On Saturday morning (August 3), I woke up at 8:30am or so, showered and took a service (public taxi) to Paul, the French bakery (in Gemmayze, the French neighborhood), and got about a dozen apple tarts, chocolate croissants and other yummy things. The service driver didn’t even charge me for the ride back to Hamra from Gemmayze, so I gave him a pain au chocolat and after that we chatted in my haltingly formal (and limited) Arabic about the political situation in Lebanon.
A little after 10am, I met up with my friends Greg, Matt and Nik, and the four of us hopped in a service to Charles Helou station, where we finally located a bus (for only 3000 lira/$2) to go north to Tripoli. The trip took about two hours (with traffic, because a lot of people who work in Beirut head out of the city on the weekends), during which time we ate all the pastries, chatted in Arabic/made friends with an orthodontist from Biblos, inquired about the present security situation in Tripoli, discussed the recent Al Qaeda threat revelations and raised global travel security warning for Americans (especially in the Middle East), and remarked upon how I was the only woman on the bus.
Anyways, perhaps some photos would do more justice to what we did. Basically we walked around the souqs for awhile, then met up with my teacher, Ustaadha Hiba, who’s from Tripoli, and she showed us the city’s famous soap factory, sweet shop, and Grand Mansouri Mosque. Evidently Tripoli is a Salafist stronghold (there were Al Qaeda banners all throughout the souqs, for instance), so even though the US Embassy put out a travel warning throughout the Middle East yesterday, we felt relatively safe. We also told everyone we were from Canada, because they asked us where we were from in the kind of way that is highly suspicious rather than inquisitively friendly.
Also I was not allowed into the mosque, because I was not veiled, so the boys went in and Hiba took me back into the souqs, where we visited a “hijabier” and she bought me a cute pistache-colored hijab. Unfortunately even after my initial entry, I was only allowed into the courtyard of the mosque – not the actual building – because my (rather loose) pants did not adequately obscure the shape of my legs. (Hiba tried to argue with the men running the mosque, to no avail.) So I sat outside on the cobblestones (while the others explored the interior) reciting Sura al-Fatiha (the first chapter of the Qur’an) in my head, because there were quite a few men alternating between praying and staring at me, and it was calming. Also I guess just because I could think of nothing else appropriate to do.