Contrary to popular belief, the Middle East is far more than sandy desert. Countries all across the Levant and North Africa have beautiful mountains and even snowy winters. Lebanon is one of the best Arab countries to visit during winter because of its unusual climate.
The winters come with lots of rain and occasional storms that blanket Lebanon’s mountains – and famous ski resorts! – with snow. Yet the storms quickly clear up, leaving behind sunny clear weather along the Mediterranean coastline.
The famous saying about Lebanon, that you can ski in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon, is proven true each year. A ski resort in Faraya is just a 40-minute drive up the mountain from Byblos and its sandy beaches and restaurant-laden port.
Several weeks ago, I was walking with a friend along the Corniche, which runs along the Mediterranean and is flooded with families, elderly couples, and young people on weekend afternoons. The air was breezy and warm, older men were fishing in the sea, and a few brave souls were even swimming and sunbathing on the natural rock formations that jut into the Mediterranean.
When I returned home and opened up Facebook, I was surprised to see photo after photo of friends who had gone up into the mountains and spent their weekend skiing. We were within an hour of each other, but my sunny, spring-like afternoon could not have been further from their freezing, icy, winter sports-filled day.
We had a mild winter this year, which is good and bad for Lebanon. Due to ineffective water management, Lebanon loses a lot of rainfall and snowmelt and by late summer often teeters towards a full-blown drought. Often by August apartments in Beirut are ordering deliveries from weekly water trucks. Their heavily-chlorinated groundwater is used to refill their empty water tanks. The harsher the winter, the more likely coastal cities avoid late summer showers of salty, brownish “water”.
That being said, the same essential snowcaps that provide Lebanon with water during the dry summers and the picturesque snowy valleys that drive tourism and ski enthusiasts are not so kind to all of Lebanon’s inhabitants. Each year the million plus Syrian refugees living in Lebanon – many in tents or equally primitive housing – suffer immensely during these snowy winters.
Charities and NGOs scramble to provide them with blankets, heating oil, and winter clothes to last the season. Local churches and Christian organisations have been instrumental in passing out winterisation aid to their Syrian neighbours.
Every year during the major snowstorms, despite the aid and precautions, a number of Syrian refugees die, usually the elderly and young children. However this year, with the mild weather, reports of Syrian deaths from exposure have not been widespread praise God.
Whether or not this summer is going to an uncomfortable one for those of us who enjoy taking showers to refresh ourselves after the heat and dust of the day, remains to be seen. But inshallah(God willing), every winter in Lebanon we will be able to ski in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon!