This article first appeared on the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.lebanon on 30 Aug 1996
SCENIC (AND NOT SO SCENIC) DRIVE THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS EAST OF BEIRUT
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
Last summer (1995), I drove from Beirut to Broummana, but instead of taking the usual congested highway, I took the long, scenic route through nearby valleys and mountains.
From the Beirut-Beit Meri highway at Monte Verdi, I took the road through a pine forest that is being fragmented by construction, down into the valley of Nahr Beirut (Beirut River). Past Monte Verdi was an ugly roadside garbage dump with the stench of burning garbage; near it were a couple of dead pine trees. Beyond the trash was a view of the deep, verdant, pristine valley of Nahr el-Matn (one of the two tributaries of Nahr Beirut). It is like that only thanks to the absence of roads. The road went through the other tributary of Nahr Beirut, Nahr el-Joaamani. This is the road that I used to go through on my way to the YMCA summer camp in Ras el-Metn, and I had memories of it as being remote, green, with spectacular gray and golden cliffs. Now, where the road bottomed out was a gravel quarry that had eaten up a huge chunk of the mountain on the south side of the stream. A few dust-covered pine trees clung to an outcrop that was sure to be swallowed by the crushing machines and excreted into the smelly trucks, to be hauled off to fuel the construction boom defacing Lebanon.
Even sadder is the fact that this quarry has a very questionable background:
Past the quarry, the road crossed the river and climbed up the other side of the mountain, winding through a beautiful forest of stone (umbrella) pine trees up to the village of Zandouqua, which seemed to have survived the war intact. North across the valley was the mountain bearing the heavy load of Broummana and Ba'abdat. Several "rivers" of discarded soil spilled hundreds of meters down drainages, having been hauled from construction sites and dumped there by trucks; a good demonstration of the Lebanese proverb: "May No Grass Grow After My Donkey" (Min Ba'ad Hmari Ma Yinbut Hashish).
The road leveled off and wound its way east through shady forests and small villages like Qssaibe and Knisse (the latter affected by the war and now being repaired) that have managed to retain their small-Lebanese-village atmosphere. Here was the real Lebanon that I remembered from my childhood: an uncrowded two-lane road, pine forests bustling with the rhythmic buzzing songs of cicadas (the very sound of summer in Lebanon), cool clean pine-scented air, small villages with red-roofed houses and grapevine arbors. And, here, it still existed just a few kilometers from Beirut!
Near Arsoun, I took another road through still more forests past an old silk factory towards Arbaniyyeh, where the pine trees were so thick, I could not even see the remains of the old satellite dish facility. The road passed through Arbaniyyeh, another pastoral village filled with pine and fruit trees. The road crossed the Salima River and climbed up towards Ba'abdat. Soon, I saw a land subdivision project sprinkled with new multi-story buildings, and then arrived in the concrete jungle of Ba'abdat itself, signaling and end to the trip back through time and a return to the Lebanon of the 1990s.
It is very ironic that the area just described escaped from being defaced by haphazard development because of the war situation and its accompanying politics; it was on the other side of the front lines, under the control of a different set of forces and in an atmosphere that discouraged development. Now that peace has returned, let's hope that the mistakes of the Broummana-Ba'abdat megalopolis will not be repeated.
ENVIRONMENTAL ATROCITY #9-SAND QUARRY IN JOURET EL-BALLOUT
Ferris M. Anthony recently posted a message calling for help in finding his roots, mentioning that his grandfather was from a town somewhere in Lebanon called Jouret el-Ballout. While I have no family tree information, I thought I would use this opportunity and talk about the village of Jouret el-Ballout. Unfortunately, it is not good news.
Jouret el-Ballout is a village on the north-facing slope of the mountain on top of which sits the larger town of Broummana a few kilometers east of Beirut, at roughly 700 meters.
The village had a sand quarry in or near it that was gouging out the mountain for building material. Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, a major disaster took place. Because of the unstable geology of sandy layers, a huge portion of the mountain above the quarry suddenly slid down, uprooting and destroying a large portion of the stone (umbrella) pine trees for which the area is famous. In addition, some buildings and roads were damaged or destroyed; my memory is vague on the details of the newspaper story. It was fortunate no one was killed.
Needless to say, Lebanese profiteers did not learn from this, and many more quarries for sand and rock have defaced many areas of the country, at great risk to the environment, public and private property, and health.
Broummana and the surrounding areas have experienced explosive growth in the last 15 years, and the many of the same pine trees that attracted people to the area have been chopped down and replaced with huge, ugly apartment buildings and roads clogged with traffic. The area is looking more and more like the Beirut people try to get away from; pretty soon, about the only difference left will be the cooler summer temperature.