September 16, 2014

More Mountains


On top of Mount Kniesseh. It's not the highest point in Lebanon, but I find it by far the best looking one.

Work has been particularly stressful since I have been back. New management, difficult work place circumstances and many after-hours meetings. Getting back in the routine after two months off doesn’t help much either. Apart from that, the mood in town isn't great. The current Daash crisis (ISIS in the western media) is not exactly uplifting. People are anxious, and waiting for what seems to be inevitable; these guys are going to come knocking on our doors pretty soon too. Their flags are already flying in some parts of Tripoli. Granted, these are isolated cases, but still.

So this is facing Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea.(which you can see)

America threatening to bomb them to smithereens is hardly comforting. Large bombing campaigns have never amounted to much (ask the Israelis and the Americans); it only results in more refugees. My SIL had a hard time getting her son into a school this fall; all schools were fully-booked due to the increase in pupils from Syria. They can't help it. But it doesn't help us either.

And so I have spent more time than usual in the mountain house; it is a great stress reliever, as there is absolutely nothing to do there except stare into the forest and the mountains.

This one is into the Beqaa Valley and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains behind it (and Syria behind that)

We take the dogs way up in the mountains, and explore the neighborhood. Way up high, on top of the Mnt. Kniesseh (Jabal el-Kniesseh, highest point on the Highway between Beirut and Damascus), nobody is afraid of dogs; the only people we see are shepherds, and they have dogs themselves. Sometimes we get caught in troops of goats; their dogs are fierce, but they do notmind us as long as we stay away from the goats.

No clue why he scares the living day lights out of people. He's looks like a raccoon and he's absolutely gentle.

The war in Syria has brought other small changed in the country. Dogs are not greatly appreciated in Arab society to start with, but the influx of an in general more conservative population has made it difficult at times to walk the dogs in town. Entire families change sidewalks and cross over to the other side of the street when I come by. I understand why, but it is not exactly relaxing. Up here in the mountains they run free and don’t scare the living daylights out of anybody.
 
A horse and fowl we suddenly ran into

From the top, you can see the Mediterranean Sea, the Beqaa Valley, and far in the distance the mountain range that separates us from Syria. It is odd to realize that less than75 kilometers from here lies Damascus, where a full-scale war is being fought. We used to go there on holidays. Drove the car all the way over the country, from Aleppo in the north, Bosra in the south, Palmyra in the desert and the Euphrates River in the east. All of that is now destroyed by war. A war that is going to last another 5 years for sure, but most likely many more years, and more and more areas are going to be dragged into this conflict.

Can't think of a caption. You figure it out yourself.
Only one mountain ridge, and not such a big one at that, separates us physically from the conflict. Emotionally, it has drawn us in already. Uncertain times are on the horizon.


 
 


September 09, 2014

Supermoon over Beirut

Supermoon over Beirut
 
Tonight (Monday night)  will show the third and final supermoon of 2014. A moon is a supermoon when it’s full and makes it closest approach to Earth in its orbit. This month’s moon is also known as the Harvest Moon since it falls closest to the autumn equinox. (source)
So I thought I'd make a picture of it. For those that forgot to look at it. It almost looks like the sun, so bright.
I am pretty impressed with my close-up of the moon, especially since I am the proud owner of a tiny pocket camera; no special lenses or intricate gadgets for me.
 

September 08, 2014

Summer is Running at its End

Walking the dogs in the mountains above Beirut

The weather is slowly cooling off, and way up in the mountains, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you get caught in swirling fog. It is nice cold in the fog. When I just moved here, I thought that the grey clouds in the mountains meant it was going to rain any minute, but it never does.
 
Summer is running on its end. People who spent the summer in the mountain villages are packing up to go back to Beirut; most schools are starting this week. The villages empty again, and houses close the shutters.   
 

The new dog on the block, which turns out to be an English shepherd
 
A troupe of some 15 howling jackals pass my mountain house every night around one, I wonder where they go in winter time. Snow won’t come in for another 3 months at least, and the place is teeming with field mice right now. The shepherds in the mountains, many of them from the other side of the Beqaa Valley, are preparing to truck their sheep and goats back to their villages; another month and a half and it will be too cold at night to stay here.
 
A Lebanese mountain village at sunset
 
I count in summers, and so another year has gone by. Saturday, another Lebanese soldier got decapitated by ISIS. Tensions ran high in certain neighborhoods that night. The situation got diffused at the last minute, but that’s been the case for the past year; last minute diffusions of situations that potentially could turn into full-scale battles. The situation used to be easier. There were enemies, and there were friends. It was easy to identify the good and the bad guys. But now good guys hang out with bad guys, while bad guys that beat up other bad guys become, as a result, somehow good guys. And suddenly it is not so easy to explain the situation anymore to someone in Holland when the baddest guy of all becomes a good guy in retrospect, if you compare him to the new bad guys on the block. The mood in town is not an optimistic one.
 

 
But up in the mountains, you do not notice any of that.
 

September 07, 2014

On a Shoe, and Not Much Else

One of the tiny waterfalls
 
When I was pregnant with my son, I didn’t know what name to give him. And then I went for a walk on the beach with a Lebanese couple and their children. They had a son named Adrian, about 11 years old. And he was playing in the surf. With his new basketball shoes, brought in from the States by his dad who had been on a business trip. The dad must have warned the child a hundred times about those shoes. ‘Be careful, those are expensive shoes. Be careful, those are new shoes. Be careful, those shoes are from the States, you cannot get them here. Be careful, the water will ruin them.’  Well, water didn’t ruin them, it just made one disappear. Suddenly, the boy had only one shoe. The dad went ballistic. "I warned you and warned you and warned you. Look what you have done now. You will go to school tomorrow with one shoe." And Adrian replied stoically "Fine, one shoe will do." I was thinking, “Man, get a life, it is only a shoe.” And I named my son Adrian.
 
Waterfall at 3 levels (difficult to see though)
 
Fast forward some 20 years. I went up to the mountains to escape the oppressive heat. I said I would not ever again complain about the heat in Lebanon, after a particularly cold and wet August in Holland, and so I won't, but I wonder how people without AC survive this. It is manageable during the day; you try to stay out of the sun, find some type of wind flow, any wind flow (can't call it a breeze), relax, and just hope it will be October soon, when the temperatures drop. But at night, it is unbearable.
 
The shoes were both still there in this picture (up, in red)
 
Anyway, to escape the heat, I took my daughter and a friend up to a waterfall in the mountains. Waterfall may be a little misleading. It is a waterfall in wintertime. In summer time it is a small stream of water trickling down the mountain with little puddles at intervals. It's difficult to find natural places with water in summer (apart from the beach), but this river always runs. It is difficult to reach by car, so relatively clean. People still have a tendency to go out and have a full-scale picnic, and then get up and leave. Plastic plates, plastic cups, aluminum foil, chips bags, Pepsi cans and tissue paper, everything gets left behind. But this place is pretty clean.
 
and then it was gone
 
The kids played in the water for a while, until it was noticed that one of my daughter's shoes was missing. One of the dogs had apparently dropped it down the waterfall into the next pool. And then it was gone. We poked around a bit, but no trace of the shoe. Apart from the fact that hiking down the mountain with one shoe was going to be difficult, I was going to let it go. Okay, so we lost a shoe. Big deal. After all, I had named my son after a child that lost his shoe.
 
Terrible monsters live at the bottom of the pool
 
And we sat some more. But somehow it didn’t sit well with me. After all, they were relatively new, those shoes. And she still fit them. Having a daughter who goes through a pair of new shoes every three months, a good pair of shoes that still fits is a commodity. It also dawned on me that this was one shoe of a 120,000 LBP pair of shoes. It’s not like it’s a $10 slipper. Darn, these shoes are expensive! For a Dutchie, at least. I wanted that shoe back!
 
Yeah, and then there were two
 
But the plunge pool was a lot deeper than I expected, and the imaginary water monsters at the bottom of the puddle a lot bigger, and so we spent the rest of the afternoon poking around in the pool, trying to retrieve a shoe. With success, I might add. The end result is not that great though; the prolonged presence in the water sort of unglued the shoe. Will need to pass by the shoemaker to get it back in shape.
 
Hard to wear wet shoes on dry land, and so she wore them in the water
 
And you are now thinking, “Get a life, it is only a shoe.”

September 02, 2014

Somebody Train These Guys

 
Upcoming traffic in MY lane
I have lived here for a very long time. Longer than quite a few of you have been on this Earth. But what can I tell you. I still experience situations in which I think, “Are you  kidding? You can’t be serious!”
Today  I had one of those moments. I had to go to Ouzai to look at something. Ouzai is probably not the best places as far as traffic is concerned, and rush hour doesn’t make it any better.

 
Officially, the main road in Ouzai is a four lane road - the Ouzai Road - with a divider: 2 going north, 2 going south. Today, because it was so busy, the people going south decided to take up one lane of the opposite traffic, so they could get wherever they were going faster. This created huge back-up traffic going north, which, in turn, decided to take one lane of the opposite direction, in order to get, wherever they were going to go, faster. I think I was stuck in this noodle for some 3 hours.

 
This guy got upset with me because I was holding up traffic to take a picture with my cell phone. But I wanted to take a picture of him because he was on his cell phone. (It's in his right hand)
 
But you see,  it’s busy every day. Logically speaking, you’d place policemen in those places where cars could possibly change lanes into the opposite directions. That is logically speaking.  But I am afraid that when it gets to running traffic, the Beirut traffic police is one notorious bunch. They’re either on their phones, chatting with service drivers whom they know from the  village, talking with each other, or just waving you on, regardless of the fact that cross traffic continuous to come in and 150 miles an hour.
Today was no different. No, I’d have to say, today was probably one of their most notorious days yet. People driving on the wrong side of the road, turning in the middle of the road, driving in the opposite directions of a roundabout, you name it, I saw it. And they just waved left and right.
 
Okay, this is still my road (two lanes, officially) , get it? But can't really go anywhere.
 Who trains these people? It’s no argument to say that Lebanese people are bad drivers, because they are not. They are assertive and flexible. Okay, so they do not follow the rules, but why would you, if you have a police force that will not hold you accountable if you don’t, no, what’s even more, they will allow it, asking the others to adapt. When I went around the roundabout and got blocked by a lady going in the opposite direction, the policeman admonished me for the fact I made no way for her to pass. Of course, when you openly question their skills, insult them, and ask them where on earth they got their training, they won’t get offended either. “Yella yella ochti, sou’q” (Go go sister, drive on), so the knife cuts both ways.
  But seriously, somebody please invest some money to properly train these guys. The level of incompetency is so horrendous; I could put a group of middle schoolers in this position and you’d probably get the same results.
 
Well, it's a two lane going north, but now it's become a 3-lane, with one lane for upcoming traffic. And no policeman in sight.
 
I got my Zen back now, so no worries. But the thing I was going to look at and eventually buy, is not going to be bought (from there). The thought of having to brave that traffic again, is enough to drop it. Poor shopkeeper. He tried so hard.

UPDATE: I should have downloaded this app!!!!!

August 31, 2014

Green in Summer

Greener parts of Lebanon
 
You probably wonder where to find these green places in Lebanon. Because Lebanon is bone dry right now. Last winter was a dry winter to start with, and it hasn’t rained seriously since March. It is yellow and dusty wherever you go.
 
Yet some mountain areas are green, because giant aquifers inside the limestone still release water at a regular pace. Lebanon has a number of these giant aquifers. Water from rain and snow percolates through the limestone rock and stop at a harder layer deep within the mountain. If you’re interested in aquifers (which I am), here’s a link.

In the Falougha mountains, some 35 kilometers above Beirut, is the Sohat spring (where the Sohat factory gets it water from), one of the (minor) aquifers. And so in Hamana and surroundings, below that spring, you will find green patches with large green trees even now, and some people have actual lawns near their houses. A lawn is a luxury in this place. Being Dutch, I have an affinity with green lawns. I’d love to have a house with a lawn. With a lawn however, come spiders, and so I don’t nag too much about the lawn part.
 

Falougha Mountains

So when we walk the dogs in the morning in the mountains, you'll walk past all these lovely villas with green lawns, and I dream. If you wonder who lives there, I can tell you: janitors and gardeners. Most villas are empty. Some of them are inhabited by Lebanese, but the majority is owned by rich Arabs from the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia. They do not come anymore, ever since the war in Syria went full-force: Syria used to be there way out of Lebanon in case the Israelis would start bombing us, and so in case of a calamity now, they’d be stuck. The janitors and gardeners have sprawling estates all to themselves (the garden part, that is).
 
The fourth dog on the right (the white one) is not ours; he was a visitor over the weekend
 
The janitors and gardeners come in general from 3 places; Syria, South-east Asia, and Central Africa.
I like the janitors  and gardeners from India, or Sri Lanka, best: they do not fear the dogs and will talk with you. The Syrian ones are afraid of the dogs (and when running away, becoming an object of play for our new dog, which results in rather embarrassing situations), and do not talk to women. They have no problem ogling you though. Maybe they're surprised at my clothes; I tend to do the morning walk in my pajamas, and look not as composed as most Lebanese :) The Africans stay at a distance; they don't mind the dogs, and will greet you, but they don't seem to be interested in talking.
It’s odd, but there are no Lebanese janitors or gardeners there. The pay is probably the reason, although the surroundings are beautiful.

The green patches are few, however. Beyond those, it is dry as can be. The rains won’t come until November. It's nice to stay among the green trees, but my daughter's school starts tomorrow, and so I will be descending to hot, humid and overcast Beirut.
 
The Parasol Pines on the cliffs are green al year round.
 

August 24, 2014

Back in Town


Last view of Holland. That rainbow was temporarily.
 
Not ever will I complain about in the heat in Lebanon ever again! Never ever again!!!  The last three weeks in Holland have amended that problem forever. August in Holland was apparently the coldest one on record since 1980 (source), while August 19th was the coldest August 19th since 1924 (source). It rained non-stop, it was cold, windy, wet, overcast and swampy. But it is always good to be reminded of why one left a country.

 
First view of Lebanon; early morning in the mountains above Beirut
 
And now I am back in town and back in business. Suitcases have been unpacked, work has started, school supplies have been bought (still got to find a way around a newly introduced dress code in my daughter’s school which requires “plain collared/T-shirts, without logos”), son’s been shipped off to college, and I love the heat and the sun.  It is good to be back.
Lots has happened since I left in July, one is the tragedy in Gaza. Another one is the apparent sudden rise of ISIS. The Lebanese who I have talked to seem to think this organization will have no foothold in this country, since nobody is in favor of this life style, so they will have to fight against the shia, the druze and the christians to start with, while the majority of the sunni will join those unlikely allies in their fight against the bearded barbarians. I beg to disagree; I think a great number of Lebanese are in favor of this type of living. Maybe not the majority, but with a gun, who needs a majority? They’re just hiding under stones. I remember way back in 1996 - when an Israeli bombardment on the surroundings of Saida forced the police and the army to go into shelter - we were stopped on the main road of Saida, by just such a bearded man, with a gun. I was in the passenger’s seat with my bare feet on the dashboard, and the driver was told “tell that one to put her feet down.”  That one”.  I wasn’t even addressed. I was referred to as ‘that one’.
 
That was almost 20 years ago. Go check out Tripoli during Ramadan.  And you tell me the Lebanese will not accept that? You are accepting it right now.
 
The new dog, Moon, is the one in the middle


These ISIS people do not like dogs (they do not really like anything at all, that’s what you get from living a life under stones).  I wonder what they will think of my 3-dog household; Yep, you read that right. Hubbie, on his daily walks, picked up yet another stray. A mix between a huskie, a border collie and something small.
We’ll see what will happen in this country this year. I am not keeping my fingers crossed. Yet it is still good to be back.
 

August 17, 2014

Holidays Part 8

Playing backgammon in Basta Tahta

 
I have gone on my annual Trek to the Motherland: I have to replenish my body and soul with energy in order to be able to deal with another year of Lebanon. It is a country of incredible beauty and wonderful people, but the place is a paradox. What you experience in Lebanon in one year, you experience in another country in a life time. The pace of living is so fast, yet so relaxed at the same time, that it drains your energy like no other place. And so I have gone to re-energize.
 
 
In the meantime, I will leave you with a typical Beirut street scene - a different backgammon game - every week. I hope to see you again after the summer holidays.

August 10, 2014

Holidays Part 7

Playing backgammon on the Corniche (an old one, as you can see from the fence)


I have gone on my annual Trek to the Motherland: I have to replenish my body and soul with energy in order to be able to deal with another year of Lebanon. It is a country of incredible beauty and wonderful people, but the place is a paradox. What you experience in Lebanon in one year, you experience in another country in a life time. The pace of living is so fast, yet so relaxed at the same time, that it drains your energy like no other place. And so I have gone to re-energize.
 
 
In the meantime, I will leave you with a typical Beirut street scene - a different backgammon game - every week. I hope to see you again after the summer holidays.

August 03, 2014

Holidays Part 6

Playing backgammon at the Riviera Beach Club
 
 
I have gone on my annual Trek to the Motherland: I have to replenish my body and soul with energy in order to be able to deal with another year of Lebanon. It is a country of incredible beauty and wonderful people, but the place is a paradox. What you experience in Lebanon in one year, you experience in another country in a life time. The pace of living is so fast, yet so relaxed at the same time, that it drains your energy like no other place. And so I have gone to re-energize.
 
 
In the meantime, I will leave you with a typical Beirut street scene - a different backgammon game - every week. I hope to see you again after the summer holidays.

July 27, 2014

Holidays Part 5

Playing backgammon (in a suit) in Mar Elias
 
 
I have gone on my annual Trek to the Motherland: I have to replenish my body and soul with energy in order to be able to deal with another year of Lebanon. It is a country of incredible beauty and wonderful people, but the place is a paradox. What you experience in Lebanon in one year, you experience in another country in a life time. The pace of living is so fast, yet so relaxed at the same time, that it drains your energy like no other place. And so I have gone to re-energize.
 
 
In the meantime, I will leave you with a typical Beirut street scene - a different backgammon game - every week. I hope to see you again after the summer holidays.

July 20, 2014

Holidays Part 4

Playing backgammon in front of the butcher in al-Zarif
 
I have gone on my annual Trek to the Motherland: I have to replenish my body and soul with energy in order to be able to deal with another year of Lebanon. It is a country of incredible beauty and wonderful people, but the place is a paradox. What you experience in Lebanon in one year, you experience in another country in a life time. The pace of living is so fast, yet so relaxed at the same time, that it drains your energy like no other place. And so I have gone to re-energize.
 
 
In the meantime, I will leave you with a typical Beirut street scene - a different backgammon game - every week. I hope to see you again after the summer holidays.

July 13, 2014

Holidays Part 3

Playing Backgammon in Caracas , between the manakish vendor and the suitcase salesman
 
I have gone on my annual Trek to the Motherland: I have to replenish my body and soul with energy in order to be able to deal with another year of Lebanon. It is a country of incredible beauty and wonderful people, but the place is a paradox. What you experience in Lebanon in one year, you experience in another country in a life time. The pace of living is so fast, yet so relaxed at the same time, that it drains your energy like no other place. And so I have gone to re-energize.
 
 
In the meantime, I will leave you with a typical Beirut street scene - a different backgammon game - every week. I hope to see you again after the summer holidays.

July 06, 2014

Holidays Part 2

Playing Backgamnmon in Shatila, an old argileh café at the sea shore
 
I have gone on my annual Trek to the Motherland: I have to replenish my body and soul with energy in order to be able to deal with another year of Lebanon. It is a country of incredible beauty and wonderful people, but the place is a paradox. What you experience in Lebanon in one year, you experience in another country in a life time. The pace of living is so fast, yet so relaxed at the same time, that it drains your energy like no other place. And so I have gone to re-energize.
 
In the meantime, I will leave you with a typical Beirut street scene - a different backgammon game - every week. I hope to see you again after the summer holidays.