More on Lebanon...
May 11, 2006
Beirut is religiously divided between Muslims and Christians. While I admit to not knowing much, my understanding is that
this was the main cause of the civil war that took place here.
Just about everybody here is bilingual (Arabic and French). This country was under French mandate from 1918 to 1943 and
that is why there is such a French influence over here. Many people here are even trilingual (speaking English in addition to
the other two languages). The French influence gives this city such a sophisticated feeling.
This area feels like it is Europe meets the Middle East. In a weird way, it actually reminds me of parts of Las Vegas. Not the
glitzy parts of Vegas. I’m talking more about the ‘Wynn, Bellagio and Venetian’ parts of Vegas. Everything from the
architecture to the many restaurant options to the high-end designer stores. This is a completely revitalized area as this was
an area that was much avoided following the war.
Views on America…
When I was on my Baalbeck tour, I asked our tour guide what the Lebanese opinions of America were. She simply said “We
feel that America only cares about Israel.” And I have to admit that it doesn’t seem too far from the truth. For example,
when I said I was coming to Beirut, about 95% of the people I told looked at me in shock, horror, fear, etc. Most asked me
“Why?” Many tried to talk me out of it. Most feared for my safety. The interesting thing is that if I was to say I was going to
Israel, I would have probably only received that reaction from a small percentage of people (to be honest, Israel is the one
country out here that I feel runs the most risk of something happening—though I know that there’s nothing to worry about).
My point is simply that America does nothing to ease our minds about different countries out in this area. Who would know
that Beirut has received a total facelift and is a beautiful, thriving city (as opposed to the one where we envision nothing but
bombed buildings, etc.)? Who would know that the mountains in Lebanon are gorgeous with beautiful homes that have been
rebuilt since the war? Who would know that there is so much history out here (e.g. Byblos has been inhabited for 7000
years)? I would love to come back here in 5-10 years to see what this city looks like after a lot of the construction has
I feel so comfortable here. My hotel is a smaller one and when I come down for breakfast I hear a “Bonjour, Jennifer. How
was your day yesterday?” This is always a nice way to start a day. And while people would think that the last thing you would
want to do out here is claim American citizenship, every time I am asked where I am from I don’t hesitate to say “America.”
And there has never been a negative response.
I have slowly started to get the hang of the transportation system out here. It’s definitely a bit challenging to a Middle East
rookie such as myself.
There are several options in regards to how to get to a place: bus, minibus, taxi, service taxi, etc. The minibuses and service
taxis generally go the same routes as the buses. And there are no actual ‘bus stops’. Basically, there is a line that they follow
and they will pick up anybody along that route. In a nutshell, the route is one giant bus stop. Minibuses and service taxis also
follow these guidelines. I normally just state where I’m wanting to go to the driver and they nod their head (indicating that
they’re going there) and I hop on. One of the more crazy things is standing on the side of the highway to get a bus/service
taxi. I had to switch buses at the halfway point during my ride home from Byblos yesterday and was on the side of the
highway waiting for my ride. Within a couple minutes, good ol’ Bus #2 came to pick me up.
And no need to worry that you might zone out and not realize the bus/taxi is coming. Every bus/minibus/taxi honks their
horn as they drive up to let you know that they are there. Alas, this creates a lot of horn honking considering 90% of the time
people aren’t looking for a ride.
On my first day here I found it challenging to cross a street. I kept looking endlessly for crosswalks or at least easier ways to
cross large streets. I have since learned the system. You just go. There really aren’t crosswalks. Whereas the first day I
would wait for a couple minutes to figure out the timing before venturing to the other side of the street, now (being a more
seasoned pedestrian) I just walk. Rules don’t really seem to apply for driving and walking over here. The good thing is that
cars will eventually stop when they see somebody crossing a street. On that note, a lucrative business over here would
probably be a car repair shop that specializes in repairing brakes considering I hear tires screeching just about every 20
Being in a car…
While there might be ‘lanes’ in the road, they really aren’t observed in the same way that you or I might observe a lane. For
one, we tend to stay in our lane. Over here, two lanes quickly becomes three lanes as it seems to be the protocol that you can
create a third lane in between the small space that exists between lane one and lane two. So when people were concerned
about my safety when I said I was coming out here, I now understand that there was just cause as I have been getting in the
car with these people (I’m mainly referring to the driver of my tour to Baalbeck).
Sunset from the Corniche.