Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘diary

Bi-weekly report (4) on Lebanon

Posted on December 12, 2008

Mind you that this article was posted in 2008. Boy, I am so glad that I used to write my diaries since 2005.

A niece of mine emailed me what Natalia Antelava from BBC News in Beirut published on the repercussions of the US financial crisis on Lebanon.  

Antelava summarized the effects “The world maybe in meltdown but Beirut is booming. The country best known for wars, turmoil and instability has not just survived the global financial crisis; it seems to be thriving because of it.

She goes on:

Lebanon’s Central bank treasury vaults are full. Cash has been flowing in like never before, Lebanese banks are posting record deposits and bankers say this is the best year in Lebanon’s financial history.

Lebanon was prepared. “I saw the crisis coming and I told the commercial banks in 2007 to get out of all international investments related to the international markets”, says Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank.

Lebanese Banks weren’t allowed to take on too much debt and they had to have at least 30% of their assets in cash. They were not allowed to speculate in risky packages of bundled up debts.

And weak banks were forced to merge with bigger ones before they got into trouble. “

“You could have thought they had a crystal ball. It was very wise of the Lebanese regulators not to get involved in all these risky international investments that turned out to be the doom of many banking systems,” says Edward Gardner of the International Monetary Fund.

“The system we created has been tested against wars, against instability, against political assassinations. And our sector would be much more developed if Lebanon did not have political and security risks, but it has also induced us to have a conservative reflex because we were always getting ready for the worst case scenario,” says Mr Salameh.

But the tight reign on borrowing does not apply to the government.  (A condition that brought the state of Lebanon to total bankruptcy in 2020)

Over the years, Lebanon has taken on loan after loan for post war reconstruction. Today, per capita, Lebanon owes more than any other country in the world.  

On paper this makes it vulnerable, but the political realities of the Middle East mean that danger is unlikely ever to materialize.


“This level of public debt has created serious problems for other countries, but the difference is that there is a perception that Lebanon has friends with very deep pockets who will not let it go down financially,” says Edward Gardner of the IMF.

“This was demonstrated in 2006 war with Israel, when both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were very quick to deposit large sums of money into the Central Bank to help it to remain stable,” Mr Gardner added.

But Lebanon could still feel the aftershocks of the credit crunch.  

Every year, thousands of highly educated young people from Lebanon go to work abroad.

With some 12 million Lebanese overseas and only 3.5 million in the country, remittances make up a vital third of the economy. (Currently, there are over 16 millions overseas and above 6 millions in the country and more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees)

The rest of the world is now being forced to sober up after the wild excesses of the global markets, but in Lebanon the party’s on.

The Lebanese are a nation of survivors, who have paid a heavy price for the fortunes they are reaping now. (What fortune? Lebanon is Not generating wealth and has no raw materials to export and import most of everything…)

Through their troubles they have learned how to party as if tomorrow will never come, but also, against the odds, how to bank for their future. 

My niece might have felt a displaced pride of that content of the article and I had to reply to her.

I said: “I heard all that since the crisis.  It means only the banks are stable because it mainly loans to the bankrupt Lebanese government at high interest loans. Why our banks would care to speculate any further? (Lebanon has so far borrowed over $65 billions, (that in 2008) or at least four times its NGP, since 1994; a ratio that is still less than the US indebtedness). 

The Dawha (Qatar) political agreement among the Lebanese civil war militia sectarian caste leaders was forced by the rich Arab States, which helped Lebanon’s reconstruction after the July war of 2006, to safeguard their investments.  

I doubt that the people/pseudo citizens have experienced any results:

The prices are their highest when all over the world prices have dropped sharply.  We used to have Aspicot (aspirin for children) manufactured in Lebanon; for two months we have no Aspicot; everything is exported to the Arab States.  

The wholesalers import at low prices and sell at prices before the crisis because no prices have ever declined in Lebanon once they increase on rumors only.

I am not fooled and no Lebanese citizen is fooled.  What fortune are the little people reaping?

On the political front, Deputy and General Michel Aoun ended five days of an official trip to Syria.  

The Syrian people welcomed him enthusiastically and he was considered as the civilian Patriarch, not only of the Maronites but also of all the Christians in the Middle East.  

The two people have finally repaired the psychological barriers, (Funny. this term is also used by the western media to describe our enmities with the colonial apartheid implant of Israel) that divided them after 15 years of Syrian mandate in Lebanon.

Most of the inconsequential sectarian leaders in Lebanon felt very small after this courageous openness of Aoun and kept lambasting him even before his visit (they are the mouthpieces of Saudi Arabia).  

The truth is that the March 14 “alliance” does not dare criticize President Michel Suleiman and thus they target Aoun instead.

Former US President Carter is in Lebanon in order to ask for permission to monitor the coming election; he has met with most political party leaders.  Hezbollah did not accord him a private meeting.

President Suleiman is visiting Jordan.  The mouth pieces of Syria have been attacking the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and claiming that he is getting into one of his lunatic phases and he is no longer a viable entity as a leader of the Druze. (Nothing changed of this description even in 2021)

What this blog is About?

Updated “About” (August 2 /2020)

I started this blog on September 17, 2008.

This blog is about: “Who I was, what I did, what did I think, how did I grew…”

This blog is about: “Who I am, what I am doing, how I think, what are my positions, politically, economically, fairness and equitability in political systems”

I dabbed in all kinds of jobs, you name it, from the “lowest” in order to pay my fees and lodging for studies in universities, to the higher kinds of jobs. Apparently, none of the jobs gave me this feeling that “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life”: I could Not discover any kind of retaining passions to last in any professional job.

The total number of articles published so far has reached 9,300 posts and the total number of hits has crossed two million views and the average daily hits is over 600 per day. The number of steady followers increased to 550

You have choices among 45 categories to navigate around, included my autobiography and edited as new facts and memories surge.  I added the sub-category “Travel/Excursion

I got a new life of publishing what I had  expressed in years of writing for myself.  I now have to consider my target audience of readers who patronize my blog:  There is a dividing line between writing and publishing, because responsibility to others comes in publishing.

Recently, I added a new category “Daydream Projects“:  Just imagine this gigantic brainstorm networking sessions if a small fraction of mankind decides to publish their daydreaming projects with plenty of details. Wouldn’t daydreaming be considered a very productive endeavors?

I also added the categories “Time for Outrage” and Pets

I post on average of 10 articles per week (articles of mine, links from various social platforms after editing and adding my comments). I figured out that every new post generates around 100 hits within a year, and keeps increasing fast.

You may enjoy the category poems (poems of mine, and translated poems from Arabic and French into English). I had posted my autobiography, two novels, short stories, and plenty of detailed book reviews.

I feel blessed confronted with many obstacles:  I was for a long time penniless but  kept publishing, and was associated with the most abject financial condition I have experienced… I am graced of feeling the same zest in publishing almost everyday.

I do read and write every day in three languages English, French, and Arabic.  I read books, small and large, old and current, classical and common, biased and “balanced”. And spend 3 hours per day reading and taking notes in Libraries

I read dailies and their editorials. I read magazines, serious ones and tabloids. I used to keep up to date with the weekly French “Courrier International“, bi-weekly, and monthly issues, including  the French monthly “Le Monde Diplomatique“, “Science et Vie”…when they were available.

I uncover nuggets in almost all my readings and then report my notes and comments after elaboration, analysis, and exercising my individual reflection.

Lately, I have been publishing my notes and comments on Facebook and Twitter under the title Tidbits.

The category “Diary” contains the articles I wrote before I got into blogging in 2008.

Recently a few friends decided to post their memories on FB and I shared them on my blog under the title “Mon cher Ado”

My posts are No cut and paste gimmicks, and they lack pictures unless provided by a link, images and videos: I don’t have the tools for recommended visual inputs, and I have no patience for navigating the net.

Whatever I receive, I edit it, comment on it and highlight the main points.

I understand that the task of publishing carries responsibility to the general public and I have to do my due diligence in reading a lot, reflecting, and exposing various views and perspectives before extending my current convictions.

I have been writing for my own pleasure for years, such as short poems, diaries, and got into introspection in order to get in touch with my emotions and my models on life, universe, and a sustainable earth within my history growth context. made it easy to taking the drastic plunge into communicating with the public.

It is a daily communion that starts by receiving comments before offering opinions, and do reply to developed opinions and comments.

I am reminded that life exercises its cyclical rights and I wish your ebbing period would not last longer than necessary, and that it would not affect your optimism.

I wish that you have a support system to remind you that life is wonderful, it is beautiful, and it is exciting.  There is a tomorrow but surely not better than today, since you are still alive!

I realized that publishing electronically is not considered by many political institutions as serious matter, since many do not navigate fast communication mediums on a wide scale yet; as if people still read hard copy manuscripts or dailies!

If you are interested in reading biographies of people “Not famous” or “Not glamorous”, then you may also enjoy reading my auto-biography titled “Introspection of a confused man”.

Anyway, most of my categories that are Not related to politics, history, religions, sciences, engineering, health, or book reviews are about myself.

It appears that my Book Reviews category is the most favored so far; closely trailed by political articles, social articles, sex/seduction categories, and religious topics.

I earned a PhD degree in Industrial/Human Factors/ system design engineering. That was in 1990 from the USA  and a couple of Masters in Physics and Operation Research, but I refused to practice until recently when I decided to teach in universities and had this lovely opportunity to write over 50 engineering articles published in the category “Professional articles“, “Human Factors in Engineering” and lately in the category “Engineering/research”.

I realized that I love best to read and disseminate what I write, and was the ideal platform to initiate people to publishing and expressing their opinions without any kinds of censorship.

I wish the publishers of articles and bloggers to keep in mind the dividing line between writing for comprehending and reflecting on their own positions and feelings, and just publishing.

I read and write daily, a lot, and hit libraries and follow up on news and editorials and feel serious on disseminating what I read.  I even summarize controversial books and offer my opinions ; yes, I love to be controversial, otherwise I might just rot.

A sample of a translated poem:

Your blue sea eyes

On the deck of your blue eyes is raining

Audible vibrating lights.

On the port of your blue eyes,

From a tiny open window,

A view of faraway birds swarming,

Searching for yet undiscovered islands.

On the deck of your blue eyes

Summer snow is falling.

I am a kid jumping over rocks

Deeply inhaling the sea wind

And then returns like a weary bird.

On the port of your blue eyes

I dream of oceans and navigation.

If I were a seafarer

If anyone lent me a boat

I would surely ease up my boat closer

To your blue sea eyes

Every sundown.

Note 1: This poem is an abridged free translation from Arabic of the famous late Syrian poet Nizar Kabbani.

Note 2: You may reach me on

Documentary movies on civil wars; (Written in 2005 and posted on August 17, 2009)

I am mining my diary.

From September 21 to 25, 2005, The City Theater (Masrah El Madina), in Hamra (Lebanon) and located at the former movie theater called Saroula, exhibited documentaries from different regions of the world dealing with civil wars.

These documentaries of about 90 minutes each and free of charge covered the start of the civil war in Lebanon between 1975-76 by Volker Schlondorff and called “Circle of Deceit”, and from Bosnia by Laurent Becue-Renard entitled “War-Wearied”, then about Rwanda by Anne Aghion, and about Chechnya by Johann Freidt, then about Kurdish Iraq close to the border with Turkey by Bahman Ghobadi called “Turtles can Fly”, and culminating with the atrocities of Sabra and Chatilla, initiated by Israel while occupying Beirut in 1982, by Borgmann, Slim and Theissen.

I attended the first two and the last two documentaries and missed the ones on Rwanda and Chechnya because my back pain exacerbated and prevented me from driving my shift car; I could not convince anyone to drive me there, a 30 minutes drive, and to join me to watch these rare showings.

I liked “Turtles can Fly” best among the ones that I was fortunate to see.  This documentary show how the Kurdish children, mostly crippled, in a refugee camp manage to follow a leader their age in order to survive by organizing themselves in groups removing land mines and selling them.

The 14 years old leader falls in love with a 13 years old refugee girl from Halabja (the town that they say Saddam pounded with poisonous gas). You must know the town in Iraq bordering Iran which was exterminated chemically by Saddam Hussein during his war with Iran.

The girl has been raped in her destroyed home town by a few Iraqi soldiers then gave birth to a blind boy whom she hates and tried at least 4 times to murder her child only to be saved by the children.

She succeeded by drowning her bastard child and then jumped from a cliff. The whole camp and surrounding towns were relying on the kid leader to provide them with a satellite dish in order to follow the impending war by the USA against Saddam Hussein only to be faced by news in English.

I guess the cable Al Jazeera must have been a mane for them, later on, because it provided coverage in Arabic. The movie ends by the proclamation of the fall of Saddam and the return of refugees to their hometowns.

The documentary about the massacre of Sabra and Chatila tries to extract eye witness testimonies from 7 Christian militias who participated in the massacre.  The perpetrators claimed that, in the beginning, they were ignorant wretched kids of 15 when they were driven to take part in the war and they are still wretched adults and still addicted to drugs and as poor as can be.

They were addicted to Neoprene, LSD, and half a dozen drugs which were abundant during the civil war and were actually distributed freely.

These murderers affirm that Israel planned this massacre to the minutes details, providing transportation, logistics, driving the bulldozers, digging the huge pit near the Camille Chamoun stadium to bury the more than 2000 dead bodies, providing the plastic bags for the last three layers of bodies dumped in the pit and the chemicals to squelch the putrefied odors and lighting the areas during the night for the militias to resume their rampage.

At 6:30 a.m. the next morning these killers witnesses a few of their colleagues executing Palestinians over the pit, ordering the living Palestinians to throw the dead into the pit, knowing very well that they are next to be shot.

One of the killers was a butcher by profession and he opted to slaughter his victims.

One of the murderers kept a vivid picture of slain beautiful horses and wondering why innocent animals had to be killed.

The orders came directly from Israeli officers and the high command of the Lebanese Forces, among them Elie Hobeika, Maroun Machaalani, and George Malek.

Maroun ordered them that every one in the camp is to die, man, women and newly born babies so that Elie Hobeika could construct a fine garden in these razed places.

Most of the killers were trained in Israel for at least 6 months before Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982.

One of them said that, at one point, in their military training in Israel they were driven to Eilat to a nude beach.

One morning, a female Israeli officer showed up stark naked and ordered them to undress completely for the morning training.  These fighters have never seen a naked girl before and were utterly embarrassed to obey such an order, but they ended up jogging totally naked along the length of the nude beach.

They claimed that they feared their fathers and would have respected their dads’ orders but unfortunately, it was their fathers who encouraged them to pursue war trainings and get involved in the fighting.

We have to pity these mothers who married the worst kind of husbands; more on that first showing of the film later on.

The film on Bosnia review the psychological rehabilitation of 4 mothers, for a whole year, in a special surrounding after their husbands and families were massacred.

After the rehabilitation they were supposed to go back to their home towns to restart their lives.  Now, consider the wonder of the Lebanese experience of sending back people to their home towns just because money has been disbursed for reconstructing their destroyed homes.  Why do you think only 13% returned?

Joanna has started her European tour on the first of the month and will last for the duration of the month. She purchased her Schingen train ticket in Lebanon for about $600.

Janna will be visiting Germany where she will drop her girl friend at the university then on to Belgium, then France, then Italy, then Spain, then Holland for an interview to a graduate graphic design program next year, and back to Paris and lastly returning from Germany.

She has been forwarding email news from time to time but I got the news from her mother (sister) Raymonde when she is in a talkative mood.

It appears that Joanna wrapped her arms with toilet paper so that they let her in the Vatican, and after another failure to enter she crossed over to the nearby merchant, cursed him for his high priced shawls that are not worth a dime, then paid him 3 euros for a shawl instead of 15, then snatched it and fled inside the Vatican.

She was invited by a taxi driver at Venice to stay overnight at his house and he gave her a tour of Venice the next morning for free.

By the way, taxi drivers take home 600 euro a day.  No doubt that this exclusive trip on the canals will be the most memorable adventure in her life.

Cedric has been working his ass off as a trainee in the management program at the Sheraton Hotel in Verdun. He finally got a sort of a girl friend. He spent a whole day at her bungalow in Delb Country Club and took her to Kfarselwan, a summer retreat of his uncle Nicolas.

Kfarselwan is 1600 meters above sea level and Cedric slept over night under a genuine nomad “bedouin” huge tent made of goat skins. I did not ask him if she slept over too.

William spent at least a whole week, days and nights, backing up his hard disks and those of Joanna’s.  He used up 43 DVDs’ for that purpose, each with a capacity of 4.7 gigabytes.

Most of the files are audio-visual, digital photos, animations and graphic and architectural design projects.  My more than a thousand pages of word processing files would occupy a meager space on a lousy CD.

The LAU engineering departments at Byblos is hard pressed this year.  There are no enrolments, even for major courses and thus might cancel many required course this fall.

The industrial engineering department hired a visiting professor to teach operations research courses; these courses were taken away from full time faculty members.

I told the chairman that I can generate 50 students to enroll in my elective course of “Risk assessment and occupational safety” if they offer it this fall, but it was clear that they didn’t considered this course to fit strictly in an engineering program. They will create a new course called “Reliability” to fill the quota for a faculty member.

I called up the chairman of engineering at AUST and told him that I could teach 5 of his courses in the BS curriculum.  He told me that these courses are slated to be graduate courses and not about to be offered any time soon.

Mon cher Ado. Part 8

Note: Georges Bejani, (French/Lebanese) and a retired teacher decided to post his diary on FB and I find these kind of stories worth posting them on my blog. This is my contribution to encourage people to write, and save memories of part of our customs and traditions.

Pendant les vacances scolaires , nous allions chez mes grands-parents à Beit-Chabab .

À Noël et à Pâques , il faisait froid car notre village se trouve à plus de 600 mètres d’altitude et les maisons n’étaient pas chauffées comme de nos jours.

À partir de cinq heures de l’après-midi plus une âme qui vive. Les habitants du village s’enfermaient chez eux en attendant de souper et de s’endormir .

Les quelques boutiques fermaient leurs portes. Seul late Khalil Lwati était encore là jusqu’à huit heures au plus tard. (He was a shoe maker and sold great Halawa).

Mes camarades et moi , nous nous retrouvions chez lui pour passer encore une heure ou deux avant de rentrer chez nous pour la nuit. (Les plus vieux jouaient le backgamon. Botros, le frere de Khalil, etait le meilleur joueur). Chez Khalil, nous jouions aux cartes tout en buvant une bouteille de coca ou de fanta , ou de sinalco …

Parfois , quand nous avions quelques sous de plus, nous achetions des friandises ou un gâteau . Ce n’est qu’à partir de nos quinze ans que nous avions un peu plus d’argent de poche. Alors on s’autorisait plus de plaisirs comme celui d’aller voir un film de cinéma à Beyrouth , qui se trouve à vingt km de notre village.

(Mes seule argent de poche etaient ce que je recevait a Noel et Paques, meme quand j’avais 20 ans, et je n’ai jamais demande’ d’argent de poche comme tous les enfants. Et pourtant mes parents etaient plutot bien confortable financierement)

Pour cela , nous partions avec Khalil Hassoun , un chauffeur de taxi qui nous emmenait et nous ramenait au village et parfois il assistait au film avec nous, surtout en hiver quand il faisait très froid.

(A dangerous but funny story about Khalil Hassoun: Khalil was carrying more than 5 passengers in his taxi. Suddenly, he saw a traffic policeman. Instinctively, he ducked his head: the agent will Not notice the crowded car?)

Parfois, avec Charlot, Assad, Nabil et d’autres encore, nous nous promenions dans notre quartier jusqu’à ce que nous
tombions de sommeil.

Je me rappelle d’un soir , nous avions tellement marché dans un va et vient continu entre les maisons qu’on a fini par avoir faim .

Nabil nous proposa d’aller chez lui car sa grand-mère Olga avait préparé pour le lendemain un plat d’aubergines à l’huile assorti de tomates , d’oignons, etc. Alors sans la moindre hésitation , nous avions accepté son invitation et nous nous sommes régalés de ce plat délicieux sans tenir compte de ce que dira sa grand-mère le lendemain ? Je ne l’ai jamais su…

A Jounieh , mon cher Ado, c’est une nouvelle période de ma vie qui commence, ma chere adolescence.

Je n’ai pas souffert d’avoir été interne , bien au contraire , l’internat au Collège des Frères Maristes fut une aubaine car il me permit de m’épanouir sur tous les plans , aussi bien sur le plan intellectuel que sportif .

Aucune contrainte majeur dès l’instant où on s’est habitué à une Discipline parfois contraignante .
Ma tante Juliette qui habitait chez sa sœur , tante Bernadette , était notre tutrice , et de ce fait j’étais autorisé à passer les week-end chez mes tantes .

Ainsi le samedi je rentrais après les cours , avec mes cousins , les enfants de tante Bernadette chez eux , dans leur grande maison , située à quelques centaines de mètres de l’école , sur la route qui mène à Bkerki , le centre patriarcal maronite .

Fouad Boueri , le mari de tante Bernadette était d’une gentillesse extrême . Quand je me retrouvais chez lui , il me traitait comme ses enfants . Il veillait à ce que je ne manque de rien. Il tenait à ce que je sois bien nourri . C’était un vrai cordon-bleu .

Nul autre ne pouvait cuisiner d’aussi bons plats . À table , dans la grande salle à manger , j’étais toujours assis à côté de Foufou , un de mes quatre cousins.

Oncle Fouad trônait en tête de table et veillait à ce que tout le monde mange bien .A sa droite il y avait Roger , le fils aîné, puis tante Berna et mes deux cousines . 

A sa gauche, il y avait tante Juliette et mes trois autres cousins , et moi le week-end . Si je raconte cela , c’est parce que c’était inhabituel pour moi qui avait vécu avec mes grands-parents , lesquels n’accordaient aucune importance à cette mise en scène un peu cérémonieuse . Mais chez les Boueri il fallait se soumettre à un certain protocole .
Souvent je préférais rester à l’école parce que je m’amusais plus . Tous les samedis soir , on avait droit à une Projection cinématographique qu’on attendait impatiemment .

C’est ainsi qu’on a vu les films de western et d’autre films du moment .

Et les dimanches on partait souvent en excursion en bus à travers le Liban . Et quand on restait au collège , on disposait de toutes sortes de jeux . Mon dada , c’était le basket , mais on pouvait aussi avoir des vélos avec lesquels on faisait des complétions dans la cour de l’école qui était très grande . 

Par beau temps nous allions à pieds dans la banlieue de Jounieh pour jouer aux boucliers ou au foot . (Did you play Numero? Hiding the number of the plate attached to your forehead, and the enemy trying to call up your number?)

Bien entendu , aujourd’hui la banlieue n’existe plus . Tout est construit . Que du béton . Jounieh a rejoint Beyrouth et même au-delà vers Sidon…

Mon cher Ado. Part 7

Comme je l’avais dit, notre séjour en Guinée ne dura que deux ans .

Et donc , nous revoilà en 1960 de retour au Liban. Mais cette fois , mon cher Ado, nous retournions en quelque sorte au bercail , dans notre village, auprès de nos grand-parents .

Et à peine arrivés , nous avons été inscrits comme internes au Collège des frères maristes à Jounieh , une petite ville côtière , au nord de Beyrouth .

Aujourd’hui Jounieh est méconnaissable ! La belle petite ville de ma jeunesse , pleine de charme, avec ses maisons en pierres de taille avec leurs toits de tuiles rouges , entourées de jardins d’agrumes qui sentaient si bons quand ils étaient e fleurs. (Comme tu as decrit Beit-Chabab? Il parait que toutes les petites villes se resemble au Liban?)

Cette ville de mes plus belles années , les années de mon adolescence , et bien, cette ville n’existe plus !

On a commencé par couper la ville en deux en construisant une autoroute , surmontée de plusieurs ponts , arrachant les jardins d’agrumes a grands coups de pelleteuses et de tracteurs, ces monstres qui vous assourdissent l’âme et dont le souvenir est d’une noirceur extrême .

Puis d’année en année on s’est mis à construire des immeubles de plus en plus hauts et de plus en plus laids de sorte qu’aujourd’hui les pauvres maisons en pierres se cachent entre les immeubles et pleurent sur leur passé glorieux . (Pas glorieux, mais serin?)

Je regrette surtout la belle maison de tante Bernadette , cette maison qui trônait sur la ville et sur les jardins d’agrumes qu’on surplombait de la terrasse côté mer en prenant l’air le matin , en été , pour nous cacher du soleil qui pointait son nez à l’Est en nous faisant coucou lorsqu’il sortait de derrière la montagne de Harissa ou la statue de la vierge est toujours là , imperturbable , impuissante face aux dégâts que les hommes font à la ville de Jounieh .

Je souffre chaque fois que j’y pense … (Pourquoi penser si tu vis en France?)

Ce matin, je me suis promené comme tous les matins du côté du port de plaisance de Royan. Le temps était idéal , des plus délicieux, avec un soleil qui s’avançait à petits pas vers son zénith .

La température d’ à peine 22 degrés me procurait un bien-être divin, et les bateaux qui somnolaient toujours au port, dans une eau miroitante, sans la moindre petite brise, ressemblaient à une de ces toiles de Vermeer que j’aime à contempler sans jamais me lasser .

C’est bizarre ! J’aime de plus en plus m’isoler dès l’aube parfois pour mieux apprécier le spectacle que nous propose la vie , aussi bien ceux de la ville quand les hommes dorment encore , que celui de la Nature qui nous est offert par le créateur . (Tout court: “que celui de la Nature” est suffisant)

En ce moment, alors que le soleil darde ses rayons à la verticale sur nos têtes , je me trouve à la terrasse du même café d’hier , et tout en sirotant un bon chocolat chaud ,(pour te rafraichir?)  j’observe les passants qui se promènent.

Qui à pieds, qui à vélos , ceux qui tirent leurs caddys pour aller au marché , et ceux , nombreux, qui se dirigent vers la grande plage de Royan, pour un farniente récupérateur (farniente est un mot espagniol?), avant de reprendre leur travail dès la fin de cette semaine car le bel été touché à sa fin!!!

Diary of Syrian Kidnapping: Richard Engel Reveals…

NBC News’s Richard Engel was dispatched to cover Syria’s civil war last December (2013?).

He and his crew were dragged from their car at gunpoint, blindfolded, gagged, and held captive by the shabbiha militia for 5 days.

Engel documented his captivity in April’s 2013 issue of Vanity Fair in a journal-like format, of which this is an excerpt. 

A group of about 15 armed men were fanning out around us. Three or four of them stood in the middle of the road blocking our vehicles. The others went for the doors. They wore black jackets, black boots, and black ski masks. They were professionals and used hand signals to communicate.

A balled fist meant stop. A pointed finger meant advance.

Each man carried an AK-47. Several of the gunmen began hitting the windows of our car and minivan with the stocks of their weapons. When they got the doors open, they leveled their guns at our chests.

Time was slowing down as if I’d been hit in the head. Time was slowing down as if I were drowning.

This can’t be happening. I know what this is. These are the shabbiha. They’re fucking kidnapping us.

“Get out!” a gunman was yelling as he dragged Aziz from the car.

Then I saw the container truck. It wasn’t far away, parked off the road and hidden among olive trees. The metal doors at its rear stood open, flanked by gunmen.

We’re going into that truck.

I got out of the car. Two of the gunmen were already marching Aziz to the truck. He had his hands up, his shoulders back, his head tilted forward to protect against blows from behind.

Maybe I should run right now. But the road is flat and open. The only cover is by the trees near the truck. But where?

I saw John standing by the minivan. Gunmen were taking Ian toward the truck. It was his turn. Like me, John hadn’t been touched yet.

Our eyes made contact. John shrugged and opened his hands in disbelief. Time was going very slowly now, but my mind was racing like a panicked heart in a body that can’t move.

“Get going!” a gunman yelled at me in Arabic, pointing his weapon at my chest.

I looked at him blankly, pretending not to understand.

Foreigners who speak Arabic in the Middle East are often assumed to be working for the C.I.A. or Israel’s intelligence agency the Mossad. The gunman took me by the finger, holding on to it by the very tip. I could have pulled it away with the smallest tug.

John was the next to join us in the back of the truck. He walked slowly, as if being escorted to a waiting limo. John is a New Yorker and was dressed entirely in black. He has long white hair and a devilish smile, and his nickname is the Silver Fox.

John and I had been in a lot of rough places—Libya, Iraq, Gaza. John, Ghazi, and Aziz were among my closest friends in the world.

At least I’ll die with my friends.

The rebel commander Abdelrazaq was confused. He thought this was a misunderstanding. He thought that this was a group of rebels who’d gone rogue and were acting like commandos.

“What are you doing?” he yelled to the gunmen as they loaded him into the truck. “We are Free Syrian Army! We are Free Syrian Army! I am a commander with the Free Syrian Army.”

We were traveling in rebel territory. Government forces weren’t supposed to be here.

“Oh, you’re Free Syrian Army?” one of the gunmen answered. “Here’s to your Free Syrian Army.” He kicked Abdelrazaq in the face, then smashed a rifle butt into his back.

The gunman seemed to be in charge of the others. We would learn that his name was Abu Jaafar. He spoke with a thick Alawite accent.

Alawites are a sect of Shiite Muslims, and for 4 decades Alawites and Shiites have ruled over the rest of Syria.

Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite. But Alawites and Shiites are only around 10 percent of the population. Almost all of the rest—and all of the rebels—are Sunni Muslims.

This is a sectarian war. So are most of the conflicts these days in the old Ottoman provinces of the Middle East. We’d become part of a long fight that wasn’t ours.

“Do you love Bashar?,” Abu Jaafar asked.

“Of course I love President Bashar,” Abdelrazaq replied.

“You don’t even deserve to utter his name, you animal,” Abu Jaafar said. Once again he kicked Abdelrazaq and beat him with his rifle butt.

“We are journalists from American television,” I said in En­glish.

One of the gunmen grabbed me by the hair and smashed my head against the metal wall of the container. “Who are you?” he asked in Arabic. I pretended not to understand.

“We are journalists. We work for American television,” I said again.

Everyone was in the truck by now. The metal floor smelled of diesel fuel and machine oil and was very cold and slippery. I kept sliding down as I sat with knees at my chest and my back to the container wall. I was watching Abu Jaafar beat the commander.

Several of the gunmen closed the doors to the container and stayed with us inside. They turned on flashlights. They were prepared.

Two of them lifted me to my feet and wrapped duct tape around my mouth, eyes, and wrists. They stripped off my belt and shoes. They did the same to the rest of the group. Now blind, I felt hands reaching into my pockets and taking my phone and my passport.

They’ve done this before.

I didn’t have much else on me. I had deliberately left my main mobile phone in Turkey.

I’d cleaned my laptop, too, removing files and contacts that could be incriminating to a suspicious mind. We had each pared down before coming in. Kidnapping is always a threat in this life of reporting on men hurting one another because of religion and politics.

An Israeli business card left in a wallet could be a death sentence. I knew that many of the shabiha gunmen would assume we were spies anyway—conspiracy theories are a weed in this part of the world.

An Egyptian newspaper once publicly identified me as the C.I.A. station chief in Cairo. It seemed so stupid at the time. I was only 24, a little young to be a station chief, and, of course, I was never with the C.I.A.

The truck started up and eased out of the grove. We could feel it traveling over bumpy roads.

I’ve reported on Shiite militias butchering Sunnis, and on Sunnis bombing Shiites in Iraq. I still felt like a reporter. I was still on a story. This was sectarian violence. This wasn’t happening to me but to them. I was angry with myself for thinking that.

Stay focused. You are here. You need to survive this. The first few hours are the most dangerous.

The truck came to a stop about 20 minutes later. Metal scraped against metal as the rear doors creaked open. Light and cold air rushed in.

“Where is the gunman?,” Abu Jaafar asked.

“That’s me, sir,” said the young man in the green fatigues. Abdelrazaq’s bodyguard could not have been more than 20.

Abu Jaafar’s men took the bodyguard out of the truck.

“Finish him,” Abu Jaafar said.

The gunmen had their AK-47s set on burst. They each fired four or five rapid shots, paused, then squeezed off another burst. The bodyguard didn’t scream or utter a word. He died too quickly for that. I heard his body hit the ground.

Abdelrazaq started to shout at Abu Jaafar.

“These people are journalists. They have nothing to do with this. I brought them here. I am responsible. Kill me. Let them go.”

Abu Jaafar said, “Get the gasoline.”

They drenched Abdelrazaq with liquid from a bottle.

“No, no!” Abdelrazaq begged.

“Burn him,” Abu Jaafar said.

They splashed Abdelrazaq with more liquid.

It was water.

They wanted to break us and terrorize us and make us docile. They were having fun doing it.

Abu Jaafar was laughing most of the time. In the coming days we would become familiar with his short, repetitive, girlish laugh: Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh.

The doors of the container were closed again. The gunmen left us alone in the back of the truck. We could hear guns being charged outside. AK-47 rounds were chambered and ready to fire.

Now they’ll spray the truck with gunfire and execute us all. 

We all lay down in the truck, hoping they’d shoot over us. My face was pressed against the floor. I tucked my hands under my cheek to get it off the cold, greasy metal. I drifted off to sleep. There’s peace in sleep. Aziz was lying on top of me. I could feel his heat. He was wearing cologne and it smelled good. In sleep I could escape.

Am I sleeping or am I awake? I’ll pretend to stay sleeping. Sleeping is invisible.

To read Engel’s full diary, click here to subscribe and receive the issue.

Travel Junkie Diary: Jalal Jamal BinThaneya

Jalal BinThaneya graduated with a degree in Human Resources and Business studies. He joined DPworld in 2010 and worked in the various departments within human resources and is currently working at the ports terminal operations area.

That is only part of his life. His real life is his dedication and purpose and he just cannot wait to be back on the road where he belongs. We learned about his purpose when he was on the road. His feelings were out in the open, his battles and his triumphs. He made it. For a purpose.

Jalal Jamal BinThaneya posted  this April 18, 2014 in LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCES / TRAVEL JUNKIE DIARY 

Days in Egypt: Investigating, Reporting…?

Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) is a Jordan-based institute that provides funding, support and training for young journalists across the Middle East.

Michelle Ghoussoub Posted on December 27, 2012 under “3 Days in Egypt: Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism

This past November I had the good fortune of being chosen to represent the American University of Beirut as a student delegate at the annual (ARIJ) Conference  held in Cairo, Egypt, for the first time.

Though I’ve learned to read and write Arabic in the past 2 years, the 5-page long emails detailing instructions about visas, plane tickets, and conference timetables proved to be a bit challenging for the vocabulary Univ. of British Columbia UBC Arabic 300 had provided me with.

These documents were quickly forwarded to my resident Arabic speaker back home (also known as baba – my dad) – who provided some interesting translations.

The conference advised “colleagues to wear conservative clothing, and to avoid wearing tight pants and revealing shirts when going out to public places.”

The conference also provided documents and advice for Palestinian journalists attempting to leave the West Bank and Gaza through Israeli checkpoints. Suddenly, my stress about getting a visa for my Canadian passport at the airport seemed pretty trivial.

Two days before the start of the conference, protests broke out across Egypt, including in the iconic Tahrir square after President Morsi passed a controversial presidential decree that gave him sweeping powers. I considered not going – but passing up on a chance to visit Cairo was just too much.

The day of the conference, I caught a 5 am flight out of Beirut along with another friend from the AUB who was also attending.

After the typical Beirut airport experience (basically, overly relaxed security), we took off on Egypt Air, and landed in Cairo around an hour later.

Once in Cairo airport, I realized that my worries about getting a visa upon landing had been unfounded – the old man behind the booth didn’t even look at my passport, let alone ask me any questions before handing me the visa.

We took a cab into the city around 7 am, when a deep smog was still covering the city. Our taxi driver asked us where we had come from, and why we were here. “Why did you come?” he asked us, “It’s not safe.”

“Bassita, na7na min Beirut.” we tried to joke (“Don’t worry, we’re from Beirut.”)

“Cairo isn’t Beirut” he replied. He then told us that he had been driving some tourists to their hotel last night when the car in front of them exploded. These two Beirutis were in over our heads.

View of Cairo Tower from Conrad hotel

View of Cairo Tower from Conrad hotel

We finally arrived to the hotel to find that our hotel reservation had been cancelled. After a brief argument of Lebanese vs. Egyptian Arabic, we somehow worked out a solution. A bus took us to another hotel in Cairo’s Zamalik area, where the conference was taking place.

Even being used to the madness of Beirut traffic, the bus ride was heart-stopping. Cars, buses, motorcycles, street vendors horses and donkeys jockey for positions on Cairo’s streets – with no clear winner.

The ARIJ conference turned out to be extremely interesting, with talks ranging from ethics of war reporting, methods for interviewing trauma victims, methods for conducting investigative journalism, and a showcase of the best investigative reports coming out of the Arab world in the past year.


Keynote speakers at ARIJ 2012

It was also interesting to note that there appeared to be somewhat of a disconnect between the western and Arab reporters.

One American professor who spoke went through the details of how he uncovered a French government scandal involving funding from the alcohol lobby – he did so mainly by going through public government records.

A young Egyptian then stood up and asked how he recommended going about this kind of investigation in Egypt, where either there were no public records, or you may get beaten up for asking the wrong questions.

Another American journalist spoke about acquiring sources, and how to convince those who wish to remain anonymous to go public.

An Iraqi journalist then asked about a specific case – in one of her recent stories, the main source had paid Al Qaeda not to kill him – there was therefore no way he would accept to go public with his name, as he would be killed. In both cases, the speakers looked shocked and a little dumbfounded at the questions.

One thing is for sure – the terms of engagement are different in the west and in the Middle East.


In the evening, we returned to our hotel via taxi. We asked him about the situation in the city, and whether the area had remained safe that day. He told us the protests had spread to almost all areas of Cairo and Alexandria, and that all roads out of the city were blocked by protestors. He then went on to tell us that he had previously worked as a bureaucrat for the Egyptian government, that Morsi had fired him unfairly, and that he was now forced to work as a taxi driver to make a living.

How much of this is true I will never know, as we were stuck in traffic when we suddenly heard a commotion behind us. A crowd was surging towards us, and an army officer had come out of nowhere and begun to spray tear gas directly into the crowd. Our taxi driver did some unworldly maneuver and managed to get us out and back to the hotel, but the excitement was not done for the night.

My fellow AUBite had some Lebanese family living in Cairo, who took us out and toured us around the Zamalik area in the evening.

There was something distinctly strange about the atmosphere – fancy restaurants along the Nile, and luxurious Egyptian versions of “bateaux mouches” were empty, though it was a Saturday night. “Cairo isn’t Beirut” our host told us. It was the second time I’d heard that phrase in one day.

“The people here aren’t used to uncertainty.” It’s easy to forget that Mubarak ruled Egypt with relative stability for 30 years – a completely different history from that of Lebanon. He asked us if we wanted to see Tahrir Square. We were both reluctant, but it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience, and so we decided to go.

Walking into Tahrir Square

Walking into Tahrir was overwhelming – so many key events had come from this place.

Outside of the ring of white cloth tents it was like a microcosm of the Arab world. Ka3k vendors, women with their children, but mostly men sitting, playing cards, smoking arguileh and talking politics. It wasn’t a threatening atmosphere, but definitely an uncomfortable one.

As two of the only unveiled women there, we got many stares, though no one approached us, perhaps because we were with a man. Mostly there was a sense of lawlessness, a feeling that if anything were to happen, there was no governing authority that would step in.

We definitely felt a sense of relief when we left the square. The tension and uncertainty in the air was almost suffocating, despite the movement being one of freedom and democracy.

The next day during the conference, we read on the news that three women had been attacked in Tahrir that day – and the square was only 5 minutes from the hotel we were in at that moment. Very eye opening.

Tahrir's mini community

Tahrir’s mini community

When we landed back in Beirut the next day, I saw the Capital Beirut with very different eyes.

It seemed green, uncrowded, and very clean – though Beirut is none of the above. Lebanon is chaotic, but somehow the chaos seems contained, even manageable. Cairo was sprawling, huge, unpredictable and beautiful. And though its streets felt very dirty and crowded, and even unsafe, you got the sense that it was a very ancient and noble city – or once had been.

Whatever the future of Egypt is, I surely won’t forget my 3 days in Cairo, or my impromptu visit to Tahrir anytime soon.


Films festival at Sofil Theater (Achrafieh, Lebanon)

From my diary of Sunday, (Written on October 8, 2006  and posted August 21, 2009

Yesterday, Victor and I cleaned one of the three chicken coops because it seemed that it might rain.

Today, Victor wanted to clean his new coop; he spent almost six months constructing, welding, and painting. I had helped reluctantly for six months because nobody wanted any more chicken, the cost, and the trouble that generates nothing but frustration.

Well, I helped him clean for an hour and then he got in his mind to cement the floor.  I helped Cedric bring sacs of sands and gravel from a nearby pit.  Then, I stopped in order to do some errands.  Victor was still cleaning in the evening.

I ventured to the movie theater of Sofil in Achrafieh to see a couple of films of the movie festival.

I watched “Kilometer Zero” at 5:00 p.m. about the Kurds forced to fight Iran in Basra in 1988 and the animosities between the Iraqi “Arabs” and Kurds.  The grandfather once told the hero: “We the Kurds had a lousy past, a tragic present but the best is that we have no future”.

I had bought a ticket for the 7:30 movie “Maria Full of Grace” but felt bored waiting and I returned the ticket.  I hoped that I might encounter a familiar face; I was certain that this longing will not happen; I never meet familiar faces, not in the festival, not in Lebanon, or anywhere else.

I went back strait home; although I was hungry and had decided to eat at B to B I didn’t feel like stopping on my way and prepared myself a quick diner at home.

I went again this Sunday and watched “A New Day in Old Sana’a (Yemen)” and returned straight home.

May be a short review of what is showing could be enlightening: “Volver” by the screen player Pedro Almodovar which was cancelled, “Trametti”, “I am the one who brings flowers to her grave”, “Beyrouth ma betmout” a mini-DV of 7 minutes by Katia Jarjoura, “Color me Kubrick”, “De battre, mon Coeur s’est arrêté”, “Factotum” a screen play adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s novel, “Malek wa Ketaba”, “Maroc”, “Offside”, “Paris, je t’aime”, “Jezile”, “Nuovomondo”, and “The Queen”.

Free tickets were distributed for “Amaret Yacoubian” before the festival was on and we had no clue; the tickets must have gone to the privilege individuals of the club.

Joanna had been working on a project for two consecutive week-ends and I barely saw her.

I wanted to see “El Violin” on Monday but didn’t feel like driving alone. The weather has been cloudy all the day. I figured that I’ll stop at the Storiom supermarket to buy mom a full fat Tatra powder milk and a ‘crose’ of cigarette ‘Cedars’ for my dad because it might be closed by the time I return.

Then I decided against seeing the movie and spent my night reading “Ensemble, c’est tout”. I might go today and see two movies, including “The Golden Door“, but nothing is sure anymore with my state of moods.

I executed my plan to see two movies last night; I saw “Nuovomondo” and “The Violin” and was back around midnight.

Exorcising a part of my life: Marrakech Restaurant in DC; (August 18, 2009)

From my diary of September 15, 2006

Before I woke up at 7:15 a.m. my reminiscences brought me back to a miserable and rough period in the USA, Washington DC and Montgomery County, around 1998.

I decided to exorcise this part of my life by recalling it and writing about it.

I started to take Real Estates courses in 1996 and passed the exam (basically the applicable laws).

My sister and brother-in-law (attache militaire of Lebanon in the USA) were about ready to return to Lebanon along with their 5 kids. And I had decided to stay, against all odds.

In this Real Estates business, if you don’t make a sale you don’t get paid.  For more than a year, I could not make a sale or even list a property and I was utterly penniless and looking sick and emaciated.

A Lebanese family who immigrated to the US in the sixties provided me a bed in the basement for two months.

I think that I did not look that hot or healthy, though I felt fine.

I checked a benevolent local clinic in Kensington (Maryland) just to be on the safe side; the physician assured me that my condition is simply a case of under nourishment.

Layla, my host family, suspected that, because I never married or had a girlfriend, that I might be gay and, perhaps, I had contracted AIDS and she was extremely worried. She was wrong on all counts.

My pecuniary situation was at the lowest and I talked of my predicament to Dominique, the priest of the Maronite parish in Washington D.C, who arranged a meeting with a Lebanese Armenian Bashir K.

Bashir owned a restaurant in the poor section of Downtown DC called ‘Marrakech’ (a city in Morocco).

Basir is not the real name of the owner, but he adopted it because he adored Bashir Gemayel, the ex former elect President of Lebanon and the leader of the ultra conservative Christian Lebanese Forces.

Bashir used to come at the restaurant wearing sandals, rain or shine, and in short. He parked his black Mercedes (a sign of prestige) by the rear entrance door, but he usually walked to the restaurant from his apartment in Georgetown.

Bashir’s sister ran the daily jobs of the restaurant and she was a divorcee with two kids.

The restaurant ‘Marrakech’ was sort of famous in DC because of the exotic interior design, the food, and the belly dancing show during intermission.

The walls and the low couches of the large hall were aligned with cheap exotic carpets The food, a modified Moroccan recipe to suit the American palate, was brought on a large brass plate.

I know that the food was not that authentic because I used to eat at a ‘Magribi’ restaurant in San Francisco, also called ‘Marrakech’ and it was run by Algerian students, who became friends of mine.

Before eating, a server would bring a jug of warm water, pour it on the hands of the guests and then pass around towels. People were to eat with their finger, which is ingenious because it saves on utensils of all kinds.

After the special greasy main course, and at the end of the 7 course dinner, hot towels were theatrically passed on to wash hands.

In the intermission, an American dancer would perform belly dancing routines accompanied by taped oriental music.

We used to be at the restaurant around 1:30 p.m. to dust, clean, take reservations, and prepare the ingredients for the food.

I worked on the same tasks as the other servers who were mostly from Africa proper, from Nigeria mostly.

When the restaurant opened, I donned the unique tunic dress that was supposed to be Moroccan and welcomed the guests and show them the way to their designated couches. I also was given the task to play the tapes and interview the applicant dancers, though the decision to hire dancers was with Bashir.

Smoking was forbidden and I used to surreptitiously take a few minutes off to smoke a cigarette outside. I wholeheartedly agree with that policy of non-smoking among the workers, not only because addicted smokers are less efficient in production (creativity set aside), but because they usually are more trouble prone than the non-smokers.

One night, I locked myself in my office and smoked a cigarette. In my hurry, I guess that I didn’t extinguish my cigarette butt adequately.  A few minutes later, a server told me that there are fumes coming from the office.  A fire was starting in earnest in the office and emanating from the trash can.

Everybody, from the workers to the architect who showed up right away to investigate the extent of the damage, suspected that the culprit was I, but they didn’t mention it directly to me.

It would not have been bravery of me to admit my culpability since all the facts incriminated me, but I cowed before the amount of the expenses for almost completely remodeling the office.

I think that I should have come clear because this guild, as a negative reaction, might have kept me from not quitting smoking.

A week later, Bashir gave me a lame excuse to take a week of absence because as he said “many of the regular guests who patronized the establishment started to suspect that I were the real owner and he wanted to dispel that misgiving for a while“.

I did not return to work after the week of absence.  I was paid as the other workers, but I managed to survive for two months until my real estate business at Re/Max picked up.

Note: Years later, I had settled back in Lebanon and I was teaching a few courses at a university. I met Bashir in Jounieh, we saluted and he made the disappearing act in order not to converse with me.




June 2023

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