Tuesday, October 5, 2010

29 September

Marhaba from Beirut!  After two flights and a death defying cab ride, we have arrived and settled into our dorm room at the Near East School of Theology (NEST).  For those of you confused about why I find myself yet again in some far-flung location, let me explain.  Nathan and I will be participating in NEST’s Middle Eastern Studies program, with a particular aim at better understanding Islam and witnessing this Lebanese Christian community that strives for ongoing dialogue between Christians and Muslims.  Given the rising concerns in America regarding Islam, such a pursuit of knowledge seems quite germane.

So, here I am in Beirut, sipping bottled water from a tiny plastic cup in a vain effort to cool myself and find re-hydration.  I’d love to open this blog with something more interesting, but the humidity and unseasonable heat have colored much of our experience so far.  Nevertheless, undaunted by the sweltering Mediterranean sun and casting aside the fear of doing laundry three times a week, we have bravely explored our area Beirut: Hamra.  Filled with students sporting anything from Abercrombie and Fitch shirts, to brilliantly colored headscarves, to jeans with more zippers than anything I’ve ever seen, Hamra plays host to a number of colleges, including the prestigious American University of Beirut (AUB).  Across from the AUB, on one of the main roads in Hamra, a number of tiny shops selling a variety of delicious looking flatbread sandwiches draw crowds of students at any time of the day.  Walking further away from the AUB and into the heart of Hamra, the roads narrow and the variety of shops increase: tiny places crammed with TVS and computers, giant meats strung from ceilings, convenience stores packed with snacks…as our cab driver said, anything you want, you’ll find here.  Above the shops, tall, tan apartment buildings dominate the skyline, while shorter, older apartments with gorgeous balconies and painted shutters speak of a time before the war, when architecture was an art around here. Below, giant SUVs- Infiniti, BMW, Cadillac- squeeze themselves down the alleys as pedestrians risk their lives dodging between slowed vehicles.  Hamra hums with energy. 

Tan and concrete, like most buildings in Beirut, NEST sits off one of these jammed little roads.   NEST is self-contained: classrooms, the library, the cafeteria, all housing, and even a basketball court on floor -2 are all here in this several storied building.  We live on the 4th floor, in a comfortable dorm room with a lovely balcony.  Everyone we meet here, whether international students in our program, regular students from a plethora of Middle Eastern locations, or professors, have been incredibly kind.  Our program, aimed at internationals, consists of 3 Germans, 4 Danes, 3 Americans, 1 Swiss and 1 Scot.  It has been fun chatting with them at the meals, and we look forward to a year filled with forming new friendships and overflowing with cross-cultural experiences.

Since the Internet tends to be a bit precarious, I’ll end here for today.  Signing off from Beirut, where the humidity is high, but our excitement is even higher,

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