Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Part II: Beirut and Balamand

As promised, there was more to the story and now, attending to the questions of "what happened next?" I will fill in some of the missing pieces, in between working on a a long-overdue academic paper.  (All my papers and projects are overdue.  Perhaps I can start leaving off the pejorative and you can just assume that whatever it is, it is "long-overdue.")

I settled into the back seat of the car, surrounded by the dark interior, my Iftar supper, violin, satchel, purse, and documents, still hanging around my neck.  As soon as the driver got in I asked, in my best Arabic, "Entebtaref Ingleezy?"  (Do you understand English?)  He answered, in Arabic, "No, I only understand Arabic.  But you speak Arabic well."  Me, still an Arabic sentence or two left, "No, I do not understand Arabic and only speak a little, very little."  That was it.  My curiosity in my surroundings and what we passed would have to wait and that was just as well.  Driving is no small matter in the Middle East.  It should take all your attention at all times because the rules of the road are inscrutable, if there are any.  Unfortunately, my driver started to text a number to return a call. I held my breath, wondering if I should yell, "La'! La'! La'!" (No! No! No!) but with the situation as difficult as it is on the road more sensory input would not help, so I held my breath.  We passed one military check-point and then dove off the main road to avoid more traffic jams and the traffic that clogs the roads even more during the mad dash to break the fast with an Iftar. dinner  I was immediately reminded that in Jordan especially, I became adept at ignoring the road and the driving, marking papers, looking out the sides of the windows, not the front, etc. As in Jordan, the tendency is to drive down the center, lining the hood ornament up with the white line.  It precludes anyone's ability to pass you.  If that's your goal, it works fine until some more aggressive person honks and forces you over.  So, I settled back and enjoyed my supper.

It seemed to take forever to get out of Beirut.  We drove through the city on back roads that distinctly said, "No entry."  All the advertising billboards are in English and French while all the official signs are in Arabic with English underneath, proving what I'd heard about Beirut, "Paris of the Middle East" and most cosmopolitan city in the area.  Folks there, I've heard, are proud of their multilingualism.  I would be too.  Gradually, the lights thinned and so did the traffic, slightly as we headed up the coast but resort hotels line the coast and there was no time that we seemed to be in a strictly rural area, judging by the continuous lights and the glitter they made on the Mediterranean.  

After awhile, almost 2 hours, we turned away from the coast and followed the sign that said, University of Balamand and up a steep road.  After several switchbacks and a steep climb, we came to the main gate, up to the guards,  stopping to identify who I was, and through the campus.  Faculty housing, as I'd seen from many pictures and Google Earth, is almost at the top of the campus so I was familiar with the route and the final turn into faculty housing and the parking lot.  In minutes, security drove up with the keys.  The driver helped me in with my things and left.  Security showed me how to use the remote to turn on the air conditioning and then left.  

Is it possible to write about nothing?  Sure it is!  Students do it all the time!  So:  There were no towels, no pots, no pans, no glasses, no mugs, nada, ninguna cosa, zip.  It is much easier to say what there was:  Sheets, pillows and cases on the bed, a filthy floor rag (never washed) in a heap on the back of the bath tub, dish soap and two new sponges, 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 saucers, 4 forks, 3 knives, 4 large spoons, toilet paper ( a little), flat bread, cheese, water.  That was the inventory.  TVs are personal items so there is no television.  I'd be happy with Lithuanian channels and Lithuanian basketball!  (They're winning it all by the way!)  It didn't take me long to assess the place--not clean, full of Sauder furniture except the fairly nice, nearly new sofa and side chairs,, dining room chairs and table, multiple square feet of white tile, no rugs, a decrepit washing machine, a gas stove/oven, a new microwave, a refrigerator (disgusting), AND worst of all NO INTERNET!  My cell had quit sending SMS (text) messages so I was utterly and completely cut off.

Since there were 2 twin beds I took one of the sheets off to use as a towel until I could  get towels and thought, "You have a bed.  Get in it and try to forget all this."  As soon as I  cleaned the bathroom as best I could, I showered (a sheet is really awful for drying off!) and got into bed. I began to realize that I was not in the apartment I'd been promised.  What had happened to the "balcony"?  I had a patio.  What had happened to the second bedroom?  I had a furnished study.  Perhaps I was in the wrong apartment!  I did fall asleep, mercifully, though it was not a good night.  

I made a breakfast of coffee, pita bread, and Kiri cheese.  I felt fortunate to have coffee since I'd saved my little electric pot, Britta pitcher and new filter, some coffee filters and coffee, the last of the Starbucks I'd been given, all for my luggage to bring with me.  The little cup I'd been given in the Egypt Air supper container was the lifesaver--something to use for coffee.  Fortified, I dialed "0" and asked for the chair's office.  Amazingly, she answered!  Human contact!  A real person.  We made a time to meet, she offered to pick me up and give me a tour of the campus by car, have Turkish coffee in her office, try to meet the Dean, and go shopping.  I agreed and got ready. 

(I am not attempting to create cliffhangers here but must stop for now.  Part III coming up!)

Hugs to all!


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