Last night after nine months in Beirut two unexpected things happened which freaked me out. I am used to worrying about the normal things: money, work deadlines, walking home by myself at night – but then up popped two things I had (perhaps foolishly) not anticipated.
Firstly at ten o’clock last night I was in a fourth floor flat in Gemmayzeh, babysitting and watching a DVD, when I felt the sofa rocking under me. The dog was some way away and couldn’t possibly have moved it and I was alone in the house. I got up and walked around it, trying to work out what had happened, then decided I must have imagined it. I sat back down and a minute later the same thing happened. I realised that the sofa couldn’t moving by itself – which meant that the building must be moving, which meant – earthquake!
One week back in Beirut and I’m struggling to get back into a routine now that I’m not in the office everyday. I’ve spent a lot of my time baby-sitting little Sam, celebrating his first ever easter by decorating the little tree on the balcony with easter decorations (Sam was far more interested in the packaging that the decorations) and dying eggs to make a colourful easter basket. Sam loved the dye, as he is going through a phase where he is obsessed with water, and very much enjoyed splashing the colours all over me, himself, the table, the floor, his high-chair and everything else in a three-metre radius.
Our return to Kathmandu was once again very temple centred. We returned to the Indian Embassy to hand in our visa forms and passports and pick them back up again in the afternoon on Friday. In the meantime we filled our time with a visit to the ancient cit of Patan and a visit to Kathmandu’s two biggest, most important and most spectacular Buddhist temples, Swayambhunath and Boudhanath.
Swayambhunath is on a lovely wooded hill to the west of Kathmandu, around 20 minutes walk from Kathmandu. On the way we crossed the Bagmati River, which sadly is one of the most rubbish-filled, polluted stretches of water I’ve ever seen. Continue reading →
We conducted our visa application business at the Indian Embassy, on Monday morning. It is a lengthy and largely pointless ritual which involves the Kathmandu embassy faxing the Indian Embassy in the applicant’s home country to ask for permission to issue the visa – naturally this embassy never replies as they receive hundreds of these faxes, and therefore the Nepalese branch assumes that if they haven’t heard back after 5 days that means it’s OK, and issues a three-month tourist visa.
The whole process therefore takes three separate visits over 5 days and involves lengthy queuing processes – the first day we arrived at 8.15, queued until the embassy opened at 9.30, then got our numbers, queued some more, then went to hand over our telex forms, at which point Everitte’s was approved and he went to queue once more for payment, while I was refused because I had an expired 5 year visa in my passport, something only available to non-resident Indians, and had to wait two more hours while two separate security officers questioned me about my Indian family members and my many Middle Eastern stamps.
Eventually stage one was completed, however, and we set out for the hill station of Nagarkot, only 60km from Kathmandu, but 3 hours away by bus due to Nepal’s joint problems with poor roads and heavy traffic.
While Kathmandu is in many ways a thoroughly modern city, a walk through the rambling maze of beautiful medieval houses and temples in the old city is like stepping back into another time.
Everitte and I arrived late on a warm Friday night and got our visas from the most friendly and cheerful border guard I have ever met in my life. We made our way to Thamel, the backpacker hub of Kathmandu, a confusing sea of twisting alleyways lined with a seemingly endless series of cheap hostels, varying standards of restaurant and colorful clothes and scarf shops.
The cedar tree is the national emblem of Lebanon and is the centre-piece of the Lebanese flag. Cedar trees used to cover 70% of Lebanon, however nowadays due to excess deforestation they are a protected species and cover only around 7% of the country. Most of them are found in two protected groves, with some trees over 1000 years old.
We went to visit the biggest of these, the Chouf Cedar Reserve, which covers around 5% of Lebanon’s total land, back in January, to see the beautiful cedar trees in the snow.
I’ve had a rather exhausting but very fun week reviewing three plays in Arabic, followed by a lazy weekend which was spent not partying but doing rather mundane but necessary things. I spent yesterday cleaning the house, which in my absence has become a cess-pit, then baby-sitting last night and today cleaning all my clothes, which over the past couple of weeks have over-flowed the basket and made their way in a steady mass across the floor forming an impregnable fortress between bed and door.
Everitte went to the post office again on Friday and was once again served by Shireen. Having not seen Noor in a long time he inquired as to her whereabouts and was told that she had left. “She told me you upset her very much,” Shireen said to him. “But she wouldn’t tell me why.”
Last weekend once again we decided to take advantage of the sun and head down south for the day. The restaurant we had discovered on a previous trip to Tyre with my family was so lovely, perched by a lighthouse and practically in the Mediterranean, that Alex, Renko, Everitte and I decided it was worth the 5 hours of travel time in rickety old service taxis to go there for an open air lunch.
Just after Christmas Everitte and I took a day trip with my family to Beiteddine, an Ottoman palace which is now the summer residence of the President of the Republic of Lebanon (to give him his full and proper title!)
It is a beautiful old building, with the traditional Ottoman mosaics, Islamic decoration and carved wooden ceilings, doors and screens, as well as a beautiful courtyard with fountains and water-features.
The palace took 30 years to complete and was built between 1788 and 1818.