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.

Enjoy!

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

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 to School

One of my pet peeves is bloggers who apologize for not posting for a while. So I’m not going to do that! But here’s what I’ve been up to recently:

After Lebanon, I went right back into my internship which was AMAZING. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better summer. I learned so much at IPM. I really need to post soon about what I was doing and all the cool projects I learned about. Lucky for me they enjoyed having me there just as much as I enjoyed being there, so I will be continuing to work a few hours a week there throughout the fall (and probably spring too).

August rolled around and that meant moving back to JCU for SRA training and RA training. This was my third year doing RA training, but it was like a brand new experience with the majority of my staff being new RA’s, as well as being in an Upperclass residence hall for the first time. I have nothing but positive things to say about everyone I work with. I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by my fellow RA’s who I consider to be the most interesting, motivated, dedicated, and determined group of students on campus.

The highlight of the past month though has been my brother moving in to JCU to begin his freshman year! I am SO happy that he’s here with me. I love watching him figure out what college means for him and what choices he’s making to shape his John Carroll experience. So far he has been busy with ROTC. I’m proud of him for choosing to do something he believes in and I’m grateful for all the guys who are watching out for him now.

And then yesterday we finally started classes. I feel like I’ve been back on campus forever and I was 100%  ready to start classes. I have three regular classes on my schedule (which is very few compared to most students) because I’m getting credit for my internship and also doing my Senior Honors Project (more on that another day). Yesterday I had Intro to Microeconomics and Arabic 201. This is my first time ever taking an Econ class so I’m a little nervous, but I’m choosing to take this because I want to be better prepared for graduate school in the future. And Arabic, well I still need to get back into the swing of things for that… I’m hoping with some focus and determination over the next few days I can regain my knowledge from last year! Today I had Intro to Peace, Justice, and Human Rights. I’m really looking forward to the material we will be covering in this class. I think it will be a really interesting class and relate a lot to the work IPM does. Hopefully I plan to blog here about the material we cover in class.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. All great stuff! It may seem hard to believe, but now that classes have started I think I’ll have more time to devote to this blog. In the mean time, here’s a funny picture I found from Lebanon. When we visited the Cedars there were lots of little souks/bazaars outside the forest area that sold souvenirs and hats. I tried this one on, but I didn’t buy it. I hope all is well for my readers near and far!

ANERA

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: http://www.anera.org/

 

Day 6 – More Meetings

Today we had two more meetings. I will tell you a little about each, but first I want to talk about electricity.

I haven’t mentioned electricity so far on my blog. Beirut has the appearance of a modern European city, however the infrastructure is seriously lacking. When the Israeli’s pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, they did their best to destroy as much of Lebanon’s infrastructure as possible. Some things have been repaired and redeveloped, but the electric grids have not. The issue of electricity is really coming to fruition this summer while we are here because people are unbearably hot without AC. There have been protests with people burning tires in the streets. Our very first night in Beirut we experienced two power outages while we were at dinner, each lasting less than one minute. Nearly everyday we have experienced similar power outages for short amounts of time. Anyone who is slightly well off and all restaurants and businesses all have their own generators for back up when the electricity is out. The issue of electricity shows that while Beirut is trying to become a modern European city and travel destination it still has a ways to go.

So for our two meetings today:

Our first meeting was with Youssef Fawaz, the Executive Director of a non profit called Al Majmoua, which is a micro-credit program founded by Save the Children in 1994. In 2003 Al Majmoua became financially self-sustainable and is the leading microfinance NGO in Lebanon. I really enjoyed this meeting because Al Majmoua primarily gave micro-loans to groups of women in the beginning. The loans that they give run from as low as $100 to $5000. Starting in 2001 they began giving loans to men and individuals. Al Majmoua currently has 32,000 clients with a $32 million portfolio. The average loan for a group of women is about $600 and usually goes towards hairdresser or food processing supplies. The average loan for an individual is around $1500 and for men usually goes towards woodworking or some other similar handicraft. Al Majmoua has grown to 19 offices across the country and a staff of 225. One of the issues they currently deal with is recruiting female loan officers. They must have a certain number of female loan officers so that they can go out and meet with the groups of women who are applying for loans. Although Lebanon is more liberal and progressive than many other Middle Eastern countries, it would still be unacceptable for a male loan officer to meet alone with a group of married women.

It was disappointing that Fawaz came off as very pessimistic in his hopes for the Lebanese government. He said the “country is politically bankrupt” and that it is a zero sum game trying to get anything done through the central government.

Our second meeting was at An-nahar which is the primary Arabic newspaper. It was very interesting to hear their optimism about the future of newspaper. When many say that newspaper will obviously face an end, they believe that through adapting to new conditions the newspapers can still exist. The men we spoke with shared that they future role of newspapers is more focus on analysis and less on breaking news because breaking news can easily be shared on Twitter and other online media. Our primary reason for meeting at An-nahar is a program that they have called Youth Shadow Government (YSG). This is a very cool program for youth approximately ages 20-26 to shadow the actual Lebanese government. These youth are assigned Ministers or more than one depending on what makes sense. They follow what policies these Ministers are focusing on and then develop their own individual projects that are often picked up by the Ministers and given national focus. The purpose of the YSG is to empower the youth to be active and involved in their government. The program has been very successful so far in accomplishing its goal and has had alumni of the program go on to many levels of government involvement.

A new program that has grown out of YSG is Lebanese Young Leaders for Tomorrow. The young man who was speaking with us had graduated from the YSG and is currently in the new program.

Oh in between our two meetings we had a tour of American University of Beirut’s campus. It’s very beautiful and just a minute walk from the beach. If I had longer than one year left in my undergrad I would love to study abroad there. Explanation of photos: 1. Graffiti in Beirut outside of Al-Majmoua office. 2. Me on AUB campus in front of main entrance. 3. Banyan tree on AUB Campus. 4. Pretty flowers on AUB campus. Well I think that’s enough for today! Peace and blessing 🙂

Day 4 – Our first meetings

Yesterday was our first day of meetings. We went to this super swanky office building where the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation has their offices. We met with four individuals:

  1. Michael Young who is an editor at Reason magazine and also an editor at the Daily Star. He has also written a book, which I am going to try and get when we return called “The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon’s Life Struggles.”
  2. Hanin Ghaddar is the managing editor of Now Lebanon. She was very friendly and honest with her comments.
  3. Ousama Safa who is a Social Affairs officer at UN ESCWA. He also has experience with think tanks, lobbying and public policy.
  4. Lokman Slim is an activist trying to raise awareness about the collective amnesia regarding the Civil War. He co-founded Umam Documentation & Research and has helped publish several reports related to the Civil War.

All of the panelists were informative and interesting. We started off looking at the Arab Spring. One of the panelists shared that he believes there is a false sense of belief that things can happen in Lebanon as well post Arab Spring. The reality is that the Lebanese beast has multiple heads and so it is impossible to rally for one specific officials resignation or something similar because are so many issues at different levels.

The major topic on everyone’s minds right now is Syria. Syria has a very direct influence on events in Lebanon, therefore it is a question of how, not when, things might change in Lebanon.

Another topic which we discussed was the amnesia related to the Civil War. The Lebanese Civil War officially ended in 1990 with an official amnesty. It is called into question how the war ended and, more importantly, if it ended? It is surprising that a unified history book has not been decided on in Lebanon. There are three different history books depending on which region you live in. The panelists had different views regarding the issue of the textbook. Ousama believed that it was ridiculous that the country could not decide on one book and it should be remedied as soon as possible. However, Lokman, who spends a lot of time on the topic of the Civil War in his work, though that the textbook was irrelevant and advocated a curriculum based on all different perspectives. The attitude of many in Lebanon is that the war wasn’t their war, it was a “war of others.” All panelists agreed that the Lebanese need to take ownership of the war in order to truly move on.

A big issue in Lebanon is the sectarianism. All panelists agreed that the confessional system is flawed and needs revisions, however they did not all agree on what the revisions should be.

I was surprised by the panelists opinions towards the US and especially US foreign policy. One panelists commented that there is a huge vacuum left by US policy in the region. He wanted the US to show global leadership with diplomacy and use their musclepower to forced people into dialogue because the time for dialogue may be missed. With the shrinking space for dialogue and diplomacy, there is a growth of radicalism. One panelist seemed fearful that Obama would likely be stepping back from the Middle East if re-elected.

 

All around Lebanon

Today was super busy seeing lots of tourist things. This morning we went to the Khalil Gibran museum which was a two hour drive from Beirut. This was our first time to drive through the mountains. We were able to see the full extent of how beautiful Lebanon is. The museum was small and simple, but a great collection of Gibran’s artwork in his former home. Linda read us an excerpt from The Prophet while we were in the bus on the way to our next stop. She read one of my favorite sections which I had quoted on my Twitter about a week ago:

@laurakisthardt: Khalil Gibran on children: “You may give them your love, but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.”

After the museum, we walked around the preserved Cedars. They were incredibly beautiful, but are unfortunately very over harvested. When you look from the top of the mountain the grove where we had walking among the cedars it was such a tiny section of land.

While on the bus to our next destination after the cedars, we stopped at the top of the mountain where there was snow and ice! Our group had a mini snowball fight. I also bought some nuts that a vendor was selling, several other people also bought a variety of nuts. We continued on our drive in the country, noting along the way Christian villages or Muslim villages. Since it was Sunday, many of the Christian villages were nearly impossible to drive through because of all the cars completely parked any which way in the streets.

Our next stop on the tour was the Roman ruins at Baalbek. I seriously can not express how amazing this place was! It truly looks the same as in Greece or Rome. There were originally three temples at Baalbek. One is still unrestored and buried in the ground. There are two temples to walk around in. The temple of Bacchus is the most complete Roman temple in the entire world. It is the only temple in the world to have any part of the ceiling remaining. It was all incredibly detailed and beautiful. The other temple which was more destroyed was to honor Jupiter. Even though it was not as intact as the other temple it was still incredible to imagine how grand it must have once been.

The reason that the these ruins are so well preserved in because the Muslims built fortresses around the temples. They used them as a defense against invaders and inadverntantly protected the Roman temples. Specifically the temple of Bacchus was later used as a dungeon and storehouse. When it was no longer in use it was just filled with dirt. For this reason, there is writing on the walls of the temple about 15 feet in the air from the 1800’s when the ground was at that level. It was truly an interesting sight to see!

After the wonderful tour of Baalbek, we went for an ice cream in Zahle. Zahle was a very cute little town with a nice river flowing through it. The section where we stopped for ice cream had a sort of mini-amusement park and arcade games. I tried the traditional ice cream covered in pistachios which was a fruit flavor that was very sweet and tasted creamy, but not like vanilla. Our guide did not remember the word for it in English and said he would look it up and get back to me.

As if the day was not full enough, we came back to the hotel after the long drive back to Beirut for a quick rest and then change for dinner. We went to a traditional Lebanese restaurant for dinner. It was amazing! We tried so many different dishes. My personal favorites were stuffed grape leaves, a pizza that I could not describe at all, and simply the pita bread and olive oil. This was the best olive oil I’ve ever had in my life. The delicious meal made a great end to an amazing day all around Lebanon. We came back and reflected for a bit with the group at the hotel and then headed up for bed!