‘My Mid­dle East ad­ven­ture’

Sue Novell re­mem­bers the sights and sounds of her ‘work’ trip to Le­banon

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In 1973 I was 21 and very ex­cited to get a job in Lon­don as com­pany tele­phon­ist at Mid­dle East Air­lines’ of­fice in Green Park. I had been there a few months when the man­ager told me that all new em­ploy­ees had the op­por­tu­nity to go to Beirut in the Le­banon for a two-week in­duc­tion course. Go to Beirut? I could not be­lieve my ears! I was in a com­plete state of ex­cite­ment, telling my par­ents that I was go­ing to Le­banon with ev­ery­thing paid for. All I needed was spend­ing money! Fa­mous cedars, an­cient ru­ins, de­li­cious mezze to eat… I couldn’t wait! I met up with seven col­leagues at the air­port – three girls and four men. We all held dif­fer­ent po­si­tions within MEA and were var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties. At Beirut air­port it was ex­tremely hot and there were lots of sol­diers. Then we saw a young man with a wide grin on his face mak­ing his way to­wards us. He was called Bas­sam and was our guide for the fort­night. He was hand­some and spoke per­fect English… we hit it off straight away! We got on the minibus and were soon trav­el­ling to­wards Beirut along dusty roads lined with glo­ri­ous orange trees. At our ho­tel in cen­tral Beirut, sur­rounded by the noise and bus­tle of the city, we were paired off to share a room. I was with a bub­bly Amer­i­can girl called Ella and we got on very well. The wait­ers were al­ways flirt­ing with us and used to slip notes under our door, send­ing us into fits of gig­gles. Bas­sam and I agreed to meet up and he said he would in­tro­duce me to other MEA staff to show me around Beirut. Every day was then a rou­tine of spend­ing the morn­ing in col­lege (I don’t think we learnt any­thing), fol­lowed by a cheese roll with pick­les for lunch and var­i­ous trips out. Beirut was an ex­cit­ing and vi­brant city, full of won­der­ful shops and restau­rants. Every shop we went in would serve you thick bit­ter cof­fee and de­li­cious honey and pis­ta­chio cakes. Then most af­ter­noons ex­cur­sions were ar­ranged – one day we stopped off at By­b­los and dressed up in Le­banese cos­tumes to wan­der among the ru­ins. An­other trip was to the moun­tains to see the fa­mous

cedars of Le­banon. It was truly amaz­ing to travel for about an hour out of Beirut and its hot, dusty cli­mate and find your­self in the snow-capped moun­tains. We had Le­banese mezze in a quaint lit­tle café tucked in the moun­tains and tried Arak (an al­co­holic drink made with aniseed). At the fa­mous gold mar­ket in the heart of Beirut, ev­ery­where you looked were shops full of fab­u­lous gold jew­ellery and coins. I had promised my­self I would buy some­thing spe­cial there and I came home with a gold ring with a tiny turquoise stone that cost me £21 (a lot of money in those days) and I still wear it. The evenings were fun. Bas­sam took me to many places and my father had a busi­ness con­tact there, a lovely mid­dle-aged cou­ple who took me out and about. I re­mem­ber one place where a belly dancer came gy­rat­ing through all the din­ers! I tried many exotic dishes and in between cour­ses you al­ways had to par­take of the in­fa­mous ‘hub­bly bub­bly pipe’… what an ex­pe­ri­ence – and, yes, one of those came home with me too! Le­banon was a coun­try full of great con­trasts and beauty. The Le­banese girls I met were so kind and pa­tient. They al­ways found time to show you new places and in­tro­duce you to dif­fer­ent foods and ex­pe­ri­ences, and I met a great bunch of peo­ple from all over the world. There were so many won­der­ful mem­o­ries of Le­banon; the chant­ing every morn­ing in the glo­ri­ous sun­shine, the orange trees ev­ery­where and exotic flow­ers, the mouth­wa­ter­ing pas­tries, pis­ta­chio nuts and co­pi­ous amounts of Arak. On our last night, we had a gala ball to say good­bye and thank you to ev­ery­one. It was a won­der­ful night of fun, laugh­ter and be­ing with good friends. We ate a sump­tu­ous ban­quet and then danced till the early hours, and raised a toast to all who had been in­stru­men­tal in mak­ing our trip so spe­cial. Now I look back and think, did we re­ally go to that beau­ti­ful coun­try and do all those once-ina-life­time things and see sights that we will never see again? Beirut may no longer be the same place, but it will al­ways have a spe­cial place in my heart. I cher­ish the op­por­tu­nity I was given and con­sider my­self very lucky to have had such a won­der­ful Mid­dle East ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘Le­banon was a coun­try full of great con­trasts and beauty’

Sue with her other lucky col­leagues from around the world

Beau­ti­ful Beirut will al­ways hold a spe­cial place in Sue’s heart

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