Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Ingenius Gentleman of Btedhi

I spent my Saturday in Btedhi in the Bekaa Valley. Simply breathtaking. Or perhaps a better term would be breathgiving, for the air cleanses your lungs and the views cleanse your head after being in the chaos of Beirut for so long. The village is near Baalbek, whose ruins I had previously visited in July 2009. (That's Baalbek in the hazy distance in this photo.)

Some highlights:
  • Clean air.
  • Snow-capped mountains.
  • Olive groves and wine fields.
  • Satellite dishes at gypsy tents.
  • Hawks instead of pigeons.
  • Peace and quiet.
  • Wind turbine juxtaposed with the ancient ruins it sits on.
  • Roman column rising up in the middle of flat farmland that was part of a series serving as a guide to Baalbek.
  • Nearly getting shot by some idiot hunter (the bullet hit two feet in front of me.)
  • View of all of Beirut lit up at night.
  • Going from 35 degrees to over 60 in the span of 30-45 minutes.
  • Good company.

A friend who is working on alternative energy out there graciously let me ride with him into the valley, whose luscious farmland, snow-capped mountains, Roman ruins, steepled churches, Hezbollah flags, gypsy tents, potholed roads, and crazy drivers make a visit seem like an adventure into an impossible land.

There's something about olive trees that fills me with a sense that the past, present, and future are indistinguishable from each other. Very spiritual trees, even when they are tamed in rows. These photos contain plenty of them, including the one above.

The sunshine was nice and the empty roads begged one to wander them. As the afternoon wore on, the wind began to whip its way around the curves and corners with an iciness that reflected the snow on the mountains. Still, for a good part of the day it was warm enough to be outside, so I meandered around the village and sport a bit of sunburn to prove it.

As always, the thoughts that filled my head were various and roaming. There were the usual musings about history, about all of the empires who have controlled this land, with the bias of my Western education providing me with extensive knowledge about what the Romans did here while teaching me next to nothing about the non-Western empires. There was another failed grasp to understand how something so ugly as Hezbollah and sectarianism could exist amidst such beauty. I thought about how Lebanon's greatest writer, Kahlil Gibran, was born just over one mountain but achieved his prestige in New York and how Syria was just over the mountains on the other side of the valley. I marveled at how my sight deceived me in the distance to the mountains and thought how odd I was so warm when up there was much colder, though not enough to keep the snow from melting before my eyes.

I thought of more practical things, too, about how there are no water systems in many of the villages in Lebanon so everyone has to have their own water tank and how foreign governments were trying to help build new systems with the aid of local NGOs but progress was extremely slow, with bureaucratic nonsense and politics mostly at fault. In Btedhi, a sign proudly proclaimed that the Italian government is aiding in the development of an irrigation system.

And then there was the windmill.

It may seem a bit quixotic to be putting up wind turbines and solar panels in a land where corruption is so severe that they can't even make the street lights run at night, let alone provide electricity for 24 hours a day. But change doesn't come when people sit back and do nothing. Kudos to those who are doing something. They're astronauts exploring the vast expanse of Lebanon energy problems. Or, er, cosmonauts.

Other photos, twenty hours after I started to post them. (Thanks, Lebanon internet.)

1 comment:

  1. I got a sense of peace when I read this, thanks for sharing !