Unexcused Absence

14 June, 2010

It’s getting to be old hat by now, but once again, I’ll open this entry with yet another profuse apology for our absence. To say the least, we’ve been extremely, extremely busy as of late. Our friend Jake says that photo blogs are much better than long, verbose entries. Therefore, I’ll summarize what’s been going on with as of late:

1. Beirut was awesome, wonderful, amazing and absolutely incredible. Words simply can’t describe how hard and fast we fell for this marvelous city. Set and I aren’t exactly novice travelers (she’s running out of pages in her passport) but Beirut managed to catapult itself straight to the very top of my “Favorite Cities in the World” list. Here’s why:

The food.

When one thinks of the healthy and satisfying Mediterranean diet, they’re thinking of Lebanese/Syrian food. Fresh tabouleh, wonderful salads, falafel, amazing shwarma, and red wine with every meal. On our first full day in Lebanon, we ate at a French cafe in Gemmayzeh called Le Rouge. Apparently, we were savoring every bite a little too much,  because the waitress came over and asked us why we were eating so slowly. We explained we’d been in Egypt for the past eight months. She nodded knowingly, and the next thing we knew, a gigantic piece of chocolate cake appeared in front of us, gratis.
The city

In direct contrast to CNN’s latest piece of yellow journalism (which declared Beirut to be among the most dangerous cities in the world), we found Beirut to be one of the most friendly and cosmopolitan places we’ve visited. After days of wandering the wide, heavily-trafficked Corniche to the sprawling grounds of the American University of Beirut, we never once felt the need to assume a protective posture. That’s not to say that there aren’t tragic reminders of Lebanon’s fifteen year long civil war and sporadic episodes of strife (you’d be hard pressed to find a wall that hasn’t met the business end of 7.62mm), but the vibrant city life here doesn’t exactly evoke downtown Baghdad or Peshawar. For two history/international relations wonks such as ourselves, a city where you can see a Virgin Megastore, one of the largest and most ornate mosques in the Muslim world and a bullet-ridden statue all within the same field of view provides a profound appreciation for the character of the Lebanese people and a wider appreciation for the world at large.

The countryside

Just 50km outside of Beirut lies an entirely different world. One day, we hired a taxi to take us from Cola Station through the villages of Bettedyne and Barouk to the Chouf Mountain Reserve. Barely an hour and a half outside of Beirut, we found ourselves wandering amongst the cedars that give Lebanon its distinctive flag.

The people

One night, we wandered around Achrafiyeh in search of a Mexican place we’d heard about. Outside of a restaurant, we overheard a conversation in which the participants freely switched between Spanish, French, English, and Arabic.  Our Egyptian Arabic got us smirks and bemused grins- every day, we were greeted with a hearty “izzayukum!” from one of the guys who worked at the hostel we stayed at. (Note: “izzayak” is a greeting distinct to Egyptian Arabic, most other Arabic speakers would say “keif aleik” instead) Also, the Lebanese literally are the most alarmingly beautiful people in the world- let’s just say that a great diet and access to a very well established plastic surgery scene certainly helps.

The bar scene

We had our first margaritas in eight months. Enough said.

We also stocked up on enough books and magazines to outfit a small army of librarians, and overall, gave ourselves a much needed recharge. Overall, Lebanon is a jewel, and a place that I’d happily return to any day.

2. Reunions- Directly after our return to Egypt, our indomitable friend Amanda paid us a visit. She got the best of both worlds- the touristy experience of visiting Egypt as well as a good representation of what Set and I have been going through since we got here. This includes eating enough food to feed a family of four for less than 2 US dollars, getting stuck in Cairo traffic and taking nearly 12 hours to travel 120 miles, visiting the Qaitbay Citadel and Library of Alexandria as well as riding in a mashroua (the ubiquitous minivans that act as semi-official transportation), dealing with the broken lock to our apartment building in the early hours of the morning and meeting our crazy friends.  Coming off our trip to Beirut and meeting an old friend made for our best break yet.

3. All Work and No Play Make Kenny and Set Go Crazy- last term, although lighter in our teaching load, was by far the most taxing we’ve had yet. Set had the idea of starting a student newspaper, which was truly a labor of love straight out of the story of Sisyphus. We dealt with rampant plagiarism, the hassles of laying out nearly 20 pages worth of content, and extreme technical difficulties to put out a seventeen page issue that saw distribution amongst the upper levels here at Amideast. It took a couple of Iron Maiden and Turkish coffee fueled all-nighters, but we’re proud of the final product and happy that we got a chance to give our students a voice in a country where speaking loudly isn’t encouraged.

4. Exit Strategy- Unlike the Bush administration, British and French, we entered the Middle East with clear goals and an exit strategy. As it stands right now, we’re planning on returning to America at some point in September. While we’ve enjoyed our jobs, teaching English isn’t exactly what we aspired to when we got our master’s degrees. We’re applying for jobs that are more in line with our interests and qualifications, and decided not to go anywhere for this break so we could work on our job hunt and figure things out.

In short, we’ve been extremely busy, and now marks the first real time that either one of us has been able to invest the time in writing. So, dear friends, to set the record straight-  we weren’t kidnapped by Hezbollah in Lebanon and we haven’t thrown ourselves out of a window yet (although it was tempting when our toilet sprung a leak and we had to choose between having no water or a flooded bathroom)- we’ve just been horrifically busy.

Now, onto pictures.

We hope to have another entry up ASAP, but for now, thanks for your patience.

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