Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cheers SM!

Dear Shwarma Man

This is a special thank you letter for being particularly wonderful last night. Julie has been keeping up to date with your wonderfulness and so you had a pretty big reputation to live up to. I'm glad you were in good form, serving us before all the men, that was pretty sweet. But you know what the best thing is Shwarma Man? Julie didn't get sick from the shwarma!! How amazingly rad is that?!

So thanks Shwarma Man, for your continuing greatness.

Love, Carly

P.S. Also, thanks for waving at me when I walked past the other day, you made my day!

Tripping to Tyre

I can't be bothered telling you every last detail about our wonderful night away in southern Lebanon, so here are some photos instead...

This was the view from our window at the Hotel Al-Fanar

The view from our lunch table at the Petit Phoenician restuarant...these were very well fed cats

After a bit of a snap (that's a cross between sleeping and napping) we headed out to watch the sunset, which was pretty impressive

and made all the more interesting by this guy and his dog. The dog had a bit of a run around and then we he was called back over, he jumped straight back onto his 'seat' on the scooter

We spent the evening in the Tanit Restaurant, which served no food, only beers and vodka red bulls, and we celebrated the news of my official invitation to be the best 'man' at the Vardy/Cox wedding by throwing Adam a bucks party with Julie standing in for the groom.

We went for a bit of a meander this morning to check out some of the archaelogical sites which were pretty cool. The Romans picked a pretty great part of the world to conquer...

And it only took us 3.5 hours to get all the way home from Tyre, which was a pretty great run of smooth connections! Time to take rest...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Missing Out

There's a rugby league game tomorrow in Tripoli, between the Lebanese and Italian teams. Apparently most of the Lebanese team are (Lebanese) Australians. I can't go because I'll be hanging out in Beirut with Julz (YEA!!) so I keep telling people that are going to yell out "Up the mighty cane toads"...unfortunately no-one has agreed to do it. Spoiled sports...

Bunny and the Bull

The director of The Mighty Boosh, which is an extremely funny and just a little bit weird television series (that originally started as a radio show), has created a new adventure that looks really cool. And best of all, it has cameos by Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt, and Richard Ayoade (who's so geeky as Moss in the IT Crowd)

Anyway, check out the trailer:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stop and Steady

The lovely cleaning lady just brought another tortoise into our office. Much bigger than yesterday's, perhaps this one is the parent...

Fair enough, it didn't poke its head out for ages and ages,

We took it out to the area we had released the little guy yesterday and one of the guards came over to take the tortoise from Oli. He told us that his family had a tortoise in the camp, and when the house was destroyed the tortoise survived! He caressed the shell for a little while and then set it free.

Where are all these tortoises (tortopie?) coming from??

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pub quiz, Somali style

Guns given to Somali quiz winners

The winners of a quiz organised by Somali Islamists have been given weapons and ammunition as prizes. Prizes included AK-47 assault rifles, hand grenades and an anti-tank mine.

The quiz ran during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in the port city of Kismayo, and included questions about the Koran and Somali geography.

A representative for the al-Shabab militant group said the quiz aimed to stop young men from wasting their time and focus on defending their territory.

"The reason the young men were rewarded with weapons is to encourage them to participate in the ongoing holy war against the enemies of Allah in Somalia," AFP news agency quoted al-Shabab's Sheikh Abdullahi Alhaq as saying at Friday's prize-giving ceremony.

The winning team, from the city's Farjano district, reportedly won a rifle, two grenades, a landmine and office supplies worth $1,000 (£613).

But the runners-up did not go home empty-handed, taking away an AK-47 and bullets.

Al-Shabab and other Islamist rebels accused of having links to al-Qaeda dominate much of southern and central Somalia, where they have imposed strict Sharia law.

The country last had a functioning central government in 1991.

A weak UN-backed government runs only parts of the capital, Mogadishu.

From the BBC, via Roving Bandit

Slow and Steady

This is why it pays to always have a camera on your person! Oli found a itty bitty tortoise just outside the compound, which he promptly brought over to show Yassmin and I.

We then released it back into the wild,

where it will hopefully flourish and lead a long and prosperous long as it can avoid the snakes...and birds...and cats...

First Flash Mob in the UN

The Stand Up Campaign inspired a group of people to participate in (apparently) the first flash mob held inside a UN building in Rome last week.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Not much going on

Barring the causing of near death by falafel, there isn't much going on around here at the moment. But that's all going to change in just a few short days. My dear dear friend Julz will be arriving on Saturday for 11 days! It's too much exciting. I'm taking some time off work to actually explore more of Lebanon with her, so there'll be lots and lots of exciting reports coming in the next two weeks. But there's still a few days to wait before all that happens...

Anyway, here's a security update from a different part of Lebanon that I thought I'd share with you (I've removed a couple of exact location details). It's always very interesting to read about the security incidents in camps around Lebanon:

Today at 1045hrs, a Palref opened random fire towards Palref gathered next to him as a result four were wounded and administered to Hospital.

In detail: The shooter lives in a home next to the highway in a Camp. The guy wanted to benefit from this location and he opened a stand to sell vegetable goods. The municipality issued an order on Sunday at night and removed the stand. A member from the popular committee visited him and asked him not to cause more trouble as these actions might be reflected negatively on the Palref living inside the camp. Yesterday the ISF attended to check whether the stand in still removed or not, the shooter started cursing and shouting against the Palref as they didn’t support him and tried to block the road; as a result Palref gathered and an exchange of curse language started between the shooter and the people in the scene consequently he took his machine riffle and started shooting randomly. As a result of the shooting four bystanders were wounded and administered to Hospital, the shooter escaped to an unknown area and the ISF attended the scene and started an investigation. The situation went back to normal.

He (almost) died with a falafel in his hands

Oliver had ordered us falafel sandwiches for lunch today, and it was taking a bloody long time. So he called the place back, and there was no answer. We went on about our business, with me regularly complaining how hungry I was. For some reason as I was walking around the compound, I was thinking about which Australian actors could come to Lebanon like David Morrissey did. My first choices of Eric Bana and Geoffrey Rush were quickly scrapped as they're both a bit too famous. So I settled on Noah Taylor...which got me thinking about the film "He Died With a Falafel in his Hand."

I finished this thought process just as I got back to our container and as I was opening the door Oli said, "he's had an accident." "Who's had an accident?" "The falafel guy. He's in hospital and that's why they weren't answering the phone, they all went to the hospital."

Weird that he was hurt with our falafel in his hands (ok, in the little compartment on the back of the scooter) just as I'd been thinking about it. Poor guy, I hope he's alright now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Carly and Billie Snoop: A Tail

I was excited to see Billie Snoop in his usual curb side position when I got home from work yesterday. I ran upstairs to see if I could find something in the fridge for him, and there was really only some flat bread that was dog appropriate. I went back downstairs and called him over and proceeded to rip up the bread and drop pieces on the ground for him.

He had a bit of trouble chewing the bread, bits would kind of slide out the side of his mouth...I wasn't going to stick my hand in his mouth to check out his teeth though, so I continued the slowly slowly approach. After a while, when we were both more comfortable, I stopped dropping the food on the ground and handed it to him. Instead of snapping it from my fingers as most dogs would do, he very gently took it from me. A gentleman indeed.

After finishing off the bread, I waved goodbye to Billie Snoop to cross the road to the store. I hadn't noticed the two elderly women on the 1st floor balcony above the store watching me. They got my attention and threw down some cured meat (think sort of like prosciutto) for me to feed to Billie. How nice!! Unfortunately, he didn't really like it all that much, but I'm sure he went back for it later on.

I've found a vet in Tripoli so I'm going to try and take Billie Snoop in for a check up tomorrow...not entirely sure of the logistics of it all, but will worry about that tomorrow...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Introducing Billie Snoop

You know I'm a sucker for animals (see exhibits A and B), I just can't help it. A few nights ago I heard a dog crying. Now at 3am, that's pretty annoying, but also strange because there just aren't many dogs in Al Mina. The day before yesterday I saw him. An adorable black and white puppy. Now unfortunately, the first I saw was him getting run over by a rich woman in a big black SUV. It wasn't at high speed, she just kind of backed over him and when a guy riding past of a scooter got her attention and pointed she just shrugged and drove off. He now has a limp. Anyway, I went down to the little shop across the road to pick up a few things, and I took some water with me.

As I approached him, his tail started wagging and his eyes lit up. He wasn't particularly interested in the water, and I wasn't prepared to pat him just yet. So I left him alone. He's taken to hanging out in the gutter directly opposite my window. I couldn't just ignore him. Yesterday I took some of the rice and lentils that had been in the fridge for too long, and decided that I would lure him away from the corner to a bit further down near the dumpster, where (a) it's quieter, (b) he's less likely to get backed over and (c) he might find some food. Capacity building, I thought!

I walked over to him and he was very excited to see me. I gave him some of the rice to try and needless to say, he was very excited about that. I then tried to get him to follow me, but I think his leg was hurting too much. So I gave up and just gave him all the rice. He inhaled it all and then rolled over, desperately wanting a belly rub. I couldn't resist. Of course it was straight upstairs to disinfectant myself, and take this picture of Billie Snoop Dawg from my window.

See he's cute!! If only I knew where there was a vet in Tripoli I'd get him checked out.

Yassmin got home and prepared an amazing feast...I can't remember the name of it, but it was awesome and definitely photo worthy!

Antiquities of Nahr el-Bared

I was back in Nahr el-Bared yesterday; rolled out as the token Aussie to meet the new Australian Ambassador, which of course was no problem for my charming self. Being with a VIP meant that I actually got to go down to Package 1 and see the antiquities that are causing such a fuss.

They're pretty cool:

What you can see below is a pretty intricate drainage system with a number of pipes overlapping...those Romans were a clever bunch...

Since we were with such an important person, some of the workers had to stop their machinery while we were there, including these Handicap International UXO clearance workers (i.e. the most hardcore people ever!)

We took a drive through the E Prime area, and see if you can see what I spotted in the photo below (hint: look in the middle of the shot and maybe squint a bit)

It's a teeny tiny mouse. Anyway, there was lots of work going on, bulldozers and men breaking up buildings with sledgehammers, or just standing around posing...

We then headed to one of the newer blocks of temporary accommodation, where we were shown some pieces by a resident artist, who'd formally been an art teacher at Beddawi Camp.

He gave us each an A4 drawing to take with us which was very sweet. And of course there were lots and lots of kids hanging about, gawking at the white people (because there about 7 of us)...and they were very cute kids.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dear Shwarma Man

Wow, Monday night was great wasn't it Shwarma Man? It was fantastic when those other customers left just as I was walking in, and you gave me a big smile. I'm sure I heard the theme from "Chariots of Fire" playing in the distance somewhere. Anyway, it was just like old times.

I'd been so angry when I walked in, because of all the strangers who'd kept knocking on my door asking to see the plumbing on the balcony. Well Shwarma Man, you know me, I don't just let strange men into my house. And I told these guys that. So what did they do? They sent a woman up! She couldn't believe it when I told her that I also didn't let strange women into my house. There was a lot of raised voices being directed at me, and it wasn't my fault Shwarma Man. I don't know why their plumbing wasn't working. Our plumbing wasn't working either, but they didn't seem to care about that.

Anyway, your smiling face made me feel a lot better. And thanks for your suggestion of adding french fries to my chicken shwarma...nice touch!

Love Carly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Belated Birthday Shout-out

It was Vardy's birthday on the weekend. I did of course have a lovely chat to her on the phone, but as all my friends get special shout-outs on this blog, hers had to wait until today.

Last year her birthday was spent in New York (this picture was taken a couple of days before atop the Eiffel Tower), this year it was in a trailer park...

What a Drama!

I had to go down to head office on Friday for a meeting, and had thought I'd spend the rest of the day doing some work and then attend a beginner's Arabic lesson in the afternoon. At about 1pm one of my colleagues told me that I had to go with them to a local school because no-one else from the North was going. I didn't need any further convincing to get out of the office!

I found out along the way, that a group of British actors, led by David Morrissey had been running a drama workshop all week for kids from the refugee camps around Lebanon, and this was their big performance day. There were quite a few parents there, as well as the British Ambassador. It was a wonderful, wonderful afternoon.

There was acting,

and puppets,

with many of the presentations focusing on the importance of friendship. There was also some dancing:

and some singing. This kid was from Nahr el-Bared and he was a wonderful singer. Unfortunately I didn't record more of his lovely voice...

These two were also pretty good

The culmination of all the performances was this:

Apparently on day one, the kids were all very quiet and the drama teachers were a bit worried that this would be the mood of the whole week. As you can see, they really came out of their shells. After the performance was over, and the kids were waiting for the busses to come, they were still singing and dancing, and hamming it up for the cameras. And then when the busses pulled up, there were tears, and hugs between the new friends. For them to have a week where they could just be kids is something I'm sure they'll remember in years to come.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Next Doctor

I met David Morrissey!

Will tell you all about it later, but before this photo was taken, all I can say was, "the children were wonderful, it was fantastic. And I loved you in Doctor Who!"

Such a fan girl...

Friday, October 9, 2009

No Sunday market this weekend

I got sent a series of security flash reports last night. These are very short emails that quickly update on any security events. A flash report usually means it's something serious, rather than the daily update we get on the situation in all the camps, which sometimes includes things like, "two children got into a verbal argument. The parents of the children became involved and a fist fight broke out. Gunshots were also fired and no-one was hurt."

These flash reports were a little closer to home. There were 2 ENERGAs thrown in one area of Tripoli, and 1 in Tebbaneh. I had to look up what an ENERGA was: a 75mm anti-tank rifle grenade. I'll be staying well clear of Tebbaneh for the time being.

More comfotable than a CNG

I don't think I've written about the service (pronounced "serveece") taxis here yet. It's a great system. Basically, if you're going in the same general direction as people already in a cab, then you just jump in. Similarly, if you're the only person in the cab, you might stop a couple of times along your way to pick up other people. And it only costs 1000 lire (US65c). Of course, you can just pay more and it becomes a private taxi. I really like the system, because I get to see parts of town that I may not otherwise see. I might pass a shop that looks interesting and file it away to visit at a later date (note to self: check out the butcher that actually looks like a decent butcher with refrigeration and everything), or just see cool stuff that I would never find on my own.

So it's the means of getting around here. I was just telling someone the other day how much I miss rickshaws, but a cab (usually a really old Mercedes) is definitely an improvement to the Bengali CNGs! Cabbies don't tend to know street names, so you usually just tell them a landmark. There's a school a block down from my house, which has given name to my street, so I just tell them that and they know where to go.

Today I was crossing the street to get a cab home and I saw one up ahead who'd just dropped someone off. I didn't think he'd wait around for me to catch up, but he did. I told him that I wanted to go to Al Mina, he nodded and smiled and I got in the car. He then turned around and said the name of my street with a big smile on his face. He then said in Arabic what was obviously, "I remember you, I've taken you there before. Do you remember me?" And then there was much smiling and laughing. I've written before how nice it is to be remembered, and especially by a decent cabbie who drives well...they're few and far between!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Snack Attack

We all know how much I love Shwarma Man, but shwarma is really a night time food. To beat the daytime snack attacks, my food of choice is the manoushe, especially one with zata (thyme) and joubneh (cheese).

Just fold it over and devour. Mmmm, delicious!

Poetry night

On the first Wednesday of the month, the best bar in town, Kava Minos runs an open poetry reading night. I'd never been before but a big group of us went last night. There must have been at least 40 people squeezed into the little courtyard. Most of the poems were read in Arabic, though one woman read in Spanish (very well I might add) and another man attempted Dante in Italian.

Amrita read a poem in both English and Hindi:

It was a very civilised way to spend an evening. Perhaps I'll get up next time..."I love a sunburnt country..."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I really needed this today

Instant happiness - it's kind of like Creature Comforts, but with real animals instead of animation. Happy smiling!

An apology

Dear Mr Plumber,

I'm sorry I ranted about you the other day. It was very nice of you to come yesterday afternoon and fix our water situation. It was also an unexpected surprise to find you had done the dishes we'd left in the sink and also mopped the kitchen floor with bleach. That really wasn't necessary, and it's a little bit weird, but we appreciated it all the same!

Thanks, Mr Plumber,

Unbelievably inconceivable

I'd like to share a story with you. A true story, that is quite unbelievable, but I assure you that the following events actually happened.

A young man, who happens to be Palestinian, checks his email on what he thinks is a public computer while waiting for some friends. He sends an email to a friend in a Western country. An non-uniformed Lebanese guard tells him to get off the computer, so he logs out and walks outside the building. The guard yells out something to him, which he ignores. He then finds himself face down on the ground with the guard pummeling his back with his fists.

A group of army dudes standing nearby manage to separate the two and the police arrive. They take both men to the station to interrogate them. The young Palestinian didn't fight back when he was attacked, and was very shocked as to why they would want to interrogate him. Well, it turns out that he was suspected of sending an email to Israel. Yep. The reason why he'd been beaten up by a private, plain-clothed security guard was because he might have sent an email to Israel.

Of course, this young man hadn't sent an email to Israel, but was treated like a criminal for a couple of hours. Meanwhile, the man who had attacked him was swearing black and blue that he hadn't even touched him. Thankfully, one of the police was pretty observant, and pointed out the back of the young man's shirt, which was torn. The young man then lifted his shirt to reveal that he was in fact black and blue, all over his back.

After initially refusing to show them the email he'd sent as a matter of principle, he relented and showed the police on the computer he'd used. The email contained a certain friendly insult which wasn't understood by the police, and was perhaps a bit lost in translation. The Lebanese colleagues of the attacking guard were quick to come to the conclusion that this word must be a code word. The interrogation continued. After about 3 hours he was finally released.

This happened last night to a friend of mine, and I was absolutely shocked. I'd arrived minutes after the attack to see him surrounded by soldiers. It took quite a long time to find out what had actually happened, and I still don't have all the details. Even if he had been sending an email to Israel, how could that possibly justify being attacked? What right does someone have to attack another person for sending an email? What law exists preventing someone from sending an email to Israel from Lebanon if they so choose? This country is a crazy place.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Old Camp

Today is my 3 month anniversary in Lebanon, I'm amazed at how quickly the time has gone. Today also marked my first time in the "old camp," though we're not supposed to call it that. What I'm referring to is where the Nahr el-Bared camp used to be, that is now being cleared of UXOs (unexploded ordinance) and rubble, and the areas that contain antiquities are being 'backfilled'. Backfilling basically means dumping a whole lot of dirt over the ruins so that they can be preserved for a later generation to discover. It's the backfilling process that has been stopped by the court order. The lightest coloured piece of land below is Package 1, the first lot that has been completely cleared and backfilled. Once we get the green light to recommence works, reconstruction of the camp will begin here.

As you can see, it's pretty prime real estate, but unfortunately there's no real sewerage network, so it goes straight out to sea.

The pinkish building you can see in the background was actually my driver's house. It's one of the few structures that is still standing.

This is another:

This really brought home to me what happened here. Seeing people's belongings, even a stuffed toy on the couch, and walls torn apart by shelling...we had a briefing by Handicap International, who are responsible for clearing the area of UXOs. So far they've removed over 11,000 pieces, including four 400kg bombs, and many booby trapped explosives. We were told that some of the de-miners have worked in Afghanistan and Iraq and they say that this is by far the hardest operation they've had to do.

I took a bit of video, apologies for the bad sound quality but it was pretty windy!

A rant, if I may

Well of course I may, this is my blog!!

Firstly, to the plumber. Dude, we've had some issues; like the time we had raw sewerage overflow on the drain on the balcony and it took you 3 days to come and fix it. And you came so much later than you said you would. And then for the past 3 days (bad things come in threes by the looks of things) our water has been going off for hours. We really didn't appreciate you coming an hour later than you said you would, when it was dark and you couldn't see what you were doing. And AGAIN, you didn't bring any tools with you. So now we have no water, except for the tiny dribble that comes out of the kitchen tap, and I jazzercised tonight (Dancin' Abs no less) and I would really like to have a shower. And I have to accompany some donors to the camp tomorrow and I'd really like to not be really smelly when we start. (I understand that I might be a bit smelly afterwards, but they will be too.) So, thanks for nothing plumber dude, you suck major eggs.

And secondly, to the guys currently parked directly below our balcony: if you're going to subject us to your crappy "100% hits from the year 2000" album playing on your stereo which is worth three times the value of your car, you could at least do us the courtesy of sticking to one song at a time, and not skipping after 3 seconds from The Vengaboys' "The Vengabus is coming," to "Music" by Madonna, to "My name is" by Eminem. Because that's super duper annoying and I really hate you right now.

*deep breaths*

Ok, rant over, thanks for that.

Monday, October 5, 2009

As safe as houses

I just found out there's a bomb shelter in our compound!! How is it that I, the newly crowned "international warden" didn't know there was a bomb shelter??

It's not stocked up with spam and water, (just empty filing cabinets and a wheelie bin) and there's no door on it, so I'm not quite sure if it's ready for use yet...could be wrong though...

I should really start carrying a towel around with me just in never know when you might need it


How did it know that I was really, truly thinking that??!

Roly Poly Fish Heads

In a masterful work of foreshadowing on this blog yesterday, I actually went out for a fish dinner last night, complete with fish heads. We took a lovely stroll up the corniche, right to the end where this hypercolour mosque is

And then turned into a charming little alleyway. We selected our fishes and walked a few steps up to where the restaurant was. One of the things I love about living here is that you don't sit around just waiting for your food getting hungrier and hungrier, because there's always some salad and hommus and baba ganoush to keep you going.

Anyway, the fishies came out, complete with heads (though you can't really see them too well in the picture) and oh the deliciousness!

And yes, our new colleague Ingebjorg was pulling a face to be funny, not at the dear fishies. Unfortunately, the food was somewhat marred by the turtle shells hanging on the walls. After my close encounter with turtle kind earlier this year, it made me sad to see them hanging up there.

But not sad enough to not polish off every last morsel of the fish...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

To market, to market

We headed to Tubeneh (I have no idea how it's spelled) this morning to check out the Sunday market. I'd seen the area on my first exploration of Tripoli but hadn't investigated. Luckily so, because apparently it's a dodgy part of town where it wouldn't be entirely safe for me to walk around by myself. But anyway, we had no problems.

It started off like a normal enough souk, with lots of little shops selling all sorts of crap (I managed to find the imitation of my favourite perfume for 5000), and then it moved into the food market. More pink stuff:

Olives, olives everywhere

And lots of delicious smelling spices, which unfortunately, couldn't quite offset the smell of the fish heads and other dead carcasses around the place.

And of course the fish heads got me singing the following in my head for the rest of the day! (The song starts at the 2:20 mark)

After the food section, it turned into a second hand clothing market, which is what we'd come out for...halloween costumes!! We found pretty much exactly what we were looking for in the first couple of stalls, and I was very surprised to see this type of clothing so readily available in a place like Tripoli. You'll have to wait and see what the costumes actually are!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Holy Hicksville!!

In news today:

Holy Moly! Boy 'kills alligator 20 times his size

A five-year-old Texan boy has reportedly killed a 3.7-metre, 365-kilogram alligator that was 20 times his size. Simon Hughes shouted "holy moly" when he saw the beast, but killed it with a single shot from his "junior-sized .410-gauge shotgun", the Houston Chronicle said.

"I wasn't even afraid," he told a local TV network. "Next year I'm going to kill me a bigger alligator."

What the news article failed to include was the "hyuck!" that came out of little Simon's mouth after "I'm going to kill me a bigger alligator." Meanwhile, who gives a 5 year old a gun???

Border misadventures

So I was supposed to go to Syria to watch the Lebanon UNRWA soccer team triumph over the Syrian team. Yassmin and I were going to leave work at midday and get ourselves there, and stay till Saturday. Problem #1, my stupid residency permit arrived at the Beirut office yesterday and it was supposed to be easily put in the pouch and sent up today, arriving at around 10am. Well, the pouch got delayed and delayed and finally arrived at around 2:30pm. By the time we got home, packed our bags and got to the bus area it was around 3:30pm.

Problem #2. The mini van we were taking to get a bit further north of Tripoli side swiped another car, and of course a massive argument ensued. We got out of that van, jumped in another and were on our way. We found a cab driver who would take us to the border and things were looking up.

We had a few minor inconveniences at the Lebanese border, with a bit of confusion over how my original entry stamp was in my old passport, and the fact that I'd overstayed my 2 month visa, even though the guy was holding my brand spanking new residence permit in his hand. Anyway, he finally stamped it, and we jumped back in the cab to take us the kilometre or so to the Syrian entrance. We bade the driver farewell, feeling that finally, luck was on our side.

The entrance area was somewhat ordered, and we filled out our forms and handed them over. A lot of Arabic was exchanged and then Yassmin walked around behind the counter to talk to the dudes. Because she's travelling on an American passport they had to get special permission for her to enter. We knew this, and knew that it would take a while. But that's when they sprung the doozy on us. The visa for Australians is $100!! (That's about US$90). Single entry. I was shocked. Not just at the high price (Americans pay US$16), but because a year ago I paid $27 to get into Syria. It was just too much for 2 days away. We tried to convince them to at least give me a multiple entry visa, but they wouldn't budge.

So we left. We started walking back to the Lebanese border. Many cabs drove past but we really didn't need one. A lot of cars also drove past with people calling out to us. We were happy to walk. But then a guy in a small truck pulled over and told us he'd take us to the border. It was very nice of him. We got back to the border and this is where problem #3 arose.

There were a billion sweaty men crowded around the windows. I really wish the Brits had colonised here, at least then there'd be a queuing system. We went to the window that said "foreign arrivals." The guy very rudely told us to go and stand in the other more crowded area. So we push our way to the front there and they told us to go back to the other window. Well, it was all getting a bit ridiculous. The stench of body odour was quite overwhelming. This went on and on, back and forth. Finally we were taken back through to the departures area, where a very suspicious man kept flicking through our passports (not that there was anything except the exit stamp I'd gotten less than an hour before in mine!) and asking questions. Ridiculous.

Finally, we got our entry stamps and all that was left was to jump in a cab to reverse our journey. Problem #5, there were no friggin cabs!! Well, there was one guy, who wanted 10,000 off each of us, which is absolutley ridiculous. He then sabotaged the next few people who pulled up near us, telling them we were foreigners (ok, yes, it's obvious that I'm a foreigner, but in the words of Mr T. "mama didn't raise no fool").

We were both getting pretty frustrated, standing around for quite some time, when a car with two men and two adorable little kids pulled up and offered us a lift. We accepted and they kindly took us back to the centre of town. All I wanted to do was get home and open the bottle of wine that's been in the fridge for ages.

Problem #6 - the corkscrew has gone missing!

Gah!!! What an afternoon!!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pinch and a Punch!

To celebrate the coming of October I'm going to Syria! Well, the fact that the big UNRWA Lebanon vs. Syria soccer match is happening tomorrow may have something to do with that.

Last night we almost adopted a kitten. It came up to where we were sitting at the cafe/bar we were at, and it was pretty pathetic looking; Mangy Mach 2. Not quite as woeful, but very skinny. Had we not been going away this weekend, it would have come home with us.

And its name would have been Billie Snoop.