Sunday, August 13, 2006

Jumbled Thoughts

Warning: slightly long, grab a beverage.

Cher mes amis,

This is an email of random thoughts and observations.

As you've seen lately in the news, the bombing here
has gotten worse. It's funny how quickly we adjust and
what can become "normal" in everyday life. I no
longer jump when i hear the shelling and bombing,
except when they are really damn close - I am only
human after all. Thursday night's bombing was so crazy
and intense, the house repeatedly shook us all awake
as Israel attacks get closer and closer to the heart
of the city.

My first nights were sleepless and intense. You know
when you're heart pounds so loud it makes you deaf as
the pulsing in your ears reverberates though your
head, and i had to tell my heart to shut the hell up
so i could try to hear the planes and guess where they
might drop next. Well now, I don't even get out of
bed, I colorfully curse and roll over and go
back to sleep and then curse some more for the next
and the next. I nver claimed to be a lady - sorry

You get used to it but you don't. We were at a
meeting and my elbow loudly hit a window and everyone
jumped in fear. And then there are the children.

Scared by experiences they never should have
had, the children are among those suffering the
most - not just among the highest death tolls or
needing diapers, more than one pair of underwear,
the clothes on their backs they fled with, and
medications for the subsequent skin rashes - but they
are among
the most traumatized.

Unfortunately, those who fled to Beirut from the
fighting in the South, have escaped nothing at all.
Many of the areas in Beirut that have been bombed were
also the areas sheltering the displaced. This week an
entire family that escaped from the south died in an
attack 4 days ago. Those who have not been
redispalced can still feel and hear the bombing around

A friend of mine works in the public garden that has
been turned into a makeshift camp. Many of the
children wet themselves as soon as they hear a bomb
she says. They scream and they shake uncontrollably
other parents report.

The psychological damage abounds as evident by some
volunteers who went to a school to play with some of
the displaced kids. Within minutes children who had
no other way of expressing their trauma and emotions
broke into fights with intense aggression that the
volunteers had to continually try to control. Others
responded differently, one girl sat in a corner
the entire time, facing the wall, unresponsive,
unmoving, her mother and 3 sisters missing for 25
presumed dead.

Schools are indefinitely closed. The displaced are
indefinitely homeless. The country and its
infrastructure are indefinatily dismantled. The
children indefinatily affected.

The ceasefire is on the horizon but it is far from a
reality here in Lebanon, not only because of the
heighten attacks in the last few hours, but from sheer
mistrust undoubtly from Lebanon's long dark history
with Israel. Furthermore, as i have eluded to in
other emails, the country is sharply divided - 18
secs, race, religion, class, politics, the north, the
south, the Bekka mountains, the list goes on. An
example: some displaced have received aid goods with
the Hariri government stamp, these Shiites so despised
Hariri's government that they said, "Thank you, I am
not hungry," and walked away.

Most are worried that the increase in tensions from
the conflict will eventually tear the country apart
once more. Many suspect this is Israel's intention.
The group we are working with is not only
on civil resistance against Israel's policies and
aggression, and
solidarity with the south and those who have suffered
the most, but efforts for national unity to prevent
what many Lebanese have expressed as the next possible
civil war.

Another friend came into a cafe to meet me and looked
so tired.
"Didn't you sleep last night?" I asked.
"They called again this morning - 4 a.m.," she said
exhausted. Israel has set up an automated calling
system to call Lebanese citizens around the country at
all times of the day and night to tell them not to
support Hezbollah and that Israel is on their side.

We turned to watch the news in the cafe and saw great
coverage on the convoy and Adam speaking in Arabic,
labled as an American Jewish activist, which made us
smile. Then the
screen shifted to one of their segments showing the
victims of the conflict - men, women, people digging
out the
dead, a rescue worker holding up the dead body of a
baby completely covered in gray ash - the only
discernable color was a sky blue pacifier pinned to
his shirt. The screen shifts again to young Israeli
children concentrating as they write their names and
messages on bombs about to be loaded onto Israeli
planes and "delivered" to Lebanon.
"From Israel, with Love."

Some of you may think my emails extremely biased, and
while I do have my own political views, I have
refrained from entering them here. As I am in
Lebanon, I can only tell you about my observations
here. I also find added value in that, as Israel
certainly has inequitable press coverage, aid,
assistance, bias, and scales of suffering and
destruction. These emails are simply glimpses from
the other side.

To Israel's surprise it took more than the declared 10
days to stamp out Hezbollah. In their attempt, they
have inflamed and further solidified anger and hatred
among hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens who
have unjustly suffered, have been unjustly targeted,
and will continue to unjustly suffer from the effects
of war
for decades to come.

Hezbollah had some concentrated areas of support.
Because they are effectively fighting the source of
grief for so many Lebanese, they have now gained wide
spread support and respect.

But I beleive both sides have lost.

It took Lebanon 20 years to rebuild from the last
civil war. This, the Lebanese tell me, was suppose to
be the best summer in Lebanon ever. Everything they
have rebuilt has now been destroyed. We haven't had
running water in our apartment for almost a week, the
electricity comes and goes, the fuel is almost gone
and most sources for stroage have been destroyed, all
major roads and bridges - gone, most part of the
country hav been effectively cut off from eachother,
one of Lebanon's solid pillars of its economy -
tourism, gone, many academics, artists, businessmen
and civil servants - fled the country - the country
has been systematically destyed.

We drove by some beaches south of Beirut, the sands
were oozing with
black oil, remnants from the spill weeks ago that the
current has carried along the entire coast o Lebanon.
A containment crew should have come in immediately to
professionally clean the spill, they were not allowed
in. Some activists and scientists are looking into
the uranium damage possibly left by destroyed tanks
and certain artillery - making the land deadly to

Yesterday, back in Beirut we saw leaflets falling in
downtown Beirut, no doubt wind blown from southern
parts of the city where Israel has continued to
bombard. Notifying civilians before you bomb them is
still attacking unarmed civilian populations and a
direct violation of the Geneva conventions.

As I am writing this the bombing is continuing and I
admit my heart beats irregularly.

If the ceasefire does not call for Israel to withdraw
its troops, is it going to last? That is if it's
implemented at all.

My friend and I tear ourselves away from the TV and my
friend turns to me and says," did you finally have
water last night?"
I laugh. "At least the electricity cut out one minute
before I was about to get into the elevator," I say
thankfully, "I just bought a bottle of water to

She looked at me, but more looked through me, her
large black eyes lost in thought.
"That's how my friend died you know. She was a taking
a shower when a bomb hit. They had to carry her out
naked, " she said quietly starring off into the

The convoy

Hello mes amis!

I hope you are all well.
As you may or may not know the convoy started off with great success and momentum. We had 50 cars and well over 100 people join our convoy and were prepared to journey to the south depite a deliberate attack on an unarmed convoy less than 12 hours before our own. The energy was amazing, and for me, the best part was the look on the faces of the lebanese people as we drove by - 50 cars with Lebanese flags driving through beirut and through town after town. people came out and waved and cheered and showed peace signs in support. Their pride was infectous. It was a burning hot day and we were handed cold water by merchants who refused to take any money and prayed for are safety and the success of our mission.

Once our convoy was stopped and there was no negotiating with the ministry, we took our backpacks and aid and attempted to walk on foot past the military and continue to the south, but we were also prevented from continuing any further.

unfortunately, a call came from the ministry of interior and informed the army not to let us pass, althought every other car was allowed to pass, military and civilian alike. draw from this what you will - quite obvviously the decision to not let us path was highly political, but we have choosen not take take this position - there is no need for internal lebanese struggle ontop of everything else.

if you've seen any negative press - it was unfortunate that a few individuals were extremely emotional and wished to confron the lebanese army that was preventing our passage.

I just stopped writing you for 20 minutes as about 6 explosions were just heard near by. on the eve of this supposed ceasefire, the attacks continue with more intensity as Isreal, I assume, attempts to try and take out as many underground caches of Hezbollah - the problem there are civilians above them...

What has come out of yesterday is not only a ton of positive press coverage about the action spreading all over Lebanon and many parts of the world, but most importantly - more people have been inspired to join and find out what else they can do to stand in solidarity and work towads national unity. we are being very careful as many of these actions may have different places for internationals, and certainly all of them must be lebanese driven. but they have asked for our asisstance and we are moving forward with the campaign, working to strengthen the campaign and it's membership, and concrete actions.

what everyone is talking about? the fear of internal tensions riping the country apart.

I have other updates for you, but i just wanted to let you know that i am fine and give you an update on yesterday's actions. below is the release we sent out on the action.

I hope you all are well,


Lebanon: An Open Country for Civil Resistance
Regarding the August 12th Planned Convoy to the South
August 13, 2006
Press Contacts:
Rasha Salti: 03 970855 Wadih Al Asmar: 70 950780
Contact for internationals: Huwaida Arraf: 70 974452

Beirut, August 13- Marking the passing of a month on Israel�s war unleashed on Lebanon, we, members of civil society that had mobilized from the first days to aid and support the victims of this aggression, launched this Campaign of Civil Resistance. In addition to marking the one-month anniversary of this latest Israeli war against Lebanon, and the anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, (passed August 12, 1949), on August 12, communities around the world protested against the Israeli aggression on Lebanon.

Here, in Lebanon, the first convoy of civilians was to depart on August 12 to the south, whose final destination, pending questions of security on the ground, was to reach Nabatiyeh. The mission of the convoy, as the mission of the campaign, is to mark a stand in solidarity and unity of all the people of Lebanon, to break the siege on the south, and to defy Israel�s policy of forced expulsions, terror and organized massacres of civilians.

We convened on Martyrs� Square at 7:00 am on August 12th morning. More than 200 people were gathered, supported by more than 100 participants from 19 countries. Fifty cars, carrying more than 250 rations of food and medicines, with more than 15 representatives from the local and international media, proceeded on the path to the south.

The convoy could not reach its destination because it was forcibly stopped at a passageway, located between the site where the bridge and a gas station were shelled recently, in the coastal village of Na�meh by the Lebanese Internal Security, on orders from the Ministry of Interior.

Despite citing concern for our security, the checkpoint at Na�meh remained open for everyone else, including other convoys.

As members of civil society, while our government�s concern for our safety is appreciated, we disagree with our government�s missive. As members of the civil society organizing for civil resistance against the Israeli aggression on Lebanon, we specifically chose not to protest against the Lebanese government�s decision; our struggle is first and foremost against the Israeli war on our people and our country, and we stand for unity among all Lebanese, embodying plural political perspectives.

Nevertheless, we would like to clarify several points. (1) The Lebanese security forces did have notification of our intention to go to the south. Our convoy was widely publicized in the local and international press, and days before conversations were held with members of the Lebanese security forces. (2) We were organizing, and continue to be organizing, acts of civilian resistance, and not acts of civilian suicide. We were aware of the risks of our action, and we were continuing to study the situation on the ground even during the trip. Our allegiance was not to a particular geographical destination, but to the solidarity with our people and the rejection of Israeli dictates. Furthermore, it is ultimately not a question of risk, but one of choice; Israel has the choice to target and bomb known civilian convoys or not. (3) August 12 marks the launching of this campaign of civil resistance. We will continue to resist aggression until a semblance of justice is achieved, and we will continue to build for practical solidarity after the aggression ceases. (4) Our convoy was successful in gathering a significant number of committed, serious people to express solidarity with Lebanese and with Lebanon.

We are invigorated by the serious, grassroots amount of support that we have inspired. We will build on this support and work towards committed, long-term solidarity with our people in the south and throughout our beloved country.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Hello Everyone,

I'm sorry for the sporadic information about donations in my last email. I wanted to make this one clearer.

As of right now I have two initiatives that can be donated to.

1) Sami Doun is the organization I was referring to in my last email. They are a network of all Lebanese volunteers who are now focused on aiding the displaced. They are a fantastic group of people that i am working directly with - aiding populations living in public gardens, buildings, the parking lots, and some of the schools. They are also coordinating with smaller grassroots NGOs and have a direct hand on the pulse of where money and relief is needed including areas and villages in the South.

There is immediate need for:
the list goes on

However, shipping things here is a nightmare and next to impossible, thus the most effective way money so they can purchase what they need and distribute it them.

They are not only doing relief but outreach and media campaigning - trying to provide information on their website There are also video letters i strongly encourage you to watch. They do have donation information directly on their website however it is NOT a 501-c-3 - meaning, it not can NOT be used as a tax write off. However, if you would like to write off this donation and know others who would (especially those donating larger amounts) they can send check too:

c/o Mahaba Al-Wazir
1318 Pennsylvania Ave SE Suite 1B
Washington DC 20003
put in the memo line "Adam Shapiro/Sami Doun"

IN EITHER CASE, please tell me how much money has been sent to Imagine Life for Sami Doun, and we have a way to front the money and get it to them immediately to start buying medic ins, etc. so we don't have to wait for mail, banks, transfers, etc. I would also like to keep track of donations please.

2) for our work here organizing a civilian resistance campaign, human convoys, and all future activities (which includes bringing the above supplies to trapped villages).
people can check out

people can write a check to:

c/o Mahaba Al-Wazir
1318 Pennsylvania Ave SE Suite 1B
Washington DC 20003
put in the memo line "Adam Shapiro/"
I hope this is clearer. Please let me know if you have questions.

Warmest Regards,

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A bit of good happy news! :)

Hey Y'all,

just wanted to give you a bit of happy good news - you can now get our film Darfur Diaries on!
Sorry, i'm just a little bit happy about that! :)

Hopefully coming to a Netflix and Blockbuster near you - we'll find out about that soon.

much love,

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


hey kids
i'm having a problem gettting my emails out. this is actually from a few days ago - some of my emails are not getting through apparently.

you're probably wondering how the hell i have time to write these emails - 1) i need to be on computers parts of the day to mobilize support 2) my early morning activity during Israeli symphony time is to write updates to you.
I think the pictures speak for themselves so I will say little. I'm trying to upload them.

We got permission to enter Dahiya. It is one of the south Beirut suburds that you hear about on the news that continues to be bombed. We went on Saturday. I said little while i was there. It was twillight, we entered the abandoned town - it was silent, spare, hollow. we drove down a main street with a concrete divide, the streets were covered in dust. We saw a little rubble, some men motioned to us to park and follow them. they flanked us from the front and back and informed us to be quick, they were expecting israeli planes to revisit soon.

We walked, we turned a corner, we stopped.

The distruction was unimaginable. Buildings, tall buildings - 10, 12, 15 stories or more had come crashing down, spilling into the streets. Wires hung everywhere. The colors were of the dull greys and tans of dirt, dust, concrete - everything was covered in grey ash. They buildings had massive, gapping holes from where they were hit. Others were simply reduced to rubble, not a single identifiable story remained. Some were even holes in the ground, sucked into the madness of war, closer to this supposed hell - if it can get any worse that what already exsists on Earth.

It had been a fully breathing city - there were clothes hanging out to dry, grocery stores, clothing shops - everything was frozen in erry horror. Said to be a strong hold of Hezbollah, what remained was the blown up loves of people, thousands of them - pieces of clothes, shoes, books, beds, phones, charis, shutters, pillows, tables, unidentifiable objects....
ashes of lives
ashes of death

The only sounds were our feet cruching the debris below as we tried to navigate the destruction building after building, block after block. It smelled of burning and decay, yet my eyes won the sensory war of this overwhleming scene - grey. grey, black, grey. And just when I thought there couldn't be anymore - it kept going.

Some of the guys came after me, please don't linger Huweida translated and the man pointed to the sky and ushered me on. Hurry, he motioned with his hands.

I turned a corner and saw a giantic pile of rumble that didn't make any sense - where did it come from? it was so immense.
"This used to be an 11 story building, " a man said. A suction bomb leveled the entire thing. I gasped. Not a single structure remained that remotely resembled a building - in it's place was a hole in the ground. I stood in disbelief.
I looked down and there was a little yellow and black toy truck that had survived better than the building - probably blown from somewhere else. Suddenly my eyes scanned the ground all around me and the remains of children's toys were everywhere - torn apart, buried, crushed, burned, or lying in debris. My eyes darted in different directions and I became desparate to find them - these remains. Their remains. And then i froze in my tracks. I heard something - a ringing. I knew instantly that it wasn't a cell phone from our group. My eyes followed the sound with dread and found it's source in a blown out 3rd story apartment blackened on the outside.

i don't know what it was about that moment, a phone ringing, a sign of life echoing through a place of death. Please don't ask me to describe it.

I heard something foggily in the distance, it became clearer as my head cleared and i tore my eyes away from the apartment. Someone roughly 20 feet away was warning me to step away from the live wire i was near.

The phone was still ringing, echoing. I stepped away.

A Lebanese activist was crying, she was displaced from the south and was overwhelmed by this destruction in the north. She cried. The guys ordered us to leave as they scanned the skies. everyone made their way to the road, but i lingered for just a bit - scanning for remains, watching, photographing, remembering.

We were covered in dust. Israel did not bomb that Saturday but on Sunday.

Why was that person calling? Didn't they know?

We need your help!

Ok, finally what the hell am i doing here?

I am wirting to you quickly and informally as I have much to do and many people to contact.

Long story short, after many meetings with local activists, NGOs, etc. we have come up with a campaign of Lebanese Civilian Resistance Against Israeli Agression. This campaign will come in parts and serve to do many things:

Citizen Convoy THIS Saturday the 12th.
1) provide much needed relief to those trapped in south Lebanon and who are still not receiving aid (this information is CONFIRMED) through citizen convoys of all Lebanese and internationals in solidarity.
2) Promote national unity and inclusion for all parts of Lebanese society - Shiite, Sunni, Druse, Christian, the displaces, upper class, lower class - all have been invited aside from any politicians or political groups.
3) Send a political message to the Israel and the international communtiy that this is their country and their people whom they will travel to and support without seeking Israel's permission despite the continued bombing of the very roads that are preventing this very aid from being delivered.

In short - we are organizing hundreds of people and roughly 100 cars to carry much needed aid, supplies and medicine to the south. We wil be reaching a southern location and then branching out to reach the various villages that have been cut off. We may have to bring them by hand and traverse the countryside since mostroads are gone. We are counting on safety in numbers, having a large international presence and excellent media coverage for security. The state of Israel and the Israeli press are all being notified and international media governments are being informed of this notification so that Israel can not claim ignorance to this event and attack "by mistake." Appropirate permission has been obtained from Hezbollah to ensure not being fired upon from the Lebanese side, they have agreed to cooperate. All cars will be covered with a Lebanese flag, no other flags will be presented, humanitarian aid agencies have been informed but they must abide by the same rules to join the convoy. this is not an international organization response, this is a Lebanese civilian resistance convoy joined by the support of internatonals to join in solidarity.

There will be other convoys and missions to follow, many based on information from this first mission and info adam, huwaida, myself and others will collect in the next few days with some Lebanese activists.

We are also working on assisting the return of some of the displaced in definance of Israel's attempt to cleanse the south of it's people.

Many things are needed. Though we have been able to secure food aid supplies from humanitarian organizations on the ground for this mission, gas is serious problem and we will need to gather funds to support future convoys. There are also other logistical costs we will need to raise funds to cover.

Second, many have asked me about the children and then displaces. I have found a great Lebanese organization that is helping the 100,00s of displaced and especially the children called Sami Doun. I have seen their work directly - not only providing much need supplies like beds, clothes, diapers and necessary goods - which are still very much lacking, but also other important things like toys for children. I have gotten to know many of them personally, all of whom are volunteers, are amazing and sacrificing much everyday to carry out this work. they also coordinate with other grassroots NGOs to try and ensure all the needs are being met for this overwhelming population. They are also focusing on the displaced in the buildings scattered around the city - the ones i told you are being ignored by the government. And they work in the mountains and in the south.

I'm afraid for the moment, sending money is a much better alternative than sending actual supplies because getting themhere can be a logistical nightmare depending on Israel's bombing of strategic roads.

For those who can raise funds this is a great organization, and i can make sure that the money goes where it is directly needed and will have an incredible impact.
For those of you who have the capacity to help, raise funds, work on coordination, have media access, raise funds, etc. please let me know, we can really use your help.

We will also need volunteers for these convoys and some to work with these organizations.

There is a website but it was just put up and is still in progress. if anyone can offer "on call" web assistance it would be greatly appreciated as there is a 7 hour time difference and we may need updates more regularly.

the website is

Please spread the word and tell me what you're interested in and if you can help at all.

Also please be aware that Saturday Sugust 12th is an International Solidarity Day with Lebanon and their are activities are protests happening all over the world. Find the nearest protect near you - damn, i can not say that with a striaght face.

anyway, that's the LONG short story. I have a ton to do and have been here eight years trying to upload 12 measly photos!! THE AGONY!!

one of the press releases is pasted below. The call for action is on the wedsite.

much love and one more update to send you written at 4 a.m.- good times. damn these photos and man do need a shower!

i'm noy even spell checking this - gotta run
much love,

Monday, August 07, 2006


Our meetings and activities continue at rapid pace. we've been keeping a crazy schedule - work all day, have breakfast at maybe 4 pm, work some more, hopefully grab a late night nibble, go to bed at roughly 3 and the bombing usually starts around 4, fall asleep at sunrise and up at 10 am to start the day once more. it's of no matter though, and i think we've barely noticed that it's odd except when i write it here, but I am happy at work.

Though the nights are rough, last a few bombs came rather close, you can feel the vibrations everywhere, car alarms going off, and planes - always the planes flying over head that leave you wondering exactly where they plan to unload their cargo next.

Beirut is an amazing city and not a day goes by that i don't wish i had come here earlier and under different circumstances. the city cascades into the ocean and buildings and old fashioned french colonial homes hug the hillsides all straining to get a glimpse of the beautfiul azure waters.

Modern glass towers cast shadows over pockmarked overrun buildings left standing from the country's long civil war. Just as diverse as the buildings are the people, a woman fully veiled in religious tradition walks past a woman in the lastest skin-baring, tight European fashions. Men in long white robes drink tea on the corner as young men in wife beaters ride by on scooters and Ray-Bans. (Speaking of men, allow me to be shamefully honest in my strictly neutral observation that Lebanese men are.....really hot! lord mercy!! somehow being here during a war and having come to help, i feel it more than an inappropriate time to...enjoy all that Lebanon has to offer - but certainly this artful sightseeing requires another visit under different circumstances! now to continue with our regularily scheduled programming - ) Yet, I can only imagine what this city must have been like a few weeks ago. Now it is quiet. Many stores are closed, many who could, fled the city, those who could not no longer stay in the streets long after dark. The bombed areas of the city are locked down as security zones and we are forbidden to enter, so i have only seen in areas of the city that have been untouched. However, we just gained permission a few hours ago and will be visiting some areas later.

But now that i've been around a bit, the evidence of war is everywhere. Tents spill into hospital parking lots, public schools are overflowing with the internally displaced who sleep on every square foot, every staircase, every doorway. I walked by the city's public garden to find clothes hanging everywhere. A closer look revealed hundreds and hundreds of displaced numbering near a thousand. And there are more, dispersed from building to building, in the mountains, everywhere they could find escape from the South. And so they fled here where the bombing has continued and the children are still paralized in fear.

There is so much to tell you I hardly know where to begin. I need to ask you for help with my work, but we are just about to solidify our action plans and I want to give you all confirmed information. I want to tell you about other things I have seen and heard and experienced, but perhaps right now, as i have a hour break, I'll just tell you some of what I believe you don't hear on the news. And yes it's true, I have my own political beliefs about the situation, but I'll reserve those and simply tell you what i have seen, gathered and experienced.

The Humanitarian Situation:

The humanitarian situation is grave and unfortunatley complicated. It is grave in the South because as Israel strategically bombed the roads and bridges, they effectively cut off entire villages and trapped populations. Many have evacuated but some have not. Some were too old, some disabled, some stayed with those who could not leave, others stayed because they had no where else to go, and some stayed because it was their home and their right to stay and not be scared off their land.

And so they have been sending out calls for help, it has been over 20 days, and the International Red Cross has responded. But accordingly to many in the South, they have responded poorly, aiding the easier to reach populations and failing to reach many others. The UN has decided to directly coordinate with the State of Israel giving them the GPS coordinates of all their trucks and effectively gaining Israeli permission before delivering. This has further complicated the jobs and coordination of other NGOs who are not given access to aid certain population by Israel and therefore fear for their security. However, Israel is able to claim strict coordination with the UN and therefore that they are humanitarians.

Israel has also claimed to allow fuel shipments into Lebanon. They have not. There are tankers off the coast of Lebanon waiting to deliver their supplies and they are blocked by Israeli ships. Too many fuel trucks from Syria have been targeted for anyone to attempt to make another try. Cars line up for as far as the eye can see at the gas stations that have not been bombed and wait for there ration of less tha $10 of fuel - which is all they are allowed to recieve at one time. The rumor is that Lebanon may run out in just a few days - further crippling the country and it's citizens. Crippling Hezbollah you ask? No, not at all. They have their own supplies.

The Lebanese Red Cross is stretched to the limit trying to reach these desperate populations in the South, but they do not have the resources and capacities of the International Red Cross. According to aid workers in the south, some NGOs gather aid in a certral location and invite villagers to come get it themselves - a nearly impossible task. Kind of like a person calling 911, and the operator tells them to find the nearest ambulance for help.

In Beirut, it is complicated here as well. You have humndreds of thousands of displaced that have poored into Beirut, and unfortunately they were not well accounted for. A Lebanese Ministry and local NGOs have been tackling the difficult battle of providing aid to all of these people. However, there is no central database. Some NGOs work in overlapping schools and counted the same populations twice - what does this mean? Some schools will receive meals twice in a row, others don't recieve food for two days. Yet another problem, the thousands of displaced that were placed in buildings around the city - they were never counted by the state and therefore recieve absolutely no aid from the state whatsoever.

And there is another probelm. Sometimes there are problems with slogans like "One Nation, One People," because as we know from Lebanese history, it is a country of many peoples who do not identify with one another, and unfortunately can also have great prejudices against those not of their own. Hundreds of thousands of Shiits have now entered some Sunni, Christian, and Druse areas, and though many have poured out to help the displaced, they are wary of the displaced staying too long and "wearing out their welcome." Others are supicious and do not trust them, and a Southern told me that she came from the mountains where many displaced have fled and the local population lock the buildings at night so that the Shiits can not freely move around and cause "trouble."

Back in Beirut, on the verge of a class war, local hotels have opened their doors to some of the poorest people in Lebanon, made comepletely destitute by this war. Well, that is opened their doors if you can pay several hundred US dollars for a week, some hotels are even charging $100/day. The public park I mentioned above? Imagine the Upper East side of Mahattan being overrun with refugees from Harlem who have pitched tents or are sleeping out in the open in Central Park, hang their clothes everywhere, and littering the streets to escape the park walls before dark when they are forced back inside. Unhappy upper class Mahattaners? You betcha.

What everyone can agree on is that tensions are running high. The displaced know they are unwlecomed and resent it to say the least. Those that have "helped" their Lebanese brethern fell that they have done their job and now wish for life to return to normal. I passed by a young Lebanese man yesterday who was expressing his anger at not being able to go the beach because of the war, and has to instead go to the pool now. Everyone suffers in different ways.

Yet, I am not trying to paint you a poor picture of the Lebanese. On the contrary, I have met the most beautiful people who are scarficing their very lives to help their countrymen and who speak for the time of national untiy to be now, if there ever was one. And least we forget Hurricane Katrina and how these very same prejuidces wretched out of our own society - certainly we are no one to judge.

And unfortunately, the international organizations that are here have been no better. I speak not of Foreign governments and imbalanced UN resolutions, I speak of international aid agencies. A women went to an international aid coordination meeting of all the international NGOs, her report - disgusting. She said the meeting was terrible, the organizations bickered among themselves and agreed on nothing.

I fear I have already gone on too long and this is only the tip of the ice burg. I should end my email here before your eyes cross. I will be writing you shortly about my work and our plans and asking for your help if you don't mind.

My opportunity to write you these updates are going to disappear shortly, but i will do my best.

much love,

Welcome to our country. Enjoy the war.

the trip so far has been good and we've had great luck. we met a man on the street in Damascus, asked him about a car to Beirut, at roughly midnight we meet a guy who after some negotiation on price, arranges for a car to pick us up at our hotel at 7 a.m.

we went to sleep at roughly 2 a.m. and after 3 flights and not much sleep on the plane, when Adam knocked on my door to wake me i was a bitter woman for a moment until i remembered where i was and jumped out of bed to start the day. we were NOT on colored people time and the driver showed up twenty minutes early! doh!! we jumped in the car and we were off.

it was an airy little 4-door with a middle aged syria driver, thin with think black hair and a mustache that was graying. my friends passed out and i could not get comfortable and instead watched as we speed out of the city and through the desert that changed into a slightly more arid land with lanky green trees as we headed north to the border. a handful of gummy bears served as breakfast (thank you vasudha) as we speed along, the airy car of 7 am becoming a heat trap of traveling metal by 9 am. we made our way off the main highway and continued north through villages and farms. i must have knocked out for a little bit, fore when i awoke i was facing a sign asking to declare all foreign goods leaving syria - the border.

we had been warned that we might have to wait hours at the border because of intense traffic and complications. though i must say it's one of the most pleasant borders i've ever crossed by land - those of you who have crossed the kenya-uganda border or have fled from the burmese border catch my drift! anyway, we didn't even have to present our passports in person in syria, our driver took care of everything and it was quite evident he was well known and well respected. a quick signing of his papers and we were in lebanon in a matter of minutes. i imagined what this border must have been like days ago as we pulled up to lebanese immigration.

the office was clean and cool, full of lebanese officers processing papers. we were called over to present our passports, i went first after filling out an entry form. he immigration officer looked me up and down.
"Aicha," he says in a heavy lebanese accent.
"Yes," i say.
"what is your origin,?" he asks curiously.
"My mother is from Haiti," i respond. You see, normally i'm quite fond of perplexing people with my random background, but all of a sudden saying where my father is from is...not such a good idea. I toy with the idea of syaing he's from palestine (as i've done in the past while in egypt), however it occurs to me that is they ask me for his last name, i'm screwed! it's just too complicated. for the next few weeks, i'm simply a full blooded Haitian. right.

"What is your job?" he inquires.
"I work in Asia," i respond vaguely.
"What is your purpose in Lebanon?" he continues, "Are you a journalist?"
"Tourism," I reply with a bog smile.
He looks up and laughs, and tells the officer next to him, "TOUR SIM! HA!"
I say, "Yes, I hear Lebanon is lovely this time of year!"
They both laugh as he mutters something in Arabic whi;le shaking his head.
DOOM! the sound of the stamp hits my passport on the table.

The immigration officer smiles, "Aicha, Aicha ecoutee moi!"
I laugh and tell him i love that song in french.
an immigration officer behind askes, "An American speaking French?"
I say, "Yes, I'm sorry I don't speak english."
Several officers laugh.

"What are you doing for work," he asks in French.
"Human Rights," i respond in french.
"What?" he says.
DAMN my french!!
"Human Rights," I repeat in English.
"OH! this is very good work!" he says as he translates for his colleagues who all nod in approval.
"Welcome to our country," he says, "Enjoy the war."

We take for into Lebanon, driving along the sea past Tripoli and continuing south the Beirut. It's so hot, we're neith hungry nor thristy and periodically nod off and awaken again in a new town.

Beirut. We reach it from Damascus in only 5 hours. We past by the site of former prime minister Rafik Harir's murder, the buildings destroyed by the bombs remain untouched. Our skillful driver weaves through smaller streets in Beirut congested with traffic and double parked cars, damaged and abandned buildings remain from the civil war. we continue on and find a little quaint restaurant where we are to meet an activists friend who has the keys to the apartment we are staying in.

along the way we meet some NGO workers and are invited to their first coordination meetings tomorrow. the apartment is in a part of town that has been untouched by the bombings, better than i had imagined it is a spacious apartment on the 9th floor with massive glass doors surrounding most of it. goos for air our friend says, but ah...bad for bombs. we thank her as we inspect possible hiding spots. the electricity is sporadic she warms, referring to the elevator that we just took - the small hunk of metal that's like a little oven. we thank her for the advice.

we need cell phones, and sim cards, and email, and food. it's 3 and ewe haven't eaten all day. we all sit down for a minute..and pass out for 4 hours. opps!

we were invited to a performance that night, aside from being a great place to network with activists and media, it was a performace put on by displaced people. they call it "laughter under bombs." I never cease to wonder at the strength of people in times of suffering - indeed the Lebanese are among the ranks of the resilent and the dignified in even the worst of times.

we walk to the theater whcih is full of people, many displaced and watch a great interactive performance full of national pride and hope, and of course - laughter. After the show we meet many activisits, aid workers, and media people. Adam runs into old friend who he worked with on his iraq film. A lebanese activists walks up to me and says i know you. i say, i don't think so and he says - washington dc I'm shocked ! and though we can't exaclty place eachother - it's a small world indeed. they invite us out for drinks and we begin our questioning and information gathering, and followup on some of the activities we heard some lebanese activists would like to organize. we're on it like glue. several meetings planned tomorrow, more for the weeked, several more people are joining us on saturday from around the world.

i know i won't have time for updates like this all the time, i apologize. i just thought i'd get one in now while i can. and while i'm jet lagged as it's almost 1 a.m. The Lebanese are as beautiful as i imagined, incredible mixes of olive and dark skin with light eyes, or intensely dark features - in truth the mixes are many. but aside from the physical, from the activists i met tonight they are intense in spirit, tired, and not ready to roll over and give their country away. They are excited we are here and wish to meet. indeed, there is much to be done.

good night,
with love,

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Amazon in Mongolia


Alright, most of you know the drill, for those of you new to this – you’ll want to print this one out, grab a drink, sit back, relax – like ta hear it? Hear it go….

Mongolia – the final frontier! I landed in the cold embrace of spring time in Mongolia which feels like winter to anyone else in their right mind or with a low fat content in their diet. The wind chill made it feel like zero degrees and as I bundled up to leave the airport I saw short stocky Mongolians wearing only suit jackets and the like. Perhaps for the first time I realized that my 6’2,” (BEEP) pound, solid stature was in fact quite fragile!
I’m fragile!!

The brisk night air enveloped me, I took a deep breath in appreciation of the fresh country air, and then promptly dove my fragile ass into the nearest heated vehicle. The long stretch of road leading from the airport to the city is quite barren with the occasion Mongolian on foot braving the night’s temperatures. The road continues on with very few cars and slowly gives way to a few structures, shacks, then gas stations, then grows and expands to a few buildings. You then drive under an elaborate, tall gateway structure above the road which officially welcomes you to Ulaanbaatar, or red hero, named after their national hero who liberated Mongolia from Chinese rule and summoned the Soviet red army for support some 80 years ago.

Soviet influence remains permeated throughout the city’s center as the drab communist architecture creates eye sore after eye sore in a massive homogenous and equitable construction of gray concrete overflowing in every direction. Massive rectangular structures adorn every block, and almost every piece of real estate has been devoured so that very few blades of grass and even less tress have survived the cities’ expansion to accommodate its population. It holds the largest concentration of people in a country of roughly 2 million inhabitants. Indeed, the population is small for such a large land mass, but this ain’t Bangladesh where the heat and humidity, spices, foods, music, drumming, dancing, and hard labor just make all hot and heated and sweaty and ready to……..….do……….things. All KINDS of………things!!

Yes indeedy……

What OH, excuse me – yes, it’s too damn COLD to get naked and procreate!!! Oh HAIL NO! Living out in the countryside in your little round tent, or ger, you wrap yourself in blankets and animal fur and don’t move till morning when you light a fire again to thaw out!

And though the history is fascinating and the people extraordinary, which we could talk about at great length, today I just wanted to share with you my average Sunday in Mongolia.

I woke up this past Sunday morning and crept out from under my 4 blankets to the window which revealed a snow covered city that had not been there the night before. I looked longingly at my bed and prepared to dive back in and burrow myself for the next 24 hours.

BUT NO! I must be strong, I had planned to go horseback riding in the country with some friends and knowing my crazy upcoming schedule with work, I knew I should take advantage of any opportunity to enjoy myself. The wind howled angrily in response to my thoughts and beat against my window. Threw squinted eyes and clenched teeth I muttered several curses as I made my way to the shower.

A quick weather check revealed that the temperature to be a balmy 5 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chills from – 10 to – 17 and would drop to 0 degrees that night. Ahhhh, springtime in Mongolia.
I have GOT to get a new job!!!!

Evil thoughts crept in my head - maybe my friends would cancel? Damnit all, they’ve been in Mongolia too long which has frozen every bit of sense they had left. Maybe I should just call and cancel?? The wind howled in bitter temptation!!
NO! NO! I will be strong!! It will be fun! Yeah! Yeah, that’s it!

I dressed - jeans, two long sleeve layers, two turtlenecks, a cashmere sweater, a wool sweater, a down coat, two alpaca wool hats, two pairs of gloves, 3 pairs of wool socks, lined boots, and a wool scarf – check! I was borrowing a pair of thick long johns from a friend later. Right then, I’m off!

Outside it didn’t actually seem that bad, forgetting of course that I was in the sun, had a ridiculous amount of clothes on, and was protected from the ravenous winds by the safety of the city’s structures. I met my friends for a quit breakfast and a warm drink and we were off in a little city car that could be compared to a little Mazda 4-door. The two navigating Mongolians in the front, and my two friends and myself “cozy” in the back.

Past the city’s center, more dilapidated structures take root, the factories and industries release smoke into the air blanketing the city, and a most intricate piping system reveals itself. Massive pipes of many sizes weave their way above and below ground and look like they can’t possibly still be standing. The Russians built a centralized heating system and hot water is actually heated at a central plant and then piped hot throughout the entire city into every home – fascinating when you consider the climate of Mongolia. If the plant is not working, ain’t no hot water for anyone! It also explains the slight rusty smell of the water.

The industry areas give way to the ger districts, or the tent cities, that have embedded themselves in a sprawling mass at the cities outskirts. Thousands migrated to the city in search of survival after hard winters that killed their herds and crops, after poor land privatization policies that have pushed some people off their ancestral lands, or after farmers and herders were forced to leave their land after environmental damage from mining has destroyed their rivers and herding grounds. The reasons abound.

Beyond the ger districts lies the open road, a single road heading into the vast countryside of Mongolia. The landscapes of Mongolia are diverse and mystifying – from deserts to forests, gently rolling grasslands (the steppes) to mountain ranges, from immense rivers and lakes to lands bordering Siberia. We drove by breathtaking mountain ranges covered with snow, the light hitting them in such a way that that the jagged rocks dramatically cast striking shadows, and the sunlight leapt in and out of the crevasses creating a majestic view that was simply hypnotizing.

The mountains eventually retreated back into the earth, and wide open plains took their place, spreading out in every direction and covered with dust and a pale yellow grass thirsty for water and summer. I kept using my hand to clear off the window that very few minutes kept converting my body heat and breath into a thin layer of ice blocking my view. We drove through open plains for miles and miles often without seeing a single soul or sign of life, except for the occasional ovoo, shamanistic symbols throughout the country of a praying mound of rocks with a large stick in the middle adorned with sacred blue prayer scarfs. It is customary with walk around it clockwise three times and throw three rocks or leave items symbolizing what you are praying for.

I was lookin-WHACK!!!! Our friend driving hit a massive bump in the road which caused me to my head to slam into the roof!! “Oh sorry,” giggled the Mongolian who was driving like a maniac, “No shocks.” Greeeeeeeeeat, as I’m stuck in the backseat, my Filipino friend, Eve, sitting next to me was safe from harm with her 5’3” frame. My British friend, Will, also over 6 feet was not so lucky as he rubbed his own head wound. Were we only suppose to be traveling an hour out of the city, but plans changed last minute and we were now going to visit a herding family supposedly 3 hours away. It’s fine, I go with the flow - as long as this chick drives a little better!!

“WATCH OUT!!!” yelled Will and I instinctively ducked down and covered my head as we sped over another bump causing our Mongolian friend Enkee to giggle with glee. I used all my conflict resolution skills not to smack her in the back of the head!! DOWN AISHA! Down!!

I am not a pacifist!


From time to time there were herds of horses or cattle grazing in the plains or near a rolling hill – signs of life and a ger hidden somewhere, but we drove on. My day-dreaming in the car jarred into a harsh reality check as we hit a colossal mining site, a disgusting looming area of destruction with massive amounts of ground unearthed to get to the precious gold underneath. And though I couldn’t see it, I knew there must be a river on the other side that had once flowed freely through these plains and was now damned up by the mine leaving the plains, the herds and the people thirsty for their natural right. This is part of the human rights abuses that I’m here working on– but we will save that for another time.

Eve sees another praying mound, it seems to be a rather popular one and there are a lot of offerings around the mound, she insists that we stop so that I may walk around it 3 times clockwise to pray and for good karama.

“Oh NO!” I say as I see the winds howling looking to devour any fool that leaves their shelter. “I’ve seen it on TV, good enough.”
She insists.
Damnit! We get out and the wind slaps me in the face, cuts through my jeans, beats against my back, my sides – I’m getting my ass kicked!! I’m screaming like a little girl on the inside, and trying to be tough on the outside as I make my way to the praying thing. Tears are streaming down my face from the wind and cold and I can barely see as I make a run for it 3 times around the damn mound covered with ice, praying for the gods to ward off hypothermia. I almost get hit by a lone car speeding down the road as I run across the street desperately seeking warmth and blinded by my steady stream of tears.

Past the mine we continued and off-roaded onto the dirt paths in search of a nomadic family – yes that IS at difficult as it sounds. The plains turned into rolling hills and the remnants of the river that struggled to survive was iced over, and then just to our right was a mass of birds over what could have only been a carcass. We took a closer look and dozens of massive eagle vultures we tearing away at a cow – they were beautiful and regal even in their frenzied feeding and naturally unattractive features. They spread their wings and shot us a look, claiming their meal as we drove by. The plains rose into rolling hills and 3 hours later we entered Hinti the ancient homeland of Chiggis Khan. We hit a turn in the road, Enkee took it at lightening speed and we all thought we were going to flip, her cousin then got behind the wheel cause “he knew the way” – thank you jesus!

We continue for a while and I sink back into oblivion watching the Mongolian landscape go by, thinking about everything and nothing at all. When I begin to notice that we’ve been driving in circles for a little while – hmmmmmmm! Finally, he stops driving in the middle of nowhere. Yes, yes it’s true that most of Mongolia is the middle of nowhere, aaaand that’s where we were.

I figure it was a bathroom break which I was dreading, it wasn’t so much the fact that it’s an open plain with nowhere to conceal yourself but more the fact of having to expose my ass to the brutal subzero temperatures. I’d been holding it for 2 hours now and was delusional about holding it all day.
Her cousin Zatzee turns around, looks at us sheepishly, and with his limited English says, “No address. Only mountains.”

“Adventura,” he says, “Italian.”

Ha! Indeed, my friend, it always is.

He stops to get his bearings, I’m trying to think of anything but the need to pee – STAY STRONG!!! Warm in car! Warm in car! We’re off again and stop 5 minutes later, all 3 of us cleverly yell out, “No Address!”

He says, “No. Car.”
“Cojones!” he says.
“WHAT?” I yell incredulously.
“Cojones, you know Espanol?” he asks.

I breakout into roars of laughter, and those of you who know my laugh know it’s quite hardy.
(Footnote: Cojones is the Spanish slang for balls or testicles)
I love the randomness of life!!

The car had overheated!! DAMN!! The benefit of sub zero wind chills? There are a few. He gets out and opens the hood, to let winter winds attend to our vehicle. My friends get out to stretch their legs, they open the door and the wind barrels through the car, I quickly close the door as soon as Eve’s leg clears the way. “Don’t you want to come?” they yell. I shoot them a look. They understand it’s meaning.

We’re off again, and stop again 10 minutes later, the car has over heated AGAIN…this can’t be good! And this becomes the pattern of the trip of the next 2 ½ hours. Drive for 15 minutes, stop let car cool, drive, stop, drive – MERCY! We’re also still driving back and forth trying to find where a family might have hidden their tents in the mountains to shield themselves from the bitter winter….riiiiiiiiiight!

We have now been driving for 5 ½ hours. That’s it!!! I can’t hold it any more, damn water drinking!! Eve needs to as well. We make a run for it, it’s too cold for me to care if anyone can see us, but my friend insists on being more proper – damnit! We find a deep ditch and attempt to squat but I almost fall into it, so sweet Eve stands above me so I can hold on to her leg so I don’t fall! Instant bonding indeed. I take a deep breath and expose my ass to the elements and a flurry of curses come flying out of my mouth. Eve cracks up!!
JESUS – I’m having stage fright cause it’s so COLD – this is a nightmare!!!!

Finally, mission accomplished, we run back to the car which happens to be against the bloody wind so it feels like I’m moving backwards!! My hair has whipped all around my head, there are tears streaming down my face, and my teeth are cold for the love of god!! We dive back into the car and we’re off – I should probably mention that it’s about 3:30 in the afternoon by now!

The car starts making a strange sound. We listen. We stop. We have a flat tire. Damn! This means I have to get out of the car!!! As this is a city car, he doesn’t even have a real spare, only a temporary one – that can NOT be good for the ride home now 6 hours away!! I brace myself and enter the cold – this stuff is seriously ridiculous!! And then I’m suppose to ride a horse and go faster?? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME??!! Why didn’t I go back to bed??????!!!! I stand as the wind beats against me and for some reason I decide to open my eyes and there in front of me are the smaller Mongolian and Filipino girl comfortably shielded from the wind by ME!!!!!! They look up and smile. Everything is covered but my eyes so they can’t see my snarl but I squint at them in disgust!

We change the tire, we’re off. The then, THERE THEY ARE – 3 white tents in the distance – our destination!!!!

------------------------------------DRINK REFILL or NAP-----------------------------------

We arrive, how interesting that this is the drivers FAMILY????!!!
We’ve been taken for a serious RIDE cause this dude wanted to see his family!! At this point I’ve already shrugged my shoulders and surrendered to fate, so I just laughed!! We enter the ger his family greets us warmly. Zatzee tells them that we’ve just driven 6 hours to go horseback riding. They look at us like we’re crazy – Mongolians are smart.

But it’s really cold, and very windy, why would you want to ride today – someone translates. Hehehe, JUST GET THE DAMN HORSES I scream in my head as I resist the urge to stick my feet IN the fire to get a little warmth! Two men leave to round up some horses, I go to the car and try to put on my friends long johns. Now everyone is outside, I’m flailing in the back seat trying to maneuver taking off my freshly washed and dryed jeans (DOH!) with a ton of layers on my top, in a small car with a big body– this was a good idea. Some Mongolians notice some commotion in the car and curiously walk over, for a moment I freeze my jeans are off – what to do? Then the cold against my exposed skin smacks some sense into me – it’s COLD, I’m on a mission to get warmer. This is what a big ass looks like my little Mongolian friends! Girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!!

Somehow I succeed and feel SO much warmer, I’m happy! Until, I go back outside again! By now the clouds had moved in, so there was no sun, and no city buildings to block the wind – I have not the words to describe to you what that cold felt like. Enkee gives me her thick, wind proof down vest – I happily add that baby to my layers! The horses are brought over, Mongolian horses are like the people, short, stocky, and strong. The little furry horses looked…somewhat agitated. The Mongolian herder says that he is proud that his horses are not tame but wild which is what makes them such good horses.


They ask me if I want to ride bare back (without a saddle) and I’ve ALWAYS wanted to, and then I see a horse in the distance with the rest of the herd, repeatedly kick another horse.
Ummmmmm, no thank you, I reply.

Mongolian saddles are a curious creation, instead of sitting on the horse they rise upwards off the horse into this V shape.

It barely fits my ass!
And the stirrups (where you put your feet) are so high for short Mongolian legs that my knees are level with the horse’s back!!! This is NOT good for riding.

The horse, now I’m not joking, turns around to look at me.
I smile.


Oh he’s wild, and he wants to run which I would love except it feels like I’m about to fly over it’s head!!! I pull back hard on the reigns, he slows, and then tries to take off again!!! A Mongolian rider laughs hysterically as he pulls up next to me to tell me I should stand up on the horse and that would make it better, and he demonstrates on his horse to show me.
STAND UP!!! FOOL! I thought for sure I was going to fly right over this horses head – it’s really a wonderful feeling!! Bloody hell! The cold has apparently gotten to his brain too.

Eve takes one look at the horses and decides – hell no. Will also found the horses wild and the saddle impossible to use and got off of his. Riding lasted less than 20 minutes.
We toured the horse herd, and then retreated inside, the Mongolians had a sumo wrestling championship to watch and I was freezing my cajones off!

The Mongolians all headed to the one tent with a massive satellite dish outside next to the solar panel. Hey, just cause you live in the middle of nowhere doesn’t mean you got to live like you’re in the middle of nowhere. These guys were hooked up!! We joined them as the woman of the tent began preparing our meal – I sighed, knowing that I would have to eat hardly to be respectful and that anything that they served would contain a ton of animal fat.

It begins.
Ah, the diet of Mongolia.

We watch some exciting sumo matches as two Mongolians battled for the international championship – quite a bit of national pride filled the tent! And dinner is served – dumplings stuffed with mostly piece of goat fat, a little bit of goat meat, cooked in pure yak milk with some yak butter, and rice on the bottom. I eat it, I have no choice or I would insult the entire family. And SILLY me an entire bowl of this stuff was only the appetizer. We went to the elder’s tent where his daughter made another traditional Mongolian meal, you break off large pieces of cow, roll out one large flat noodle and boil the beef with the massive noodle on top. The noodle is served on the side in a bowl and the meat in another bowl where you tear off pieces of meat and pasta with your hands and go to town. However, before we can eat, the head of the household, the most senior man, will cut off a slice of the cow intestine stuffed with fat and throw it into the fire as an offering to the gods, and then cut off another piece and place it in front of the Buddhist shrine in the household. Everyone gets served according to place and honor, so the eldest man first, and as guests we were allowed to eat first with the elder, the younger Mongolians (older than me!) must wait to eat what we left.

As honored guests (and I keep trying to tell them we’re not guests but almost like family – but they never buy it), we were given generous portions of beef tongue and intestine stuff with large portions of fat and a little bit a beef. Mind you, I’m already full from the first onslaught of animal products in a bowl, and now I must respectfully eat more!! This would be one area where my size and stature serve as a great disadvantage as they expect that I would eat at least twice as much as they do!! DAMNIT! I really try to force myself to eat a little more and not disrespect them, but every time I stopped they continued to fill my bowl or the elder demanded that I eat more. When I finally said I couldn’t, he looked unhappy and looked away. I shoved another piece of meat into my mouth, he grunted in approval and then when I really had to stop he looked disappointed and stopped talking to me.
Within minutes so much meat and meat products made me feel like curling up into a ball and hibernating for the winter, or the alternative would have been a lovely stomach pumping and some lettuce - but such is life.

So after a 6 hours drive, 15 miuntes of horseback riding, and an hour and a half with the family, it was getting late, roughly 6 p.m. and there was no way we were going to be able to navigate over all those rocks carefully with our temporary tire without adequate light. The Mongolians all incredulously looked at each other like these crazy foreigners drove all this way in terrible weather for 2 hours and are going back???!!!
Why yes, yes we are – work calls Monday morning.

And so we were off. The winds had picked up considerably, the sun was retiring for the evening and the cold was comfortably settling in for the night. We said our thank yous and good byes and headed off, praying to the tire gods to let our little tire make it through the journey and not have us be stuck where NO ONE could find us and in the cold!!! The sun setting over Chinggis’ homeland was spectacular, the reds, ambers, and purplish hues created a beautiful fire in the sky as the light played off of each other and reluctantly sunk below the mountains in the distance. The blue blues of the sky turned a deep midnight blue-black giving way to dozens of tiny sparks of light interspersed throughout the dark abyss above. The dozens of small flickers of light turned into hundreds, and then thousands of brilliant bright stars. I sunk back into the seat in that state of mind where all outside noise disappears, your senses relax and retreat to a place of rest, and my eyes followed the glints of light and got lost and the blue-black ocean of the Mongolian sky and faded into sleep. I was happy to be here and knew the morning hours would bring a lot of work and more to come.

It grows late here and so I wish you well. I know I owe most of you some personal form of communication, I am sorry, but I do think of you!

Sweet Dreams and Yak Milk (that is if you're still awake and you've made it this far!!),