So now as the haze of the jet lag finally wears off and my lost bags have been found, I feel as though I can begin to let you all know what I'm doing here and what I've been up to so far.
I arrived Thursday at 4:45am after having flown British Airways through London. When I got to my apartment building, I thought I was going to have to go find a hotel for the night, but enough banging on the door persuaded the doorman in the next room to get up and let me in. My apartment in actually on the first level of the basement, but because the building is built into a hill, I am three floors up with a great view of the Mediterranean and the mountains. It's a small studio apartment with a bathroom by the entrance, a living room, and a bedroom separated from the rest of the apartment by a sort of half wall. Additionally, I have a full, nice kitchen on an enclosed balcony. Next to that, I have a great open balcony that gives good views.
I live in a neighborhood called Hamra, which is a Muslim neighborhood in West Beirut. I am only a stone's throw from the American University and from the main drag called Rue Bliss. I can't stop chuckling about the fact that even though I try to immerse myself in the culture as much as possible, at the end of the day I have to tell the taxi drivers to take me home to Rue John Kennedy.
As for what I'm doing here….. I have somehow managed to muster enough credit from Middlebury (to still graduate in four years) that I am taking this semester off. I have come to Beirut with a fulltime internship with The Daily Star newspaper. The Daily Star is the large English newspaper based in Beirut. I won't dwell on it for long since I haven't actually started working yet, but what I will tell you is that I am working for their Lebanon section, where I'll be helping out with stories, doing some copy editing, and writing my own articles. I begin work on Monday. Check out their website at www.dailystar.com.lb. If I get anything published on the website, I'll try to post the link here on the blog, but you should check out the website anyways because even by reading the headlines, you'll get an idea of what's happening in the country.
While there is a thrill to being new in a country and discovering everything for the first time, the one thing I really don't like, that I've had to do in the past couple days, is nail down the essentials. Finding the supermarket, bank, laundromat, pharmacy, etc., etc., is both necessary and tedious. I'm looking forward to finishing all that up today or tomorrow. More interesting has been the apartment search. While I like my apartment now, I need to move by the end of the month into a place that is both cheaper and closer to where I will be working. Unlike in Cairo where there are real estate agencies on every block, in Beirut you have to go door to door. Thursday was like a treasure hunt in that I'd go into a café or store and ask about apartments at which point I'd be given directions to somewhere else. By the end of the day, having wandered the length of Rue Gouraud about a dozen times, I had several contacts and decent housing possibilities.
The other thing that bears mentioning are the protests in the center of town. I'll go into more detail in my next post about why they're there, but since December 1, Hezbollah has run a sit-in protest in the center square of town until the Siniora government resigns. Because there is one big road that connects east Beirut to West Beirut, I've driven by the protests several times. What you see when you look out over them is thousands of tents of varying shapes and sizes with people wandering through them. I have not, thank goodness, seen an actual protest yet, just the tent city where the Hezbollah supporters sleep and hold their protests when called to do so. All around the camp also are hundreds of posters of Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah.
The tent city forms a sort of semi-circle around the Grand Serail, the Prime Minister's office building. The Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, has hardly left the building since the protests began, and many of his cabinet ministers, fearing violence, have moved into the building too. Considering the proximity of the tents to the building, and considering the supposed size and volume of the protests that take place there, one can only imagine the stress felt by those holed up in the building. Between the protests and the Grand Serail, however, is an intense wall of barbed wire, tanks, and troops. Driving by it, I cannot help but get goose bumps as I watch the scene.
In general, the feel of Beirut is very different from that of Cairo. A much more liberal city, I rarely see women in veils here, and there are noisy and conspicuous bars all over the place. The relative affluence is apparent here too as evident through all the Mercedes, BMW's, and SUV's that prowl the streets. The city feels more like Paris than it does Cairo (a statement that I will permit myself to amend as I see more of the city). All in all, this is a fantastic city that seems as sexy as it does dangerous. And whether the latter contributes the former, I'm not sure yet. All I know is that I'm in for a hell of a semester, an I look forward to many more posts on the blog as my life here begins to take shape.
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