Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Departure Nears....

The drive north from Homer to Anchorage is crystal clear, with a sky full of stars and the Big Dipper kissing the Kenai Mountains on the north horizon...a perfect night. I realize that I'll see very little of the night sky once I arrive in Lebanon, as the coast is heavily populated and light pollution surely bleaches the evening canvas. I'm still eager to search for familiar clusters at that latitude. I depart Anchorage at 1 A.M. on Halloween and arrive, via Boston & London, in Beirut at a bleary-eyed 3:45 A.M. Wael, the kind man I've met at Green Line, the Lebanese NGO, has generously offered to share his & his wife's home during my stay; I am thrilled to stay in a home, rather than another anonymous pension or hotel.

I don't know when exactly that I decided to go to Lebanon. As an Alaskan, the news in July of tons of oil on the Mediterranean Sea (ug - again!) was deeply disturbing. What bothered me more, however, were the stories of the continued bombing in the area that made it impossible to get oil spill workers to the area safely. Luckily, I never saw the horrors of the Exxon Valdez 1st-hand, though most of my friends & former co-workers have. Still, it's a piece of Alaskan history that has affected us all, and regardless of religion or politics, most Alaskans cringe at this kind of devastation happening anywhere. It seemed right that I should try to go, given my job's imminent end on September 25th. A few Internet searches yielded my contact at Green Line. Even more fortuitously, a local Professor from the University of Alaska - Fairbanks was one of the first U.S. citizens to enter Lebanon after cease-fire.

Rick Steiner has been a presence at (too many) ocean oil spills, including the Exxon Valdez. He spent a week in August collecting data for an initial assessment for the Lebanese Ministry of the Environment. I sent him an e-mail, expecting no response, and a month later, I decided to leave a voice mail (thanks to the University Employee Directory). He returned my call immediately, and invited me to his office to discuss his observations and how he thought my skills might be best out to use. After chatting a bit off topic - and in a manner suggesting that six degrees of separation is off by a factor of 4 - we learned that we were next-door neighbors briefly in the late 90s, when he sublet my good friend's cabin in Bear Valley. He nearly had to walk across my deck to access get to his front door! I will never cease to revel in the complex paradigm of Alaska’s vastness coupled with its small town closeness.

Rick was quite familiar with my contacts at Green Line, and felt confident that these were the right people to work with. That eased the minor nagging at the back of my brain that questioned wandering off unaffiliated to a part of the world that most US citizens fear. I have no idea exactly what I'll do when I arrive, as I'll leave that largely to Wael & Jana of Green Line. The Mediterranean is not the arctic, so they'll be the best able to decide how my skills can be of use. In the mean time, I am happy that Ramadan comes to a close, so I can enjoy the wonderful horn of Lebanese plenty!

No comments: