Sunday, February 25, 2007

Meeting Lebanon

Monday and Tuesday Anna and I went to a number of meetings. We spoke at two universities and to a number of intellectuals and interested persons. I was so impressed by the reception of the WYA. The youth and professors immediately understood what the WYA does and enquired about how to become involved. Our introductory sessions in both universities quickly took the form of strategic planning sessions. They informed us of their activities, their contacts, their capabilities and asked what our plans were for the middle east and how we could collaborate. In one university, the dean asked about our training program and offered to incorporate it into the university curriculum, as well as beginning a WYA chapter sponsored by the university so that students could receive credit for submitting their answers. At the other university, the students are already working with thousands of school children throughout Lebanon and the middle east region, helping students to discuss and solve problems through dialogue rather than conflict and were eager to incorporate the message of the WYA into their program.

Our reception was quite amazing, I couldn't get over how quickly they understood the importance of dignity and how willing they were to make it work. One student offered this insight "in Lebanon we have 17 official religions and we suffer from religious conflict, each religion closely allies itself with a political party and we suffer from political conflict. Generally peace is sought through politics and inter-faith dialogue, those aren't working for us and we see dignity as the solution where these other methods fail." Needless to say, there is a great deal of hope for peace in the middle east with young people working to promote the dignity of the person within the region.

My last day in Lebanon, Habib Malik and another professor Bassam Lahoud took us sightseeing through the south of Lebanon which was the hardest hit during the war of last summer. All the bridges in southern Lebanon had been bombed, while most have already been rebuilt many are still under construction or have yet to be touched. We toured Tyre and Sidon and witnessed bombed out buildings, and also areas which already appear beautiful. In Sidon we walked through the remains of an old fortress built by the crusaders, the fortress was built on Roman ruins and had columns incorporated into the walls for additional strength. The fortress overlooks the Mediterranean sea at a port which is still used today. In Tyre we walked through a Roman archaelogical site. The Roman site was built on top of a Byzantine city, and in many places archaeologists have exposed the layering of Roman over Byzantine in the architecture, along the pathways, and in the decoration. Some cities in Lebanon are composed of as many as 17 layers, as different civilizations have built on top of previous civilizations. In a country with such a long, diverse history, it is hardly surprising that it has such great religious and cultural diversity. This diversity offers many advantages in the art, the culture, the food, travel, and many other areas. Currently it is not treasured as it should be, and in such a tiny country each group is vying for complete power over the others rather than seeking to work together.

We drove to within 20 km of the Israel/Lebanon border, but were unable to drive any closer. One reason being I had to return to Beirut on time to catch my plane. The second reason being that within those 20 km are numerous roadblocks which would take hours to go through and of course the border is also closed. We ate supper at a restaurant in a small city within the mountains east of Sidon. The restaurant was a unique experience as the owner and his wife informed us upon arrival of what they were serving for lunch, aka what we would be eating, and subsequently brought out appetizers and dessert for us. It was much more similar to paying grandparents to cook for you than to eating at a restaurant. Thankfully Lebanese food is quite tasty and so we really enjoyed our meal. Lebanese hospitality is much more than pleasant rumours, Anna and I were continually fed traditional Lebanese food during our stay, and since it is healthy and delicious we happily ate all we were offered.

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