I am sitting in my favorite cafe with WiFi in the Gemmayze district of Beirut called Spin Out. The Middle East didn’t work out the way I had hoped but I am flexible with my plans so I will survive. The denial of a visa on arrival at the Syrian border was always a possibility and my back up plan was Jordan, Egypt and possibly Sudan. Even with the problems in Cairo right now, I was still considering flying to Jordan and going overland to Egypt in hopes that the crisis would be over. It looks like things are getting worse in Egypt and the entire Middle East is tense right now.
Come to Lebanon
Lebanon has been fantastic. My plan was to spend two nights in Beirut and then move on to Syria. That plan changed when I met some really cool people at the hostel and decided to hang out longer. I’ve made very good friends and shared some pretty unique experiences. I watched the World Championship final of handball at an Irish Pub with my Danish friend, Mette, whose passion for the sport reminded me of home for awhile. Me, and now life long Italian amico, Tommy had an amazing night out with a few Lebanese girls who took us to an underground jazz club that was doing a show for Egypt. I raided the temples of Balbeek with Sharni and had enlightening conversations with locals throughout my stay here. I’m a regular at the lounge I write this from and have been treated like family just about everywhere I go.
Forget everything and anything you may have previously understood about the once troubled country and give it a chance. There is so much to do in Beirut and even more to do in the countryside. It is a culinary goldmine and a mixture of European and Middle East. French, Arabic and English are widely spoken and most people are eager to teach Arabic if you ask and sometimes if you don’t ask. Lebanese are incredibly passionate about politics and life.
I Am American.
When I first arrived it was suggested to me that I shouldn’t tell too many people that I’m American. While I certainly don’t go around flaunting my nationality, screaming red, white and blue through the streets, I never lie about where I come from. The rewards of being truthful far outweigh any potential trouble. I have heard extremely honest and often brutally honest feelings that many Lebanese have towards the United States. I’ve gained a perspective, that without travel, would be nearly impossible to obtain. Having someone look me directly in the eye and tell me that they have a deep hatred for the U.S. government that permeates through them on a daily basis, while simultaneously offering their warm welcome to Lebanon, is an understandable contradiction. These are not just individuals who just say they dislike the U.S. because of some trite cliche. This is real life where neighbors, friends and family have had homes destroyed and lives ruined by policies put in place by the U.S. and Israel. Regardless of what side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict people support, the people are effected the most, as is with any conflict. The Lebanese I have met say they all want peace but the political actors involved, including Hezbollah, Hamas, Israel and the U.S. all look for continued instability. The tanks in the street and the increased police presence may make a traveler feel uneasy but for Lebanese, it is comforting. Lebanon was in the news when I first arrived because of the “Day of Rage” after President Hariri stepped down due to opposition pressure. The media reported it as if the streets were about to be paved with blood. In talking to a Lebanese girl last night, I was told that the peaceful demonstrations and “Day of Rage” last Tuesday was about showing respect for the President who was stepping down and giving him some sort of dignity.
Going to South East Asia
This has been an educational stay in Lebanon as well as a fun one but I must move on. I’ll wait here at Spin Out for my taxi to the airport a little later this afternoon. I will be en route to Singapore this evening with a connection in Doha, Qatar. I arrive in Singapore Friday afternoon at 3pm and will be spending the weekend with a friend from home. I’m heading to South East Asia sooner than expected. Next week I will get to Kuala Lumpur and try to get a visa for travel to Myanmar (also referred to as Burma). Myanmar is an oppressive and secretive regime and travel there can be difficult not just for Americans but all nationals.
The updating on the blog over the next couple of weeks may not be all that much since I’ve already been through Singapore and Malaysia and don’t expect to write a lot about my experiences there again. I’ll probably catch up on some things I missed a long the way and write about Baalbek, Byblos and Las Geel in Somaliland. I still need to post what I’ve written about the Somaliland people as well.
See you in a bit!