Travel

Living in Lebanon – First 3 Months

The first three months – oh the highs and the lows.

I thought that I would write a post about my first three months living abroad in Lebanon. For those of you who don’t know about why I am here, please see this post, “We’re Moving to Lebanon.”

Recently Facebook created a custom post for me where they highlighted a group of pictures from this past spring (similar to the one above). The pictures included my mom and I during her visit to Pittsburgh, Zach and I when we first saw each other at the airport after 5 long weeks apart, me walking home from the flower market with a batch of flowers for my balcony here in Lebanon, Zach and I at a beach in Cyprus, and Zach and I posing on the Corniche in Beirut. The pictures are great and I remember being really happy in each of them but when I saw the post I got really emotional (sad, homesick, missing my family, etc). Those pictures just reminded me of home and of the monumental life change that Zach and I made with this move and our new jobs and the fact that I won’t come home (except for a visit), but actually to a home that I call my own, until April of 2019.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am happy with this decision. There are many things that I love about my life here. Like all the fresh produce,  the view of the sea, track workouts with Zach, the team of MCC workers that I have the pleasure of being a part of, ALL of the people at the health clinic and offices that I work with, Lebanese meze, the mountains and hiking in them, and the fact that Zach is happier with his job than any job he has ever had and he feels truly fulfilled in the work that he does. This is a lot to love and I try to constantly remind myself of how blessed I am to be here, but I still have moments, like the FB one, when I just can’t keep it together.

So please allow me to be completely honest with where I am in my cultural transition: I really miss home, my culture, my language, the efficiency of America, being able to spend money without recording every penny (or lira in my case), being able to spend money on clothing and non-essentials without feeling like I am draining my savings, my friends and family (my sister is pregnant and I won’t see the baby in person until he is well over a year old plus my mom has a big birthday coming up), my routine (this is a BIG one), my profession, good AC, and in general my old life.

I have been told by Zach that this is just a normal part of making a new life in a country that is not your own (he went through a rough transition as well, but struggled with different things), and I know that I am not the only ex-pat that has gone through the same emotions. But for real – what is happening to me? I am an efficient, motivated, optimistic person that MAKES THINGS HAPPEN. But lately, I have really been struggling with my purpose and my motivation and I just feel like a failure. The question of the month for me is, “God, why am I here?”

Along with the additional questions that I ask myself all day long…

What exactly are my job responsibilities? How can I learn Arabic faster? How can I connect with the local group of dietitians? Is there a cost-effective gym that I can go to? (nope) What is the cost to attend a fitness class? (too much) What can I do to make my grocery bill smaller? Will I get to use my training as a dietitian at some point? Why can’t I access Target’s website? Why do taxis honk at you so much? How do you convert grams into cups? (as I try to make homemade bread). What does that acronym mean? (referring to the hundreds of acronyms that NGO’s and expats use and just assume that you know). Am I being helpful at work or do people just spend all their time interpreting for me? And on and on…..

These questions overwhelm me to the point where I find myself extremely emotionally fragile and volatile (example: FB post tears). Thank God for Zach:/

I hope this phase of transition won’t last too much longer and I am sorry to burden you with my troubles. I imagine that everyone at some point in their life goes through a time when they don’t know what the heck they are doing. If this is you right now – I feel ya. Stay strong, don’t be afraid to cry sad and angry tears. Try to slow yourself down and realize that you don’t need to be productive to bring joy to others and yourself. Give yourself time and grace to figure out your life and what God has planned for you. All these things I say to not only you, but myself as well.

~The Optimist

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Travel

My Experience with Meze

I am going to be honest, I have no idea what meze (meza?, mezze?) translates to. Since living abroad, I have had two different mezze experiences. I have had Lebanese meze and Cypriot meze. While mezze is slightly different in the community it is served in, the basic idea is that at the end of eating a mezze meal, you have consumed 10-15 small portions of the most traditional dishes that the country has to offer and you are stuffed and satisfied. It is an experience that you must have during your life – you will not regret it.

A note about my food pictures, they are not great, I apologize. The lighting in restaurants is never optimal, I hate being THAT FOREIGNER who is snapping pictures instead of enjoying the atmosphere and culture, and I am really interested in getting the food into my mouth as soon as possible. Never-the-less, I hope you enjoy.

Lebanese meze: I have had this style of meze a few different times and each meal has been different. All Lebanese meze menu items are small plates to be shared. Each restaurant does their own version of a meze menu but some of the common items you will see on all Lebanese meze include: Tabbouleh, Fattoush, Halloumi, Sausages, Hummus and Pita bread, Kibbe, French Fries, raw meats, and more. For a group of 4 or 5 we typically order 7-8 plates and that satisfies us. After living here for a few months I enjoy all parts of Lebanese meze, except the raw meats – haven’t tried those and I don’t think I ever will.

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Every restaurant has their own version of table snacks. Nuts and carrots were this one’s specialty. The pita bread is for the meal to come, to use to dip and grab food.

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Fattoush salad – my favorite. It has mint, radish, an olive oil dressing and crunchy thin croutons for the top. My favorite is when a restaurant adds pomegranate seeds and juice into the dressing

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What would a meze be without hummus?

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I don’t know why I don’t have my own picture of Grilled Halloumi – it is one of our favorites.

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Sausage – some places serve it in sausage form, this one did a scramble

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Kibbeh – Again, where my pic of this went, I do not know

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Kebob – chicken and lamb. Expertly seasoned!

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Although you can’t see it, the view from our restaurant was lovely, beside a babbling creekSmile

Cypriot meze: On our second to last night in the lovely village of Agia Anna during our visit to Cyprus, Zach and I went to a small village tavern for our Cypriot meze. When I asked the waiter what was included in the meal, he literally said, “We serve you everything that we have in our kitchen.” And then he asked, “Are you hungry?” I was not starving as we were at the end of a very food-filled vacation but I had made sure that I hadn’t eaten much earlier in the day. And 5 minutes after we ordered, the dishes started coming. Here they are, in order:

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Beginning dishes: Fresh pita bread, lemons, olives, tahinosalata, yoghurt

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Garlic bread

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Grilled Halloumi Cheese (Zach’s favorite)

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Noodles and parmesean cheese – I think traditionally a ravioli dish is served

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Courgettes with eggs (zucchini)

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French fries – I tried to not each many because of all the other new and different food

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Spicy sausages – one of my favorites!

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Souvlakia – can be either a chicken or pork dish, this one was pork

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Pork cooked in wine

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I believe this is chicken but cannot find the name online, it was good though

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Keftedes? I believe – they were good but not my favorite because of the seasoning

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Deep friend eggplant

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Grilled pork chop

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Slow-cooked rabbit leg – Stifado – this was delicious and tender!

To sum it up – meze is a beautifully delicious and filling experience, no matter the culture it is served in. Meze is a meal to be shared with others and is a long and special experience. If you come to either country, Lebanon or Cyprus, you will not be disappointed in your meal options, I promiseSmile

~The Optimist

Travel

Wining & Dining in Niagara

Good morning folks! I hope your weekend was as fun-filled as mine was. A get-away with the hubby is always welcome & appreciated. Lets take a second and remember that weather last Friday, Pittsburgh had a high of 76 degrees. While that is unusually warm for this time of year, I wasn’t complaining, taking full advantage of it during a lunch-time walk and an after-work stroll with Zach.

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Instead of taking the bus all the way home like I usually do, I met this guy in Southside (borough of Pittsburgh) to accompany him on his walk home. We may or may not have stopped at The Milkshake Factory to grab a chocolate malt milkshake to split, it was baby sized and a great treat for the nice weather. I had planned on getting in a workout after work on Friday (story of my life the entire weekend) but soaking in some time with Zach before he leaves felt like the better option. Also, with the lunch-time walking and the uphill walk home (Pittsburgh is quite hilly), my step counter told me I got 40 minutes of activity and walked 2 miles. Not too shabby:)

Later that eve I played around with Zach’s camera and experimented with taking pictures of my dinner. I also experimented with dinner – Tuna-Stuffed Spaghetti Squash. I enjoyed the meal but thought that I could have made a sauce to pour over the mixture. I’ll keep playing around with that recipe before I post and recommend it to you. Pinterest-worthy recipes do not happen overnight folks. A good reminder for me as I try to become better at concocting my own recipes.

Later I threw together a batch of cookies for some guests that were stopping by later that night. Nothing beats traditional chocolate chip cookies!

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Saturday morning we packed some clothing, our passports, and headed for Canada! We made a stop for pizza near the casino, easily finishing the pizza ourselves in 10 minutes. We then found our way to our hotel and as soon as we checked into our room we headed back out for wine tasting.

I have officially made the switch from white wine to a rose or red wine variety. It took me a few years, but white wine seems a little sweet for my taste these days – I like the richness of red, but I know that I still do not care for a really dry red.

Later that night we got dinner at the hotel, which was amazing! Sunday morning we ate again at the hotel for breakfast (buffet-style, Zach was in heaven). Both of us were then ready to head to the falls for pictures.

Zach has always been my photographer and I never mind getting in front of a camera.

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Thanks to the Irish family for taking our picture!

It was absolutely beautiful! And cold! I am glad that we went. Its only a 3 1/2 hour drive from Pittsburgh to the Canada side of the falls – perfect for a weekend get away.

After about an hour at the falls I was chilled to the bone and ready for some warmth. We headed home a little early and spent the rest of the night packing and prepping for Zach’s departure. It was a fast weekend, but I really appreciated Zach taking the time to take me away before he leaves. I think this weekend also made me very excited for travelling to beautiful places in other countries. I can’t wait to share those future pictures with you all!

Have a happy Monday all!

~Meghan

Travel

We’re Moving to Lebanon!

Good morning everyone!

I have some very exciting news to share with you all! Zach and I have taken positions to work in Beirut, Lebanon for two years. We are going to be working with a development organization called Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Zach’s parents currently work with MCC in India (they are there another 2 years), Zach’s brother and sister-in-law did a 2-year term in Laos, and Zach’s sister did a 3-year term in Laos and also a 2-year term in Guatemala. All that to say, we are rather familiar with the organization and are very excited to begin our positions.

Because I am a Registered Dietitian, the organization kindly put together a position for me called Health and Refugee Program Assistant. For three days a week I will be working at a place called Our Lady Dispensary, which is a clinic and health education center in Beirut. This clinic serves refugees from Syria, vulnerable Lebanese, other at-risk families in the Beirut area. I will be using my skills to assist the Public Health Officer and Social Worker that are also at the clinic. While I do not know yet what my day-to-day activities will be, I believe I will be working with issues of food insecurity, nutrition education, and trauma support. To prepare me to work with these populations I will be starting my term with a 4-5 week language study course on Arabic. I have heard that this is a hard language to pick up but I hope that daily use will help me learn better.

The other two days a week I will be working with the Middle East Council of Churches and their efforts to bring assistance to Lebanon and Syria during the Syrian crisis. I will be assisting with grant and project proposal writing for current and new community health initiatives and Emergency Resource Shipments into Syria.

Zach will be in a role of his own, called a Projects Coordinator. Currently there are several (and the possibility of more) local projects aimed at helping Lebanon and Syria during the Syria crisis. Zach will be helping with the planning and evaluation of these projects. He will report on their progress and provide support for expansion and improvements as needed.

If you would like to read more about that crisis, there is more information at this link. There is a lot of work to be done in both countries currently with the crisis in Syria sending many refugees fleeing into Lebanon. Currently 1 in 4 persons in Lebanon is a refugee. As you can expect, Lebanon is struggling to provide enough resources for this influx and as a result also needs help. We are not currently allowed to travel into Syria but will be conducting work with local partners there via email. Our place in Beirut will be safe.

This is something that we have been talking about since we were dating – serving with MCC for a period of time. We believe this is really important work to do and we are so happy that we have this opportunity. Zach leaves in less than two weeks. I will be coming beginning of April. We have some of the details of our departure sorted out but please continue to think and pray for us – there is still much to be done on my end.

And to round out this long post I just wanted to let you know that I will continue to post on the blog. My posts will remain similar but be adapted to include information about our work in Lebanon so that friends and family can feel connected with us. There will be a good amount of travelling allowed for work and vacation as well, so stay tuned for some awesome pictures, Mediterranean food ideas, and workout suggestions!

Stay Healthy,

Meghan

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