Wednesday, August 10, 2005

At home with the extremist Christians

Black and blue

Today, we decided to go up to the mountains, to the east of Tripoli, to enjoy the beautiful scenery, to visit Bcharre, the home of Khalil Gilbran, Lebanon's most famous author and to visit the cedars, national symbol of Lebanon.

We set off from the station, well the bus company's office, after having been told by a taxi driver that there were no buses to Bcharre, with a bus loaded with soldiers, a Dutch film-maker from Amsterdam, ourselves, a student with a religious belt (offering a prayer to the Lord) and some locals.

The bus wound its way past olive groves and on upwards to the tall mountains immediately ahead of us, offering views up and then down to the valley floor winding around from one village to the other. Political posters abounded and the nearer we got to Bcharre the more posters we saw of the town's now infamous son - none other then the Samir Geagea, about whom I wrote a couple of days ago. In Bcharre itself, tehre was scarcely a house without some picture or flag or poster of Mr Geaggea, often with his pretty dark-haired wife. It was like the US and its stars and stripes after 9/11.

We said goodbye to our soldier friends and Dutch neighbour and set off for somewhere to drink a coffee and eat delicious cakes. Well, waiting for us was Antoine, an Australian Lebanese or Lebanese Australian. I asked about the man in the posters. Oh, he was family, his wife being a cousin of his. Samir, the hero who had fought off the dreadful Syrians and who had been freed once the Syrians had left the country. He was now in France, either on holiday, or checked intoi hospital to make sure that the Syrians hadn't poisoned him, (or more like meeting with his financial backers). This was the man who was going to sort out Lebanon.

So, after a short trek to a viewing point it was back to the village where we were invited in by a girl who turned out to be just 13, which was embarrassing as Fred asked her whether she was studyiung at high school or university. As it turned out she was studying at a convent in Beirut and she produced her American published English books and ased Fred about the grading system in the US, she being under the impression that we were both from the States.Things were going fine until we mentioned that we had been to Syria (how could we?, their faces seemed to be telling us). When we told them that we thought teh country was beautiful, they explained that Syria had stolen everything from Lebanon, including the taxes on petrol, airports and VAT.

Then it was off to the Gilbran museum, past the waterfall at the entrance of the village and up a short hill. Not an awful lot to see there apart from his paintings but the setting, overlooing the green valley was superb. There was another photo of Geagea in the shop and I asked the curator whether or not a museum was the place for political propoganda. He explained that it was just his personal choice and anyway now that the Syrians had gone, one was allowed freedom of political expression. Under the Syrians, one might have 'disappeared' for this.
Running out of time now, we decided to make a quick trip up the hill to see the cedars and engaged the services of none other than Tone Geagea, who explained that Samir was his 'master'.

The cedars were magnificent, especially against the backdrop of the pale mountains above. Pale because all the cedars had disappered. Taken by the Syrians, we had been told by one person (odd, because the Maronites had been living in this area for the past thousand or more years). Killed off by disease, we were told by another.

Back down in Bcharre now, waiting for the bus, I bump into Richy who as it happened was also on his way down to Tripoli, so we travelled together, Richy dealing out Efes Extra Strong to Fred, myself and the driver. Richy had studied for an MBA at MIT, Boston, so couldf tell me how Lebanon made its money. Lebanon Red (the best hash in the world and grown next to teh cedars) was responsible for USD 4 bn earnings a year, arms sales to fellow Christians such as the Serbs (we won!) and lots and lots of money given by the US. Hewas happy, happy that the Syrians had left and looking forward to the day in 3-6 months that Geagea would be made President. The US would ensure that this happened. A Christian President and a Western-friendly, anti-Syrian Muslim Prime Minister weas how it worked. His friend was less pleased. He wanted to be a Christian rebel. Proud to be extremists, both.

We had a date to drink more beer with Richy in Batroun this evening but he didn't show up. The Muslim chaps we met in Hama showed up exactly on time. Just shows.

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