Friday, May 27, 2011

Lebanon: Preliminary Thoughts

Last night we returned from a very quick but eventful trip to Lebanon!  The country is beautiful and we had a great time, but are all worn out from the rigorous itinerary we raced through.

on the airplane
It's funny how before we went, Jordan still seemed like a foreign country to me...Now that we're back from yet another country, Jordan seems strangely like home.  Before we went, I naively thought that driving couldn't possibly get more crazy than what we've already experienced here in Amman or years ago in Greece, but I was wrong--it most certainly can!  If driving in Amman is "every man for himself," then in Lebanon it's a big game of Russian roulette bumper cars. 

mountains of Lebanon from the plane
It also was fun to gain more perspective on which things are universal Middle Eastern-isms, and which are unique to each country.  Lebanon was #5 on my "Middle Eastern countries visited" list (and hopefully not my last!).  There are striking differences between Jordan and Lebanon, as well as striking similarities. 

Universal Traits of Middle Eastern Countries:
  • friendliness and hospitality
  • people are trusting, accommodating, helpful (We still haven't paid our hotel bill from Lebanon because we didn't realize we had to pay cash, but the owner said, "No problem; I'll email you my bank information and you can send the money after you get back."  So trusting!)
  • poor waste management...translated: trash EVERYWHERE (In Sidon, they have a trash dump right on the shore of the Mediterranean!  Sad, sad, sad.)
  • crazy driving
  • focus on community rather than individual
  • people LOVE children and are very assertive with their affection
  • people always want their picture taken
  • inefficient/non-stable electricity (my own opinion, may not be shared universally)
  • healthy food consisting of vegetables, bread, and meats...tomato-cucumber salad is a staple
Differences Between Jordan and Lebanon:
  • Lebanon has a strong French influence, evidenced in their architecture, language, prolific patisseries, relaxed dress code, and European culture.  Jordan, though definitely not lacking Western influence, still holds to a more conservative Arab culture.
  • Lebanon is on the coast of the Mediterranean, so it has an abundance of water; contrasted to Jordan's desert-like quality and water poverty.    
  • In Lebanon, it's easy to forget you're in the Middle East; not so in Jordan.  
  • The water-orientation really seems to be key in Lebanon's liberalism, along with the lingering French influence.  As Owen has said, it seems like the coastal towns all the way down tend to be more influenced by what they face...namely, the West. 
More details on the trip to come!
view from our guesthouse window

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