Guide to Lebanon Blog Posts

It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since I was in Lebanon. Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday and other times it feels like it was all a dream (yes, I know that sounds cliche!). Whenever I think back to those incredible ten days in Lebanon I always have a smile on my face.

In a few weeks I will be presenting again on my time in Lebanon. This presentation will be at the Hudson Library and Historical Society on Tuesday February 5th at 7:00pm. Again, I hope for those of you in the area, you will consider attending.

For anyone who is new to my blog I thought it might be helpful if I repost the links to each blog post that I made while in Lebanon. I have included a brief summary of each one.


Oreos with the Ambassador = Pre-departure, reflection on orientation in Washington DC

Details from pre-departure = more information on our pre-departure orientation sessions

Walking Tour = Our first day in Lebanon we took a walking tour of downtown Beirut

All around Lebanon = Big day of touring including Khalil Gibran museum, the Cedars, and the Roman Ruins at Baalbek

Day 4 – Our first meetings = met with Michael Young, Hanin Ghaddar, Ousama Safa and Lokman Slim

Day 6 – More meetings = met with Youssef Fawaz from Al Majmoua (microfinance NGO) and toured American University of Beirut

Parliament Meeting = met with Simon Abi Ramia, member of Parliament and head of the commission for Youth and Sports

Tour of Byblos = visited Jeita Grotto and Byblos

Just Checking In = photos at the border with Israel and with UNIFIL

Music in Lebanon = details on Najwa Karam performance at the Achrafieh Music Festival and our visit to Skybar

Visit to the US Embassy in Beirut = details on the life of US ambassadors in Lebanon

ANERA = met with Bill Corcoran, president of American Near East Refugee Assosciation, who does work with Palestinian Refugees


Flower at Baalbek

Invitation to come to John Carroll!

For those in the Cleveland area, I hope you will consider coming to attend my first presentation that is open to the public! I will be sharing my experience in Lebanon and my fellowship with the National Council on US-Arab Relations. The presentation is this Wednesday December 5th at 8PM in Rodman A. If you need further directions to campus, please contact me.

Hope to see you soon!Lebanon Presentation

Fall is here

I have so many exciting updates to share with everyone. I hope in the next week or two to get some full posts written, but in the mean time here are some teasers:

  • In September I went with my mom to the Global Villages Festival in downtown Akron. There were a lot of great things there and the weather was perfect. See:


  • I traveled with two friends to Detroit, Michigan for a weekend in September. They were doing a triathlon and I was filming them. My friend Jurell spent a year as a Jesuit Volunteer in Detroit and showed us around. We had a bunch of delicious tacos.
  • Last week I took the Foreign Service Officer Test! I will find out if I passed in about a month.
  • On Saturday 10/6 I ran the Footprints for Fatima 5K. I’m running in the Youngstown Peace Race 10K for the first time later this month.
  • This weekend I’m going to Washington DC for the International Conference of Crisis Mappers. I am very excited for this trip because I’ve been planning it basically since May!

My first presentation is right around the corner. I’m really looking forward to sharing my experience in Lebanon with the John Carroll community.

Here’s a cool photo I took of the sunrise in Detroit:


Back Home

I arrived back in the States last Tuesday and then drove back to Ohio on the 4th of July. I can’t believe it’s already been nearly a week since leaving Lebanon! I’ve got lots more blog posts ideas and things planned to share on my website so please keep checking in. Right now studying for the GRE is consuming a lot of my life. I will be taking the test the first week of August. In the mean time, I am always preparing for speaking engagements and presentations about my trip as part of my fellowship. Please email me ( if you would like me to give a presentation!


One night we met with Bill Corcoran, the President for America Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) over an American dinner of hotdogs in the hotel. Funny note about these hotdogs – they had corn on them!

ANERA was founded in 1967 in order to give a positive face for humanitarian aid. ANERA simply does aid, no advocacy or political involvement. ANERA works in Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine and has projects related to healthcare, education, and economic development. It was a surprise to us when Bill said that there are probably only about 250,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Most figures we had quoted to us were almost double this number. He said that 450,000 is the figured used by the UN, but there is very little information to back this up. According to Bill, many other NGO’s have done headcounts and estimates which indicate the figure to be closer to 250,000.

The average Palestinian refugee family has six children. With poor living conditions, I asked Bill if there were any family planning programs in the camps. He said there are not and they probably would not be very effective because the Palestinians see their children as their legacy and their social security. I was surprised to learn that particularly in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, they see their large families as their way to beat the Israelis in the long run who only have around two children per family.

Over 50% of the youth drop out of high school and there is over 50% unemployment in the camps. Most people live on less than $6 per day.

One group member has been focused on brain drain during the trip and asked if this is an issue that impacts the Palestinians. Bill shared a surprising insight: if a Palestinian manages to break through all the barriers and gain a college education and then takes a job somewhere else (usually in the Gulf), Bill still sees this as a positive because of the individual success and also because generally they send a large amount of money back to their family in the camps which is a major positive.

The Palestinian refugee issue has been going on for over 60 years and is the longest standing refugee issue in the world, as well as the most religiously charged issue. An example of the frustrations felt by Bill in his position, in November 2008 he was asked to dedicate a wing of a new hospital that had been paid for primarily with money from the US. The frustration is that less than two months after the dedication ceremony, the hospital was completely destroyed by the Israeli army which is US funded. So essentially, US money built the hospital and US money destroyed the hospital. This is an example of the United States’ contradictory policy in the region.

We asked Bill what message he would like us to bring back to the US for our friends and family and he asked that we share the idea that blindly throwing ourselves behind everything that Israel does is not the same as supporting Israel, meaning that we can be more critical certain Israeli actions and decisions while still supporting the country as whole. It’s also important to note that US foreign aid is supposed to help end poverty, but Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid and has an incredibly high GDP. I agree with Bill’s insinuated comment that Israel does not need our aid. Unfortunately, it comes down to the US having an ally in the region and we are essentially paying Israel to remain our ally. To further complicate the situation, I think recent conflicts have shown that Israel is much more of a fair weather friend than the US likes to admit. Israel has indicated recently that they will do what they believe to be best for them, rather than simply do what the US wants them to do.

Hope you enjoyed a longer and more informational post! Here’s the website for ANERA if you’d like more information:


Visit to the US Embassy in Beirut

It was a real treat to visit the US embassy in Beirut. Security to get into the Embassy was very intense. We waited around for everyone to go through individually. Getting our whole group through security took almost as long as our meeting with the State department employees. I was lucky to be one of the first through security because once we were through there was an informal conversation with two relatively new Foreign Service Officers. One of them was from Ohio and did the Peace Corps! They were very open with us about their process to the State department. A helpful tip they gave us for the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) was to make sure to know the US Constitutional Amendments, as well as extensive as possible background in History. I was surprised to learn that one woman had only studied French before her appointment to Lebanon and was not required to study Arabic at all. One of the new employees had gotten their Masters in Public Policy. This was helpful to learn since I have been looking at Masters Programs.

Four main goals for the US Embassy in Beirut were outlined for us:

  1. Push back against Hezbollah – because the United States has designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization the Embassy is essential in the region.
  2. Fight counter-terrorism
  3. Aid in the Middle East Peace Process
  4. Help US Citizens in the country

Overall, the visit to the US Embassy was very informative and I really enjoyed it. We learned that the employees at the Embassy are not allowed to leave the Embassy whenever they want. They need to schedule their movements a few days in advance and be outside the Embassy for a maximum of six hours two times per week. Also they theoretically can’t have predictable movements, like going to the same bar every week, but in practice this might not always be true. It is certainly an interesting lifestyle! Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to bring our cameras into the Embassy so I don’t have any photos (the photo is from the bus on one of our many drives around Beirut). Here’s their website if you’d like more information:

Music in Lebanon

The very first night in Beirut we went to a music festival in Achrafieh. Najwa Karam was singing at the festival. I had never heard of her before, but one of the members of our group had several of her CD’s. At the mall a few days later, I actually bought one of her CD’s. My roommate and I have listened to it several nights! The best part of the music festival was all of the people dancing and singing along to Najwa. Another group member blogged and pointed out something that I found very interesting. Generally when Americans think of a large group of people gathering in the streets in the Middle East, the Western mentality automatically assumes it is a riot or a protest. However, this was a large gathering of happy people dancing and singing in the streets, which served as a great contrast to the media portrayal of the Middle East.

The other night we went to the Music Hall. At the Music Hall we saw numerous performances. Each group only performed 3 or 4 songs and then there was also music in between. The music in between was generally American top 40 hits. The performed songs varied from traditional Arabic to Spanish Salsa to American rock and roll. All of the performers were incredible and I would have enjoyed listening to any one of them the whole time. It was a big surprise to sing along to a performance of The Village People’s “YMCA” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On” in a Music Hall in Beirut.

Another night we went to see Caracalla perform. Caracalla is an international dance group that is a unique blend of Western and Oriental dance styles. The best part about the show was that it was performed at Beitedine, a historical palace that we toured earlier in the day. A live orchestra performed all the music for the show and it was incredibly well done. There were about four parts to the show and only the final act had singing along with the orchestra. The singing was breathtaking! Some other group members were able to get photos on their fancy cameras, so hopefully I can share those with everyone soon.

Finally, last night we went to Skybar. Skybar is one of the top clubs in Beirut. Usually you need a reservation nearly a month in advance to get in, but our generous hosts (The Lebanon Renaissance Foundation) got us a reservation! The club was a ton of fun and way more exciting than any bar I’ve ever been to before anywhere in the world. I was surprised that the music at Skybar was basically the same as what you would hear in a US club, lots of Top 40 hits from America with a few Spanish songs mixed in.

Just Checking In

Today was another busy and exciting day in Lebanon. Lucky for all of you (my blog readers) we had some long car rides which I brought my laptop on and wrote several blog posts! I’ll post more details later, but we spent the day in the south of Lebanon. At one time we were mere feet away from the border with Israel. We got pictures with UNIFIL (United Nations International Forces in Lebanon). They were all very nice and eager to take photos with us. The one gentleman I have a photo with actually had his own camera with him and had the girl who was taking our photo take one on his camera as well.

Photo 1: Israel in the background. Photo 2: with the UNIFIL officer (yes he’s from Indonesia!). Photo 3: with the UN tank.

Tour of Byblos

After a Parliament meeting in the morning, we had a jam packed day ahead of touring a grotto and the city of Byblos.

“Jeita Grotto was discovered in 1836 by an American missionary. Drop by drop of water molds a stalactite on the ceiling and floor of the galleries and halls. Jeita Grotto is characterized by its unique dazzling beauty and the most varied shapes, sizes, and colored stones.” (From the entrance pamphlet)

We arrived and rode on a gondola up the mountain to the upper part of the grotto. We walked on foot through the upper grotto. I was amazed by the height of the stones. The beauty was truly breathtaking. Also there were several times where I was very dizzy looking down at the steep drops in a dimly lit cave with a wet floor and small path! After walking through the upper grotto we stopped at a gift shop which had some of the best deals in all of Lebanon. I kid you not! I picked up two sets of worry beads, several postcards (since photography was not allowed in the caves) and a eye of Fatima bracelet for $9. We proceeded on the tour on a mini train to the lower part of the grotto. At this point we went in a boat for a tour of the caves by water. This was incredible! I would highly recommend Jeita Grotto for any traveler to Lebanon.

After the grotto, we stopped for lunch and then proceeded full speed ahead to Byblos. We met up with our tour guide in Byblos and he was HILARIOUS! His name was Yazid and he gave us a great history of the area, as well as a full supply of laughs. We walked around the ruins and he showed us the spot where his grandfather’s house used to be, right above the ruins. The highlight of the tour was climbing into a tomb of an Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus. After admiring the history, we did some more shopping. I got a hand of Fatima to hang on the wall. They are symbols of good luck and we’ve seen them at all the gift shops. We stopped for some drinks before dinner which was nice because it was super hot. Then we ate a delicious meal at Pepe Abed. If you are ever in Byblos, you must go to this restaurant! It has so much history, it even has it’s own museum. We had delicious food including calamari and fish (with the heads still on!).

Overall, this was an AMAZING day, as nearly every other day has been on this incredible journey! I am so thankful for this opportunity and for all those who have supported me. Peace and blessings!

Parliament Meeting

This morning we met with Simon Abi Ramia, a member of Parliament who is the head of the commission for Youth and Sports. As always, this was a very interesting meeting. Abi Ramia worked in France for 23 years and returned to Lebanon about six years ago. He is a member of the Free Patriotic Movement party. I was very surprised when he immediately stated that the source of Lebanon’s problems are their neighbors, Syria and Israel. Blaming others is an issue that we have focused on among the students in the fellowship. Placing the blame on other groups for problems within Lebanon is common, but creates a much larger issue because it avoids the reality of the situation and the real actors.

Abi Ramia informed us that his goal and the goal of the parliament is to make laws and examine the work of the government. He said that he is not directly involved with the people, in the sense of direct aid. He is very involved though in a social aspect with the people of his district. Abi Ramia shared that in the past two days he attended seven funerals and weekends are filled with weddings, baptisms, and other various celebrations. When he first came to office Abi Ramia did not want to spend time on these social things because he wanted to focus on actual policy making. However, the Lebanese society does not accept avoiding these social functions because of the importance of family and community. Therefore, Abi Ramia’s weekends and free time are filled with social events.

The budget for the Ministry of Youth and Sports is only $2-3 million in Lebanon, which Abi Ramia compared to France which he said was approximately $1 billion for the same ministry. For this reason, we can see that youth and sports are not considered one of the top ministries. However, Abi Ramia has a good argument for why Lebanon should spend more money on this ministry. He argues that sports cross sectarian lines and more youth sports groups and even adult sports groups would help unite the people on a different level than religion.

Changing the voting age from 21 to 18 was mentioned again. I’m not sure if I mentioned this on my blog before, but in one of our previous sessions we heard from someone who spoke on this issue. Abi Ramia simply stated that he supported moving the voting age to 18 and did not go into any details. However, our earlier speaker had mentioned that there had been groups trying to work with students to change the voting age, but students did NOT want to change it. The reasoning for not wanting to change the voting age to 18 was that the students are already so divided into sectarian lines and neither group wanted to unbalance the machine.

PS The photo is from sunset at the restaurant we ate dinner at, Pepe Abed.