Monday, August 07, 2006

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,

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