Adventure, X2

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This really isn't a normal posting, but it does show a slice of my life from this summer. If this is how my summer starts I am wondering how it will end ;)

"Nasty Bits"

The summer break has barely started and I've been on several adventures already. For those of you who know my television viewing habits you know that I absolutely love watching Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations". His humor (he can be a bit rough around the edges, be warned), travel habits, insight into cultures, and openness to new experiences are things that I can relate to and understand...ok, I really need to stress that his sense of humor isn't palatable to all audiences.

I had my first "Bourdain" experience on Monday, when I was out and about in Dora, a suburb of Beirut. There is a small restaurant there called Jabbour, which I discovered about a week ago after church. Last week I learned that they served lamb brains, tongue, and liver. This week I learned there was much more, in addition to the before mentioned items there was also pancreas, birds (more on this item), various raw meats (meant to be eaten uncooked), and possibly lamb testicle. So to end my day of errands I wandered to Jabbour's and had a sandwich of grilled birds. What kind of bird? I really don't know but they seemed about sparrow-sized to me and looked like tiny chickens waiting to be put on a rotisserie. The chef took a skewer of three birds and grilled them over an open flame before squeezing lemon juice on them and wrapping them in pita bread. When eating something like this you have to take into consideration that you eat it ALL as the bones are too small to be picked out. I was proud of myself for two reasons, 1) that I did such a thing and tried something we never have in America and 2) I was able to eat about 2 1/2 of the birds before calling it quits. While the flavor was good, a little gamey and you could taste the lemon juice as well, I found it difficult to stomach the crunch of the bones as I ate my lunch. The texture of the crunch impacted me so much that as I slept last night I could still feel and hear the bones cracking in my mouth. Will I eat this dish again? It is highly unlikely, while food textures normally don't bother me too much I found this experience to be a bit extreme. There is very little information on roasted songbirds in Lebanon but I did find an article on Wikipedia that describes something similar in Cyprus. Even if the taste and texture worked for me I wouldn't take this dish again out of personal convictions. I will go back* in the future as I am open to trying some of the other tidbits, sans sheep brains (health reasons) and roasted songbirds.

* Note, I am not planning on spending the rest of my time in Lebanon finding places to eat sheep offal so for all of you planning on praying for me to come to my senses this is only something I plan on doing once or twice while I am here ;)

"Nasty Bites"

My second adventure was today. Just before my Arabic lesson began I saw a co-worker and her son outside, making a little commotion. As I investigated (aka, I was nosey) I discovered they were trying to catch a snake. From my background in biology, museum and pet store work, and nature/wildlife I am quite comfortable and knowledgeable of snakes in the US. Here in Lebanon I have to admit a lot of ignorance and can only (up until today) identify three species of snake. I had been trying to reach a friend of mine who is a professor at AUB, and a reptile specialist, for a couple of weeks now. I managed to get him today and he told me to come on down and he'd have a look at what we caught.

Into a bag the snake went and both of us were soon riding public transportation to the American University. At this point I didn't know if the snake we had captured was venomous so the bus ride was a bit stressful as I didn't want to hurt the animal but also wanted to make sure that if something did happen I was wasn't responsible for letting a venomous snake loose onto a crowded bus (we arrived safely by the way). The snake in question was mostly harmless, being a Montpellier Snake, which is native to Lebanon and quite a bit of Europe. The specimen we caught today was only about 18" long, but as an adult they can get to about 6-8 feet in length. They are a rear-fanged snake, which means their fangs are set in the back of the mouth and require chewing and effort for them to get the venom (reportedly not too toxic, causes mild discomfort and swelling) into prey. For them to envenomate a person a finger would likely have to be shoved back into the snake's mouth, a general bite wouldn't cause much (if any) concern.

I brought the snake back to Dar el-Awlad, after speaking with the professor on safety, and let it go this afternoon in a quiet place on campus that people don't go to very often. As it slithered away I got to hear it hiss, a sound that seems to be coming from a snake 3-4 times larger than 18 inches! So, how much did I learn today? I learned that we have three vipers in Lebanon, two of which are scattered around the country and one that is isolated in the higher elevations of the mountains in the southern part of the country. I also learned that there are about 12 other snakes here in Lebanon, 2-3 which appear to be rear-fanged (including the Montpellier Snake I caught today). So, the majority of the snakes in Lebanon are SAFE and the ones that are dangerous LOOK like a dangerous snake. I hope to get pictures here soon so I can work with the children and staff here on which ones to avoid or get help if one needs to be relocated somewhere else. Above all I want to make sure the children have a healthy respect for snakes and don't resort to killing them just because they see one on campus, but I also need to ensure the safety of everyone that lives here.

Struggles:
I've had some issues with my computer screen, so I took it to a Mac store here in Beirut and they are able to repair it but it will take about 3 weeks to get the part. Thankfully I have AppleCare and there is minimal cost ($50 for shipping). I'll get a call when the part is in and can keep using my laptop until they need it for the repair.

My cell phone just died on my today. I took it to a local store to see if they could fix it. I am hoping they are able to as I don't want to have to spend the money on getting a replacement phone...I just got this one before I came to Lebanon. If the phone can't be fixed I still have a warranty on it via American Express, but I will have to ship the phone back to America...the shipping costs and being w/o a phone until it is resolved is more than getting a new one. For the time being the cell phone store is letting me borrow one of theirs until mine comes back from the shop. The main inconvenience is that I lost all of my phone numbers and contacts, I didn't have them stored on my SIM card and my last back up is over a month old. The nice thing about having a SIM card is that my number is still the same so calls and SMS to me will still reach me as I can move the SIM card to a new phone as needed.

Praise:
In my travels these past couple of days I was able to see parts of Beirut I hadn't seen much of before, which is something you get when you take public transportation here. While I don't really find it too entertaining to be on a hot bus with my shirt stuck to my skin because of sweat I am thankful that I am seeing more of Beirut and learning my way around. When I eventually do get a vehicle I think I will be able to look back at this time with thanks. If I were to have arrived here back in April and started to drive immediately I don't think that helped me learn what I have learned so far.

Well, I am off to bed. Will send out an email update here in a couple of weeks. As always thanks for your prayers and support.

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Rural Lebanon Perspectives

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On June 14th a missionary group from the US came to Lebanon. The fact that a missions team came to Lebanon is not all that remarkable, we have many different ministries serving in this country and summer is prime time for teams to leave American and come here. What is special about this particular team is that it was sent via Crescent Project, the ministry that introduced me to Lebanon back in 2004. It was quite good to see familiar faces and have the opportunity to serve again with this amazing ministry, especially now that I am more familiar with Beirut.

Sunday, June 21st was more or less a day of rest. Church in the morning and then moving the team to their second “home” here in Lebanon, on the Metn mountain. During the afternoon people slept, ate, rested, and played games, a welcome break from the hectic week that had just experienced. During this time I took a moment to go out to a camp that is adjacent to where the team is staying, so that I could watch the sunset. The view was spectacular and the environment was quite different than what you’d experience in Beirut. Instead of cars honking you heard the occasional dog bark and birds calling. The line of haze and pollution that forms part of the Beirut skyline wasn’t noticeable and you could see a wonderfully blue sky with well defined clouds. The smell of flowers and earth was present while the scent of burnt benzine, oil, and brakes was absent.

Back in 2005 when I was on the roof of ABTS and looking out over Beirut I was reminded of Matthew 5, where Jesus was speaking about salt and light. That was my inspiration for returning to Lebanon so many times. On the evening of June 21st I was reminded of my roof-top experience; as the sun slowly moved westward and the sky darkened the stars began to peek out from the clouds and the lights from the houses in the valley and on the mountainside started to flicker on. Once the sun had set the hill across the valley from me was lit, each speck of light representing a person, family, or business. Different day, different location and environment, but still the same message as before. No matter where we are in the world (or in Lebanon) we are called to be salt and light, letting the presence of Christ be reflected from our lives, a living testimony of God’s grace and presence (2 Cor. 3:16-18; 1 Pet. 2:9; John 3:21).

I don't at all think that I have lost focus since I have been here, the view from Mansourieh at night and working with the children daily are constant reminders of my calling to serve here in Lebanon. The perspective (a refocusing of sorts) that seeing Lebanon from a different mountain provided was a blessing and allowed me to return back to the campus refreshed...great fellowship and ministry with friends as well as being still, something that only the mountains far away from Beirut provide...a break from the frenzy pace of life in urban Lebanon.

Below are some photos taken from Tuesday's sunset in a beach in Jbail (Byblos).


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Two Days in the Life

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Day (night) 1:
Sunset from Metn, looking towards Beirut in the West.







Day 2:
Sports Day at Dar el-Awlad.


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It is amazing...

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1) Hearing a child read

2) How something as simple as a cabinet in the kitchen can make this apartment feel so complete

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Post Election Post

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Yes...I shamelessly borrowed that logo from the Daily Star, but it does lead to their election site for 2009. Things seemed to go well over the weekend and the only disturbance I noticed was some celebratory fireworks and gunfire in the hills nearby. Thanks for your prayers but please keep praying. The overall balance of power is about the same as it was pre-election and as always the political climate here can change quickly.

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Welcome to June, Summer is...

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Here, at least in spirit. It's been quite warm the past week and we've started to break out and use the fans to help keep cool. Just a bit of news, some photos, and a couple of prayer requests for this update.

News:
  • The banquet on May 30th went very well and the boys did amazing in song, serving, and just being all around awesome.
  • School ends very soon for the boys, the 25th is the last day of school and then most of our guys will go home for a while, returning later in the summer for camps.
  • Elections in Lebanon, June 7th (see below for more information).
  • Counseling/Supervision: I have access to a counselor from the UK who is committing to coming to Lebanon once a month/every two months to offer supervision and consulting services to those of us here in the trenches. This is a much needed service and I feel blessed that this opportunity has been presented.

Elections:
Elections for Parliament here in Lebanon are scheduled for June 7th (this Sunday). So far the country has experienced peace and stability leading up to this day, which is quite important on how the balance of power here tips. I am going to skip my commentary on the process for the time being as politics in Lebanon is quite complicated and not being from here I don't fully get the nuances and understand the history leading up to the current political climate. All I am going to do is ask for prayer that this process goes well and that June 7th is a day that the appropriate people get elected, whatever their party or affiliation may be. Here are some links that may shed some light onto how politics operate in Lebanon and how they are similar/different from the U.S. and other countries. Note, I am in no way endorsing a particular candidate or party, the links are for information only:

Prayer Items and Other Things...
I just got a radio for my apartment, so I feel connected to the world a little better and don't have to rely on my computer for my entertainment and music needs as much. I am a little disappointed that there isn't a Christian radio station here in Beirut, oh well. I refuse to get a TV, at least at this point, so the radio is my link to the world...at least outside of Mansourieh ;) Finances also seem to be going well. I have worked with my bank back in Virginia and gotten most of the issues taken care of, though I did open another account at another institution as a backup. If you've never experienced living in another country and culture, finding out you cannot access your bank account trust me, you don't want to.



Adjustment seems to still be going well, the difference between my previous job and this position still causes me to scratch my head sometimes (often) but I am making it. Over the election weekend I hope to catch up and complete my self-assigned task of entering profiles and notes on all the residents. A lot of my time here since I've arrived has involved observing the residents and getting to know them. Occasionally there are moments when it feels I am not doing a lot (yet I still come away tired!), at least as much as I'd like to. I have to remember though that the relationships I am developing now will help me in the summer and fall when the students and residents return. I have started some assessment and counseling of a few children, which is good, but developing an effective way of managing my time between the residents is still lacking somewhat. As in any setting like this when you do something for or with one child there are 10 more begging for the same type of attention. Working with teens and older children made this almost a non-issue, but here, where most of the residents are under the age of 12 this is a constant battle I have yet to develop a winning strategy for. I will send more specific prayer requests in an email update, but as you read through this posting pray as you see fit.

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