I’m exhausted! We had an amazing day today on our first full day of Back to Roots 2015. The group instantly bonded when we met Sunday evening, we had a great introduction session followed by a delicious dinner and some hang out time. I’m fortunate enough to join a great group of people that share a love for their heritage as well as having huge hearts and a love for people. It’s going to be an amazing two weeks.
Our first day was packed full of exploring and adventures in the Mount Lebanon region. Before heading out that direction we spent some time exploring Harissa, where we are staying. This is an absolutely stunning area of Lebanon, with beautiful views of the Jounieh Bay and Beirut.
This area is predominantly Christian and we were able to visit Our Lady of Lebanon, or Notre Dame du Liban. This is a place that many people, both Christian and Muslim make pilgrimage to in order to pay homage to Mary, Mother of Jesus.
After our exploration of this area we hopped on our bus and headed to Faqra, where we would be seeing some ancient ruins dating all the way back to the 9th century B.C. This was a pretty surreal experience, knowing the age of the location made it so much more amazing.
We stayed at the ruins for a little while and were able to explore some different areas. The place has obviously gone through many transformations with different rulers, and people coming through the area. It was at one point a pagan church, and we also got to see an amazingly old Baptistry from the Byzantine era. There is so much more history to talk about in regard to the Faqra/Kfardebian ruins, but I won’t bore you all too much.
In the winter the Kfardebian area is known for its skiing and resorts. We saw some amazing looking resorts on the way to our next stop, the Chabrouh Dam, in Faraya. This dam was inaugurated in 2007 and provides portable water to the surrounding villages. This is extremely important as the infrastructure for water in Lebanon is not quite the same as we might be used to seeing in other countries.
Following our hike up the dam, everyone was getting pretty hungry so we made our way to a beautiful little restaurant in a nearby village in the mountains. We feasted on a Lebanese mezze cuisine that was by far the freshest Lebanese food I have ever had, I was in heaven. Combine that with an Almaza (Lebanese beer) and some arghila (hookah), and it was a true Lebanese experience. I seriously could eat this food forever.
After stuffing ourselves with delicious food we headed back to the hotel for a lecture on the history of Lebanon from the Ottoman Empire all the way up to the Lebanese Civil War that started in 1975. I don’t have the time to get too much into this history here, but this was a fascinating discussion. The amount of history in this part of the world is incredible and would take years of study to truly understand the complications of the region. It was however exciting to hear of all the different influences and people who are a part of the Lebanese identity. A couple of fun facts that I did not know before today include:
- The first democratic election held in the Middle East occurred in Lebanon in 1861.
- In 1952 women were allowed to vote in Lebanon, the first country in the Middle East where this occurred.
This is not even the tip of the iceberg, the history of Lebanon is a history of a country that is incredibly small with a diverse set of people living here. Lebanon is very strategically located in the sense of trade and this has caused many foreign countries to have a strong interest in Lebanon and its politics. Our lecturer, Elie Elias, was incredibly knowledgeable, kind, and willing to share all of his knowledge with us. I am incredibly grateful to have been able to hear his take on many of the issues that effect Lebanon.
Tomorrow we head into the city to visit the American University in Beirut as well as more lectures and learning! Time to get some sleep!