Lebanon and the eternal snow
Since October 10th 2013: 143 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
“Only” 60 countries left
Here’s some food for thought: countries are only temporary. It just suddenly dawned on me. Any country which exists today was not a country 10,000 years ago. Most countries are barely a few hundred years old. Naturally whichever country you live in will cease to exist some day. Countries are not permanent.
Every piece of land you’ve ever walked across belonged to someone else at some point. A king, a warlord, an emperor, a self-perpetuating autocracy (thank you Monty Python) or a family would have owned it at some point. Only places like the Antarctic are mutually governed today and yes; I’ll reach Antarctica some day but it’s not a country so not within the Saga ;) Perhaps someday with my wife who still remains my fiancée as we did not get married here in Lebanon due to an endless trail of bureaucracy. We will marry somewhere some day.
The Pheonicians originated from what is Lebanon today and invented a way of dyeing clothes purple.
So we govern borders and offer lives to protect what we claim to be ours for as long as we live which is simply a moment of a cedar tree's memory...if trees dream and think at all? Keep on keeping on and remember that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before. That will perhaps be my legacy but probably not an imaginary temporary border which I have crossed so many of so often in the past four years. We are violent yet friendly - our species I mean. If we can separate ourselves from the other “sheep” then we will momentarily think we are unique. Alan Shepard returned from space in 1971 and said: “When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” I figure I would cry too if I was given the chance and space is definitely among my dreams. Why did he cry? Because we live on a tiny blue dot in the middle of a vast ocean of darkness and yet we fight each other? Religion, power, money, love, politics, dreams, ideas...the list is endless and we murder each other for various reasons.
I’ve never claimed someone’s life. Most people haven’t. However millions of people have in the face of time. More than seven billion people call our blue dot home today. A third have Facebook accounts and the VAST majority of everyone are simply just people trying to get on with life. What do we really want? An education? A well paying job? Love? Peace? A bigger car? Adventure? To read a book? To dance? Why am I trying to cross all these borders without flying? “I think therefore I am”, said René Descartes, and was right. We are alive and divided. Born alone? I doubt it. You were born connected to your mother in a real physical sense. Yet divided as we grow up, by the jeans we wear, the language we speak, the friends we make and invisible borders we create. Undivided by our species. Race? There is only one race and it is called human. People are just people. Oh how I ramble on...
Happy New Year. We have been counting our blue dots journey around the Sun for the past 2018 circumnavigations. And every trip around the Sun we have counted was since the birth of Christ or after common era and did those people living before it know? No they didn’t because we made that system long after they left our blue dot, but the cedar trees were already there. Do trees count? Some plants do. The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) feels touch and can be triggered by movement. Then it counts to about 20 seconds. If it is not triggered again then it resets. If it’s triggered before it reaches 20 then it shuts. The Lebanese cedars are said to live for thousands of years in some cases. Do they count the days as they majestically stand there in the high altitudes? Who knows? Who cares?
The Jeita Grottos are among the most impressive I've ever seen: www.jeitagrotto.com
How does everything above relate to Lebanon? Lebanon is the Saga's first middle Eastern country and I’m counting. 1,548 days since I left Denmark, 143 countries visited, beyond 190,000 kilometers (118,00 miles) travelled, zero flights, 15 visits by my fiancée, 60 countries left, 11 days average per country, perhaps two more years to go, hundreds of new friends, 141 Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies promoted, 191 National Societies in the world, $20,752 collected through crowdfunding, $0 received from Indiegogo since the campaign ended on December 12th 2017, 56 presentations at schools, companies and events, four continents completed, two more to go...how many more days before I get notice regarding my Syrian visa? I count...I do not count everything though. I wonder how many hands I have shaken, smiles I have received, meals I have had, words I have learned, cups of tea I have consumed, beds I have slept in, people I’ve made laugh, people who made me laugh, thoughts I’ve had, things I’ve forgotten, times I’ve wanted to quit, dreams I’ve had, kisses from my fiancée...I know how many blogs I’ve written: 225 including this one ;)
Byblos has been inhabited for about 10,000 years and is well worth a visit.
Man oh man how I miss my fiancée. Her name is Le. Le and I had a great time together. We didn’t need to “find each other”. We were just together as if she never left. She flew back home a few days ago and the world immediately became empty as if we were the two last people standing on earth but separated by a million miles. I’m privileged. Yes, I know I am. I could go home today although I won’t. I’m nowhere near quitting although I’ve been very close several times before. I chose this Saga and named it. I made the decision to leave home and not return until every country has been visited completely without flying. You have got to be pretty high up on Maslow's Pyramid of needs to make a decision like that. It’s real privilege and I know for a fact that most people couldn’t care less about if I achieve or not. Who cares if someone runs another marathon or another “nutcase” reaches the summit of Everest? That’s not what we care about. We care about personal strength as it motivates. We care about demonstration of grit as it inspires. We care about entertainment and knowledge. Nobody could care less if I cross all the borders without flying and become the first to do so. The only reason anyone would care is because I announced that I would and because I’m completely unwilling to give up until it’s done. Personal accomplishments become something when they are big enough. When sacrifices are made for the right reasons. Such accomplishments however only have value if someone else is able to derive something from it. I hope you do...
Mim is an extraordinary mineral museum in Beirut with a private collection from 70 countries: www.mim.museum
Le keeps my feet on the ground. She is what I gravitate towards. I love that woman and losing her would be losing a part of myself. We are doing good. We are doing REALLY good. She loves me too. We spoke about the past, the present and the future. The future became so real that I could taste it. We will live together and continue to build a future together. We will grow old together. We even spoke of tiny details which we will arrange for in the future. We upheld our traditions when she was here. We had sushi and went to the cinema. Why did they make the last Star Wars movie? They could have stopped after the initial three as far as I’m concerned. I still want to be a Jedi but I didn’t need the last four movies to know that ;) I won’t get too intimate in the blog because our life is ours. Some things are not to be shared publicly. I’ll just say that I’m even more confirmed in my belief that I’ve found the right one and that I’m less complete out here in the world without her.
Byblos old town is beyond charming!
Lebanon. It’s one of the most astonishing countries I’ve been to. I always get attached to countries when I stay “too long”. I’d be proud if I was Lebanese because these people have something special. I bet you could give the Lebanese any country in the world and they would create a success out of it. Don’t get me wrong because there are plenty of issues here which need attention. However, as we all like to point fingers and distance ourselves from responsibility, I truly believe that the Lebanese have a stronger case than others. Many issues here are caused by circumstances which these fine people had no control over. The war in Syria pushed more than a million people into Lebanon which naturally pushes the infrastructure to the limit. Water, electricity, the roads...the Lebanese are strong and resilient - they can handle it. I wonder how many other nations could? I also speculate about what it means to be Lebanese? Because around here you have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Armenians, Palestinians, Syrians and a whole lot more within the borders. As far as I’m concerned they are all Lebanese - a special mix of people making it work. Somewhere else that cocktail could result in a failed state. Around here buildings rise, ideas become reality, stores stay open, the future is formed. Why are people outside of Lebanon surprised to hear that Lebanon has a combination of mosques, churches, synagogues, casinos, pork, bacon, vine, gambling, ski resorts, snow, mountains, breweries, flatscreens, WhatsApp, wifi, peace, malls, friendships, families, weddings, humor, food, huge houses, spectacular views, Mediterranean coastline, trekking routes, 10,000 years of well documented local history and hardly any camels to be seen? ;) The destructive civil war ended in 1991 and the first cranes were erected the same year. Sure you can still spot bullet holes because: “Rome wasn’t built in a single day”. However bullet holes are the exception and not the rule.
Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque (Blue Mosque), Beirut.
To be Lebanese is not to be a five thousand year old civilization which came up with the invention of the pink dye and systemising the alphabet. To be Lebanese is in my opinion to stand on the shoulders of giants and reach for the stars. To be Lebanese is also to read everything I’ve just written down and disagree with all of it because there are plenty of opinions to go around in this country :) Another classic Lebanese feature is to order far more food than what anyone could possibly eat and then fight for the right to pay for it afterwards :) To be Lebanese is certainly also to be proud. To be Lebanese is to master a large and almost endless network of people. To be Lebanese is to speak more than one language. To be Lebanese is a lot of things but in particular it is to know that Lebanon is home.
Beirut has its fair share of facy cars driving around. Especially a great deal of Porsches drive about.
People here are kind...unless they are driving...because put a Lebanese behind the wheels and it’s time to get out of the way!! :) Honking horns, full speed even when the next car is stuck in traffic just seconds away, speaking on the cellphone, listening to music, adjusting the air conditioning and yet delivering a friendly wave is the name of the game in this country. Not the worst drivers I’ve come across but also not the best. Somewhere in between but hard to identify as the kind, hospitable, curious, clever, smiling people you otherwise meet. Just look both ways (twice) before you cross a road.
It has been raining lately. Not every day but close enough. I looked at the weather forecast for the entire Middle East and it’s only down by Yemen and Oman that it begins to look warm. It’s cold for me and my body which has long ago adjusted to the warm climate which is a reality for most countries in the world. 16-17 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit) and rain. Sometimes thunder and lightning too. Not what I pictured in my head before reaching the Middle East. Learn with me. The eternal snow of Lebanon isn’t all that persistent anymore. For the past 20-30 years the snow up in the mountains has disappeared and returned with the seasons. However I’m certainly sure that Lebanon receives far more snow in the winter than Denmark does. How about that for perspective? More snow in a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean country than in a Scandinavian country. More food for thought.
I believe it was the first New Year’s Eve I spent with Le. We bought a small bottle of champagne, watched the Danish Queen's speech, shared a bottle of red wine, looked at the fireworks across the city center and had a quiet night in. Just the two of us...and the internet. A few days later we bought a nice souvenir from Lebanon: a handcrafted game of backgammon. It’s beautiful and is among other things ornamented with cedar trees. Backgammon is one of the oldest games we know of and it’s origins can be traced back at least 5,000 years. We had our fair share of games on that board before she flew home.
In life we can look at what we need and what we want. I kind of need a visa in order to reach Syria but I don’t really need to go to every country in the world. I do need food, sleep, air etc. On the other hand I want a visa, I want to go to every country, I want funding of the Saga, I want a laptop, I want a GoPro camera, I want to inspire, I want to educate, I want to entertain and I want you to know that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before. Happy New Year. Make sure you earn another one! ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - freezing in the Middle East!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga