Sunday, August 28, 2005

A country full of surprises

I was barely awake when my phone rang, and my dad urgently asked me to open the TV for the UN chief investigator in Rafic Hariri's assassination has issued orders to arrest the three ex-leader of the security apparatus in Lebanon as suspects (These three are part of the five top brass who effectively ruled the country with their Syrian counterpart, until the Syrian troops withdrawal, and still held a lot of clout on Lebanon's shady security apparatus)

I felt as if someone emptied a bucked of cold water over my head! What? Who? How? I switched the TV on and watched some of the best news bulletins ever. Especially when they announced that Nasser Kandil, one of the staunchest Pro-Syrian ex-MP ever, was among those who will be incarcerated for further questioning. Oh how low has the mighty fallen!

I immediately remembered the post I started writing - a couple of days ago, for my blog- about the eerie atmosphere that permeated Lebanon, for the last month or so. As everyone anxiously awaited Detlev Meliss (the UN investigating team's chief investigator) final report, dreading its conclusion and their effects on our fragile country.

Therefore, here are parts of what I wrote a couple of days ago so you could have a feel of the surprising twist of events that happened overnight:

"Time seems to stand still in Lebanon these days. As if the Lebanese people are holding their collective breath, waiting for the release of final report of the UN probe in Hariri’s assassination.

Lebanon feel deserted, most tourists -who dared in the first place to come to Lebanon in these troubled times- have started packing. Our esteemed politician have migrated en mass to Paris. People are still commuting and going out but their minds seem elsewhere. Most restaurants and shops are open, but work is scare, people go to work and sit all day long staring at walls and dreading the worse.

The tension is palpable. Anxiety on what will happen is running high. So it is no wonder that the rumor mill has run amok. One day Hezbollah was behind the assassination, another it is the Palestinians who are behind it.

Rumors range form the plausible to the nightmarish, and even to the outright ridiculous like the accusation that Meliss – the chief investigator of the UN team- is working, once again, for the Israelis (another addition to the grand conspiracy theory that never seems to abate)

What will the UN report will say no one knows but it sure will send tremor throughout the political and civil fabric of Lebanon. Let us hope that our country will not unravel back into civil war."

What happened today amounted to an explosion. Suddenly everything seems to moving at breakneck speed. All the bottled up anxiety and fears have materialized. We are no longer waiting for events to happen, we are in the middle of them. So brace yourselves and hope for the best.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

IIMCR Symposium as i lived it!

Finally, I got around to writing about the IIMCR one month symposium in Cyprus. It will be a two part piece, in the first part I will talk about my impressions of Cyprus. The second part will be about the symposium proper, the participants and most importantly the many friends I made. Cyprus is an island in the eastern Mediterranean, just 300 km off the coast of Lebanon, it is quite a nice place -for a vacation!- long beaches, quiet towns and a few cities.

I was struck by several strange facts when I arrived on this Island. Foremost among them was the cost of living. Cyprus is unbelievably expensive! It is so expensive that even basic grocery cost a fortune.

Cyprus is crazily expensive – I can’t stress that enough- and for no reasons at all. I could understand why London, Paris or New York are expensive, but why Cyprus? It is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean with some tourist centers, nothing extraordinary or unique. Even more, the whole island suffer from bad plumbing (private IIMCR joke!)

Another issue I had with this island was the weather. Cyprus was very hot and dry especially in Nicosia, the capital which is situated in the middle of the island. Mind you I come from Lebanon and our summers are fairly hot, but in Nicosia it was scorching hot.

At noon and untill five it is suicide to just walk outside. And maybe this is why Cypriots take -every single day in the week- a long siesta between 1 and 4, when all life grinds to a halt, even banks and goverment offices.

Cyprus also suffer from a strange condition, I would tentatively called horizontality. Their urban landscape is so spread, so horizontal. That even in down town Nicosia or Larnaka (their two main cities) there is not a single tall building to speak of, just some five or six story buildings in an area that supposedly should be filled with skyscrapers.

And what makes it even more annoying is the fact that everything is so distant. A walk to the local grocery or even from the dorms to the university is a 10 to 15 minutes trip. It was crazy; you could not get anywhere walking. Cyprus is defiantly a car country.

Strangely enough for all the cars they own, Cypriots drive like maniacs and the country lacks proper sidewalk. You would be very lucky if you could find a small stretch of dirt to walk on away from the road and its very real dangers.

All in all, Cyprus would have been nice for a one week or a ten days vacation. But for a one month academic symposium it was not the place to be!