Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New housemates

I've done nothing to encourage this, I swear, they just appeared out of nowhere the other day!

Safe and sound behind the razor wire!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Day trip to Thula and Kawkaban

One of my colleagues organised a day trip to Thula, a UNESCO World Heritage nominated site, which is about an hour from Sana'a. It was fantastic to get out and see some of Yemen, and we all lamented that it's shame the security situation isn't conduit to tourists, because the country side is stunning. I was also excited to try out my new camera, and I think the results are pretty good. 

Our first stop before climbing up the mountain in Thula was a look at the cistern, which people use for washing and water for animals, but not for drinking, which I was very glad to hear because the water was pretty gross. 
 Our driver contemplating the gross water, and the walk ahead.
 About half way up we had a great view down over Thula
 As expected, a whole host of men presented themselves as our guides. Khaled, on the left was our chief guide. They've all learnt English (and a host of other languages) from the tourists who used to flock to Thula, but the numbers have trailed down to basically nothing over the past two years.
 Very close to the top of 600-odd steps
 Yea! Made it to the top, and wandered around an old mosque, house and just admired the view.
 There was a lot of agriculture that could be seen from the top, particularly the terraced farming (which my food security and livelihoods colleague was stoked to see)
 On the way down we almost got run over by this man and his donkeys.
 After stopping for lunch in Shebam we drove up another range to see Kawkaban.
 Pretty spectacular no?
 We wandered around for a little while, again admiring the view, when one of the group spotted this place.
 And here's another view of the town on the way down.
 All the green you can see is qat - the legal drug that (mainly) men chew as a stimulant. According to someone's twitter post yesterday, 90% of Yemen's water is used for agriculture, of which 60% of that is qat. I hadn't seen it being cultivated before and had expected it to be more bushy, but qat grows on trees.
I'm so glad I had the chance to get out and do something touristy in Yemen. I'll be stuck in Sana'a over Eid, and don't know if this stage if I'll actually get to Socotra (google it, incredible!) before I leave. My calf muscles were a bit sore this morning, and I think combined with all the squatting and lunging I did at volleyball today I'm going to find it difficult to walk tomorrow!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Heavy Heart

I can't believe I have to leave Beirut tomorrow morning. It's been a marvellous R&R, full of good friends, good food, good shopping and good times all round. 

I had 24 hours by myself before Ingebjorg arrived, and I got deliciously lost in Achrafieh (the fancy suburb we're staying in) and thankfully also managed to find my way back home to the funky little studio we'd booked. The long awaited Carly/Ingebjorg reunion was delightful and we spent our first day together strolling around Hamra. There's always plenty of interesting grafitti around the place: 
We spent Friday night and Saturday brunch with Oli and Sara and met their adorable little boy, who has the cheekiest little grin. It was great to catch up with them and find out all their news from the past 2+ years. Our old work friends Chadi and Nicole came down from Tripoli on Saturday evening, and we had a stunning sunset to enjoy with our Almazas.
Of course we missed Yassmin terribly at our reunion, so we took a bunch of photos like this to send to her:

Sunday took us to Lazy B, the most relaxing spot in Lebanon, for a day at the beach. The water was warm, the shade was ample and I had a fantastic book to read and I couldn't keep the smile off my face. 
Very smiley. 
On our night out with Chadi and Nicole we'd discovered a place called February 30. It has hands down the funkiest, most original decor I've ever seen. Yes, you are seeing that right - it's a bar stool that's a swing. 
And fire hydrant, moped, cooking pot and water bottle bar stools as well. I'd planned to go back there on my own in the daytime to better photograph the place, but unfortunately my camera died (RIP Canon) so I didn't get the great shots of the upside-down table and chairs mounted on the ceiling, or the coat hanger light bulbs that ran above the bar. 
Ingebjorg and I spent the next couple of days wandering around various neighbourhoods, checking out new bookstores and cafes and generally soaking up all the Beirut has to offer. She sadly left me on Tuesday night, so I've spent the past few days wandering around by myself, working on my novel (it's up to 20,000 words now!) and taking crappy instagram-esque shots with my stupid 'smart' phone. 

Ingebjorg had a friend who is in town for a month studying Arabic and introduced us, and it's been lovely to have a friend to go out to dinner with in the evenings. The dinner for one concept isn't really understood here, so I've been really happy to have her around to save me that embarrassment!

But now, as I sip on an Almaza, it's almost time to say goodbye. There's time for one last pizza at Marguerita's, and one last mojito at Kayan (my new favourite bar in Gemmayze). I didn't do as much shopping as I thought I would, well I've got some excellent birthday and Christmas presents sorted, but I've had such a great time. It doesn't feel like it was over two years ago that I left, and hopefully I won't have to wait that long to come back again.

Thanks Beirut for being the perfect place to reunite, unwind, dress up, dress down, eat, drink and be merry.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Busy little bee

It's been a remarkably hectic period since I got back from the field. We've had an internal evaluation team in, and organising the logistics of their visit took up a lot more time than I would have expected. I knew two of the team members already, so it was nice to catch up with them, and I think the results of the evaluation (which we try to do early on in any response to ensure we're on the right track, or if not, work out how to improve the response) will be really useful for the team. I've also been frantically trying to finish up a couple of pieces of work that I've had hanging over me (seriously - never say 'there's no deadline' to me!) and inducting the person who'll eventually take over my position.

We've also had a couple of days of lock down, conveniently (for the security manager) on weekends and public holidays, and the Old City is now off limits to us until further notice. So that's a bit of a bummer, as it's a nice way to kill a few hours on the weekends! But thankfully, volleyball started up again last week (after a 4 week absence) and I somehow managed to get sunburnt on the backs of my legs and tops of my feet - well, it's not really a mystery, I just neglected to put sunscreen on my legs!

The most exciting thing to report is that I'm now just 40 hours (insha'allah) away from getting on a plane out of here to Lebanon, for a well deserved break! I can't wait to catch up with friends, eat and drink whatever I want, not be covered from head to toe, do some shopping and generally just unwind and take it easy! The weather forecast is looking good for the first few days, so I'll be breaking out my sun dresses and soaking up all Beirut has to offer!