Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Heaven & Hell

I've been extremely busy the last few days, and have ended up seeing more of the city than I planned to. It's a really diverse place. I had been expecting that I guess, but even so it was a surprise.

Yesterday I went went exploring in a rougher, perhaps more traditional neighborhood. It was basically what you would expect a Middle-Eastern city to look like, replete with beggars, run down buildings and cars that looked like the one below. I'm not sure if those are bullet holes, or some method of repairing a dent in the fender, but either way, I noticed several cars with similar punctures in their bodys.

I stopped at a little cafe/hooka bar on one of the streets and my friend Trooper struck up a conversation with the owner who turned out to be an Armenian (the ethnic group, not the theological persuasion.) The guy was, to put it plainly, rather scary looking, ripped, shaved head, heavy metal t-shirt, face studs, tattoos on his hands and neck, etc (I wanted badly to take a photo of him, but he wasn't really the kind of guy you just walk up to and take photo of....) "Welcome to hell," he said, with a big smile on his face when we told him we had both just arrived that week and had never been in the city before. Amidst the hookah's, beer bottles and posters of different hard rock bands in his shop, I also noticed a number of pictures of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and several saints prominently displayed on the wall above the espresso machine. An interesting contrast... or maybe a paradox?

An even greater lesson in contrasting came just half an hour later when we hopped in a cab and took the three or four minute ride from that neighborhood to Centerville, the posh shopping district on the edge of the sea. Even though we were just a handful of blocks (and a security checkpoint or two) away from where we had come, we might as well have been in a different country. There were American and Italian outlet stores and snazzy looking cafes and clubs. There were no beggars, and the only cars in sight were Ferraris and SUVs with dark tinted windows.

Today I spent more time in the Centerville area and went to the newly completed Hariri Mosque (dedicated to the Lebanese leader who got blown up in his car several years ago)  I also had a chance to see some of the towns farther up in the hills above the city, which are beautiful enough to hold their own against just about anything. I would upload some photos of those right now as well, but internet in Lebanon is pay as you go, and I don't really want to burn my host's bandwidth with a ton of uploads, so they will have to wait for now.

Friday, May 27, 2011

So that's how I got here

This morning I woke up and wasn't sure where I was. I looked out the window above the bed I had been sleeping in, and there was the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea––and I suddenly remembered something about my Dad driving me to New York City, getting on a plane full of screaming Arab babies for 14 hours and meeting a very nice Jordanian man from California; a seemingly endless layover in Amman, Jordan––where they fortunately have Starbucks; lots of people speaking in Arabic,  being mistaken for an Italian, losing track of how many times I'd gone through security,  another flight next to two teenage girls who completely ignored the rule about cellphones during take-off, walking through customs in Beirut, getting my bags, meeting my friend Mark, crazy drivers, cool buildings, cool buildings with bullet holes, a military checkpoint with a tank; lots of explosions... which turned out to be fireworks from a Shakira concert.

So then I remembered: I'm in Beirut.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

This Is Happening

I'll be leaving again, for two months. This time tomorrow I'll be in NYC getting ready to board my flight, and this time the day after tomorrow I'll be in Lebanon. That is of course if God ordains that the volcano that just started erupting again in Iceland and the airstrikes in Libya don't cause a problem, that the plane[s] doesn't have mechanical difficulties, and that I don't go and get lost somewhere along the way. So I'm planning on being there anyway––and there have already been a lot of things in the last few weeks that I thought might keep me from getting there, but amazingly everything has come through so far.

In some ways I really don't want to go and leave my family and home again right now. I'm gone far too much these days. I'm also, as I almost always am, torn between things that I think I should be doing, and the fact that much of the time I really don't want to do anything. At the same time though, I'm really ready to go. Ready for a new adventure, new friends, and a new perspective to see the world from. Ready to learn and do something real––or at the very least, be frustrated trying to do something real instead of being frustrated with myself for not trying.

These two weeks at home have been great, and I've been blessed with a time that has been relaxing, but also been able to accomplish more than I had hoped for in the way of preparation. I think the fact that it's time to go now is really a good thing more than a bad thing.

I am drinking some coffee right now and enjoying a somewhat rare moment of confidence, and it is quite probable I'll feel completely different about it soon, and quite nearly inevitable that I'll feel completely different about it in the next two days to two months. Right now though, I'm excited about it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sound & Lights

I've been keeping fairly busy preparing for Lebanon this past week. I've been going through a video course by Israel Hyman on using final cut, and while I had used the program for several projects before and understood the basics of it, I've learned a huge amount of functions that I had no idea how to access. I would highly recommend it if your reading this and it's something you're interested in learning.

I've also been practicing driving manual with my Dad's car, as automatics, like my car, are apparently non-existent in Lebanon, just like Europe. I don't really plan on driving while I'm there, but I figured in case of emergency I should probably at least be familiar with it.

I have just about everything that I need for the trip now, except possibly the most important thing: my passport. I've had my passport for a long time, but it had to be sent away to the Syrian consulate a get a visa that I may need over the summer. Unfortunately they've been having some political (and other) problems, which seem to have slowed the process down.

The gas drilling in our field, which was in full operation when I arrived back, just keeps going. They are now working on the 3rd well, which is apparently closer to our house than the rest, and it has been getting quite loud at night. It's fairly consistent, so I haven't had trouble sleeping from it, but I'm really glad it's not any closer than it is. The picture below shows what it looks like at night. So strange to see this in our field!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Scenic Route

Had a good trip home from Tennessee the day before yesterday. My Dad had a stove delivery somewhere down south, so he showed up at Bryan around 8:30 Thursday morning, just as I was finishing my last final. We spent a couple hours stuck in traffic in Virginia, because a sinkhole opened in the middle of 81, but after a detour we almost completely made up the time, and the drive ended up being a lot prettier as we took 11, which is more of a historical route with lots of pastures and old houses and things.

I wasn't at home for an entire day when my Dad already had me helping him cut down trees, which seems to be one of the main things that we spend time doing around here. I never really thought about it much when I had only ever lived here, but we cut down a lot of trees. There are certainly enough of them though. 80 years ago or so there were no trees in this part of Pennsylvania at all, as they had been logged. Then the depression hit and never really left our area, and the trees came back and filled in all the the farmland, and are still doing so. So while other parts of the world suffer from deforestation, we, for the last 60 years or so have had massive re-forestation. Despite their abundance, I was a little sad to see this one go. It was a really old one (one of the few that survived the logging 80 or 100 years ago) and had marked the corner of our lower driveway ever since it was built. It was half dead though, and probably would have fallen down soon, so I guess it was necessary.  We're now in the process of burning out the stump, which will probably take a few days.

Last summer I arrived home to find that the "gas pad," the massive foundation which Talisman Energy was to use to drill for gas on our land had been completed. Drilling is in full swing now. I can actually hear it from across the field as I'm writing this (although it isn't actually as loud as I was afraid it would be.) Above is a picture of one of my sisters with the drilling rig in the background.

They probably won't start hydrofracking (the process used to get gas out of shale) until after I'm gone with ACTs, but it will be interesting to see if how it turns out. Hopefully they won't ruin our drinking water, and hopefully they will strike a substantial amount of natural gas. There are some definite environmental concerns from the process, but all things considered, I don't think it's really as bad as a lot of people make it out to be, and when you consider what the potential financial benefits could be, I feel like it's definitely worth it, especially with the financial situation my whole family has been in for the last five years or so.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Sound of Rainbows

Yesterday it rained almost all day, but sometime after dinner the clouds broke for just a minute off to the west. I thought the sky looked kind of cool, and still getting used to the new camera, I decided to go out and take some pictures of it. Stepping out the back of my dorm to the east though, I suddenly say a huge rainbow. It was so tall that most of the arc was unfortunately hidden by clouds and only the bases of its legs were visible at all. Still, it was great to be in the right place at the right time like that.

I finished two papers for the intro to lit late last night, marking the end of that class, and I spent a good bit of today running around trying to sell the text book. After checking with the kiosk that buys them back on campus, I decided to sell it back to Amazon instead, as they'd give me about ten dollars more in the form of a gift card, which I will hopefully get in time to put toward some extra batteries for the camera. I would also like to get a stereo microphone attachment for it. The mics that are built into it are actually surprisingly decent, but since a large part of what I'll be doing with it will be video it would be nice to take things to the next level. The most basic one I can find is about $120, and I haven't yet decided if I want to (or should) spend any more money right now.

Today I have one more paper to write and a bit of studying for my Worldview final at 8:00AM tomorrow morning. Hopefully I will be leaving with my Dad soon after that to make the trip home. I haven't seen my family in almost four months, so it will be nice to get to spend a few weeks at home before embarking upon more untold craziness. But first I need to write that paper....