Thursday, June 4, 2009

Another weekend in Beirut...

As you might know there is election coming up in Lebanon and as always it is hard to predict what will happen when democracy hits the Middle East.

For this reason I felt it would be a good idea to hurry up and have another weekend in this amazing country. Beirut is a great city and I will let the images speak for themselves:

Ok, maybe I will write a bit: the Gemmayzeh neighbourhood is super charming and filled with restaurants, cafes and bars - my favorite place to be.

Next to Gemmayzeh is Downtown with the famous Al-Omari mosque also known as the Blue Mosque. The mosque was built by Rafik Hariri, former prime minister who made a fortune on the rebuilding of Beirut after the war but mostly famous for being killed in a car bomb in 2005 - presumable by the Syrians.

Unlike the Blue Mosque, which is very new, the Martyr's Statue was there during the war. The Downtown area lies where the green line divided the Muslim and Christian neighbourhoods during the civil war and it is clear from looking at the Martyr' Statue that it was right in the line of fire.

The actual reason for me going to Beirut was to meet up with a good friend from Bangladesh, Norwegian Nina. We have not seen each other since I left Bangladesh in 2004, so it was a great reunion celebrated with red wine and nargileh.

The road back to Syria offers many exciting experiences - besides the crazy way people drive in the mountains. During the Israeli attack on Lebanon in the 2006 war the bridge on the road to Syria was bombed. The Americans are now funded the reconstruction of the bridge but as you can see on the photo it seems some problems have occurred on the way!

Last experience on the trip was a stop at the Kefraya vineyard. Here we have a delightful wine tasting and a lovely lunch.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Syrian wedding

Not so long ago I was invited to the wedding of one of my favorite colleagues, Rania. She is a very sweet girl, but facing the same issue as most Syrian girls – moving closer to 30!!! In her late 20s it was definitely time for her to get married and so she did.

The wedding party was women only. This is very common in Syria but a first time for me. The reason for the women only choice is based on religion. At these parties all women participating at the wedding can feel comfortable taking of their hijab (veil) and dress a little less modest that they would do normally. The bride can show her beautiful dress and the nice hair that must have taken hours to do. In order to make sure all 300 women at the party can see her from all angles three big screens were placed on the back wall and a camera crew (women only) would follow her around.

The bride spends most of the time on a podium dancing, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends. Often the women dancing with her are single women hoping to make an impression on some of the older ladies attending in the quiet wish that one of them might be found suitable for a son and thereby the next one staring in the dance show that the wedding is centered around.

After a few hours of dancing and the dinner a sudden commotion starts. Rumours are spreading that the groom is on his way. Quickly, women start to cover up and not soon after the groom shows up – a bit nervous, but then again who wouldn’t be having to enter a room of 300 women all waiting to see you. He goes up to the bride and offers her a tray full of what seemed expensive jewelry. Together they exchange rings and dress up the bride with the jewelry. She then dances for him and then the wedding cake is cut. The whole thing projected onto the big screens so everyone can follow the festivities.
The wedding is over within 3 hours, everybody goes home and the bride and groom can now look forward to a happy life together – starting with a honeymoon in Thailand! At UNDP we can look forward to a future without Rania, since she now has taken on the position of full time wife!

As you can probably guess I was not able to take photos of the bride. However, I did get a few shots of the very impressive cake!!!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Spring Specials

After a long and hard winter spring finally arrived and it was time to get back in gear. Those of you who have been following me on Facebook know that I have been spending almost a much time out of Syria as in the country. However, I have had time to spend a few hours in the office – occasionally – and this has paid off with some exceptional experiences.

In April I was lucky enough to receive an invitation for a visit to the Tishreen Palace to meet the First Lady of Syria, Asma Al-Assad. The meeting was in connection with the NGO project I am working on (see previous post) – a project that the First Lady is actively supporting. It was an experience to meet this remarkable woman and to visit the Tishreen Palace which gates I drive past every day to work.

In May I was put in charge of a project focusing on capacity building of the Syrian Parliament. In this connection, I was invited to visit the parliament and got the great big tour of the place. The Parliament or People’s Council is a very impressive place and it was quite the experience.

Unfortunately, I was not able to document the visits to some of the highest institutions on Syria. However, I am able to share a few photos from the most special spring experience – my visit back home. Denmark in May is just amazing and I must admit to a small feeling of home sickness sneaking up on me. Spending time with my sister’s wonderful children just added to that feeling…