September 08, 2013

Beautiful Beqaa Valley

We call these motor cycles the 'Syrian horse'; all Syrians have one, and they transport entire families on them.
We’re still waiting. The US Embassy in Beirut announced Friday that they are asking non-essential US State Department employees to leave the country.  I am not American, so I can stay. Messages like that always make you wonder; do they know something that I don’t? I don’t know if the Dutch are going to assist the Americans in their bombings (although I still have a bet running that in the end they are not going to bomb); I hope we’re brighter than that.  
Harvesting walnuts (Usually they hit the branches with sticks, this one was too high, so they threw stones into it)
And so we’re still waiting for Obama and his congress. But life goes on here, and this weekend, while hunting for fire wood for the winter, we somehow ended up all the way on the eastern side of the Beqaa Valley, right alongside the Syrian border.  This particular area is not witnessing any fighting, that happens more up north towards Hermel, but the soldier at the very last checkpoint before you get to the Syrian border post (which was closed, by the way) near Deir el Aachayer mentioned that they hear the bombardments on a daily basis. One of my blog readers was concerned over the fact that you might get kidnapped in regions that are remote. There is of course always that possibility, but in the 23 years that I have lived here, I never had to be afraid, and I’ll be darned if that is going to change.
The mountains in the distance are the ones that separate the coastal part of Lebanon from the Beqaa Valley
The Beqaa Valley is a very fertile region, although you wouldn’t say so, now that we’re nearing the end of summer. Everything is dry, dusty and yellow, but it is the most important agricultural region of Lebanon. During the Roman times, it was called the bread basket of the Roman empire, although I assume that was just for the southern part of the empire.  It is the harvest season, and the place was teeming with nomads working on the land.
Near Yanta. It is empty and deserted. Behind these hills lies Syria
A shepherd crossing the road with his troop of sheep and goats.
Unofficially, Lebanon currently accommodates some 1 million Syrian refugees, (only some 700,000 are registered with the UNHCR, or awaiting registration)  and many of those are staying in the Beqaa Valley, where the lucky ones find work as day laborers at farms. This is traditionally the domain of nomads, but now that the nomads in Syria also have had to go for safer horizons, the competition is fierce. The Lebanese government does not want to shelter them in UN – operated camps (they did that with the Palestinians, and some 50 years later, they are still here), and so they are spread all over the place, and live in informally built tent cities that lack basic sanitation.
Originally the nomads live like this, but many regular Syrians have resorted to living in tents now. The nomads (men and women) work in the fields and live around them
Yet when you get really close to the border with Syria, up in the hills, you see no one. There are very few villages, and you wonder what they live from, as most of it is almost desert. I wonder what the Romans saw in this place. They built temples all over the valley, but in winter the place gets really cold, and in summer it’s awfully hot and dry. And although the place is beautiful, it is not a rich place.
The big rectangular stones in that wall in the field seem to straight to be natural;  probably the Romans built something here and abandoned it, and then it was incorporated into someone's fence.


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