Metal Rods, Checkpoints & Handshakes
Time is flying and I don’t like it! I am having the time of my life here in Lebanon and am savoring every second (well, maybe not my 7 hours of dry non-stop Arabic classes and 4+ hours of homework a night but, c’est la vie, and a pretty good one at that so it is fine!).
I still feel extremely unprepared to speak to people in the street but yesterday I started ordering my food in Arabic and asking for directions so, that is a first little step. I am also learning how to text in Arabic dialect which is exciting for me! One thing that is fascinating about Lebanon is the fact that it is truly a trilingual country and you will hear French and English intermixed constantly with Arabic! “shukran” often becomes “merci” and “min fudlik” becomes “please.”
I am having to get used to the electricity being intermittent. For example, the lights will go off at least 3 times during class or while shopping for yummy fresh fruit at the market, all of a sudden the grocery store will become pitch black until the hum of the generators begin. It makes me laugh to think about how excited I would get when the electricity is down during a big storm in the States and thus we would get to use candles! Here, outages are not that romantic
Anyway, to continue in the same vein as my last post, on things distinctly different from what I know, here you go:
I was honestly really surprised that there are checkpoints in Lebanon. For some reason I had always associated checkpoints with Lebanon’s neighbor Palestine but alas, they too exist here while on a much smaller scale.
The other night my male friend was sitting in the front seat of a taxi when, all of a sudden he got out and yelled to us that a girl must sit in the front instead of him. While I didn’t understand at the time, he later explained that the Syrian taxi driver did not have papers and would be questioned if another man was sitting next to him. If a girl is sitting in the passenger seat the car is usually whisked by.
Humvees and Metal Rods
The other day I saw my first tank on the side of the road. While it did not make me at all nervous it was initially surprising, as I had only seen tanks in movies or in newspapers. Once again, I was brought back to thinking how removed the U.S. is from the reality on the ground in countries so far away. Tanks and such ARE real and I just wish that the people who remotely engage missiles etc. would comprehend that no, the people in the Middle East are not characters in a video game.
Another security object that I had not seen before was the “metal rod.” At all entrances of malls and public places there are men with metal rods. A friend of mine asked me: “See those metal rods? Do you know what they are?” No I did not. She went on to explain that they are bomb detectors. Interesting.
The American University of Beirut is the most prestigious university in the Arab world and only the most intelligent and successful students are given entrance. Wrongly, I often associate education with a degree of secularism or at least the questioning of authority. On my second night in Beirut, while watching the Euro Cup, I met two male students and conversed about the final game and poetry (yes, I know it was an odd mix). Anyway, when it was time to leave (male students are not allowed to stay in the female dorms after 12, and visa versa) one of the guys shook my hand excitedly, “So nice to meet you,” and so I put my hand out to shake the hand of the second student. Alas, I was met with the air. The second student touched his hand to his heart and looked down and muttered “sorry” under his breath. While I know he would have done the same to all other girls, it was such a bizarre feeling to be so directly refused because I am a woman. Since I pride myself on accepting the differences of all, I was very taken aback by my own personal shock at the encounter. I never thought I would react so strongly to this gesture.
For some reason, I thought that (some) Muslim men do not shake women’s hands in more conservative countries like Afghanistan or Yemen—not in the metropolis of Beirut! But, alas I was wrong and definitely learned a lesson: ALWAYS WAIT FOR THE MAN TO REACH OUT HIS HAND FIRST. It is all just SO humbling and I have realized just how much I do NOT know. Onward…
NOTE: This unique experience of conservative undertone has NOT been wide spread.
The nightlifehere is amazing! People here just live more fully than in any other place I have been. I LOVE IT!!! As a matter of fact, tonight I am going to an Enrique Iglesias concert on the waterfront (I missed the Pitbull concert)!