This is my final post from Lebanon, the time has absolutely flown by while here and I will miss this country to say the least. The Back to Roots program is absolutely fantastic, and if you have stumbled upon this website because of that program I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Back to Roots. If you are a young person thinking of applying for the program, do it!
One of the really cool aspects of Back to Roots is getting to learn an incredible amount about Lebanon and how politics and government work in the country. In past years the group usually meets with the President, however with Lebanon’s current lack of President we had the opportunity to meet Presidential candidate, Samir Geagea. Dr. Geagea has an incredible story and past which includes being detained in prison for 11 years by Syria during their occupation of Lebanon. Dr. Geagea recreated the prison he was locked in as a reminder not only to him but to others of what happened to him and the country. The recreated prison is located outside of his home and we had the opportunity to tour the prison with him as our guide. It was a somber experience going through the incredibly small place where he was held in isolation.
Dr. Geagea is the only presidential candidate in the country that is currently running with a political platform. He shared with us his view for Lebanon, and answered many questions posed by Back to Roots participants. When asked if he thought Lebanon would have a President any time soon, his answer echoed that of many in the country. Unfortunately, forces outside of Lebanon have a great deal of influence when it comes to the politics within the country. Dr. Geagea is aligned with other leaders within the country and hopes to work towards a more unified Lebanon.
Following our meeting with Dr. Geagea we were treated to a nice dinner in Jounieh, the restaurant took pride in being very American, which I found a bit funny. Some of the group members asked for some Arabic music, but the restaurant was unable to accommodate due to their American theme. It was a very nice night out, and we had the opportunity to sit outside and enjoy each others company over some great food.
The next day we met with Dr. Elie Semaan, the Vice President of the Lebanese Information Center (LIC). The LIC is a nonprofit grassroots organization of Lebanese-Americans and a research institute committed to providing reliable resources and information to individuals and institutions seeking to learn about Lebanon and its people. No matter your political leaning in the States, the LIC works hard to make the concerns of Lebanese-Americans known to those in power. Many of the people who work for the LIC do so for no pay, it was wonderful to learn about the LIC and know that there is a way for me to help Lebanon when I return to the states. The LIC promotes a sovereign and independent Lebanon, with democratic processes, equitable governance, an impartial judicial system, a free economy, and international status for Lebanon as a promoter of peace and an enemy of terrorism.
After a nice question and answer session with Dr. Semaan, we had lunch and then headed out for some sightseeing in Batroun and Byblos, also known in Arabic as Jbeil. In Batroun we were able to visit the ancient Phoenician sea wall as well as many beautiful sea front homes. It was very neat to see old meshing with new in this area, as many of the homes still use original stones for their structure. We noticed newer stones because of their smoothness and the older stones showed their age due to weathering.
While walking along the sea wall we found small areas with salt deposits from the dried seawater as well as many small pools full of beautiful green algae. I even climbed the sea wall and stood on top to get a wonderful view of the sea.
Byblos was our next stop and this city is considered to be one of the oldest consistently inhabited cities in the world, with history dating back to 5,000 B.C. We visited the old Byblos Souk (Market), as well as a castle that was built in the 12th century by crusaders. Outside of the castle is a traditional Lebanese home that is what many consider to be the most photographed house in Lebanon. This was a place I had wanted to see for a very long time as I had seen photos of it in the past. Byblos did not disappoint, the history and beauty of the city combined with the liveliness of the people there was wonderful.
On Friday night after exploring Byblos and Batroun we went out for our last taste of Lebanese nightlife. It was Marco’s birthday, a fellow participant in Back to Roots, so we celebrated his day and had plenty of fun dancing and being outside. We went to a place called Publicity, which is a large outdoor venue with many different pubs along with a dj playing music for the whole area.
Our final day was very awesome, we took part in an excursion with The Food Heritage Foundation which took us to some small villages in the Shouf region, very close to the Cedar Reserve where we had planted our tree. The day started with a trip to a woman’s home where she had prepared us fresh manoushe on a saj, which is a traditional rounded pan for cooking flatbread. She also had fresh mulberry juice for us which was fantastic.
After saying our thanks, we were off to pick some berries for ourselves. The fresh berries were delicious and everyone got plenty dirty picking berries. We also had fresh garbanzo beans to give us some energy and protein along our hike. The locals call this hummus, I found this kind of funny, but these beans are what makes hummus! With our berries and garbanzo beans in tow we met up with a local shepherd and hiked with him and his sheep through the hills. I had never done this before and his sheep definitely respond better to commands than my cats do, ha.
The next stop was a beautiful home that functions as a bed and breakfast, eco tourism is being promoted in Lebanon and they have a hiking trail that extends the length of the country. Along the way certain homes and hosts have been certified to host hikers and guests as they embark on their respective journeys. We had some sweets and fresh juice then headed to another home in a different village for lunch. We were invited into a family home where we were treated to fresh Mezza cuisine.
After lunch we met up with a local beekeeper who took us out to his beehives where we were able to put on beekeeper suits and watch and help the beekeeper do his usual routine. He used a device with burning pine needles and local brush to smoke the bees out of their hives and we then removed the honeycomb to take it back to be harvested. This was pretty awesome as I had never experienced this before, the bees didn’t bother anyone and we all had a really fun time.
Once we arrived at the beekeeper’s workshop he treated us to some fresh honeycomb, you are able to put the honeycomb in your mouth and honey comes flowing out, it’s delicious. The trees that are local to the bees are what determines the flavor of the honey. The beekeeper worked his magic with his comb and centrifuge to get us some fresh honey. It was fantastic, I have never tasted honey so good, I hope this doesn’t ruin the taste of other honey for me!
Spending a day out in the montainside was a great way to cap off a life changing two weeks. We went back to the hotel for our final ceremony where we all recieved certificates and shared how great our experiences were. We even sang a Back to Roots version of Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk. It was a blast and I love everyone who participated in Back to Roots. I would not hesitate to do it all over again, and we are already planning the reunion!
I hope you have enjoyed following along as I explore Lebanon, my next stop is Jordan, talk to you soon!