Lebanon, you need to know all this ;)
Since October 10th 2013: 143 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Time flies - I don’t
It’s been a long time since I left my beloved kingdom of Denmark in the high north of Europe. I’m four years older now. I’ve seen a lot since then.
It took three attempts to reach Lebanon before we succeeded. Now that I’m here I visited the Syrian Embassy and learned that I’ll be here for at least a month. It wouldn’t have been the case if I arrived in Lebanon on my first attempt. It’s the case now since we're so close to Christmas and New Years. If you don’t think they get snow around here and if you think they don’t celebrate Christmas, then you’re about to learn a lot ;) Beirut is the capital of Lebanon and it’s a city which is currently covered in automated Santa Claus dolls and Christmas trees!! I think they’ve outdone Copenhagen (Capital of Denmark) this year! We’re a lot closer to Bethlehem you know. It’s just a stone throw away from here...if you’re really strong ;)
Christmas decorations are everywhere in Beirut.
Christmas and New Year will be here in Lebanon. Some of you call me patient but I think it’s more about grit. Hanging in there for another tough visa. The Syrian Embassy was kind, professional and realistic. If I had been here a month ago then we would be waiting for two weeks. Now we’re hanging in there for a month due to holiday season. Think about that? Holidays in Syria. Not a perspective the media typically offers us. I spoke to someone about whether my lebanese simcard would work in Syria too? It depends on roaming. That made me think: “someone in Syria must drive around and service the antennas? A normal job which you would find in any country today”. Do we ever think like that? Syria is just across the mountains here. The mountains have snow and Lebanon has ski resorts. Snow and skiing in the Middle East. We truly need to update our mindset soon. Most people remember Lebanon for what ended 26 years ago. A terrible destructive civil war from 1975 to 1991. It ended the same year the Soviet Union came to its end. That’s really long ago and Beirut (capital of Lebanon) began rebuilding its mighty city immediately. You should see the city today bustling with life, diversity and culture. Here I am. It used to be “the Paris of the Middle East”. It used to be “the European gateway to the Middle East”. It could be again but it needs to focus a little more on public transportation. 100,000 cars more and walking will be faster. Most large cities battle with that challenge. Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania and Bogotá in Colombia solved this with metro-busses, which act like metros overground. Stations and everything. This solution can be installed almost anywhere at the fraction of the cost of a metro train. Electrical buses. That’s a future I can support.
The way I see it Beirut was a bustling financial and cultural center before the civil war. It makes me think that their misfortune could had happened to most of us under the wrong circumstances. The Lebanese are resilient though. About a million of them left Lebanon in those years and I’ve met so many of them. As I traveled down the west coast of that giant continent we call Africa I encountered them again and again. Successful cafés, restaurants, cinemas, malls...you name it. The Lebanese are excellent networkers and get the best out of all their contacts. Give a Lebanese a chance and he will produce a castle of marble :) Lebanon has a lot of Syrians living in their country. Most of them brought their cars with them which didn’t help a lot regarding traffic. Nothing to blame there though. I’d surely bring my car to Sweden if I had to leave Denmark although I don’t own one :)
Raymond said that this bread with topping is very Lebanese? :)
Smoked salmon. The beirutis are moving in on Nordic turf!
Lebanon is world famous for its food. That’s no wonder at all. Now that I’m here I’ve had my first Lebanese meals in Lebanon which is absolutely fitting. A lot of those meals have been together with Raymond who’s the dean of students at LWIS City International School, where I gave a presentation of the Saga for an inquisitive bunch of happy students. Very happy because it was their last day at school before the holidays. I’ve slowly but steadily become a public speaker. 55 so far for companies, schools and events in 31 different countries on 3 different continents. Sounds like a solid repertoire to me? Could ask for money but my intention has always been that the Saga should be free of cost for everyone until I return home.
Anyway, I feel safe in Lebanon which is a historical significant country. There are no armed conflicts here and the conflict in Syria does not spill over the borders as most conflicts are very localised anyway. A bullet doesn’t fly far and you could technically sit and enjoy a cup of tea within a relative short drive from horrible combat. It sounds crazy but life goes on. In Libya I enjoyed tea pretty near a shootout and my host suggested we could drive closer to see the action. I politely said no thank you but thought about how people in Iceland drive close to an erupting volcano with a six pack of beer. What do we know and understand about how our world works? We are often cuddled up on a couch far away from other people’s reality. Danger is really relative sometimes and we should all be cautious not to become numb. That includes drunk driving after a Christmas party my fellow friends ;)
The Holiday Inn Beirut used to be a pride of the city back in 1974. It stands untouched amongst modern buildings overlooking the Mediterranean. The Lebanese / Kuwaiti shared management disagrees on its faith and so it rests as a massive historical marker for now.
Parliament, blue skies and pigeons.
Keep in mind that media often drowns us with the most horrible stories of armed conflict and destruction. When did you last see the evening news featuring the positive development of Beirut? I know...never! It’s horribly biased. If our media doesn’t show us such stories then how are we to know how the world develops? We are often left with the last impression... Here in Lebanon that’s 26 years ago. Today life goes on for many. Some argue that living standards are better today than before. Some argue the opposite. Here we have McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts. Quite a paradox in a country with such a rich culinary culture. That’s life for you though. Just give people Game of Thrones, fidget spinners, Facebook and flatscreen TVs. Every country I’ve been to has it. Keep your culture but don’t refrain from following the development of the world. It’s a balance like anything else.
Raymond quickly became a friend. Raymond and I met face to face for the first time the day I reached Lebanon. He set me up in Margaret and John's guest room in a trendy part of Beirut. Margaret and John are from Scotland and England. They treated me like an old friend. They are expats here in Lebanon and Margaret made me breakfast and brought me to church. Their denomination is the All Saint Anglican Church where I joined in on their Christingle event. A Christingle is basically a decorated orange with a lot of symbolic meaning. The children loved that tradition which has its origins in Germany back in 1747.
Margaret and John's 15 year old dog Murron.
All Saints Anglican Church in Beirut.
Denomination: that’s a word I learned in the Caribbean back in 2014. I was invited into a vast number of different Christian churches. My favorite was the one which had steel pan drums. I’ve since then been invited into mosques, synagogues and temples. How wonderful people are to have faith in that which cannot be proven or seen. Einstein has been quoted as saying: “Logic will will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you anywhere”. Lennon sang: “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too”.
Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque aka "the blue mosque".
I really like both Margaret and John. They’ve both left to go back home for Christmas though. Luckily I’ve met a wonderful Danish delegate of the Danish Red Cross, who also went home for Christmas and left me the keys to her apartment. 143 countries over 4 years and 2 months now and I’m wondering if that’s a first from the Danish Red Cross? It feels nice to be appreciated.
From one apartment to the next. What a privilege! :)
The Red Cross is strong here in Lebanon where they are hard at work. I’m scheduled to meet with them next week and I’m looking forward to it. The Red Cross Red Crescent (RC) remains the worlds largest humanitarian organization and is to be found across just about every nation in the world. Trust a man who’s paid the RC a visit in more than 130 countries when he says: they are worth supporting! Some people have heard horrible stories about the RC. It's an enormous movement across our entire globe which reaches hundreds of millions. Some of those stories may be true? The RC is made up of people and not robots. Some cases of mismanagement have been reported and have been dealt with. The bad stories of the RC are a drop in the ocean compared to how much good the RC does. It's about perspective and nothing is perfect. It comes back to what I’ve already mentioned: When did you last see the evening news featuring the positive development of humanity? I know...never! It’s horribly biased. And the world's largest humanitarian organization is hard at work to a degree which only few could possibly imagine. Trust me on that one. You can support by donating to the RC, by volunteering or simply by spreading positive news stories. It all serves a greater purpose.
A branch of the LRCS (Lebanese Red Cross Society).
I’m fairly passionate about Lebanon due to my love for history. Lebanon has enough history and culture to supply a continent! Beirut alone has history which goes back more than 5,000 years. Phoenicians are those clever cultivated people that set out to trade or conquer whatever they could in the Mediterranean. That’s three continent: Africa, Europe and Asia. The Phoenicians originated and grew in might and wealth from what we today know as Lebanon. 5,000 years ago they didn’t identify as Phoenicians but rather as villages and cities. It was the Greeks who named them Phoenicians and what we call Phoenicia today was a civilization that began about 3,500 years ago. Those people back then probably didn’t identify with the name themselves. They were organised into city states which they individually represented on trade missions and other adventures. Surely a proud history to be descendants of today. The thousands of years old civilization was followed up by Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Achaemenid Persian, Hellenistic, Roman and Sassanid Persian empires. Then the Muslim Arab conquest and Christian Crusaders, Mamluk Sultanate, Ottoman Empire, French colonialism and independence in 1943. Quite a mouthful - huh? East of Lebanon you’ll find more historically strong empires and they had merchant routes running through the region in order to trade with numerous civilisation throughout the Mediterranean. Somehow all of that led up to a Christmas tree of Lebanese beer bottles at one of Beirut's many markets :)
Alcohol and Christmas in the Middle East. You knew about that - right? ;)
I was fortunate to receive an invitation to join Ramez and Lamia for a guided tour of Lebanon’s national museum. Ramez has been following the Saga on Facebook for years and Lamia is an archeologist. Doesn’t get much better than that! I do enjoy visiting museums and the National Museum in Beirut is nothing short of astonishing! You might expect the collection to be with so much relevant history for millennia. However it was turned into a disaster during the civil war. I saw a video showing its sorry conditions after the war ended in 1991. The video featured the mind boggling efforts it has taken to restore it into its present state which ranks among my absolute favorites. I don’t even think you need to like museums in order to be impressed. The restoration team definitely pulled it off. Well done Lebanon.
At the museum with Ramez and Lamia :)
I also received an invitation to join Araz for a real traditional Armenian dinner. Araz is Armenian-Lebanese and she’s not alone. Around 150,000 Armenian-Lebanese have lived in Lebanon and become part of the country for centuries. They were mostly forced out of their own land by the Ottoman Empire. Lebanon is estimated to have a population of about 6 million beating hearts within its borders. It becomes rather laughable when financially strong nations cry about hosting 10,000 migrants and refugees. As of 2012 Lebanon was host to 1,600,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Sudan. It kind of puts things into perspective. One might wonder who the Lebanese really are with such a diversity? And ethnic Lebanese must surely be a formidable mixture of millennia of invasions, tradesmen and empires. To be Lebanese might just be to be worldly! :) My DNA test revealed that I was part Scottish, part Irish, part Welsh, part Danish, part Finish, part Balkan and part Baltic. And 100% modern Viking! ;)
This was but a fraction of what Araz fed me. And it was all uhmmm good!
After a lovely Armenian dinner Araz and I met up with another Araz who’s a journalist. As it turns out the Sagas first Lebanese media appearance might just be printed in Armenian :)
Now I’ll round up this entry with a little treat for those of you who bother to read the Friday Blog. My precious little fiancée is due to arrive here in Lebanon on Tuesday. She’s going to keep me company until a few days into the next year. Great stuff!! We were on Skype a few days ago and she asked me what I had done that day. To her surprise I could say I spent a few hours getting familiar with the historical significance of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Don’t ask! Sometimes I just get off track :) In other news I’ve been in touch with a few PR agencies and also with Maersk (www.maersk.com) here in Beirut. Maersk could confirm that the border between Syria and Jordan is closed. I guess that’s it for now.
My final, final word this time is for you to remember that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before. The world is full of them so please go outside and make some :)
Take care wherever you are!
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - tired but smiling.
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga