November 30, 2006

D-day in the O.K. Corral

Which way is it going to go? Right or wrong?

And finally, something we have been waiting for for almost a month now; the much anticipated Hezbollah demonstration! Tomorrow is the day, in downtown Beirut, where the parliament and the government have their offices. At 3 o’clock Nasrallah will address the troops. Religious leaders of different faiths have called upon their people not to demonstrate, and not to get into provocative situations. That should tell you something. Everybody is worried sick that something is going to go terribly wrong tomorrow. I am not that worried about Nasrallah. They man is very smart. If it were up to him, not even the flowers in downtown will be stepped upon and people will gather up their own trash.
Problem is his followers. I’ve said it before; the majority are reasonable people, who have no desire for war, conflict or fighting. It’s that itty bitty little group of young guns, who only know about the civil war from stories recounted on hot summer evenings, as in ‘remember when . . . ?”
They’ve already gotten into a cheap fist fight in East-Beirut, those young guns. It was between christians and christians over (do I dare mention it?) the hanging of a poster. Now it is the shia young guns, who are pissed off with the sunni, and the christians and lord knows who else. (Well, I've told my parents (91 and 85) that tomorrow may not be such a good day to wander all over town like they did today. Can you imagine the headlines? 'Dutch eldery couple caught in sectarian fighting in Beirut; Army has to step in to safe the unlucky tourists'. "Okay," replied my Dad, "I guess I will paint your balcony then."
So let’s see which way we are going to go tomorrow. Right or wrong? The newspaper wants 500 words of atmosphere. Guess that is not going to be a problem; the tension is at highest.

November 29, 2006

Happy Birthday Cookie

And now for something non-political, non-sectarian, non-religious and non-national. The future Miss Lebanon celebrated her fourth birthday today. The happy occasion was slightly dampened by the fact that today she received a lengthy letter from the head of her school as well, stating that she had stepped on purpose on the little hand of a fellow classmate and grinded the little paw destructively into the ground. Now we need to meet to set up some sort of behavior-altering plan, as it turns out her tantrums at school are of a daily nature, and not considered within the normal limits of child behavior. Ahum. I guess we won’t have to teach her assertiveness anymore. But I think that in the long run an overly dominating attitude of ‘I am the boss in this place’ will benefit her well in this macho-male oriented society.
And if she can make a wish; May she grow up in a peaceful and democratic Lebanon. Hear hear.
So Happy Birthday Cookie
(And because today is also the birthday of the future Ms. Holland, here's a picture of her as well. Happy Birthday Rosa!)

November 28, 2006

Syrian Style Suicide

Somebody just blew himself up on the Syrian side of the border. Not quite sure why he did it, said the news.

‘Suicide bombing Syrian style’ one blogger called it. That was a pretty funny remark.
“Yeah, you heard about that,” a security guard at work told me, “what an idiot. To blow himself up. Messed up even that job. What an asshole.” The way he said it made me laugh. “Shoe el ehbel!?”
My mother wondered if they guy maybe had had a fight with his wife. “People do strange things, you know.” And we laughed some.
The TV showed clumps of meat splattered all across the rocks. I know those rocks well, because I’ve crossed that border many times, and there is always something wrong with the papers, and so you hang around for hours outside. And then we laughed some more. “Guess the guy got sick of waiting,” we quipped. Combustible anger and all that. “Maybe he had a short fuse.”
And here we are; a guy blows himself up, and all we managed to do is laugh about it. That’s pretty sad. In the end you’re glad he only managed to kill himself. But when you think of it; the guy had a mother who’s’ getting the news tonight. And friends and family will wonder how come they didn’t see this coming. And the friend who saw him last probably thinks how he could have missed this.

Ah yes, it is a strange world.

November 26, 2006

"Uitgaan, oorlog en uitzicht van jongeren in Libanon"

A nice quote from Theo, who flew back into Beirut last week and did not have to purchase a visa at the airport anymore: “When you do not dare to ask money for a visa anymore, you know that things aren’t going very well.”” (Wanneer je geen geld meer durft te vragen voor een visum, weet je dat het niet goed gaat.)

On another note, there will be a forum in Holland regarding Lebanon. The title is “Going out, war and the future of Lebanese youth” ("Uitgaan, oorlog en uitzicht van jongeren in Libanon") It will be held on December 10th in Utrecht (The Netherlands), at 2 o’clock in Café de Florin. For all you Dutch readers out there, it might be fun because the three speakers are interesting. I know Nicoline personally, she kept up a pretty good blog while in town, blogged for the Volkskrant as well. Rudd Hoff was my Middle East professor at the School of Journalism in Holland. It is hs fault that I ended up here. Abdelkader I don't know, but he blogged while in Beirut this summer.

Check out the details below.

"Uitgaan, oorlog en uitzicht van jongeren in Libanon"
Meer weten van jongeren in conflictgebieden? Kom naar het evenement ‘Waar Woon Jij?’. Hierin is aandacht voor uitgaan en zicht op de toekomst en werkelijkheid van jongeren in Libanon. De bijeenkomst speelt zich af in café de Florin (in Utrecht) op zondag 10 december van 14.00 tot 17.00. Aan het woord komen: Abdelkader Benali, Ruud Hoff en Nicolien Kegels. Abdelkader Benali heeft met zijn boek ‘De Langverwachte’ de Libris Literatuurprijs gewonnen en is recensent voor onder meer de Volkskrant. Afgelopen zomer verbleef hij gedurende de oorlog in Libanon en hield een weblog bij welke is gepubliceerd als ‘Berichten uit een Belegerde Stad’. Hij zal vertellen over zijn ervaringen in Libanon en zijn laatste uitgave.Ruud Hoff is docent aan de Hogeschool van Utrecht en verbonden aan het Clingendael Instituut. Hij is gespecialiseerd in Libanon en haar geschiedenis en is er vele malen geweest. Ruud Hoff zal een enthousiast en duidelijk vertellen over het land en conflict . Voorkennis van Libanon is dus niet vereist!Antropologe Nicolien Kegels is ook gespecialiseerd in en gek op Libanon. Zij heeft maanden onderzoek gedaan in Libanon tijdens de oorlog onder jongeren. Zij zal ons, vlak voor haar terugkeer naar het land, een kijkje geven in het leven van Libanese jongeren, de uitgaanscultuur en de invloed van oorlog op vriendschappen. Behalve luisteren naar deze sprekers is er ook ruimte voor debat over de toekomst van jongeren in Libanon. Chat met jongeren in Libanon en kom alles te weten komen over hun leven en visie op het conflict in de Chatbox. Kom bij van alle indrukken onder het genot van lekkere smaakjes tabak in de Waterpijpenhoek. Creëer al schilderend je eigen uitzicht en geniet van de kunsten van de vj en live band. Kom dus genieten van een interessante maar aangename zondagmiddag!
Toegang: Gratis
Wanneer: zondag 10 december van 14.00 tot 17.00 uur
Waar: Café de Florin, Nobelstraat 2-4 (bij Janskerkhof), Utrecht
Meer info: www.paxchristi.nl

Fall

It is summer in the city,
while it is fall in the mountains.
And so we all enjoy a truly fantastic fall, as we wonder at the same time what next week will bring. A solution to a problem, more demonstrations, a status quo, a civil war, or just (if we are lucky) some street fighting?

November 24, 2006

Burqa Part III

And the burqa saga continues. A nice article (In Dutch) of a christian bishop (well, a bischop would be christian, wouldn’t he?) in Holland who believes the ban on the burqas is nonsense. He compares the burqa to the old nun-habit, where you could barely see the face of the woman, and they (in the very old days, I presume, because I do not remember that scene) could be seen by the thousands on the street, ‘and we never asked them to take off their clothes.” He argues they will eventually liberate themselves. He’s got a case in point.

November 23, 2006

There Isn't Much To Say Really


The guy on the left is holding a poster with on top a picture of Bashir Gemayel, the victim's uncle. He died in a massive bomb in 1982, just days away of entering the office of President of Lebanon. Rumour has it they could only identify him by his nose. Below it is his nephew, Pierre Gemayel, who got killed this week.

There isn’t much to say really. I know these are the realities of the Middle East, but still it is sad. A 34 year old guy – father of two kids - liquidated. To think that my husband was only 35 when he got married, and this guy is already in his grave. Remind me to tell my son never to go into politics in Lebanon. Today’s funeral easily gathered a couple of hundred thousand people. Whether it approached the numbers of the March 14 march of last year, (which according to some estimates reached a million) I don’t think so. It was a beautiful day though, and come to think of it, every single funeral has been in perfect weather conditions. Hariri‘s funeral (February). Tueni’s funeral (December) and now Gemayel’s funeral (November) were all held in months when the weather can get really nasty. But for some reason, we’ve had clear skies on funeral days. Odd, isn’t it?

On another note, my parents finally made it to Lebanon. It took them a good three days, don’t ask me why. My mother was fuming. “Because of one asshole,” she said (I think she is talking about Ousama Bin Laden), they are ‘touching’ her at every airport. I think she means ‘strip searching.’

The marathon - the reason why my 91 year old father flew in - was postponed. Ahum.

Burqa Part II

Well, I guess somebody had to pick up on that. (Hat-tip to Observer, who pointed it out to me).

Jewel heists target Asians
One recent robbery included a male thief disguised in a head-to-toe burqa
Nov. 21, 2006. 10:14 AM
BETSY POWELL AND JOHN DUNCANSON
STAFF REPORTERS


Abdul Rasheed Khalid was alone in his Brampton jewellery store filling the display cases with yellow gold rings and necklaces when two people, one wearing a head-to-toe black burqa, appeared outside his locked door.
"Salamu alaikum," the 58-year-old store owner said after pushing the entry buzzer, believing them to be a Muslim couple. There was no reply, and seconds later the pair — both males — forced him at gunpoint to the back office where he was bound with duct tape and hit several times. Then his store was cleaned out.
"Keep quiet, keep quiet, close your eyes," they said, while emptying the red velvet trays into duffel bags carried by an accomplice. Khalid caught a glimpse of the crooks. He thinks they were Pakistani or Indian. (…)
In the meantime, Michael Totten has opened this discussion as well. I kind of liked this comment by one reader; ‘it is illegal for men to wear masks when entering banks, court houses and schools - why not women?

Most people that responded thought it made sense, but did not like the way it was presented. Provocative, was the word.
But Leila in Iran said this: ‘what they are doing in the Netherlands is absolutely correct. Beside all the legal reasons and justifications your emigration office makes, this jungle the Islamic extremists trying to make out of normal societies is disgusting. You probably know that the number of these women in your country is 50. So, all this fuss about this number of people? Oh, come on! You see, I have no problem with the beliefs of people. What I find really outrageous is that they are misusing the freedom given to them. They are trying to impose themselves on the society:"Ah-ha, you claim we are free? Let's see how far you can go! How much you can tolerate us?"’
She’s got some nice pictures on the veil in Iran and the veil in London.

November 21, 2006

The Myth of Sisyphus.

Pierre Gemayel was assasinated in Beirut yesterday. And so we wonder, is this the spark that will trigger the fights between the pro and anti-Syrians coalitions in this country? It is symbolical, really, that it was an attempt on the life of his grandfather, also named Pierre, in 1975, that signalled the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War. So the circle is round; we are back to square one.

I get the feeling that most Lebanese, apart from being uneasy, are disgusted by all politicians and the state in which they got us.
I read this wonderful post of a blogger named Ms. Levantine on what the Lebanese get what they deserve. And so I 'stole' it for your entertainment. Enjoy it.

The Myth of Sisyphus.
According to Greek Mythology, Sisyphus was a bright but crafty individual, breaking the rules, fooling the Gods, and refusing to respect the natural order of the universe. He even tried to get back from the underworld. As punishment, the Gods condemned him to eternally push a rock up a hill, only to see it roll back to the bottom every time he got close to the summit.There is a strong parallel to be made between Lebanon and Sisyphus: we do not come close to respecting the basic rules of nation building, we claim that we are different, and that we are a unique country that marches to the beat of its own drum; as a result, every time we think that we are about to succeed in creating a successful nation, the whole structure collapses and we are left to pick up the pieces and try again.We keep hearing that everything is different in Lebanon: we do not need strong institutions, the economy has always been a mess so why change it, most of our laws are still medieval, and the goal of each and every citizen is to constantly beat the system. If you stop at a red light, you might get screamed at by a policeman for blocking the flow of traffic. Even the basic laws of physics and optics do not apply in our country. My favorite example is a downward slope in the Chekka area: if you park you car there and loosen the breaks, your vehicle will actually roll UP the incline. How more unique can we get?We learned in high school that Sisyphus was the "absurd man". Obviously, we have managed to create the "absurd country". We refuse to play by the rule of modern nations, we are incapable of respecting the law, building institutions, and separating religion and state. The consequence is predictable: the rock we are pushing keeps rolling down every time we are about to reach the top.This brings me to the lastest episode of our rock rolling down the hill, the July War. Its political ramifications have been analyzed in excrutiating details. What has not been sufficiently noted on the other hand, is that in a country that was definitely not prepared to handle 800,000 refugees, nobody died of hunger, people were housed and fed, doctors and nurses did not flee their hospitals thus abandoning their patients, and deserted villages were not looted. As usual, we dwell on the negative aspects of the crisis: tensions with the refugees, misplaced aid that ended up in private hands...Yet in chaotic situations, problems always occur. Comparing what happened in Lebanon this past July to Hurricane Katrina in the United States - the most powerful and civic-minded nation in the world - we have to admit that the Lebanese civil society reacted remarkably, far better than the American one.We have to give credit where credit is due: the Lebanese citizens accomplished the overwhelming majority of the relief effort. With all due respect to international organizations, most of them were at the Movenpick hotel wondering when things would calm down so that they could actually help, or get evacuted. It is the Lebanese Red Cross who responded to the bombings and the Lebanese citizens who helped refugees, whether as members of political parties, NGOs or as simple individuals.The response of the Lebanese civil society to the July War is infinitely more important for the future of our country than anything that happened on March 14, 2005. We urgently have to build on these achievements as our only hope of survival as a country at this point is the strengthening of our civil society. NGOs in Lebanon need to be supported at all costs, they need both volunteers and funds (an area where expatriates can particularly help). Change will only happen from the bottom up. Instead of always lamenting our catastrophic situation, the time has come to do something about it and to reform the "absurd country". To quote Martin Luther King: everybody can be great because everybody can serve
.

No Bomb This Time

And it doesn’t surprise us anymore. We expected an assassination, just didn’t know who. Now we do. “Prominent anti-Syrian Christian politician Pierre Gemayel was assassinated in a suburb of Beirut on Tuesday, his Phalange Party radio station and Lebanon's official news agency reported.” A cabinet minister, and so now we are one short. And in a change of tactics they used a gun instead of the usual car bomb. “Witnesses said Gemayel was shot in his car in Jdeideh, a Christian neighborhood, his constituency on the northern edge of Beirut.”
And so here we go again.

We're going to have to keep our heads low the coming days. And I've got to walk this 10K thing during the Beirut Marathon!

November 19, 2006

Watching Beirut

Watching Beirut
A picture to show you how grim the situation is here at the moment. All hell could break loose any moment, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone. Right now, everyone is watching and waiting.

I was having lunch with sis in-law up in the mountains this afternoon, and during lunch, shooting started in Beirut. We were at 600 meters above Beirut, and sound really carries far, but it sounded like regular machine gun fire, and maybe heavier stuff as well. We could even see the light flashes way down in South Beirut.
It lasted for a good 45 minutes, so we ruled out a wedding (they can get overly enthusiastic at weddings sometimes) and the ordinary road rage incident. There were no planes overhead either, so it couldn’t be anti-aircraft firing either. So we assumed that the clashes between Hezbollah and Lord knows who had finally started. Civil war is very much on everybody’s minds right now.

So there we sat on the roof, witnessing the shooting, and contemplating how to get home, as both of us have to pass by the southern suburbs in order to get home to our neighborhoods. The kids were having a ball, and all inspired by the shooting, created a game of ‘Israelis’, whereby the ammo (pinecones) had to be launched from the base (the roof of the house) onto the victims (the adults on the veranda down below).
As it turned out, the shooting was probably a happy response to Hassan Nasrallah’s speech. He said in a tv speech to his followers that they should psychologically prepare, because at any moment, he can ask them to start the street protests. And although he did stress on the peacefulness of these demonstrations, and in case the other side also staged protests, that clashes should not occur, this does not instill much confidence.

Nasrallah may believe in peaceful protest, but I have met plenty Hezbollah followers over the years. Many will follow the man. Most of them are very reasonable. But there are those that feel that they have been the underdog for so many years, they feel like the other part ‘owes’ them something, and if they are not getting it peacefully, they will come and get it through whatever means they can. And I doubt that even Hezbollah's famous crowd-control guys can do anything about those.
And so we watch and wait.

November 18, 2006

Breast Friends

I did my Masters with this lady. No, not the one on the left, you twit. That is Haifa Wehbe, Lebanon’s version of Connie Breukhoven (Vanessa, weet je nog wel?). I am talking about the lady on the right; Lina. I did my Masters with her, and she is currently campaigning for breast cancer awareness. The campaign is called ‘Breast Friends’; Haifa has the breasts, Lina is the friend.
I had seen the billboards before, but this evening they were giving out autographs in the ABS mall in Ashrafiya. A massive crowd. Lina is a celeb now. Not much to say about it, I kind of liked the fact that I know the lady on the right.
Bottom Image 'borrowed' from www.gettyimages.com.
Beirut, LEBANON: Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe poses for a picture with breast cancer patient Lina Haddad during a press conference to promote a book about Breast Cancer in Beirut, 17 November 2006. The book, "Extraordinary friendships through breast cancer -celebrity", which is part of a global Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, include photographs of more than 30 famous personalities. Among the celebrities are Maricia Cross, Jerry Hall, Rosanna Arquette, Ronan Keating and Haifa Wehbe. AFP PHOTO/ANWAR AMRO (Photo credit should read ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images)

Ban on Burqas in Holland

It seems things are moving quite fast in Holland these days. I totally missed out on this public discussion until I saw it flashing by on CNN; The Dutch are going to ban the burqas in public places. The burqas is the traditional dress of – as far as I know – muslim women under the Taliban regime. It basically envelopes the woman entirely in a piece of cloth.

The Dutch government said the following: “The Cabinet finds it undesirable that face-covering clothing -- including the burqa -- is worn in public places for reasons of public order, security and protection of citizens," Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk said in a statement. "From a security standpoint, people should always be recognizable and from the standpoint of integration, we think people should be able to communicate with one another."

I know there were issues in England about a woman who was fired (at least they tried) from a teaching job because she wore a face veil, and as such the children couldn’t see her speak, only hear her. I think that makes sense; body language – of which facial expression is one – does make up a greater part of communication than speech.
So I can imagine you would want to ban it from public jobs. You wouldn’t want to be seeing a judge or a lawyer in a burqa, or a teacher and a police officer. I can imagine it makes driving a bit of a hazard as well.

But to ban them entirely from public places seems a bit strong. I wonder how we are going to get away with this. Besides, what about the ladies from the Gulf? I guess Amsterdam is no longer on the list of possible holiday destinations, now is it?

I wonder if this one is going to stand, but I seriously doubt it.
Translation: "We feel much liberated since the Taliban regime has gone."

November 17, 2006

The Gloves Are Off!

The tide is turning, the gloves are off; this society is openly dividing itself along religious lines.
Once again, I might add. Although it was always clear that there were ‘issues’ between the different sects, for the past 15 years Lebanese have always tried rather vigorously to give me the impression that there really was no problem at all between the Lebanese themselves, but that it had been ‘foreign forces’ that played them against each other. Of course this argument didn’t hold very well if 10 minutes later you’d hear remarks like “well, what do you expect, he’s a ……… “(Fill in any of the 4 main religious sects).
In certain circles it was even a taboo to make cliché, or negative statements about other sects. But once you got to know people well enough, or they though they knew you well enough, the real disposition would surface. I can tell you countless stories of people who – because I am blond and blue-eyed – thought I was a christian, or who – because I am married to a muslim – thought I was a muslim, and thus considered me as being ‘one of them’, and in that position would speak to me about things they would never tell me had they known I was actually from the ‘other’ side. I have no real side; I am in the happy position of being able to switch sides. But I would hear the stories.

But now the gloves are off. We can now openly talk about ‘those shiites’, or ‘those sunnis’, and ‘those maronites’. This evening, a car drove to town to celebrate the AUB student elections. The guys hanging out of it were wearing Amal shirts (a shi’ite party), but for the first time I hear people in Lebanon openly chanting about their sectarian identity. I couldn’t hear it all, but it was quite distinctly about something ‘shia’. This would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago. Talks about impending sectarian clashes are quite normal. We are back to square one, it seems.

This blogger blames it again on ‘foreign forces’. He says: 'Lebanon, tragically, is resuming its historic role as a proxy war battleground for countries more powerful than itself. Just about every group in the country allows itself to be used as a proxy by some nation or other, and so it continues.'
Although the quote is nice, I am getting tired of us blaming it on others. I think it is time to look inwards. If you are willing to attack fellow Lebanese because your leader says so, then you are to blame, not external forces. Armies can’t fight if they don’t have soldiers.

In few of the changing mood in society, a group of worried citizens has come up with a very nice campaign warning people of the increased sectarian sentiments within Lebanon. For an outsider some of these pictures may appear strange. For the Lebanese, they say it all. There are some hilarious pictures and billboards I must say. I hope it works.

November 16, 2006

Joy to the World; My Wallet is Back!

Ah Ya habibi! My faith in the Lebanese – although it never really wavered – has been fully restored! Someone from Dayiha called hubbie with the message that my wallet (lost on Hezbollah’s Divine Victory Rally way back in September) had been ‘found’. How do I know he was from Dahiya? Because that's where we could pick it up. (got his phone number too)
Okay, so it took some time, like uh, 60 days (?), but hey, who's complaining? Not me! I do not have to run all around town now for months on end getting all my papers back again. My credit cards had already been replaced, but getting a new ID and the whole shebang in this place is good for a serious migraine.
Anyway, the caller said he had found the wallet empty (without money, that is), and what was in it for him? We had to pick it up in the suburbs, right in the place facing the Hezbollah Press Office (the new one; the old one was being ‘remodeled’, explained the spokesman of Hezbollah), where the Jihad al-Binaa has its temporary offices (they too are having their old hang-out ‘remodeled’.) Doesn’t matter; I got my wallet back. Thanks man, whoever you are. I really appreciate it.

November 15, 2006

On Rubble, Rabble, and Rebuilding

Reconstruction delayed by internal squabbling. It took some time, but finally got it on paper.
This morning, as I drove to work, I noticed that it was unusually empty on the street. So what do you do when you live in Lebanon? You turn on the radio and see whether you missed something on the news. But there was nothing. It was just naturally unusually empty. All the cars that have flocked this city for the past three weeks have suddenly disintegrated. These are strange times indeed . . .

November 13, 2006

Conversations with my son

Looks like a postcard from the sixties.An old car at Ramlet el-Baida (White Beach Road).

We passed a billboard in Beirut today, advertising Lina’s, which is a lunchroom in town.
Me: "Hmm, I wonder what kind of food they serve. Shall we go there one time?”
Son: “Oh, it’s not that special.”
Me: “What do you mean? How do you know?”
Son: “I ate there once.”
Me: “With whom?”
Son: “Some friends.”
Me: “Oh.”

After a while, me again.
Me: “ How about I take you out to Roadsters.”
Son: “Nah, already ate there.”
Me: “ Oh.”

No anti-wrinkle cream is going to get me out of this temporary dip.

The Corniche on Sunday.
Fishermen near the AUB (American University Beirut) beach. East Beirut + mountains in the background.

November 12, 2006

Bits & Pieces in Beirut


Man taking a picture of his wife and child on the Corniche on Sunday afternoon

Too busy too blog. So Today Some Bits and Pieces
Several stories run through each other at the moment; the resignation of the Hezbollah & Co ministers and its implications, the ever-widening gap in Lebanese society between the western and eastern crowd, the parallel running gap between sunni and shiite muslims, the upcoming ‘promise’ of street demonstration, the Israeli harassment of the UN and all this while I have to work every single night till seven this week and Saturdays are working days as well in order to make up for time lost during the war. No rest for the wicked, I am afraid.

During a conversation with Ali, a friend, today, he mentioned how he listens to the news in the morning like he used to listen to the traffic report when he was still living in the States. “ You check out the news in order to know whether today is a day to leave the house, or whether there might be areas you don’t want to go. Just like during the war.’ By war, he does not mean the war last summer. That was just a minor disturbance. By ‘the war’ they mean the civil war, and it is more and more on people’s minds. People are discussing back-up plans, “You know, just in case.” What most Lebanese of my age realize is that they are the third generation living with war. “My grandfather lived in times of conflict, and he was worried about the future of my father in this country. And then my father lived during the war, and he was constantly worrying about my future, and now I’ve got a three-month old son, and I think, ‘here we go again.’ What does this country have to offer for my son? So I have a back-up plan, all my friends have a back-up plan. If the shit hits the fan, I’m out of here.”
Many Lebanese do have a foreign passport. Many are making their children study abroad, just in case. The Jews are always talking about the Diaspora, but the Lebanese one is becoming quite impressive too. I have friends that have a brother in Brazil, a sister in Canada, another one in Germany, a father that works in Dubai. And these are not exceptions.


On another note; Anne, a Dutch lady in Beirut, decided - in view of recent reconstruction efforts - to crash her car into a cement truck. With debatable results. She totalled her puny little car and ended up with a bruised liver, deflated lung and a cut nose. First thing they attended to in the hospital was ... yes, the nose.
Ah yes, the nails. She did not scratch her nails.

Ayay, the mood is grim, but the weather is not

A Dutch Park in Saddiqine

The Dutch embassy in Lebanon donated a park to the children of Saddiqine. I drove past the sign last week, that’s how I found out. This was done in 2005, according to a sign.

Saddiqine is a small village in the South of Lebanon, some 10 kilometers from the border with Israel. I am trying to figure out why the inhabitants of Saddiqine would be in need of a park in their village, as the entire village is basically in the country side. It’s not like Beirut where it is all high-rise and kids don’t have a place to play. This is the country side. Anyway, they donated a park. Maybe they had some money left . I can think of one hundred and one humanitarian projects you can spend your money wisely on, but a park in Saddiqine would not be one of them. Maybe it was a really good deal. Since the Ukranians seem to have actually built it, it probably cost us next to nothing. Well, we are Dutch, you know. . . .

I cannot tell you what was in the park, whether there was a little fountain, some benches for the old folks to sit on, or a couple of trees, because the park has been obliterated, together with some 487 houses or so. Pulverized by Israeli bombs it has been this summer (and Yoda I am not).
I think we should protest with the Israeli government. This was, after all, a little piece of Dutch heritage.

The sign is till there though. (Seen from the back here.) It's got just the tiniest little hole in it.

November 06, 2006

To make a long story not very short


Beirut Marathon, 2005 (My Dad and my son; 80 years apart)
I got a letter from my Dad. He went for a bike ride to my aunt and back again, a trip of almost 200 kilometers. (I’m from Holland, remember?) It took him two days. Anyways, my aunt gave him a bag full of apples to take back home, so he’s dragging a bag full of apples along for 100 kilometers on the back of his bike.
And so he writes stoically: ‘I hauled them, your Mom peeled them, and then burned them. To think I carried those for 100 kilometers.”
My Dad is 91 years old. Which reminds me, I signed him up for the Beirut Marathon on November 26. That would be the third time he is walking with us. I hope he gets the news in time (Pa, 26 november moet je de marathon weer lopen. Ik heb je ingeschreven samen met Adriaan).


Vehicles you get stuck behind when going down south.
(Pepsi Cola, bananas, bedoiuns, the iron rods coming from rubble, Lebanese soldiers, cement trucks, rubble, more iron from rubble, and mini buses. Lots of UN vehicles too, but they were all shopping, so didn't catch them on the road).

I wrote my story for the paper; on the rebuilding of the south, or rather the lack of the rebuilding of the south. A lot of work is being done on the infra-structure, and homes that were lightly damaged have been fixed in time for the winter. But the houses that were either totally or partially destroyed, which are over 10,000, it seems, are not being rebuild just yet. It is not necessarily because of a lack of money, although that does play a role too. It is more of a political thing. The reasoning goes as follows;

Hezbollah captures two Israeli soldiers and as a result Israel bombs us to smithereens. Although we may argue about that because some people say they were planning to bomb us to smithereens anyway, they just needed and excuse and Hezbollah (read Iran and Syria) handed it to them on a silver platter. So then the Lebanese government gets lots of money to rebuild the south, but they have no intention of handing it out to the people of the South, because those people support Hezbollah, and as long as they support Hezbollah then the government cannot force Hezbollah to disarm and as long as Hezbollah doesn’t disarm Israel has a reason to bombs us again to smithereens. And then you would need more money again to rebuild. And since the people who need to money do not get money from the government but they do get it from Hezbollah they support Hezbollah even more so then it is even less likely that they are going to get their money. In the meantime Iran and Syria want to bug the hell out of Israel, which they do with the help of Hezbollah, about which the government is very unhappy but Hezbollah (and Israel and Iran) are even unhappier that the Lebanese government supports the fact that the Americans bug the Iranians and Syrians through Lebanon. On top of that, they (people of the south) do not have much faith in this whole UNIFIL business, since the Israeli blatantly ignore them, or tease them. It seems the Germans have been shot at already twice, and they pissed the French off as well. So why rebuild if 1) the Israelis can start bombing anytime again, 2) the government doesn’t give you the money, and 3) the government and Hezbollah are on the verge of sluggin it out on the streets.
Now did I get it right?

And the news from Gaza is not good either. Times are dark. It fits with the season.

November 05, 2006

MAN, door Michael van Eekeren

Today a post for my Dutch readers only.
Vandaag wat anders. Een kennis van mij, Michael van Eekeren, publiceert deze week zijn eerste boek, en daar wil ik wat publiciteit voor maken vanuit het verre Beiroet. Het boek heet heet MAN. Michael is een kennis uit mijn studententijd die de afgelopen drie jaar bezig is geweest met het schrijven van het boek. Dinsdag wordt het gepresenteerd, maar het boek heeft al de nodige opheffing veroorzaakt in het Gooi. Zie hier en hier. Het schijnt dat Rita Reys boos op hem is. Dat kan alleen maar goeds voorspellen.
Het lijkt me een goed idee voor een kerstcadeau. Ben je daar ook meteen klaar mee. Je zou eigenlijk naar winkel moeten rennen voor een exemplaar, mij is voorspeld dat ‘t een enorme rage wordt. Snel zijn dus. Op naar de eerste honderduizend exemplaren!

En voor de dames; je kunt er ook nog andere leuke dingen mee doen.

Update: And the plot thickens! Het is tot een kort-geding gekomen Dat boek moet je hebben! Wordt een collector's item (vooral dat inlegvel, want dat zie je bij de tweede editie niet meer)

A little publicity here for a change. A friend of mine, residing in the South of France, has published his first novel. It is in Dutch, so my advise is to go out there and buy it (if you’re Dutch).

November 04, 2006

Trip to the South

This could be Afghanistan, after an earthquake,

but it is Bint Jbeil (85 km south of Beirut) , destroyed for about 75%.

Natural light under the bridge

This must have been the house of a psychedelic family. Or maybe pink, purple and red were on sale.

This is the south too. Banana plantations and orange groves, as far as the eye can see. And white sandy beaches.

And martyrs by the dozen. Usually they display them, one at a time, on bill boards with some roses around it, or another non-descriptive background, and post them on electricity poles alongside the road. SO you drive like five kilometers with one martyr after another.
But I assume this latests war has inflicted a heavy toll on their ranks, so now they post them by the dozen (20 actually). Maybe it saves time and space. Looking down upon them are Hassan Nasrallah (left), head of Hezbollah, and if I am correct, the man on the right is Khamanei, Iran's spiritual leader (he followed in Khomeiny's footsteps).

I went down south today to do a story on the reconstruction efforts. I'll write it tomorrow.

November 03, 2006

Low Morale

'Normal' Conversations Part 2
As I walk last night behind two ladies in their early thirties, one of them receives a text message on her phone. She opens the message as she continues walking. ‘I – hear – news – that - you – you – are – on – the – verge – of – a - civil – war - Mama – is – very – worried – please – tell – us – how – the – situation – is’, she reads aloud. “Yee, dakhilak habibti, please mail her everything is just fine” the other woman replies dramatically. “ That is just the last thing we need right now, mamma dying of a heart attack.”

At work, a friend is trying to book a flight to London for work. “I cannot find one friggin’ seat out of the country. Everyone is leaving. All flights out are fully booked, but incoming flights are empty. I used to laugh at those idiots leaving! And you know who is the ‘habla’ (the idiot)? Me! This country is over, finito, finished.”

A discussion in the cafeteria with colleagues. “I want to move to Australia, but my husband wants to go to the States. Oh well, at least we agree on something.” ‘What’s that?” I ask. “Well, we both want to leave Lebanon.”

During a Halloween party, one guest, dressed up as Ousama Bin Laden, says; “I wanted to dress up as Hassan Nasrallah, but I was afraid the Israelis might blow me up, thinking I was the real one.

The moral is as low as I have ever seen it in Lebanon. What happened? Are we on the rebound from last summer or did the Israelis send us a tainted shipment of Prozac?


Cluster bombs
As Lebanese, and mainly Lebanese children, continue to die from cluster bombs left behind by our thoughtful Southern neighbors, you are invited to participate in the first national day against Cluster Munitions tomorrow, Saturday, November 4th, at Martyr's Square Area, across from Azariyeh bldg., from 11AM to 10PM.


On A Personal Note
I had to get glasses this week. A first one for me. The forces of gravity slowly but surely get a tighter grip on me; I suddenly noticed last month that I had difficulty reading my watch. Not really a difficulty, I can read the dial just fine, but my arm is somehow not long enough anymore. And things that are far away tend to get a little blurry when I am tired. Which with my job is just about all the time.

So to the ophthalmologist I went. It took me maybe 17 minutes to find out what the problem was, which frames I want for my glasses (+0.5 for reading glasses and -0.25/-0.75 for far viewing glasses) and how much I had to pay ($120). I could pick up the glasses the next day.
Now if I would have to do this in Holland, first I would have to make an appointment with the family doctor (takes approx. 3 days), who would give me a referral form for an eye doctor. Then you make an appointment with the eye doctor (approx. 3 weeks) who would then give you a prescription to go to an optician, who would ask you to come pick up your glasses after a week, charging you close to $500. The only good thing is that medical care pays the bill.
Well, I don’t mind shelling $120 for 17 minutes of work.

I must say I feel rather like a dog with these eyes. Glasses, I mean.