Dear Apples,

After a long plane ride with a stopover in Geneva and an expansive sky view of the Swiss Alps, I arrived in Beirut. IMG_4495

So here I am, and here is life right now.

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First night: a birthday celebration on a breezy balcony, with plenty fresh and warm dishes to fill the space left by all the declined airfare meals.

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Hiking trip and a first stop in a 400 year old palace

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Breakfast prepared by a lovely woman who runs a bed and breakfast in the palace.  Warm hummus with chickpeas from her garden, lebneh with olive oil, cheeses, homemade fig and pear preserves, grape molasses, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs, olives, a pot of hot tea.  We filled up for our long day of mountain hiking.

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Down one mountain, up another and back, all in a day.  We arrived home happy with tired limbs.

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IMG_4667Morning sun greeting on the balcony off my bedroom.

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And daily coffee downstairs with the grandparents.  Teta always busy in the kitchen, this time making a huge batch of yogurt.

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Stop in to a coffee shop during a long day in Beirut.

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And back down through the American University of Beirut to the Corniche for a good long stroll amongst fisherman and alongside the midday sounds of traffic horns.

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Soccer game onlooking 🙂

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Beginning to take the first steps to prepare our home.

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Sunday mountain drive through the clouds.

I am quite well. I take many walks here and observe the stray cats meandering about lazily, hopping in and out of large green tin garbage cans, and I can’t help but admire their ease and effortless presence. I never set out with the intention of considering the cats, and yet they always mosey their way into the peripheries of my consciousness, and then gradually my mind takes hold of the idea of them and takes a good look at it: “Why the fascination with the cats, Marie?” Well, I realized that what I am really mulling over when I think I’m thinking about cats is actually the distance between the familiar and unfamiliar. These cats are natives, while I am a transplant, and they look nonchalant and carefree amidst whizzing cars and jutting turns because they are. They know no other reality. I, on the other hand, am almost always in a state of heightened awareness of my surroundings because I am again outside the sphere of what is familiar. Of course I am returning to Lebanon and have lived here before, so really the unknown of the place is hardly as dramatic as it was before, and I love the comfort of roads I have taken plenty of times before, and tastes which bring me back to so many memories. And yet the greatest challenge is still sitting on the outside of a language. I now hear the breathy hills and gutteral valleys and tones of Arabic and can distinguish between most words without knowing all their meanings. If there is one item that is most essential to the proverbial expat suitcase, it must be patience. Patience with the self above all. Learning a culture takes time, and assumptions will want to rush in to fill the gaps caused by a million questions, but really its better to remain open and let the answers slowly work their way in through experiences.

I am an observer here more than a participant at this point. One thing I’ve always noticed, which I think you will appreciate, is the beautiful co-existence of past and present. Leave it to an American to marvel at how Lebanon extends one arm to the future, while the other keeps a tight grasp on the ancient past. This is something American culture lacks. Here, the generational continuity remains strong: children often grow up near their extended families and cook dishes that have been passed down for generations.

Cedric and I went for a hike and walked down the side of a mountain on an old stone staircase that had been welded into the crags of the rock face, and eventually came upon a Roman-era bridge below it. I looked up to see a yellow bulldozer resting on the bank of a hill. I could hear chants coming from a nearby church, and the whole scene came together quite unassumingly. Here, even the battering sounds of construction sites comply seamlessly with their ancient surroundings in such a way that it would seem entirely believable that the man in the pick-up truck had been driving that same truck over those same cratered paths since the dawn of time, while the prayers lifted up week after week after week from mosques and churches will continue to rise forever. There I was in a single moment in time, clutching Cedric’s hand and grateful for the sense of relief that comes from standing in a place brimming with visible tangible proof that the world has gone on for millennia, and so it still goes, with people still loving and hating and pushing existence to the moral breaking point and recovering and sauntering forward again.

Here we are in our own small pocket of time calling out to each other from the spaces we occupy, two voices among the billions, and yet how good it is to be alive!