Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Lovely Weekend Opens to a Sobering Monday

Hereafter, I'll be posting photos at www.photobucket.com in a link at the beginning of each post. I apologize that I am not able to upload images at this time, due to transmission rate problems, but I hope to have that repaired tonight.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Beirut for only 5 days, as so much has occurred in so short a time. On Saturday, Nina & I enjoyed a very productive meeting with the Minister of Energy, which made our fruitless efforts of Friday more palatable. Mr. Ali Berro spent an hour with us pin-pointing high risk areas within the nation and sharing his thoughts on how to find more specific information that will help us develop a good draft contingency plan.

Afterwards, Zena & Wael took me with them to Wael's parents for
lunch. Innocent enough, I thought, lunch on Saturday afternoon. HA!
This was an event, I tell you. I\d been warned in the travel guides
about meals in Lebanon, and how the courses keep coming and coming and
coming....and there were about 20 people over. I tried raw meat, a
mixture of ground lamb and spices that was exquisite. You spread it
on pita and layer olive oil on top. I also had Hasiri, a delicious
lamb soup with cinnamon sticks, and a Lebanese Paella with this
amazing cayenne and squash sauce. And thyme salad - like nothing I've
ever tasted - and of course hummous and baba ghanouj. OK, then comes
dessert. Not just one, but tray after tray after tray. Keydfe (?) is a
farina cake with a mozzarella-like bottom layer, that you pour honey
syrup over; betlawa (lebanese baklava), which is SO RICH - unlike and
far better than any Greek baklava I'd had at home; these interesting
rolled pastries made with pistachio filling and what looked like
barbecued shredded wheat on the outside (these were a meal in
themselves); banana cake and a home-made currant cheesecake (I didn't
try either of these) and a grape & apple plate. My god.......All of
this was followed up with the requisite demi-tasse of Turkish

The best part of the meal was by far the dialogue. I didn't
understand a word of it, but Zena kept me posted every once in a while
on the topics, some of which I gathered based on gestures. The
Lebanese gesture wildly, yell across the room at each other, and laugh
constantly. It was like watching a pistol fight of words. One man
told of how hot his wife looked after he spent a year in Libya during
the civil war, bc the Libyan woman were such dogs. Topics frequently
re turned to the war, and how tired Lebanese society is after spending
48 of the past 60 years at war or occupied...Then of course, it came
around to the (apparently regular) debate between the parents and Zena
& Wael about why they have no kids. Z & W want to adopt, and the
parents are mortified. Finally, Wael's father conceded
they could adopt, as long as they had just one of their own, since all
of the good genes are used up by the first child!

But then came Monday…today, our travels finally took us to places I’d rather not have gone. Nothing can prepare you for the sight of oiled rocks, sheen & mousse on the water, tar balls coughed up on the beach, fishing boats coated with oil staged along the shore.

Today, Wael & I were joined by 2 journalists, a Canadian and a Lebanese-American, who are working on an article for SEED magazine. They joined us as we visited the Jieh Power Plant itself, the tank farm largely rubble, molten detritus from the fire, and the ground charred by burnt fuel oil and metal residue from the power plant pipe-works. A train that was staged adjacent to the plant during the bombardment is barely recognizable as its former self. After a few moments, that acrid air settled into my lungs, and my stomach began to lurch. And it’s been 4 months…

We continued north along the beaches toward Beirut, and every area we assessed after clean-up operations had been re-contaminated either by offshore sheen, oil stirred from below the sand surface, or hidden between the rock crevices – it was hard to determine for certain. The only truth to our eye-witness testimony was that the oil was still there, and nowhere more clearly than at a local fishing port in Beirut, where the clean-up was finished several weeks ago, but already mousse and sheen had overtaken the tiny confined bay. A volunteer diver, Mohamed Sarji, joined us at one point to give us his perspective of the whole clean-up operation and his frustration…something we heard over and over from the Lebanese…their unending frustration with their government. With the remote but real potential for another civil war, the crumbling government, the urgency of those whose homes were destroyed during the July war, it is easy to understand how the Lebanese are immune to the impact of the oil spill. As Wael so poignantly put it, he spent the first 16 years of his life in a war-torn nation. Too many people feel their childhood was lost and that everything is too fleeting, so why concern oneself with the environment, long-term health issues, and the fate of a planet that may not be here next year? It is likely the sense of hopelessness that explained the herd of sheep we witnessed traveling through the waste storage area, their shepherds oblivious to the tarry clumps in their path…and to the indifference of fisherman who continue to collect the bounties of the sea, tainted though it may be…and to the odd play upon the eye of the dazzling turquoise of the Mediterranean lapping against the filthy rock shores that once were the pride of Beirut.

The day wore on, and we ended our evening with 2 Swedish journalists who were surprised at how little has been accomplished since the spill occurred on July 13-15. Wael has been frustrated with the overall lack of coverage, especially by his own local reporters, but it seems the word may be getting out, and most likely due to his incessant voice, always calling people’s attention to the situation.

Tomorrow, we move on from Beirut north to Tripoli and the palm Islands Nature Reserve, where the clean-up operations are still in progress. It is agonizing that these are the circumstances by which I’ll visit these ancient and beautiful lands…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello wanderer, thanks so much for including me in the journey, I would like to offer the website to the sixth graders here at Ptarmigan elementary? if you dont mind. I look forward to your journey and send love and light to all in your path.

Robin McAllistar, Anchorage