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

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!

Details from Pre-departure

As promised I am going to go into more detail about the meetings that I had in DC at the National Council on June 21st.

From Dr. Anthony’s opening remarks, I was surprised by his comment that the Lebanese lack empathy. He believes this is why there is conflict in the area because people are not able to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. Obviously this is not true for everyone, but it seems to be one factor.

I learned that the Shia in Iran look up to the Shia in Lebanon. Also Saudi Arabia pushed for greater representation of Shia in Lebanon because of security and stability. Security and stability are the key terms of the day.

I can’t say enough how interesting Miriam’s presentation was on the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. She has focused on getting past the generalities and looking at why the situation is the way it is. Personal and unique experiences are the also important to her in her research. There are approximately 455,000 registered refugees and 12 camps in Lebanon. However, not all refugees are registered. You are only allowed to be a registered refugee if you left pre-1948 or are a direct descendant of someone who did. I was surprised to learn that not all refugees have the same socio-economic status. Some never live in camps and are actually quite well off, although this is certainly a minority. Also Miriam pointed out that the stereotype is that all refugees are miserable in the camps and want to leave. According to Miriam most refugees have turned the camps into their homes and therefore are very attached to them.Naji Ali

The issue with the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is that the balance between Christians and Muslims is so delicate. Giving citizenship to the 455,000 mainly Sunni Muslim Palestinian refugees would tip the scales in favor of the Muslims because the population of Lebanon is small, less than 4 million. Interestingly from 1950-1960 all of the Christian Palestinian refugees were naturalized, approximately 50,000 at the time. Then later in 1994 all of the Shia Muslim Palestinians were naturalized. However, the Sunni Muslims have been ignored all the time.

Another issue for the refugees is that they can not work in Lebanon for the most part. In 1961 the Law of Reciprocity became the primary labor law and it said that only citizens of countries with work exchanges with Lebanon are allowed to work here. However, the Palestinians have no country to make this sort of exchange with and therefore they are not allowed to work here.

Pre-Civil War, circa 1968-1982, the 1969 Cairo Agreement said that Palestinians can do whatever they want in the camps. The PLO created jobs and built up their militia. However, after the Civil War, everyone in Lebanon blamed everything on the Palestinians in order to recover from the war. This negative attitude towards refugees still exists today.

From 1991 to present has been the rise of the NGO. There are two types of NGO’s active in Lebanon: relief work and memory preservation. The major policy issue in Lebanon that is currently debated is that women can’t pass their citizenship/nationality to their children in Lebanon. I am very interested in this issue since my focus next year will be on women in the Middle East.

The cartoon is called Handala by Naji Ali. Miriam said that he represents the Palestinian refugee and you never see his face.