A Travellerspoint blog

Success

sunny 20 °C

I have a 'lost passport report'!

Actually, thats not strictly true. I don't have it in my possession, its on its way to Beirut for another stamp. I get to go back to the police station to pick it up on Monday. I should note that it took a couple of false starts to get this far. The police station in Tyr closes at funny times, so on the first visit no-one was home, on the second we got as far as the office and found out they had to send to Saida for something, which would take three hours, so to come back tomorrow. So this morning, on my own (leaving the lads with the lovely Argentinian next door) I took myself, and my receipt (you remember the receipt) back to the police station.

My report was duly written. In Arabic. In triplicate. By hand. It has more stamps on it, which (I've found out) are payment for the copies. I now understand the true meaning of 'stamp-duty'. During the process they asked me a couple of questions. One of them was who my parents were and how to spell their names (Mum, Dad, you're now part of the Lebanese 'due process'). Not sure why. I think the whole 'family is important' philosophy I talked about before has something to do with it… that, or they'll be stopped at immigration when they come to visit and be given a stern talking to about raising such an irresponsible child.

On Monday, I'll be sending the report to the Embassy for translating. Eventually, this report will work its way home and we'll get new passports. Eventually.

God knows what the tourists who are only here for a few days do if they lose their passports. Cancel the rest of their travel plans would be my guess.

I called this post success. As I write this, #1 son is practicing his leopard crawling, which is pretty freaking cool to watch just quietly. He still hasn't quite managed to coordinate arms and legs with pushing off the ground, but it's not far away, and I think that kind of success warrants a celebration. Pity the wine here is so uninspiring (I have been told there is a good vintner here but I have yet to find the wine). Unfortunately, he has also mastered 'the piercing squeal'. Slightly less awesome, but luckily reserved for letting me know he's hungry. Speaking of which... the mother of twins work is never done...

Posted by karicketts 06:53 Archived in Lebanon Comments (2)

Bureaucracy

sunny 22 °C

Yesterday, we went went on a little adventure through the dark recesses of Lebanon's immigration service.

When you lose you passport at home, you report it lost to the police, you cite the report number on the application form you collect from the postshop down the road, you send off your money and seven days later your new passport arrives at your front door with the smiley courier guy. Here… not so much.

The story begins a week ago when we went to the police station here in Tyr to report the loss at the airport in Beirut (yes. I had been in the country less than half an hour and I lost three passports. Not impressive. I was doing a fairly good zombie impression at the time, but that isn't really an excuse). Anyway, the police/immigration service in Tyr - conveniently situated at the local prison - sent us to Saida. 50km away. To get paperwork for the station here to give us more paperwork. Then you get your report number. Right.

I should note that we got a Lebanese friend to translate everything for us at the prison. Faidal, unfortunately, works every day but Sunday (which just happens to be the day the police station is closed in Saida), so he suggested we hire a Taxi and get a driver that spoke English who could help us for the day. Finding one of those was a mission in itself, but we engaged the services of Hussain, the cousin of Ali, one of the translators for the UN.

I had the worst case of gastro I've ever had over the previous two days. So, imagine the scene. I'm not feeling all that great, we're holding two small bundles of snot (decided taking them was a better idea than leaving them with a sitter we didn't really know when they were sick), we're at the mercy of a guy we don't know who tells us it will cost US$50 for the day. We have no idea where we're going, no idea what we need to do there and in all honesty it could really have been the set up for a great monty python sketch at this point.

At Saida, we become the parade of lost children following our pied piper Hussain. Trailing babies, we follow him through information (which is a small, out of the way room not at all obviously where you would ask for information), up stairs through a filthy building more suited as the set for a russian cold war era spy film, complete with the soldiers standing smoking under the 'no smoking' sign (I wanted SO bad to take a photo of that, but figured we were in enough trouble already) to the tiny immigration office, which is manned by four men in LAF (Lebanese Armed Forces) uniforms who peer at us over their large wooden desks and tell us we're in the wrong place, and we need to get scans of the front page of the lost passports before we come back. At least, I think thats what we were told. Thank god I've bought the scans on a memory stick, but they don't use computers in the police station, so we are back down the stairs, past the smoking soldiers to the car to find a copy place and another place whose function I'm still not sure exactly of. Hussain says 'Court', I think he means 'Municipal Building/Registry Office'. Whatever the case, it requires a full body search and the surrender of our phones before we are allowed in.

Here, we first descend to the bowels of the building and consult the Oracle. I'm actually pretty sure that's his official title. 1 x very friendly old dude in a small fluorescent lit room with a really loud and efficient German-made Arabic electric typewriter who listens to our story, as told by Hussain, types it up in triplicate in Arabic, affixes it with many stamps (the kind that look like postage stamps) and sends us on our way upstairs to sit in a queue.

Here, I'm certain Hussain somehow jumps the queue and finds a woman behind another large wooden desk (again, without a computer) who first asks if we speak French before making him translate that she doen't like us because we are UN - this whilst showing us the screen saver on her iphone is the VP of Hezbollah - but that she will help us anyway because she likes our children (score on bringing the cute sick kids). After some discussion with Hussain and another member of staff, we follow her into her boss's office, which is also full of soldiers. I'm pretty sure we interrupt some kind of conference, but he nods at us (god like) and we leave.

Back at her desk, forms are signed. Stamps are thumped. I sign the stamps. We follow her to another desk where we are entered into a big black ledger by a large man surrounded by people who all seem to be talking at once. More stamps. We leave. I am confused by what has happened and, on asking Hussain about it am just told that we were really lucky we were foreign. Apparently that process takes the locals anything up to two days. Still confused.

We return to the Saida police station immigration office with the wad of stamps. There is a big discussion over whether the report should be in my name rather than my Husbands, but it is concluded that as I had been the one to lose the passport it was acceptable that the report be in my name. Sigh of relief. More waiting. We are directed into someone's office to sit on the only spare chairs on this floor while Hussain has a conversation with the soldiers about us. Not sure what happens next as having slightly weird conversation with owner of office about his kids and how to say LAF rank in French (turns out he was a Lieutenant). A soldier appears and hands me a receipt. It is about the size and appearance of one of those hand written receipts that you get in the receipt books used by small businesses, only its in Arabic and has a stamp on it. Hussain tells me not to lose it. I'm to take it to the immigration in Tyr on Wednesday and they'll ask me some questions.

IMG_5227.jpg

WTF.

ALLLLLL of that, my longest post yet, and you guys still don't have your happy ending. Sorry about that. If its any consolation, I'm still a bit confused too.

Let you know how it goes on Wednesday.

p.s. Hussain is a prince among men and we gave him $100. He earned every penny. And my eternal gratitude.

Posted by karicketts 12:09 Archived in Lebanon Comments (2)

History

semi-overcast 18 °C

I spent the night before last awake. Sporadically covered in baby vomit. I don't get paid enough for this. Oh. Wait.

Having H away for days at a time up on the outpost is usually fine. Not easy, but do-able - I find we get ourselves into a little routine (and get have to get ourselves un-into-it when he's back). That night, however, I would really have appreciated the extra set of hands. When one twin is properly sick it turns out the other wakes up in sympathy at around 4am. To top it off, Ben gave me whatever he had, and I've spent the last 24 hours feeling seriously unwell. The only nice thing about being sick is that H is home again and doing a fabulous job of looking after the kids and letting me sleep. He even made me burnt toast, which considering we're on a crazy 'lose the baby weight and don't eat bread' diet involved having to ask the neighbors for the bread, I thought was pretty cool.

Because my children and I have been sick, the limit of exploring our new home has been reduced somewhat. I did, for the first time, strap the double baby carrier on and take the lads for a short walk around the immediate streets though. Here, unlike at home, the lowest floor of every residential building is shop front. Tiny shop windows that, like the tardis, are often a whole lot bigger inside than you would expect. Sometimes two stories worth of bigger. Carrying the lads, rather than pushing them in the extra-wide stroller is almost a requirement for this kind of exploring. The side streets are too narrow and there often isn't a place to leave the stroller outside because of the cars on the footpath. Gotta say though, the uneven nature of the roads does make for a good arm workout with the stroller, even along the boardwalk, which is wide and newly paved.

I find it interesting the kind of shops there are too. Nothing seems logical. There are quite a few baby stores and linen stores down our end of town, but this seems happy accident rather than grand design, and they are interspersed with more mobile phone stores than seems feasible, a small bottle store, a couple of 'four square' type grocery stores, clothing shops, shoe stores, electrical and electronic outlets, and a couple of veggie stalls on wheels that roam about selling fresh produce and water. There is also a tiny place that appeared to be selling archeological finds - but it was closed so I didn't have the chance to check my suspicion that they are actually real.

Tyre is the kind of place that has been constantly occupied for at least 2000 years. This means that there is an amazing level of 'WTF' kind of archeological surprise around many street corners. It turns out that the 'locals entrance' to Tyre's hippodrome is about a two minute walk from our place, and walking along the roman road to the triumphal arch is mind-blowing. Especially because Tyre takes absolutely no care of its ruins, and not only is it covered in rubbish and weeds, half of it has also clearly been used as building materials in the surrounding high-rises - which, by the way, are never finished due to some crazy law here that appears to tax only the buildings that are complete. I'm not kidding when I say that it is quite common here to see the bottom floor occupied and the top floor still unclad. Hayden reckons they are just doing it bit by bit as they have the money and as the family grows, which does make sense when you have no money, but also makes for some fairly unsightly town planning. Even the school out our apartment window still has the reinforcing rods sticking out the top of it, rusting. It does make you have a bit of a think about the building code, if, indeed, one even exists.

Posted by karicketts 02:30 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

Bare bums and politics

overcast 18 °C

I'm thinking a lot about politics at the moment. Probably post-baby brain trying to kick back into gear, but also a little, I think, to do with the fact that you can't be HERE and not question what its all about. Being alone with two infants most of the time also provides ample opportunity to be stuck inside surfing the interweb, which, if you're like me can lead you down some freaky but usually quite fascinating rabbit-holes.

But I digress. I think what I want to reflect on is that what we see on our T.V back home really isn't reality. Not in my experience anyway. Not in Afghanistan. Not in America. And (so far, at least) not here. I like to call it the rise of irresponsible reporting, and its something thats becoming more and more noticeable. To me, anyway. I believe its a self fulfilling prophesy. When only bad news and sensationalism is beamed into every home each night on the news, society, and certainly the average joe who hasn't the means to explore or question further believes every shocking image. Its like a whole new opiate for the masses, and it seems to me the politicians are far too keen to jump on the band wagon.

In New Zealand, I would love to see the leader of the opposition come up with a couple of positive, new policies. Instead, I am bombarded with mud-slinging and finger pointing at how badly the other party is doing things. I support National (usually), but I think this is true regardless of who is in power. Why are my hard earned taxes paying the salaries of people who seem to do very little but squabble over who did what wrong?

The sad fact is that good news doesn't sell. Why is this? And when did it become acceptable for the news to make money?

As an aside. Islamic banking runs under the premise that its illegal for the banks to make a profit. Why doesn't the rest of the world subscribe to this? Perhaps America wouldn't be in such a hole if they had.

For those of you that haven't been spammed with Kony propaganda yet, check it out. I believe this campaign raises a number of interesting issues, starting with what right have other (usually richer) nations meddling in the affairs of others? Take it with a grain of salt, what ever you do. The video pulls at all the right emotions. But is it right?

A wise woman I know from University days posted this on her facebook page and it sums up what I want to say without writing a book.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8moePxHpvok

I spent a whole year with the Governor General as his Aide de Camp and we didn't attend one bad news story. A whole year. At least two engagements every day and it was all good news. Ordinary people achieving ordinary, and sometimes extraordinary things. It refreshed my faith in humanity, and I wish that everyone could experience it.

As to the title, despite the obvious correlation between politicians and arses, my real inspiration was watching my son roll around on the floor sans nappy (he has nappy rash, I'm giving his skin some air) and wondering if the world he's growing up in is really all that bad. I think probably not. Despite what the media will have you believe.

Posted by karicketts 23:15 Archived in Lebanon Comments (1)

Honey, we're rich.

semi-overcast

I have a housemaid. She is Palestinian. Her name is Miesa, and I pay her the equivalent of $35 NZD to spend a day at my house once a week. My house is spotless when she has been. Literally spotless. The tiles on the floor look like they have been polished. They haven't, by the way. Miesa gets down on her hands and knees and cleans it all with a cloth, then re-does it with a squeegee. We don't even have a vacuum cleaner because she doesn't use one. The woman works miracles and I pay her a measly $35. I feel like I'm cheating her, but apparently that's actually quite good money.

We are rich here. I'm not talking ridiculously 'own a super-yacht' rich, just very well off. Its such an odd feeling to be living on one income and be able to have this, and its sad that reality isn't this rosy! God bless the UN and their excessive allowances (but to be honest, even without all that we'd still be well off).

My children are noticed everywhere here. In the street, random men smile and click their tongues at them, and strange women bend down to kiss them in the stroller. Juliet (the lovely Argentinian across the hall) and I took our sons for a walk along the waterfront yesterday. Her son is 10 months, and the combination of my lads and Augustino was just about too much for the lady that bought us our lunch. She sat down with us and had Harry on her lap almost immediately. The rest of her customers got ignored. Lebanese think nothing of picking up strangers' children it seems. I'm told this is normal, and not to freak out if they disappear with them, they are just showing them off and they'll come back eventually… its not just women either. At home you'd call the cops.

I actually quite like it. We had coffee with the other UN wives this morning and it hit home to me how the children here are raised by their community. The toddlers were busying about talking to all the customers and smiling continuously at strangers. No fear apparent in their behavior. I'm glad my boys will be exposed to this for the early part of their lives. It seems like such a nice way to be.

We don't lock our car here. I leave my expensive twin stroller on the ground floor of our building (it doesn't fit in the elevator and its a bugger to drag up the stairs fully loaded) and the only people that touch it are the maintenance men who move it to clean the floor. Hayden tells me no-one steals anything here. They just don't. Maybe its a fear of god... whatever the reason the extreme poverty of some of these people would make theft excusable. It makes me wonder what we are doing wrong at home.

Already, I have the impression that the Lebanese mafia have their eye on me. I don't mean that in a bad way, and when I say mafia I mean that Tyre is quite small and no-one seems to miss much. I guess the twins are fairly recognisable, which helps people know who we are. We've only been out a couple of times walking, but the locals already smile at us. Its just a feeling, but it comforts me to know there are people who know who we are and are looking out for us.

Posted by karicketts 06:11 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

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