Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kelli's Blog

Photo taken 12 July 2009 - Richard & Kelli's backyard, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.

29 September 2009 - Beirut, Lebanon (sitting in Graffiti in Hamra, as usual)

I just read the very first post of Kelli's totally hilarious blog. I'm in my usual pre-travel tizz because I'm flying to New Delhi at 3am tonight and working through a ridiculous itinerary of planes, trains and automobiles to get me to the ashram in the Himalayas by the 3rd. It was such a treat to read a day in the life of Kelli's life. I worked with Kelli's husband, Richard for 8 years at BofA. He and I are the same age but he was always many rungs above me on the corporate ladder. It was Richard's persistence in luring me to the London office that laid the foundation for my leap of faith out of the country. Back in the early BofA Houston Energy days, Richard and I were both in long-term relationships for roughly the same number of years, a number which grew each year that we worked together. I remember (not sure Richard does) a few big conversations we had over drinks about the possibility of marriage to our respective others. Eventually we made our decisions: I broke up and went solo, Richard married Kelli. When I moved to Lonon, Kelli came over the day I moved into to my flat at Elizabeth Court and we talked for hours. I realized then that she and I had very similar lives but made opposite choices. Kelli's funny, smart and cool - and she knew what she wanted: marriage and children. That day as we sat in the beginning stages of my new, uncertain, single & childless London Life, I remember admiring her clarity. I still do. What I admire even more is her honesty, which I find humorous, poignant and wise. I've always thought she and I should write a book together, a back and forth between divergent paths from the same fork in the road (the fork, specifially, was being a female, urban dwelling corporate late-night worker in Houston, Texas circa 2002).

Yesterday is a great example:

At 1am last night, I was out with Chloe, walking past a barbed wire military patrol point on the Corniche in Beirut, Lebanon. Chloe's a fascinating an kind humanitarian Peace Corps NGO person who is not the least bit afraid of war zones. We were discussing the infinite madness of being in our thirties, single, childlesss, working abroad, traveling in the Middle East, what we're doing next, if we could ever get married, have kids, live in the States. Do we want it? Could we have it? Are we happy? What do we want to do next? Is my return plane ticket (returrning to Beirut December 09) a safety net?

Meanwhile, Kelli was writing her first blog entry about landscaping and cooking MSG fish sticks for toddlers. And you know what? Kelli could have just as easily been walking with us past the rifled soldier behind the barbed wire on a cliff in Beirut; and I could have just as easily been hanging out with Kelli, lamenting landscaping decisions, fish sticks and dishes in the dishwasher. We're both fortunate, we're both living lives which so many people do not have the privilege to attain. And we're both grounded in the reality that neither of our lives is all it's cracked up to be. Everything in life is a trade-off.

Link to Kelli's blog: My Life as a Stepford Wife

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lazy Warrior

7 September 2009 - Yoga in Gemmayzeh- Beirut, Lebanon.

Chloe had never been to my favorite yoga studio so she didn’t know what to expect. She arrived before me and sms-ed me, “All the women are skinny and look like dancers. Am I going to be okay?” Ha. The first time I walked into a class I thought it looked like a Victoria Secret’s fashion show dressing room – all the women perfect, clad in tight yoga clothes with long luscious Lebanese hair and flawless skin. “You’ll be fine!” I lied back. I had no idea if either one of us would survive. It was a crowded Yoga 2 class and the room was hot. The beautiful peace-cool teacher, whom I’d not had before, was totally hard core. Tough class. She said some really cool things that helped me get centered, and a prayer where we acknowledged our best teacher is the one inside ourselves. She played great music including an old version of Black Hole Sun which I did not realize was not a Soundgarden original. As she directed us to go into Warrior One pose then Warrior Two, she meticulously corrected our form, telling us technique and admonishing us not to be lazy warriors. I was thinking, lady, you’re lucky I’m being any warrior at all. I was about to crumble to the floor. She invited us to a Global Mala yoga day in the mountains on the 19th September where we do 108 sun salutations in dedication to world peace. I decided I kind of wanted to attempt it. Gave the teacher my email after class and made a note in my mental calendar.

After class I hung out with Chloe and we talked until after midnight about everything under the sun. She invited me to Moscow with her in October. Plane tickets are cheap and she’s got a friend with whom we could stay. I’d had my heart set on doing the yoga course in the Himalayas in October, but the course was fully book and I’d been waitlisted. Moscow sounded like a great alternative. Chloe and I hatched our plan.

Swimming with Saudis

6 September 2009 – Somewhere near EcoVillage - Dmit Valley, Chouf Mountains, Lebanon

After breakfast Chaz, French NGO Girl, and I went with the Singer and her friend for a walk away from EcoVillage. We stumbled upon a make-shift tree house in the woods [bxA] that was filled with Lebanese guys. There was a guy with a rifle guarding the entrance. Charles asked to no one in particular, “is this a militia?” as they invited us into their, um, makeshift campsite tree house place. They offered to show us a hidden lagoon just down the way.

One of the guys said proudly about the beautiful, secluded lagoon, “yeah, no one comes down here.” The Singer said gently to no one, “is that because you have guns?” Charles and I weren’t in swimsuits, but we improvised with the help of the Singer’s Friend who loaned me her bathing suit top. After a while, a group of the Treehouse Guys’ Saudi friends arrived at the lagoon. There were a few men, two fully covered women and some kids. The kids kind of got in the water with us but kept getting out. Eventually one of the Treehouse Guys kindly asked us to get out of the lagoon because the Saudi kids couldn’t swim with The Singer and me in the water. Ouch. All of a sudden I felt like a slutty half-naked American tourist. To make matters worse, I then had to stride out of the lagoon in my pink and white panties & mismatched bathing suit top, while the Saudi women graciously pretended not to be appalled. The Treehouse Guys were apologetic and said we could come back at night when the Saudis were gone.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Song by the River

6 September 2009 – EcoVillage - Dmit Valley, Chouf Mountains, Lebanon

Chaz met crazycool American singer chick at the campfire Saturday night. The Singer is in town from L.A., on a summer contract singing in the Beirut nightclubs. She and her friend joined Chaz and me for breakfast and we became fast friends. After breakfast, a few of our crew found ourselves at The Singer’s tent for an impromptu song...

Try this link to the video: EcoVillage Video

(link will go to Picasa where video should load)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Halfhearted Hitchhiking

6 September 2009 - Road to Beiteddine, Chouf Mountains, Lebanon.
Chaz and I decided to leave EcoVillage early Sunday and take a bus to Beiteddine. No bus came so we tried our hands at hitchhiking. [bxA] I felt silly peeling my thumb up slowly out of a lazy fist as the cars swept by, leaving us in a warm windy wake of rejection. It's times like these I miss Alyssa's long blond hair and short tan skirt (though she and I never hitchhiked, for the record.) I'm not sure our thumbs were actually up when a guy in an Audi came to our rescue. Audi Guy had a long career as a banker in the treausry department of a Lebanese bank - said he often provided interbank loans to BofA. He lost his job after Nine Eleven, lamenting that "Bin Laden thought he was hurting America, but ..." and we reflected on all the collateral damage Nine Eleven caused in the Middle East. Audi Guy invited us to see the Cedars and his house in the mountains before dropping us in Beitaddine on his way back to Beirut. Chaz stays on course a lot more diligently than Alyssa and I ever did, so we declined the offer. Audi Guy dropped us 5km away from Beiteddine , where we failed miserably at hitchhiking and finally got a bus about 50 meters from the town.
At one of the churches, we met a French Canadian Lebanese Woman who works in Kurdistan for an oil company (that was in the Houston E&P portfolio) and knows a few Houstonians. She insisted we call her later so she and her friend could drive us back to Beirut. We tried to hitch to Deir al-Qamar, just a few miles from Beiteddine, but ended up in a service taxi . Our poor rejected thumbs! We saw the sights and ate fresh figs from a tree overlooking the valley - Chaz is tall so the figs were plentiful (and sticky).
We were exhausted when we plopped down for an Almaza at a trendy dining spot next to the mosque. From our shady table we could see a pair of travelers on the curbside trying to hitch their way back to Beirut. Meanwhile, I phoned the French Canadian Lebanese Woman and she picked us up in a Land Rover twenty minutes later. That's my kind of hitchhiking.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

EcoVillage People

5 September 2009 - Dmit Valley, Chouf Mountains, Lebanon

On Saturday morning I threw a change of clothes and a toothbrush into my backpack and headed to Starbucks in Achrafieh to meet Chaz for a road trip. I was surprised to learn we were going camping. For once in my life [bxA] I was under-packed. I had no swimsuit, no mosquito repellent, no warm clothing, no hiking shoes, nothing. And you’ll never believe this: I survived.

Chaz’s friend is a cool French Girl who works for an NGO involving torture victims. The EcoVillage excursion was arranged by an American-Lebanese Actor Girl who recently produced a non-profit play for children that toured Lebanon all summer. Two cute boys brought guitars and sang – at least one of them was an actor in the Actor Girl’s play. There were three girls from Bristol, UK who arrived in Lebanon days ago to do a medical school internship at a Beirut hospital. The girls were all young, smart, beautiful and cool…made me think our future is in good hands.

A young Lebanon-born Palestinian guy drove Chaz and me into the mountains, indulging us frank and funny conversation about religion and culture. He lives with his parents but refuses to conform, smoking hash in his bedroom and expecting to someday have a girl in his room, “khalas, let me be.” Chaz would interject from time to time to ask things like, “How do you say ‘crap’ in Arabic? How do you say ‘mumbo jumbo’ in Arabic? What does ‘jihad’ mean?” The Palestinian guy told us that ‘jihad’ is a response in a divine form, and "sometimes violence is necessary for freedom…or to fight back…. they’re using religion for political means. And of course that’s bullshit.” At this point Chaz already knew how to say ‘bullshit’ in Arabic. Our driver spoke well of Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed while never missing the humanity of the prophets, “there was nothing holy about Mohammed. He killed people, he fucked, he shit, he had emotions just like everybody else.”

After a little confusion, a lot of stops and a minor car accident, our caravan arrived at EcoVillage late afternoon. The nine of us piled into the back of a small pick-up truck and held on for dear life during the speedy and windy drive to the main site (someone videotaped the ride - I'll try to post it) . We settled into our tents, ate dinner, opened the wine and played games.

We had some Pictionary culture clashes, like when I illustrated a “loose tooth” and my British teammate guessed “wobbly tooth.” Eventually we ended up around a campfire with the rest of the EcoVillagers, which was mostly a bunch of environmentalist NGO people. Our guys played their guitars. French NGO Girl has a beautiful voice and sang some Cranberries’ songs including ‘Zombie’ – which brought back my favorite memories of the teenage metal band in the Maldives that played mostly Metallica but also loved to play ‘Zombie.’

What’s in your head? In your head? Zombie. Zombie. Zombie

Link to my EcoVillage Photos on Picasa

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Three Deadly Sins

4 September 2009 - Beirut, Lebanon, Sinners on Gouraud Street in Gemmayzeh.

Friday I went to yoga in Gemmayzeh, Beirut’s party district, which requires a little less than an hour to walk from Hamra. People tend to think I’m nuts for walking in the Beirut heat, but this was my routine in London – to walk 45 minutes through Regents Park to get to Triyoga in Primrose Hill. I like having a similar routine here.

Chaz, the American guy I met at the ruins in Palmyra, met me on the sidewalk when I finished yoga and we went to dinner down the street at Le Chef. Arezoo, a traveler I met at a film festival a few weeks ago, sms-ed from Hamra that she was ready to meet us. I abandoned my original plan to shower and change out of my yoga clothes (gross, I know) and we moved a few blocks west for a drink. Spoon was too smoky for Chaz and me so after two drinks we moved to Sinners for decadent slushy vodka drinks. I sampled Envy, Chaz sipped on Sloth and Arezoo went for Lust. After we indulged our respective sins, we wanted somewhere quiet. Walking east on Gouraud Street we saw the collision between a speeding car and the door of a Mercedes being opened by a valet parking along the curb. The speeder jumped out of his car, a yelling match ensued, the speeder jumped back into his car and sped away. Hit and run is commonplace. Minutes later we were ejected from the Green Door because Chaz was wearing shorts. Next round was at a little Italian pub that looked like an old cave/castle inside and the music was good. Around 2am Arezoo arranged for a friend to take us to B018, the big after hours dance club that would surely keep us up ‘til well past dawn. By the time our friends came to pick us up, it was after 3am and we’d decided to head home instead. I needed some sleep before meeting at 11am at Starbucks in Achrafieh, packed for an overnight road trip with Chaz and his friends.

Arezoo and I shared a taxi back to Hamra and I was asleep by 4am with the alarm set for 9am.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Living in Lebanon?

3 September 2009 - Beirut, Lebanon - Le Cremier in Achrafieh

I haven't been blogging lately because this is a travel blog and I don't really feel like I'm traveling when I'm in Beirut. I'm starting to think I maybe kinda...live here? My trip to the US combined with Alyssa's recent arrival in the UK reminded me that I don't have a home. My last home in London has been re-letted to a young, ambitious, female ibanker who was made redundant in the US but found a new job right away with a Japanese bank in London. She's living in my former flat in Marylebone, working until all hours of the night and likely ordering take-away from all my favorite restaurants. I hope she's enjoying Regents Park.
I was certain I'd return to London after this year, but I don't know anymore. So, I keep thinking no one wants to hear about what I'm doing in Beirut since I'm really just hanging out...but since everyone keeps asking me what I'm doing...I'll try to post some of the random stuff I do around here.
It's Ramadan and lots of people are fasting until iftar in the early evening. Osama starts thinking about breaking fast early in the morning, so around 9am we were chatting on msn and he suggested ice cream in Achrafieh late in the evening. So I did whatever it is I do all day to kill 12 hours - which included writing, napping and running on the Corniche - then he picked me up and we drove across the 'green line' to Achrafieh, which is the non-Ramadan side of town, Osama reminded me. Beirut has all these cool art installations up for Ramadan...and I think I saw one in Achrafieh. I'm going to have to investigate...which is another good example of things that occupy my time.