I don’t know if it was from the jetlag that didn’t let me fall asleep before 4am any night or the unfamiliarity of being in a new place, but this week felt like forever.
Finally starting work was great, I got to meet the people I would be working with for the next few months and get acquainted with the office, which was located a few steps down the street from The Alleyway. It’s true what I heard about Lebanese hospitality, by the way. People have been going out of their way to make sure I’m happy and settled, even going so far as making me try all the delicious home-cooked food their mothers make for lunch. (Really, they don’t give me a choice! Not that I mind…). I also got to see the new restaurant they just opened, Amarres, on Zaitunay Bay at the Beirut Marina, the first location outside The Alleyway on Gemmayze. It’s a really charming French café and bistro with an excellent view of the bay and even better food. I could get used to all the good food here, that’s for sure.
I also had a chance to catch up on all the things from home that I didn’t get a chance to do because of how busy/lazy I’ve been. Though to be honest, I think prioritizing spending time with the people important to me who I won’t see for months is much more important than getting started on filing my taxes, which can easily wait an extra couple of weeks.
Speaking of income taxes, people in Lebanon don’t even have to file them. The government automatically takes the correct amount of taxes from everyone’s salary before it’s distributed. Seeing as I was sitting there trying to complete three years’ worth of tax filing, interpreting the convoluted lingo and processes, and sorting through four years’ worth of paperwork, I was more than a little wistful of their seemingly simple lives.
I finally made it out to another part of the city on Friday when I went to visit another NEU student on co-op here in Hamra, near the campus for the American University of Beirut. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it definitely was not what I saw! The sidewalks were big enough for at least 3 or 4 people to walk side by side, there were so many people out walking around, tons of little shops and restaurants and bars open and bustling. All the complete opposite of the tiny, crowed, older-looking Gemmayze streets. I later found out that the couple streets we walked around on were recently completely re-done, and the rest of Hamra still was old-style and looked just like Gemmayze. We were both more than amused when we ordered baked nachos and cheese at the bar we went to and realized halfway through they these nachos were, in fact, Doritos. Ah, the Lebanese way of doing things…
Saturday was a beautiful day out so I took advantage of the rare sun and warmth to walk downtown and explore the area a little better. There’s so much interesting stuff in that part of town, brand new shopping malls next to ancient Roman Baths, huge Mosques and Churches (most memorably, the Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque and the St. George Orthodox Cathedral), and monuments to fallen soldiers (Martyr’s Square). It definitely calls for more exploration at a later date.