5 Days in Lebanon

Didn’t have my camera by my side this time; hoping I would see the world with both my eyes;  Maybe I will tell you all about it when I’m in the mood to lose my way with words.” – John Mayer, 3x5

Last week I took a trip to Lebanon for 5 days. We landed in Beirut on the 9th and flew out on the 14th. This was the first time I have taken a trip like this without really anything planned at all. I barely knew where I’d be staying, what I’d be doing or anything beyond the fact that I’d be landing in Beirut at 11:40am on March 9th. Below is what ensued and amounted to one of the best trips of my life.

1. We were picked up by my friend Grace’s distant family who are residents of Zgharta which is a town located in the North of Lebanon. What we soon found out was that Zghurta is known for a couple of things: their kibbeh and their love affair with their guns. The town is one of the strong-holds of Northern Maronite Lebanon. It is located about 15 minutes away from Tripoli and is one of the most picaresque places I have visited. About 15 minutes drive away is the beach and 15 minutes in the direction takes you 1600 meters above sea-level to Ehden, Lebanon which somehow managed to be even more picaresque than Zgharta. Near Ehden was where we visited a couple of the most beautiful churches and monasteries I have seen. We were invited in by a monk at one of the monasteries for wine, sweets and coffee. It was a terrific experience.

Living with a Lebanese family was a terrific, and truly once in a lifetime experience. They spoke Arabic all day long, so I was able to really polish up on my Arabic quite a bit and learn a lot of different words and phrases in the Lebanese dialect. Their hospitality was also beyond belief. Everyone there treated us like a part of their own family, actually even better than a member of their own family.

2. On Friday we returned closer to Beirut and met with the External Relations Manager at the American University of Technology in Jbeil, near Beirut. Marcel was a fascinating guy. He met my friend Sarah’s mom at a conference in the U.S. last year and exchanged contact information. Sarah had contacted him via e-mail and he was gracious enough to invite us to his office while we were in Lebanon. Once we got a tour of AUT, Marcel was gracious enough to take the rest of the day off to drive us around Byblos and Jbeil. He even bought us 300 million year old fossils. Marcel was a very intelligent and candid source of insight about Lebanese political, civil and social life. He also offered to set up prestigious internships for Grace and Sarah with the likes of the UN, UNDP and other very impressive NGOs in Lebanon.

3. Then we met up with some other friends in Beirut near the American University of Beirut. By a pretty extraordinary turn of events my friend Grace’s Arabic class from back in Alabama were pretty much all in Beirut the same weekend, including their teacher who is a resident of Beirut, so we spent a couple of days with them. Our hosts were so gracious as to take us on a tour of South Lebanon (to Saida and Tyr) where we ate a delicious 4 course sea food meal, saw beautiful towns and country side along the coast and met some really wonderful people. After returning to Beirut we got to check out the famous Beirut nightlife, and in my opinion, it was in contention with Las Vegas as some of the best nightlife I’ve gotten to partake in.

4. On our last full day, we met up with yet another friend. Grace (she was coincidently named that, so I will refer to her as Lebanese Grace from now) was yet another amazing host, which fit rather appropriately into the theme of the week. She showed us around Downtown Beirut and other amazing parts of the city. We then parted ways with her for a couple of hours, during which I was surprised by my friends for my birthday. They got me 2 delicious chocolate cakes and some delicious chocolate booza, needless to say, I was a happy birthday boy.

We later went to sing karaoke and then to another nightclub with Lebanese Grace and her friends from AUB and LAU. Sparing a few details, we ended up eating, driving and hanging out with some of the nicest and most genuine people the entire night, until 10am the next morning when we were driven to the airport to catch our flight.

If it isn’t clear by my tone in this post, I truly had a trip of a lifetime. Everyone we met, all the things we got to do all came together to create a beautiful picture of an already beautiful country. Lebanon has a storied colonial, post-colonial, confessional, political and international history but to spend time gaining an appreciation for the people and places that have hosted these histories was really what made this trip a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am glad to have made so many new friends that there really is no reason for me not to go back and visit again someday, and I certainly hope I will.

Oh – and my camera was broken, so no pictures. Trust me, I’m more upset about it than you’d imagine. But hopefully I’ll get it fixed soon.