Quenching my thirst in Douma

He told me to cup my hands and drink. I drank and drank and drank. It was cool and refreshing- the best water on this trip.

fly back home to California in two days and one unexpected luxury I look forward to, is going to my kitchen or bathroom sinks and drinking water from the tap.

I learned my first day in Lebanon that my hostess Sadika and her family and friends only drink water from plastic bottles. She said when I brush my teeth from the sink- don’t swallow. 

While I drink water from plastic bottles in the US and when I’ve travelled, I never really thought about what I was doing.  It always seemed like a convenience, or a healthy option compared to the soda I am usually craving. I thought of my neighbor (and occasional pet-sitter) Suzy, as an environmental zealot for her promotion of always a carrying a reusable bottle to refill tap water.  

I sometimes see Suzy at Starbucks, where she always has her refillable cup. I bring a reusable cup for my frequent Starbucks runs, when I remember.

I also keep a reusable bottle at my desk at work to refill from the giant bottled water that is delivered to our office regularly. The nearest restroom is about fifty yards away and refilling my bottle about ten yards away is a convenience and apparently another luxury I didn’t recognize until this trip.

I bought three of those reusable bottles on a trip to Turkey two years ago and kept misplacing them, until I had to buy a plastic bottle to refill. I also fell violently ill when I drank tap water when I visited Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan in the past. Between Sadika’s advice and those experiences- it seemed like a no-brainer to not drink Lebanese tap water.

The downside is after seventeen days, I feel like I am overly contributing to the global environmental disaster that is plastic bottle use.

Yesterday one of the unexpected highlights of this trip was when my hostesses’ cousin George took us to a natural spring for me to drink straight from the pipe in Douma, a cute scorpion tail shaped mountain- side village a couple hours away from Beirut and Tripoli.

The village of Douma. Photo courtesy Sadika Kebbi

He asked if we had an empty plastic bottle to refill. Of course I didn’t, mentally beating myself up again. He told me to cup my hands and drink. 

I drank and drank and drank. It was cool and refreshing- the best water on this trip.

I told Sadika and George, I wish I could swim in this. I wish I could bathe in this water. 

Douma spring.

My hostess told me most of Lebanese plastic bottled water comes from these types of springs. Also the American University of Beirut is working on an initiative to recycle and reuse those bottled and cans. Both are positives but I still feel discomfitted.

Lebanon has a lot of national problems, crazy arse traffic, the Syrian and Palestinian refugee crises, horrible air quality in the major cities. A regional solution to the plastic water bottle issue, with the civil war in Syria to the north, and tense relations with Israel in the south, is not feasible right now.

Maybe it is my unicorn thinking, but some day I look forward to returning to Lebanon or anywhere in the Middle East and being able to drink from the taps. I would love to not worry about getting sick she having without getting sick and having to rely on plastic bottles.

My apologies to Suzy. You are not an environmental zealot, I am the one with my head that I am slowly pulling out of the sand. 

When I get home, I need to lessen my own use of those plastic bottles and follow Suzy’s example.

Thank you Sadika and your cousin George for giving me a taste of clean fresh Lebanese drinking water. I hope someday all of your countrymen and women are able to have the same luxury as I have at home.

Mexican burger but hold the burger

I have spent more time on this vacation explaining my choice to be vegetarian, than how America voted for an admitted sexual predator and Islamaphobe to be our current president.

Food is important when traveling. Although I have been jonesing for a Starbucks since day three- OK day two I have managed for the last eleven days to eat local thanks to the incredible hospitality of Sadika and her family. 

I landed in Lebanon with about a week left of Ramadan left.  My hostess and her adult children fasted during daylight until June 25 this year. Food wise it was a breeze for me since I wasn’t fasting and even in predominantly Muslim Tripoli, my hostess found gems like this downtown on a Saturday afternoon when everything else was closing for the Eid al Fitr holiday.

Ramadan iftars- the meal where Muslims break the fast were also easy for vegetarians as I always had a delicious lentil or vegetable soup, hummus, mutabul (babaganoush), and baked cheese and spinach pastries and always huge assortment of desserts.

On my first non-jet lagged night in Tripoli, Sadika invited me to an iftar hosted by her daughter-in-law’s parents. I think I heard a version of someone asking Sadika, why didn’t you tell us she (me) was vegetarian. I was confused because my Arabic stinks and there was so much food I could eat.

Bahia’s father of Sadika’s daughter asked me directly, “Why vegetarian?”

Simply put: I avoid food with a face. It was easy to give up fish almost twenty-five years ago, since I still hate the smell of fish and seafood. A few months later giving up meat was when I went to college at University of California  at Santa Cruz (UCSC), which was vegetarian and vegan friendly. I still eat eggs and cheese, and one of my favorite jobs at UCSC was making omelettes.

While I have yet to try any of the omelettes here, I love the cheeses. From Kashkival, haloum, to cheddar to gouda to feta. I even had a piece of American cheese today.

On the Eid al Fitr in Lebanon when all Sunni Muslims are done fasting, Sadika and her husband visited extended family.

I’m chillaxing at her beach home in Tripoli; reading, crocheting, swimming and floating in the adult pool and blogging.

I’m still recovering from the screaming kid bounce house trauma from last night, and Sadika said chillaxing on my own while she and her husband met up to 40 or 50 family at once might be too much.

Great call Sadika.

In a weird irony, today while Sadika and her family feasted during daylight, I had no appetite until about 3pm after I found my happy place during an hour long relaxing swim-float in the Mediterranean. Then I was hungry.

Walking back to Sadika’s chalet I found this burger place whose menu consisted of this.

 

I’ve been away from California for about eleven days. My last dinner before flying away was nachos from my favorite cheap Mexican chain Aldabertos. So of course I ordered: a “Mexican burger, but hold the burger.”

One of the two young men working in the hut, that was not much bigger than a food truck responded, “I’m sorry we can’t do that. It’s a burger with cheese, with special sauce, jalapeno, lettuce and tomato. We don’t have a burger substitutes. It may not grill right.”

I responded, “I’m hungry. I’m craving Mexican food, I haven’t eaten meat in almost twenty-five years, I’m not starting today.”

“Fine but it will be same price.”

I agreed and about ten minutes and $10 later. I had my not so glamorous grilled cheese sandwich, fries and a Sprite.

While not the best grilled cheese ever, I may be inspired to try a new version of Mexican grilled cheese at home when I get home.

Bon appetit or as they say in Lebanon when finishing a meal sahteen.

All Night Long

This night I’m living a Lebanese version of an 1980’s Lionel Richie pop hit.

Travel has gotten me out of my comfort zone- even if it took a long flight and loud drummers to do so.

I had been awake 28 hours and had been on a plane or in airports for 24 of them.

Sadika says, “You must sleep in tomorrow, as we will be awake all night long from iftar (the sunset meal Muslims break their fast for Ramadan) to sohur, the pre sunrise meal Muslims enjoy before fasting all day.

Major problem, I’m not a night person. I go to bed early and wake up early. Jet lagged how will I get to sleep and how will I stay awake? I’m the houseguest from hell.

Then I start hallucinating. I’m hearing drums banging outside her resort.

“Oh that’s normal” Sadika says. They are just reminding people to wake up for the sohur meal.

I take a sleeping pill and sleep until 11am. I’m never in bed that late. 

Sadika directs me to the beach at her house and I start my Lebanese vacation with a warm swim in the Mediterranean Sea.  I stop for my first shanklish sandwich- an herbaceous yogurt, tomatoe, cucumber, olive combination. Yum, yum and yum.

We then sea some old and modern buildings in Tripoli.

I manage a short nap at Sadika’s son’s house while an Lebanese version of Family Feud plays on the television. I don’t understand a word, but apparently like in the US the host is funny.

We head to Sadika’s daughter’s Rana’s in laws house. Lebanese hospitality is insanely gracious. This is when I would curl up and say goodnight- but the night has just begun.

I tag along with Sadika and her husband, to a gala on an island. Traffic is snarky apparently the Lebanese Minister of Interior was attending. 

There is music and food, lots more food and drums.  Across the bay the skyline of Tripoli lights up.

“One of those guys was in our neighborhood this morning.”

We finish the day, or is it night or morning. I smoke a lemon nargilleh and sip tea with a new friend at a cute tea shop run by Sadika’s son.

The prior Saturday night I was asleep in bed getting ready to wake up early to watch Rafa demolish his opponent at the French Open.

This night I’m living a Lebanese version of an 1980’s Lionel Richie pop hit.

Travel has gotten me out of my comfort zone- even if it took a long flight and loud drummers to do so.

Love Love Lebanon All Night Long!

Stitch by Stitch 

A few days after my dog Hooka went to doggy heaven, I started a new project. I knew I needed to get away, but I wasn’t confident where.

I also thought it would be a fun challenge to crochet the flag of Lebanon into a blanket. I don’t have a pattern or instructions just an image of the flag. 

I learned crochet when I was a preteen, and picked it up again about thirty years later. Crochet keeps my hands busy, it takes my eyes off my smartphone, computer, or television.  Crochet is a nice way to fill the commute when I’m on the Light Rail to and from work. It distracts and relaxes me. 

Learning from prior projects,  I gathered my needed yarn and started. I checked with my friend Sadika who said she would host me. Crocheting this blanket gave me the confidence to commit to this trip. It also gave me the confidence to let my parents know despite their worries and the State Department warnings- this is the right decision.

I also told them I spent many hours crocheting and thinking about this and it was not a reflexive decision after Hooka’s death. 

Over twenty years ago I had a conversation over the dinner table when they vetoed idea of me going to college in Beirut.  Now I was having another conversation, over another dinner table on the same subject. 

Sipping a glass of red wine,  I offered up, “Did you know there are winemakers in Lebanon?”

The conversation went differently this time. Instead of an idealistic teenager, I’m approaching 42 years-old. I will be staying with Sadika, a storyteller and Toastmaster (like me) and a mother of an adult daughter (like my stepmom). 

My stepmom admitted as much,  “You are an adult. You can make your own decisions now.”

My dad was even more understanding, “You will probably get another speeding ticket before you get kidnapped.”

Finally I showed them the project I had finished that day, that I had worked on the past two weeks. 

Thank you to my parents for trusting me. Sadika I look forward to giving you this blanket soon. 

Stitch by stitch I grieve.

Stitch by stitch I weave.

Stitch by stitch I give. 

Stitch by stitch I live.