It's great to have out-of-town quests and give them a glimpse of our life in Lebanon--the neighborhood, the food, the friends, the weather, the quirks and challenges of daily life in the Middle East. My sister Anna and my mom and dad arrived late Thursday evening, a night that both the Prime Minister and the Hezbollah leader were to give public addresses about the current crisis in Lebanon's shaky government. A peaceful evening, hamdilah, and a peaceful weekend too. We met them at the airport and, aside from one missing bag, the flights passed without a hitch.
Friday, Nicole went to work and when I awoke I quickly realized what pros these three are. No jetlag, little residual "blah" from the long flights, and loads of good cheer. They've got Nicole and I beat in the fly-across-the-world department. So we dove into Beirut, taking a walk around Hamra and AUB, strolling through campus (down the LONG flight of stairs to the lower campus, the corniche, and the sea). After people-watching and Mediterranean-watching, we hopped on one of the buses along the Corniche and made our way to the Adlieh/Museum area, where Nicole's office is. After saying hi, we walked up the street to the National Museum to see the Phoenician, Roman, Greek, Muslim, and Ottoman artifacts there. Note to visitors to Beirut: this is a nice activity for day one, because you get a quick orientation to the history of Lebanon. The diversity of art and architecture displays graphically the fact that the nation's history is a history of colonialism. Plus, the stuff is priceless and really wonderful.
Back on the city bus. To their credit, everyone liked the bus, which is a good thing, since it only costs 500LL (about 30 cents in American currency). But it's definitely not a quick or luxurious way to travel. On the plus side, you avoid feeling too touristy. We got back to Hamra and, once Nicole got home from work, enjoyed dinner at La Tabhka, right around the corner from us. A bit pricey, but La Tabhka has great cold mezze, a buffet of vegetarian, light dishes, all served cold: Potato kibbe, hindbeh, eggplant, breads with kishk, etc.
Saturday we hit the City Center and once again walked. My parents can really put on their walking shoes when they want to. The full-sized city buses don't go downtown, so we had to take the "mini bus," rickety vans that drive around with their sliding doors open. Again, the price is right. Downtown, we took in the mosques and churches, the roman ruins, the green line that separated east and west during the civil war here, and the big Rolex clock tower in the central square. Nicole had to duck away for a presentation at the office, and Nicole and I were scheduled to go to our tutoring program for the Palestinian schoolkids, so we got my parents back to the apartment, and Anna decided she'd join us for tutoring (in case Nicole's presentation went long and also to check out the program). Turns out Nicole made it in plenty of time, but Anna had a good experience anyway. I worked with my group and Anna and Nicole partnered with Nicole's group. I told the four in my group that my sister was visiting and at the end of the session, one said "Show her to us," I guess a signal they wanted to meet her, so we made introductions and had a good chat. Several of the girls congratulated Anna for wearing a hijab--they really liked her. I had cooked a big pot of biryani rice (tossed in all kinds of nuts, dried fruits, some chunks of chicken, and various spices) in the morning, so a couple man'oushe jibnee (cheese pies from the bakery on our block) were all we needed that night.
Sunday, our friend Karine, with whom Nicole works at the NGO, met us in Hamra and we caught the bus to the south, intent on visiting Saida, the old Phoenician city along the sea, made famous in the Bible, as the place where the Hebrew Kings traded for cedar wood to build the original temple in Jerusalem, and also a site where Jesus and early apostles preached. We had a great day there, a highlight of the trip so far. Another of Nicole's office pals, Nancy, met us in Saida, as her village is just outside of the city, and we all spent the day walking around and enjoying the sea. We ate fish at a place along the sea where you go into the market, pick your pick, and they cook it and bring it to you under a tent outside. Enjoyed a lot of the historical ruins, including the "sea castle," an old crusader fortress from the 1200s, and an important one, too, given how close Jerusalem is. There's also a great old khan where traders used to their horses and then rest in little cells in the stone structure. The city has turned the khan into a cultural center with historical displays. Highlight of Saida for the family was probably the souks, the endless rows of labyrenthine markets, mostly outdoor, where vendors sell produce, fabric, soaps, handmade items, meat, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Huge thanks to Nancy and Karine, whose language skills got everybody some good deals. And of course Nancy, as somebody who grew up in Saida, knew all the best nooks and crannies to visit.
Finally, we were able to exhaust my folks! Not that we had that as a goal or anything, but the walking finally wore them out a little bit. We said farewell to Nancy and took one of the evening's last buses back to Beirut. I whipped up a quick kibbe al rahab with lots of mint and onions and everybody hit the sack. Happily, today's the official "day of rest" at casa DeGenaro. Well, Nicole and I are both at work, but the family's resting today, hanging around the apartment, maybe taking a short Hamra walk but that's about it. Good times so far. More to come, insha'Allah.