Wow, this year went fast. It seems like it was only the other week that we were packing away the Christmas decorations, and now they’re all out again.
Of course it goes without saying that Mitchell’s suitably excited. He wrote his first ever letter to Santa the other day (with mummy’s help), asking for a scooter that we saw at the mall last weekend. I wonder if Santa will get the letter in time? And has Mitchell been a good enough boy this year? We’ll have to wait and see whether there’s a shiny new scooter under the tree in a few weeks’ time…
Meanwhile, Ashrafieh is making the transition to Xmas mode. Sparkly lights are on at night, nativity scenes are being populated, and the outside air’s cooling down. As if those weren’t enough cues, the most obvious one is the traffic – once again our proximity to ABC Mall turns from a blessing to a curse, as half of Beirut migrates there every evening to shop and dine. Makes the night time commute from work take soooooo much longer.
At long last, today’s the day. We’ve had months and months of electioneering by the political parties. We’ve had even more time spent by the Interior Ministry planning Lebanon’s first ever national elections to be held on just one day. The security planning has been meticulous, as has the traffic management.
What a relief that this day has come. Soon it will all be behind us, so that we can get on with the next drama!
Watching the elections has been really interesting as an outsider. The process is amazingly complicated, and would take a whole year of blogs to explain fully (assuming I understand it all, which is not likely). There are so many little quirks to the Lebanese system which you don’t really see anywhere else.
Take the ballot papers for example. Lebanon doesn’t have pre-printed ballot papers. Officially, a voter is supposed to go to the ballot box with a blank sheet of paper on which they write the names of the candidates they’re supporting. In practice, voters are handed little pre-printed ballots by the different parties as they go in, usually with no room to make any changes. According to some of the election monitoring NGOs, these ballots are often printed with a certain colour or font depending upon the family voting – making it easy for a party to work out afterwards if your family voted for them or not (so that they can then either reward or punish you). Here are a few ballots that I picked up today:
So it has been fun to watch the goings on here in Achrafieh, which as the core of Beirut 1 district, is one of the most hotly contested.
This morning I took a wander up to Sassine Square, the heart of Achrafieh. This was clearly one of the identified flashpoints: around the six-road junction there were just as many armoured personnel carriers, together with around 80 special forces soldiers from the Lebanese Armed Forces. Cars cruised past in every direction with huge Lebanese Forces (Geagea), Kataeb (Gemayel) or Free Patriotic Movement (Aoun) flags on display, the drivers honking out the signature tunes for their chosen political party. Basically it felt like I was outside a major football match. Everyone in the area behaved like fervent supporters, energetic but otherwise calm.
All of the posters above are around Sassine Square. All of these groups are part of the March 14 alliance. Before anyone accuses me of being pro-March 14, can I just point out that this part of Achrafieh is predominantly March 14. On the other hand, my own part of Achrafieh, heading towards downtown, is much more pro-Aoun (of the March 8 alliance) – an example being these posters, which are outside the Aounie electorate office next door to my apartment building.
Anyway, here’s a little bit of video I took this morning of the boys in khaki at work. Not very exciting, but some local colour for you.
Update: the Aounie office next door has taken over the adjacent carpark and has a bank of concert speakers set up blaring out motivational Lebanese music. Presumably the FPM supporters will congregate here in the hope that Interior Minister Baroud announces the outcome soon. Could be a long and loud night for us…
This is our newly enclosed balcony. Mitchell’s become such a climber these days that we can’t leave him unattended on the balcony. The easy solution was to get it enclosed.
Some or all of the glass panels can be retracted and we can easily have the whole balcony open to the elements – great if we’re having a bbq or just want to let the weather in. Even though it’s steaming hot now that it’s summer, we only get morning sun on that side of the apartment so fortunately our new fishbowl isn’t an oven. And I’m sure it’s going to be lovely in winter!
Although we’ve been living in our apartment for almost a year now, the building as a whole is still unfinished. The owner of the building is in the process of fitting out a gucci megaflash duplex apartment on the top two floors. The pad will include a horizon pool looking out to the Mediterranean, two separate elevators, and sloping panoramic windows looking out across Achrafieh to the snow-capped Mount Lebanon chain in the distance.
It’s really quite impressive and I like popping up there occasionally (on Sunday when the workers are away) to see how the fit-out is progressing. “Slowly” is the answer.
Last week I jumped in the lift and headed up, spent a while exploring around taking a few pictures. It was only then that I realised there was no button to call the lift back, just some wires sticking out of the wall, and all the fire escape doors were locked. The dude was stuck eleven storeys up. Luckily after a plaintive phone call Sheridan got into the lift at our floor and came to the rescue.
Anyway, when this joint is finally finished I’d love to live there.