April 25, 2018

On the Corniche

My dad is like Johnny Walker; 102 years old and still going. He’s in Beirut, and while I’m at work, he strolls through town with his walker. Not an easy task, he says, because there are the holes in the pavement, the cars are parked on the sidewalks, there’s lamp posts, electricity poles, traffic signs and what-not blocking his path and a curb every 10 meters, so he’s got to lift that walker up and down, up and down and up and down. And I live on a hill. But he keeps on walking.

Just like Johnny Walker He's a 102 years old

Last Saturday we decided to go for a stroll along the Corniche. From the Bain Militaire (Or Hamam el Askareh) to McDonalds, and back again, exactly 5 kilometers, is a nice smooth walk. On one side the jagged edges of the city’s high-rise, on the other side the flat and calming waters of the Mediterranean Sea; the contrast couldn’t be starker. I basically live รกnd work on the Corniche, but it is odd, I rarely walk there. Yet the Corniche is fantastic entertainment.  It is a cross-section of Lebanese society in a way; as you stroll along this long and narrow stretch of beach boulevard, you encounter the contrasts, the cultural quirks, and the gentle and human side of this society.

The really early ‘walkers’ start already at 4 AM, right after the morning prayer, because that is when Beirut is at its best: cool, empty and quiet. We’re a little lazier so we did an afternoon walk.  The first thing we encountered was a half-naked man.

It's not that warm, according to the man on the left near the railing

Yes, the bare-breasted/bear chested men are a typical Corniche phenomenon, and they come out as soon as the sun shines, like crocuses. I am rather amused by these men who are so openly working on their tan line, while totally comfortable with bodies that are often less than perfect. They slather themselves in baby oil from top to toe, roll up their running shorts all the way into their crotch, making them look like puffy speedos, and march up and down, from the Bain Militaire to the McDonalds and back again.

This young skinny kid is learning the art of ‘marching for a tan’

It surprises me that no one is offended by this open display of flesh, because although we’re on the sea side, we’re not at the beach, and this is a society where it is often all about covering up. The Dutch seems to have the reputation that everything goes, but Holland is actually a society where quite a few things are deemed ‘improper’. Where the Lebanese frown upon pre-marital sex and immodesty, the Dutch condemn the flaunting of fortune, the boasting of accomplishments and open vanity.

If you get a nose job in Holland, you disappear from the face of the Earth until the scars are gone, and then, if anyone notices, you claim you needed a sinus correction for medical reasons. Here, the surgical nose plasters are so common that you sometimes wonder if they actually had an operation, or just pretend to look cool. And so these semi naked men, so concerned with their tan, always mesmerize me.

The next thing you see are the bikers. There is quite a bit of recreational biking in town these days, but traffic is mortally dangerous for two-wheelers, as no one uses signal lights, drivers and passengers alike open car doors without checking if someone is passing by, or make sudden right turns. The Corniche is the only ‘safe’ place in my part of town. 

Comparing mode of transportation; bike versus walker (actually, we ran into a family member J )

Coming from a culture where children bike by the time they are 3 of 4 years old, it is cute to see grown ups - confident as anything -  on tricycles, on bikes that are 5 sizes too small or in full athletic gear with helmets while going at 5 km an hour. But it is all good. They are all having a good time, riding along the Mediterranean. The ‘Beirut By Bike’ rental bikes are all over the place.

A very manly man, muscles and a tattoo, quite comfortable that he’s riding a yellow girl bike. That, or he does not know it is a girl bike

And since everyone is out on the Corniche, you are bound to run into people you know. Sometimes you just slap a high five as you cross one another, walking in opposite directions. Sometimes it merits a stop, and as you talk, you block the middle of the boulevard and now everyone has to navigate around you. Doesn’t matter, nobody gets annoyed.

There’s lots to see, and not just on the boulevard. Part of the life takes place ‘under it’. There’s the AUB beach, which -  although the official beach for the American university - sports an unusual amount of men that do not seem to be students, unless they are taking their time with the course work. These are also engaged in some serious sun tanning, lively conversation or very intensive paddle ball competitions. Paddle ball is a sport I did not know even existed, until I came to Lebanon. It’s like tennis, at least the ball gets smashed as hard as in tennis, but the rackets are little wooden paddles.

Then there are the dog owners. Not a pet society by tradition, and so if you have a dog, you got to walk it here. The poor huskies and woolly German shepherds, on super short leashes, and in the blazing heat, walk next to their owners as everyone gives them wide berth. There is a fear for dogs among many. Big dogs that is, because the little ones get patted and picked up by everyone. One of my little dogs is a nasty one, a nipper, and I’ve stopped walking that one in public, because every time someone wanted to pet him, I envisioned scenarios where I had to drive to poor guy to the hospital with an index  finger dangling by a threat

While strolling, you notice the sharp contrasts in dress, from the revealing to the covered from head to toe, but regardless the garb, they all there to exercise, or stroll to see the sea, or escape the house. You have the ‘sweater’s, those that walk in tight plasticized suits, in the hope, I assume, to lose the excess weight through profuse sweating. Granted, you do lose quite a bit of weight that way, but it’s never a long lasting affair. 

Since the influx of Syrians into the country, you obviously see them strolling on the Corniche as well. They are – in general – dressed a little more conservative than the Lebanese, and love taking pictures of each other in front of the sea. Or with the dog. Or next to a bike. In front of the rose peddlers, or the balloon salesman. They just love taking pictures.

And while some flaunt full skin, others prefer to walk around as if they are about to join a sailing competition. It’s their understanding that it isn’t summer until summer starts on June 21. And so until that time, they wear something warm.

You see tourist from both sides of the realm, the Westerners, white as milk, not used to sun so early in the season, and the Arabs, some fully clad in chador, and sometimes with face coverings as well. The war in Syria has pulled in quite few young westerners, all working for NGO’s that deal with Syrian refugees. I always have to smile when I see them. Dressing up in Europe and the US is obviously a different affair than dressing up in Lebanon. When people here just go out for ‘a drink’, they’re often dressed better and more formal than how most westerners would show up at the wedding of a friend. What is most striking are the shoes. And I know this from myself; in Holland you wear shoes until they fall apart. And nobody is more notorious for not polishing their shoes ever than the Dutch. Not here. There are shoe shine boys all over town, so there is obviously a market. And shoes that look slightly worn, or scratched, or a little old, get discarded. 

A father dragging his toddler; both were very happy doing what they were doing

This eye for details is lost on the westerners, especially the young ones. They often wear clothes that we as Lebanese slightly frown upon; a T-shirt with a frayed neck line, a pair of shorts that have been washed so often that you cannot determine the color anymore, un-ironed shirts,  jackets with stains or shapeless dresses. And of course the shoes.  But in this xenophile society, anything  coming from abroad is forgiven for their ignorant approach to style. Well, depending from what part of the world they come.

Here is an elderly gentleman, walking, with what I assume to be his housekeeper, but I may be totally wrong, conditioned as I am by the expectations of society, which assumes that if you’re colored, you must be a maid. It is just that mixed racial marriages are – unfortunately – quite unusual in Lebanon. The Lebanese are not THAT xenophile. I once had a housekeeper from the Philippines, who married a Lebanese man, and she complained that every time she’d show up with him at his friends’ house, they’d assume she’d be doing all the cleaning and the dishes, seeing that she was a maid. It drove her wild. 
I find it very endearing though, this lady and gentleman, walking so patiently side by side, assisting one another in life.

A bit further ahead are the fishermen. Most of them are hobby fishers; they go after the little fish with the spiny dorsal fish. There’s a reason of course why all these fish gather in this specific place; the city’s waste water exits here into the Mediterranean. The water is warm and obviously rife with all kinds of ‘edible’ items, and although it’s not exactly the sewer, it is still not quite the fish I’d like to eat. But these guys sit here all day, while the people look and see what they are doing.

And while you walk, you see the same people several times, because it is only 2,500 meters, and so everyone walks up and down. Well, there’s much more to see. The daddies with newborn babies, swathed in blankets, as they proudly parade their child along, showing it off. The skaters, the argileh smokers, the men in groups of three (somehow a magic number), the couples - oddly out of shape - in matching  Adidas straining suits and shoes, the girls eye balling the guys sitting on the railing and the guys eye-balling the girls walking by.

Always in sets of three (the magic number)

Even the police bikes here

And so if you’re not busy, and need some diversion, go for a stroll on the Corniche. If you like it busy, go for Saturday and Sunday late afternoons.

March 25, 2018

Nahr Ibrahim

 It used to be one of my favorite spots on the Ibrahim River; the part under Yachouch and right behind the little hydro dam.  There is no traffic, no houses, and very little garbage. They’ve made it a little harder to get to the river; a sturdy wall blocks us now, and they’ve strung barbed wire over the fence. I assume it was done by the people of the hydro plant. But some thoughtful hikers have hung some ropes in which you can put your foot, and with some effort you can climb over the fence. Better not lose your balance though, because the rebar will skewer you like shish-taouk. 

Now that it is harder to get there, it is slightly cleaner, always a good side effect. The only garbage is the plastic bags stuck in the trees, like Buddhist prayer flags, from when the water ran much higher.  The river is still flowing strong, but the snow has pretty much all melted, and the water is quite cold.

They’re in the process of damming up this river somewhere upstream, near Janneh, not for generating electricity purposes but for conserving water. But ti seems that studies show the rock surrounding the project is porous, and so you end up losing quite a bit anyway. Fixing the existing water infra structure would probably be cheaper and more efficient, if you ask me. But fr the meantime, it is still a quiet and secluded river at this spot. 

March 12, 2018

I'd Rather Live Happy Than Well

When you readers wonder if you are still alive, then I guess it is time I post something. It is mind boggling to me how I used to churn out almost a post a day, and I had small children then who needed care and entertainment. I used to go on picnics far into the country! These days I do not get beyond a range of some 50 kilometers of Beirut, and my kids entertain me. So how did I get to be so busy? I changed jobs, and although it is a more demanding job, that can’t be it because I used to juggle two jobs side by side for many years. Instagram takes some of my time, but not that much. Guess I am getting old.

You've got the mountains

So time to post something.
Beirut is as chaotic as ever. Elections are coming up, which is an insult to just about everyone in town, as nothing is really being elected but rather the pie is being divided amongst the ones in power, the grand majority of whom are relics from the civil war, war lords,  or those related or connected to war lords, or who are otherwise fed by them. I have given up hope in that department. We will forever be a Banana Republic.

and the sea

And yes, there are the power cuts, the double bills for all amenities, the traffic jams, the slow internet, the pollution and the ridiculous cost of education, but a Banana Republic has its advantages too. The lack of rules and regulations is rather liberating, and this may sound strange to those who crave it, but go live in Holland for 5 years, and you get what I mean.
A friend of ours mentioned the other day that he’d rather live ‘happy’ here, than ‘well’ outside. 
I have thought about that statement quite a bit this last month.  And although that may make no sense to those who are struggling to make ends meet in this place, but if you can afford to pay your bills, than Beirut is the place to be.
The pinkish hue of Lebanese sunsets

Because Beirut can be lovely. Three days ago I had lunch with two friends in a rather tiny restaurant in town. Actually, only one table fits inside, so we had to sit with two other customers. By the end of the lunch, we were basically friends. We figured out that his parents have a house in the same village as where my husband used to spend his summers, we knew what they did and where they lived and worked and heck, since we told them they should get married, “I mean, 35, seriously dude, what are you waiting for, she is a lovely girl” we’ll probably get invited for the wedding too. That, I dare say, does not happen outside. So you take the lack of public services for granted, while the structure of the society keeps you happy.

"Malik el Vols" taking a look at my (daughter's) van

So what have else have I been up to? Well, I spend my weekdays working like a dog, and my weekends walking my dogs. Last Sunday I started out with three of my own but ended up with nine in the end. They seemed to be coming out of every nook and cranny and joined our pack. The switch between winter and spring is a special one in the mountains. There is the sound of running water everywhere, and there is grass. Being a Dutchie, I have an affinity with grass, and there is lots of it now. It doesn’t last long and that is why I cherish the couple of weeks when the hills are green.
And so yes, I work hard, but I've got a job, and an interesting one at that, so I count my blessings. 

Mountain hike with friends (and dogs)

The winter is pretty much over, which is sad 'cause I got to ski only once, but the flip side is that the sea is here, and so is spring. I’ve been going on lovely afternoon boat rides, where all you see is unhindered sun sets, soft breezes and pinkish hues on the horizon. It seems, as I have claimed years ago, indeed something in the atmosphere that makes sunsets unique to the location, and the Lebanese ones are truly unique. And what may be spring for you is like summer for a Dutchie, so we’ve been swimming already. Granted, it seems to be jellyfish season as well, but that’s okay. They’re so huge you cannot really miss them.

Never thought about it but yes, you can carve your name in Arabic as well into a tree. This reads something like "I love you" with a date somewhere in 2014. I cannot decipher the name. 

The hippie van is still in the making. We have located Grerius (George in Arabic), who apparently is known around town as the ‘malik al vols’ (The king of the Volkswagen)  who - at the ripe old age of 68 – has taken an interest in my bus. His verdict was that the clutch was loose, the brakes non-existent, the exhaust was exciting in the car (I had noticed that bit) and that the steering wheel had ‘play’ in it.  That car will most definitely drive for yet another 50 years (it’s from 1969). I’ve already located some fellow Volkswagen van aficionados, and we’re totally going to move this hippie scene to the next level. The other day I met a lady the other day over dinner, and was surprised to hear that she had similar aspirations: she also wanted to become a hippie. So more to come on that front.   

On my commute to work

Then I keep getting letters from my Dutch bank, inquiring where I intend to pay my taxes. Another reason for being grateful for that I reside here. No amenities, no old age pension, bad roads, pollution, corruption and fake elections.  A Banana Republic by all accounts. 
But I’d rather live happy than well.

February 07, 2018

Shortest Ski Season Ever

The season started late because the snow was late this year. But better late than never. Usually, we ski beginning January, but this year we had to wait until then end of the month. And when there finally was snow, we got fog as well. And although I love skiing while the snowflakes are coming down, it was more of an exercise to find your way around.
But last Saturday, finally, it was a fantastic day for skiing. Clear and sunny skies, no traffic, well-groomed and quiet slopes, they’d even thrown in a new lift somewhere way up high, so no competition from the newbies, and crispy snow. Almost too good to be true.
Too good to be true, in fact.  
Because it looks like that was indeed the one and only ski day of the year 2018.  It’s been an average of 12 degrees and over on the slopes the entire week. I think I might as well pack up my gear again.

One good day. This must have been the shortest season ever. 

It was, in other aspects, also a memorable season, as it was my first time going solo after some 20 years. A rude awakening, I might add. For as long as I ski, I have skied with my kids. First I taught my son, and so we always skied together. My son actually enjoyed skiing. He eventually switched to snowboarding, and as his friends were all on the slopes of Feraya every weekend, in the end all I would see of him was during the car ride up and the ride down. By that time, I had taught my daughter, and I would ski with her. She hated skiing, but when she  switched to boarding, she became an avid fan, and so I always had a skiing buddy.

But this is of the past. She knows these slopes like I knew the back alleys in my neighborhood. She knows how to get from one end of the resort to the other, knows what lifts have lines and which have not, which slopes are good in the morning and which in the afternoon, and where they sell the best manakis zaatar.  The friends she grew up with all ski, and they’ve roamed the slopes with us, the parents for the past years..
But last Thursday,  as we were discussing the plans for the weekend, and I mentioned what time we would be going up to Feraya, she said: “Oh, but I am not going with you.” 

She had it all planned. She didn’t even need a ride. Her whole weekend was laid out. She’d be boarding with so and so, and this friends was joining, and that friend would come too, and they would meet X there, and Y and Z would catch up with them later.  
And here I was, all dressed up and nowhere to go.

For a fleeting moment, I thought about not going myself. But hey, it’s not like next weekend was going to be any different. And so I went.
And it was lovely.

But that was it. One good day.  This was definitely my shortest season ever. Time to get the picnic basket out of the closet, and get ready for spring.

January 26, 2018

The Ministry of Mystery

Not sure if you’re familiar with John Cleese and the Ministry of Funny Walks, but every time I have business at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (what? No department for Highest Education?), John Cleese comes to mind.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education at 7:40 AM. It is January 23, but the tree is still up

I have had to be there - in my experience - quite a few times, either to exempt children from Arabic state exams (entirely my own fault) or to baseline foreign university degrees. And it has always been an ordeal. Today went smoothly, but still I hope - with all my heart – that this will be my last visit ever.
The workings of this ministry are strange and unusual, and the Ministry of Mystery might be a better name. Let me show you how that goes.

Back in December, I applied for an exemption for my daughter from the Lebanese State Exam. Although the program in itself is of an excellent level, most of the subjects are given in classical Arabic, a language which is Chinese for my daughter. She has struggled since grade 1, and has reached the point where she can actually read Arabic relatively fluently, but as she does not know what the words mean, it is still Chinese to her. I will not point any fingers as to whose fault this is.

When you ask for the Arabic State Exam Exemption, you come with your paperwork (it’s in Arabic so I am not able to tell you exactly what papers they are, and the English web site of the ministry does not work), two black & white copies of each (color not allowed) to this famous Ministry of Education in Beirut and you present yourself to a man behind a desk at the 2nd  floor.

This '2nd  floor' in itself turned out to be already quite a feat for me, entirely my own fault, but as you walk into the front door of the Ministry, you do not realize that the back entry is actually one floor lower. As such, the entrance is not on the ground floor but already the 1st floor. If you take the elevator, you do not notice this dilemma, but when you take the stairs, as I tend to do, and think you are at the ground floor, you obviously walk two floors to get to the 2nd  floor. However, you have actually reached the 3rd  floor, but since there is an absolute absence of any sign whatsoever in English, you have no clue as to where the offices are that you need to visit. It is all in Arabic.

Anyway, once that hurdle is conquered, and they direct you back to the 2nd  floor, there is a man that gives you a ticket with a number (grateful for that, no pushing and shoving here) and tells you to get a stamp from the 1st  floor (entrance floor, in this case). 
You go down and get your stamp. Back up to the 2nd  floor.

Now they need you to go to the 3rd  floor, to get these papers, with the stamps, certified by someone on that floor.  
Behind a little window on the 3rd  floor is a friendly lady who tells you that you need stamps for that too.

So you walk down to the 1st  floor, buy your stamps, and back to the 3rd
The friendly lady then quite vigorously stamps everything, than on top of that stamps the date and then signs over the stamps. 
Back to the 2nd floor now. 
Note the pen, attached with scotch tape and a little rope.
There you wait in line until you are ushered in a little office where another lady takes your paper work, checks it for irregularities, and provides you with a slip of acceptance and the exact date it can be picked up, which is about 3 weeks later.

 Today I could pick the paperwork up. I thought I’d be early since I am supposed to be at work. So 7:30 and I am at the door. After all, my job, also in education, starts at 7:30. 
But I am the first one. 
“We open at 8.”
No problem

At 8 I may go to the 2nd floor.  But when I enter the hallway, it is empty. The guard has just walked in and is turning on the lights. This is clearly not a non-smoking ministry as there is a very strong odor of tobacco.

“They come at 8:30,” says the guard. But he’s helpful. “Do you have the stamps?”
“Yes, you need 35,000 LBP pounds in stamps.”
No problem, I walk down to the 1st  floor where I bought my stamps last time. 
“No, these stamps you have to buy at the post office.

 As in a symbiotic relationship, the post office is very conveniently placed facing the ministry. I assume people must be walking in the whole day for stamps so I go to the front desk to buy my stamps.
“No, those stamps are on the 1st  floor,” and via a very narrow stair case I get to a more unofficial part of the post office for the stamps.
With my newly acquired stamps I go back to the ministry’s 2nd floor.
There I get a ticket from an in the meantime arrived employee, who sits down with his first coffee and cigarette for the day. The cancer rate must be high in this office. It reads number 1. I am the first customer of the day!

The link on this paper is the link I had been looking for on the Internet, but could't find. The English part of their website does not work. So how you are supposed to find this information is a mystery to me, unless you actually come to this office. The tie stamp is not accurate, I notice.

 And indeed, at 8:30 sharp, I get called in. I give my stamps, get the original paperwork, stamped to a T, and then get a copy certified in another office.

By 8:45 I am out again.
It was by all means a smooth morning. The staff was on time, they were friendly and helpful, no complaints.

But I cannot get this Ministry of Funny Walks out of my head.

January 21, 2018

A Hippie Van in Lebanon


I think my son was 4 when I first went on a holiday in a van. It was a Volkswagen Van (a T3, for the insiders) my brother owned, grass green, with flowers on the side. 

You just need one summer trip to get hooked on van life, and hooked I was. I soon bought my own van, a not too hip looking brown thing, with the very fitting letters BFG in the license plate.  
Since then I have had a succession of vans, getting slightly larger and more equipped each time. But my children, maybe out of nostalgia for their youth, always insist I go back to the old model, the Volkswagen van.

Future Lebanese Van Fans (Hippies)

In Europe, the old Volkswagen vans are hard to come by as they have become a collector’s item; you’ve got to pay top dollars to get a good one, and even more if it is equipped as a camper van. Here in Lebanon, it is a bit of a Cuban situation. Volkswagen vans are still very much in use as school buses. You see them navigating traffic at 7:00 AM with some 20 kids in them, all with school bags, and often in school uniform. I understand the uniform bit, but some schools have the odd habit to require the younger students to wear a ‘maryoul’, a type of apron, boys and girl alike.  Volkswagen Vans here are not yet the hip-thing to have, there is still a bit of a stigma attached to it. I am sure this will eventually come, as there are already a few Lebanese hipsters that have discovered the benefits of a camper van.

This is what the dashboard looked like when we bought it. It still looks this way.

Anyway, we were driving through the Beqaa Valley one day, and stopped at a local dikkaneh (small mini-market), when my daughter and I saw this one Volkswagen van somewhere in the back, next to a pile of pallets, a discarded fridge and bits and pieces of scrap metal. Actually, it was hard to figure out it was a van. Or even a Volkswagen. There just wasn’t much left of it, but just like an old Coca Cola bottle, their design is so peculiar, you can recognize these vans from bits and pieces. 
Ooooh,” says the daughter (who aspires to become a hippie. Whatever happened to ‘doctor’, or ‘neuro surgeon’?) “That’s the van I want.” She saw obvious potential in this wreck.

The front seats :) 

Her father, being the typical Lebanese father of a daughter, uttered the famous words “I will get it for you,” and off he went, to investigate and negotiate. One hour later, the van was hers. It was a 1969 T2, an early model. On a good day, they look like this

Now she wouldn’t turn 18 until another 4 years, so you may think this to be a little premature, but from the state of the van, it was quite clear that it was not going to run anytime soon. If ever.

Well. He’s been dragging it (since it did not really run, it had to be transported on a tow-truck for most of the time) around from one dark and suspicious garage to another. It got stripped off everything, which was probably the easiest part as there was nothing in it anymore.


One guy did the gear box, another one knew about plate work, a third one had the spare parts for a T2 from 1969, the fourth knew about radiators and engines, the fifth had ‘some’ knowledge about upholstery and the sixth did the paint job.  

Getting a license plate was an equally arduous affair, as we had changed the engine. The original engine, a T2, is air-cooled, which in our summer climate, when she is supposedly going to drive it around, will result in an overcooked engine, and – so we were told – it’s easier to replace it with a Polo engine, easier to drive, easier to maintain, better performance and no problems with overheating. However, now the number of the car and the number of the engine did not match, and so getting it through car registration also took its toll on her father’s mood. So when he finally delivered it, this month, he was totally done with this car. It ended up being more expensive than a brand new KIA.
I do not want to hear anything anymore ever again about this car.”

This Saturday (daughter and some friends and I, the designated driver) took it on its maiden voyage. It took some effort to get it out of the parking garage, since I haven’t driven a stick shift in ages.  The seat belts in the front, once fastened, would not unfasten anymore, and we had to wiggle our way out of them. Pretty soon, actually, at the first corner, we figured out that the upholstery guy had failed to bolt the benches to the floor. I question this rather suspiciously. Seriously now, why would you not secure a car seat? The next thing we found out is that all the in-door handles were basically inoperable. The windows wouldn’t roll down because we did not have those roll-down thingies, doors didn’t close properly, and if they closed, they most definitely did not lock. Essentially, the car has no locks. Driving around school children here obviously does not require a ‘proof-of-safety’ permit. But it did drive.

Lovely new upholstery. Unfortunately, the seats were not bolted to the floor. Seat belts are absent as well.

So the first stop was Bourj Hammoud, where the car part dealers live. I learned something new in Arabic. There are two type of car parts; the basic ones that are required to keep the engine running, which are called ‘parts’, or ‘ottah’, in Arabic. And then there are the not so basic ones, the pimp-your-car ones, so to speak, which are the called ‘aksesuare’, coming from the French ‘accessoires’.  So the roll-up handles for the window are ‘ottah’, but the car radio is an ‘aksesuare’. And shops that sell ottah do no sell aksesuare. We got a truckers knob, because power steering had not yet been invented in 1969 (also an ‘aksesuare’).

And then we lost a door.
Bourj Hammoud, a small neighborhood with tiny tiny streets, dead-end alleyways, no parking space and traffic jams,  is a great way for a quick lesson on changing gears, and how to get the van in reverse. Somehow the gear box shifts position now and then. 
We quickly noticed that the exhaust fumes ended up in the car instead of the outside, but we fixed that problem once we discovered where the engine was and noticed that some hoses had come loose.

Eventually everything that was not loose, rattled loose, and what was loose, came off. In the end, we lost the entire sliding door, and with the help of some parking attendants, placed it in the back seat and drove home without a side door. I am eternally grateful for the rather lenient traffic rules in this country.

Okay, we'll drive without a door. Long live the Lebanese traffic laws
But we are going back to the drawing board. Since her father has pulled his hands off this project, I will continue this labor and will pimp up this van so that by the time my daughter is actually 18, this will be a reliable and safe car. I am driving it up this afternoon to a guy in the mountains who knows about doors. They say. I will be wearing my Artic gear, as one door is missing, and the knobs to get the heater on are gone as well. I will keep you updated on the van adventures in Lebanon.