AFRAH ZOUHEIR FLEXES HER HAND as she purposefully stirs a pot of lemon juice, the fruity aroma filling the air as it rises to a boil.
“It needs to be hot in order to mix well with the sugars before it cools down and thickens,” she explains. “Then we bottle it and let it settle into a syrup.”
Zouheir has all of the looks of a professional chef. Her shoulder-length dark brown hair is tied back in a hairnet and her hands are coated in plastic gloves. She wears an apron over her sweatshirt, fanning the air, making sure that the lemon syrup drink she is making smells as it is supposed to; she appears undaunted about managing multiple pots simultaneously simmering over an open fire.
However, this is her first time working in a kitchen—at least professionally. In Mosul, Iraq, where she is from, she was a kindergarten teacher. But when the Islamic State invaded her home city in late 2013 and began targeting religious minorities, including Christians like Zouheir’s family, she grabbed her belongings and fled to Lebanon with her husband and four children. After a short stint in Beirut, the capital city, where rent is expensive and prejudice against refugees, among other factors, makes work hard to come by, she and her husband moved to Falougha, a mountain village where the air is fresh and, most important, the rent is cheap.
BEIRUT — As violent protests against an anti-Islam film spread to much of the Muslim world on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Lebanon to a warm welcome from Christian and Muslim leaders.
The pontiff's appeal for peace and reconciliation in the region, however, stood in jarring contrast with violent clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, which left one dead and 25 injured.
Landing at Beirut's airport in the early afternoon, Benedict praised Lebanon as an example of "coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions."
Without referring expressly to the unrest, the pope warned that the country's "equilibrium" is "extremely delicate."
The Vatican confirmed on Wednesday that Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Lebanon will go ahead as planned, despite growing tension in the region after the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya by a mob enraged by an anti-Islam film.
The Vatican's chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican was closely monitoring developments in the region but there were no signs of specific security concerns for Benedict's trip so far.
Benedict is scheduled to leave Friday for a three-day visit to Lebanon despite rising instability spilling over from a deadly civil war in neighboring Syr
I prefer my revolutions to be simple: A corrupt dictator/tyrant, an oppressed population, inspired reformers who risk their lives, calls for democracy, waves of marchers in the streets, background music from Les Misérables. The stories from Tunis and Cairo were epochal. The Arab spring was in full bloom as calls for participatory government could be heard from every corner of the Middle East.
Then there was Syria. The Assad government has been infamous in its intolerance to dissent. It is a military regime whose 30-year leadership under Hafez al-Assad (1930-2000) established it as one of the most severe in the region. In 2,000, after the death of Hafez, the world was intrigued to see his second son -- Bashar al-Assad -- ascend the throne. Bashar was an ophthalmologist who had studied in London, but because of his older brother's death in a car accident in 1994, he was called to follow his father. Bashar speaks English and French fluently and has been as critical of the U.S. as he has been of Israel.
Another amazing grassroots effort in the Middle East is Combatants for Peace, a group of former Palestinian fighters and Israeli soldiers who have united to reject violence and tell their stories to each other as a way of finding peace.
When President Obama was giving his speech in Cairo, I was just across the Red Sea in Aqaba, Jordan, and caught a glimpse on a corner store TV, the translation making it hard to hear his words.
In last week's SojoMail, the quote of the week was from an Israeli squad leader describing the incredulous reactions of his men when he took measures to protect civilian lives during the invasion of Gaza.