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Babe in Beirut

So, no sooner was I over my jetlag from visiting NY and Boston, and off I flew to Beirut, Lebanon. In February we weren’t even sure if the trip would happen as extremists in southern Lebanon were firing missiles on the Gaza strip in Israel. Many feared Israel might retaliate, as it did in 2006. “Why are you going?” my friends and family kept asking me.

This is why: One woman’s vision to better equip the writers of her country through a writers workshop accessible to all, no matter the religious background or financial limitations. Colette Ghassan is a magazine publisher in Beirut and way back in 1993 she started dreaming of a workshop that would unite writers of different backgrounds in her country under the banner of creativity. That phrase “of different backgrounds” means something in a country like Lebanon. Shi’ite, Sunni, Druze, Christian, Armenian–these are the political, cultural and religious threads that make the tapestry of Lebanon so rich–and the backgrounds of my workshop participants. As one man told me in Beirut, the cultural diversity of Lebanon “is our strength and our curse.” Tolerance and respect is on everyone’s agenda. Women pride themselves in Beirut as living in the Paris of the Middle East. I often saw veiled women walking and laughing with girlfriends who wore the latest fashion and showed more decollete than I would see in Amsterdam. It is a city of contrasts, and at night the lights of Beirut sparkle like a diamond necklace along the dark shore of the Mediterranean.

Thanks to John Maust, president of MAI (Media Associates International), Colette’s dream came true two weeks ago. They kindly invited me to co-teach the workshop and I learned as much from the participants as I hope they did from me. Our son Daniel came with me and carried books, thoroughly enjoyed the Lebanese cuisine, and made new friends as we both practiced our Arabic and navigated the troubled waters of Lebanese politics.

I arrived in Beirut a babe in the woods, spent three days co-teaching writing and journalism techniques to students and journalists from radio, television and print publications, and I gave a lecture on child soldiers at the university. Then Daniel and I got to know the country even better, and now I have become one of those countless millions who long to return to Lebanon. Since coming home, I’ve struggled with finding a place for all I experienced in Beirut. So I’m back at the blog. Please check back regularly in the weeks to come, as I hope to rest on the page and share some of the unexpected gifts I received in this unexpected time and place.

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