Saturday, September 17, 2011

Baalbek, Lebanon

Dear friends,

So my forced anorexia wasn't really a joke. I have a parasite that has forced me to live on boiled potatoes and rice for the past week. For some reason every person in Lebanon thinks all stomach illness can be cured with boiled potatoes. After eight days of being eating boiled potatoes I finally begged and pleaded enough for someone to take me to a doctor. And, well what do you know, I have a parasite that can only be cured with antibiotics. Sometimes I think the whole of the Lebanese society doesn't quite grasp modern medicine. (This is sort of an exaggeration but not really).

I also had to tell the doctor who gave me medicine that I should probably have things like probiotics and fiber to help with digestion. He promptly wrote me a prescription for vitamins. I told him I could just eat cereal and yogurt and he thought I was a genius. HOLY SHIT, never get sick in a country that doesn't have the FDA or the CDC! I'm not trying to bash this country's medicine since we have six doctors in the family but seriously boiled potatoes are not a real cure. It's like giving someone with the flu chicken soup and telling them you hope they'll be okay, no antibiotics needed. Death is inevitable.

Despite the fact that I have been extremely ill with a parasite I still managed to make my way out of the house. This past Saturday afternoon we made it to Baalbeck, which is one of the most awesome places I have ever been in my life.

Baalbeck is a 9,000 year old city, first built by the Samaritans than rebuilt by Alexander the Great starting in 334 BCE. Called Heliopolis (helio meaning sun and polis meaning city), the city was built around a four temple complex meant to worship Jupiter, Bacchus, Venus and Mercury. The temple dedicated to Jupiter was the largest temples ever built during the Roman Empire and remains today as a wonder of the world.

Below you will see the remaining six pillars of the Temple of Jupiter.
These are ruins from the roof of the temple.

The walls of Baalbeck are all hand carved and the floors were ornamentally decorated in tiles.

The ceilings and archways all depict different gods and the sheer size of the structure and construction of Baalbeck have left many scientists wondering how such large stones were moved.

This is only one room in the temple.

For anyone who appreciates history Baalbeck is one of those places where you wish the walls could talk. The frame of the public bath still exists and the musuem has saved some of the original statues. Here I am standing behind a statue of Venus. This is my dad, being my dad.
This is my dad. He’s a funny, hardworking guy who can make any situation a little more light hearted. All in all, this was really one of the best afternoons I have had in a while.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Forced Anorexia

Forced anorexia is not an understatement. For the past four days I have been suffering from this grave disease better known as traveler’s diarrhea. I know, it’s gross but you must know what comes with the territory of travel to another country.

I’m calling it forced anorexia because I haven’t eaten anything since Sunday (literally, Sunday). I ate at one of the fanciest restaurants in all of Lebanon on Saturday night (my family loves to eat out and they love to eat at the best and most expensive restaurants they can find) and now I’m dying. Not really dying but it for the past four days that’s what it feels like.

There is no such thing as chicken noodle soup, ginger ale and Gatorade are as hard to find as Jewish people and Imodium is only available via prescription. HOLY SHIT…I would rather jump head first into a pile of rocks than feel like this.

I’m being honest here. I tried to eat a boiled potato, because “that’s what you eat when you’re sick” and it was as successful as George Bush at capturing Bin Laden.

Of all the things you take from my blog, from my trip, from all the advice I ever give you. Bring a pharmacy with you to a developing country. If you think it something may ail you, than bring medicine for it. I’ve traveled a million times before, I know better but this time I packed my bag full of sleeping pills instead of Imodium and Maalox. What was I thinking?

Listen, there is only one thing good that has come out of this. I’ve been reading my brains out and I picked up a magazine which informed me the TED talks are coming to Lebanon. After a mile long application I got a ticket and I’m heading to the TED x Beirut conference on the 24th of this month.

I guess something good came out of this shitty situation. No pun intended.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Mediterranean

My apologies for the delay in the blog post, the internet has been few and far between here in Lebanon.

I spent yesterday at the beach. It was beautiful! You can stand in water up to your chest and still see your feet. The Mediterranean is delightfully warm and comfortable. I would suggest a visit to the beach any day.

Here is a view from the beach in the south of Lebanon.

I am currently enduring mild sunburn which was completely inevitable since my olive tone skin saw the sun only for the first time yesterday. (Yes mom and Mrs. Knight, I should have worn sunscreen).

After our trip to the beach we smoked Hookah and drank mojitos at a rooftop bar in Zakla (a small city north of Beirut). In an effort to revert back to my American culture I ordered nachos at the bar; not the healthiest decision but a brilliant choice since everyone in Lebanon makes nachos with the red Dorito chips, holy delicious!

I spent today checking out the campus at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

This is the view from the middle of campus.

And this is me standing in AUB's version of the Avatar tree. No but really, it was a cool tree with a ton of roots.

Tomorrow, I'm heading to Baalbeck, the city first built in 9,000BC by the Samaritans. I'll take tons of pictures.

As for now, I may or may not have already had a homesick meltdown. It's definitely going to take some adjusting. It's like going to the gym, your muscles may be sore at first but if you give it a few weeks eventually you'll feel great. I shall prevail. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I've Arrived and I Don't Understand a Damn Thing

Following a six hour plane ride to France (which I didn't sleep a wink on) and a four hour plane ride to Lebanon (which was completely empty and where I put the arm rests up and slept across five seats) I finally arrived in Lebanon.

My first day was a bust, I slept almost the entire time and finally went out to dinner at 10:00pm (this is a normal time, even on the weekdays. Dinner before 8:00pm is unheard of).

Today is really my first day. I am still getting used to the fact that the electricty goes out when you turn on the blow dryer and iron at the same time. And the hot water has to be turned on at least an hour befor you shower. I, like many of you, sleep until the last minute, jump in the shower and run out the door. Life is just going to have to be more planned out. Although this morning, after a quick 2 mile jog along the beautiful Lebanese coast I was overjoyed to take a cold shower. It was at least 90 degrees at 10:00am (holy hot as hell).

This afternoon I went shopping and bought fabulous shoes from the Armenian shopping district. Here's a interesting fact: Of all the people who have moved to Lebanon, the Armenians are the only group of settlers who are recognized at true Lebanese people (almost everyone else is viewed as a refugee even if their family has been here for a hundred years; mainly the case with Palestinians, Iraqis and Sudanese people, wiki) The Armenian people are great craftsmen. They are known for their custom clothes, shoes, and jewelry. So as my I dad was conducting business I went about my way and bought some locally made shoes. This is when I encounterd my first major language barrier.

I went up to the local street vendor to buy a popular mid-day snack called KayKi (pronounced Kahki, like the pants) (it's a delicious sesame-coated, toasted bread stuffed with a unique blend of tangy spices). As anywhere in the world, the street vendors typically only speak the native tongue. So I ended up paying twice as much for one of my favorite treats. It was only 75 cents more, but it wasn't about the 75cents, it was about the fact that I couldn't understand the vendor's colloquial lingo. So, afer explaining this to my dad I am happy to say I am starting "Urban Arabic" classes in a few short weeks. I'm excited to to be able to say more than the curse words and the basic things such asking for money and food. I guess I really don't understand a damn thing (this is a lie, I understand a lot but I could always learn more).

I'll let you know how the classes go when they start. Until then, I am going to have dinner with my family and maybe do some more shopping.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Flying to Lebanon Today!

I’m leaving for Lebanon this afternoon!

While I am sad to leave my friends, my family, and my love behind, the excitement I am feeling makes me want to tell you about what I am looking forward to the most about my trip.

1) The food (yes, my dad should be first but the absolute, hands down, no questions asked best part of Lebanon is the delicious food. Anthony Bourdain says Lebanese food is his favorite)

2) Spending time with my dad and family (even though my dad and I are both as stubborn as mules and fight like cats and dogs, I still love the guy and it will be nice to see him)

3) Hitting the beach (while I’ll still be working and studying, my plan is to relax and run on the beach at least four days a week. It'll be warm and sunny the entire time I am there!!!!!!)

4) Traveling around the country (which includes but is not limited to: exploring the 10,000 year old city of Baalbeck, boating through some of the most beautiful caves in the world, and rock climbing some 15,000 feet up where the Cedars of Lebanon grow)

5) Indulging in trashy magazines during the 12 hour plane ride (I have no shame, I love celebrity gossip, stupid tips about sex, being told what $4,000 pair of Michael Kors to buy, and reading those somewhat inspiring stories about women)

6) Blogging (This is a first for me. So many people ask me about Lebanon, what it’s like there and why I love it so much. For the first time I get to help you experience Lebanon as I do)

I am really looking forward to my trip. I’m flying out of Boston today, stopping in Paris and at 2:00 PM tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be in Beirut, Lebanon.

Wish me luck! I’ll let you know when I get there.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hurricane Irene: A Country At War

As I type this many of my friends are without power, internet, running water, and a whole slew of amenities that come with electricity. Some of my friends even had their homes completely destroyed and will never be able to go back to the way life used to be. I hope this blog post finds them well.

Just about a week ago one of my eldest cousins, Yazane (Yez-AAn), moved from Beirut, Lebanon to Cambridge, MA to obtain his Masters in Urban Planning from Harvard. He was in orientation when hurricane Irene hit. Two days after the hurricane, I called Yazane to say hello and to see how well he faired during the hurricane. He said he was well and that, “he was still waiting for the hurricane to hit.” Haha, obviously it wasn’t that bad.

I mentioned to my cousin about the lack of electricity and how we would be without power for about a week and how so many homes had been destroyed. You know what my cousin said to me. He said, “well, at least you’re not at war.”

Holy shit! What do you say to that that? What the hell was I supposed to say to him?

This is what most of the buildings look like after war.

I think a lot of people felt like we were at war with Mother Nature.

My cousin’s wife, Lama (Lem-aa), once told me about how she watched the apartment building she grew up in, get blown up during the war. The apartment building was leveled.

When I called my dad to tell him about how we were without electricity, he said well, “we’ve been without consistent electricity for 30 years.” What the hell was I supposed to say to that?

While I will always argue that Lebanon is one of these most beautiful places on earth, it has been hit really hard by war. Buildings are still destroyed and the electricity is never predictable. I have been stuck in an elevator, jolted on escalators and taken plenty of cold showers in the dark.

But reconstruction, is ever present in Lebanon.

Just as it is and will be in the wake of hurricane Irene.

There is no FEMA, Connecticut Light & Power and certainly no government to help put Lebanon back together, yet they continue to rebuild.

Just like we will rebuild after Irene.

Maybe we’re a lot more similar to the Middle East than we think.

Hurricane Irene photos courtesy of

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthqakes and News Breaks

My promise to blog every few days before I leave was interrupted by my adorable one year old niece Madeline. She fell off the bed and bumped her tiny little head. A late night in the hospital, prompted my brother and his wife to ask me to babysit early this morning, so instead of blogging, I went to sleep and took care of my beautiful niece bright and early.

Here is the little ham sleeping in her cow print car seat. She was obviously tuckered out as well.

With that said can we talk about the overreaction to the earthquake.

Yesterday, I received an absolutely frantic call from my dad (my dad lives in Lebanon). My dad’s friend called him to tell him about the earthquake and my dad called me in a panic. My dad was genuinely worried about my well being. Now, my dad is not a funny or light-hearted person so I took the opportunity to screw with him. I told him that the pictures fell off the wall, the china cabinet had fallen over and the house was in utter disrepair. My dad flipped out and started screaming, “OMG, is your brother okay? How’s the baby? He’s not answering his phone. OMG is he okay?!?!”

You can imagine that my laughter caught him off guard. I informed my dad that I thought the washing machine was broken as opposed to an earthquake and I was sure my brother thought that my niece’s little farts probably just shook the room. If you know my dad at all, he was so pissed off at me for joking because he was led to believe that an earthquake had devastated the East Coast.

This is a little lesson in how news travels. This is not the first time news has been distorted from one country to the next. I promised I would tell you about my past trips to Lebanon and this is the perfect opportunity. While visiting my dad in Lebanon this past January, the government collapsed. Hezbollah forced a slew of ministers to resign from the cabinet in an effort to protest the United Nations ruling on the 2005 death of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. (Rafik Hariri spent millions and millions of his own $$ trying to rebuild Lebanon. My dad worked for Rafik Hariri in the 80’s. And for my HOBY friends, the Hariri Foundation sends a HOBY ambassador to WLC every year). A UN tribunal found both Hezbollah and Syria to blame for the death of Hariri yet Hezbollah denied any involvement and said the tribunal was an Israeli-American tool of hate. Blah, blah, blah. Whoever is to blame is not up to me to decide or even care about. What I do care about though was the sheer panic the American news media made about the collapse of the Lebanese government.

I read article after article stating that there had been “riots in the streets of Beirut,” and frequently about how “the unstable government was going to disrupt life in Lebanon and the country would fall apart.” Listen, I was in Beirut when the government fell. I had to read American news to hear about any riots. I was eating birthday cake when the government collapsed. And I consulted my aunt the head of the physics department at Universite Libanese (The Lebanese University) about life was going to be different after the collapse of the government. She said this, “the government changes often. Life will not be any different. We just know the government will not take care of us so we take care of ourselves.”

However the people of Lebanon feel about the collapse of the government may change from person to person but I felt the overall mentality was that “we are going to be okay, just like we always are.” It is interesting how news can become so twisted so quickly. Will you believe what you hear the first time or will you challenge yourself to hear many different views and form your own opinion?