Friday, July 31, 2009

Literature

Yesterday afternoon I read "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" in about an hour. It's a very short book, and such a familiar story, and even so, I didn't find myself too caught up in the fact I knew what would happen. The brilliance lies in the revelations of Dr Jekyll at the end in his own words, it's wonderful.

On another literary note, Happy Birthday to Harry Potter!!

More trouble for Mindanao

PHILIPPINES: Flooding affects 160,000 in south

MANILA, 30 July 2009 (IRIN) - Heavy rains across the southern Philippines have resulted in massive flooding in many low-lying areas of Mindanao Island, with villagers either marooned inside their houses by waist-deep waters or forced to evacuate, according to disaster relief officials on 30 July.

Large swathes of farmland covering more than 2,486ha in the central Mindanao towns of Pigcawayan, Alamada, Libungan, Midsayap, Aleosan, Pikit and Tamontaka have also been damaged by floods, according to the Office of Civil Defence in Manila. Read the rest of the story.

It's terrible when people already devastated by conflict have to suffer through natural disasters as well. I also feel bad for my colleagues, whose work days just got a lot more tricky in conducting validations and distributions. Where did I used to work? Pigcawayan, check. Alamada, check. Libungan, check. Midsayap, check. Aleosan, check. Pikit, check. I met Mayor Sacdalan (mentioned at the end of the article) quite a few times; he actually had a good plan for disaster management (including emergency funds) which he's obviously putting into play now.

When it rains, it pours...literally...

Friday Funny

What happens when you set up a video camera to figure out why your pool deck and furniture is saturated when you come home...

Squish

Two days ago, I was walking home from the compound, alongside the big cement blocks (picture taken from the opposite side of the road this morning) that surround not only our compound, but a whole old fair ground.

I'd discovered that if I stick to the footpath on the same side of the road as the compound there's more shade. As I walked along and a car sped by me (I'm was walking in the opposite direction to oncoming traffic) I realised how there was only a very small gutter and if a car were to spin out of control, a pedestrian could very easily get smashed up against a concrete wall. So I decided it was probably better to walk on the other side of the road where the gutter is much much higher.

As I walked out of the compound yesterday I'd forgotten my earlier decision and just kept walking around the corner. I noticed a couple of police cars and a few people standing around. Sure enough, someone had lost control of their (rather new) Mercedes and crashed into the concrete.

I won't forget today which side of the road to walk on...

And in case you were wondering, this is what the compound looks like - inside are long demountable containers, separated into smaller offices.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Surprise

My colleague Oli has just gotten back to Tripoli after getting married to the lovely Sara in Italy, and as such, it was decided that they should have a party thrown in their honour. A surprise party. For an idea that was hastily thrown together in a couple of days, it all went remarkably well. Amrita and Adi were our facilitators in surprise, inviting the happy couple out to a movie. While Adi was busy on the deception front, the rest of us were hastily setting up some decorations in Caroline's lovely garden


We got the call from Adi that they were on their way, and giggling like schoolgirls, hid around a corner, waiting for them to show up. The nervous anticipation was almost as much fun as the moment that Oli stepped out into the garden (almost surprising us more than himself) and we all jumped out with a hearty "surprise!"

It was another lovely evening with great people, in which we ate some fantastic homemade food, topped off by a congratulatory cake and a very ceremonious blowing out of a candle

Perhaps not the most flattering shot, but an action shot nonetheless!

I think I'm really going to love life in Tripoli!

In news today...

Abe Froman Furious Over Mysterious Credit Card Charge From Upscale Chicago Restaurant

May 27th, 2009 | By Dan | Category: Ham, The Films

Abe Froman, known throughout the Chicago-land area as the “Sausage King,” is still fuming about an unpaid tab at the French Restaurant, Chez Quiz, which he was billed for over twenty years ago.

However, Froman claims he was unable to get a table at the upscale eatery and thus the charge is fraudulent.

Said the head of the midwest’s sausage empire regarding the meal in question: “Not only could I not get a table - even though I had a reservation, mind you - but the maitre d’ was extremely snooty and had the gall to say I was an impostor.”

After being turned away, Froman reportedly left the restaurant, only to get caught in traffic caused by an unexpected parade and a city-wide choreographed dance to “Twist and Shout.”

“It was an awful day overall,” recalled Froman. “The restaurant, that random parade…I also think the employees at the parking lot drove my car. So you can imagine how upset I was when I received the bill from Chez Quiz. Whoever used my name ran up quite a tab. It seems that they also charged them for extra ice for them to chew.”

Froman added that he will finally fight the charge. The case has been handed over to Sgt. Peterson of the Chicago police.

If you don't get it, I don't think we can be friends anymore...

Happy Birthday Greg

I knew there was something I forgot to do yesterday. It was my brother's birthday, and typical of my generation, I sent him an email and a thing on facebook, but thought there was something I was forgetting...I remembered late last night that he should have got his very own birthday blog post.

So, it's kind of a belated birthday shout-out...

Happy Birthday Greg!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blog crush

I can't remember where I found the link to Wronging Rights which has just become my new favourite blog. Go and check it out - it's insightful, it's funny (it's really funny) and it's intelligent.

Taking it easy in old age

There were about 10 of us for dinner last night - we didn't end up making it to the seafood restaurant as planned, we just hung out at a small cafe/bar which lets you order food from other restaurants. It was a lovely, laid back evening with lots of laughs over a few beers, and it was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday. And I was surprised with a gift of some beautiful necklaces - very unexpected and much appreciated.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Traffic

I mentioned a while ago that I'd installed Google Analytics on this blog, to better track where people are visiting from and how they find my blog. I decided the other day to also add it to my old blog, One Year in Bangers, to see if anyone still came across it. I just checked the results and a few people have stopped by in the past week...one of them found it by using the following words in Google:

"blog about sex parlour in Khulshi, Chittagong"

So I had to go and google it myself to see what results came up...my blog is the only one! The link is to an entire month, in which the word 'sex' was used in a book review, 'parlour' in relation to a visit to the beauty salon, and there was no mention of either Khulshi or Chittagong. I feel sorry for the person who was obviously looking for something quite specific and was unable to find it!

The most interesting keyword search for this blog has been "carly and the chocolate factory and other names like this." But the thing that interests me most is where people are reading...the leader board looks like this:
1. Australia
2. USA
3. Afghanistan
4. Lebanon (this probably doesn't count because it's just me updating)
5. UK
6. Japan
7. Philippines
8. South Korea
9. Italy
10. Bangladesh

So really, barring the USA, UK, South Korea and Italy (though I do know a couple of people in the US and UK) - the top ten is mainly populated by my family and friends...but that's ok, it's who I'm writing this for!!

It's my birthday

Happy Birthday to me!!
Thanks to those who've sent birthday wishes, it's nice to be remembered!

Rock in the Ruins

What an incredible weekend!! Adi and Amrita picked me up on Saturday afternoon and we headed for Baalbek, passing over a mountain (about 2000m) with spectacular views...well spectacular before and after the summit, where we couldn't see a damn thing!

The drive through the valleys was just splendid, and we had a lovely late lunch before arriving in Baalbeck in time for a couple of drinks before the concert.

The venue was stunning, absolutely stunning at sunset. The Roman ruins, though not well preserved archaeologically, are extremely impressive. The Bacchus Temple, built 2000+ years ago still stands pretty strong.

Julie and Vardy were there with me to enjoy the fun...

And so was Adam

The Deep Purple concert itself was a lot of fun. I didn't know any of the songs in the first set, but the band was great for a bunch of old guys (even if the lead singer looked like he was wearing tracky daks!)

The encore was fantastic - Smoke on the Water, Hush, Black Night...check out the videos below, and apologies for any bumping around, I was dancing...



After the band left the show, I noticed something flat and white sailing through the air. Then another. Then more and more and more. People had starting flinging the cushions tied to the plastic chairs around like frisbees. The frivolity must have gone on for at least 15 minutes...

we hung around in the courtyard for a few hours talking to various friends, and exploring the ruins.





Five of us had booked in at a private house in a village about 15km away, and we kept meaning to leave early so as not to keep the people up. The first problem was Charlie's car having a flat tyre that couldn't be fixed. Then we spent a good 20 odd minutes driving on the wrong road...we ended up getting to the house at about 2:30am, whoops.

After a lazy start to the morning, Adi, Amrita and I headed back for Tripoli, stopping in at a beach on the way home. The water was gorgeously blue and the perfect temperature to combat the heat of the day. The only problem was there was no sand underfoot, it was all pebbles. But still a wonderful end to a spectacular weekend.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blue tongue

My Mum left a comment on the post on snakes about having to fish a blue tongue lizard out of the pool in the backyard. I thought I'd put up a picture of a blue tongue lizard for those unfamiliar with the species...

We don't get snakes where I live (except in the scrubby areas like Burleigh Headland, see exhibit A) but we do regularly have visits from blue tongues, who usually like to sun themselves somewhere completely inappropriate, like beside the pool (and then they fall in) or right in the spot where the front wheel of Dad's car ends up.

I remember one afternoon finding a bluey in this exact spot, and thinking how it needed to be moved before Dad got home. I tried stamping my feet nearby(ish) to try to scare it away, which didn't work. I'd seen Dad pick up blue tongues before, I just needed to get some garden gloves and do it. I took a few deep breaths and made my approach. Without looking around, it knew I was there and puffed its body up to at least twice the normal width. That's when I decided to just flag Dad down before he pulled into the driveway and get him to move the lizard. Yep, I'm a big chicken...but they can really bite!!

And while I'm on the subject of Australian animals, here's a Rainbow Lorikeet in the Bottlebrush tree next door that I snapped just before I left.

El Dorado indeed

A few of us went to a store called El Dorado last night - it's one of those places where they cut the labels out of clothes and sell them at ridiculously cheap prices. So of course, I managed to pick up quite a few bargains.

Then there was the upstairs, homewares section...

Why bother going to India, or Samoa, or Senegal or Arnhem Land when you can just walk upstairs at El Dorado and find a mass produced mask or vase or whatever.

That being said, you can bet once I actually find somewhere to live I'll be back here to pick up some bits and pieces!!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It had to be snakes

Coming from Australia, home to 8 of the 10 most deadly snakes, I feel very jealous of countries that don't have snakes. I've never been bitten by a snake, I've probably only ever seen 5 in the wild, but snakes are pretty high on the list of animals I don't like (it's not a long list.) In my first week in Bangladesh we were treated to a snake charming show...in which a 'professional' charmer did his thing, and was interrupted by another dude who just happened to BYO his own King Cobra. None of us thought this snake charmer was particularly sane and it wasn't the most comfortable situation I've ever been in. I'm not petrified of snakes, but I'm no lover.

So yes, I feel jealous of people that come from countries that don't have snakes. India is not one of those countries...

Stray snake halts proceedings in India state assembly
23 Jul 2009 08:03:06 GMT
Source: Reuters
BHUBANESWAR, India, July 23 (Reuters) - A stray snake brought parliament to a standstill for several hours on Thursday in India's Orissa state, officials said. A cleaner spotted the intruder, believed to be a king cobra, while sweeping in the morning and called the assembly's watchman. The speaker of the assembly in the state capital Bhubaneswar adjourned the house as security personnel, wildlife officials and a member of a local snake helpline searched unsuccessfully for the creature with the help of a sniffer dog. Snakes are straying more frequently into built-up areas because construction has driven the reptiles out of their habitat, wildlife expert Biswajit Mohanty said. (Reporting by Jatindra Dash; Editing by Matthias Williams)
AlertNet news is provided by

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Random birthday celebrations

It's my birthday on Monday - I'm not saying this in the expectation that I'll be flooded with presents (that would be a bit difficult as no-one knows my address) but as a statement of fact. I was wondering how I might celebrate my birthday this year, and whether it could possibly top last year...

I can't believe that was a whole year ago!

It had been mentioned that a few people were going to a show at the Baalbek International Festival and would I like to come. "Well of course I'd like to come," I said, not knowing what the show was. Turns out, Deep Purple are playing!! So I'm going to spend Saturday night amongst Roman ruins listening to a bunch of old rockers...should be a pretty solid competitor for the old Taj I'd say!

Let there be light

I headed out to our Vocational Training Centre today to talk to the instructor and his students who had been trained in maintenance of the solar hot water systems. The boys are aged between 16-18, and started their 2 year air-conditioning and refrigerator mechanics course in October last year. Their workshop was a tiny, hot shed they'd made themselves, where they do their practical work.

Before they're allowed to try anything, they must make the calculations and sketch the wiring,

And then do all sorts of fun things

All of them spent many hours installing the solar hot water systems and when I asked them how it felt when the first hot water came out of the tap, they spoke about how proud they were to be helping people in the camp (even though they live there themselves), and how happy they felt to see a difference being made.

The instructor, who's worked for UNRWA for 20 years, was a very interesting man, and was obviously very proud of the boys. He took great pride in showing me some of the other things they'd created, and I was really impressed by how they've taken the solar technology on.

First I was shown a wind turbine

The four 1.7 volt photovoltaic cells (PVCs for those in the know)

Which are wired up to charge four batteries, and a converter which changes the DC power into 220 AC volts

which then illuminates the lights they've rigged up all around the fencing of the training facility.


Great huh!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lighten up

I have a major problem with skin whitening creams. I'd never heard of such a thing until I went to Cambodia and my friend advised me to check any creams I bought carefully as so many of them contain what is effectively bleach. I noticed it again living in Bangladesh and the Philippines and made my friends there promise they wouldn't use them, because there is nothing wrong with the colour of their skin, and just the thought of putting something that potent on my face (or anyone else's) makes my skin crawl.

I suppose this sounds hypocritical coming from an Australian; from the land that bakes itself in the sun to be brown. I learned after a couple of bad burns that my skin doesn't really tan, that it's too pale and so I don't spend hours greased up lying in the sun.

So it comes down to the grass usually being greener on the other side. White women want brown skin, women with darker skin want lighter skin. And thankfully, there is someone doing something to combat this perception of lighter skin being more beautiful in Africa.

A beauty contest, Miss Authentica, has been held in the Ivory Coast where to compete the women must not have altered their skin (which is confirmed by skin experts). This slideshow tells the story...let's hope that the cosmetic industry does pay attention and stop this horrid business.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In Stereo

I love the call to prayer, especially how it's different in different countries. Right now, sitting in my office, I can hear the call coming from four different mosques. From my apartment I can usually hear five; 2-3 are usually pretty in sync, where as the other two are a good few seconds behind. I love the cacophony...but not at 3:30 in the morning...

Cannibal now wants love on the menu

And so begins my favourite news story of the day...

AN INDONESIAN cannibal is seeking love, promising his people-eating days are over.
Sumanto, currently residing in rural Central Java, was jailed after he dug up an old woman's body for a "cheap and tasty meal". "She was delicious," he told AFP from his room at a Muslim mental rehabilitation centre in rural Central Java.

Read the rest of the story

The best laid plans...

I was feeling so full of enthusiasm on Friday to spend the weekend exploring Tripoli. It didn't quite work out that way. The highlight of Saturday was oohing and aahing at the supermarket...it's huge, there were barrels and barrels and barrels of different olives, and cheeses...oh my. While waiting in line at the checkout, I got into conversation with a Lebanese-American guy, as well as a woman from New Zealand...it was all very ex-patty and the guy very kindly gave me a lift home.

So Sunday, I was especially determined to get some exploring done. After futzing about for the morning, I headed down to Al Mina to get some lunch and get a better feel for the place, though getting there was a challenge. The taxi driver took lots of back streets and I figured we must be close. He kept asking me the name of the restaurant I wanted, and I kept saying things along the lines of 'it's next to the ocean. The sea. The water. Big water?' Even though his English was quite good, he didn't understand, and I came to realise that we weren't actually very far from home.

Finally I remembered the word, 'corniche' which is the waterfront promenade type thing, and his eyes lit up and we were off.



I spotted the landmark I was looking for. I wandered around the corner, listening for the sounds of people laughing and chatting over lunch and was rewarded with...nothing. There was no-one there. Not a soul. Everything was closed. I couldn't believe it. But I walked and walked and only passed a couple of people.




I carried on walking and went for a stroll along the waterfront, almost getting blown away in the process.



I decided that it was time to get out of Al Mina and check out some of the historical sites. I had my heart set on an old soap souk (thinking I'd leave the Citadel for a cooler, less sunny day), so hailed a cab, and the driver nodded that he knew where it was. I ended up in the heart of the old town, with no clue where anything was, and again, the place was pretty deserted. No-one I asked seemed to know what I was talking about, so I kept wandering. Fruitless. I came to a street which I realised was where I'd met my friendly stalker on my first night in Tripoli so decided to hightail it out of there, just in case!

After recounting my lack of adventure to my housemates they couldn't help but laugh. "Everybody comes to Tripoli with such good intentions of seeing the Citadel...but no-one ever manages to get there." I'll prove them wrong...one day...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pathetically Prophetic

Interesting how I put up a post on difficulties with my name, and then go to the bank to pick up my new ATM card to find that they've spelled my surname with a C instead of an S...but apparently they don't care how it's spelled on the card, as long as it's in the system as correct!!

And I was wrong about thinking it would have all of my names plus my dad's name. My lovely pink "Ladies First" (complete with a picture of a rose) card reads MLLE CARLY (INCORRECTLY SPELLED) SURNAME. Ooh la la!

What's in a name?

Regular readers will know I've had some troubles with my name of late; I find it extremely amusing to see what combinations of misspelled and mispronounced names I can get. My first name has been confused as Carla, Carl, Karen, Kathy, Charlie...but this week, a new name has wiped the floor with those.

When you drive into the Beirut office, you are first stopped outside the big gate, and a man scans the car, for what exactly I'm not sure. You then enter through the solid gate, and there's a different check. While this is happening, a man at the security box opens the windows and has everyone in the car shout out their names. Once all this is done, a boom gate slides back and you're free to enter.

So the other day, after the driver and the two ladies in the back had called out their names, I called out my name. "Darling?" "No!" my driver shouted back, "CARLY!". "Oh, not Darling, Carly," the security man confirmed.

Yep, just call me Darling...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Install a Rheem

I headed back out to Nahr el-Bared today to talk to a couple of people about the solar hot water project I'm reporting on. It's a pretty straightforward project, a number of solar hot water systems were installed, using trainees from UNRWA's Vocational Training Centre (VTC).

I was invited into the homes of a couple of women, both with adorable young children, who were both very pleased with getting hot water some 14 months after being relocated to their current 'homes'. There's not a lot more they could say about having hot water, so I won't be including more than a couple of quotes in my report.

I headed out to the VTC, and was pleased to see a lot of young women hanging around in the shade by a basketball court. The school has 175 odd students studying trades or professional courses like business management. Unfortunately, the instructor I needed to speak with had left, but I was invited back next week to sit in a class with the trainees and talk to them all myself - definitely something to look forward to.

The following video is the drive back - I didn't take any video in the camp as strictly speaking, photography isn't allowed so I didn't want to be too obvious. The drive isn't all that exciting, but you can at least get a feel for the area.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

They call me the Wanderer

Today is a proud day for me. I picked up my new passport; a brand spanking new 65 page passport (for frequent travelers). My old passport wasn't due to expire until 2013, but since Dec 26, 2004 I've managed to fill it up. In 5 years I visited 25 countries (some more than once); an average of 5 countries per year, but I threw that out last year with 14 countries!

I suppose I got a late start on traveling - barring the family holiday to New Zealand when I was 10 - I didn't go overseas by myself until I was 22. I guess I was always at university or working in the holidays to afford university, so I never did the whole Contiki tour around Europe (I don't think that's a bad thing). My first trip was to Japan, where my schoolgirl Japanese wasn't very helpful. My next trip was a work junket to Geneva, Rome and London...other jaunts quickly followed.

I was asked yesterday why I got into humanitarian work, and the truthful answer was that there's such a big world out there to see, and that I want to not only see the world but spend good chunks of time in other places. To be paid to do it makes it all the sweeter. Don't get me wrong, there's a personal driving imperative (you could call it the humanitarian imperative if you so choose) behind all that as well!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Welcome to the neighbourhood

I was sitting in my office about an hour ago, reading through some documents and wondering how I'm going to adapt it into the standard reporting format when there was an extremely loud boom and a second later the whole office shook. A few seconds later it happened ago. I heard people leaving their offices and went out to see what was going on. Boom! Boom! Boom! Some of the admin girls were looking quite upset and one of them grabbed my arm - she was shaking.

It turned out it was apparently some commemoration for a former PM - a 21 gun salute obviously wasn't impressive enough so they had to upsize to cannons of some description.

The reactions (or lack thereof) of different colleagues was interesting - many of my colleagues are Palestinians from the camps we're working in. You can imagine how such noises would remind them of what's happened in recent years. Others didn't react openly at all.

My pulse rate was certainly up...

The place to be

Lebanon set for bumper tourist season

Al Mina

I spent most of yesterday afternoon reading a new book ("Travels with my Aunt" by Graham Greene - hilarious so far), and was just considering what I could be bothered doing for dinner when Vidar asked if I wanted to go and get something to eat in al Mina, which is the old part of town where all the restaurants and bars are.

We strolled through the little alleyways (always conscious of motorbikes or bicycles hooning past) and it was absolutely charming. The sea breeze was quite strong, and it blew the sweet scent of the shishas throughout the area and there was a surprising amount of people sitting at tables outside, enjoying the evening. We went into a little place called RadDish and it was such a quaint little courtyard, and with the breeze and the food, it was just divine. I can see myself spending many an hour in a place like that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Our Dumb World

You can always count on The Onion for some laughs, unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) neither Lebanon or the Philippines have made it onto the globe yet...

And then check out this great piece on Somali tourism... :-)

Fun times at the bank

I had to open a Lebanese bank account today, and thankfully I took one of my local colleagues with me. The first issue was the name on my passport, or rather, the lack of my father's name on my passport. "We don't do that in Australia," I offered. "Oh, but we need to know your father's name..." So I wrote down my dad's name, and I believe my ATM card will soon read my first, middle and surname, then my dad's name...

The other thing that entertained me about the experience (always look on the bright side of life) was watching the woman enter my details into the computer. "Are you married?, she asked" "No," was my reply. She clicked on a drop down menu to enter my marital status and there were a number of choices: married, divorced, widow, widower. There was no "single" option, it was "celibataire". I had to stifle a giggle over what was being implied there...

Italian aid worker freed in Philippines

Eugenio Vagni, an Italian working for the ICRC, was kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf rebels in January this year, on an island off the coast of Mindanao. He was often a topic of conversation around Cotabato City. He's just been released.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Book worm

I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this morning at about 3am. The emergency party was good fun, and great to meet some more interesting people from all over the world. There were talks of holding another "emergency party" at our place in a couple of weeks, though the term 'emergency' is going to take on a whole other meaning...

This morning, after finishing off the left over cleaning, I picked up Death and The Penguin:

The publication of Death and the Penguin, Andrey Kurkov's debut novel, heralds a unique new voice in post-soviet satire. Set in the Ukraine in the years immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this dark, deadpan tale chronicles the journalistic career of Victor, who shares a flat with Misha, his depressed Penguin, rescued from the under-funded zoo in Kiev. Victor is asked to write obelisks, obituaries, for a prominent city paper about notable figures in the community, and quickly transforms himself from struggling writer to wealthy journalist. It soon becomes apparent that there is a more sinister motive at play, and Victor finds himself descending in a Kafkaesque realm of suspicion and unease. (From amazon)

It was absolutely fantastic and I polished it off in a couple of hours. Go and see if it's at the library, you'll thank me!

Blistering Beirut

I got a lift with my new housemate Elsa down to Beirut yesterday afternoon, who dropped me at Bob's apartment - he's the guy that I first went up to Tripoli with. We hung out on his balcony, chewing the fat over a pizza and some beers. After spending most of the morning inside on the couch, because it was so blisteringly hot outside, we walked down to Germaizey (that's phonetic spelling, I have no idea how it's really spelt), which is home to a long street of popular nightclubs.

We met up with a French friend of Bob's over a delicious lunch of hommus with meat and pine nuts, and then caught a service taxi down to the beach front. The boys were off to have a swim, but I hadn't thought to bring my togs with me, so I settled in at a Starbucks (don't judge me!) with the book I started this morning (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - one I've been wanting to read for ages, and have gotten through 400 pages today!) I spent a couple of very pleasant hours curled up on an armchair outside watching the ocean and devouring the book, and wincing in pain at the new blisters on my feet. The 'formal thongs' I was wearing haven't had much wear of late and unfortunately I'm now suffering with every step.

Tonight is Bob's "emergency party" - he's going home to London for a few weeks and thought it necessary to have a bit of a shindig before he left. I'm really looking forward to meeting some new people.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My temporary home

Thank goodness one of my new housemates has a car, otherwise it would have been quite a struggle getting my stuff over there from the office. The apartment is only a 10 minute walk from the office (I pleasantly discovered that this morning) and is lovely and airy.

The living room:

The dining room:

The view from the main balcony (off the living room):

Looking left:

Looking right:


Elsa had to go down to Beirut and Vidar headed off to the gym, so I spent some solitary time curled up in an armchair reading, listening to the sounds of the street below. This was interrupted quite suddenly by several loud bangs. My first instinct was to run over to the window to see what was going on, but my security briefings kicked in and I moved away from the doors and windows. I soon figured out that it wasn't gun fire (it would've had to have been a rather large shotgun) but fireworks...odd to let off fireworks while it was still daylight, but it happened sporadically throughout the rest of the evening.

Vidar reheated some food he'd been cooked by a Palestinian colleague which we shared over a glass of red wine...I think I'll be quite happy here for the next few weeks.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

An evening in Tripoli

Bob and I left the office at about 7pm so he could show me where my hotel was. The hotel El Koura was a nice little family owned place down a very narrow street. I'd only been booked in for one night because Bob had manage to arrange for me to stay in a Norweigan colleague's room in an apartment with three others for the next 3-4 weeks - such a relief to have time up my sleeve to find somewhere to live permanently!! Bob had told me there was an internet cafe across the street from the hotel so after dumping my bags I headed down to find it closed. Not to worry, I thought, I'll just go for a wander and find some dinner.

I found stores selling the latest fashions (blue and purple seem to be the colours of summer), men sitting on the side of the road smoking their shishas, young guys cruising around with the windows down and music blaring, but no food. I turned around and walked back the other way, making sure I knew which ways to turn on the way back. Again, I reached a point where it didn't look like there was much beyond, so I turned around again.

A guy my age was standing with an older gentlemen who looked quite bemused by me, and they asked if I was lost. No, I replied politely, I'm just looking for somewhere to get some food. "Ghassan, help the young lady with some food," the old man directed. I protested (of course), but he was very insistent, and pointed at a little shop across the street. So I went with Ghassan, minding myself on the crazy street, and we walked into a little shop that sold nuts. Ghassan and Yousef were old friends, and Ghassan went straight behind the display case like he owned the place and started handing me different nuts to try. He told me he was a lawyer, and that he'd recently applied for a masters degree in Australia. I didn't know whether to believe him or not, but he seemed nice enough. After Yousef had given me a bag of nuts (and wouldn't let me pay) Ghassan led me to another shop across the street where of course he knew the proprieter. I can't remember what the food was, but it was chickpeas, onions, some other type of chickpea thing, and a bright pink vegetable like a turnip rolled up in a wrap. Again, my money wasn't accepted and the food was delicious.

I took Ghassan's number, thanked him and said goodbye. Who knows if I'll actually get in touch with him again, but the kindness of strangers (whatever their motivation...) is something that never fails to surprise me. The rest of my evening was spent watching a movie and smiling at the old man who's family owned the hotel who couldn't speak of word of English but was very friendly.

This morning, his wife brought out a tray for my breakfast with some flat bread, marmalade and moo cheese. As I was tucking into my second piece she brought out a freshly baked, homemade chocolate croissant...mouthwatering, chocolaty goodness!!! I love this country!!

Nahr el-Bared

Yesterday was a bit of a whirlwind. The drive up to Tripoli took longer than I'd expected it would (about an hour and a half) but the journey was made more enjoyable as I shared the car with Bob, and english guy who's been here for a couple of months. The UNRWA compound is quite interesting - all pre-fab demountables, as the old compound was located inside the Nahr el-Bared camp and was destroyed.

We had a couple of visitors from other UNRWA offices in town, so I was able to join their program and head straight to Nahr el-Bared camp (NBC). Well, I wasn't allowed in what's called the 'old camp' as I didn't have military permission, but I was allowed to cruise around the outskirts. Just quickly, the cleared land below is the 'old camp', which we're reconstructing.




What struck me was driving through the 'adjacent area' - which was not part of the camp, but was obviously heavily affected....






Let me go back a few steps. In May 2007 fighting broke out between the Lebanese Armed Forces and members of the radical Fatah Al-Islam group, who'd infiltrated the Nahr el-Bared camp. From what I understand, the residents of the camp were given a tiny bit of notice to evacuate, and then the army began a three month campaign against the radicals, which included massive artillery shelling and air strikes. The whole area was decimated; schools, health clinics, everything gone. Over five and a half thousand refugees were displaced, having fled to a nearby camp or other parts of the country with very few things, as they never expected the siege to last so long.

I'd spent the morning starting to read through appeals and reports, but it's very hard to make sense of those things if you haven't seen the area. Getting to NBC and also to neighbouring Beddawi camp made things a lot clearer, a lot quicker.

The colleagues I've met so far have all been great, I've got a desk and a computer (no facebook at work!!) and by the looks of things, a hell of a lot of work to do in the next couple of months!!