(My Middle East)

77 days with a journalist, Lebanon, and a list of non sequiturs

Archive for May 2009

Whats on a Ray’s hot dog?

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Franks Hot Dog

So on my way home from work today I stopped off at a road side stand called Rays Hot Dogs, theres a few of them all over Beirut. I figured it would be worth a shot. I ordered the “Special Hot Dog.” Heres the steps that go into preparing Ray’s special dog.

1) A choice of pork or beef (religious compromise at its best)

2) Pop open a jar, yes jar, of hot dogs. I guess these are pickled? and only need to be warmed. The hot dog is then placed on those hot rollers, the kind you see at 7-11

3) Remove bun from bun warmer

4) Spoon on a layer of yellow corn into the bun

5) Sprinkle corn with small potato chip slivers

6) Add small pickle slivers

7) Dress pickles, chips and corn with mustard and ketchup

8 ) Remove hot dog from rollers and place on bed of pickles chips corn mustard and ketchup

9) Dress hot dog (again) with mayonnaise mustard and ketchup

The end result is pretty delicious, and impressive.I wouldn’t have believed you could have cramed that much into one bun.

Needless to say this may be one of those Beirut treats that I only have once. (Like the Tawouk which included mayonnaise French fries chicken and ketchup in a wrap)

Anyways I took the long way home from work today and walked by the Gran Serail, the roman bath house, the shot up (literally) 50 or so floor vacant Holiday Inn. The abandoned Synagogue (complete with star of david), Saad Hariri’s house, more roman ruins, The Ministry of Information and Hamra Street. It takes about 10 minutes longer but is much more scenic and has a lot fewer cars.

Also, I have a story showing up in the paper tomorrow about Sawt Ashabab (Youth Voice) a new organization ran by students targeted at young people that will be distributed in the 2 big daily newspapers, An-Nahar and Al-Akhbar, before the elections. It was a fun story to do and might get decent play in tomorrows paper.

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May 31, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Victory for March 14? Be just as concerned

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There is a good Q&A with Michael Young from The Daily Star yesterday, who points out that even though everyone is talking about the regional impact of a decisive March 8 victory, he says a decisive victory for March 14 could be equally as destabilizing

The Future Party

The Future Party

“If there is a substantial victory by the March 14 forces, in alliance with so-called independent candidates, you’ll also have a period of instability. The “independents” are primarily Christians who have said they are neither with March 14 nor with the opposition.

A large victory by either side would be destabilizing. The least destabilizing option would be essentially a stalemate, which would mean a modest victory by a coalition of March 14 with the independents, in which any future government would be probably headed by Saad Hariri or by one of his political allies. But at the same time, given that this victory would have been modest, you would have to give the opposition some kind of role in the government–it would be a national unity government of some sort.”

It makes sense because Hezbollah would be put in a weaker position, having less political power and having to rely on their military power to protect their interests. A March 14 strong victory would also put the government in a position to try and force Hezbollah to give up their arms (if they were so inclined), which would invariably lead to conflict.

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May 30, 2009 at 11:35 am

Business Section, Page 4

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I got my first byline today which ran on page 4 of the business section of The Daily Star. It isn’t anything much, but I guess you have to start somewhere.

Apparently they have a story for me to work on over the weekend so hopefully I will see that today. I feel like I need to go seek stories out right now and try and get them published, but I guess I should give it time and get a better feel of the city.

Speaking of stories, friend Brian Pellot who helped me out so much when I got here has a good story on women in the Lebanese elections thats worth checking out.

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May 29, 2009 at 8:56 am

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The Lebanese Army

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There have been a few interesting things that have popped up on my radar about the Lebanese Army recently, one as new book from Oren Barak at the University of Jerusalem and another a post on Harvard’s Middle East Strategy Blog by David Schenker

The book apparently puts forward that the army is unsuually disciplined for a country thats been in such turmoil and “The book suggests that the Lebanese Army has played a significant role in Lebanon’s survival.”

The post by Schenker on the other hand suggests, that the Lebanese army could be  in cahoots with Hezbollah, or may destabilize if March 8 wins.
Its interesting that two such opposed theories are circulating at the same time, but not all that unusual. I do find the army a very compelling subject, and from my experiences in Beirut they seem very disciplined.

Schneker’s claims of the army being in cahoots with Lebanon seem the most dubious though, with his best evidence being the Army disappearing from the streets of Beirut during the 2008  Hezbollah uprising. That seems more common sense to avoid more blood letting that working in tandem.

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May 27, 2009 at 7:54 pm

Got my first story

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Lets go!*

I went into work today and first thing got an assignment to cover a lecture at AUB. The lecture was at 4 and it was already 2:30 so I had to quickly finish my job of pulling together the wire stories for the specialty page (which was on women).

Right as I was about to leave, the power went out (which, I should note, is not that unusual a thing in Lebanon, the power grid is apparently very old and overworked so the power goes out almost everyday, sometimes for as much as 3 hours). But for a newspaper, to have the power go out regularly has to be impossible. I’m sure they must have a generator , but one didn’t come on today and the news staff started off talking about which pages they would cut.

Power in Beirut is something to look into and I’m sure would be a fascinating enterprise piece. From the structural inadequacies of the system to the corruption that leeches off of it (as it does in about everything in government in Lebanon, or so I’m told), it would make for something big story wise.

Anyways I caught a service to AUB (blog post forthcoming on taxis in Beirut) and covered the business lecture.  Nothing wild, but pretty good getting a by-line on the second day of the job.

I finished up the evening hanging out in the blb cafe, drinking an almaza and writing my story, and the watching the Champions league match.

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May 27, 2009 at 7:16 pm

1st day at the The Daily Star

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Today was my first day at work and as expected and despite apprehension, it was decidedly anti-climactic. I was fortunately surprised to find a kind taxi driver (or ‘servíce‘ because we picked up other passengers) who didn’t try and hustle me for money, and I got to The Daily Star on time.

Offices at The Daily Star (not my picture)

Offices at The Daily Star (not my picture)

The Daily Star itself was almost exactly what I had expected. The offices are slightly dark and run down and maybe a little cramped, but the news room had a great atmosphere and was full of activity. In particular there was Osama, an older man who spoke English French and Arabic who has an interesting sense of humor and looked to be in charge of the news room or something close to that.

After getting a brief tour, I was introduced to Mirella Hodeib who I will be working for for the time being. Mirella is in charge of the themed page, page 6, which runs AP briefs on a different topic each day. Tomorrow’s is science and technology, so I scavenged an aggregator called manslink, which pulled together the latest news wire stories based on search word. After 3 hours I pulled together 5-6 stories for tomorrows page, which included: the largest ever international space station, a 4 million year old sloth found and something about genetics hair-loss and mice. Not exactly thrilling, but its work, and I get the feeling that things will get more exciting as I go on. And hey it’s just the first day. Mirella told me tomorrow I might get a story for the business section which could be good.

I wrote this from a cafe called Spoon right across from The Daily Star. Spoon serves American and Italian cuisine like most of the cafes in Gemayze. Theres much more French spoken over here as well. So today I eat a turkey sandwich and a basket of fries (hows that for middle eastern food?). I’m still trying to figure out the food, but I’ve found in general its difficult to eat really cheap, 12.50 for a turkey sandwich, fries and a coke is pretty much the same as american prices. I’m going to have to start trying more restaurants in Hamra to compare, and find something economical.

Written by stephenddockery

May 26, 2009 at 5:25 pm

So much to ignore

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It’s easy to get distracted by whats flashy in Beirut, the fast expensive cars, the attractive women, the French and English speaking ‘cosmopolitans’. More than that, its easy to surround yourself in it, in whats familiar and appealing. I found myself doing it on the first days I was here. I would associate with friends in the city and friends of friends, who were mostly English speaking and affluent, I rarely used Arabic.

With so many different types of people crammed into such a small space, I figured it would be impossible to isolate yourself to whats going on next to you. But it seems as if, thats part of ‘the problem*’, how easy it is to tune out the different ethnicities, languages, and social classes. In Nicholas Blandford’s book Killing Mr Lebanon (which I highly recommend for trying to understand the current political situation in Lebanon) he quotes a Lebanese official on how it was Rafik Hariri’s death and accompanying political rally that brought people to the streets out of all areas of Beirut ,even the French speaking Achrafieh. If it takes the death of one of, if not the largest players in Lebanon to get people to cross the street, think of the social misunderstanding and miscommunication that can occur on a regular basis. I feel if I write more I will make some absurd platitude with no basis, so I will stop there for now.

On the subject of conflict, on a walking tour with an AUB medical school student Ranni, I spoke with him about the nature of the divided city and what the fault lines are in the city. He seems to think it is now as much a social class disparity rather just specifically a religious one, which seems to mesh with what I’m reading.How that plays with the March 14 Sunni, Druze, Christian Alliance and the March 8th Shiite Christian alliance I’m still figuring out.

Until next time

*and by the problem, I don’t mean I’m here as an emissary of righteousnesses, looking to diagnose and heal this state in my two months here. This is just the musings of a journalist trying to understand … and looking for a job.

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May 24, 2009 at 7:32 pm

In Beirut, 36 hours later (Part 2)

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I’ll keep this brief since we are starting a new day right now (drinking fresh OJ and eating a nutella bagel at the Euro Cafe on Bliss street)
To finish up yesterdays events: On our way back from visiting Deen Sharp Brian and I stopped off at the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque.

Mohammad al-Amin Mosque built by former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, he is burried next to it

The mosque is HUGE, so massive that the mosques construction supposedly created sectarian tension because it dwarfed the other nearby religious buildings.

The interior was stunning, it has 3 massive crystal chandeliers, one which is the most massive I’ve ever seen, It would have filled a large sized living room.

We then stopped by the Rafik Hariri burial site right next door. Where the former prime minister was buried in 2005 after his assassination outside the St George Hotel.

It was quite the scene , there were around 200 people in the tented memorial,

ranging from covered women wearing the future party scarf ( Rafik’s son Saad’s party) to westerners like ourselves. It was as much a social atmosphere as one of memorial, people posed for pictures next to his tomb and chatted with their friends who also came to visit.

The tent itself had dozens of photos of Hariri, his face looked over every part of the tent. Gazing over Hariri’s flower covered tomb was a stack of around 12 flower wreaths each containing the same picture of Hariri’s face. Behind Hariri’s tomb were the burial site of members of Hariri’s entourage who were killed with with him in the bombing, all with a photo of Hariri super imposed on

a photo of the deceased.

Arab funerals and ways of memorial are things I’m still trying to figure out, and thats no different if Lebanon. In fact, it may be even more complex. Martyred political and religious leaders live on throughout the city in posters and billboards and give life to the next iteration of their movement (see Saad Hariri)

On Beirut

I definitely don’t want this blog to be a day to day r

ecounting of things in my life, hopefully I will be able to share some insights into whats going on in Lebanon. For now though while I’m still figuring things out, I don’t think I can say too much without feeling like I’m talking about something I don’t have a grasp of.

But, a few things that I have noticed in the 24 hours

I’ve been in the city.

The city is incredibly diverse, you are very likely to hear arabic french or english being spoken on the street, and the mix of religio

ns is really striking (Fridays and Sunday’s are the weekend and you work a half day on Saturday, which I thought was a nice religious compromise).

The city is also very divided, there are apparently some people in East Beirut who never go to West Beirut and vise versa. This is something I’ll be exploring much more in the future.

The history of the city is incredible, there are old mosque

s and churches, roman baths and bullet hole marked buildings everywhere giving the city an

incredible energy.

On the note of bullet hole marked buildings, there are quite a

number of police and soldiers all over the city, which are mostly all touting well oiled machine guns that look something like an M16. It’s interesting to compare the military presence here to how it was in Cairo. In Cairo the police were mostly there to

fill jobs, maybe direct traffic and on the off chance stop a protest (although that is not to say Egypt didn’t

have a very strong security apparatus that violently suppressed dissen

t), but you weren’t sure if their guns even worked let alone if they were loade

d. But here, you are sure, or at least it feels like it. The police have much more of a ‘we mean business attitude’

Mohammad al-Amin Mosque built by former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, he is burried next to it

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May 23, 2009 at 9:54 am

In Beirut, 36 hours later

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I finally arrived in Beirut this morning after what I thought would be a grueling 36hrs of traveling, that ended up being actually not that bad. The 12 hour leg from Dulles in D.C. to Doha, Qatar went by relatively quickly I got to watch 3 movies which rated out of 5 were Frost Nixon (2.5), Transporter 3 (2) and The Express (3.75).

When I got to Doha at 630 p.m. I prepared to hunker down for a 13 hour layover
, but was pleasantly surprised to find a hotel was booked for me free of charge with dinner included.

A bus took me to downtown Doha (looks kinda cool but very boring) and to the Movenpick Hotel.

The Beautiful Movenpick hotel

The Beautiful Movenpick hotel

The Hotel was incredible, especially for a free one. There were 2 beds, with down comforters, a kitchen with granite counter tops, spot lit lighting a glass desk and a large marble bathroom (which included a speaker feeding from the TV, so you didn’t miss a word).

For my free dinner it was a very extravagant hotel buffet , I sampled all the exotic salads (including white bean and turkish salad) and dined on the braised lamb leg, the chicken kabob and the seared cauliflower, and then I sampled a selection of 8 cakes and other confections.

In all it was a $150 value all courtesy of the Doha international airport.

In Beirut
I arrived in Beirut at 11 a.m. and had to figure out how to get to the diner I was to meet my friend Brian Pellot at. The taxi drivers pounced on a lost looking white boy (myself) and made negotiating a fee very difficult. After some bargaining, I got in a beat up cab with its plates and cab stickers in its rear window.

The cab driver had more going wrong than just missing plates, on the way out he stopped at the police check point and gave a young looking officer 2 sandwiches and 2 pepsis, which he promptly informed me were his bribe for being allowed in the taxi line. Which a coordinator for the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections told me was a fitting welcome to Beirut.

I finally made it to the Euro cafe where I met Brian (who was my roommate last summer for the journalism program in Egypt and Oman). We went to have lunch with one of his friend from LADE, which was great for me to start getting my bearings and figure out this incredibly complex political landscape.

Brian and I then walked around the AUB campus, which is amazing, and includes a rec facility swimming pool and private beach. and then caught a taxi downtown to meet Deen Sharp, a British journalist and freelancer for numerous magazines in Beirut. He among other things specializes in architecture writing, a niche that he says he has carved out for himself in Beirut. We had a beer (the local Almaza) at Cafe 43′ a cool hidden cafe that you had to knock to enter in Gemmayzeh a more affluent east Beirut district.

That is only half of my first day but Pizza Hut is about to kick us out so more to come tomorrow.

Ma Salama.

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May 22, 2009 at 9:04 pm