Blog Archives

The longest 111 Minutes

Egyptians everywhere are waiting for the Presidential Electoral Commission’s election results due to be announced at 3:00pm today (Sunday, June 24, 2012).

The candidates are far from ideal. On one hand, we have former prime minister to Mubarak during the last days of the January 25 18 day revolution, Ahmed Shafik. And on the other, we have the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Dr. Mohamed Morsi. In what I have been recently referring to as the Egyptian telenovela, both candidates have been claiming victory according to their own sources.

In true telenovela fashion, we’ve witnessed a former president (Mubarak) die only to be resurrected shortly after. We’ve had two candidates claim victory and, of course, accuse the other of lying. And the state media has managed to embed the possibility of a civil war breaking out in Egypt due to the election results causing mass paranoia and panic. And all government offices and institutions were encouraged to go home early (at least someone gets to benefit from all of this).

In reality, all doors lead to hell in this case! We are held by the throat by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has recently unveiled addendum to the constitutional declaration giving it more power.

Tik Tok…until 3 o’clock!

Advertisements

Why are they there?

image

Every time I have entered Tahrir Square over the past few days I have seen the crowds grow bigger, their chants become louder, their sense of cause become more determined. But despite all of those things, I’ve kept asking myself ‘why are they there?’ Why are they so determined? Why are they so loud?

When you enter Tahrir Square you’re usually met with huge masses of men…particularly young men between the ages of 15-35. They’re university students, cab drivers, college eductaed professionals that are  unemployed, etc. A generation that was born and have lived all of its life under the Mubarak regime. A generation(s) that was given no opportunities and resources to excel in a hobby or encouraged to think critically throughout their education. A generation(s) that was often described as corrupt, useless, ignorant, and more. It’s a generation that was robbed of its creativity, individuality, but most importantly of its sense of purpose.

When you walk around Tahrir, you find many of these young men assuming roles that lend them legitimacy to claim and feel  a sense of purpose. You have the ambulance line human shield guys, who are constantly telling people to walk behind the rope and leave the road empty for the ambulance. You have the motorbike ambulance guys, usually two guys on a motorcycle that rush in to the frontlines to rescue the fallen ones and bring them back to the field hospitals. You have the sign makers, who are usually writing signs like “Hospital” or “Clear the Road”. Then you have the field hospital guards, those are the ones that guard the field hospital from random bypassers and direct them to take another route. You also have the people collecting donations and supplies from different meet-up points and taking them to Tahrir. And of course you have the heroes who make it to the frontline, get attacked and hurt and go back for more.

For people like myself that wondered why are they there…that’s why! They want to feel needed and wanted. They want to contribute and be able to get recognition for it. They want a sense of purpose that makes them want to do something. And guess what they are doing something that several generations behind them weren’t able to do.

You all found your purpose; keep fighting for it!

Easing Two Country’s Tension with a Song!

Between the summer of 2009 and early 2010 Egypt and Lebanon made many headlines. Tensions were high starting in the summer of 2009 when Hezbollah members were arrested and tried in Egypt for supposed spying and terrorist attacks plotting on resorts often frequented by Israelis.

The tensions kept rising and in early 2010, at the height of the blockade on Gaza, stone-throwing demonstrators made their way to the Egyptian embassy in Beirut to voice their anger against claims that Egypt began to build a deep metal wall along its border. Reports claimed that when it is finished the wall will be 10-11km long and will extend 18 metres below the surface.

It is worth mentioning that after the Egyptian Revolution earlier this year, the Rafah Crossing Border has been reopened after pressure was placed on the interim military government in Egypt by the Egyptian people.

As art is often used to defuse emotional tension and create peace in it’s own way, this song was released in the summer of 2010. I have loved listening to this song during my stay here in Lebanon.

The song is between an Egyptian woman and a Lebanese man. They both are singing about cultural and historical monuments and places in their respective countries and at the end they both confess their love and appreciation to each other and the country’s they both come from.

Working out = Our life is so much more fun!

This past Sunday after a 2 days of a good amount of going out and partying Beiruti-style, I was able to miraculously wake up at 7:00 a.m. and get myself to Martyr Square for to meet up with a group of folks to go hiking in the south, in Hasbaya.

On our way on the bus we stopped to take a look at Qala’at ash-Shqif Castle/Beaufort Castle, which is a historical castle from the 12th century that was used by Israelis and Hezbollah for military lookout over the past decades. There are now federal plans to renovate it and open it to the public.

Qala'at ash-Shqif Castle/Beaufort Castle is a historical castle from the 12th century that was used by Israelis and Hezbollah for military lookout

We started our  6-hour hike by walking through the narrow alleys and streets of Hasbaya, a predominantly Druze town in the South of Lebanon. Older and more traditional Druze men, often referred to as the ‘Uqqal (the Knowledgable Initiates) wear baggy black pants that are tight at the ankles.

Druze man in traditional clothing in Hasbaya

The trail overlooked large portions of the UNIFIL line (also referred to as the Blue Line), beautiful mountainous scenery and large amounts of crops and trees of all sorts of seasonal fruits. Our guide helped us pick at trees along the way to try the different seasonal fruits that were all over the trail.

Views of South Lebanon from Hasbaya

After completing our 6-hour hike we stopped at a local Restaurant/Bar in Hasbaya where we all had little snacks and refreshments after the long hike. Shortly after everyone enjoyed a short rest Nadine, the hike organizer, and Wael, the hike guide, started a small Debke party with quick lessons. I’m in love with the Debke and wish I knew all the steps better, but I’m determined to keep taking advantage of joining in on the fun anytime Debke breaks out in my presence.

Quick Debke Lesson after 10km hike

If I had to pick the highlight of the day it must have been our very last stop. We stopped in Kfar Kila‘s Fatima Gate, a border town to check out the border between Lebanon and Israel. Before getting there I didn’t really have an idea of what the border town would look like. Never in my dreams though did I imagine it to be what I saw. The border is essentially a fence with a space the size of a one-way road sandwiched by another fence on the other side. On the Lebanese side, the municipality has completely renovated the border town and built a fun and cool promenade along the fence that is decorated with various exercise machines. When I asked Nadine why that particular theme for a border town, she said “We are trying to show that we are having a great time over here on this side. We can easily see Israeli settlements from right here, which saddens us. But we’re sending a message: Life is great on this side!”

Kathy showing her active skills at the border

One of my co-workers at Al Majmoua is from  Kfar Kila and he told me that the historical urban legend on why the gate is called the Fatima is gate is because one day long ago a young woman was walking home and she was attacked by a snake. She immediately started yelling for her sister, Fatima, who quickly came to help her sister and was able to kill the snake and save here sister. No one knows how true this is, but the gate is named after a strong local woman who saved her sister.

Times of Confusion: Pro-Assad Demonstration

I just got back from a short walk to Hamra. Something looked odd when I crossed the main road I usually walk on to get to Hamra Street. It was blocked by the Lebanese Army – no cars were allowed. As I crossed over and continued walking down the street – it became clear from far away: this was a protest!

All the commotion was too far away from me to really see or hear anything; only thing I could make up is that there were masses of people. As I got closer I started hearing bits and pieces of chants that included “Bashar”. I smiled hoping that this was Pro-Syrian Uprising / Anti-Assad protest; hoping they were saying something like “Down Down with Bashar!” As I got closer, the exact opposite of my hopes was exactly taking place. This was a full-on Pro-Assad/Pro-Syrian Regime demonstration. Protestors had signs, flags and pictures of both the current Al-Assad and the late Hafiz Al-Assad.

Car displaying Bashar Al-Assad Photo on Hamra St.

As I stood there watching in complete awe hundreds of people chanting, I caught a truck that was part of the demonstration that was displaying both the Hezbollah’s flag alongside the Syrian flag. This is particularly timely for me as I just finished reading this article about Hezbollah’s Nasrallah’s hypocritical stance with the Syrian regime during the people’s uprising. A complete 180° turn from his outspoken support for the uprisings in Egypt and Bahrain.

Lebanese Southern Nature

Welcome to Jezzine! A beautiful mountainous town in the South of Lebanon and where my dear friend and Lebanese guide, Edy, is from.

Last weekend we came over for the weekend with Edy’s friends, Joe and Marc, and it was wonderful. We spent Saturday evening at the local bar, Coin Rouge, and woke up the next morning to beautifully sunny day.

Gardening in Jezzine

Edy’s mother needed some help in the garden so we all jumped in to help.It was one of the first times I have gardened in a long time and I really loved it. Working with one’s hands is such a rewarding feeling. I have always thought about participating in WWOOF, but the idea of gardening all the time always scared and held me back. But now that I have given it a try – I’d love to get more into gardening and learning more about it.

This weekend Edy and I returned to Jezzine to a much needed getaway from the city. When we arrived late last night, we decided to go for a hike in the morning. We both were interested in visiting Sur (one of the very few places in Lebanon with an accessible and clean public beach) but due to the planned  The Return To Palestine March we decided that it was best to stay in Jezzine, because security was going to be really tight.

In the morning, Edy drove us about 2-3 miles away from his family’s home up the mountains. We parked the car and started hiking. The geographical diversity that one can find in Lebanon is fascinating. The mountains, the sea, the cedars, etc. We started hiking and  it was very different from the hikes I have been on in the U.S. or Europe – there were no trails, we came across shepherds with their flocks of sheep, and the grass was so high at some points it reached my waist. However, the most shocking and unique part of this hike was coming across empty shells (as in explosive shells). Jezzine was a witness to a lot of the violence during the 1982 Lebanon War because of its strategic geographical location in proximity to the Israeli border.

Old explosive shell on the hike in Jezzine

The hike was wonderful and I had never seen Za’atar before the drying and mixing process. Edy made me taste it straight from the ground and we started to pick some in a small bag he had.

Edy picking Za'atar

I would love to go back and hike in those mountains. I’m looking forward to continuing to explore this country’s amazing geography.

In Lebanese Nature

Tales from the Holy Land: The Welcome

Step to the side, Miss:

I arrive at the airport at a little past 6pm on Thursday evening. In my backpack, I have a folder stuffed with letters – a support letter from Google stating my position at Google and why I was visiting. Along with that, my friend at the State Department sent me an official state department-issued letter for American of Arab origin. Although many told me to be too worried about entering the country, I definitely had the feeling that it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but I kept telling myself that if anything it’s going to be great story in retrospect (as my friend Tim would say). Ok, so back to Thursday evening – I get to the immigration line, I confidently walk up to the Foreigners line, and hand over my passport to the young-looking immigration officer. And this is the conversation that went on:

 

Me: Hi
Officer: Hello. Passport please.
(I hand her the passport open to the personal details page)
Officer: What’s your name?
Me: Hebatallah Gamal (dying to tell her that it is right in front of her)
Officer: Where were you born?
Me: (again thinking – it’s freakin’ right there) Cairo, Egypt.
Officer: Why are you in Israel?
Me: Business.
Officer: Where do you work?
Me: I work for Google.
Officer: in Israel?
Me: No, in California, but I’m here to visit the Tel Aviv office for some meetings.
Officer: Do you have a letter or something?
Me: Yes, sure. There you go.
Officer: Can you please wait here (and she walks off out of the booth with my passport)

I then get asked to step to the side, where I was escorted to waiting room with a TV, vending machine and handful of other foreigners, who looked like they have been waiting for a while. I immediately open my laptop and try to go online in hopes of catching anyone from the Tel Aviv office online, but who was I kidding I was sure no one would be online – it was Thursday evening (the equavilant of our Friday in the US – end of the week). Of course, internet wasn’t working and my laptop was being slow. Ten minutes later I was asked to come into an office, where another officer lady asked me to sit down at a desk across from her and her big black computer monitor. She then started asking me the exact same series of questions the first officer asked. I answered politely and was again asked to go wait in that room. Another 20 minutes later or so, a nice looking man came into the waiting room and gave a young group of 3 (2 young guys and a girl) their passports back and wished them a nice time. He then returned less than 5 minutes later and asked me to follow him. He then brought me into yet another office and started asking me the same questions, although he was a bit more detailed and definitely tried to ask me “tricky” questions, like: What do you do for Google?What’s your title? Little does he know that my freaking title at Google is a mouth-full and a little hard to forget :) What I thought was extremely funny is that at one point he said: You are not a trouble maker, are you? I don’t think you are who we’re looking for, but we have to do this to be sure!

So, I never felt more dangerous in my life, but like I said in the beginning – a story worth telling at the end.