Saturday, October 20, 2007


Last night we flew from London to Beirut where we're visiting Marie's relatives.

The drive from the airport to my father-in-law's house provided a personal snapshot of Lebanon's troubled history since it passes through the 'village' (suburb) of Mreijeh in west Beirut where my wife lived as a child.

During the 1975-90 civil war west Beirut became the Muslim sector and Christian families like my wife's were almost entirely driven out in fear of their lives. To make sure they didn't come back the houses were usually destroyed. This is what happened to my wife's home which had been moved by my wife's grandfather stone by stone from its original site a few kilometres away when Beirut airport was built in the 1950's. I saw the ruins of the house on my first trip to Beirut in 1993. My father-in-law still owns the land but it's now a petrol station.

So I really hope that there's a special place in hell for people responsible for ethnic cleansing.

My father-in-law was elected mayor of the village in 1967 and remained so by default until 1998 (since the Lebanese were too busy killing each other to hold elections). Interestingly he was re-elected in 1998 by a population which by then was overwhelmingly Shiite! He retired in 2005 only to be replaced by his former deputy who of course is also Christian. Who said Lebanese politics is confusing?

After a quick nap this morning (the flight last night was too short to get much sleep) my wife's youngest sister showed us her new apartment which at the moment is a construction site, but it should be fantastic once it's finished. As you can see from the photos, it's in one of the older neighbourhoods of Beirut.

In the afternoon we visited one of Lebanon's most famous Christian shrines at Harissa (Our Lady of Lebanon). I was surprised to discover a significant number of Muslim visitors. I discovered that they were there because Mary is also venerated in Islam which I didn't know.

The shrine is located at the top of a steep hillside overlooking Jounieh bay north of Beirut. This area became a stronghold of Lebanon’s Christian community during the civil war as they were driven out of mixed communities like the one my wife grew up in.

As this shot shows, the mountains rise quite steeply from the sea which is a key part of Lebanon’s natural beauty.

Beirut like most cities in developing countries is not so nice (lots of traffic, smog and general grime), but the suburbs and villages in the mountains are quite lovely.

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