This blog is not an official US Department of State website. The views and information presented are of the author as a private citizen and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the US Department of State.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Nicole and I have enjoyed a busy twenty-four hours. Last night, Christmas Eve, "Dr. Paul" from Nicole's NGO had us over to his soon-to-be in-laws for dinner and festivities. And by "festivities," I mean me dressed up as Santa Claus. Talk about elaborate. During the day Dr. Paul told the gang that I was sick and that "Madame Nicole" would be by herself. I arrived fifteen minutes later than they did--ever killed fifteen minutes in Beirut while dressed as Santa?--and everybody was pretty shocked. Ahead of time, Dr. Paul had instructed me not to speak, since English would give away that I was Madame Nicole's husband. He also explained that "ho ho ho" sounds too American so he taught me a more gutteral version that sounded like the coughs of a sick animal. So Dr. Paul's nieces and nephews, excited to see Santa, were met with me, speechless, gesturing elaborately, giving hugs, and posing for pictures with every possible combination of family members--me (Santa) and the kids, me and the adults, me and the housekeepers, etc. And all the while, I in my Santa outfit said nothing, making the coughing noises that I had been taught. Were the kids scared? Yes, a little bit.

Eventually I took my leave, changed back into civilian clothes, and showed up at the in-laws' place, explaining that I felt better and took a taxi over to join everybody. For the second time, we got to speak Spanish in the Middle East. One of the sisters-in-law is from Puerto Rico. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The Lebanese love to party. At one point, I had a glass of water in front of me and the father-in-law (went to AUB and speaks great English) called over a housekeeper and said, "Get that water out of here!," instructing her to replace it with another glass of wine. We had a good time. Dinner didn't start until about 10:30, and consisted of turkey with the usual trimmings, roast beef with the usual trimmings, zaatar and cheese pies along with hummus and tabbouli, a big tray of deli meats, a big tray of fancy cheeses, and loads of desserts. Nothing like the world's most humongous meal, consumed during the witching hour. Definitely was nice to celebrate family style. The NGO is already sad, anticipating Nicole's departure next summer.

Today was round two of holiday cheer. Several of my colleagues from the English Department, and two of my graduate students came over to our place today for brunch. I cooked pasta with olive oil and garlic (a Christmas Eve tradition, shuffled to Christmas Day), picked up some spinach pies at Snack Faysal down the block, and we ate outside on the balcony. One of the grad students is applying to my old doctoral program and I hope my letter of recommendation doesn't weaken his application too much. Kidding. The other teaches Chinese at AUB and is taking English grad classes to strengthen his own written English and learn more about linguistics and rhetoric. Cool guy.

Now, it's all about packing. We fly to Egypt at 5:00 a.m. tomorrow, so we're looking at a middle-of-the-night taxi to Beirut airport. We'll be offline for a week or so, checking out pyramids and such. I thought I'd never take a cruise but I've made an exception for the Nile, as an homage to Agatha Christie. See you all in the New Year. Come back to the blog on January 2 everybody.

Christmas Pictures Here

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sahktain

Many thanks to our new pals Nissrine and Leda who had us to their place last night for a delicious dinner and fun evening. We met Nissrine on our last trip to Syria and became fast friends. Though Jordanian, she studies sociology in Lebanon and lives with her Lebanese cousin Leda on the hilly outskirts of Beirut, an area that resembles the foothills close to Tucson, Arizona. I think we ended up laughing harder than we've laughed since we got to Beirut. Insha'Allah, some day (soon) she will show us around Jordan and (soon but not as soon) we will show her around Detroit.

After last month's first and probably only experience ever of teaching on Thanksgaving, I'll spend most of December 23rd in the classroom too. AUB offers a relatively brief week off school between Christmas and New Year's, then (in Janurary of 2011!) we return for the two final weeks of the "Fall 2010" term. Odd.

From December 26, until January 2, Nicole and I will be in Egypt and likely offline. In early January, expect lots of pictures as well as some reflections on Luxor, Aswan, the Valley of the Kings, the Sphnix, the pyramids, the Nile...not to mention New Year's Eve in Cairo, reported to be one of the most crowded places in the world on regular days of the year. You may or may not know that Death on the Nile is one of my favorite movies; in fact, I recently reread the novel on which it's based. I will let faithful readers of this blog know how the Nile compares to Agatha Christie's representation of the place. I don't expect any British aristocrats to get shot, and asp attacks on Belgian detectives are even less likely. But you never know.

I'm in the middle of William Golding's published journals of Egypt. Golding's famous as the author of Lord of the Flies but, among other things, he also wrote a dry but vivid account of sailing the Nile in the early '80s. I have a few other readings selected to take along on the trip, including a neat "Traveler's Anthology" (in English, thank you AUB library) with short excerpts from both Arab and Western writers describing life and travel on the longest river in the world.

Today has been a long day, as many of my English 204-ers took me up on my offer to read one last draft of papers before I collect final drafts on Thursday. Usually in the States a handful of students will take advantage of such an offer. This term, most of the class decided to revise again. Consequently, I didn't get to the gym, but I did spend some quality office time with student writing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Following The News

Westerners I've met in Beirut have a range of attitudes toward current events. Some read the International Herald Tribute (a kind of "world edition" of the New York Times)and take a global approach, preferring to know a little bit about what's happening everywhere. Some are obsessives about the middle east, and Lebanon in particular, and read all the English-language news sites, following each new development. Others prefer to avoid the news altogether; they aren't necessarily cynical as much as critical of the gossipy and sometimes unreliable reports about the complicated politics of Lebanon.

These are the three news sites that our friend at the U.S. embassy recommends:

The Lebanon Daily Star

NOW Lebanon

Naharnet

I read the Daily Star most days, mainly, I must confess, because it's the most user-friendly of the three. The site is informative but I've found you must read the stories there calmly and somewhat skeptically. For example, the Star will report on standard State Department or Embassy memos as if they signal changes in policy. The usual "be careful when you travel in the Mideast" will become "Secretary Clinton has warning for Americans in Lebanon." And for months all three sites have been referring to "rising tensions" over the tribunal investigating the Prime Minister's assassination six years ago--although most everybody you talk to says that tension, insha'Allah, is quite minimal.

Knowledge and awareness are good things, and so is gathering info from a variety of sources, but so too is avoiding alarmism. My impression is that a lot of good people in Lebanon are working to normalize peacefulness. Peace makes a good carrot. It's right there in front of Lebanon, dangling, ready to be grabbed. Although I love the free flow of information, I worry that sometimes the news can be counterproductive. A guy told me recently that when you're used to strife, sometimes the reports about tension create a kind of adrenaline rush. I think there's some truth to that, but, like I said, I'd like to think that peace can be just as addictive.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holidays

I remember when I was maybe four- or five-years-old going to the big Christmas party at my Grandpa's work. Grandpa "D" drove a truck for a commercial construction company in Youngstown and kept attending their holiday soirees years after he retired. Loving the open bar with all the pop you could drink, I went at least two or three times with my grandparents. Would have been the late '70s. But the events harkened back to the baby boom years when men worked the same job for their whole adult lives and the companies in turn genuinely seemed to care about them. The parties reminded me of something out of Goodfellas--women with beehive hairdos, a lot of Italian guys drinking 7&7s, everybody smoking. Kids got a mesh stocking full of candy, but you had to sit on Santa's lap. Santa (never a big part of DeGenaro Christmases) was neither my mom nor my sister, so I hated that part. But I did it all for the candy.

Couldn't help but think of those parties this evening while riding the "party bus" back to Beirut from Tyre. The occasion: Nicole's office Christmas party. Now, her office is here in Beirut but in the spirit of Christmas--most of her co-workers are Christian--the attorney who runs the NGO decided to take everybody to the South of Lebanon for a fancy party. No Santa. Definitely no 7&7s. And the smoking came courtesy of nargileh, not unfiltered Chesterfields. I should add that Nicole works three days a week for a human rights organization--actually, a law firm that operates an NGO as a kind of philanthropic arm, doing studies and reports, for example, on women's issues and other middle-eastern social concerns. Folks at the office decided to do it up right, so they rented a big van to take everybody down to Tyre, a beautiful city along the beach. Nicole got snacks for the ride and I thought for sure her choices (potato chips, American chocolate) would be poorly received. I was wrong. Who doesn't love Pringle's? Note to self: if you even suspect that Arab pop music is going to be played loudly, don't sit right by the speakers.

The South is so beautiful. Banana and citrus trees lined the roads. And the oranges are in season right now, so all the roadside markets had enormous bins of many varieties of them. Of course the roads are also lined with markers of the violence that is too often a part of life in that part of the country. At one intersection we passed a memorial-of-sorts that consisted of a parked tank (one of our mates on the party bus told us it was an Israeli tank captured in 2006) with a Hezbollah flag flying over it. And along the road are pictures of young men from the region killed in the various wars and skirmishes along the border. We ended up at a fancy, seaside restaurant, and the head attorney told us that if we wanted to stay there overnight, he'd arrange a separate car back to Beirut for us. We were tempted by the generosity, but stuck with the one-day plan.

We had a huge feast, with all the famous Lebanese appetizers (lebneh, hummus, tabbouli, grape leaves, kibbeh), and delicious fresh fish from the sea. They know Nicole (who won't touch fish) well and ordered her a mixed grill. What a great crew she works with. Like most Lebanese, they love to party. Had a nice time chatting and hearing about Christmas plans, most of which involve the phrase "going back to my village." We moved to a different banquet room for coffee and dessert. Luckily, the hotel had a huge bowl of those fresh organges we had passed on the ride down, not to mention loads of other sweets. Didn't even have to sit on Santa's lap.

***

Forgive me if I've already relayed this story on facebook, but I can't help but love conversations with our landlords' little boys. Knowledgable about American history and geography, they love to chat in the lobby of the building. Last night, I went downstairs to run down the road for a couple mana'ishe for Nicole and I but got side-tracked in the lobby. Explaining what Nicole does at her office, I used the phrase "civil rights," and that opened a whole can of worms.

You haven't heard the story of Rosa Parks until you've heard it from a little Lebanese boy. After discoursing on "Dr. King" (yes, he calls MLK "Dr. King") while drinking a cup of the tea his mom sends down on a little tray in the elevator for whomever is working the front desk (we sometimes share the elevator with the tray!), his next story started with, "And there was a girl..." and I just knew this one would be about Rosa Parks. I told him I've sat in the actual Rosa Parks bus and he was definitely impressed. He's one bright kid, although we have an ongoing debate now because he insists Lebanon is the smallest country in the world. He also thought that there were no people in Florida. But I'm telling you, about most things connected to geography, he's one smart kid. And of course, he's fluent in English and French, as well as Arabic.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Report

My host University, AUB, partnered with the United Nations this past summer to conduct a large-scale study of the conditions of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Yesterday, UNRWA (the UN's Relief Works Agency for Palestinian refugees) released its findings. Follow the link to see results. Two-thirds of the refugees live in camps, concentated either in the south of Lebanon or in the suburbs of Beirut, and over 66 percent of Palestinians in Lebanon are poor, meaning they "cannot meet their basic food and non-food needs." One of the problems is public policy, which keeps Palestinians from traveling, owning property, getting work permits, and becoming citizens. Balance of power among the "big three" (Sunni, Maronite, and Shi'a) is important here, one of the factors making the issue very complex. Despite the complexity, though, I hope that greater awareness internationally and greater empathy within Lebanon can lead to positive change.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Three Things More

1. Nicole just posted a thoughtful reflection on birthright citizenship in Lebanon.

2. Last night Nicole and I attended the AUB Christmas Concert. Our friend Thomas Kim directs the Choir and Choral Society here. The program focused on sacred music from various Christian traditions and was great. AUB held the event in Assembly Hall, which always makes you feel like you're in a fancy prep school's chapel. With its huge pipe organ and high ceilings, Assembly Hall is a reminder of AUB's origins as "Syrian Protestant College" in the nineteenth century.

3. We had a lovely dinner on Sunday at the home (actually, the on-campus housing...I'm jealous!) of our friends Alan and Katherine, also recently arrived at AUB from the States. Walking to their place down the 100+ stairs onto "lower campus" (the part closest to the Sea), we watched enormous waves crashing onto the Corniche.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Social Change

Yesterday I spent much of the day talking with students. I held one-on-one conferences with my English 204 students to discuss their progress on their research papers. I interviewed several more Night School instructors and went out to lunch with the student who coordinates Night School. (Night School is a program where students teach English to working adults, and the subject of one of my research projects.) Throughout the day, the subject of civic life in Lebanon kept coming up.

One of my students is writing a research paper on the working conditions of domestic laborers in Beirut. She told me that in one of the dorms where many of her friends live, there is a debate over whether the cleaning woman should be permitted to ride the elevator. Currently, she can ride the elevator as long as no students are currently using it. If the cleaning woman is already in the elevator and it stops to pick up a student and they are all going to the same floor, the cleaning woman must get off immediately. Most students are okay with that arrangement but some are arguing that the woman should never be allowed on the elevator. The building has eleven floors.

Most domestic laborers come to Lebanon on multi-year contracts, leaving behind family in Sri Lanka or Ethiopia, for instance. According to most human rights groups who monitor such things, many of these workers are not permitted to have contact with their families (including their young children) during those years. Many have their passports withheld from them. They have few legal rights under Lebanese law. Many are abused sexually and otherwise. Some try to escape without their papers and face brutal consequences. Suicide rates are skyhigh. Nicole and I regularly see families out with their domestic who must remain standing at cafes while the family eats.

Another student told me about a month she spent working with children at a refugee camp close to Beirut. She told me the camp serves mostly Iraqi and Palestinian children, but also the children of divorced domestics. Most domestic workers leave their children behind in their native countries, but some, this student explained to me, have no choice but to bring their kids and surrender them to a refugee camp for the duration of their labor contracts. Like domestics, refugees at the camps also have few legal rights here.

This particular student who spent time at the camps is one of many of my students who spends and/or has spent a considerable amount of time performing community service, one of several students who has told me she wishes AUB had a mandatory community service program. She is studying political science and wants to go into development work, part of her motivation for getting involved with Night School, a program she thinks has the potential to lead to social change.

Another student is writing about gay/lesbian life in Beirut. Another is writing about the Lebanese Jewish diaspora, as well as the lives of the few Jewish people still living in Beirut. Many are writing about westernization and the effects of capitalism, western military, and fast food on Lebanese life. The student who took me out to lunch--extremely smart, extremely civic-minded, expressed much dismay about social problems in Lebanon. Like others I've talked to, he's disappointed that so much student organizing happens at the level of sect and/or party (e.g., student clubs that do community service but have a political affiliation, which he feels is by definition exclusionary).

Despite the pessimism that some expressed, it's hard not to feel optimistic about so much intelligence and empathy among young people at the University. Is it naieve to think maybe they can reverse some of the unethical trends and practices that affect life in Lebanon? Many students I've met are open, liberal (in the most inclusive senses of the word), and aware of both the world in which they live and the larger world too. And most of them love Lebanon very much. I hope some day, back in the states, I open up a paper and hear about the great things they've done.

Winter Arrives

As I read about snowstorms back home, the rain falls here in Beirut. In the three months since we arrived, we've only seen rain one time. Until two days ago.

For the past two days, it's been raining. Last night, I woke up, looked out the window, and thought someone was standing over the horizon flicking a flashlight on and off. The wind produced a steady moan and branches were falling off the palm trees across the street. I've never seen such a thunderstorm.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Weekend In Syria

First I should say that making this weekend happen proved difficult. The Ministry ("of Magic," as Nicole and I call it) had my passport for several weeks as they processed my residency permit, basically a visa but valid for a longer duration. During those weeks, leaving Lebanon was not an option. Also during those weeks, the expiration dates of our Syrian visas were approaching and we wanted to visit the country a second time after our October adventure in Damascus, the awesome and ancient Syrian capital. Happily, the Ministry finished its spells on my passport last week.

The arrival of "low season" also made the trip difficult. Fewer make the trip during the Winter, but I found a rather low-budget operation whose name shall remain nameless but who offered extremely cheap prices. Cardboard covered the floors of the office, everyone there smoked, a lot, and its proprietor definitely put the "it's rude not to accept a beverage when one is offered" custom to the test. As I sat at his desk, he went to a closet-like kitchenette, emptied somebody else's coffee into the sink, examined the bottom for several moments, and filled a tiny cup with turkish coffee whose color made black licorice look pastel in comparison. As I sipped, he made arrangements for us to visit the northern part of Syria, the mountainous area between Lebanon and Turkey. By the way, germphobes, I did not get sick from that delicious coffee, which was strong enough to kill most anything that remained in the cup anyway.

We met up with our "pullman" at 5:30 on Saturday morning and learned the guide, Fetten, did not speak English, contrtary to what Mr. Turkish Coffee had told me. However, due to her brothers having married women from Spain, Fetten spoke Spanish. How's this for globalization...two Americans in Syria, conversing in Spanish with a Lebanese woman? Nicole and I were the only non-Arabs on the trip, not surprising given that few westerners and even fewer Americans visit Syria. The crowd on the pullman was young and super friendly, and by "friendly," I mean, ready to party. Though still dark outside, they cranked up the Arab pop music, sang along, and danced much of the time as we drove north along the coast. Normally a little Arab music goes a long way, especially at high volumes, but when people are dancing in the aisles of a bus, it's hard not to enjoy yourself.

Only a few people on board spoke any English, but Nissrine, a young Jordanian woman studying in Lebanon, took us under her wing. Nissrine has to be one of the kindest people we have met in the Middle East. You know how books about the Middle East describe strangers who will invite you to their homes and take hospitality to what seems to outsiders like an extreme? They are describing Nissrine.

We stopped in Tripoli for breakfast. I swear, it's not just Nicole and I! Everyone here loves bakeries and it appears that Saida and Tripoli are the consensus capitals of tasty sweet things. I enjoyed a little halawat el-jibn (dough made from cheese that you soak to remove all the salt, mix with semolina, and then roll out, lastly topping it with cream and rose water) and then it was back on the pullman. We got to the border minutes later. As the guide, Fetten took the passports of all the Lebanese into the customs station, but Nicole and I (American), Nissrine (Jordanian), and another woman on the pullman (Syrian) had to go in to get exit and entry cards and our passports stamped. A sign inside said, "The bribe takes you to prison" in English and various other languages too. First, you take your papers into the exit station, then you drive a hundred yards or so, over the border, and go into an entry station, and then a customs agent comes onto the bus and double-checks everything. Painless, if a little bit nervewracking.

Coastal Syria is beautiful country in which to take a drive. As you make your way north, the Sea is on your left and the mountains on your right, much like Lebanon, though greener. We saw lots of cattle, even on the beach. As we started to head up the mountains, we passed loads of citrus trees, and not much else. Nissrine, who like us lives in noisy Beirut, talked about how quiet the area was (music on the bus notwithstanding). We got to our destination, Mashta Al Helou, a little village that serves as a resort during the Summer, got checked in, and took a catnap with the windows open and the smell of the mountains filling the room. Rested, Nicole and I spent most of the afternoon walking in the village. A few years ago, the community had an arts fair and the sculptors who competed donated their sculptures to the village. So in addition to the little homes, the cafes, the hardware stores and markets, romanesque statues fill the village. And the sidewalks have the Mamluk influenced white and black check pattern. We found a place to buy two shish tawook sandwiches and pomegranate sodas.

That night, the hotel had a big party. I'm not exactly clear on whether all the people there were actually staying at the hotel, or if many of them were just people in the village there for a little music on a Saturday night, or what. I suspect the latter, because the place was pretty dead until about 9:00 or so, and then it was like being at a wedding. Long tables, DJ spinning tunes, and a massive amount of food. I've never seen so much nargileh in my life. More than anywhere on Warren Avenue in Dearborn. More than along the corniche in Beirut. Young guys ("charcoal boys" I call them) literally paraded out of the kitchen with little buckets full of charcoal and walked around putting fresh briquettes on people's hubbly bubbly pipes. Wearing baggy Syrian pants, cummerbunds, and wool vests, they did tricks with their charcoal buckets too, spinning them around like batons. Strange. After what seemed like dozens of mezze, they brought out mixed grills, with kabob and tawook, later, tiny cups of coffee and corn starch custard. A young woman sang songs to which the whole place knew all the words. Fetten wouldn't hear of letting Nicole and I get away with not dancing, which I think the Syrians and Lebanese people thought was pretty funny.

The next morning we went to Homs, the third largest city in Syria. I had my heart set on visiting the Syrian Orthodox Church with one of the odder church names you'll hear, Our Lady of the Girdle. The place was truly interesting. The church was built in the 1800s on the site of a centuries-old Christian church and during construction builders found a swatch of material inside of a chalice which in turn was inside of a stone box in a catacomb. The Patriarch declared the swatch of material to be from the girdle worn by the Virgin Mary before she ascended to heaven. So the church retains the swatch inside a monstrance. I had never been to a Syrian Orthodox Church at all, so this was a treat. Thanks to Nissrine, we found bargains in the souks in Homs as well. Speaking English, of course, is a good way to get inflated prices, but we had the hook-up thanks to our new pal, who negotiated on our behalf. The souks there are much cleaner than those of Tripoli and the goods are much cheaper than those of Damascus (though, again, that probably has something to do with the presence of Nissrine this time around). We spent much of the day walking, and walking, and walking in the souks, listening to the vendors yelling their prices and watching the action. Great city and if our visas didn't expire, I'm sure we'd return.

That night, we did not encounter long lines at the border so I figured things would go smoothly. Wrong. The four non-Lebanese people on the bus went inside the exit station for the normal ritual and for some reason, Fetten was getting the run-around from the agents. Frustrated, she sent Nicole and I to the tax booth in the next building to pay our exit tax (Americans must pay to leave Syria--I'm pretty sure we're the only nationality on which such a tax is levied) while she dealt with the Lebanese passports. Now normally Fetten would have gone to the booth on our behalf; indeed, Nissrine thought she should have, but we didn't mind. The exit station did NOT have the "The Bribe takes you to prison" sign posted, though, and, wouldn't you know it, our agent charged us an extra one-hundred Syrian Pounds (only two bucks, but still...not nice at all).

Then, back on the bus, thinking we were finished, the agent came on board to check everybody's passports and it turns out that all of the Lebanese passports had been stamped "4 December" instead of "5 December." Nicole, Nissrine, the Syrian woman, and I were all good to go, but everybody else had a passport bearing the incorrect stamp. Normally, such a snafu would be a minor thing, right? Well, on the border of Lebanon and Syria, apparently nothing is a minor thing. It's a tense place. So Fetten had to start over on their behalf and try to sort things out. All the Arabs on the bus seemed to understand that this would take a while because they got out of the bus, right there at customs, and fired up a little butane tank on the ground so that they could make coffee. Not sure I ever dreamed I'd find myself at the Syrian border after dark, huddled around a little gas tank on the ground, making coffee with a busload of Lebanese people. I don't know what went on inside the exit station, but after a while, Fetten returned, we packed up the coffee supplies, and headed over the border.

Don't know if we'll ever make it back to Syria. Our visas expire and Americans can only obtain visas to Syria (our federal government is not a big fan, no matter how beautiful their mosques and churches are and how cool their souks are) while on American soil. Even then, it's a bit of a hassle. So I'm happy we were able to take two excursions there. Special thanks to our friend Ahmad. We probably wouldn't have gotten visas without him.

I'll upload the pictures tomorrow.

UPDATE: pictures here

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Three Things

1) More holiday, please. Every email I get from AUB Human Resources announces another day on which classes will be canceled. Next Tuesday is Hijra. The following Thursday is Ashoura. Armenian Christmas is January 6.

2) Countdown. As in, my parents arrive in Lebanon in thirty-eight days. Can't wait to show them a good time.

3) Snapshot of the classroom. Today my students analyzed an editorial in which Nicholas Kristof argues that those in the holiday spirit should be more careful about where they donate their money. In the op-ed, Kristof criticizes specific Christian, Musilm, and Jewish charities that he finds problematic for various reasons (too much money goes to overhead instead of to the needy, etc.). They rewrote the editorial for a Lebanese instead of American audience. Results, as well as the class discussion, were kind of interesting.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Essays

Having completed their across-the-pond literacy projects with UM-Dearborn students, my AUB 'Advanced Academic English' students are writing more traditional research papers right now. I don't usually assign traditional research papers (which don't have much of an existence outside of English classes), but the entire curriculum here centers on "The Research Paper," so I'm playing along, albeit with a lot of attention to audience analysis and informed advocacy of social change. What, you may ask, do Lebanese college students choose to write about?

--traffic laws (x 3...definitely on people's minds in Beirut!)
--the addictive properties of social networking
--admissions standards at elite U.S. vs. Lebanese colleges
--definitions of "democracy" in Lebanon
--Westernization of Beirut (x 4...also a popular topic)
--female circumcision in the Arab world
--working conditions of "domestic help" in Lebanon
--Arab-American youth culture in Boston
--sex taboos in the Middle East
--the Lebanese Jewish diaspora
--how collectivism informs formal schooling in Lebnaon
--homophobia in Beirut
--a cultural history of tabouleh
--the job market in Beirut

It's been a few years since I've taught "the research paper." In recent years, I've had classes collaboratively critique and respond to a non-fiction text (such as Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn) by contextualizing the text's ideas and placing them in broader contexts. So it's been interesting to return to the old-school, pick a topic-analyze an audience-enter into a conversation about a social issue, practice. I'm familiar with the limits of this model, but I'm accentuating what I think is most useful about it. Lastly, I suspect some have chosen topics they think I'll like (you can guess which ones), but, still, good to see them write about whatever they choose.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reading

Thank goodness for the wide availability of academic books through google books and eric. Full-text .pdf versions of monographs, right there on the screen. Amazing. Currently I'm in the middle of Listening to the World: Cultural Issues in Academic Writing by Helen Fox and Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching by Suresh Canagarajah, both useful for my two research projects. I wonder if the Fulbright organization ought to stop subsidizing mailing books for grantees--a Fulbright benefit that's extremely difficult to use because you have to use special government pouches, plan very far in advance, and pay out of pocket to mail stuff to D.C.--and start an e-library service that creates .pdf texts (of needed books that are not already available on the web) for scholars and relays them to all corners of the globe. Just a suggestion.

The Rare Quantitative Finding Reached While Conducting Qualitative Research

Fifty percent of the students I interviewed today for my research on the Night School Program brought me turkish coffee.

Hiking In Bkassine And Jezzine

First of all, pictures of the hike are available here.

I convinced Nicole to join me on a "Vamos" hike in a part of South Lebanon just below the Chouf and the Cedars. The villages of Bkassine and Jezzine boast cool, green pine forests and the hike promised stops at an olive oil press and pine nut producer. So Nicole signed up...and survived a 6 kilometer walk, a full 2K longer than the distance suggested on Vamos' website. Although in the mountains, the region was warm and sunny and we ended up having a really nice time. I'm not sure when I'll be able to talk Nicole into another hiking excursion--especially after the steep, challenging declines and narrow/ancient stone staircases through Bkassine--but I'll keep trying.

In nearby Jezzine, we explored an old palace that had been damaged by frequent fighting in the region but still maintained much of its opulence. You can explore, take photos, pretend you live in the massive palace, or just wander around. Like many historical sites in Lebanon, little fanfare surrounds the place. It just is. This particular palace has Roman statues, great halls, checkered stone and tilework, and other breathtaking features. The main road up to the palace was closed, so we climbed a thorny hill, crawling onto one stone wall at a time (Nicole passed on this part of the experience), all the way to the top. Well worth the effort.

Villagers in Bkassine cooked a lunch comprised of many Lebanese favorites: kibbe, salads, rice with pine nuts and pistachios and a bit of ground lamb, hummus, and fresh fruits, including local bananas, which are grown in the southern part of the nation. Nearby was what turned out to be one of the nicest churches we've seen in the country. St. Thecla's. St. Thecla is revered very much in most eastern rite churches. She is the subject of a non-canonical text (a book of the Bible that didn't make the final cut of Catholic or Protenstant versions) called the Acts of Paul and Thecla. In the earliest days of Christianity, Thecla was sentenced to (and miraculously spared from) death several times, once for fighting off an aristocrat who was trying to rape her. It's believed that after being sentenced to having wild beasts eat her, the female beasts decided to spare her life. St. Thecla's in Bkassine had little baggies containing q-tips with blessed oil that visitors could take with them and apply to parts of the body that were hurting or injured in some way.

We walked through Bkassine and found the oil press. Though it was Sunday, the family-run press was in full operation. Happily olive-picking season is upon us, so the presses were crushing locally grown olives in huge, industrial agitators and presses. A little room off to the side had a mattress and chair, so clearly the family spends a great deal of time very, very close to the machines. One of the producers talked about the process, though of course he spoke in Arabic. No matter, I was too busy watching the oil production. Naturally I thought of the great scene in Godfather II when the Don takes his young family back to Sicily and tours the Corleone oil press (Michael, a little boy, tastes the oil and then puckers his lips) before he shoots the Don who killed his father.

I tasted the oil but didn't pucker my lips. The producer poured some into a paper cup and we all dipped our fingers in to taste. Then, he poured the remaining oil back into a big ten-liter container. Again, we Americans are so obsessed with germs. The oil was so fresh that it tasted sweet. Sadly, they only had ten-liter containers at the press, so, thinking that was a little excessive, we didn't buy any. Nearby, we also stopped at another family-run business--a home where the family extracts pine nuts from cones and sells the nuts. Pine nuts are used in a lot of rice and meat dishes (e.g., sautee some pine nuts and maybe some raisins in olive oil and use as a topping on big platters of rice with chunks of lamb) and are one of those foods that's a source of pride. The family operates the extractors in a little garage-like room behind the "main house." Burlap sacks full of pince cones line the driveway and fill the backyard. A little room in the front of the house has 1) a blanket and toddler toys for the kids, and 2) a card table set up with a scale and a money box. That's the "store." Also sampled the pine nuts (of course!) which were, well, nutty and fresh, as you'd expect.

Speaking of things that taste good, no, and I mean NO trip to the south is complete without stopping for ice cream or sweets in Sidon. Thing about crowded spots in Lebanon is that lines are, at best, suggestions. You have to elbow your way to the cash register, pay, and then take a receipt to a clerk near whichever "baklaway" or "bouza" that you want. Good way to end the day. Good way to end the post. Ma'Sallam.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Passport

The Ministry of Labor still has my passport. The University is obtaining a work permit for me so that Nicole and I can get residency cards. As of now, we are still in the country on tourist visas. So while this whole process plays out, I'm without my passport. Doesn't much matter, except that any travel outside of Lebanon is on hold until I get that passport back. Right now travel to Turkey is very cheap. And we would like to visit Syria one more time before our Syrian visas expire next month and perhaps go to Egypt for Christmas, but we don't want to buy tickets until I have my passport. So if anybody from the Ministry is reading this, please expedite my paperwork. Shukran!

We had some friends to dinner last night at our apartment. A bit of a challenge, since we don't have an oven, but I managed to cook a stew of sorts with lots of eggplant and potatoes, along with tabbouleh and a lazy cake (broken cookies, or "biscuits," with melted chocolate and condensed milk poured over the top, and then hardened in the fridge). Good to have company. We'd like to do that more often. In the meantime, today's a normal day (aside from student elections) of reading the annotated bibliographies of my English 204 students, catching up on emails, getting a little writing done, and grabbing lunch at Aunti Selwa's. Ma'salem.

UPDATE
Aunti Selwa made fish today. And more to the point, on the way back to my office I stopped to inquire about my passport. Should be back either this Friday or next Monday. Thanks Ministry.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Elections

The AUB campus buzzes with activity this week. The normal stuff: students eat cheese or falafel sandwiches and drink Mirinda orange soda, the scores of semi-tame cats that populate AUB prowl the sidewalks, kids toss frisbees and sit on benches and study. In addition to the normal buzz, everyone prepares for tomorrow's student elections. Campaigning is intense. Students affiliated with campus political parties like 'Order Out of Chaos' and 'Students at Work' hand out flyers and plaster signs on the walls and congregate in really big groups.

Aside from the handful of indpendent candidates, most students running for office are affiliated with one of Lebanon's political parties. Kind of like if students at American universities ran for Student Body President as republicans or democrats. Only in most cases, the animosity between parties is way more complicated and deep-seated. NOW Lebanon has an interesting report about the relationship between the sectarian parties and their student wings. According to a representative from Amal (a Shi'a party--wikipedia uses the term "militia"), the group provides "moral support" and to a lesser degree "monetary contributions" to their student candidates.

Even though the names of the campus parties don't explicitly reflect these affilitations, one party represents the March 8 Alliance and another represents March 14--the two coalitions with opposing views on both the degree to which Syria should have any sovereignty in Lebanon and whether UN tribunals should continue investigating the 2005 assasination of Lebanon's Prime Minister. The politics are complex and even the student elections reflect the complexity and the high stakes.

Normally tourist groups walk through campus regularly; AUB is a stop on most bus tours of the city. But tomorrow no visitors are allowed on campus, so as to foster order during the election process and, I presume (and my students agree) to prevent tampering.

I realize this all makes the elections seem dramatic, but many of my students maintain a skeptical and ho-hum attitude about the whole process. I talked to my English 204 students before and after class today about the elections and a good number of them wish the political parties would leave the campus alone. There's a real divide between the school's secular and non-partisan ethos and the sectarian politics that in some ways define Lebanon.

But more and more, I see that politics don't define Lebanon. The pride people take in the villages they come from, the food, the ancient history, certainly the hospitality. These things seem to exist on a plain above politics. Not totally apart from politics, for that would be impossible, but above the world of squabbles that--no matter how divisive--don't change people's DNA.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mar Mikhael

What's better than discovering a neighborhood? We spent much of today in an area of Beirut called Mar Mikhael, part of Ashrafieh named for Saint Michael. Before today I didn't think I liked Ashrafieh because all I knew of the area was ABC ("ahh-bay-say"), a high-end shopping mall where you can buy designer track suits for a couple hundred dollars. Seriously, walking around town with an ABC shopping bag means you must be something.

Mar Mikhael is away from the overpriced glitz of ABC and looks decidedly less glamorous. But in addition to the hardware stores and body shops, the area boasts some cool people and places. We met an artist from up north who was happy to show us her studio and chat. She kept apologizing for her English, which was very good, but she was proud, and rightly so, of her painting. Not to mention the restoration work she does on icons and Christian art from around the region. We also found a neat store that sells an odd mixture of homemade handicrafts--everything from traditional clothing (abayas, etc.) to decorations to Arabic water pitchers (I've seen a lot of public places that just put out these vessels and visitors just help themselves to a drink right from the pitcher--Americans are so obsessed with germs). We didn't buy anything but I'm sure we'll be back.

We went to Mar Mikhael to attend a book signing. I love autographed books, and loved even more the idea of getting my hands on a copy of "Man'oushe: Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery," a combination cookbook, reference work, narrative, and labor of love. The book's all about the delicious breads and the roadside stands all over Lebanon that sell them. And there's an English-language version. We met the author, Barbara Massaad, who was really gracious and interesting. And I've already read half the book, which has inspired me to get a gas saj, the big convex metal cooking disc, when we get back home next year. Nicole doesn't know this yet. But zaatar and jibnee man'oushe at our place, anytime. If you're reading this, you're invited. The saj is really great. You see them at a lot of street food places. You just slap on the dough which cooks in minutes.

Anyway, the book signing was at a restaurant called Tawlet, which operates in conjunction with a local farmer's market. On most weekdays, either one of the market's "producers" or a guest chef creates a lunch buffet using fresh stuff from the market. They also do cooking classes and various special events (like tonight's signing). The restaurant wasn't serving, but they had all kinds of free snacks, all homemade, fresh items. Jibnee (cheese) and lebneh (yogurt), fresh breads, heirloom veggies, and something called "hashish el baher" that I'm pretty sure is NOT what it sounds like. It was some kind of herb along with carmelized onions on pita. Really delicious, and had no intoxicating effects, I swear.

And we met a beekeeper there. Anna and Mazin: We got his card for you guys but he doesn't have an email address, just a phone number. Sorry. But he was very excited to hear that we have family who keep bees in the U.S. Mr. Habib sets up at the market and had a really impressive spread with him tonight too. Including cedar honey, direct from the famous cedars of Lebanon. He had these fresh cheese curds from his farm and he was stuffing little mini breads with the cheese and the cedar honey. When we told him about Anna and Mazin's bees back home, he even broke off some pieces of honeycomb for us.

Really hope to connect with some of these folks again, very soon. And we'll definitely be heading back to Tawlet for the extremely fresh foods they offer. Maybe even for their cooking classes. I'll need some tips for when I get that saj next year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tripoli

Near the end of the day in Tripoli, I saw a teen boy with a massive headwound. He sat in the passenger seat of an ancient-looking Mercedes speeding him to the hospital. You could make out the blood from halfway across the neighborhood. The car's driver madly, repeatedly beeped the horn as they raced down a road parallel with a creek that carved a deep, trash-lined path through the middle of town. No idea what had happened to him. Needless to say, the scene was surreal.

Many things about Tripoli stand in stark contrast with Beirut, which we have gotten so accustomed to so quickly. The vast majority of the population in Tripoli is Sunni, and the population seems very devout, especially on Eid al Adha, the holy day on which we visited. Beirut--especially the Hamra area--maintains a relatively secular feel, but Tripoli feels more like the version of the Middle East we Westerners often see on the news, i.e., a place where nearly everyone is Muslim.

So it was appropriate that we visited a Mosque, one of the Mosques the Maamluks built on top of a Crusader church after the Crusaders were finally defeated. The Taynal Mosque has the typical Maamluk style of black and white checkered pattern stones. The muezzin (who calls the neighborhood to prayer) was in a jovial mood for the holiday and chatted up visitors, especially our guide, who the muezzin kept telling what to tell us about Tripoli and the mosque. The dress code wasn't quite as strict as the Umayyad Mosque in Syria, but Nicole still had to put a hooded robe over her clothes.

The Crusader Castle was the highlight of the visit. It's a huge complex of multiple rooms and multiple floors, and it's remarkably well-preserved, given that the Crusaders built it upon arrival in the Middle East. You can wander and explore and do just about anything you want to do. Some of the sights at the top of the castle are a bit precarious and Nicole and I found ourselves climbing some narrow steps to get to the top. The Lebanese Army maintains a strong presence in and around the castle and of course you have to be careful not to take any pictures of the soldiers or their vehicles. This was pretty funny. A soldier walked past me carrying a big pot of oil. I wondered if he was going to heat it and use it to fight off invaders below, but alas he was taking it up to his mates where they were frying chicken for lunch.

We walked through the souks, some of which were closed for the holidays. Like the souks of Damascus, those in Tripoli exist in this vast maze of narrow alleys. Little boys were playing with plastic cap guns, chasing each other up and down the ancient streets. We went into an old bathhouse down in the souks. You go into a big entry room with soft couches and blankets to provide some relaxation before your bath. Oh, and a big bin of sandals to use in the actual baths. I walked all the way through and frankly was happy just to be an observer, not a bather. We went to one of the soap khans in the souks too. Tripoli has long been a center of soapmaking. We went to an old family business where they still make soap from local olive oil. Not as rustic as it might sound--their sign advertises their website and they take all kinds of credit cards.

Okay, the day included a bakery...of course. "Abdul Rahman Hallab and Sons," where they've been in the kenefe business since 1881. Trays and trays and trays of the stuff. Not to mention all the baklaway, chocolate, and ice cream (the latter is just about mandatory at big bakeries here). I got kenefe of course. They serve it relatively dry but bring squeeze bottles of syrup (homemade simple syrup infused with rose water) to your table. Nicole got something even better. Ouzi with chicken, mushrooms, and curried rice, all in puff pastry. Insanely good.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Holiday

Eid Mubarak. The lights are up around Hamra for Eid al Adha and classes are canceled at the University on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week. The holiday's exact date depends on the movement of the moon and the exact day/time of the holiday can't be determined until a few days before and even then is the subject of debate. Until a few days ago, the University only planned to shut down on Tuesday and Wednesday. So with the extra day off, I had to make some adjustments to the syllabi of the two courses I teach. On the plus side, an extra day of holiday. And Hamra seems more crowded this weekend (and the crowds a little more raucous) than usual. Nicole and I have plans to travel to Tripoli during the holiday, so stay tuned for updates and pictures.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Chouf

This weekend's hiking took place among Lebanon's famous, ancient Cedars, the national symbol of the country, and an immense source of pride for Lebanese people. A group of faculty members at AUB organized the trip and we filled an entire bus with faculty from across campus, most of whom didn't know one another, and who unanimously felt we need to do more such activities.

The first leg of the hike was at the Niha Fortress, a spectacular old along the side of a cliff that overlooks the 'Aray Valley. Down in the valley is the road between the "south of Lebanon" (home of important old Phoenician cities like Sidon and Tyre) and the Beqaa Valley (the eastern part of the country that borders southern Syria). So the fortress is a strategic lookout spot and was used for just that purpose dating back to at least 975. Through the centuries, various groups used the fortress, mostly the Druze, who still are the major group living in this area of Lebanon. Crusaders from the west occupied the fortress for several years as well.

You hike around the side of the precarious clip and are rewarded with close-up views of various rooms, chambers, and water collecting devices carved into the rock. We continued past the Fortress through a very green (moreso than the north, I thought) and mountainous area of the Chouf. We passed a huge goatherd, tended by one shepherd and two very smart border collies, one in the rear and one near the front of the herd. Each time a goat would stray one of the collies would bear its teeth and maybe utter a quick growl and the goat would get back in line. Those dogs are amazing. We ended up at the Prophet Job site, where the Druze in particular believe Job (the same one recognized by Jews, Christians, and Muslims) was healed. There's a temple of sorts, also carved into the side of a cliff, including a prayer room and a nice lookout deck. Druze come from all over (at least all over where Druze live, which is mostly in Lebanon) to visit the site.

We ate lunch in a shady spot near the Prophet Job site and then hopped onto the bus for the heart of the Cedar Forest. The trees are pretty spectacular, especially one that is believed to be the oldest in the whole Chouf (over 3,000 years young!), and one whose branches spread out and provide shade for dozens of pilgrims who really do consider the area sacred. We got to enjoy the sunset in the Forest and take a shorter and shadier hike. Being in the forest reminded me of being in Flagstaff or even Mt. Lemmon in Arizona. Anna, you'll be interested in knowing that the road up to the forest in the Chouf is every bit as precarious as the road to Mt. Lemmon, only we were in a huge bus, not my little pick-up truck. Fun! Pictures coming tonight or tomorrow--as always click on the "Photos" link on the right.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

On The Cheap

Beirut can be kind of expensive. Some food items are essentially cost prohibitive; at the grocery store, for example, chicken, brand-name cereal, and Quaker Oats are too pricey to consider. One can buy lowfat milk in cardboard quarts that don't need to be refrigerated until you open them. A quart costs about LL2500, or about $1.75, not awful, but still, a lot of money for just a quart, and pricey enough that I don't eat cereal for breakfast everyday like I do back in the U.S.

So how does one eat on the cheap in Beirut? Close to AUB, sandwich and mankoushe places that cater to students are great. I can buy a lebneh sandwich for LL2500 (less than two dollars U.S.) and feel as if I'm eating very healthy: a fresh whole wheat roll with thick yogurt ("lebneh") spread on both sides, stuffed with cucumbers, tomatoes, and olives, and drizzled with olive oil and some dried spices. Very filling too. Just down the street from the University's main gate, there's a place where big falafel sandwiches are only LL2000, a little more than a dollar. Mankoushe (very thin, fresh dough, baked while you wait and topped with various items, most popularly olive oil, a squirt of lemon, and "zaatar," a dried mixture of thyme, oregano, salt, and I'm not sure what else) are even less than that and the "jibnee" (cheese) variety have big hunks of salty, fresh, melting cheese on them.

At the grocery store, meanwhile, certain things are extremely cheap, including pita bread (bags are as low as LL500, about 35 cents!), fresh parsley and cilantro, tomato paste, lemons, fresh garlic, and bulghur. So pasta with a clean-out-the-cupboard sauce (whisking together tomato paste, olive oil, garlic, and a little bit of the water the pasta was boiled in) and a handful of whatever frozen vegetables are on hand is an inexpensive meal. Likewise, tabbouleh and pita is a very cheap and healthy meal to prepare at home. I also found a place down the street from our apartment that has big huge jugs of water (I think it's between 3-4 gallons) for only LL1500 (one dollar), but it's heavy to lug home and difficult to pour into a glass.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Some Midweek Randomness

I've already taken pages and pages of observation notes at Night School and we're only a few weeks into the program. The students in level one struggle with conjugating be verbs, in large part because Arabic has no equivalent of "to be." I am happy is just "ana sayeed." My name is Professor DeGenaro is just "esmee Professor DeGenaro." In level four, meanwhile, students listened to "Ironic" by Alanis Morissette and filled in missing lyrics on a handout, a simulation of one of the listening sections of the EET (Elementary English Test) for which they are preparing. Everybody involved has been very cool about letting me observe and I think I'm going to have a lot to write about. I'm waiting on IRB approval to interview the teachers and learn more about why they are volunteering. That should add a new dimension.

Speaking of writing, my English 204 students are beginning to hand in fieldwork reports based on their interviews of American college students. This is one of those sets of papers I look forward to reading. At some point during the Winter semester, AUB wants me to give a lecture on campus about this students project, which is a bit daunting but also a cool opportunity to share the research--and give me a specific deadline for writing about the project and the findings.

For three consecutive mornings, I've had to go the medical center (luckily just a few blocks from our apartment) for various tests for the Ministry of Labor (aka, the ministry"), which hopefully will grant me a work permit and residency visa if I pass all the exams. I still just have a tourist visa, which is fine since the Fulbright Commission, not AUB, pays me. But in order to stay more than a few months, I need the residency status. A pain, but what can you do? I can't help but think of the Ministry of Magic from Harry Potter when anyone refers to "the ministry." E.G., "the ministry wants to know if you have cholera."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bchenneta, Part 2

Bonus Photos

My pictures from yesterday's hike and party in Bchenneta are available in the normal place, but here are some extra shots from the good people at Vamos Todos.











Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ain't No Party Like A Bchenneta Party...

The ecotourism group Vamos Todos has been one of the best finds of the entire trip to Lebanon so far. Today I joined the group for another hike in the north of Lebanon. This time, we enjoyed the little village of Bchenneta and some of its surrounding mountain vistas. We climbed steep, stony paths and were rewarded with views of the plains of northern Lebanon, as well as Tripoli and the southernmost tips of Syria. Being a beautiful Sunday morning, numerous villagers were out shooting at birds, an odd soundtrack to an otherwise serene walk. We passed several herds of goats.

At the end of the hike, we ended up at a place Vamos called a restaurant, though it looked more like somebody's house. Long tables were set up in an enclosed porch and our hosts had an impressive spread of kibbe, salads, yogurts and cheeses (thanks, goats), jhadra, fresh fruit, and some very thick coffee. Do I need to tell you how delicious this entire meal was? We had been told that one Marie Bechara might be in town. Marie is a very talented singer originally from the area who at some point moved to Australia with much of her family.

I ended up sitting next to Nick Elias, one of Marie's cousins who was also present (the sound of a Lebanese man with an Australian accent sounds pretty much just like you'd imagine it would), and we chatted. Turns out Nick and Marie and the family are cousins of the Becharas in Youngstown, Ohio (my hometown) and they've visited the fair Mahoning Valley various times over the years. They assured me their cousins were both successful mall developers and good Catholics. Small world. Anyway, a guy broke out the rababa (a traditional, bowed instrument) and played. Marie and Nick both ended up singing and they had amazing voices. They sang traditional Lebanese folk songs and the hikers (including me, but the Lebanese hikers in particular) really enjoyed the show. Singing along, as well as dancing (including a guy with a glass balanced on his head--yet another thing the Lebanese have in common with Italians), ensued. Really fun, and a great experience.

We made some nice stops on the way out of the region too. Stopped at Our Lady of Miziara, the big Maronite church nearby, with huge statues depicting all twelve apostles lining the path to the church. Once you get close to the church itself, equally large statues depict key events from the lives of Mary and Jesus--a neat hodgepodge of Biblical stories including the visitation and the wedding feast of Qana. Last stop: the fortress where Mustapha Barbar Agha (a renowned leader and governor of Tripoli during his era) was buried in the nineteenth century. Inside the citadel is an operating mosque, but the ruins of the fortress itself are what is most amazing. It's a huge stone structure, full of rooms, look-outs, and intricate staircases. Amazing place.

Click on 'Photos' link on right of this page to see photo album of today's hike.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The LOO

Last night Nicole and I and a friend of ours went to the Lebanese National Oriental Orchestra and it was an amazing performance. In additional to violins and cellos and other familiar (to us) instruments, orchestra members also play various traditional Arab instruments. The orchestra mostly performed numbers with upbeat tempos, great for experiencing the traditional sounds that are this orchestra's specialty. I had to browse LOO's website as well as wikipedia this morning to learn the names of some of the instruments. Examples: the qanun (like a zither or very large dulcimer), the oud (similar to a lute--the LOO's "first oud" player, who was awesome, seems to occupy a place of prestige, kind of like a "first violin" in a Western orchestra); and the ney (like a flute). Looks like they perform about once or twice a month. Nicole and I will definitely return. Seems like a good place to take anybody who comes to visit us too.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Scenes From Night School

Observing Night School (a literacy initiative run by University students) has been fun. We experienced a blackout last night in the middle of class--usually the generators kick on right away--but after a few minutes the power came back and nobody was phased. During a discussion of the word "dear," one of the teachers used the nugget, "When two vowels go out walking, the first one does the talking." I have no recollection of hearing that before, but Nicole remembers the phrase from phonics.

The teachers are really good at improvising when the (American) textbook exercises don't quite fit. One exercise asked students to match the words "name," "address," "phone number," "apartment number," and "social security number" with examples of each. The "correct" answer for address was something like
"425 Main Street," but addresses in Beirut don't have street numbers (and sometimes don't have street names). The sample phone number had seven digits, whereas numbers here have eight--and I told the teachers that the exercise is dated or at least potentially confusing for U.S. audiences too, given that you generally need to include the area code ("does each state have its own area code in America?" one of the teachers asked me, and I recalled that long before cell phones and fax machines many states did only have one or two area codes...about the time I was learning phonics).

I wonder how the word "bravo" came into common usage here. The teachers frequently use the word when a student gets an answer correct. The French words in heavy rotation ("merci" and "bon jour" are ubiquitous in Beirut) aren't surprising, but what's up with "bravo"?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Beirut's City Center

An ear infection acquired while swimming in the Mediterranean has proven a small but painful hiccup. I visited AUB's hospital, got checked out quickly and cheaply, and received painkillers and an antibiotic, both free of charge since the doctor had samples on hand. Ear infections hurt and I can see why they usually make babies scream a lot. Luckily, it's nothing serious.

I turned 37 on Friday and celebrated with an afternoon nap (which seemed like a good way to fight the infection). Insert joke here about how I'm aging and need naps. Nicole and I went out for a birthday dinner at Walimat Wardeh, a place I really like that serves really healthy, mostly traditional Lebanese foods. I had white fish served on a bed of rice with yogurt on the side, and some sauteed greens (hindbee, which is kind of like endive). Along with Aunti Selwa and La Tabkha, Wardeh's one of the restaurants in Hamra that seems to preserve traditional foods amidst the busy bustle of the neighborhood. And with all the olive oil and fresh veggies, all three offer healthy alternatives to the area's "sandwich culture." And speaking of food, Nicole got me some great books for my birthday including my favorite, "The Rural Taste of Lebanon: A Food Heritage Trail," which combines narrative, cookbook, travelogue, and reference book. I love it.

A friend of ours got sick and had to pull out of plans to spend Saturday downtown, but Nicole and I went anyway and had a nice time. The "City Center" is about a 45-minute walk but once you arrive downtown a lot of the historical sites are very close to one another. Downtown's right along the old "green line" which divided Beirut in two during the Civil War and you can still see destruction that the fifteen-year war caused. The Monument to the Lebanese Martyrs, which commemorates the fall of the Ottoman empire, ironically is pock-marked with bullet holes, and so serves as a reminder not only of the Ottoman era (when it was built) but also of the fighting during the 70s and 80s (when it was damaged by bullets). The war also unearthed some previously hidden Roman ruins and not far from Beirut's high fashion shops and boutiques are the remains of a Roman bath house, the empire's only law school (Nicole was happy to see this site), and numerous columns.

As you walk along the cobblestone-lined Roman "cardio maximus," you pass numerous cafes, that mostly serve Italian food, which I guess is appropriate. You also pass parliament, the offices of the prime minister, and the awesome clock tower (the time piece is a humongous Rolex) that's basically the center of downtown. Mostly, though, the area boasts beautiful churches and mosques, all of which are pretty welcoming. I loved both St. George cathedrals--one is Maronite and one is Greek Orthodox. Unfortunately, you can't take pictures inside, but we found postcards that do a pretty good job of capturing the gilt walls and the numerous icons that cover them. I went back this morning and attended Mass (in Arabic of course) at the Maronite cathedral. Next weekend, maybe I'll get up earlier and make it downtown in time for the Orthodox mass.

After much sightseeing yesterday, we were tired and sought sustenance at a grocery store in the downtown souks that has a salad bar with really fresh stuff, including palm, artichokes, and beets. And on the way back to Hamra, we got a free ride home. A taxi driver was honking at us, which is the normal experience when one chooses to walk around Beirut. Since that's normally the way that drivers solicit riders (instead of vice versa), we thought nothing of it, until we realized that the driver was one of Nicole's students (from her ESL class) who insisted we accept a ride home. Why not?

PHOTO UPDATES:

--Here is a link to some photos of St. George's Maronite Cathedral that somebody posted on facebook. You have to be signed into facebook to follow the link.

--Here are photos that Nicole and I took this past weekend, mostly of the City Center.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Humpday?

Is it time for a midweek post already? Wednesday hasn't arrived, but it feels like a Wednesday. So what's happening on campus? I just observed night two of the student-run literacy program and filed my notes. I was going to focus on data-gathering for now and save the rest of the work for next year, back in the U.S., but inevitably I find myself turning my notes into a story--at least in my head. So far (only two nights in...) the story is the level of organization among the University students who organize and run most all facets of instruction. The stakes are high; those in the class are studying English to prep for standardized tests they must pass to get promotions. Already I'm anxious to see what happens next.

My English 204 students, meanwhile, are skyping with their partners at UM-Dearborn, gathering data for the literacy profiles they're writing. If we keep up this project next term, Margaret has suggested trying to organize some mass Skyping sessions in computer labs, so we can circulate and get in on the fun. Probably a good idea. Maybe we can make it work, despite the time zones.

What's happening off campus? Nicole, between Arabic class and her two gigs, has resolved to cook more Lebanese food. Inspired by our recent purchase of books on Arabic cooking and the slow food movement here, today she made some good tabbouleh and some REALLY good lentil soup. Also in off campus news...dare I say it and risk the evil eye?...I think the weather's starting to break. Still hot and humid by midwest U.S. standards, but I think something like Fall is starting to fall. Finally, still looking into details, but we might get our Agatha Christie on, and spend Christmas on the Nile. Egypt's high on our visit list and we're hoping to head there for the holidays, Insha'Allah.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Work Week Begins

I have a little bit of class preparation to complete today, but mostly spending today writing and conceptualizing the academic projects I'm working on. Tonight I'm observing the first evening of the Night School (community literacy) program. Although students here don't do paid work, many are involved in significant community service or advocacy work of some type, and the Night School program is a prominent example. A completely student run English-language teaching program. The language learners in the class are employees of the University (mostly maintenance, security, and kitchen staff, most of whom speak little English) who wish to learn English in order to achieve job advancement. Employees must pass English proficiency tests in order to get promotions.

Yesterday I had hoped to get work done, too, but alas Nicole and I couldn't resist spending much of the day exploring Beirut. We wandered (okay more than wandered...more like "walked and walked and walked") to the Verdun district, which consists mostly of upscale shopping, the kind of area that I think challenges a lot of Western perceptions of "the Middle East," full of stores where I couldn't afford anything! High fashion, so definitely interesting people watching possibilities. We also saw a movie ("The Other Guys") at a pretty inexpensive little theater there. Hollywood movies screen in English with both French and Arabic subtitles (so lots of writing on the screen!), so we were happy to verify that we'll be able to see--and understand--the new Harry Potter film as soon as it's released here. Not sure if all cinemas are like this here, but this one at least assigned specific seats (you pick out seats when buying tickets, like going to a play or getting an airline ticket), which ushers enforced. Also dropped some cash at a really great bookstore on some books on Lebanon and Arabic cooking that we couldn't pass up.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Palm Island

Now that Nicole is settling into somewhat of a work routine, I think our habit of working during the week and then having some kind of adventure or excursion on the weekend has been solidified. This week was no exception. We headed to Jazeeret el Araneb, or Palm Island, which is in the Mediterranean, about a twenty-minute boatride off the coast of Tripoli, in the northern part of Lebanon. Once again we and our new AUB friends traveled with the ecotourism club Vamos Todos.

We made a brief stop in Tripoli where we got some knefe for breakfast. I've seen several different versions of knefe (a very sweet dessert or breakfast made with cheese and syrup), many of which are different from how my sister Anna makes it. This small bakery in Tripoli served slices of knefe on fresh sesame seed rolls. Because the dish doesn't have enough carbs and calories already, I guess. We tried to share a couple messy pieces among our group, cutting or tearing up the "sandwiches," and really ended up trashing a table at this bakery.

The shore in Tripoli looks like old movies about the Greek islands (think "Moonspinners" for instance). Old fishing boats where fishermen are sewing nets, getting ready for the day, in front of a backdrop of tiny islands and rock formations. Of course, you also have lots of trash in the water and along the peers; littering seems to be largely socially acceptable throughout much of Lebanon. And you also have the military's presence--here in the form of a boat full of heavily armed guys patrolling the coast--which means you have to take care not even to appear to be photographing them.

Honestly the boat ride was the highlight of the day, in part because I got to drive. Vamos Todos hired what I take to be a commercial (more or less) operation. Three fun-loving, shirtless, very tanned Lebanese guys who clearly live their lives on the sea. They also provided lunch--a couple coolers full of fish ready to bbq on the island and bags of pita bread. The youngest of the three, one of the older guy's sons, appeared to be about seventeen years old and, since I was sitting near the wheel, talked to me in Arabic for most of the thirty-minute ride to the island and about midway through the trip, for reasons that escape me, insisted I drive. So I steered this big fishing boat while he carried on a conversation with me. I'm pretty sure he was calling me "Captain." Yes, Nicole took many pictures.

As we approached the island, the young kid took over "Captain" duties, and I wasn't sure if we were just going to pull up on the sand, but the kid's dad threw an anchor into the water and we tied onto a rock connected to the island by a land bridge. Getting off the boat, for those of us less coordinated than others, involved closing eyes and leaping. Palm Island is a nature reserve although, sadly, you see lots and lots of litter. On one hand, it's this gorgeous, rocky, little Mediterranean island, and on the other, a place where trash from Lebanon washes up on the shore. So we took a stroll around the island and picked up garbage for the first thirty minutes there. Found the remains of an old Crusader church inland; apparently, Crusaders from Europe set up residence here many centuries ago and used Palm Island as an outpost.

The shore has these great benches covered with umbrellas made of palm leaves and Nicole spent part of the day reading in the shade. Mostly, though, we swam. The reserve is already shut down for the year (Vamos got special permission to go, I suspect with the condition that we pick up litter!) so we had the beach to ourselves, which was amazing. The water was slightly cooler than it was in the south of Lebanon a few weeks ago, and slightly less salty too. What's more relaxing than spending most of the day in the sea, letting the water and the sun wear you out and give you a great night's sleep?

On the ride back home, my young friend got into a fairly loud conversation with one of the young-ish Vamos tourists. Not sure what they were talking about exactly, but out of nowhere, with no warning that was understandable to me, they both took off running down the middle of the boat and, while the boat was cruising at full speed not even close to the shore of Lebanon, dove off the back of the boat. The kid's dad laughed, stood up, and assumed driving duties. We went in a circle and picked them both up. "Pretty good, eh?" one of them asked, climbing back onto the boat. Weird. Cool day, and Nicole bought some sweets in Tripoli that came in a baklawi tin that she loves.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Students & Projects & Work...Oh My

Yesterday on facebook, Colleen asked me about students in Beirut and how they differ from students in the U.S. After a few weeks of teaching, here are some initial observations. AUB has a serious-minded student body. My English 204 students, for instance, expressed very specific goals, plans and reasons for attending university. I think a lot of undergraduates at AUB are focused: "I plan to attend medical school at either Duke, Northwestern, or AUB." Or, "I plan to buy a building in Gemmayzeh and open an import/export business." You're less likely to hear "I'm not sure what I'm going to do with my psychology degree." In the U.S., some students have a broader and more open-ended goal of upward mobility through education: "I'll get a degree in business and then get a good job," etc.

I think the difference has to do with material conditions as well as cultural expectations. AUB students don't work. My sense is that only a handful of students here have paid jobs. My Beirut students are fascinated by the work lives of American college students and we discussed the other day the phenomenon of what they called "after school jobs" in the U.S. I told them that a lot of students at UM-Dearborn don't have after-school jobs, they take after-work classes. In a sense, many students here have the time to focus. College is a singular priority, thus they're hyper-serious about it. Also, Lebanese culture places a high value on doing well in order to do your family/clan/community proud. Success or failure is not just an individual thing, it's a family thing. I think U.S. college students tend to use "the individual" as the primary basis for thinking about mobility, work ethic, success, and future plans. Lebanese tend to have a more collective and/or familial mindset. Wasting an opportunity reflects poorly on one's family.

Students in Beirut often come to college from more rigid and structured educational settings too, so discussions, groupwork, and low-stakes writing (all hallmarks of my classes) can appear unstructured to them. They also expect very specific instructions, directive feedback, and explicit grading criteria. Invariably they are multilingual; Arabic and English are standard and often they have also spoken and/or studied French, particular Arabic dialects not limited to Lebanese, or other tongues. Many have lived in multiple countries during their lives and many have familial roots in several countries in the Middle East, the U.S., and sometimes beyond. I have a student who is half Arab and half Czech and grew up in Dubai and Paris. Many are very involved in student or civic organizations that do community service or advocacy work; some of these organizations have a "party" or sectarian affiliation.

A lot of these issues impact and inform the two research projects I'm working on. I have already mentioned that Margaret--a colleague back in Dearborn--and I are linking our two writing courses and students are conducting skype and email interviews with across-the-pond partners about their literate habits. They're essentially gathering data on the academic and non-academic literacies that are part of the lives of college students in the two respective cultures. As students gather this data, Margaret and I are doing a teacher-research project using the partnership as the basis for an analysis of the potential of internationalizing writing courses. The project is just getting started, but we have high hopes for a productive partnership.

The other work I'm doing is with the civic engagement and service learning office here. The office has been extremely hosptiable to me and I have had a great meeting with its director. Interestingly, service learning is a part of the culture of the professional programs here, particularly engineering. They are working (and this is where they are making use of me) to reach out to the humanities and social sciences. This is the exact opposite of UM-Dearborn's Civic Engagement Project, where humanists, anthropolgists, and sociologists comprise most of our core group. Anyway, in addition to working with their office, I'm doing some participant-observation research on several of their initiatives, including a very cool community literacy project in which student-volunteers teach English in a "Night School" setting. I went to their organizational meeting last night, met many of the students involved, and made sure they were comfortable with my presence. They teach four levels of English and each level has four co-teachers. Classes meet four nights a week for the whole year, so I'm worried about data overload, but excited about being involved.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Damascus

Like other Arabs, Syrians are intensely proud of their heritage and their important contributions. Yesterday in Damascus, we learned that the first alphabet was developed not in Lebanon but in Syria, and civilization has its real origins not in Mesopotamia and Iraq but rather in, you guessed it, Syria. One of the first things our guide told us was, "All civilized people have two homes: their birthplace and Syria."

Nicole and I took our first trip outside of Lebanon to the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, Damascus. But of course like the claims about where the alphabet and civilization originate, that statement is widely disputed. Same goes for whether John the Baptist's body really resides in the Old City of Damascus. But no matter how hotly those statements are disputed, folks in Syria love to talk about their place in history.

Driving from Beirut to Damascus is like driving from Detroit to Toledo if armed checkpoints dotted I-75 from Monroe to Tony Packo's. We had our passports and Syrian visas, but we also had to fill out Lebanese exit forms and Syrian entry forms. Border guards make notes on your entry and exit forms of all previous travel documented in one's passport. The road to Damascus was bright and I couldn't help but wonder if St. Paul was blinded not by God, but rather by the sun.

We started our tour at the National Museum, a great source of pride for the Syrian people, as I noted above. The Museum holds treasures from all over the region and from the ancient (Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, etc.), Christian, Islamic, and modern eras. The Ministry of Culture in Syria maintains good relationships with historic preservation communities in the region even during political tumult. We saw what the Syrians claim is the oldest cuneiform, written on a finger-sized rock and magnified for museum visitors. We liked the garden outside the museum the best, maybe because the weather was breezy and because Damascus has more green space than Beirut. The gardens are full of mainly Roman artifacts and we took many pictures.

Our guide took us to the old train station, dating back to 1917, and built toward the end of the Ottoman reign mainly to take Syrian pilgrims to Mecca. Though many of the routes have been destroyed, you can still travel cheaply by train from Damascus to cities like Tehran. The station was beautiful. Like many of the historic sites in the region, it sits in the midst of daily life without much fanfare. As I've said, the fanfare comes not from plaques but rather when you hear people talk. We met a French woman (I think part Arabic and part French) whose grandfather was the architect who designed the station. Again, the pride and the sense of history.

Down the street from the station is a government building where virtually all bureaucracy happens. While passing the building, I was surprised to learn that Syria has civil marriages, unlike some countries in the region. As you approach the Old City walls, one of the first things you encounter is the statue of Saladin, the Arab military leader who fought the Crusaders. With pride, our guide told stories of Saladin's mercy. Reportedly, he provided emergency medical care to enemy soldiers and befriended enemy leaders like Richard the Lion-Hearted during the Crusades.

I wish we had been provided even more time to wander in the souqs (the outdoor markets) that literally fill the Old City. I would have been happy to have spent the entire day getting lost in the rows of spices, nuts, sweets, fabrics, jewelry, and housewares. Our guide may have had a little kick-back deal going with vendor-friends of his, because he seemed to point us toward the most expensive shops and talk up the quality therein. I should say that sweets in Damascus are not quite the same as Lebanese baklawa--more whole nuts and honey, less rosewater and other "extra" flavors. We had some simple ones that reminded me of the chickpeas with honey my family eats on Christmas Eve. Very, very nice.

The Umayyad Mosque is one of those places, apologies for the cliche, that words can't describe. The site has hosted worshipers for many, many centuries, and the entrance is a former Temple of Jupiter, with the arches and columns still standing. As you enter into the Jupiter courtyard, you find the "Putting on Special Clothes Room." I wore long pants and long sleeves, both mandatory for men. Nicole wore the same, along with a hijab, and thought she was prepared, but she was given a long skirt to cover her slacks. Many visitors, especially women, are given long, hooded robes that cover arms, legs, and head. And of course, everyone must remove shoes.

The Mosque is like a little village, with numerous nooks and crannies. Inside the walls of the mosque are schools, meeting rooms, special shrines to Islamic figures including Ali, Hussein (including an indentation in the stone where the Umayyads kept his head), and John the Baptist, whose tomb and head are both present (there's one of those disputed claims). The prayer rooms have beautiful, pristene maroon carpet with blossoms and pillars that point toward Mecca, as well as a huge digital clock that lists the day's prayer times. The main courtyard of the Mosque is the place to gaze at the minarets, including the Minaret of Jesus, which locals believe is the site where Jesus will return on Judgment Day. The ground is covered with white limestone and most people in the courtyard have already removed shoes before they get near the prayer rooms. A domed structure houses the money collected for alms for the poor, one of Islam's pillars. And the walls of the yard are covered with calligraphy, gold with mosaics of paradise. The paradise images, including trees and green forests on top of the gold backdrop, represent Mohamed's words upon seeing Damascus, something like "I thought I'd only enter paradise once, after my death."

We did some further sight-seeing in the Old City, including Azem Palace, where the Pashas once lived, and did more wandering, usually my favorite thing. We saw the Christian Quarter, including Straight Street, where St. Paul had his revelation, and his wall, where early (the first, according to Syrians!) Christians lowered him from a window so he could flee the city after his conversion. Our guide recommended a restaurant which turned out to serve Italian food. Um, Italian food in Syria? Really? Luckily, they also had shish tawook, which was some of the most tender chicken I've ever eaten. And the Arabic art inside the restaurant has inspired Nicole to re-do our bathroom in a similar style once we get back home.

To see pictures of our visit, follow the "Photos" link on the rightside of the blog, or just click here to go directly to the Syria album. Nicole will post her thoughts, too, and no doubt talk about some not-so-nice European tourists we met.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More Quick Hits

Much of this work week has revolved around prepping my English 204 students for their research exchange with U of M Dearborn students. My colleague Margaret's students at UMD are partnering with my students at AUB to interview one another on Skype about what academic literacy and non-academic literacies look like in their lives. How much and what types of writing are required in your classes? What kinds of expectations do your professors have of your writing? What kinds of reading and writing do you do in your life outside of the University? Etc. Our classes are going to create databases of literacy narratives of students at the two respective Univesities. Margaret and I are using the narratives as data for our own research too, so essentially the students and the two of us are all collaborating on the project. Fun stuff, but much logistical work is involved.

My mom and dad got tickets to come visit Lebanon during late January and early February. Another reason to pray for continued relative stability in the region. As Nicole and I continue to explore, we'll be on the lookout for stuff my folks are likely to enjoy (any religious sites) or not enjoy (the beach). Speaking of exploration, this weekend's travel plans: Damscus, Syria. Damascus was high on my list of places I wanted to visit, so I'm excited about exploring what many believe is the oldest continually inhabited city in the whole world. Syria and Lebanon are such different countries in so many ways, but in terms of distance, going from Beirut to Damascus is like going from Detroit to Toledo. Like last weekend's destinations (Tyre and Qana), Damascus figures heavily in both ancient history and the Bible (St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus). Really anticipating seeing the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus' "Old City." Not only an enormous (numerous prayer rooms, relics, shrines, and even schools and cafes are part of the Mosque) and reportedly breathtaking place, it's also one of the most sacred Mosques in the world. And the head of John the Baptist is there too.

Have I mentioned how much people seem to love ice cream here? Most places serve both gelato and bouza (Arabic ice cream). I pass by an ice cream shop on my walk home each day and I'm always interested in the odd demographics. You know how in the U.S. you see mostly families, parents with children, and maybe groups of teens at ice cream shops? In Beirut, you'll see groups of businessmen enjoying a midday gelato. Kind of odd. Also odd: the old guy who seems to live in the building next to ours who wears a 50 Cent (as in the rapper, not the unit of currency) t-shirt pretty much everyday. Is he a fan?

Lastly, before returning to class preparation, let me say something about water. I feel like I have a curious relationship to water. I usually choose to work in my office at the University even on non-teaching days, mainly because I get more work done here but at least in part because the English Department has water service--a great perk! Though we drank no tapwater, water (which you inevitably end up consuming via the food you eat) is most likely what made Nicole and I sick when we first arrived. Makes you realize how precious safe drinking water is, especially when it's very hot. Bottled water (relatively cheap, luckily) is our most regular, and probably most important, week-to-week purchase. I rinse my mouth with bottled water after brushing my teeth. I rinse fresh fruit we buy--after soaking it in water with an effervescent precept tablets--with bottled water. Our kitchen sink water doesn't run hot, so we boil water on the stove to wash dishes. The shower has a mini, electric water heater. So when you are getting ready to take a shower, you plug in the hot water heater and flip it on. Not complaining per se, just listing some of the ways that life revolves around water and the processes one goes through to utilize water safely and effectively.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Some Quick Hits

Pretty typical workday here. Woke up, walked to campus, spent the morning in my office doing some reading and writing connected to the cross-cultural literacy research. For lunch, walked to Kadche on Bliss Street and had two falafel sandwiches (total cost: 4,000 ll, or about $2.50 U.S.). Now, reading a stack of student papers and prepping for class tomorrow. Later, will work out and then meet the director of writing program at Cafe Younis.

Those of you following this blog will recall that last weekend Nicole and I attended the Saturday Vigil Mass at the Franciscan-Capuchin church in Hamra with about fifteen parishioners. We hit the English-language Sunday Mass yesterday and it was standing room only. Must have been two-hundred people and perhaps 95 percent were Filipino women. Very nice community, and the Mass experience there is interesting on many levels. Much of the music, for example, is recorded Filipino music with lyrics that are projected onto a big white sheet from a scratchy overhead machine.

Speaking of the immigrant population here, I've noticed travel agents advertising one-way plane tickets "for your domestic helpers" from Kathmandu, Addis Ababa, and other cities in South Asia, Africa and Pacific islands. Even modestly priveleged families (more or less, the equivalent of the [shrinking] group we call "middle class" in the States) often employ such laborers.

Shout out to everybody back home who enjoyed "Apple Butter" fest at Chez DeGenaro on Saturday. I saw lots of nice pictures, as well as a video of Mazin piloting a too-fast hayride. Looks like fun. Already looking forward to being at next fall's fest, Insha'Allah. Now, back to work.