April 20, 2017

Dolphins



It’s not really news worthy, but last Saturday, while I was out at sea off the coast of Beirut, our boat was surrounded for a good half hour with 6 playing dolphins. They were circling the boat, swimming along with it and jumping over the wake. I was thinking, wow, they look just like in real life, until I realized that I only know dolphins from dolphin shows and NatGeo documentaries, so this was – for once – the real ‘real life’.

If you Google it, dolphins in Lebanese waters is not that rare a sight, but you have to have an eye for it, which I don’t, but hubbie is a sailor, and he spots them quite easily. Usually they keep their distance from boats, but we were chugging along at 12 kmph, and it seemed that pleased them quite a bit.

They are common bottle nose dolphins, which populate the entire globe, but they have a hard time in Lebanon because fishermen are not too keen on them, afraid they ‘steal’ their fish and damage their nets. That’s an odd statement as it is the fishermen stealing the dolphins’ fish, but as it is, they tend to end up in the nets now and then and are not set free, but rater towed to shore and exhibited as a trophy, which is very unfortunate, as it is an absolute delight seeing them swim around the boat. 

It gives hope, maybe the shoreline is not that polluted yet (or maybe they have a high tolerance to polluted waters). 

April 01, 2017

Bib #7028 in the Half Marathon of Berlin

An update on our running housekeeper, Aregu Sisay Abate. She is on her way to her first race abroad,the Berlin Half Marathon, this Sunday, April 2.  

For those that do not know her, she is a lady from Ethiopia who started working with our family back in 2011. It turned out she liked running, and so we asked a club, Inter Lebanon, if she could train with them. 
They took her in, began training with her, and ever since then, she’s been running races all over the country, winning many of them. She’s got a preference for the 5, 10 and 21 kilometers. She’s got so many trophies lined up they don’t fit in her room anymore. 
She wants to take them back home, but each trophy is set on a marble base of about a kilo, so I am still hoping someone in Ethiopian Airlines is willing to make an exception so she can bring the 40 something cups back home.

She is phenomenal, and we hope she can make a living out of running, instead of cleaning houses, but she’s got some obstacles to overcome, and one of them is experience. She’s run every possible race in Lebanon about 4 times now. She knows all the courses, be it on the road or off-road, she is familiar with the weather conditions (she hates running in the snow) and the elevations , and she knows her adversaries well. 

Medals of the last two years alone. The previous years she took back home already

Now she needs to get out of the country and run abroad. The Berlin Half Marathon is the first step, and her club has very graciously decided to sponsor her in this endeavor. 

I know that the situation of housekeepers in the Middle East is precarious, to say the least, but there are also success stories. Her running mates in the club, and they are all Lebanese, have been instrumental to her success; they help with transportation to and from races, they get her proper running material and they have provided her with running watches. 

But what has been probably the most important thing is that they have embraced her as an athlete, given her support, advice and love. They remember when it is her birthday, call when she does not show up for training to see if she is alright and invite her for lunches and dinners.


Join her to any race, and you will be absolutely stunned by the number of Lebanese coming up to her, hugging her, asking how she’s been, saying hi, and taking selfies with her. “Hé Aregu, kiffik?” before a race, and “Kief kennet?” after the race.

And so this is her first race abroad. I hope this post will become a reference for the start of her international success later on in her career. Anyone in Germany, and living close to Berlin? Go cheer her on this Sunday; bib number 7028. 

March 25, 2017

On Tupperware and Tragedy

There has been one casualty in this fire. Quite a tragic one.

It’s the aunt’s massive Tupperware collection.

The freezers were stacked and packed with Tupperware, each containing bits and pieces of food. She is a frugal one (thankfully) and believes in buying vegetables in season, when the beans cost 2,000 pounds a kilo instead of 14,000 some month later. 
Yes, I was not aware of these huge price differences either, but apparently, this is a fact. If it were possible, she’d freeze lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes and onions as well.

And she cooks in bulk. Lebanese cooking often requires an extensive amount of preparation time, such as the wrapping of grape leaves, or cabbage leaves, or the cheese things, whatever they are called. And the chickpeas for the hommos, which are consumed in our house in near lethal doses, get cooked by the kilos, otherwise you have to cook small quantities on a daily basis. The kibbeh balls are prepared in the hundreds and then neatly packed in little plastic boxes. She can whip up a dinner of warak ainab (grape leaves) for 20 people in no time, that freezer’s stacked and packed. 
Well, she could. 

Of course, no longer. Gone up in smoke. Literally.

And it is not the food that bothers her, it’s the Tupperware. 
She had them by the thousands. The little labban and labneh containers, the feta cheese, the mozzarella and the kashkawen boxes, every dairy product in a plastic container we ever consumed, all those containers were diligently washed and stored. The Arabic sweets that come in plastic boxes, the ice cream containers, you name it, she had it. 
In multiple versions and by the thousands.

One day, while she was visiting friends in Tripoli, I threw away a whole kitchen cabinet full of them, because I just could not find a spot to store my bread maker. This kept her huffing and puffing loudly for months, every time I entered the kitchen.
And then I haven’t even spoken about the ‘real’ Tupperware, the plastic boxes you buy because that’s what they are there for, to be bought. To store more stuff. 
And if the vegetable oil was on offer with 5 containers stacked on top of each, other taped to the bottle, she’d buy three gallons.

I am not making this up. It seems to be a common thing with Lebanese housewives, this Tupperware hoarding.  Just surf the web for Lebanese moms + Tupperware.

On a post of ‘Top 15 signs your mom is Lebanese’, at #14, it reads “She has a tupperware collection bigger and more valuable than the collection of the Louvre! (Source)

On another blog that highlights the ‘6 Things You Should Never Say To A Lebanese Mom’, on first place:  “I lost your Tupperware.”(Source)  “God knows Lebanese mothers love their Tupperware more than they love their own kids - or just as much. Don’t bother showing up to the house if you can't find her an exact replacement.”

How about this one? Growing Up Arab, reports at #22 of 37 things that show you grew up as an Arab, “Tupperware fights with your mom.”


InkontheSide, a very talented illustrator in town, explains in a drawing that if you want to annoy your Lebanese mom, forget your Tupperware at work.   

Here is another classic, of 365daysofLebanon.


Or this gentleman, who shows that above all, a mom cares about her Tuppeware.



I was going to show you pictures of the remaining Tupperware collection in the kitchen, but the aunt was eye-balling me, so no can do. 

Anyway, two freezers, including plastic containers, gone. She is slowly recovering.
So I leave you with a (belated) idea for a Lebanese Mothers Day Gift from 2015 (From blogbaladi.com).  



March 23, 2017

Fire in the House

Whenever I see a red fire truck worming its way through Beirut traffic, sirens ablaze, I always think “Well, good luck with that. By the time they will actually make it to your place, you’re lucky if there’s anything left to hose down.”
Besides, how are they going to get to the 8th floor with those hoses? It’s not like the building code here actually takes fire hydrants into account. And even if, there will not be enough pressure on the water anyway. The water will leak, rather than burst out of the hose.
 Uhuh. If your house is on fire in Beirut, you’re pretty much screwed.

It burned the chalk right off the wall. My poor freezer.
The aunt is all upset about her Tupperware collection gone up in smoke.

That thought, for a split second, went through my head as I stood in my skimpy pajamas and on my bare feet, at 6 AM, looking at two freezers, fully ablaze, in the hallway of my house, with flames reaching the ceiling, and thick black smoke billowing upwards.

It was the incredible noise, almost a roaring sound, that had caught my attention as I got up. At first I thought it was the washing machine. Seriously now, she (the old aunt in my house) is doing her laundry at 6 AM?  But when I checked the laundry machine, it was empty. I opened the door to the hallway. Sweet mother on Earth! What a dreadful noise! The housekeeper must be vacuum cleaning upstairs. But what’s gotten into her at 6 AM? Why so early? And what’s wrong with that vacuum cleaner anyway? Must be getting old, it sounds as if there is an engine running upstairs.

Try getting that stuff off the wall

But I had to get ready for work so I went to the bathroom. From the bathroom window, I could hear the sound of the vacuum cleaner, as if it was about to disintegrate. Something did not quite sound right.  I looked through the window of the bathroom and could see smoke coming out of the window upstairs. Ahhh, it must be the generator that kicked in. But wait?! Black smoke? Out of the window of the upper floor?

It went pretty fast from there. In my skimpy pajamas and on bare feet. The freezers in the hallway were burning. The floor above it is where the housekeeper lives. I had to get her down but she is a deep sleeper. I yelled and yelled, to warn her. When she opened her door, the black smoke had already completely filled her hallway, so here she is, standing in thick black acrid smoke, and no idea what is going on. She ran through the smoke, downstairs, and past burning freezers and then remembered that her passport with her Schengen visa was still in her room (She is scheduled to run the half marathon in Berlin this April) and had a nervous breakdown.

Now what?

That’s when that picture of the fire truck went through my head.
"By the time these guys get to the 12th floor, hoses in hand, they can help me sweep the cinders of my house together", I am thinking.




I won’t bore you with the details. I didn’t know the number of the fire department. Actually no one in the house knew the number of the fire department. We called the janitor to cut off the electricity, and got the garden hose from the balcony, which – luckily – was long enough to make it to the hallway, an extinguished the fire ourselves.

And now we’re left with an incredible mess.
Two burnt-out freezers. Everything in the upstairs apartment is to be thrown away. Carpet, curtain, mattress, bedcovers, furniture, everything. The entire place needs to be scrubbed clean, before they can even begin painting, and the housekeeper's clothes are now going through the third washing cycle, and still there is a smell of burnt plastic.
And while we were busy spraying the freezers, the water, black and all, ran down the staircase and into the apartment below. 

But we’re alive, and although the housekeeper has yet to recover from her near death experience, her passport is intact, so the Berlin Half marathon is going ahead as scheduled.

And the number for the fire department? It is 175.

But if I were you, get fire detectors and a looooong garden hose.

March 15, 2017

Back to Winter


Grey skies over Beirut

  For a moment I thought we had spring coming, but winter is back in town. Last Sunday was like Sundays I remember back in Holland; Gray, windy, wet and gloomy. Not a soul on the street. And when my daughter went to the art supply store, and it turned out it was (quite unusual) closed, the picture was complete. If ever you are prone to depressions, do not spend wintery Sundays in small villages in Holland. And it has been raining ever since. Not just raining, but entire deluges. It is snowing in the Cedars as I speak (writing this, that is).

Some lost tourist; a group of ladies from Iraq
And so I have put off switching wardrobes, an activity that is alien to Dutch people in general. It can be cold in Holland all year around; putting away your winter clothes for the season is useless, but in Beirut you don’t need winter sweaters for about 8 months of the year. Even longer these days, it seems.
 
Beirut from a different perspective

I was going to say something about global warming, but 1) the weather is obviously behaving as it should, and 2) but that word got me suddenly side tracked by the fact that I have – for reasons unclear to me – somehow ended up on the mailing list of the new White House administration.  I can’t remember, but I doubt that I ever voiced my strong opinion towards any of the American administrations in place, so why they suddenly would have added me – an obscure blogger in Beirut with no cloud, ‘wasta’ or real opinion -  to the White House mailing list is anyone’s guess.  Maybe Donald – or someone in his office - has been secretly a longtime reader of my blog?  Is there anyone in his retinue that is of Lebanese origins? Seems unlikely, but how did I get on that list??? Life’s a mystery.

Fishermen come out as the sun sets

 What I find surprising is that today as I walked home, I noticed our neighbors had a water truck in front of their building, and pumping water into their reservoir. For those readers not aware of the situation in Lebanon, our water supply is rationed.
Simple amenities, such as electricity, water, and internet, do not function properly in this town, but you’d think that - after this incredible amount of water that has come down this winter – the government would be able to at least provide enough water? But a 24/7 water supply is not in the stars anytime soon.  The water authorities blame it partially on the influx of Syrian refugees, but I doubt the accuracy of that. Are we going to blame the pathetic electricity supply of the last 26 years on them as well? And the fact that my phone line stops when it rains? Or my slooooooooooow Internet?

#365gratefulness


But I am not going to complain. I have completed my #365gratefulness project (not exactly in 365 days, though) and am aware of the power of positive thoughts. So I leave you with some uplifting pictures, Beirut from the water. 
Because when you are out on the water, everything gets a different perspective. It changes the way you look at things. Okay, so we don't have water. But if we cannot have it in our pipes, we can at least float on it.   



March 11, 2017

Ici Repose La Femme Ideale

A gate, slightly ajar, invites

I like walking. There is something very medieval, and very satisfying, about walking through the landscape you belong to. There is a connection.
Walking the same path over and over again, however, annoys me to no extend. I like variation, and so I have explored quite a bit of terrain around my mountain house.

A tiny graveyard

So yesterday late afternoon, we tried another path. Not much of a path really, much of it required climbing fences,  jumping streams, and holding on to branches as we slid down animal trails, and clambered through the underbrush.
And at some point, we passed by an abandoned hospital, and stumbled upon a little outcrop on a hill, with old trees.
I
t was the gate that got me interested. I have a thing for iron gates, especially if they are slightly ajar. And this one was.

Some 30 graves, maybe even less

When we got in, it turned out to be a graveyard. It didn’t contain many graves, maybe 30, most of them fallen in disrepair or without a gravestone.

But it got really interesting when we started reading the stones. There were christians, but also Armenians, and muslims and druse too. Cemeteries in Lebanon are always segregated, like much of society still is, since its laws on family affairs are still run by clerical authorities.

 
Ragheb Doumyat, a muslim, on the left.  A christian on the right,

The graves were not well maintained. It was clear that this place is hardly ever visited, and used even less. Although someone had been buried there recently (no stone was placed yet), and someone else was laid to rest in 2013, all the other graves looked very old, and were in various states of crumbling down. Some vandalism must have aided the overall deteriorated state of the place.

An iron fence around a grave was a 'fashionable' thing in the early 1900's. No stone was inside
But here was a mixture of religions, which is very unusual.

Most were Christian names, as this is a primarily christian region. There were two local names, Bechara and Abu Haidar, but some were from quite far away.One person was from modern day Syria:  George Basel Shalhat from Hallab (Aleppo), born in 1904. He died on March 8, 1930, when Lebanon as a state did not exist yet, and both Allepo and Lebanon were part of the French Mandate. 


An Armenian grave

There was a Prince Sheikh Ali, which sounds like it is a druse grave, (Amir, al sheikh Ali, 13-12-1942). Amir (prince) is a name common within the druse community.
Two graves, judging from the form of the stone and the date, were probably sunni muslim. One was very old, of Ragheb Doumyat, who died in ‘1350’, which is 1931 on the Gregorian calendar.A few Armenians (in Lebanon usually christian) had found their final resting place here as well. I cannot read Armenian, so I can't tell you anything other than the date (1913 – 1938)

George Basel Shalhat from Hallab

Another interesting name was Jordan Tokatlides (January 6, 1896 – June 6, 1924). Tokatlides, or Tokatlidis, indicates Greek origins. Greeks have always been actively engaged in trade with this region, and there are quite a few Greek families in Lebanon who originally came from Crete and settled in the region during the Ottoman Empire.
 
Two rather oddly-shaped graves. No names or dates. 

There were also some European foreigners.
 I have a penchant for foreigners buried in Lebanese soil. What is the story of these people, to end up so far away from home?

Ice Repose La Femme Ideale. Either she was indeed the perfect wife, or she trained her husband really well, or this was his final revenge; Dead was her best state yet. I am romantically inclined; I think it was true love.

Anna Eisner, apparently was married to a Lebanese,  Omar Fozi Issa, which is why she ended up in Lebanon. Omar is – in general – a name associated with the sunni, the other large group with islam, but it could be christian as well.  Eisner sounds German, but then there were quite a few American missionaries in the region. Would a missionary marry a muslim? What if it was true love? Did they have children? What became of them? She died young, only 35 years old. Her husband had given her stone the perfect epitaph, one that I think I will request; ‘La femme ideale’. 

 
It almost looks like they gave her the ‘Cross of Loraine’, which symbolized Free France during the Nazi occupation

I couldn’t find anything online about Anna Eisner, nor her husband, but I did dig up, no pun intended, some interesting things about the other foreigner, a certain Helena Bierer -  Thormann, who lived until the ripe old age of 88. 

The Internet claims Helena Bierer, wife of Emanual Bierer, was an SOE agent, together with her husband, during the second World War. The Special Operations Executive (SOE) was a British organization that was ‘conducting warfare by means other than direct military engagement.’  They were ‘to encourage and facilitate espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines and to serve as a focal point for the formation of a vestigial resistance movement in Britain itself (the Auxiliary Units) in the possible event of an Axis invasion.’ 



They employed a number of women, including Helena, and were active in the region. The organization was dissolved and merged into the current M16. What happened to the Bierers? Somehow, she ended up, or stayed, in Lebanon. Although the records show they do not know when and where she died, nor what happened to her husband, her grave stone indicates he died in 1972, in Lebanon. I have mentioned before that – although I am by no means dead yet -  I do wonder where I will end up once I am dead. Due to the ridiculous laws I am not allowed to be buried next to my husband (or rather the other way around, as I intend to live to become a 100), who’s planning on a sailor’s grave anyway (quite against local customs and law).

Another fantastic gate, this one unfortunately locked

So here is a solution. In this little graveyard, on a narrow promontory in the Lebanese hills, mountain range in the back, sea view in the front, for a century now, a mixture of people have found their final resting place. Religion is obviously not an issue here, nor are gaudy tombs and cenotaphs and I like that.  It is all simple and plain. This is going to be my final resting place. That is why you should never walk the same road twice. Had I not hiked in that direction, I’d never have found the little graveyard, nor met Helena Bierer – Thormann.  I am going to claim a stake in this place. 

This will be my view

And what will my stone read? Well, I have to stay with the spirit of the place.
"Ici repose la femme ideale . . "

March 05, 2017

Snow and Spring

9 AM and in the lift

I must have written this post a number of times, but somehow it disappears time and time again. This could be because my computer broke down, and then my phone (both for the second time within a year, I might add), and I have been switching between devices at home and at work, so it might be that it just got zapped off my hard disk, or that it is floating somewhere in cyberspace.

It might be a sign. A post so boring does not deserve to be written, let alone be posted. Who knows? I will try one last time. It becomes a bit of a cliché after writing it more than once, but then again, this post is a cliché.



The ski-season, although short in general, and even shorter this year, was a good one. Early snow, sunny  weekends, and an economy in a continuous downward spiral created some excellent skiing conditions. 
The fact that the last-remaining teenager in my household, who has always hated skiing with a vengeance, has taken a sudden liking towards snowboarding, has greatly helped.  I no longer have to threaten her with “You can stop skiing when you are 16,” or “You may stop skiing once you have a boyfriend that skis.” Suddenly, she takes the initiative, and suggests we go up to the snow.

Seriously empty slopes. The Mediterranean Sea in the distance

Relatively speaking, skiing is not that expensive; A weekend lift ticket here ($50 in Faraya) costs as much as a weekday ticket in most European ski resorts. Absolutely speaking however, for a single-income family in Lebanon, it is incredibly expensive. With ski-rental, instructor, lift tickets, food and gas, you’re looking at $400 for a day for four people. Not many people find it worth the money, or can do afford this. Hence the empty slopes.
 
She hated skiing, but has suddenly taken a liking to boarding


I had already packed up my skis - with 23 degrees Celcius in town all last week - I assumed the winter was over, but then Friday night it snowed again in the mountains, and my Accuweather indicated it would be sunny and cold up in Feraya,so I figured that it might as well be the last time this winter, so why not.

There’s this myth about Lebanon that you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon, all in the same day. This refers to the proximity of beach and mountains. Of course, this is a myth dating back to the late sixties, early seventies, when not everyone had a car. These days, it is a sheer impossibility, due to the horrendous traffic situation. You’d have to get up at the crack of dawn to make that work.

This is what brothers do; teasing little sisters

So Saturday morning (not at the crack of dawn ), I went up to ski. 
 assumed all of Beirut would do the same, and that I would be standing bumper to bumper for an hour in front of the parking lot of the ski slopes, while utter assholes block both lanes in and out, but surprisingly, that was not the case. Maybe everyone was thinking what I was thinking, that it would be very busy on the roads to the slopes, so maybe better not bother. But the slopes were calm, the snow was good. I expected it to get busy after 12 (when half-day ticket tariff starts), but still no people.

It was a perfect day for skiing.
And most likely the last one of the season.



Because when we drove down, we notice the storks soaring in the sky, on their way back to Europe; A sure sign that spring is in the air.

February 26, 2017

Small Story

Mohammed and his oranges

I am running a bit behind on pictures and posts, as a fellow blogger pointed out, so I have decided to dig a bit through my archives and share small stories. Most of my free time seems to be spent outside of Beirut, if you follow my posts. This morning, as hubbie drove through the streets of Beirut, he remarked “These streets used to be mine.”  It was more of a lament than a remark, and no, I did not marry some obscure war lord who used to roam these streets with a militia. He grew up in Beirut, lived all his life in Beirut. He went to school here, and hung around with friends. The streets of Beirut - Hamra and surroundings to be more specific - were his stomping grounds.  


Lemon trees

But lately, he does not feel like Beirut is his anymore. The architecture, the landscaping, the people, it is all alien to him. Very few, and I stress on ‘very’, of his childhood friends still live in Lebanon. Most of them are in England or the States, a few in France, and the rest spread pretty much all over the globe; the fate of many of his generation. “I no longer recognize this town,” he added.

And these days, it seems we’re back to this migration movement. Beirut, or Lebanon, has little to offer to young people with dreams. You’re lucky if you make $3,000 a month. Young professionals struggle with real estate prices at $3,500  a square meter in the ‘normal’ neighborhoods. It is all a bubble, but it doesn’t seem to want to burst. You want kids? Prepare for a $9,000 price ticket per child per school year. I am lucky I have no debts, but both my kids would not be able to build a future in this town without our extensive financial help.

Pomelos

Where was I getting at? Oh, yes, I seem to spend most of my free time outside Beirut these days.
Some time ago I went down south where a Dutch lady owns an olive orchard with her husband. Actually, the husband inherited the olive orchard, and they have taken care of it.
Besides olives, she’s got ‘snowbar’ (pine trees), orange trees, lemons, pomelos, clementines and avocados. All in her back yard. All she needs to do is walk out of her kitchen and pluck. The wealth of that! She’s been in country for many years now, got wonderful tales about her family in-law, Israeli bombardments and local healers. It is a joy to listen to her. This country harbors women of a special breed.

The view from her house

She loves animals, so she takes in the abandoned neighborhood cats, and the tortoises. Whenever the tractor comes in to plow the soil under the olive trees, she walks in front of it, and rescues all tortoises that she finds. “If I don’t, they’ll plow right over them.” She’s got some 44 now. 
One year, she got a white magic marker, and numbered them all. She had 44. The magic marker turned out to be not that magic after all, and after one thunder storm, the numbers all disappeared. As she is still rescuing, she’s not quite sure where she’s at now.


Nabatiyeh, a town nearby. It looked like Cuba to me, at night

Not much for a small story, but still, a story.

February 13, 2017

Hail

Hail in Beirut, and little rivers

Cleaning Sidewalks


Yes, I wrote last week, it does snow in Lebanon, but not in Beirut. And that remains true, but it does hail. Now and then.

But today, while walking home from work, I got caught in this massive hail shower. It was the mother of all hail showers, and although not the size of ping pong balls, it still came down most impressively. The hail fell and bounced around, and left everything, for just 5 minutes, white.

Rain in Beirut results in rivers. How do I get to the other side of the road AND keep my feet dry?

Happy camper (with slightly inappropriate footwear)

With childlike enthusiasm I continued my way. Maybe not the exact same feeling you get as a child when you wake up in the morning to a hushed world and an orange glow, both signs of snowfall during the night, but still, a happy moment.  

The gentleman on the left decided to cross, the man on the right is still contemplating

And as I slithered through wet and slippery Beirut, wading through rivers as I crossed the streets, I noticed everyone was smiling. The hail cleared both sky and mood.

10 minutes later, clear skies

February 12, 2017

Slow February

Early Sunday Morning Hikes

It is February. I was supposed to go skiing this weekend but the weather wasn’t great and I got lazy. Instead, I ended up in another part of the mountains above, without snow. And over there, I hike at 6:30 AM.  There’s all kinds of research out there that proves hiking makes you happier. Besides, it is supposed to enhance your problem-solving skills by 50% , and increase your creative output by about 60% . I never had much trouble with solving problems, although I am a little low on creative output these days, granted. February is a slow month.

Someone left a heart in a tree

I remember at my parents’ house, after (or before) big dinners with guests, we would go for a walk. This winter, while preparing for a Christmas dinner, I went for a walk around the village with some friends, and we met quite a few families that were walking. From the grouping, you could see that these were families that were together for the Christmas dinner (grown-up children with partners in general do not live with their parents in Holland), so this seems to be a typical Dutch thing. Lebanese do not seem to hike for fun, unless it is on the Corniche. Or sometimes in organized group on Sundays.  Either way, we hardly ever meet anyone while hiking. It may be the early hour. What idiot goes hiking on a Sunday morning, at 6:30 AM?

catkins (a sign of spring)
Here in the mountains we walk our dogs. And we walk because it is beautiful here. There is this little secluded valley-like forest that you can walk through and around, and there are no roads, so no cars, and no noise All you hear is the sound of running water, (always reminds me of Narnia) and crows. The screeching of hawks, if you’re lucky. Or buzzards, whatever you call them. There are some houses around this little valley, but most belong to Arabs (apparently we, the Lebanese, do not qualify as Arabs. When we talk ‘Arabs’, we mean the people living in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia), and they have not been around a lot. They got their first scare in 2006 (Israeli bombardments) and then the war in Syria (2011) did it for them; no more Lebanon. Their houses stand empty, their gardens maintained by janitors from Syria.
A friend of mine does business with ‘Arabs’, and she maintains that they will all show up this summer. I hope not. I know it is better for business, but I like the quiet of the area.


And although winter lasts officially for another two months, somehow it seems like spring has started here already. The catkins (elzekatjes in Dutch), the male flowers of the alder trees, are blooming, and I ran into an early Iris historia.  Now don’t think I am like a train spotter, going out into the woods with this extensive flora knowledge; I have to take pictures and Google extensively for color identification.
With a recent storm, the parasol pines have dropped their cones. I used to pick up all pine cones, but now I only pick up the closed one; they still have their seeds, which we add to dishes here.
Not much else to tell. As I said, February is slow.


Probably another reason why not many people hike here: Beware of mines. It is an old sign though