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Monday, May 23, 2011

Wazzani, Ghajar, The Border

Hiking yesterday in the south reminded me that 'Vamos Todos' is one of the things I'll miss about Lebanon. The group has allowed me to see so much of the country, mostly places I would not have been able to access otherwise. Yesterday was no exception. After an early morning stop for manoushe--standard Vamos practice--we made our way to the southern border. The three or four non-Lebanese folks on the bus had to get out at the military checkpoint near Bint Jbeil to show our papers, including written permission from the Lebanese Army (the latter handled by Vamos) to approach the border. We stopped in a village called Kfarkila, full of pictures of fallen "resistance" fighters, and I managed to snap some photos of the fence that separates Lebanon from Israel, which is rarely called Israel by anyone here. It's "occupied Palestine," "Israeli settlements," or just plain "Palestine."

We headed east and the bus dropped us off next to the Golan Heights. We started our hike through the mountain farms high above Shebaa and Ghajar, parts of the Heights that are more or less part of Lebanon now, though the borders and identities of those living there (Ghajar is mostly Syrian Alawites, and half the village is considered part of Israel) are grey areas. It was a hot and sunny day but rocky, pretty views made up for any weather-related discomfort. We passed by loads of tomato and zucchini plants (no garden for me this year, I thought), and also tent-homes of farmers. Ended up walking 10K, which felt great. I think I was the only non-Arabic speaking person, but some generous pals translated much of Vamos leader Mark had to say about the area.

Ultimately we ended up at what appeared to be a resort-in-progress along the Wazzani. Beautiful place, low in a valley, ducks and geese swimming in the water, but I'm not sure it's a great location for a resort. Having walked our way to strong appetites, we ate the standard Lebanese feast there, and then headed to the site of the Khiam Prison, a notorious place where prisoners-of-war were held during much of the Civil War. A guide who was a former POW there showed up around what's left of the complex, which was nearly leveled during the 2006 war. Enough structures still stand that you can see the tiny spaces where people were held. You can also see several spots where they were tortured, including a metal box used for solitary confinement and noise torture, consisting of someone banging on the outside with a rock while you're inside. Disturbing stuff.

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