the highways and beaches.

Souk el-Tayeb, the kitchen workshop/open market-place I took Alex to for his birthday, is making an inspirational move to motivate others to take trash to recycling centers. It is one great move in the right direction. Their organic marketplace is small, yet surely growing over time, and is showing that buying from organic farmers is only slightly more expensive, if at all.

Furthermore, the directors put out pamphlets (made out of recycled paper) detailing who sells at the marketplace and how they are trying to be eco-friendly. Any buyer had the opportunity to bring their own bag to shop with or buy a bag made out of organic materials so to not waste plastic and paper bags.

This month’s Souk el-Tayeb newsletter focuses on recycling initiatives. Unlike many Americans, who enjoy free or low-fee recycling, Beirutis do not have the incentive to partake in such programs. Currently two universities have published work on their recycling program, and five companies boast their recycling incentives.

Lacking a central recycling organization makes it costly and inefficient for the average individual. Although gas is cheap in Lebanon, facing traffic or having to pay a cab fee (if the taxi driver knows where one of the few recycling centers are) can make the trip time-consuming and costly.
Recycling in America, and other developed countries, are standard. An organization promoting recycling awareness is not considered particularly moving or revolutionary; it is just considered part of the “green” movement. In Lebanon, however, such a movement is inspiring.

Although Lebanon is considered one of the most advanced Middle Eastern states, she is not at the same level of development as some countries with advanced recycling initiatives. The effort put forth by the handful of universities and businesses is, with luck, the beginning of a national trend. As Lebanon comes closer to political and infrastructural stability, perhaps the country will be increasingly green.

So for my news! First, Alex and I have befriended another American! Greg, from Pennsylvania, is a Political Science grad student. On Monday night we all went to an American-style diner (meaning they serve breakfast 24/7) and had our biggest meal since being here. It was absolutely refreshing!

Just as exciting is my trip to the laundry-mat. I was finally able to get some of my clothes washed in an actual washing and drying machine! I’m not sure if I can relay the significance of this via my blog…but it was a huge deal! I felt 1,000 times better after getting my clothes cleaned.

So, biggest news of all! I had an interview today, which I spent the last couple of days briefing and studying for. Monday I will be starting as copy editor of The Middle East Reporter. I saw a posting on AUB campus for a “Native English speaker with an interest in Middle Eastern politics.” I also have an opportunity to train for journalism. It is only a few hours in the mornings and I’m exhilarated for the experience.

If you want to check out their website, it is:

Well, I’m off to the beach with Alex and Greg! Hope to hear from everyone soon!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Never Thought I'd Say This...

Today we took a trip down to the Sûrete-General to ask a few questions about residence visas. Not surprisingly we hit a dead end and Alex and I will have to wait a few more days to get any questions answered.

While we were there we stopped off at Agence universitaire de la francophonie (AUF) just to look around. It is a small campus with a fresh looking central building and a small green. The green must have only been 75 ft by 100 ft. However small, it is the biggest I’ve seen since being here.

Being directly under the sun and nowhere near lush, I had no desire to take out a book and lounge around on the green. But I couldn’t help feeling a wave of homesickness.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the food, the people are great and I’m excited about all the opportunities. My frustration may be a result of all the inconveniences we’ve encountered our first week here.

My awareness of discomfort grew exponentially when I saw the grass. Since leaving New Jersey I haven’t missed the simplicity of being surrounded by state parks and trees – but today it really hit me. I guess I miss the easy life of Americans. For example – we have found only one self-service laundry-mat in Beirut. The rest are dry cleaning services that charge about 1,000 lira per item. The conversion is, roughly, 1,500 lira equals 1 USD. That may not seem like much, but when I have twenty items to wash it comes out to $13.20.

The self-service laundry-mat is much cheaper but it’s a little bit of a walk and it would still be costly if we used it every week. Besides the laundry problem, supermarkets are not the easiest things to find. Also supermarkets are hardly places where you can get anything you need. Moreover, everything except clubs, cafes and restaurants close by 6pm.

Maybe I’m being too impatient! The difficulty in getting necessities has just caught me off-guard. I prepared myself for harassment because I’m a woman and an American, potential violence, the chance of getting sick because of the water or food, and really everything else except this.

There is one upside, I guess. I’m definitely learning a lot about patience. I’m trying to be a bit more creative. I will probably never get the hang of hand-washing clothes but I’m starting small.
In better news, I was able to find a good knife set and collection of cooking ware. So things aren’t that bad!

Even better news! I’m employed! I know I told everyone that I had no plans to work while studying, but I just couldn’t resist. On our third day in Beirut I was reading the Daily Star and came across the employment section of the classifieds. I figured a little extra cash wouldn’t hurt any. But its not just any job. I’m employed 2-3 hours a week to have an informal English conversation with a native Arabic speaker learning English. In return I will also get to practice my Arabic. It seems ideal!

Oh! I almost forgot. Alex’s birthday gift on Wednesday night was a total hit! A couple of weeks before we left I did some internet searching and came across a kitchen workshop called Souk el-Tayeb. Well, it’s actually an outdoor market that does kitchen workshops on the side. Kamal, who runs the workshop, told me initially that they had not done them since last summer’s war but that it would be a good time to restart it. I am sooo grateful because it wound up being the best experience of our trip so far.

The house we were doing the workshop was in Batroun, just a couple hundred feet from the beach. It was a beautiful French colonial style house with a wonderful garden. The workshop consisted of cooking with the chef (Kamal) and then a wonderful dinner. We prepared Fish Kebbe (Barghul and Fish stuffing over spiced onions and veggies), traditional Tabbouli, baked broccoli, and homemade Babba Gnanoush. Then they had a cake for Alex’s birthday.

Alex had so much fun and it was definitely worth the bus and workshop fee. During our little cooking session, Kamal told Alex he was doing a great job cutting and such. Maybe now I can get him in the kitchen more often!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

After 20 Miles of Looking for an Apartment...

The couple weeks before the big move to Lebanon, I had trouble finding the motivation to study. However, one week in Lebanon and I’m well on my way! I began Arabic classes at the American Language Center (ALC) this Monday. The ALC’s location is perfect as it sits directly in front of AUB’s main gate.

I have the class from 7pm-8pm, Monday through Thursday. That may not seem like much time in class, but it is a handful. We are beginning with spoken Arabic instead of MLA and it is exactly what I need. Even between the two of us, Alex and I found it hard to hold a small conversation with a native Lebanese. We thought that it might be dialect; instead I found out that we were only learning classical Arabic in America. The people we speak to on a regular basis may not be as educated and do not understand what we are saying.

Although learning classical Arabic will be a must if I want to be proficient, I must say that this program has helped me very much even after two days of class. Everything I learned in my two years of Arabic at Seton Hall has been corrected, down to the pronouns and numbers.

I’m putting in a couple hours of study everyday. I’m glad that I’m not registered for classes this semester so I can devote plenty of time to learning the language. I will be auditing a class at AUB which I’m hoping to be intermediate Arabic. I planned to audit at Haigaizen University but AUB confirmed that I do not have to apply to audit, the fee is less, and it is much closer to our apartment.

Speaking of apartments, we finally found one and it is furnished! It’s actually a hotel, but they gave us a great long-term rate. We have a balcony overlooking Rue Hamra (pretty much the busiest and most popular street near AUB), air conditioning, satellite TV, AND (you won’t believe it) maid service twice a week. We landed the room for $550 a month (not including internet) and everyone is telling us that it’s a great deal. After apartment hunting for a couple days I definitely believe it.

Also after apartment hunting I noticed that the price to rent a room is very high. Not as high as New York City, or South Orange for that matter, but our apartment is situated in a place similar to Newark with high prices. However, material goods are less expensive unless you are shopping at boutique-y places. I do not understand the parody between apartment prices and the price of goods. But then again, I do not claim to be an economics expert.

Hope everyone is well!

PS) Tomorrow Alex and I will travel to Batroun in the north for Alex’s surprise birthday gift. I will let everyone knows how it goes and post those pictures along with the others I’m still trying to upload.