Impromptu Trip to Colombia

The past week, I traveled to Colombia to visit my grandparents (both maternal and paternal). My parents had been telling me it was something I should do, and that they would buy my ticket. Mostly, I was hesitating because it meant taking time away from family and friends, with my remaining few weeks in the U.S. But nonetheless, I took the plunge, my dad bought my ticket, and I surprised both my grandparents– two living in Calarcá, Quindio and my grandma in Cartago, Valle Del Cauca.

My uncle picked me up from the airport, and we took a 40-minute bus ride to Armenia. From there, we arrived at grandpa’s doctor appointment, where I would go in and surprise him. I stayed with him for the rest of his appointments until lunch time, then back on a bus to Calarcá, where I would arrive in time for lunch to see my grandma, and some other family members. My other uncle (a local artisan), who was across the street working in his studio, was surprised when he saw me sitting at the dining room table, ready for a delicious Colombian meal.

I am a big fan of surprises and it made me really happy I could go and see everyone, without ANYONE suspecting a thing. The purpose of this short trip was mostly to spend time with my grandparents because they are experiencing different health issues– memory loss, recovering from cancer treatments, and other issues that require patience and attention. So, even if it was the whole evening spent with them watching the Pope arrive in Colombia on television, as long as I was around, that was enough. This actually happened. The Pope arrived in Colombia the day after I came. Everyone was glued to their TV’s. 

Plaza Bolívar in Armenia, Colombia – These murals are all around the city and throughout Calarcá and they are so beautiful!

View from my aunt’s apartment

My grandma is so cute. She never liked the idea of getting used to cell phones or fancy technology besides the television. So, when I asked her for a photo, she got super anxious and nervous. I stood near the mural, smiled for the camera, and she kept asking me what to do. She kept saying she only saw her face. She was not adjusting her eyes because of the reflection in my cell phone from the sun, so she couldn’t actually see me. It was not in selfie mode, it was simply the reflection. I kept trying to tell her to see the image of what she sees in front of her. She did manage to capture a few of me, but soon after, she gave up and handed my phone to a passing family that could take our photo.

Seen next to a Catholic church in Calarcá

Facing the same Catholic church in Calarcá

Lovely muralists really kicking up their game in the small town of Calarcá!

View from outside my grandma’s house

After my time in Calarcá was done, I wished my grandparents goodbye and took a bus to Cartago. Cartago is the small town where my dad was born and raised. My grandma lived in the U.S for over 20 years, and when I was 13, returned back to Colombia. Many of her brothers and sisters live in Cartago, so they keep her in good company. Even though my dad is an only child, he grew up with many aunts and uncles, which means my grandma grew up in a large family. NONE of them knew I was coming, except one of my grandma’s brothers, who picked me up from the bus station.

When I arrived at my grandma’s apartment in Cartago, her brother opened up for me, I snuck in and caught her watching the Pope on television, laying on her bed. I stood outside the doorway of her bedroom, she looked at me in confusion, let out a loud cry/yell, and got up immediately to give me a hug and cry of happiness. She was SOOOO surprised, and even more ecstatic to know that I would be staying for a few days.

She sat on the couch to lay on my lap and talk on the phone haha

Eating grilled Chunchurria (cow intestines). These are grilled and placed over an arepa, a corn-four based patty that can be eaten with butter and salt, and in company with any savory food in Colombia. The juice pictured is called Lulo, a tropical fruit found in northwestern South America. It is citrusy like an orange, and super delicious!

My grandma making Buñuelos, which she hasn’t made for ANYONE in 11 years since she moved to Colombia. She used to make them all the time for me in the U.S, which is why I asked if she still makes them. It is basically a fried dough ball made with cheese, and its flavor consists of what kind of cheese you use. Homemade is better always!

I can’t go anywhere without my cards!

Enjoying fried Mojarra (similar in size to Tilapia) with rice, fried plantains, chicken soup, and salad.

Taking a stroll in the park after a big lunch

tearsssssssss

Alas, my week in Colombia has come to a closing. Both grandparents very satisfied with my visit, but very sad I was only there for such a short amount of time. It was really sad for me to leave and see how my grandparents benefit from family’s company. If I could pause my life for a few years, I would love to stay with them and go back and forth between cities. I would stay to massage their feet, remind them to bring a jacket, go with them to doctor’s visits, and give them hand massages until they fall asleep for their afternoon nap. All of these actually happened.

I really love visiting Colombia. I love seeing all the green and such tropical plants and mountains. I love smelling the food and being in the environment that reminds me of all the memories I have of coming for two months with my mom and brother. My brother and I never had anyone our age to play with, but just walking around, enjoying yummy food, and seeing happy people was enough. Really, if anyone gets the chance to discover a country in South America, take a stop in Colombia. I can’t actually say I know many parts of the country since I always come to see family. I would love to see Peñon de Guatapé, landmark inselberg, or Caño Cristales, a river referred to as the “river of five colors” because of the minerals inside the waters. I do promise myself to discover so many beautiful sites, festivals, and natural wonders that are present in the diverse, tropical paradise that is Colombia. Such a magical place that will never leave my heart.

Thanks for keeping up-to-date!

Peace from Jersey!

Hooooooome!

Hi! I am finally back home, after one year of being away. It feels great to be back, even if only for a little bit. I actually didn’t tell my parents I was heading back, and the reason why didn’t mention on my blog about my specific travel plans as well. They thought I was going to Turkey and then back to Jordan. Which, honestly, was a believable lie since I could have actually done that. But, I love surprises and all the happiness that comes with it. So yeah, surprise!

I love the feeling of being reunited with people after so long, and keeping the friendship/family dynamics exactly the same. As my family works during the day, I spend it at home organizing and throwing out/donating old items I don’t want or need anymore. It’s insane the buildup of things I forget I have…old books, clothes, artist collectable toys, etc. It is fun to see my old self as an outsider. I used to put stickers on every agenda I’ve ever had in school. Each year I had different technique of decorating with the stickers. Either way, it’s beautiful to see this–my thinking, my development, and particularly what aspects of my old self still exist today.

I know my brother is really ugly, but I try to squint so it doesn’t hurt my eyes like it used to. ( JUST KIDDING I LOVE HIM, DESPITE HIS UGLINESS)

Surprising my dad for breakfast!

I’ve never really been one to use filters, but my brother thought it would be funny to try them. We spent an hour singing and recording ourselves in funny voices….I GET IT WHY PEOPLE DO THIS. My mom in the left corner

The bulk of my time while I’m in the U.S will be with my family, but I wanted to take a few days to drive down to see my college friends! So, last week I took my mom’s car and drove 5 hours down to Virginia to see my friends and it was wonderful. I spent time between Washington D.C, Richmond, and Manasses. I am fortunate to have made really great friends over the years, so without much planning of where I would crash, many offered to have me stay with them and generously pampered me with lots of love. I also made it a mission to eat at some delicious restaurants in Richmond, like Foo Dog, The Alamo BBQ, and Pho So 1.

My first stop in my drive down to Virginia was to visit a friend who lives in Jordan, but did a work-cultural exchange in the U.S for the summer. It was so surreal to be hanging out in Chinatown-Washington D.C, when we had met in the middle of the mountains playing mafia in Jordan just a year before. So much happiness that day!

One of my first friends at VCU, my friend Karina! We were attending her little cousin’s sleepover-birthday, not only because we helped decorate it, but we actually wanted to play with the glow sticks…

Eating at the Alamo BBQ restaurant in Richmond with my old roommate Katie.

Going back to Richmond, I visited my university to see all the new changes and buildings. It was so cool to see how they are trying to make student feel more comfortable and at home. Had to take a picture with this new VCU sign, right by the design building

Spontaneously attended the Washington D.C 2017 Bachata Congress. My friend Krizia, bottom, took a picture while I was dancing salsaaaaaaaa

At a boardgames bar in D.C, with a friend Andrew (right), who drove from North Carolina and Rebecca (left) from Richmond, to meet up in D.C for a fun night of Cards Against Humanity. YAYYYY, I won!

At the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. I thought I looked really good until I took this picture and saw I this wig is not the cutest.

At a free and popular spot in D.C for dancing called Bachata Brunch, where they play really good music and great dancers come to have a good time. Pictured sweaty because I was, and it was glorious.

Already halfway through my trip, and I feel like there is not much time. Funny enough, I haven’t made it to New York City since I’ve been back. Anyone who knows me knows I love the city, but I really am trying not to be ghost for my family. I’ll go later with friends and remember it with more saturation in my mind.

So appreciative that despite my absence, my friendships can remain as loving as always. I know not everyone has that so, for this and many other things I am thankful. Hope I can still keep seeing more friends I haven’t seen, but other than that, just need to overload on Colombian food and family loving.

Thanks for checking in and I will keep posting every 2 weeks, as always.
Peace from Jersey!

Leaving Lebanon

Last two weeks in Lebanon were a bit of a blur because it went by so quickly.
FIRST, I moved out of my shared bedroom apartment in Beirut, and tried out couchsurfing with a family 20 minutes away from the university. I found them through the couchsurfing family, read their reviews, and contacted them once I read over their profile. They seemed quite experienced in hosting and open minded in general, so I messaged them and arranged to stay with them after the month of July. While the commute was not 10 minute walk anymore, it was still straight forward and I had no problems in using the buses and transportation in Beirut. In total, it was an hour commute, but since I’m used in to commuting to work in the U.S, I had no problem with this daily switch.

For the Arabic Type Design course, the professors took the time to take us on an excursion to a convent in the mountains, housing Middle East’s first Arabic printing press founded in 1734. What is most interesting about it is the reason it’s in a convent is because the printing press for Arabic was mostly used by missionaries. The small museum inside the convent included the press, the individual letters, block letters used for titles, decorative tools, etc. It was really amazing to see.

Arabic Type Design class on the field trip

The first printing press in the Middle East

hand carved letters made for the Arabic press

Moveable Arabic type, you can see some of the separations in the letters. Really beautiful work, since Arabic does not function like Latin letters, this is well done in accommodating to Arabic script

The last two weeks of class were the most intense because they expected scans, type files, finished letters, and a presentation to showcase what we had accomplished in these 6 weeks. It was a lot, but I am so happy to have taken the time to travel to Lebanon and learn so much in such a small amount of time. I do expect myself to keep working on my letters and to expand all the features and funky characteristics I added. Take a sneak peak!

Couchsurfing means you make new friends

The last day and a half spent in Lebanon was absolutely wonderful. It had been planned for weeks. I found out as soon as I arrived in Lebanon that one of my favorite bands – Mashrou3 Leila – was going to playing in Ehden, 2 hours away from Beirut. As I spoke out my interest to one of my classmates, he told me he often sees them in concert and that he would be willing to drive and go with me to the concert. Of course, I agreed immediately to go and a few weeks later, we went. The ride was 2 hours, closer to 3 or 3.5 with traffic. And it went along with my plan of getting to know a new area of Lebanon. Since my flight was just a few hours after, I brought all my stuff with me, and headed to the airport after the concert. It was a great night with awesome energy, listening to the talented Mashrou3 Leila!

Ehden, Lebanon

Ehden, Lebanon

I contributed to the stage design by picking up plastic at a public event promoting recycling and cleaning up different areas in Lebanon. The clean up I attended took place in Raouche Rocks, and all the plastic bottles collected went straight to the set of Mashrou3 Leila, an Arab-indie band that has been rising to fame over the past few years. It was a great show!

my friend and I

I had a 14 hour layover in Doha. What did I do? I called some friends and chilled in Qatar for the day. My beautiful friend who granted my wish to visit the restaurant “Asiana” one more time to eat some delicious breaded cauliflower in spices with Roti bread and spring rolls….YUMMMMM

This picture was an area I didn’t really explore before. It’s called Qanat Quartier located in The Pearl

Once I arrived in Doha, Qatar for my 14 hour layover, I entered the country with no problem and got to see some friends. We hung out for the day, ate delicious food, I went back to my university where I studied abroad 3 years back, and explored new areas. It was an excellent use of my time and then went back for my flight to the U.S. My parents didn’t know I would be arriving, so I was really excited to surprise them. I hadn’t seen my family or friends in year, so it was about time. I’m really happy to be back.

I feel very satisfied right now, to be close to family and friends again. I feel fulfilled with my discovery of Lebanon and to continue another year in Jordan after my trip. Now, time to enjoy the U.S and the people that come along with it.

Thanks for keeping updated.
Peace from Jersey!

Fish Nibbling at my Feet

This weekend, I traveled to Baakline, one of the many mountainous areas of Lebanon. Finally made it away from the coast, into the middle of the country.

We got on the bus early in the morning, and not quite sure where we were supposed to get off. Finally, after my friends checked Google Maps, we realized we had passed the area we wanted to reach, and we hopped off the bus and took another one to the correct town. I honestly had no idea how I was getting to the river, since there weren’t many resources on hiking in Lebanon online. Many of the trails are reserved for paid guides that can take you on excursions, and I didn’t want to pay $40 for that, so I came with the intentions of exploring with my friends. I expected to follow a rough path of where the paid guides usually take guests. At last, seeing we couldn’t exactly find an entrance into the forest that was shown on google maps, (and also it was a giant valley), we decided to ask a man working at the grocery store where we can find the river. He was kind and drew us a map of how to get to the river. So, with his instructions, and some signs we saw along the way, we walked on a path that led us to the river. It was a road, not big enough for two cars, but isolated where we saw just mountains at one point and signs for the river kilometers away.

<<I’m truly amazed that Beirut’s transportation system is quite easy to handle, considering I can get to many places very easily, and for under $5. Even through the city of Beirut (without using a taxi) for less than $1, this is a system that Jordan has yet to establish. I feel like in Jordan, there are more buses available to lower income areas, university areas, or places populated by refugees. I believe it’s somewhat similar in the USA, where the buses accommodate to places where people need cheap transportation. Areas made up of mostly expats in Jordan are usually higher income, which means no buses because they assume people have cars. This is why I take a taxi everywhere or walk in Jordan.>>

They did not change a single thing about Dexter from Dexter’s laboratory….I guess Cartoon network hasn’t found out haha

When we were about 2 kilometers away from the Baakline River, there was a giant truck slowly driving by on the road, approaching us. It sounded as if it was a manual truck, driving on the wrong gear. The truck driver saw us, stopped, and asked us if we needed a ride. We were tired at that point, and took a leap of trust when we all squeezed into passenger seat. It was extremely dusty, as if he hadn’t had a passenger in ages, but he was nice enough to drive us down in the same direction he was going in, without a problem or complaint. When he dropped us, we thanked him, and went down to the river.

Because the river was clean, and natural, there was plenty of fish swimming inside. If you stood still, you could feel them nibbling you a bit, and then scurrying away. It was pretty amazing, and also extremely cold and refreshing water

feeling like an Herbal Essences commercial


Only two more weeks in Lebanon, and then onto more traveling! Currently, I am couchsurfing with a Lebanese family, so my adventures continue on, even a month into my stay here. I thought it would be a great to integrate myself into one family and learn more about the Lebanese culture by staying with a family. They have two kids, so its also learning how to express myself in Arabic too, since they don’t speak much English. And of course, from here on end, its the most intensive part of the course I am taking. I shall work hard and get as much as I can out of this class.

Cheers to enjoying the last 12 days in the beautiful country of Lebanon!

Peace from the Middle East!

Discovering Tyre

It’s true that I have been traveling every weekend in Lebanon to somewhere new. But, it wasn’t until this week that it occurred to me that I MUST keep doing this EVERY weekend in order to properly see as much of Lebanon as I can with my budget and time here. So, on Friday I managed to organize a group outing with my classmates to Baakline for next weekend, and yesterday I decided to go to Tyre (Sour). I was initially was gonna go alone, but then I decided to invite one of my classmates along since I know he is also new to Lebanon. Yes, I am aggressively planning each weekend here so I don’t waste a weekend. Museums and others things in Beirut I can always do on the side on Sundays or during the week.

Tyre, (or Sour- the name they use in Arabic, pronounced like “soor”, or like “Sur” in Spanish) is a small city in Southern Lebanon, just 40 minutes away from the Israeli border. It’s the birthplace of some mythological figures, such as Europa and Dido (Elissa), and the city is known for its ancient sites recognized by UNESCO. Most of the archaeological sites are from the Roman times. It’s been a trend I visit the cities with ports to the Mediterranean Sea, so once again, I swam in the sea!

It’s like I want to sprain my ankle again….

My classmate from Abu Dhabi

I felt like I was in Tomb Raider at some point, except I can’t climb…

After we left the first historical site, we were trying to walk by the beach to find something to eat, and vaguely looked at a map and kept in a direction that we knew would eventually get us there. What we didn’t realize is that we would end up crossing El-Buss Refugee Camp, which we unknowingly entered and crossed to get to the sea. We eventually realized this because there was a lot of political statements on the walls, the area was quite residential, and we passed by a sign that said “UNRWA”, a relief program established by the United Nations that supports Palestinian refugees, (also present in Jordan, which is why I recognized the sign.)

Leaving the El-Buss Refugee Camp

Small sign on the door says this building was built in the 16th century, called Khan, but the second floor was damaged due to some Israeli aggression in 1982. We were able to go inside and check it out…

Inside the Khan building, we went up the uneven stairs, and walked down a hallway filled with small rooms. In one of the rooms, there was a black and white cat sitting in the corner. I think it was startled a bit. It stared intensely at my friend, yet he called me over to see the cat. I walked up to the opening of the room, and the cat hissed with a highly aggressive look, and sprinted away. It really thought we were going to be attacked!

flirting with ducks on walls

thought it was funny there’s luscious green plants and then there’s underwear right above it

The last thing we did was end the day with a nice swim in the Mediterranean. The water and sun were warm, and there was soft breeze, too. It had been a while since my feet touched soft sand, since the other beaches in Jordan or Lebanon I had been in were mostly rocks and pebbles by the shore. Overall, super happy with all the walking we did, since the small city was enough to discover in one day. There is apparently an even more beautiful beach further along the coast, not too far from where we swam, so now I know for next time.

Thanks for checking in, next week will be my trip to Baakline, Lebanon.
Peace from the Middle East!

Blue Skies and More Castles

My second weekend trip in Lebanon was to Saida, or Sidon. Saida is just 45 minutes south of Beirut, and the third largest city in Lebanon. It is also bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, and has similar sites to see, like those of Byblos, from the last week. We got to see the Sidon Sea Castle, the Old Souk, and the Sidon Soap Museum.

Sidon Sea Castle, built in the 13th century

Also with lots of stairs, but I was careful this time and took my time to climb down

view from the sea castle

Wonderful fish lunch, we chose the fish, and we got the price of 1 for 2 fish! yes! The lunch included 2 grilled fish, Fattoush salad (tomatoes, lemon, cucumbers, fried bread, balsamic, and olive oil), Mutabbal (eggplant, tahini sauce, garlic, lemon, olive oil), and french fries

The café was called “Milk Time”…okay.

This incredible building is a café, right in the Old Souk of Saida, owned by a humble old man. We walked inside to peek at the architecture of the building. The man reading the newspaper struck up conversation with us, asking us where were are from, etc. And again, when he found out we were new and I was from Colombia, he invited us to a refreshing lemon-mint juice. It was really cold, perfect for the hot day, and generously sweetened. The kind man didn’t let us pay, even though we insisted. We thanked him for his generosity and continued on our way…

As I drank my lemon-mint juice…

This Old Souk is really magical. We spent around 4 hours walking around the Souk. **Notice my ankle brace

The Old Souk was filled with local artisans, handmade household items, and fresh food everywhere. There were vendors hand-sewing bed comforters, making shoes in front of you, hand-making and putting together furniture, or people selling carefully made wooden toy boats. This city holds close to its traditions, and the Old Souk is a great example of this, as it is a necessity to the people who live around the area. It contains everything you would need in your home: furnishings, food, clothes, toys, etc. People also live in the souk, as you see from the pictures with windows above all the shops and clothes hanging to dry. We walked in the souk, just discovering, and finding hidden old cathedrals, Turkish baths, and even an old convent.

Another thing Saida is known for is soap. This is a picture from the Sidon Soap Museum, a collection of artifacts from old forms of soap-making, and development of this handcraft. The museum smelled really fresh, of course, and it was super cool. I know it sounds boring, but it was informative and interesting. Next time, I want to find the house where they still make the soap in. One of the producers are a family business, and are located not far from the museum. The guard at the museum told us it was most likely closed, so I think next time I visit, I’ll go searching for it.

Since I’ve been taking the design course, I pay close attention to all of the Arabic writing around me. The mosaic I spotted wasn’t calligraphy per say, but it looked really cool, and I felt the two guys were photogenic, especially the guy with the hat.

Well, that’s it for my weekend exploration in Saida, Lebanon. On to the next one…

Thanks for checking in!
Peace from the Middle East!

Beautiful Byblos (Jbeil) and One Sprained Ankle

My first weekend in Lebanon, I traveled to Byblos (Jbeil) with one of my roommates. Byblos is a Mediterranean city, (just under an hour away from Beirut), that people believe to have been occupied first between 8800 and 7000 BC (super super old.) You can find old castles, citadels, old villages that are beautiful and still retain a lot of their unique characteristics.

Unfortunately, when I was going down the stairs that day in the citadel, I sprained my ankle. I was still able to walk for the rest of the day, but limping and with pain. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything major, so within a week I was already healing. Now, I can walk again long distances without much problem. Just another few days and my foot should be 100% fine again.

Walking inside the Old Souk of Byblos, with beautiful trees and magenta flowers, lurking over the roofs

Byblos Castle, built in the 12th century

Mediterranean Sea, I see you!

Climbing this was kinda scary because behind it was a long way down…..

moments before my sprained ankle…

Mesmerized by so much green in Lebanon… (also realizing how short I am)

Sculpture garden in a small park in the Old Souk

so much greeeeeeen!!!!

So, as that day went on, my ankle kept getting progressively more swollen and sensitive. My roommate and I walked to a small souvenir shop, (because they are a weakness of mine) – I was looking for cool magnets. We went inside, and asked for prices. The man spoke to us in Arabic, asking where we were from, where we live in Lebanon, and so on.
[ I’ve realized in the Arab world, it’s much more interesting to say I am from Colombia, than to say I’m American. This way, they keep speaking to me in Arabic, instead of switching to English. Also, your heritage and where your parents are from is really important here, so it’s not like I’m lying. ]

When I told the man that I was Colombian, he got so excited, he brought us two chairs and invited us to Turkish coffee. Within 2 minutes, the hot coffee was brought out, and we were both overwhelmed with an enormous amount of energy from the small cup he had just served us. We timidly drank the coffee, as we made conversation with the man, half in French and half in Arabic. (My roommate is French.) At the end, I asked him where the beach was because my body was boiling from walking in the sun all day. He directed us, and we headed towards the beach.

When we reached, I was lured by the natural blue hues of the beach. That day was REALLY humid and we were both sweating. I was contemplating whether I should head back to Beirut, or stay and go for a swim (I had packed my bathing suit just incase). My roommate was tired and headed back to Beirut, and I, swollen ankle and all, went in for a swim. Because I didn’t want to hurt my ankle more, I just sat at the edge, where I was still getting splashed, but I didn’t have to put pressure on my swollen ankle afterwards to get out of the water. The water was neither hot nor cold, but refreshing enough where I was happy. I felt comfortable at this beach because there were a lot of families and females, not just men. I enjoyed the beach for around an hour and a half, and then I headed back to give myself enough time to limp back to find the buses back to Beirut.
My ankle was REALLY swollen at this point.

View from the ledge, as we walked from the souvenir shop. I was contemplating whether or not I should stay, since my roommate was leaving, and I didn’t really know how to get back. But the beach was calling my name….so I stayed.

I went to the hospital the night I came back from Byblos because it was hurting a lot. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t fractured. Everyone in my design course has been so helpful with my sprained ankle! One girl lend me a walking cane, so I didn’t have to put so much weight on the foot, and a special brace to keep the ankle from twisting again. My professor also offered to pick me up in the mornings, and my classmate to drop me off after class. But as I mentioned before, it’s been healing well, and now I can walk. So glad to have such nice people in my class, the brace and cane really helped! It really could’ve been worse, so I am thankful in so many ways!

…And I have another update coming, from my trip last weekend to Saida!
Thanks for checking in.
Peace from the Middle East!

Happy One Week in Lebanon to Me!

**WARNING, LOTS OF PICTURES**
Hello I have officially lived in Lebanon for one week.
What can I say about Beirut? It’s absolutely magnificent. It’s a little Miami, a little Colombia, a little Brooklyn, with a hint of East Village. There is a lot to see and to digest, after understanding what happened in the war, and how the city has come along in restoring its neighborhoods. There are many old buildings still standing, empty and abandoned, some are owned by people who want to preserve the buildings, and others are just being destroyed to make room for new ones. It’s an astonishing sight to see a building that looks renovated, next to an old one with plants coming out the windows. In an area like downtown Beirut, which was mostly destroyed by the war, has a fresh new look. However, the old buildings have a sense of character: window details, railings, colors, ceilings, etc. The “hipster” and more urban areas, like Gemmazye, have embraced the old look and turned all these buildings into art studios, creative spaces, restaurants or pubs. Gemmayze is one of the creative districts which houses lots of design galleries, independent movie screenings, and cultivates creativity. Mar Mikhael is similar, but fosters more nightlife with all of their pubs, along with their galleries and creative spaces as well. And of course, there are areas very commercialized and built up, but I pay attention to the more “urban” Beirut, because it appeals more to me.

Area: Raoucheh —-Famous Raouche rocks, these are always part of your basic Beirut postcard. They’re really beautiful, so I don’t blame them

Area: Downtown Beirut, near Beirut Souks

Area: Downtown—- Example #1: Old building not in use, next to the huge mall called Beirut Souks

Area: Gemmayze, street art

Area: Gemmayze, End of Hamra——Mohammad Al Amin Mosque in Beirut, seen walking towards Gemmayze

Example #2: Old building not in use, near Hamra

My Arabic typography class is hosted at the American University in Beirut, which is absolutely stunning [so many trees, clean areas, and lots of cats.] They are planning to make it into a smoke-free campus next year, which I find so interesting and a great initiative. Although, I am sure people will find a way to keep smoking regardless. But anyways, my class was easy to find on the first day. There are only 6 students in the class, including myself, which means there will be a lot of attention for the students from the teachers. I am the only American, and there is only one other student from outside of Lebanon, and he’s from UAE. Our first week we worked on handwriting old traditional Arabic scripts, that date back to when the first Qur’an was written. This script is called Kufic, and it takes a lot of patience, and is really difficult. There is a visiting Iranian calligrapher visiting hosting a week long workshop on how to write the letters, read them, and connect them in their letter forms in the Kufic Arabic script. The class is 6 hours long, with an added 2 hours break for lunch. So far, I’ve learned a lot and everything has been excellent.

There was an event at AUB campus that was alien themed, and they saved the props. Now there is an alien on campus. She was friendly because she let me hold her hand.

 

My attempts at the Kufic scripts. We don’t use a regular pen, it’s done with a bamboo calligraphy pen and ink. It’s difficult, involving changing the angle of your wrist as you write, the amount of ink you use, and being patient with each letter. We are learning all the letters of the Arabic alphabet, and we add on more information everyday (combinations of letters, attaching letters, etc.) We spend 6 hours daily doing this–and this is just the “easy” workshop for the first week. By the end of the course, we will have had to design our own typeface based on this traditional script, which is why we are learning the nuances of this beautiful calligraphy

Vahid Jazayeri, Iranian calligrapher who has researched and studied ancient Arabic scripts, dating back to the text found in old versions of the Qur’an. His research includes understanding the exact science of how to write each letter, the heights, relationships to the other letters, etc. He is a true expert. We are with him for a week understanding and gaining a foundation of the traditional Kufic Arabic script

cats everywhere at AUB, even inside the classrooms they will crawl on the tables and sit on everything

Café Em Nazih, really cute and huge cafe, with lots of trees and hipster vibes

Area: Gemmayze –pubs, restaurants…

These next set of pictures are specifically from the 4 hours I was out, on a hot summer day in Beirut lost for 3 hours. I did not put on sun screen (even though I brought a huge bottle with me), I did not bring enough money to even take a taxi back home, and I did not bring enough water. It’s always fun exploring by myself, but this day I was fried by the end of adventure.

Getting Lost #1: found some street art along the way…

Getting Lost #2: more art!

Getting Lost #3: cool logo and colors

Getting Lost #4: trees, oh my!

Getting Lost #6: I remember watching “Ed, Edd n Eddy” these cartoons as a kid

Getting Lost #7: Spotted these benches, as I walked around Beirut lost for about 3 hours. This is the area by sea called the corniche– I found these benches decorated with different colors

Getting Lost #8: Not sure if you can tell how red my face was, after getting lost, I found my final destination– Raouche rocks! In retrospect, it was only 15 minute walk from my apartment…

On Saturday, my roommate asked me to go with her to explore Byblos, in the Jbeil district of Lebanon. Byblos is an area towards the North of Lebanon, with ancient ruins and a beautiful waterfront. I’m looking forward to take pictures, and making my 6-week stay in Lebanon worthwhile by seeing as much as I can.
Next week, the Arabic course might get more intensive, but I enjoy it, so it’s okay. During lunch breaks, I go back to my apartment and cook lunch. It saves me money, and a healthier option than eating out all the time. In August, I will have a longer commute, so I might try to pack lunch. I’m trying to save as much money as I can, so I can do little weekend trips and not worry about overspending.

Well, that’s it for me. Thanks for checking in!
Peace from the Middle East!

 

Initial Explorations and Thoughts On Beirut

Now I am off on my short-adventure to Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. Lebanon sits right at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, bordering Syria and small part of Israel. The climate is extremely humid here, because of the sea. So, it’s been a bit reminiscent of sticky summers in the USA. But, because there is so much moisture, trees are so vibrantly green. I walk down the streets touching the leaves on the trees because they look too green to be true. Jordan has dry heat and arid soil, which means there is vegetation, but it’s never vibrantly green, even during the spring.

Besides the over-priced taxi ride from the airport, Beirut has been wonderful. I arrived at my apartment, which is the heart of the city, in an area called Hamra. It’s one of the liveliest parts of the city–home to many restaurants, cafés, and shops. Beirut has many different areas, many which are booming in the arts; Mar Mikhael, Gemmayzeh, Achrafieh, and others too. It also has many historical parts of the city and outside the city, which will be worth seeing during my stay in Lebanon. Just by walking around, I’ve already seen some street art, eaten at local “hipster” restaurants, and walked by the ocean front. I think I will enjoy seeing more, especially since I haven’t really touched upon the artsy districts. This is only the beginning…

Apparently really good and cheap food, still need to try.

National Museum of Beirut

lovely alleys filled with cafés, bars, people, art…

I found color, with a little ice cream shop to the left

During morning walk to buy groceries for breakfast

Chilean street artist, found some of his work!

promoting riding bicycles in the city over cars, an attempt on reducing traffic

my famous self timer– as my camera hung on the rails of a fence, with the help of the friction of the strap, it kept still and took my photos

Tomorrow I want to go hiking next to Beirut’s famous rock Raouche, which my roommate said you can do. I’ll go in the day by myself, then another day venture to the same place hiking, but at night, with a companion from the university perhaps (or wherever else I make friends). My classes don’t start until Monday, so I still have one day to walk around, at my leisure. It’ll be fun, I’m excited. So far, only two bad things about Beirut: expensive city & too much traffic. This will be fun on a budget.

Thanks for catching up, wanted to make sure you were all caught up with my change of environment. All is well, I am happy, healthy, and working on a tan.

Peace from the Middle East!

 

Eid Celebrations!

The end of June marked the end of Ramadan, as well as the beginning of the Islamic calendar, known as Eid-Al-Fitr. This is a three day celebration, where everything closes, and people eat more than than they did during the whole month. While some people are thankful to get lunch back, and to be able to drink or eat in public, I think Ramadan was a special time. I think as long as you cook and change your eating hours a bit, you are able to eat with your friends during Iftaar, and it’s fun. Nights won’t be as lively outside of Ramadan, but now I will be looking forward to next Ramadan!

This 3 day holiday I took a trip to Aqaba, in the southern tip of Jordan, to tan and swim in the Red Sea. The weather was hot, and I spent it in good company.

Red Sea waters are far from red…such crystal clear water, with beautiful coral underneath

Just like Americans shoot fireworks for the independence day, during the end of Ramadan there are also fireworks. These were unique for many reasons. 1: They were right by the water, and there was two sets being shown off at the same time. 2. There were being set off as if they were about to finish, and this went on for 2 or more hours. 3. Longest fireworks of my life, the best way possible

I was interested in this way of making coffee: they fill a large pan with sand, and underneath is the burner (gas stove), they place the tin coffee maker within the sand, and the sands help the coffee warm up faster for the client. I hadn’t really seen that before, but I thought it was smart!

festive decorations for Eid!

I won’t be back in Jordan for a few months, so I made sure to see my friends one last time before I won’t see them for a while. We went out for Yemeni food and then to a café to play Mafia (some of my friends had to leave so not everyone’s in the picture).

new outdoor-cute-artsy places in Amman. Not many, but starting the trend is not such a bad thing 🙂

my friends might make a trip to Beirut, coincidentally I will be there too…so I hope to see them there 😀

 

Thanks for catching up with me! My next blog will be about my arrival in Lebanon.

Peace for the Middle in the East!