(My Middle East)

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

Archive for the ‘Day in my life’ Category

Visit to the National Museum of Beirut

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I took a trip to the National Museum of Beirut yesterday with a friend from the newspaper. It was a great experience and I would recommend a visit for anyone who’s in Beirut.

It was incredible to see history that goes back continuously for thousands of years. The complexity of the sculptures, mosaics and tools is really humbling. It’s a history that any Lebanese can be proud of.

The museum struck me in particular because after living here for a while I could associate names to places. After I traveling to Byblos a number of times and then going to the museum and seeing a Bronze Age (3200 B.C- 1200 B.C.) artifact from that city, it gave me a sense of the incredible depth of history that is in this area. It also helps put things like the Civil War and local politics into a much broader context that was eye opening for me.

For that reason (for all the would-be travelers out there) I would recommend the national history museum as one of your last stops on your visit, it helps tie a lot of things together.

Theres also fascinating history of how the National Museum survived the Civil War during which time the “green line” dividing east and west Beirut ran right through the museum. The documentary at the museum about preserving the art work hardly does the topic justice (but is worth seeing for cool shots of breaking statues out of their protective layers of concrete). Heres an excerpt from the museum’s website that is much more informative than what they provide in the documentary:

…The first protection measures inside the Museum were taken while fire-shells and moments of truce alternated. Small finds, the most vulnerable objects of the collection, were removed from the showcases and hidden in storerooms in the basement. The latter was walled up banning any access to the lower floors.

On the ground floor, mosaics, which had been fitted in the pavement, were covered with a layer of concrete. Other large and heavy objects, such as statues and sarcophagi, were protected by sandbags. When the situation reached its worst in 1982, the sandbags were replaced by concrete cases built around a wooden structure surrounding the monument… [the rest]

As usual check out Fisk’s “Pity the Nation” and Friedman’s “From Beirut to Jerusalem” for more stories about the National Museum.

ion route between both parts of Beirut during the war.

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Written by stephenddockery

July 26, 2009 at 2:36 pm

What did you say?

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It can be wildly frustrating to learn Arabic. I’ve studied the language part time, for about 2 years now and situations like this can play out on a regular basis:

I’ve got 20 minutes to get to someplace in Beirut for a story, but I’ve rehearsed the phrase I need for a week, I’ve been practicing the “hah’ the “gha” and the “kha” and this is my chance to use it. I walk up to a taxi and ask him my question…and it ends up having the same effect as speaking in gibberish, he has no idea what I’m saying. Sometimes I get angry and I just want to yell “I”M SPEAKING ARABIC.” But its obvious its not his fault, it’s mine.

It gets discouraging when that situation repeats itself again and again over the course of weeks or months, you can feel like you will never learn enough to speak to anyone in a meaningful way. Thats why run ins with people like Joesph, can be so special.

I was on my way back from work after 3 hours of Arabic class, a trip to a press conference at the Indonesian embassy and writing 2 stories. I was doing my Arabic flash cards, but didn’t feel much like talking to anyone. Thats when I got into a cab with an older taxi driver named Joesph.

After the initial how are yous, Joesph was incredibly excited to learn I spoke Arabic. We talked about where I study Arabic, what I did here and about Beirut. He talked about living abroad for 20 years, moving back two years ago and being an Aounee (supporting Michel Aoun). He spoke slowly and clearly and corrected my pronunciation, when I didn’t understand words he explained them to me by using other Arabic phrases, not speaking English, The whole conversation probably didn’t last more than 10 minutes but it was probably the most encouraging conversation in Arabic I’ve had in a year. In the end I decided to pay him for the cab ride and the Arabic lesson.

My Arabic has slowly gotten better over time, but without people like Joesph learning this language would be so much more impossible than it is already.

Written by stephenddockery

July 21, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Posted in Day in my life

Beirut Art Center in Jisr El Wati

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The center piece of the exhibit by Abdel Hamid Baalbaki

The center piece of the exhibit by Abdel Hamid Baalbaki

I took a trip to Jist El Wati yesterday to go to the Beirut Art Center. The location is a bit of a drive fromwhere I live in West Beirut, but it’s worth it. The exhibit was called The Road to Peace: Paintings in Times of War, 1975-1991 and featured only art work that had been produced between those years, the time of the Lebanese Civil War.

There was a real sense of sadness and despair in all of the works, really powerful stuff. Even the abstract art, which is something I usually only mildly enjoy, spoke to me because of the context it was presented in.

Check out the NYT write up of the exhibit. This exhibit ends Tuesday, the next BAC exhibits are called “Earth of Endless Secrets Writing for a Posterior Time” and “Prisoner of War.” They open on July 23.

Also, across the street from the art center is a huge souk (market). Maybe a half mile long of booths packed together selling anything from olives and spices to knock off watches and shoes all of it ridiculously cheap (in both senses of the word).

I scored a nice shirt for $2.66, key chains with the likenesses of Nasrallah, Hariri, Geagea and Aoun on them for $1.66 and some presents for the family. Oh and I had some orange juice for .66 cents with a used glass and used straw, thrifty indeed.

Written by stephenddockery

July 12, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Deliciousness

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Quickly taken photo of a wam half eaten cinnamon roll

Quickly taken photo of a wam half eaten cinnamon roll

Theres a sweet shop in Hamra on my way home from work that I love stopping by when I walk home. The sweets are delicious (today I had a cinnamon roll, warmed it, delicious) And the gray haired mustachioed (handle bar!) man who sells them is pretty awesome too. Its right before Jeanne D’Arc street across from the intersection from Flying Pizza. I’ll update with the name when I figure it out.

Written by stephenddockery

July 2, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Story on EC trip to North Lebanon

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Patrick Laurent speaks with a teacher and town leader in Denbo

Patrick Laurent speaks with a teacher and town leader in Denbo | Stephen Dockery

On Thursday I went on a press trip to North Lebanon with the delegation from the European Commission for a story for The Daily Star. We road around in black SUV’s with the Head of the EC Commission Patrick Laurent and stopped at community projects that the EC was funding through ESFD, an aid organization. We made stops at al-Mina a coastal town in Tripoli And then Mhammara, Majdala, Mar Touma, Deir Dallloum ,and Denbo in Akkar.

Akkar district

Akkar district

Akkar is one of the poorest areas in Lebanon and theres not much there besides trees shrubs and large hills/ small mountains. The most impressive part of the trip was seeing what looked like the whole town of Denbo (which was the poorest and most isolated town we visited) come out to cheer Patrick Laurent as he arrived to tour the area. I guess its not that surprising as the EU has funded millions of dollars of programs in the area.

One thing I wondered about when I was walking around the area is what would happen to this area if the aid stopped coming from international and individual donors. As we were riding back from Denbo I scribbled in my notebook “Is this a young area for instability?”. I didn’t think about it much afterward but when I spoke to the head of ESFD Haitham Omar later he said the same thing, heres the copy from my transcription:

“The acute disparities in living conditions in Lebanon is causing social instability and insecurity.

If we do not want to have the North of Lebanon specifically the Akkar area drop into fundamentalist extremities then we should deal with the situation from an economic basis.

Of course. Because in my opinion what is more important than frequency of poverty in Lebanon, what more important than that is the intensity of poverty, it means the distance from the national average, the standard of living. And the farther you go from the national average the more you will likely get instabilities and fundamentalists.”

While its a bit of a stretch to point to Fatah al-Islam and Nahar al-Bared as the result of a lack of funding (because there are so many factors invovled because its a refugee camp), it should at least be considered.

I didn’t fell like I could include a reference to the potential for instability in my story because it would be tackling too many topics.

Anyways I tried to make my story something besides a PR piece for the EC so I attempted to turn it into something more like news anaylsis… kind of. Hopefully the jump to talking about the role of aid organizations is not too contrived. Here it is:

Laurent tours community building programs in north Lebanon

” BEIRUT: Head of the Delegation of the European Commission Patrick Laurent visited northern Lebanon Thursday on a tour of community building programs the European Union funds in the area. He announced an additional 18 million euros of funding from the European Commission for the northern region at the end of the tour.

Local mayors and dignitaries along with dozens of people gathered in cities like al-Mina near Tripoli and Majdala and Denbo in Akkar for a brief glimpse and short speech by the French diplomat. Laurent and his delegation from the European Commission visited a cultural center, water filtration plants and vocational schools in the terraced foothills of the Akkar.

Besides being a publicity stunt to build support, Laurent’s visit to Akkar, one of the poorest areas in the nation, brought up issues of class disparity and the question of what role international aid plays in place of the Lebanese government. These issues have recently been the center of debate after a report of high levels of poverty in Akkar.

The programs Laurent visited are all funded by the Economic and Social Fund for Development (ESFD), a mostly EU backed project aimed at poverty reduction. Laurent said the additional funding of 18 million euros provided by the EU would be used for the development of agriculture programs with local authorities in the north, but provided no further details.

Over a hundred people came out to see the delegation in Denbo the last stop on the delegations trip and location of Laurent’s longest speech. Denbo was by far the largest gathering of all of the delegation’s stops and one of the poorest towns in Akkar. Town members played traditional music and showered the delegation with sweets and cheers when Laurent approached the town’s community center.

“The European Commission will continue to support this movement and will make sure the voice of local communities is well heard,” said Laurent to the audience packed in a small gymnasium. “Reinforcing the state while strengthening local actors is the best way not only to build up a democratic state in Lebanon but to ensure a development process involving and benefiting to all citizens,” he said.

These contributions from international organizations like the European Commission are crucial for the well being of cities and towns in the northern region. The contributions have also largely filled the void of the government in the poorer areas of Lebanon where the state building has not done much to provide for the people of northern Lebanon.

Places in the interior of Akkar like Denbo don’t have the mountaintop or seaside resorts that draw industry to many other parts of the country. In 2008 a report by the International Poverty Center Akkar was listed as having the highest level of poverty and unsatisfied basic needs in the country. Towns largely live off what agriculture can provide and remittances from Lebanese working abroad. The rest comes from aid programs…

Read the rest

Yes. I think the government after all, they put to law. the acute disparities in living conditions in Lebanon is causing social instability and insecurity.

If we do not want to have the North of Lebanon specifically the Akkar area drop into fundamentalist extremities then we should deal with the situation from an economic basis.

GOV DO MORE?

Of course. Because in my opinion what is more important than frequency of poverty in Lebanon, what more important than that is the intensity of poverty, it means the distance from the national average, the standard of living. And the farther you go from the national average the more you will likely get instabilities and fundamentalists.

Half way in Beirut | an Update

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It’s hard to believe but I’ve now been in Beirut 33 days (today is the 34th). I’ve got 33 more left and I’ve got to say things have gone very well. I’ve found a great place to live, met some cool people and I absolutely love Beirut. Although the newspaper is understaffed, and a bit disorganized, I’m starting to enjoy it.

Also contrary to some peoples belief, I’m not just writing bagel and book stories, I’m starting to be trusted with bigger stuff, and I’m working on an enterprise story of my own. Oh I’m also heading up to Akkar and Tripoli tomorrow with Patrick Laurent the head of the European Commission delegation on a press trip.

I start Arabic classes in the beginning of July, which I’m looking forward to. But to be honest my Arabic hasn’t gotten that much better. I think you really need to set aside time to learn the language like a whole year (Damascus Arabic school? Who knows)

Progress on my summer reading list is right on schedule. I’ve finished my first three books, and I’m starting my fourth, Engaging the Muslim World today. I’ve also started the process of applying for scholarships, fellowships and graduate schools for post SU. It’s a rather daunting/not fun process, but hopefully it will pay off in the end.

Oh I also discovered a fantastic drink yesterday its called Freez, and its made in Lebanon. It’s a mix of sparking water and fruit juice, and comes in lots of flavors including Lemon and Blackberry which are the two Ive tried so far. It reminds me a lot like Izzle (spelled correctly), but more soda like.

Anyways thats all I’ve got for now. Thanks everyone for reading

Written by stephenddockery

June 24, 2009 at 5:09 pm

News on the Stephen front

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Not as exciting as the Iranian elections I know, but things are going well as usual. I have a byline tomorrow, not really a story (although I would have liked if it was one) but I was told to write 600 words on a recent report on Palestinians in Lebanon. So 600 words they got. I also will have a story in the paper the day after tomorrow on a niche magazine shop that just opened in Mar Mikhael. Not my favorite kind of stories to do, but I enjoyed talking to the owner and drinking some flower tea with a French name I couldn’t pronounce. Here comes a feature lede.

Excitement of the day: I was told to “make sure not to take the day off tomorrow.” I have no idea what that means, but I feel like it could be something good. With bated breath, I wait.

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June 18, 2009 at 9:35 pm