When I flew to Lebanon in 2006 for the first time I was frightened.
I didn’t know what to expect. Would there be violence as so often depicted in the media? Was I at risk? Could I go out onto the streets alone as a woman or at night?
When I arrived in the night at Beirut airport filled with all these questions and doubts, I was lucky to share the hotel shuttle buswith an experienced reporter from USA Today stopping over in Beirut on his way back to Iraq. We started talking and I told him of my uneasiness. He smiled and told me not to worry Beirut was safe and offered to show me around the city the next evening.
The next day I held my business meetings in the hotel and looked out from my hotel window at the Lebanese world and Beirut below me, but wasn’t yet ready to go out on my own.
As the sun was setting over Beirut, my journalist guide R. took me on a quick taxi tour of Beirut and then we went to Nejmeh Square and followed the shoeprints of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri while R. told me about the current status of the UN Security Council investigation and gave me an overview of Lebanese history in the last 200 years along the status of the various Middle Eastern factions.
I was fascinated; the more I found out, the more I wanted to know.
We ate at Al Balad restaurant my absolute favorite in Beirut so far, where I have returned often with my husband when he visited and with my German colleagues when I was again in Beirut to work at the airport for a week.
I loved the wonderful meal and sitting outside so that I could take in all the hustle and bustle going on around me. Men, women, children, old and young, speaking in a variety of languages that I could not comprehend but that was music to my ears. As exotic as the smell and taste of the delicious food I was eating.
After a mocca we continued on to Gemmayzeh or Gem as the younger crowd likes to call it by taxi, wandering along looking into the windows of bars and clubs, the laughter and pulsing music spilling onto the street into the still warm air, invigorating me and making me want this night to never end. A drink in R.’s favorite bar listening to the expats around us tell their (tall) tales of excitement, bravery and wonder, was the perfect atmosphere to wind down a long day.
Back at the hotel lying sleepless in Beirut, I closed my eyes and let all the images, sounds and smells pass through my mind like a colorful video in fast forward. I finally drifted off, anxious for the next day to arrive and my first walk alone around Beirut.
On that walk I felt brave and insightful and I wasn’t afraid to take up my camera to capture the images on buildings, monuments, ruins, churches and mosques, of war and peace, scars of violence and reminders of new life and hope sprouting from the buildings like thorny plants in a desert.
On my second visit a few months later, I proudly took my husband and/or my staff through the streets and nightlife of Beirut, discussing history and current events feeling at ease in this city that had before so frightened me.
We shopped, ate, danced and discussed with the locals in French, English and sometimes even in German. We felt accepted by this multinational atmosphere people were pleased that we were interested in their stories and their cultures.
I want to travel through Lebanon, to the fishers on the coast, to the shepards in the mountains, I long to taste the honey, the cheese, the pinenuts, the lamb, the hummus and the zataar, learn how to bake bread, and laugh with others while trying to speak with hands and feet.
Oh Lebanon my secret love, I really miss you!
With this post I am entering the
Taste Lebanon Food Trek Giveaway generously offered by Taste Lebanon and the accomodation by the world class and traditional Pheonicia Hotel
P.S. Here is a recipe I made for the Taste Lebanon monthly mingle in 2010 Bulgur and Apricot Cake “Simone” with Orange Anis Sauce