Saturday, February 27, 2010
It was the same today. We hit the snow line and then turned into the cedar park. As we started down the narrow road, it actually started snowing. Big, fat, wet snow!
I was seriously excited...
Don't worry, we got the car unbogged very easily.
Even the crappy souvernir shop dummies were getting in on the action (it's a bit hard to see through all the snow, but they're wearing ski helmets and goggles)
We then headed back down the hill a bit to where the best cedars are...
I would have been happy to settle for seeing snow around the cedars, but instead, I got to see...
We found a place with a fireplace to have a hot chocolate and warm up
Then after some lunch it was time to head off
This is how much snow had accumulated on the roof of the car...2 knuckes worth!
The drive back down was rainy and slushy, but the sky started to clear up
About five kms from Tripoli it seemed like winter was just a brief memory. The olive groves are so green!
A wonderful adventure!!
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Remember way back when when you bought your travel insurance? We were thrilled that you also chose to make a micro-donation to one of the global poverty-alleviation projects in our Footprints charity program: "Distributing food to vulnerable families," in the Chiredzi district, Zimbabwe.
We thought you'd like to know that your small contribution, combined with thousands of others did make a huge difference.
Food totalling over 8,865 MT was distributed to over 206,000 people in Chiredzi between October 2008 and March 2009, covering the period when food insecurity was at its worst. The majority of people receiving the food rations were children under 5 and children aged between 5 and 18 years old.
I'm not sure about their use of the term "micro donation". I know it wasn't a huge sum of money, but hey, I donated right?! Anyway, below that text was a link to a website to read more about the project, run by Plan and WFP, with a case study of a 12 year old girl who has to look after her three younger siblings. I'd totally forgotten I'd made the donation, it's good PR for them to have sent this update. I'm all warm and fuzzy this morning.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Well, the unthinkable happened; I'm absolutely devastated Shwarma Man. The beef shwarma you made for me the other night made me ill. I won't go into details but it was bad. Yassmin had the chicken and she was fine. It was the beef, in the shwarma, with the bacteria.
If it were anyone else, I'd swear that I'd never go back to them again. But I can't say that about you Shwarma Man, you're too special. I can't throw away what we have over one silly gut rot incident.
I forgive you.
Behold, my lucky 500 taka note
It lives in the coin pocket of my favourite jeans. If you look closely, you'll notice a tear below the 500. That tear has always been there.
No amount of washing can increase the size of that tear. If only rickshaw wallas were paid with 500 taka notes ($8) instead of 2 taka notes, then they could safely wash their money, and be rid of all that pesky bacteria!
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Interpreting a Terrorist Alert...
The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats
and have raised their security level from "Miffed" to "Peeved." Soon,
though, security levels may be raised yet again to "Irritated" or even "A
Bit Cross." The English have not been "A Bit Cross" since the blitz in 1940
when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from
"Tiresome" to a "Bloody Nuisance." The last time the British issued a
"Bloody Nuisance" warning level was during the great fire of 1666.
Monday, February 22, 2010
First stop was the public garden in Tel,
We then headed into the old city, and somehow managed to end up being shown into an old hammam, a bath house, which hasn't been used in a very, very long time. You can see the reflection of a star that the pattern in the roof makes.
There was then a brief window of opportunity to look inside the Grand Mosque...it wasn't particularly grand...
We called in to Kahn al Saboun (the soap souk), which made for some interesting photos
And a view of the elusive citadel. Now I know where it is, I can finally visit it!
We then found another hammam, this one is only for men, but they let us check out the front room.
There were more soap shops across the other side of the souk that I'd never really explored before
including Sharkass soap (I'm told the Sharkass are a race of people from near Russia, it's not actually soap made from shark asses)...
After a tea break, we headed down and then up what had been described as the "depressing staircase" to see this sign.
The black text translates to something like, "the mosque of Tel warns men and women from standing in this spot together." The red text translates to, "the whore and the slut are the ones who stand in this spot." So of course, Loai and I couldn't resist taking this shot! :-)
That conservativeness was balanced out by this nice grafitti...
There are many more photos to show, I'll put them up on picasaweb in the coming days (my internet is about to run out in 10 minutes!!) It was great to explore Tripoli with two locals, and a total of 5 architects, and to walk down alleys and corridors that I would never have found myself. A wonderful Sunday afternoon!
I can't remember what the festival is called (something like Zamba-ambo) but apparently it's something that's been going on for ever.
When I left the house a couple of hours later, they were still marauding around the streets of Al Mina, with the army following close behind them.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
We had a bucket (well, you'd probably call it a tub) and it disappeared some time ago. So I went to the junk shop and I bought two different sized buckets as replacements. We spent a few enjoyable months with these buckets, doing the laundry and the mopping, just one big happy bucketed family.
You can imagine my distress this morning, when I went to get the big bucket to do the washing. It was gone!! I searched every inch of the house, including the balcony, and the balcony that runs below our balcony...it was gone. The little bucket was gone too. THEY BE STEALIN' MY BUCKET!!!
So off I tottered to the junk shop once more, to buy another bucket. It's a beautiful day out, so I enjoyed the stroll. On my walk back, with my brand spanking new bucket wedged comfortably against my waist, I noticed the looks: the approving looks of women I passed along the way. I could just imagine their thoughts, "there goes the white girl, with a nice new bucket. She must be doing housework. She's one of us." I've never felt like more of a local, than I did today walking down the main street on a sunny day, with my bucket under my arm. A happy plus to this was seeing a cab driver who drove me home twice this week from the gym. "Mahabar," I called out to him as he drove past. "Ki fiq?" he called past with a big smile.
I has a bucket. I has a happy.
One of the benefits of working with a lot of design architects is that well, not only are they very creative people, but they have access to printing on very large pieces of paper. So we gathered as many of Elsa's friends as we could find in the compound and sent her this photo.
Congratulations Elsa and Loic!!
Friday, February 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Instead, we were visited by the new Deputy Commissioner General and the UNRWA Spokesman, who gave us some insight into the future strategies of the agency. When asked about how UNRWA would avoid having to give future emergency aid (i.e. protecting refugees against future conflicts like in Nahr el-Bared or Gaza), the spokesman went off on a spiel about UNRWA's commitment to protection, including how in the Commissioner's office there was now a senior protection officer and that advocacy was hugely important to the agency. Basically, he gave a stock standard response, that, while interesting, did not address the question at all. The spokesman really impressed me, because he didn't even take a second to think about the question, he just reeled off a diplomatic response. Convincing if you don't need to know the answer to the question, but useless if you do. CJ Cregg would be proud.
It was encouraging to hear that the Com-Gen had had a meeting with PM Hariri, in which the politician had raised the point of trying to address the issue of giving Palestine refugees access to their right to employment, without prompting from the Com-Gen. One of the major barriers facing these refugees is that they're not allowed to work in a number of professions, like medicine or engineering in Lebanon, unless they're employed by UNRWA. One of the staff then asked if there would be any progress made on the right to land ownership, which is another huge problem. The response was that the focus would firstly be on the right to work, as land rights will be much more of a challenge. Fair enough I suppose, but I'm sure that didn't console the staff much.
What was most useful was the pointing out of the following article published in today's Daily Star, about the meeting the Com-Gen had with PM Hariri yesterday.
Hariri vows to raise funds for Nahr al-Bared
Premier assures top UNRWA official of commitment to completing reconstruction of camp
By Michael Bluhm
Thursday, February 18, 2010
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri promised to help raise money for rebuilding the war-ravaged Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp by using his connections with wealthy Gulf donors, said United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner General Filippo Grandi after meeting Hariri on Wednesday.
“He said he would use his influence and his contacts to help us raise this money,” Grandi told The Daily Star. “I found his commitment very spontaneous, unprompted by me.
“I was very much encouraged by how determined, precise and concrete the prime minister was.”Continue reading here...
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
I witnessed the installation of solar panels on the best block of temporary accommodation we have. As you can see, some transparent panels have been put in the roofing to allow greater light in.
I then paid a visit to one of the clinics, where there was a dentist, a pharmacy, and a female doctor all working hard. I had to giggle at this sign...
because a few seconds after I took it, three men came and sat down under it and lit up cigarettes.
I then checked out the women's program centre, which is providing skills training in make-up and hairdressing (and funky hijab arranging)
and sweets preparation
It was great to actually talk to these young women and find out what they were learning, if they were enjoying themselves, and what their families thought of their involvement. I spent a year doing this in Bangladesh, and it was nice to get back into some qualitative reflection.
Since we were in the neighbourhood, we swung past Package 1 to check out the reconstruction...it's coming along nicely.
It was the third to last stop that got to me. We went into one of the "collective centres" which is probably the crappiest accommodation option in the area. Basically, it's a big room, that's been divided up with fibro boards. It's dark, it's dingy, it's soul sucking.
The people were complaining that there are rats and insects. It's a terrible place to live. But this wasn't what upset me. Well, it was only one of the reasons why I was upset. What really got to me was the fact that the people living here were doing so by choice. They were offered rental cash subsidies, which are $150 per month, but refused to move out. They were offered units in the plot with the transparent roofing. They refused to move out. It upsets me that these people would choose to live in such a hell hole, would choose to raise their children in such a hell hole, when there are better options available to them. I can not understand why, and no-one has been able to explain it to me.
The second to last stop cheered me up. I went into my colleague's brother-in-law's shop and he had prostitute red nail polish, which is always fun. The price was 1000 pounds, I told him that was too cheap, that he should sell it for 3000. But I put 1000 on the counter, which he tried to refuse. The generosity of strangers, particularly strangers who don't have much to give, always astounds me. Before I leave this country I'm going to go on a massive spending spree in the camp since the reactivation of businesses has been so slow. Prostitute red nail polish for all!!
My last stop was a meeting with a university student who received a scholarship from UNRWA. Lina is a great girl, who's in her third year of a biology degree with a 3.4 GPA (out of 4). We sat and talked for about half an hour about her life, her studies, her dreams. There's obviously a lot of healing that remains to be needed, but she's got a bright future ahead of her.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
About a week ago large posters of Hariri started appearing everywhere. The drive down to Beirut yesterday saw hundreds of huge sign boards bearing his face. There was going to be a huge memorial/celebration today in downtown Beirut, so Najwa and I decided to get out of town early to avoid the masses. On the drive up to Tripoli I was absolutely stunned at the convoys of cars heading in the opposite direction.
Almost every single car had men and women hanging out the windows, waving the national flag or the blue flag of Hariri's party, or with photos of Hariri himself plastered all over them.
And by hanging out the windows, I mean sitting on the windows, or the roof of the car (on the highway going at least 80km/hr!)
What better occassion to have your young children standing up with their heads out the sunroof?
I find it hard to believe that a politician can be so loved, even after death. I struggle to imagine K-Rudd causing such a celebration.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Because if you didn't have such an Australian, who would be there to translate the menu? Capsicum is a bell pepper, prawns are shrimps. Really, how do people get by without an Australian???
Friday, February 12, 2010
Two taka notes are the most disgusting things known to man. Try as I might (ok, a 20 second google image search), I can't find a photo of the typical two taka note. Go ahead, search for yourself, and you'll only find pristine examples. I think in my one year in Bangers, I saw one such note. The two taka note is the smallest of all notes, taking wrinklage and shrinkage into account, usually about the size of a business card. It was almost as if you could see the bacteria hovering on the note, and now, it's been proven that they are indeed, festering with bacteria.
My favourite line of the article is towards the end as reads: "Instead of avoiding or cleaning money, the best protection is to wash hands with soap regularly." Now, I once saw a woman (in Washington D.C) in a bathroom giving her US dollars a nice rinse in soapy water, and then drying them lovingly with some paper towels, but I don't think she was quite all there. But back to the point about cleaning money, I have, at this very moment, a 500 taka note (about $8) in the little coin pocket of my favourite jeans. The jeans that I wear a lot. The jeans that I wash a lot because I wear them a lot. This 500 taka note is still in great shape (remembering that I left Bangers in September 2008), and I imagine by the time I'm ready to go back to Bangers for a holiday, it'll still be in pretty great shape. My own scientific research has led me to the conclusion that the higher the value of the taka, the better cleaning survival it has.
I present to you my incontrovertable proof:
My friend Jez, in a pool (at the Dead Sea Marriott, natch), with a five taka note he found in his pocket after entering the pool. The five taka note didn't really survive. So if this is what happens to a five taka note, imagine the damage to a two taka note!!
The Daily Star is absolutely right, people should not attempt to clean their two taka notes, or their five or ten taka notes. I think it's safe to say, that unless you're holding 500s you should clean your money at all. The other advice the Daily Star presents, that of avoiding money, is one I don't think will be as difficult to ensure. You find me one rickshaw walla in Bangladesh who would avoid money over being exposed to some bacteria, and, well, I'll say "well done you".
Daily Star, you've brought joy to my evening.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Anyway, Alanna Shaikh, who I follow on Twitter, and who writes a fantastic blog posted a link to this article on the Grameen Bank. I'll be the first to admit that some of the financial data (I'm not much of a numbers or graph person) went over my head, but it did lead me to remember some of the issues I faced when investigating the successes and challenges the NGO I worked for in Bangladesh had in microcredit.
In this case, every single village that benefitted from the program I was working on established at least one savings group (gender segregated). The members would deposit between 5-20 taka (US$1=70 taka) on a weekly basis. This is such a tiny amount, and seems so inconsequential to many of us. But sure enough, over time, the fund grows and members are able to take loans to support their income generation activities. Some members were able to purchase CNGs (auto-rickshaws) or sewing machines or increase the capital in their grocery stalls.
One of the key things we found was that these savings groups were a means of effectively improving their "credit rating". These people had applied for Grameen Bank loans in the past, and been denied. Basically, they had to prove that they could repay a loan, which they would do in the savings groups we established. Then they might have to take a loan from another organisation to bring the credit rating up further. Perhaps after they had repaid a couple of loans, and had a functioning income system, they might be accepted by Grameen.
So while the Grameen bank has achieved incredible things over the past 34 years, it is not necessarily the 'bank for the poor' that it has claimed to be. The experiences that were communicated to us indicated that the interest rates on Grameen loans were often prohibitively high, that flexibility in repayments was limited, and that Grameen often required the provision of collateral, which was impossible for the extremely poor people we were working with, who lived without any real formal assets.
What was great about these savings groups was the ownership by the group. There were a set of guidelines that had to be followed in the establishment of a group, but groups were free to decide on any other rules (for example, if loans provided in times of personal emergency would be repaid with interest or not). The groups had a management committee, with specific roles outlined, including a person for complaints or disputes.
Of course, a small village savings program can not really be compared to the goliath that Grameen has become. But it does show how influential the idea of microcredit has become, and that communities can improve their own resilience to economic shocks.
Just my thoughts....
Monday, February 8, 2010
Nahr al-Bared's economic recovery hampered by military siege
Ray Smith, Electronic Lebanon, 18 January 2010
More than two years after the end of the fighting, the war-torn Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared, located in northern Lebanon, is far from the model the Lebanese government has promised the camp would become. Instead, reconstruction of the camp is delayed, the area is a military zone with restricted access, and the camp's economy is stalled and residents are largely unemployed.
Following a 15-week war in the summer of 2007 between the Lebanese army and the militant group Fatah al-Islam, who occupied portions of the camp, Nahr al-Bared was totally destroyed. So far, about two-thirds of its 30,000 Palestinian inhabitants have returned and resettled on the camp's outskirts. One of them is Jihad Awed, who sits in front of his tiny clothing store and tells about the good times before the war. "My shop was larger and I sold more products. It went well and I made a living. I sold between $130 to $200 per day."
Having returned to Nahr al-Bared after the war, Awed started to sell shoes, but went bankrupt. He sold his wife's jewelry and opened his new store, which barely makes $30 a day. "I can't live on it. The rent is $100 per month. I buy cigarettes and coffee and my income is gone," Awed explains...
In the afternoon, Ingebjorg called to see if we wanted to go for a drive somewhere, and we decided to head down to Byblos and take Maia for another big walk there. The cloud cover was still a bit much, but here's some snow for you.
We made it to the first checkpoint out of Tripoli when I turned around to check on Maia and saw the bright yellow vomit on the backseat. Haram Maia (poor Maia)! We pulled over at a coffee van and grabbed some tissues and cleaned up as best we could. We knew we had to get her home, but the problem with the highway to Beirut is that there aren't many places to turn around. We had to keep driving and driving until finally there was an off ramp. We pulled over again to let her out for some fresh air, and then she really, really didn't want to get back in the car. I don't know exactly how heavy she is, but I'm guessing about 15-20 kilos...i.e. enough for me to have to make a rest stop in carrying her back to the car!!
We got her home without any further incident, and cleaned up the car. After all that excitement, Maia was happy to curl up in her bed, so Ingebjorg and I headed out to get a bite to eat. The cafe/restaurant, Ginger's, had the following placemats:
Who knew Aerosmith lyrics could be so poetic? While devouring a pretty good pizza, the stereo played Mmm Bop...always interesting music choices in Tripoli!!
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Guess who #1 dog sitter is going to be??
"Can I have your name ma'am?"
"And can I have your name?"
"Sorry, your other name"
"Can you spell that?"
Sheesan, appropriate for a Japanese restaurant...
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
I stopped by the butcher, and we managed to establish that he didn't have any chicken breasts, just burger patties and fried chicken, so I got some beef instead. I then called into the green grocer across the street and paid 1000 pounds (less than a dollar) for a bag of vegies! This was all quickly whipped up in a stir fry for three (our wok is woefully small).