Through heat and sweat and humid smoggy air, I marched my way out the back door and eastward toward an ice cream shop on the other side of town.
Mission: to meet with a friend-of-a-friend and again bring Twitter to life.
This is how I found myself crossing Beirut solo, leaving Ted to rest at home in the shade and breeze of a balcony-boasting apartment.
I can picture my silly self now. Sweating through a cotton t-shirt in attempts to defy my travel-wardrobe’s limitations (surely stripes would be more fun to wear than the same old tank top I’ve been living in for weeks). Walking through the midday sun. Flagging down a service (a local taxi). Walking again. Tripping a time or two on busted concrete. Squinting at the pocket map, reorienting the page to the streets, to the sun, looking for signs in a city of landmarks.
Thanks (and no thanks?) to a few genuine folk who pointed me in right (and wrong) directions, I eventually found my destination: a featureless storefront with a Pepsi sign hanging above the door.
Only twenty minute late, humbled in my map-reading and cardinal-direction-sensing abilities, I caught myself standing on a banged-up sidewalk in front of dusty picture windows wondering, What is this journey all about?
I crossed the threshold into the sparsely furnished shop, stood awkwardly between the few deep freezers and handful of plastic chairs, caught a friendly looking eye, and exchanged smiles with an online name now before me in flesh and blood.
A scoop of citron sorbet: cool, crystallized, lemony yellow to break the ice between two blind-date travelers and parch my throat from the city-desert-crossing.
After ice cream, we broke bread at another little shop…the same but different from the Hamra location Ted and I have visited half a dozen times since arriving two weeks ago.
Making my way back to home base after a few air conditioned hours of conversation and story swapping, I thought about the purpose of this journey.
This Journey: people, food, words, patterns of life, perspectives through others’ eyes…
Elemental. Symbolic. And concretely real.
These travels humble me.
I find myself stepping into foreign parts of my own heart, learning from questions and questioning challenges.
These travels call me to appreciate the flavors of anguish and success at scales large and small: from here to the moon, from home to the back yard, and along the stretch of city streets between two neighborhoods.
From Ain el Mreisseh to Achrafieh: the day’s journey not so very far in footfalls and distance, but a greater leap forward on the invisible road, the real mission: bringing travel to life, meeting self and others, and trusting in directed steps.
Ain el Mreisseh (Arabic: ;عين المريسة; also spelled Ain El Mreisse and apparently a number of other ways): our home-base; a downtown district in West Beirut near Hamra, the American University of Beirut, and the Corniche waterfront. (Thank you, hodgepodge of sources.)
Achrafieh (Arabic: الأشرفية; also spelled Ashrafieh): one of the oldest Christian(mostly Greek Orthodox) districts of East Beirut, Lebanon. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
Just in case you find yourself in Beirut, looking for a reason to traipse the streets of the city in hot pursuit of a frozen treat:
Hanna Mitri – Ice Cream in Beirut since 1949
Mar Mitr Street, Achrafieh
(“Around the corner and downhill from the ABC Mall”)
Weekend update: We’ve been sticking close to our temporary Beirut home. Quick and quiet jaunts around the city. A weekend adventure wine tasting and laughing our way around the Bekaa Valley with friends Jimmy, Madeleine, Samantha, and Lindsay. We’re thankful for the rest, and a little disbelieving that our travel itinerary says something about sitting in a metal tube for a stretch of hours and arriving at the far southern tip of Africa by this time next week…
Thanks for following our journey… It’s reassuring to have you along in our digital suitcase!