Saturday, August 18, 2007

The most beautiful Hell on Earth

Since this is my first post I guess I better start with a brief bio. My name is Clayton, and I am a double major in Economics and Arabic. I am here in the Middle East with the primary aspiration of getting ahead in my Arabic language studies and also to start my honors thesis, the topic of which will be Islamic finance. For now, however, I am in Beirut. While here, I plan on doing a little sightseeing but more importantly meeting with several professors from American University of Beirut to discuss private equity and Islamic finance in the Middle East. For this trip I will be keeping two blogs. In following with the footsteps of those who have posted before me on this blog, my posts here will be more of a critical analysis of certain situations. The other,, will be a day by day (or as close to that as possible, this was written last night due to lack of internet connection and for a while power all together) description of my first experience abroad.

I must start by saying that the first part of my journey had me worried. Never minding some of the conversations I had with individuals on the way over (more details on those on the other site), the first few hours in Beirut almost made me question why I came here in the first place. All started out well, with me not even paying for a visa (it’s amazing how you can slaughter someone’s language and they love you for it) but quickly went downhill from there. After having to track down my luggage due to it being placed on the wrong ramp, apparently I came from Tehran so don’t tell the government, I walk out into airport to find that the taxi I had arranged to pick me up was not there. Mind you, this is the first time that the blond hair blue eyed white kid had ever felt like the minority, and it took awhile for me to collect my senses. Finally I arrange for another taxi to pick me up and take a seat to wait.

Sitting down a young man starts talking to me. I am still cursing myself because I never caught his name, but he lives in one of the upper class neighborhoods of Beirut. His father was a lawyer, and he could not have been older than I. As we start to talk between his chain smoking, he finds out that I am from America. Of course this brings up what America thinks of Lebanon, Hezbollah, and the general political stalemate that this country is facing. When the topic turns to war, he bluntly states “I believe there will be another war soon. Nobody wants it, but nobody can do anything about it.” The tone of that statement was of utter depression. It amazed me that the youth of a country, a country that had pulled through so much in the past nonetheless, could be so disenchanted. What will happen to his generation? He says already that most of his friends have gone abroad. In 20 years, what will be left of this country? The matter particularly hit home when I stepped outside of the airport and the first vehicle that caught my eye was the UN heavy Armored Personnel Carrier complete with .50 machine guns. I wanted to take a picture, the mountains behind it made it look like the APC was being used for a calendar shoot, but it was recommended that I refrain. It’s amazing how this place could be on the brink of collapse, and yet it is still one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

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