December 2012


Al-Amin Mosque in Beirut
 

My Lebanese Christmas

by Susan Morgridge
As told to Catherine Exton

 
I lived by myself in Beirut, Lebanon, from September 2009 to July 2011. The civil war (1975 to 1990) was over but occasional skirmishes still broke out. I taught third graders at the American Community School in Beirut. Most of my students were the children of wealthy Lebanese.

The Lebanese love celebrations of any kind, perhaps because they have seen so much war, but this may just be a Western perception.


Street Decorations in Beirut 
 

During Christmas season, the townspeople decorate Beirut with an abundance of lights, Christmas trees, and shoot-ing stars. They start putting up decorations in early November. They celebrate any holiday with fireworks, including Christmas.

The Muslims have Christmas trees and give Christmas presents. Our school’s technical support person, a young man of 35, celebrated Christmas by buying presents for all the children in grades 1 through 6 — around 500 children.

In Christmas of 2010, my 20-year-old son, Charlie, came to stay with me in Beirut. We hired a taxi and drove all over Beirut and also took side trips to other cities. Our driver, Mohammed, had lived in Texas for 17 years and spoke with a slight drawl. He drove a beat-up old Mercedes, which he swore he was going to replace with a newer vehicle. (He never did while I was there.)


Roman Ruins – Baalbek 
 
 We took a trip to the Bekaa Valley, which is a Hezbollah stronghold. It is also the major agricultural area of the country. They grow fruits, vegetables, and wine grapes. In the hills they grow marijuana, even though it is not legal.

We went there to see the Roman ruins in Baalbek, and Charlie bought a Hezbollah flag.

 


Roman Ruins – Tyre 
 

We visited Tyre, a city on the coast, but without Mohammad. We needed special permission to go that far south because we were close to an Israeli military complex. We stayed at the Orange House, a B & B, for two nights.

The owners, two lesbian Lebanese women, also ran a sea turtle sanctuary. When we arrived, the turtles were all out to sea, so the owners cleaned debris from the beach. In the spring, the leatherback turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. These two ladies then dig down to where the eggs are, cover them with a metal grate to protect them and fill in the hole with sand.

We went to Sidon to visit a market where fish are auctioned. I went with a local woman who bid on a fish and bought it. She then took it across the street to a café where she had the owner refrigerate it while she had some tea and did some other shopping. Her total outlay for the day was $4 round trip on the bus, the cost of the fish, and $1.50 to refrigerate it.


Roman Ruins – Byblos 
 

Byblos — now called Jubayl — is believed to be oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world. It has spectacular Roman ruins and is the birthplace of the written alphabet. It was originally a Phoenician city and its inhabitants were renowned sea traders.

My friend, Andrea, accompanied Charlie, Mohammed and me to Tripoli. This is where most of the civil war skirmishes took place. It is the largest northern city and is close to the Syrian border.


Souk in Tripoli 
 
  We planned to visit the souks and have lunch at a seafood restaurant by the sea. A souk is an open-air market.

Charlie and Mohammed got it into their heads to have lunch at Long John Silvers (a chain restaurant). Mohammed spent 2½ hours looking for it because he would not drive faster than 20 miles per hour. As a result we had only 45 minutes to look at the souks, and I was not able to find the copper pans I had hoped to buy.

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