I am now in Beirut and it was, frankly speaking a very good trip. I flew Emirates and even though I was in economy class, Emirates is so good that it feels like business. I slept all the way because I was so tired and got my connecting flight in Dubai, which is arguably one of my best airports in the world. Yes according to me, there are three top airports in the world: Number one is definitely Singapore then number two is Dubai and number three is Paris. Anyway I digress – one day I will tell you about that, so let me go back to my story.
I arrived in Dubai in the early hours of the morning and after having breakfast and buying my favourite mascara, I proceeded to catch my connecting flight to Beirut. Smooth! When we landed in Beirut it was very clear that Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates are very different. I did not check in any luggage because my suitcase was just too small. Yes I do travel light. So I went straight to immigration – the queues were much slower than in Dubai and a few a few people jumping the queue. Here I did not see police but soldiers – I call them soldiers because of their uniform. Yes and they looked good – they are Arab men after-all So I could not wait for the immigration officer checking my passport to finish because looking at his eyes and eyebrows felt a little sinful! He asked me two questions: “Are you South African?” and “So what do you have here?” The first question was easy to answer but the second one was a bit confusing. I wondered what he was expecting me to say, so I stammered a bit and then responded, “I am invited to speak at a conference here”. He looked at me and I looked away because I thought he might have access to parts of eyes to which no man is allowed except Mr P He allowed me through.
My host Tamir was waiting at the exit door with my name on a piece of paper. But of course there are always many people at airports with those kinds of papers, so I looked around and when I spotted my name I winked and did a thumbs-up. Of course at that time I did not know that that was Tamir even though I have been interacting with him on email. Somehow I thought Tamir would be a woman and in many ways that informed my freedom in communicating with him all these months. So I thought the man is just a driver who Tamir sent. When I got to him he introduced himself and I was surprised but I did not tell him. I was just happy that he spotted me so quickly and he did not make any comment at all about how unexpectedly small I am. (That is the comment I usually get from people who invite me to speak and they have never met me). He just said to me that I look exactly like I do on my website. He said this after commenting that often people put old beautiful but old pictures on their websites, which makes it difficult to spot them in person.
We went to Tamir’s car and as we were driving out of the airport he told me that today (25 March) is a holiday in Lebanon. It is Annunciation Day, which commemorates the visit of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, during which he informed her that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ. Yes, it is a Christian holiday – it happens ten days before Easter. So you can imagine the questions I asked: “A Christian holiday on the official calendar of Lebanon in the Middle East?” “Really?” “How did that happen?” I mean we don’t even commemorate Annunciation day in South Africa – I thought to myself. These questions led to a very interesting lesson on how politics and religion interact in Lebanon today. I also learned that of all the Arab countries, Lebanon probably has the highest number of Christians and in fact as a rule the President of Lebanon has to be Christian. Of course as much as there isn’t a homogenous group of Muslims here, there are many Christian groups and the quota system in the politics of Lebanon is very specific. So the President has to be an Armenian Christian and not any other. Please don’t ask me why because this is all historical and in my analysis it is the price the people of Lebanon have to pay for the peace they have now.
All I can recall are the stories from my Bible, which explain why there is a large community of Christians here. Remember that Jesus used to visit the southern territories of Lebanon, where he performed many miraculous healings. In fact Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding in Cana of Galilee (in Lebanon) where he turned water into wine. Of course you all know that story Truth is that there are so many good stories to tell about Lebanon, many of them in the Bible, but somehow all that many ordinary people in South Africa, many of whom are Christian, can remember about this country is the Civil war, which ended in 1990. To an extent that many people were very worried that I am visiting Beirut. I was told to take care bla bla. Truth is that I need to take care here as I should do downtown London, Auckland or New York ;-). This is the world and the problems are very similar even though they are constructed differently, hence the different narratives. How Lucky am I? Very! #Blessed #Grateful #RevengeOfABoringChick