Entering Bayrūt

Today’s news reports that CIA agents have been arrested for spying in Beirut. Lebanon is on the U.S. State Department’s “do not visit” list. Hm, to go or not to go? The theme of this trip emerges again: just do it.

At the outset of our 1 a.m. flight, like the three musketeers, in unison we start a comedy on our seat TVs. I’m a bit nervous about how officials will receive us at Beirut–Rafic Hariri International Airport. Will they question our intentions or let us roll on into their country?

We are the intruders.

We are greeted by guards who do not like to smile. Dusty – a mechanical engineer who designs guns for a living – immediately points out that they are toting assault rifles. It’s his first non-Caribbean overseas trip, and I’m starting to realize that the Middle East may not be the best destination for a first experience outside the U.S.

Dusty approaches the customs gate. Minutes pass. He looks back at us, concerned. Finally, he is escorted into a small room without windows, and we are instructed to follow. It’s an office occupied by a vertically-challenged official who wants to know why we are in Lebanon and where we are staying. I explain that we are staying with my friend who is a local student, but he wants a specific address. We are able to get a Wi-Fi signal on an iPhone and I find the address on Facebook. Technology comes through in the clutch!

We are allowed to enter Lebanon. Josh – a friend studying Arabic at the American University of Beirut – is waiting patiently outside, despite our multiple-hour delay. He announces that we are obviously in need of libations.

 Flag of Hezbollah in the Dahieh neighborhood
Flag of Hezbollah in the Dahieh neighborhood
Hezbollah’s hood.

En route to find a mid-morning brew, Josh explains that he lives in the not-so-pretty Hezbollah neighborhood, which is designated by yellow flags. Although this militia group is often known for acts of terrorism, in Beirut they are considered to be more like mafia, providing security to local businesses in exchange for payment. With that reassurance, I’m ready for overdue sleep.

Takeaways…
  • Do not take your friend to the Middle East for his first trip overseas – aim for America’s playground, Western Europe
  • Remain calm, regardless of challenges; everything will be okay
  • Prepare yourself with local addresses and contact information
  • Perception of an organization may be different around the world; one culture’s terrorist is another culture’s protection racketeer

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