From a Hill in Beirut

Light

Two weeks in Lebanon was not enough time to see a beautiful country! We are already looking forward to going back to explore the countryside and many archaeological sites.

We stayed at MEU with our friends Boaz and LaRae and their two children. We enjoyed good conversation around the breakfast table every morning and reminiscing about college days. LaRae was so kind to cook gluten free meals and even sent me home with some Amaranth, which I have not found yet in Ankara. MEU is located at the top of a hill overlooking Beirut and the Mediterranean. The campus is peaceful and lovely.

One afternoon we hiked a hill with friends to see some ancient inscriptions that have been carved into the mountainside. On Sunday we spent the day exploring Beirut, walking the streets, visiting a church, mosque, street fair, and the Corniche. We enjoyed amazing fruit smoothies and fresh pressed juices at Honey Boo and falafel with the locals. I learned about a great local organization and plan to eat at their restaurant, Tawlet, next time we are in Beirut. I also heard good things about Hanna’s but they were closed the day we visited.

5 things that surprised us:

  • So many people could speak English, compared to what we experience in Ankara. But I’m so thankful I can at least read signs in Turkish. I can’t imagine trying to figure out Arabic!
  • We did not have to exchange any money, as they use US dollars and Lebanese pounds interchangeably. The exchange rate is currently about 1500 to 1. It reminded me of when I visited Greece in 2002 and would easily pay thousands of drachmas for a meal. In Beirut the fresh pressed pomegranate juice was 8000 pounds!
  • You definitely feel like you are in the Middle East. Turkey seems very European to me, but Beirut has the beautiful architecture, crazy traffic, and street markets typical of this part of the world.
  • During our second week we almost ran out of water at the apartment when the city turned off the pump that pipes water up the hill. Creative water conservation ensued! The water finally came back on the day we left.
  • It was 20 degrees warmer in Beirut. I’m really ready for spring!

Enjoy some pictures from our trip!

Musing from Ankara

Our resident permit applications were accepted and we should receive our cards in a couple weeks! We’ve sent up a prayer of thanksgiving, a sigh of relief, and then focused on studying for our final exam. On Friday we finished our first intensive Turkish language course. It has been a whirlwind of grammar and vocab, and I passed marginally, only after the teacher made Justo promise that he would help me study more. But I’m slowly learning and starting to recognize words on the street and simple questions. It’s a start that I can be proud of after only being here one month.

There has been a congeniality that comes from a group of people from different countries coming together to learn a language. In class we celebrate birthdays with cake, and last Tuesday Hoorah walked into class with a tray full of coffee from the cafeteria, celebrating the arrival of her resident permit card. She is a young student from Iran and is planning to study pharmacology in Turkey. Our teacher’s pleasant and helpful demeanor has added to an overall environment of acceptance and friendship that has made learning much more pleasant. We will miss her when we start classes again in April.

Culturally our senses are bombarded daily with new insights as we walk to school.

  • When passing someone on the sidewalk, you typically move to your left instead of your right, as my brain is automatically accustomed to doing. A small cultural faux pas that I’m trying daily not to commit.
  • In most restaurants all the employees are men. This makes sense in a Muslim culture. At grocery stores the main employees are also men, but the cashiers are mainly women.
  • Every week I am blessed to be witness to small acts of kindness along our route. An old man feeding a stray cat, a young business woman on her way to work handing a few coins to the resident gypsy beggars. Ankara has been a welcoming city and we hope to add our own stories to this overall sense of good will.
  • College students are passionate about their mostly peaceful protests. Most days we can hear a small group off in the distance, distracting us from our teacher’s instruction. Our realtor, a linguistic grad student, told us that recently the government cut down a swath of trees in order to build a new road. They completed the project rather secretly over a break when the university students were on holiday. This led to a protest for not being given the opportunity to protest. But these days most of the protests center around the major changes taking place in the elementary/high school system. The secular public school system is being replaced with a mandatory religious system, unless you can afford to send your kids to private school.
  • Calls to prayer. It reminds me of visiting my family in Amsterdam and hearing the church bells toll throughout the day and night. I read about a Christian man who used the calls to prayer as an opportunity to stop and pray throughout his day, something we could all use a reminder for.
  • We were walking down the street one Friday afternoon and came across a normally busy intersection in a small neighborhood. Friday is the Muslim holy day. The sidewalks were covered with men kneeling on scraps of cardboard, in the same direction, praying. If you can’t make it to a mosque or cami in time, you stop where you can. After a few minutes the men got up, folded up the cardboard that appeared to have come from nearby shops, and the busy street was once again on the move.

In March we will take a short break from our language learning, traveling to Lebanon to visit some friends there and attend a cross-cultural development seminar for two weeks at a university in Beirut.

I would love to have a whole post of nothing but photos, but until we have good internet it will have to wait :)