Sunday 10th

The last day started as all the other days during ourstay at Hostel Beirut – with delicious zataar (a lebanese breakfast pizza) on the terrace.

 

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it shrinking when it turned out our taxi driver, Soul, had a daughter who worked as a teacher in Borås. Soul took us to the souk (the local market) were we found everything we wished for. Dates, figs, spices and sneakers, the Koran and the Bible (and a snake (!) that the sales man ensured us didn’t have any teeth left).

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We drove 18 km Northof busy Beirut and found ourselved in the mountains, surrouned by  lush greenery. Not knowing what to expect we payed 11.000 LPD (8 USD) and entered Jeita Grotto. It turned out to be the longest cave in the Middle East, featured as a finalist in the Global Poll ”New 7 Wonders of Nature”. It was spectacular. Seeing that photography is forbidden in the cave (supposedly the flash spoils the color of the rocks, but it might be to withhold the feeling of awe), you have to see it with your own eyes. It is truly out of this world, whilst inside it as well. Outside the cave, along its path to the exit, a few animals were kept in cages as can be seen below.

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The talk of the town made us join the car-free-day-festival on Mono Street. In Beirut there is little public transport and we were told that the city’s inhabitants spend countless hours trapped in the frequent traffic jams. Having experienced one week of the car chaos and furious honking (seemingly indicating both ”Watch out!” and ”Here I come!”) we very much enjoyed the silence.

Our last evening ended as many before, on the terrace of the hostel chatting with each other, the Hostel veterans and new comers. As the iconic lying moon of the Middle East slowly panned through the sky, one by one we went to bed to have a few hour of sleep until our last cab fare in Beirut would take us to the airport. Our week in Beirut had come to an end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 9th

The first activity of the day was a walking tour, where we hit the National Museum of Beirut, several churches, mosques and the downtown area. The city centre of Beirut is a constant reminder of the country’s troubled past, bullet-ridden apartment buildings mixed with modern business complexes. Our guide shared stories from the civil war, the assassination of key personalities from the Lebanese society in 2006 and the Ottoman rule of Lebanon. Lebanon, and in fact the entire middle east, is an example of how to truly understand a conflict you need to understand the history behind it.

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In the afternoon we had a meeting with Helem; an NGO working on the legal and social rights of LGBT-people in Lebanon. They aim to offer psychological and legal support for those who have been exposed to physical violence and other cases of homophobic or transphobic harassment. When listening to the personal experiences of Helem-members, it becomes clear how gender and sexual orientation can mean severe vulnerability in Lebanon. Helem’s actions aim to target article 534 in the Lebanese law, which criminates any sexual relations “that contradict the laws of nature”. As the law is open for wide interpretation, it can be abused by the police and thereby legitimize the detention and harassment of HBTQ-people. Nevertheless, Helem has played a major part in the development of LGBT-rights in Lebanon during the last decade, for example by organising public demonstrations and highlighting the use of violence by the police.

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Friday 8th

Third day in Beirut began with meeting with the UNHCR. We were welcomed by Lisa (insert name) who gave us an introduction to UNHCRs work in Lebanon. The current operation that the UNHCR is conducting in the country is one of the largest in the world. They struggle to handle the increasing amount of Syrian refugees flowing into the country. The refugee population in Lebanon is now larger than one million people, excluding the Palestinian refugees that have been in the country for generations. During the first years of the crisis Lebanon’s borders stayed relatively open, and refugees were registered and cared for by the UNHCR. However, the approach has more recently changed to a stricter one. Rules and requirements concerning visas and work permits have gotten stricter, and the UNHCR is no longer allowed to register new refugees. As a result, an increasing amount of refugees find themselves out of work, and are forced to take loans to be able to support their families.

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Beirut is one of the most important working areas in the world for UNHCR

Our next meeting was with the Media Association for Peace (MAP). They invited us to a lovely lunch and explained the concept of peace journalism as well as their work in Lebanon. Their goal is using journalism and the power of language to promote peace and understanding rather than focusing on scandals and creating a sense of opposition. They have several projects concerning topics such as media and peace and conflict, environment and human rights. They organise workshops, set in the beautiful Lebanese mountains, where they invite young journalists and students to learn about the concept of peace journalism.

 

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Discussing peacejournalism with Vanessa Bassil, the founder of Media Peace Association.

In the afternoon we were invited to a nice glass of wine at the Swedish embassy in Beirut, which houses the Swedish embassy in Syria, evacuated since 2012. The ambassador gave us a great insight in the Swedish diplomatic presence in both Syria and Lebanon. He was himself in Syria very recently, and describes Damascus as a place of great tensions, but where the impression of normalcy is still upheld on the surface.

 

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At the Swedish Embassy

The evening was spent at the Sursock museum. All museums in Beirut were free for the night, and we enjoyed art, music and free beverages in the warm Lebanese night. The museum has a great collection of Lebanese art as well as other temporary exhibitions.

Thursday 7th

Day two in Beirut!

Since we didn’t have any meetings this morning, we decided to make our self a bit more familiar with the surrounding areas. Just a couple of blocks from where our hostel is located lies the Armenian quarters, a real haven for people who like  to eat and drink  while watching cool people do the same.

Some of us spend a couple of hours at the beach, soaking up some much needed sun after the loong winter in Sweden. The average temperature in Beirut is around 22 degrees in the daytime, this makes us very happy! After a couple of relaxing hours we got in a taxi and went to the first meeting of the day, that being with Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch doesn’t really need an introduction, the watchdog for human rights is famous all over the world for its work. At the Beirut office we met with deputy director Nadim Hourey, who has years of experience of monitoring the situation in the region.  His presentation focused mainly on the difficulties of the region, which he sees in Lebanon as well. Lack of opportunity is something that kept coming back in his talks, as military dictators and militias wrestle for power over Lebanon’s neighboring countries.  Weak state institution makes it impossible for the rule of law to be establish, and therefore makes human rights a low priority on many actors list. Despite this, Mr. Houry believes that there is hope. Military dictators and extremist groups can’t solve the problems that they create, and because of this the rights of all individuals will inevitably rise again he reasons. Also, there is a will among the young generations to change life for the better, and to move away from old secretarian affiliations.

Our next meeting of the day was with the World Bank. The meeting was very rewarding, and we got an insight in the way the banks operates in Lebanon, currently funding a huge dam project in the southern parts of the countries .

After a very hectic day, crammed with insight and knowledge we spent the remains of the afternoon at a beach club, where we once again meet with Mouna. We experienced the Lebanese hospitality, as our host nearly drowned us in an endless supply of cookies and coffee.  The night was spent revisiting the Armenian quarters, where we had dinner and drinks.

Touchdown in Beirut

Greetings from Beirut!

We arrived late tuesday night and was picked up by our friendly hostel and went straight to bed. Our first meeting for the trip was with WILPF, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. We meet the head of the organisation, a very passionate and hardworking woman who’s engaged in the disarmament in the world, today her work is focused on the Syrian refugee crises. She travels to the camp to provide basic needs and empower the women in the camps.

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The travel Committee visiting WILPF

After our very interesting and inspiring meeting we had a lunch break in the close by American University of Beirut and strolled around the peaceful campus area. We also enjoyed lunch on their campus.

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At the American University of Beirut

Our next stop was the famous Mohamed Al-Amin Mosque in the downtown Beirut, a very beautiful architecture.

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Inside the Mohamed Al-Amin Mosque

 

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Committee member Frans and artist Raouf Rifai

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After a well deserved coffee break we went to a vernissage hosted by a famous Lebanese artist called Raouf Rifai. An exhibition about the current issues in the Middle East and the crises in Syria since 2011. We ended up mingling and drinking free wine, feeling very fancy. We ended the night with having a lovely dinner in the Bayrock Café, with a stunning view over the Pigeon Rocks.

Tuesday in Iceland

Last day on Iceland! It was with heavy hearts that we had our last breakfast at our hostel and set out for the final day on our trip. The first stop of the day was at the Swedish Embassy, where we met with Liselotte Wiberg who is is regional expert and who spoke about the Swedish representation on Iceland and the embassy’s daily work. Much of their work focuses on promoting Swedish brands, which are quite popular in Iceland especially in the fashion industry. We also learned that the embassies oftentimes work together abroad, since Sweden and Iceland usually share similar goals when it comes to causes like equality and human rights. Next up was the university of Iceland, where the group had lunch and met with Maximilian Conrad who is a associate professor and other representatives of the university. They told ous more about their research, Iceland’s ambiguous position about the European Union and the university in general. The last stop of the day was at the NGO, Iceland Nature Conversation Association, where we met with Arni Finnsson. The NGO fights for more sustainable growth in Iceland’s delicate climate, and topics that were discussed included the growing tourist industry, recent pre oil drillings in Icelandic waters and long time goals of the INCA. And so the travel committee of the fall semester of 2015 signs of, filled with new perspectives and knowledge about the small Island nation of Iceland. We will be back in January with new application dates for the spring committees trip!12204759_10208007900138124_1759577066_n 12207762_10208007900058122_1126974646_n

Day 4: Monday

Today we got up early to start off the day with a nice Spanish omelette and scones which some of us threw together. The sturdy meal gave us a good start to the day, and soon we were off to our meetings.

The first thing on the schedule was a tour around the Parliament House “Alltinget”. We accidentally started the guiding with a quick detour into the social democrats meeting room, and a sneaky spy into the office of one of the Pirate party’s representatives – but after that we were off! Some of the things we learnt was that the entire square outside of the building had in 2009 been filled with people demonstrating the elimination of state monopoly on the selling of liquor, that there are 63 representatives in parliament, that the seating arrangement among them is chosen at random by picking of notes out of a box, and that an Icelandic politician very seldom raises her/his voice during a sitting.

Once finished at Parliament House we walked across the previously mentioned square, to meet up with Hanna Birna Kristiansdottir. Hanna is head of the committee of foreign affairs, previous minister of interior affairs and former mayor of Reykjavik. She answered all of our questions about gender equality, trust issues among the people, Iceland’s environmental policies, the financial crisis, the view upon joining the EU, and the opinion gaps between generations. We also discussed the ongoing refugee crisis. Although Iceland isn’t directly affected to the same level as many other European countries, due to reasons such as it not being the destination of choice to many, the topic is still a hot one. According to Hanna Birna the overall Icelandic view upon refugee welcoming is that it should be just that – welcoming.

After this it was time for an energy fill up and some quick sight seeing from the clock tower of the Lutheran church in the centre of town. Filled up with both food and a good birds view of the city, we headed off towards the next to-do.

This time around it was the department of foreign affairs that we were heading towards. Once there, and once, twice, thrice trying to read the Icelandic name of the department. We entered to meet Urdur Gunnarsdottir, head of PR. Urdur both told us more about the points discussed with Hanna Birna Kristiansdottir a couple of hours earlier as well as helped us broaden our understanding of the Icelandic foreign affairs specifically. One aspect of it she likened to branding. Springing from a discussion of what modern diplomatic relations are really like, she said that modern diplomacy is not just communication in between governments, but rather also between a government and all who will listen – including facebook users, Instagram addicts, and Twitter actives. Further she also shared with us knowings such as that almost half of the departments budget goes towards development work, that the Icelandic heart beats an extra beat for other smaller states, and that they have a standing trade agreement with China.

On our way out we again tried to read the Icelandic name of the department, and then filled the rest of the day with shopping, window shopping, fika-ing, munching on home made pizza and game playing.

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The group outside of the Department for Foreign Affairs together with Urdur Gunnarsdottir
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Meeting with Hanna Birna Kristiansdottir in the committée of Foreign Affairs
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Reykjavik from above!

Sunday in Iceland

Yesterday we decided to take a guided tour, known as the Golden Circle Tour. We toured several of Islands must-sees, such as the Geyser fields, Gullfoss waterfall (“Golden Falls”) and Thingvellir National Park. We also had the privilege of seeing some of Icelands not-so-much-sees, in our case a family company specialized in tomatoes.

After a bit of an anticlimax at the tomato greenhouse, we headed to the Geyser fields. Apart form the distinct smell of rotten eggs (which has been more or less constantly present during our trip), it was a fantastic experience. Well worth the visit!

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After a quick lunch, we headed off again, this time to Gullfoss, a famous waterfall. According to the legend (and our tour guide), a man desperate not to lose his property threw everything he owned into the waterfall, praying that the spirit of the land would keep it safe. As the story goes, his treasures turned the waterfall golden.

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Just in time for the rain to start, we arrived at Thingvellir National Park, which was the location of the first Icelandic parliamentary session in 930, known as the Althing. The park has been made a world heritage site by Unesco, and is situated between two continental blocks (the american and the eurasian). The continental blocks are constantly moving away from each other, at a rate of about 5 mm a year. And apparently, most of the famous Swedish film “Bröderna Lejonhjärta” was also filmed there!

Saturday in Iceland

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Today the adventure really started! Four of us went horse back riding on Icelandic horses while experiencing the breathtaking volcanic landscape. The rest of us jumped in the cars again for a road trip along the southern coast of Iceland.

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After a few hours driving with amazing view of the Icelandic landscape we arrived at Reynisfjara, a black lava beach with interesting rock formations. Due to the sunshine and clear blue sky the experience was unforgettable. After some local turnip soup we headed off to the famous waterfall Skógafoss.

We got home quite late from our road trip. Shortly after arriving home we refreshed ourselves and headed down town for some Icelandic Halloween celebrations together with Gulli Ástvaldsson, the president of the Nordic youth organization Iceland (FNUF). The nightlife Reykavik was not disappointing, we had a great night!

First days in Iceland

Hi everybody!

These two first days in Iceland has been eventful, to say the least. We arrived late on thursday, and only had time for a classic Icelandic dinner (containing fermented shark and sheep brain) before geting to bed.

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Today (friday) we had a nice breakfast at our hostel, before leaving for Keflavik, a small town south of Reykjavik.

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The small fishing town was quite but beautiful, and we spent the early afternoon there before we went to The blue lagoon, Icelands most famous hot springs.

So far Iceland is a fantastic experience, quite spectacular and nothing like we ever seen before. Will update you more tomorrow, all the best from Reykjavik!