Lebanon - Tic toc, tic toc
Since October 10th 2013: 143 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country.
Where there is a will, there is a way
An optimist might believe that he can fly like a bird and jump off a building. I’m an optimist but not that kind. I’m realistic too.
I left home four years and four months ago with a to many people unobtainable, slightly insane and very demanding play: to pay a visit to every single country in a single unbroken journey completely without flying. 143 countries behind us and 60 to go. So far so good. By my original calculations I should be home now. Home to celebrate my father who turned 70 years a few days ago. The same day as I coincidentally had been 70 days in Lebanon. My mother will turn 70 in a few months. I will miss that too. I have wonderful parents and they are both relatively healthy. I will be home for when they celebrate 80 trips around the sun. Few know what I have been through to get this far. Most people do not care. However the Saga is pure and has enjoyed much attention worldwide. The Saga has featured in media in nearly 100 countries now. The social media grows slowly however it grows. It counts around 35,000 online followers now which is massive compared to where I grew up. My town in Denmark only counted 1,200 people and everyone knew everybody.
My "show-off" dad made it into the local news for his 70th trip around the sun.
The social media does not grow on its own. Not much at least. Radio, television, newspapers, blogs, recommendations, shares, conversations and more helps. The Saga is unique but the competition for headlines is great. Many people are doing unique things and get far less attention than the Saga. Many get far more. It’s mostly about content. I believe I deliver a lot of content but it’s not always what people want. I do not shove a camera into an old man's face and I do not party hard with beautiful women. I’m not a gorgeous blond woman who posts pictures of my desirable body everyday ;) I aim at showing how normal our world is and I focus less on the sensational parts. I believe that the fact that our world is far more ordinary that what is portrayed to us in mainstream media is sensational. My focus is on history, culture, music, weather, sports, families, people, selfies, Game of Thrones, access to Internet and much more. My blogs are about the people I meet, my thoughts, my joy, my sorrow, my solutions, my persistence and the list goes on. I aim to write and post material from around the world where locals can read it and say: “fair enough. He is on to something. He didn’t misrepresent my country but also he hasn’t been here for his entire life”. If you visited Denmark then I would be happy to read that you liked it and had a good experience. If something went wrong then I would be happy to read that too but be fair. Your visit to a country is just that. You might be in and out in less days and a bad experience couldn’t possibly paint a picture of the entire country. Maybe you were unlucky? I once met a guy who told me he knew Denmark. He said: “Denmark has a day every year where everyone is naked!” I never noticed that?!? :) I told him he was wrong but he was adamant about it. I told him that I’m from Denmark, have lived most of my life there and that I would surely notice if everyone was naked for a day once a year...
60 countries left (the grey ones). How long will it take?
We all do what we can. At least I hope so. We are human and that is unique. A deer will do the same thing tomorrow as it did yesterday and what deers have been doing for millennia. You are human and can read a book full of knowledge from someone who passed away hundreds of years ago. You can be better tomorrow than what you were today. Since my parents were born we invented the shipping container (1955), the polio vaccine (1962), we put people on the moon (1969), we got the World Wide Web (1990), the CD and DVD (1995), the smartphone (1999), the self-driven electrical car and much more. All of that within my parents lifetime. Right now a deer is standing somewhere in a forest eating twigs.
"Lift us up where we belong..."
Lebanon is a wonderful host to me. I have friends here, I have built up weekly routines, I eat well, I sleep well, I wait... patience is a virtue but it will rarely get you anywhere on your own. You need to explore opportunities and think outside of the box. You need to forge relationships and the Lebanese are masters of that. Wasta is a word which around here is used to describe networking, relationships and favors. If you have enough wasta then no door will ever be closed to you. Wasta is not uniquely Lebanese and goes by many names around the world. But here we call it wasta. Do I have wasta? Yes I certainly do! Nearly every impossible situation the Saga has found itself in was solved through other people than myself. Sure enough I was the initiator and catalyst for enabling those people in the first place. I can promise you this much: nobody reaches every country on their own. If you do not posses a personality which can engage strangers then you will eventually get stuck forever. A personal drive on your own will only get you so far. Being able to think of solutions for problems is only helpful if you can get people to do what needs to be done. There are nearly always people involved unless you find yourself alone in a large forest, at sea or in a desert. You know what I mean.
Thankfully we live in an age where I can easily connect with friends far from where I am. Imagine if I had to rely on sending post and waiting six months for a reply.
So do I have wasta in Lebanon? Yes I do have some. However not nearly enough to get exactly what I want. Syria is next on the list and it doesn’t need to be. I could travel in a different direction and save Syria for later. It’s just not that simple. Lebanon only borders two countries: Israel and Syria. The remaining coastline boarders the Mediterranean Sea. I need a visa in order to go to Syria. The border between Lebanon and Israel is closed. Furthermore if I did go to Israel then that would close the door for entering 10 countries: Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. Fortunately the Saga has already taken us to Sudan and Libya so that narrows the list down a bit. What many of you know is that Israel is aware of this and is willing not to stamp your passport. If you were “just a visitor” then that would be your solution. I’m no Brad Pitt but I am a public person and the stamping situation isn’t the entire picture. It’s not about a stamp. It’s about whether you have been to Israel or not and whether it can be proven. I’m a very honest person however I could choose to control the situation by not blogging about a visit to Israel, by not posting anything on social media and by avoiding any interviews. What I cannot control are other people’s blogs, other people's social media and journalist that write articles without interviews. Now given your newly acquired information would you, in my place, risk going to Israel before the other countries?
I thought a map of the Middle East might be nice for you to have right around now :)
It may also interest you that the border between Syria and Jordan is closed, which plays into the logistics of the Saga. So, sure I could go to another country but where would I go? The Saga has taken us to EVERY country west of here (142) and to go anywhere I would need to sail. Getting onboard container ships is no easy task. There is an expensive cargo ship which takes passengers to and from Turkey. That is a plausible alternative to waiting around in Lebanon. However postponing a visit to Syria is not necessarily the wisest option. Things change rapidly in conflicted countries. I’ve been to Venezuela, Central African Republic, Somalia, South Sudan and Libya within the Saga. Would it have been any different if I postponed those countries and tried to go now? Would it be more difficult or harder? Just consider the logistics of getting me from Lebanon to any of those countries without flying. The cost, the time, the effort... Yemen would have been easy to visit when the Saga began in 2013 but the situation is different today. North Korea would be an easy visit today but what will the future bring? Going to Damascus in Syria is only a three hour drive from here and it is relatively safe. Will it be safer and easier in the foreseeable future or is the time now? Not easy questions and certainly not easy answers can follow. Now you know what I think about before I go to sleep and when I wake up. Okay, maybe I don’t sleep that well after all :)
Aram and I kept my spririts up on day 66 of waiting for a visa. We saw "The Black Panther". Great movie in great company! :)
I do the best I can with what I have. I’m privileged to have a lot more than others. Some of that privilege has been earned and some of it was given. I hold a Danish passport which in the 2018 passport index now ranks as number three with an overall “visa free score” of 160 countries. That does not mean I can visit 160 countries without a visa. It means that in theory I don’t need a visa or can get it on arrival at the border. I might just mention that the border thing doesn’t always apply to land borders but if you arrive at the airport ;) The Lebanese passport ranks 88 on the same list with a visa free score of 40 countries. It’s clear that I’m privileged. I think I wrote in another blog that there are two million Syrian refugees and migrants in Lebanon. That might be incorrect. There are at least 1.5 million and some estimates reach 1.8 and some even two million. It’s really beside the point. I was invited to see a film documentary called ‘Lost in Lebanon’ which humanises Syrian refugees in Lebanon. It’s really easy to forget that those people on the evening news are people.
After the screening of 'Lost in Lebanon'.
After the film one of the producers, Georgia Scott, mentioned something I really liked. She said: “It’s really amazing how much weight a small country like Lebanon is carrying on its shoulders”. That is very true. Syria was once a refuge for the Lebanese when war broke out here and around one million Lebanese saught safety in Syria. Now the cards have been dealt differently and more than a million Syrians are here in Lebanon. Lebanon has a relatively small population of about 4.4 million people and with the Syrians there are at least 6 million people here today. I think Denmark took about 10.000 refugees while Germany took around a million. There are different factors in place and I’m sure that Sweden would host a million Danes, being a neighboring country, and that we wouldn’t see a million Danes heading to Syria if war broke out in Denmark. In my experience we like simple black and white solutions but that’s really not how most things are. Do we as a western culture remember that we owe much of our inventions, society and culture to Syria? The Levant was the birthplace of modern society thousands of years ago when Denmark wasn’t even a country.
This fellow viking from Denmark just showed up here in Beirut. She is a musician, writer, author, radio host, power-woman and former rockstar of a Danish group called 'Miss B Haven'. She reached out and I'm thankful because she is tons of fun! :) Her name is Minna Grooss and she is here doing some research on Lebanese music.
Countries are not entities that are here to stay. The oldest countries we can speak of which exist today are barely 2.000 years old. Do you really believe that any of today’s countries will still exists in 5.000 years? I love my country and Denmark is wonderful. I would like to think that Denmark is still around as a country 5.000 years from now but we may in reality call it something else. Imagine a teacher from the future telling students of ancient countries that used to exist: “there once was a country called the United States of America but today we call that region Wakanda ;) Lebanon is possibly the oldest name for a country and dates back more than 2,000 years. It means “white” and probably origins to the snow white mountains and used to describe the region. Lebanon itself is merely 74 years old today a definitely worth a visit.
The Lebanese Mediterranean coastline is 225 km (140 miles).
Enough of that for now. It’s been another week and much has happened. Everyone around here says it has been a strange winter. Temperatures have been up and down so I’m glad I packed for all seasons. It rains a lot, one day was really windy, then suddenly a few days with blue sky and sunshine and back to clouds and rain. This is the 11th blog I do from Lebanon so I kind of feel like we’ve covered a lot already. I can’t just repeat myself but if you’re new then you might like to know that Lebanon is peaceful and modern. The civil war ended in 1990/91 and the cranes went up immediately. There was a brief war here for a few months in 2006 and while there’s not much good to say about war it can definitely be said that it is over. It’s a safe country to visit and the only way I can see it become unsafe for a visitor is if you have strong opinions about religion or politics. So just come and enjoy all which Lebanon has to offer. The history of this particular region goes back more than 10,000 years and you’ll be able to visit temples and cities that prove it. Lebanese authors and musicians have reached around the world and delighted millions. The food is great, the nature is amazing, there is no desert here, there are plenty of mountains, you can go skiing at the resorts during the winter months, you can swim in the Mediterranean, you can walk in the forests, you can dance at the nightclubs, you can gamble at the casinos, you can pray at the mosques, churches and temples, you can shop, you can drink whatever you want, people are easy to talk to, there’s nothing you can’t buy here and I guess that covers most. Something is a bit strange though. I visited the National Museum twice, the Mineral Museum twice, the Jeita Grottoes once and a number of other places. I promoted these places online and tagged them so that they would get an online notification. However I have had no reaction, no retweets, comments or shares from these institutions? I was however invited to visit the Sama Beirut (Lebanon’s tallest building) and I made a video of the penthouse. Ascot is responsible for renting out space in the building and they showed great interest. In fact my video has now been viewed more than 8,000 times on my YouTube channel. I’m working on my YouTube channel since people have been crying out for more video from me. Lately I have uploaded a lot of videos and most only get around 2-300 views at most (http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSy7qFQzxM9VOaMeOfYia_g). I need to learn more about this and I went to YouTube to see who could give me more advice? Lots of people post content to YouTube and are happy to give you advice about nearly anything you could possible imagine. Guess the age group of people giving educational advice about making YouTube videos? Yup! Most of them are around 12 years of age. As a result I’ve been listing closely to children while taking notes on how to tag, when to post and how to create thumbnails (first page). These kids told me which programs to download and there I am listening with my thick beard, warm socks and 39 years of age. Hey! Whoever has good advice is worth listening to! Some of these children have millions of views.
My cute and very efficient dentist thinks I'm brave. Thumbs up! :)
Reddit is an online platform where you can post something and have strangers react to it. The Saga has had some success within the AMA (ask me anything) section and I log on every six months or so to do a new one and answer peoples questions. I did this one recently which was pleasant although not groundbreaking: https://www.reddit.com/r/AMA/comments/7wspka/hello_im_an_adventurer_who_is_now_4_years_and_4/?st=JDYOB82L&sh=6327ae30 Have a read if you like as there are some interesting questions and I’ve tried to answer them as insightfully as I could :)
My Lebanese gang! We try to meet once a week and it's always fun. From left to right: Susan, Raymond and Aram :)
There’s another online platform called Voat which has the same sort of concept. I’ve also done some AMA’s on Voat in the past and recently did a new one. DO NOT READ IT IF YOU HAVE A WEAK STOMACH! However if you do chose to read it then you will get some insight into the verbal abuse I sometimes need to face. It will surely have you cringing your toes: https://voat.co/v/ama/2402646 This kind of language reminds me of why I’m out here promoting the world for its best attributes. Sure...most of the people who commented here will not listen to reason and many of them are just entertaining themselves with hateful comments and feeding off the reaction. However you will not win anything by turning your back on people. I will be back to Voat again when the time is right. Meanwhile the Saga continues throughout the world in which ever pace it has been fated to move. Fate. I don’t really believe in fate. Not in the sense that some things are meant to happen. I used to believe that there were certain windows in life we needed to pass through and no matter our actions we would somehow end up going through them. I don’t believe in that anymore. I simply believe that there are many things that can happen and sometimes life just arranged itself into some situations that you can’t believe are random.
Hakaya Storytelling at Dar Bistro & Books:
Interestingly Farid from Hakaya Storytelling reached out to me this week and invited me to speak at an event, where the theme was ‘fate’. I was allotted 8-10 minutes to introduce myself and tell a few stories about fate. I found a few good ones as the Saga has so much to offer by now. I guess I could have talked for hours about the subject. Was it fate or was it coincidence? We will never know. There were seven other speakers and they all did great. It was a really nice event.
Even more interestingly I had a meeting with Farid prior to the event. We talked about many things and had a good time together. At one point he asked me what my most immediate priority was? I replied “a visa for Syria”. He nodded and said: “of course, but anything else?” I replied that I will need to get a laptop at some point because it’s torture writing these blogs on a smartphone and uploading them to the internet on an iPad. He smiled and said: “that’s amazing! I have an old laptop in the basement which I haven’t used since I got the new one. Why don’t you take it?” Apparently it works fine and there are no strings attached. So Once Upon A Saga will from now on be traveling with a laptop. Now was that fate? ;)
Thankful for the age we live in!! :)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - What time is it?
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga