Zahle is a small Lebanese city nestled into the foothills of the Lebanon Mountains, tumbling downward into the Beqaa Valley, which extends North to South along the length of the country. This phenomenon of tumbling may or may not be the origin of the city’s name. The Beqaa was home to some of the earliest viticulture (that’s wine-making!) in the Mediterranean, and has long witnessed the marching of foreign armies crossing between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges along the country’s spine. Consequently, the area is positively strewn with historical markers that hark back to this or that era, from ancient to medieval and even today.

Most famous of these are of course the massive ruins of Baalbek, in addition to the ruins of Umayyad Aanjar and the Hermel Pyramid. Zahle itself is known for its riverside Bardouni cafes, which draw wealthy Beirutis during the sweaty summers. I am here working for an international NGO called Bridging The Divide which works in empowering local NGOs and connecting them with American citizens through social media – very fun stuff.

The Beqaa is also probably the most isolated part of the country – the mountains make access painfully inconvenient from the coast, and a history of political disorder during the Civil War (1975-1991) followed by intensive hashish cultivation and export did not make the situation any better. Trying still to recover from the war, the Beqaa is rife with sectarianism and is easily divided. The two largest cities – Baalbek and Zahle – are bastions of support for the traditional Lebanese political parties of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces and the Phalangists.

I blog in the middle of this as a Lebanese-American. While more used to the mosques of Lebanon than I am to its churches, it is a pleasure to spend time getting to know another facet of Lebanon up close and personal.