Asked whether I'd like to accompany the tall uncle and yoga aunt to the mountain village of Mtein for a conference welcoming the walkers participating in the month-long Lebanon Mountain Trail (www.lebanontrail.org), I obliged, thinking it a cool outing to find out about something that could make for a great travel story.
To me, the word conference means sitting in a hall, listening to some people giving boring talks and maybe having the option of drinking tea afterwards. I even asked the tall uncle whether I should dress up for said conference. Thank goodness he left me to travel the 45 minutes in my jeans. This was a conference of villagers, set outdoors in the village square. Instead of the conference name badges and 'party packs' I'm used to, we were handed peak caps upon arrival in Mtein, where it seemed the entire village had come to welcome the trail walkers.
While I was still coming to grips with this concept of 'conference' and the plastic chairs set around tables in the outdoor square, the sound of Arabic music came rushing at me from the square entrance. There may not have been conference ushers, but there sure was entertainment! Dressed in traditional clothes of old, dancing ladies and music-playing gents made their way into the square, welcoming the Minister of Tourism, the yoga aunt's cousin (the founder of the Lebanon Mountain Trail - hence our invitation) and the hikers. Never before had I seen an unstaged traditional performance, and it felt as if we'd been transported back in time to the days when royalty used to be welcomed into towns amid loud cries and jubilation.
Once seated around our table, we were able to help ourselves to food and drink on offer all around the square - for free! The village people must have been working all week to prepare eats for the 1 500 people who were at the festivities today. There was everything from shawarmas and Lebanese flat bread with labneh (thick yoghurt) to hriese (my favourite Leb soup) and makroons (similar concept to koeksisters, also drenched in syrup) and sfaydaat (not really sure what they are as it was the first time I tasted them, but they're also syrupy and have nuts inside). There were also mini flat breads filled with a mixture of mashed stewed figs and sesame seeds - a very yummy sweet and healthy snack for future consideration!
I didn't really understand the speeches. Maybe it was spoken in an Arabic that's as ancient as the village of Mtein; maybe I was just too interested in the village-square happenings to care. Anyway, I'm sure the hikers were just as impressed as what I was with this friendly welcome, and will be sure to include Mtein in stories that they tell when they return home at the end of the month.
As for me, I hope I never have to attend a real conference ever again!
And the music played. The guy on the far left, wearing the sunglasses,
is the Minister of Tourism.
The town square where we all congregated.
Some of the food on offer: Lebanese flat bread...