Nationwide Firewall?

I just witnessed some funny behaviour on my Ogero Internet connection. Any website I hit would return a message saying that access was denied due to “policy” and invites me to contact Ogero for assistance. I called Ogero and they immediately acknowledged the problem and said they were working on fixing it.

Fair enough. But I can’t help but think they’re installing some kind of nationwide firewall filtering what web sites we may or may not visit. There has been much talk about the “Great Firewall of China”. Is Lebanon following in China’s footsteps? Once they sort out their configuration so that the established policy rules don’t block all sites indiscriminately, I wonder what sites will remain censored.

Has anyone else out there faced similar problems with their Internet connection?

Now you see it…

Over the past year I have often gazed at a lone house on the slopes of Achrafieh. It is only a lone house by a matter of a few meters, but the tufts of green undergrowth separate it out from the background of concrete colour blocks of flats which flank it. And while bright laundry decorates the balconies of the flats, this house stands quiet and pensive, the door ajar, the window panes gone. Still, it is a perfect foursquare house just waiting for someone to clear out any winged squatters and smarten it up.

Some weeks ago I noticed some roof tiles had come away, exposing the rafters. I checked it anxiously after a stormy night, but nothing had changed. Then, a few sunny days later, there was a gaping hole in the roof. The hole spread a little down the façade day by day. On Tuesday I noticed some men inside through the glass-less windows. As I watched, some bricks were pushed off the first floor and tumbled down the hill. They must be checking out the damage, I thought, or perhaps trying to make it safe so nothing big falls on the neighbours.

On Wednesday they were there again. I could see them clearly because the holes in the façade were bigger. Only this time I watched for a while. They moved from room to room, hitting at the battered window frames and outer wall. With a pole one worked to dislodge large stones in the wall on the ground floor. With the support weakened he was then able to knock down more of the first floor wall.

By now it looked like so many of the property ruins hit by mortar shells or rockets during the war. Except it wasn’t. Every day since they have been back to accelerate the erosion of the house.

When a beautiful property in my neighbourhood was bulldozed and replaced by a strip of black tarmac (aka a carpark), I asked the neighbours about it. The storekeeper next door assured me it would be replaced by a new building but that the planning permission would take around five years. What about knocking the place down? I wanted to know. Did anyone get permission for that? The storekeeper was shocked. Of course the developer had had to get permission. One couldn’t get away with such a thing in town. Still, I’ve heard of such things happening.

So now I am wondering why these two men turn up every day, haphazardly knocking the support out from under this roof, then disappear, leaving gravity and the elements to make a difference overnight. Bulldozer access might be difficult, not to mention expensive. But even if the plan was to demolish the building by manpower rather than machines, surely they would come with some tools – a sledgehammer for example. Is the owner really just trying to save money? If you can’t fit machinery up the passageway for the demolition, how will they bring in the machinery necessary to build on the land when the rubble is cleared?

Perhaps someone out there knows this place in Mar Mikhael and has an answer.

Rubber Stamp

For many, dealing with authorities in another country, in another language, with a whole new set of rules is more than a little daunting. While the third world may seem to have far fewer rules and regulations, jumping through hoops of red tape can be that much more difficult when the red tape in question is decidedly blurry around the edges, as I found while extracting nationality papers from a personally reticent local mukhtar and when I had a run-in with a cop on the make.

photo: aladyinlondon

This is the fourth Blogsherpa blog carnival in which Lonely Planet’s favourite bloggers relate their rubber stamp tales from around the world. This selection of stories shows how wanderlust triumphs over not only red tape but also beadledom, border disputes and mobs.

What happens when you get stuck in the middle of a Venn diagram where the ellipses are not allowed to overlap? A Lady in London writes about travelling from Jordan to Syria and keeping tabs on her cab driver to preclude an unexpected stop-off in Iraq.   Read the rest of this entry »

The wrong arm of the law

mostly delightful jordanian police

Leaving Petra for Aqaba, we eased onto the almost empty main road south, after the King’s Highway and the Desert Highway merge, and were immediately pulled over by two Jordanian policemen. We reached for our passports and prepared ourselves for another of the frequent, polite checks and chit chat we had been experiencing all around the Dead Sea area and near the Israeli-Palestinian border.

Approaching the passenger window, one of the cops in mirrored sunglasses asked for our car papers. We were handing them over when the second cop began to bang insistently on the driver’s window. We lowered it hastily. “Driving licence”, he spat out. We obliged and he took it into custody. “You could have caused a disaster,” he declared. We were taken aback to say the least. “You didn’t stop before turning. Could have had disaster accident.”

Given the snail’s pace at which we  Read the rest of this entry »

From Beirut to Amman

click for interactive Google Map

We swing along the Damascus Road down through the Beqa’a Valley with Fairuz blasting out of the bus’ speakers: khidni wa zraani bi arrid Libnan (take me and plant me in the land of Lebanon). The speakers fail to render her many high notes which splurge out saturated. In fact the sound is not altogether dissimilar to the coach’s singsong horn, which blurts out frequently as we barrel downhill, overtaking, and crawl uphill, being overtaken.

The lady behind me taps me on the shoulder and hands me a gardenia blossom. Its rich heady scent fills the bus, mingling with the driver’s cigarette smoke and the mint leaves in my rolled labneh sandwich. After a very short night, not even the triple overtaking on blind bends or the subsequent near collisions and  horn-leaning can keep me awake. I’m lulled off to an Arabic cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive”, until we are ushered off the bus for customs formalities.

The trip from Beirut to Amman via Syria involves getting out of the bus for passport stamping  Read the rest of this entry »