(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.

Written by stephenddockery

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.

Written by stephenddockery

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.

Written by stephenddockery

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.

Written by stephenddockery

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.

Written by stephenddockery

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