December 10, 2012

Fie Sway Ta’Nees

If you’re not Lebanese, you’ll have to read till the end to get this title.

The road to the Cedars (Kadisha Valley in the front, Cedars in the back)
We had ourselves an adventure yesterday.  It was a beautiful Sunday, after a week of grey skies and constant rains, and I had a friend (a fellow Dutchie) over. So we’re hanging around the house and deciding what to do. The weather is just too gorgeous to stay at home and we decide to go on road trip. Inspired by a friend who is ‘whatsapp’-ing us pictures of exotic white beaches on the Maldives, where’s she’s spending her holiday, we decide to go to the Cedars and send her equally exotic pictures of us on the ski slopes. 

We check the news, to see if there’s an area we might want to avoid.

A town on the way, all deserted (Haroun?) 

There’s trouble in Tripoli; there’s the usual fighting between the two neighborhoods of Bab el Tabene  (anti Syrian president Bashaar el-Assad) and Jabel Mohsen (pro Syrian president), an explosion, a kidnapping and the return of the bodies of a number of Lebanese men who had signed up to join the Syrian rebel army, but who somehow got intercepted near the border by the regular Syrian army and were subsequently executed. All this has got tensions running high in the northern city.

The Cedars (well, 2 of them) with the ski slopes in the background

But the road to the Cedars bypasses Tripoli, and so there’s nothing to worry about. And on our way we go. We stop frequently to take pictures as we snake our way on the narrow mountain roads. The sights are fantastic. 
We pass through traditional, yet near-deserted villages, comment on the fall colors of the apple orchards (I think so; they may have been different trees), and the olive groves, see dead cats on the road and notice how the mountain people are al prepared for winter; they’ve got their ‘subiya’s’ (stoves) installed, judging the new shiny metal pipes that exit the walls and lead to the roofs of the houses. 

There's some snow in the forest
We stop at the Cedars and walk through the forest, although ‘clump of trees’ may be a more appropriate description, drive on to the ski slopes and make our picture to send to our friend in the Maldives. The slopes in the Cedars are not open yet. The lifts (there’s only 2 slopes anyway) seem to be ready, but it is still early. We’re like clockwork in Lebanon. No beach after September 21st (it is the end of summer after all), and no skiing before December 21st (when winter starts).

Cedar landscape (has got a little prairie-like feel to it)

We take our pictures and send them off the friend in the Maldives. We decide to make the Lebanese cliché complete by driving down to the sea,  and have lunch on the beach somewhere at Batroun. But nothing is more boring then taking the same road twice, and we try a new road, somehow descend in the direction of Zghorta. We cannot remember whether we have ever been there, but it does not matter, because on the way see a lake!

We made the picture and send it off to the Maldives

Now a lake is not a very common landform in Lebanon. There’s one in the Beqaa Valley (Karoun), that’s an artificial one, but neither one of us can remember ever hearing of a lake up north. From above it looks like an idyllic spot, with little boats, and so we decide to check it out. It doesn’t take long. It’s on the main road. And idyllic is not the correct vocabulary. It’s more like the local hotspot.  ‘Christmas by the Lake’ it was called, and the entire population of Ehden, Zghorta and Tripoli must have been checking out the place. 

Lac de Bnachi, near Zgharta

Over the top kitsch, a luna park on the water, but because it was so odd and unusual, so very un-Lebanese in many ways, we decided to stay for a while and have a drink at one of the many lake-side restaurants. It is always nice to be in one country and feel like you’re somewhere else. With the water and the mountains, this could be Switzerland, for instance. You travel for free.

'Christmas by the Lake' in Bnachi
Before we know it, it is dark. We need to drive back to Beirut, but neither one of us know the road, and road signs are not present either, or hiding in the bushes. I tell my car GPS we want to drive ‘home’. We have no idea where we are, it’s pitch dark, but the navigator guides us nicely. We do end up on dark and deserted little roads for a while, but eventually seem to hit a main road.

Oops, time to go home

And so we drive in the dark, talk, check the navigator occasionally, and know that we are moving in the direction of Beirut. At one point, we realize we’re entering  a large city.

Is this Tripoli?” we wonder.  It does look like Tripoli, although it’s hard to see in the dark.
But the navigator tells us all is well.

We have quite a few cars in front of us, but bit by bit they all scatter of in different directions, until it’s just us on the road. We do not really realize this, as we are talking all the time. 

I think this is Jabel Mohsen, “says my friend at one point in time.  It does look like it.

 I think I recognize this place; the crusader castle is on our left on the hill. Oh, I know the road. If we continue, we’ll end up on the main road to Beirut,” I say enthusiastically. 
My GPS agrees with me, he also sends us on.

And so on we drive, talking and talking, until there’s a car parked rather oddly in the middle of the road. We can get around it, but this is a little strange.  And where did all the cars go?

We look around us.
There are a few people on the sidewalk.

Uhhhh, is this the road to Beirut?” we ask.

Yes,” he replies, it is. But there’s ‘shway ta’nees’ up ahead, he advises.

Taf’nees? Taf’nees? I repeat. What’s ‘taf’nees’? 

Ta’nees. I think that’s the word for sharpshooter,” says my friend.

Oh. Oh! Ta’nees!” we say in unison.

Right. Sharpshooters ahead. Sure. Okay. No problem. Uhhhh. Shall we turn around?

Yes,” says the man. “I think it is better if you take another road.”

We get some explanations as to what other road to take, and which corner is a little dangerous, and on our way we are.

Of course my GPS is totally lost now, and keeps trying to get us back to old neighborhood.  And so we stop at every man we pass, roll down the window and ask “Haideh al tari aa Beirut bidoun ta’nees”? (Is this the road to Beirut without sharpshooters?)
People thought that rather funny.

No no, no shooting here,” they'd replied with a smile.

And that’s how we got home.  Turns out that particular area was quite busy that evening.  We didn't hear a thing. But we did have a wonderful Sunday, and a nice dinner story for weeks to come.

For those not from around here, check out the situation in Tripoli, here and here


Anonymous said...

It's "Hasroun", famous for its red-tiled houses. And like most mountain villages, the inhabitant smove to the city in winter.

Khaled Jose said...

Madame Siestke you are really amazing writing down all these Life stories happening in Lebanon. I am son of Lebanese father and Colombian mother, studied there between 1964 and end of 1969, I love to go visit my family every time I have an oportunity ( I love Lebanon ) no matter what's happening. You also Love and care about our beloved Lebanon " Bravo " I can say I am a fan of your Blog, and thank you for all you do and write. Best regards Khaled Tabet

Veri Kurtarma said...

Thanks for sharing!