Lebanon Revisited….

IMG_2091I wrote extensively about Lebanon after my last trip to this beautiful country, back in 2011 (see: ‘On The Road to Damascus’) and after returning again last month, three years on and the first time since the start of the Syrian crisis, I thought it was worth a mention again.

I discovered not much has really changed apart from areas that have now become strictly ‘no go’; i.e. Baalbek, in the Bekaa Vally, which, alongside the fabulous classical ruins,

IMG_8067 acres of white tents now temporarily houses the millions of displaced Syrian refugees:

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(For a greater understanding see: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2013/10/30/comment-mutual-misery-syrian-refugee-crisis-lebanon-and-australia)

They are gradually being processed and trickling onto the streets in search for the limited available work opportunities;  Tripoli in the northern regions bordering Syria and, as I arrived just a few days after yet another devastating suicide bombing in Beirut city itself, the fashionable ‘Downtown’ area. Avoiding it altogether, although as it turned out was unnecessary, seemed the most sensible action to take at the time.

As through all its many years of conflict and turmoil, Lebanon and its people carry on with their daily lives, regardless. If there was any notable difference, the lack of tourists was probably the most obvious. The tourist industry, sadly but not surprisingly, is all but dead. The many luxury hotels, both on the sea and up in the ski resorts, may stand empty but they are not yet totally abandoned. Foreign investment may have slowed down but beautiful modern high rises continue to alter the skyline; the infrastructure may be seriously damaged but regular power cuts have become an accepted way of life. Shopping trips and visits to friends and family are arranged around elevator operating times. IMG_2114

Streets are unusually empty and quiet. Highways, for once, are free-flowing and un-congested and, 3000 feet above the city, at the Monastery of St. Cherbel

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where we made a pilgrimage to offer prayers for the lost generations caught up in the conflict (and to give thanks for our forthcoming first grandchild!)

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it was as quiet on the way up, outside, as it is was deep within its cold stone walls.

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Without the customary frenzy, its hustle and bustle, Beirut is almost unrecognisable. An air of calm, almost complacency, prevails, replacing the erratic excitement and vibrant energy normally associated with it.

That said, the many fabulous restaurants continue to open their doors daily and lay their tables with crisp linen and gleaming silverware, in expectation.

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One of the greatest qualities of this resilient people (their generous hospitality aside) is their eternal optimism. They simply never give up hope….and while the tourists (and now substantial number of expat Lebanese) may be giving all this wonderful country has to offer a wide berth, the dwindling number of inhabitants who do remain (but would probably leave, given half a chance) continue to enjoy Life and live it to the full, as best they can – perhaps even more so, now that they have the place virtually to themselves.

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So, for the moment, Peace reigns but there’s an uneasy stillness knowing the horrors that are taking place just the other side of the mountains; the raging war, the brutal, senseless killings and the millions of starving and homeless – children especially. It’s too close for comfort and impossible not to think of when presented with the incredible feasts placed before us in every restaurant we visited. One, certainly worth a mention was the glamorous new seafood restaurant Babel al Bahr – complete with its own tower of Babel:

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and chic interior:

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The bread:

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and selection of ‘Mezze’ dishes were spectacular:

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but it was the glorious display of seafood that stole the show:

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with the fabulous desserts, a close second:

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Delicious as it all was, for the first time ever, with thoughts of all the starving children not a million miles away, I found the abundant and delicious Lebanese food almost too difficult to swallow….and the unusual silence that enveloped us almost everywhere we went, filled us with uneasy foreboding and trepidation….The lull before the storm perhaps?

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Whatever’s in store for Lebanon, one thing is sure, its cities and people will survive and thrive.  Lebanon, like Beirut and Byblos, the world’s oldest, continually inhabited city, still stands, tall, defiant and proud –  just as it always has done since the dawn of civilisation……and long, LONG may it continue to do so!

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4 thoughts on “Lebanon Revisited….

  1. What a pleasure to see Lebanon again. My Aunt Doris (gone) and my sisters and I visited in 1997 and again with Peter the next year as well as Jordan and Egypt.. It was the best trip ever. We also visited Baalbek, the Bekaa valley and Byblos.. My favorite place anywhere.We also went to Rushia in the Bekaa near the Israeli border where my grandmother came from. One could see Mt Harmon close by.They left in 1905 to come to Canada. The photo of you and your husband’s family remind me of my grandmothers house. It was always full of people and Sito lived in the kitchen.Hard to believe that Lebanon is once again suffering with another war. So many Lebanese are related to the Syrians. Keep waiting for someone to do something with 9 million starving families and children. World politics triumph once again.The people of Lebanon were so friendly and so polite.I still think of our guide,a lovely young woman and her family who invited us for dinner upon our first visit and again when Peter and I came the next year.Thank you Yvonne for the photos and memories.So much time has passed.

    • Thank YOU Katherine! I’m so glad I could re-awaken those lovely memories of yours. Lebanon’s fate has indeed been a sad one but, without exception, everyone who knows it has fond memories of it and its people. Its beautiful spirit lives on in us all! xx

  2. I have never been to Lebanon (except the airport in 1973,!!!) where the guy sitting next to me, said it should be a MUST to visit, (one of the most beautiful cities according to him. )However I did visit the middle east, working in Iran , dancing in Israel on tour,and more recently a holiday in Jordan (although its actually 7 years ago,!!! )but the generosity of the people, the wonderful food, the smells and sight remain very similar. My daughter visited Lebanon last year, and stayed with one of her university friends where she was greeted into the family like a long lost friend.As you say the spirit of the people and its geographical position will always be a force to contend with. (such a shame about the religious factors ) Anyway , I loved seeing your photos. Hope that we can meet up again soon Yvonne, and congratulations on becoming grandparents….

    • Thanks so much Karen, a lovely response! I so enjoyed meeting you again after all these years and look forward to doing it again soon – do keep in touch! Much love, Yvonne xx

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