Friday, April 20, 2012

The Wallet, The Wedding, and The Walrus

The wallet: I arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday afternoon. It wouldn't be a trip if there wasn't some chaos. I lost my wallet somewhere between Washington DC and Beruit. Luckily it was in Germany, where there is no such thing as chaos and the wallet (a beautiful tan hobo might I add) is being mailed back to NOLA today. A stewardess found it. Because I am smart and was going to Lebanon and basically more terrified than usual I separated out my passport and $500 in cash (my bribe money to get myself on the first plane out of here in case another war starts) in a different place. So all I lost were my LA ID, some credit cards, $40 and my moms' prayer cards (which we have hundreds of anyway, but would have been nice to have them here with me).

The city reminds me of a unique mix of Lima and Barcelona. The driving is mad, but nothing compared to Bangkok or New York City. Hussein has crazy road rage, but like all men won't admit it and then yells at me when I mention that maybe chasing another car at 120 kmph flashing his lights waving his fist and screaming obscenties in Arabic isn't the best use of our time together. But then again maybe me giggling during this doesn't help the situation either.

Hussein calls this the city of unfinished business. Almost every street and building look like they are in the middle of being built. Streets have ghosts of construction past and if there were traffic laws you wouldn't be criticized for not recognizing them. Whole families on motobikes go the wrong way up streets and cops chat up women while tens of cars run red lights in front of them. The military with very large machine guns are posted all over the city. Seems the people don't trust the police so the military is indefinitely deployed, including on regular protests of mothers mourning the lost of their sons in a city square. Thousands of boys were kidnapped during the war in the 90's and have yet to return. The mothers of these sons host weekly protests for information. It is very similar to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. We drove past them on the way from the airport. The military was in full riot gear ready to pounce.

The wedding: We arrived at Hussein's family's house yesterday afternoon. I slept till noon, if you can believe it. Not knowing that Hussein had already made plans for us to leave the house early that day. Oh well. When do I ever sleep till noon?! Anyways, he is from the south and in the mountains. His family house is rather large and has an amazing view. His father has built a second floor for Hussein to return to when he has finished traveling and settles down. I don't see that ever happening. But his father is waiting for Hussein to built it out how he wants it, so the house has become a permanent construction site. In the distance you can see an old castle built by the romans and taken by the crusaders. I think its a museum now and foreigners need a special pass in order to visit. At the top you can see into Isreal and Sryia. I'm hoping to visit this weekend. His family moved from Sarafand on the Mediterranean to Kfar Tibnet 12 years ago. The wedding of his sister was in Nabatieh at this super cool reception hall.

 We were the first to arrive at the wedding so the family could welcome everyone. Immediately men of the family were asking if Hussein and I were already married. That is if they spoke to me and shook my hand. Many men refused to shake my hand and put their hand over their heart instead, but the women were all very friendly. I think more shocked to see an American at their small (300 people) wedding reception in the mountains. People were in all kinds of dress. From the fancy ball gown to silver lame and hot pink headscarves to jeans and dirty t-shirts. Once everyone arrived the couple was brought in through a crazy dance performance with smoke and a dance floor that rose up to better show off the dancing newly married couple. It was amazing! Of course, my camera battery is dead and I didn't bring a charger. Will search that out today. I forced Hussein to give me his phone so I could take photos with that. He didn't want me to take any photos, but I very sternly said listen buddy hand it over or get hurt.

All of his sisters and brothers (there are 7 siblings total) were super friendly to me and made sure I was never alone when Hussein went to say hello to other family members. All spoke some English. His parents have forgotten a lot, but we communicated anyway. The youngest brother is 16 and wants to travel after high school and very excitedly asked if they would see me again as we were headed out. The youngest sister is studying graphic design in college but wants to be a photographer. And the oldest sister is married with two kids and one on the way. Everyone is full of joy. They laughed and teased each other and made jokes constantly.

So the wedding continued with dance performances of traditional Lebanese dances with swords and lots of colorful tulle and fancy music. And of course with the strobe multi-colored lit up dance floor that also rises to the ceiling. It was basically like being in the middle of a Lebanese Saturday Night Fever. There were even indoor fireworks that surrounded the couple as they danced in the air! I was very nervous that her enormous (and very heavy) wedding dress was going up in flames. Remember: there is no such thing as indoor fireworks. I can't believe I forgot my camera charger!!!

Today Hussein has an exam, which he is studying for right now. I will probably go for a run, but there are for real hills here. Not sure the plan for the next couple days. Maybe a hike in the mountains. I also met a guy from Houston who has been living in Washington DC for the past 8 years on the plane into Beruit. He recently quit his job and was moving to Lebanon to be with his reporter girlfriend, but she broke up with him right before he arrived on Wednesday. His ticket was already bought and he had already left his job, so he came anyway. He was so sweet. When I realized I lost my wallet, he offered to stay with me until my friend arrived and wanted to give me cash to get by. He waited with me while I contacted the airline  and walked out of the gates with me.  Amazing how you always run into sweet people when you need it. Hopefully we will hang out this weekend. I'm interested to see how he is doing.

ReneƩ Claire

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