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Lebanon – Land of Confusion

10 Aug


Out of all the hotels in Jordan, guess where I land? DAYS INN Hotel.

Yes, you heard correctly. Right now, this Day girl is sittin’ smelly in this four-star hotel lobby. Think 1970’s fabrics mixed with 1980s gold décor. Imagine Days Inn metal detectors greeting you at the door. See the Arab men across the room smoking cigs and talking over the National Geographic special on WAR. And, watch the Black Burka ladies silently sauntering by carrying the latest Chanel bag. Welcome to the Days Inn in Amman, Jordan. Irony at its finest.

Let me focus. Where do you begin in describing the beginning of this Middle-Eastern adventure. Try this….

Which country converts a two-lane highway into four, five or six lanes without adding concrete or to the death toll? Advertises anti-itch, pleasure seeking vagina creams on 30-foot billboards hanging from residential high-rises?  Associates Christians towns as litter-free and erotic and Muslims communities as environmentally- unfriendly and asexual.  And, manages to cram together in the former green zone your neighborly Mosque, Orthodox Catholic Church and clandestine Temple with your rockin’ nightclubs, decadent restaurants and over-priced retailers?

Still lost. What do you get when you mix bedazzled burka babes and Brittney Spears sportin’ Christians? What you get is Beirut. Ramadan fires up in a few days, so visitors from all over the Middle East have descended on this town for one last hur-rah before fasting kicks-off. As they say…

What happens in Beirut stays in Beirut. Saw it. Lived it. Believe it.

Oh, my. If you don’t read any further because this is a long blog, let me sum it up…Thrusting to live Arabic music one minute and then belting out Beatles songs alongside Afro-wig wearing Lebanese rock stars. Seeking men who sport gold chained crucifixes in lieu of turbans. Sashaying over 6,000 year-old ruins in Hezbollah territory. Discovering that 99.26% of all Lebanese lie. Finally, hearing from someone in the know

Christian Lebanese Town

“Let me get this straight. Your GPS was off track in Tripoli. You were driving a rental car…windows were down. You’re taking pictures……Hezbollah? Ha. They are of no concern. Consider yourselves guests of Bin Laden.” What the fu*!#***!!! “Next time, call me. I know people. I get you out.”

Welcome to Lebanon. It is the only Middle-Eastern country where a large number of Christians pinky-swear with their Muslim cohorts. Someone summed it up as “we coexist until there is word not to.”

The rest of the Middle East – excluding Israel – is majority Muslim Sunni or Shi’ite. Locating large groups of influential Christians in this part of the world is like trying to find a four-leaf clover in the Everglades…. Say no more.

So, who is this Lebanon? She boosts of a democratically elected government. There are no kings or benevolent dictators, just corrupt prime ministers, politicians and businessmen all vying to get their hands on the coffers. Sound familiar?

Her people have been at war with each other and surrounding countries for over 50 years – some would say since the beginning of time. During the 70’s and 80’s, the civil war broke out and left her slightly bruised and highly annoyed. As my dear friend Jeff relayed to me over these last few days and I’ve paraphrased…

”look, Lebanon was the Middle East’s playground for war. If you hated a group, we welcomed you. You had Christians fighting Christians, Muslims fighting Muslims, Christians fighting Muslims, Muslims fighting Jews, Jews fighting Christians….on and on….but you also had the Russians, Japaneses, US, French, Brits, Chinese, everyone in the Middle East behind the scenes angling for a slice of the power pie. And, you wonder why we lie and froth with distrust?”

Let me add a little note. All of this crap-ola was ragging in a country smaller than the size of Connecticut.  Ouzo anyone??

I’m sooooo grateful for my friend Jeff for he generously showed me 82.4% of his country and patiently answered all my questions that seemed to start off as “I don’t understand, but why….”

After Microsoft, Jeff moved back home to reconnect with his roots. Two years later, he is fed-up, over-it and is moving back to the land of processes, litigation and traffic laws – Washington, DC. One thing about Jeff is he knows or is related to everyone in the country. No joke. So, I was not the least bit bothered when we bought a Pepsi in a Hezbollah village, snap photos of randoms, or did a drive by in Bin Laden land. Thank you Jeff!

Some of my touring highlights included going to Jeita de Grotto – exploring the underground caves with the burka babes, their pimps and the no-clothes wearing Christians. The caves date back to 10,000 years ago – or so they say.

One would think there would be no touching, stealing or smoking. Not the case. People were lightening up. Touching the rock. And, throwing their cigarette butts in the water below. The railing made it to my knees and the walkways were slick with algae of some sort. OSHA violations anyone? I saw myself slipping over the edge into the abyss and no one even noticing. On another note, as I was navigating the cave paths, these caves just reminded of God’s beauty for this was one of the most extraordinary natural wonders I’ve encountered. Plus, the caves were cool as in cold.

Other highlights included scaling 9,000+ year old ruins in Baalbek – Hezbollah-land boarding Syria. It is counted among the wonders of the ancient world. Baalbek contains the largest and most noble Roman temples ever built and our friends the Phoenicians, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Ottomans, Arabs – the whole lot – had a piece of it at one time or another. Mark Antony apparently gave his love, Cleopatra, this entire valley, including the ruins.

People – we’re talking about some major history here. Of course, you can smoke, drink and pee on the stones and no one will take notice. Oh yea. Almost forgot. Hezbollah t-shirts are on sale just outside the gates. Nice touch. I opted out for I’m traveling to Israel and believe the yellow T won’t bode well for border crossings.

We spent some time at Byblos – a Christian town – on the Mediterranean. Yes, women wore tanks and bikinis – hence the word Christian. We consumed large quantities of fish and were joined by some burka babes as we hiked up to see the blessed Virgin Mary statue overlooking the city. OF COURSE, this threw US tallgirl for a loop b/c why in the world would Burka Babes even care about the Son of God’s mother? Jeff reminded me that Muslims believe that Jesus was a great man inspired by God. And, they revere His mom. So, I tried to capture as many pictures of ladies in black walking up the stairs to communicate with the Virgin. I’m so confused.

We stopped by to visit one of Jeff’s friends – New Jersey Lebanese married to a beautiful Colombian. I asked to tell me about Lebanon – first thing out of his mouth was – liars. Don’t trust ’em. It made me laugh. I asked this question wherever I went, just wanting someone to say something more hopeful.  Fat chance. One night, we went out with Jeff’s beautiful Lebanese woman friend and I asked her – what about the men? Response. Liars. And, she added… Hypocrites. So, if you asked about my romantic escapes in Lebanon, I will lie….

As I finish up this blog, I’m looking at the window at THE promise land. Yes, it’s Moses’ promise land. It’s the valley he crossed to get to the Red Sea (my next stop). Thank GOD I’m in an air conditioned bus. I can’t imagine walking through the dessert in a white dress and flip flops. Imagine barren shale hills. Think hot, remote and thirsty. I’m imaging Arab men with electric guitars singing “Rock the Kaazba” will soon appear welcoming me to the promise land…

So, what did God show me in Lebanon? So much. I’m still processing. But,what comes to mind as I type in a bumpy bus is Islam, Judaism and Christianity derive from the same place – both in location and in core belief. We are alike in many ways for we both share a single emphasis on being united with God.

I also gained a little more insight into what the West categorizes as a “frightening, militant” religion. What we forget is one of the reasons Islam spread so rapidly was it was seen as the only peaceful alternative to Byzantine (Christian) rule. That’s right. The gold-cross carrying Byzantines had a little militancy in their blood. The people regarded Arab armies as liberators and many converted Christians, converted again to Islam in the name of peace. I bet this sounds strange to some, especially since the general perception is Islam is the militant religion, not Christianity. Five hundred years from now, I wonder how history will judge us – were Christians the liberators or was it the Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Tom Cruise or France…. Truly fascinating.

While in Lebanon, I was also reminded of the generosity and hospitality of others – both strangers and friends. (Love you Jeff!) These past few years, I’ve become too hurried, too busy, too stressed, too overwhelmed thinking about tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. There is always something else to do. In Lebanon, I was reminded of being present. I mean really being present. Ditch the devices and actually looking people in the eye. Really listening and caring what people said.

I found the Lebanese – may lie – but they live their life for today and with an open, generous heart. Because in their part of the world, tomorrow truly is the unknown. War? Peace? Or, whether the Hague’s will rule Hezbollah was indeed responsible for assassinating the Lebanese Prime Minister at a nice little Beirut beach in “05?

Regardless, we are all comforted for it’s ALL God’s hands.