Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Lebanese Hospitality

Hi all.

I've noticed that as I've started widening the audience for my dispatches they've sometimes gotten more business-like. But so much happens beyond the work IMC is doing that I thought I'd send an email to a smaller group of you where I can more easily write about what I'm experiencing.

Yesterday we traveled to North Lebanon to visit one of IMC's field sites in a very poor village called Akkar.

The night before I had gone out with our Country Director and Finance Director to a bar in downtown Beirut. Some of you may already know Beirut, but it is new to me, so everything I heard about it being "The Paris of the Middle East" didn't really resonate. Let me just say it is a spectacular city - winding cobblestone streets filled with glittering restaurants and cafes, young women dressed in strapless dresses and stilettos, hair-gelled hotties puffing on Gauloises or Marlboros.

Needless to say, we stayed out til 2 in the morning, smoking way too much and drinking a ridiculous mix of alcohols throughout the night that left this aging chicky extremely green when she awoke at 7 the next morning to head north. Actually, not green; more like plaid. Right as we arrived in Akkar, following a two-hour journey with a classically kamikaze Lebanese driver at the wheel, I proceeded to exit the vehicle and vomit over the side of the road.

Always the consummate professional, I wiped my mouth, got out my cameras and started walking toward the school where IMC trains teachers on improving their child development programs. In addition to taking pictures/video, I'm also training a lovely young Lebanese woman who just joined IMC as a communications officer and whom I first met that morning on the drive to Akkar.

I'm especially pleased to be making such a wonderful first impression on my "student." Fortunately, she is an understanding and insightful woman. We talk at length about her fleeing the bombings here last summer, then returning to her home and undergoing another wave of bombings, which she rode out alone while nursing a bottle of vodka. She also talks about the difficulties of dating a Shi'a boy (she is Druse) for a year and keeping it a secret from her parents, with whom she still lives.

After a few hours of my taking pictures of the instructors and children, the school's director asked us to stay for lunch with the group of about 20 people. He and his wife prepared an enormous, delicious feast of grilled keftah and lamb kabobs, homemade tabouleh, hummus, yougurt and pitas. Nathalie tells me it is customary to honor your guests by making 5 times as much food as is necessary.

At one point during lunch one of the women asks me if I have children. I say, sadly, no. She asks me my mother's name. I tell her and she then says to me, "I will pray tonight that Margaret, daughter of Joan, will have a child."

I fight back tears and tell her "shukran" - thank you.

I am incredibly touched by the warmth and generosity of these people. The group is primarily Sunni Lebanese. I can't help but wonder, if they knew I was Jewish, would it make a difference? I don't know, and to be safe I am not telling anyone here during my stay that I am Jewish.

This is such a complicated region. One week in Jordan and one week in Lebanon will allow me to only scratch the surface. But I'm having a phenomenal time, learning so much about people and their cultures, learning (at least trying) to listen more and better, trying to stay focused (often failing), and missing you all terribly.

Sitting in IMC's office, looking out over the Mediterranean, I feel extremely lucky - about everything.

Thanks for indulging me and I'll see you soon!


No comments: