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April    May Continues    More Ramblings

May 2, 2000:


As the Syrian computer programmer chatted away about salaries and price of living I caught a glimpse of the bombed out buildings and brand name department stores that fill Beirut. I was still in shock from the brief stop at the truck stop the bus took just after crossing over the border -- Snickers and Sweet Tarts sat next to (yes, I hate to say it) Twinkees and Ding Dongs while Coke and Pepsi cans battled for space in the fridge -- and my new friend's words couldn't compete with Beirut's. The taxi took a left onto Hamra Street and my mouth fell open. Tucked not so conspicuously between a movie theatre and a Benneton lounged a Starbucks. The caffeine depleted blood in my body started to race and I could already feel the buzz from the triple americano I wanted to blurt out the window to order. And, as I sit here in my hotel room just around the corner watching CNN, unpacking and debating whether or not to visit the big coffee house, the adhan, the call to prayer blares throughout the city. I think I'll go take a walk to see how this laissez-faire capitalist state works.

May 5, 2000:

Oooo-weeee, talk about a happening place. As I was resting peacefully last night, after winning my battle with the mob of mosquitoes that infiltrated my hotel room by spraying deodorant on just about everything, some Israeli jets flew through the city air on their nightly fly-by. That could possibly be two feet from my balcony, I thought as the sonic boom followed the jets shaking the buildings. Then, as I was about to contemplate getting up and going outside to see if I could catch a glimpse of the planes a bomb exploded. Holy shh... and I jumped under the covers and huddled in a pile at the foot of the bed. Two bombs, both sounding like they were hitting the Starbucks around the corner, had hit the main power stations just outside of Beirut. Earlier A couple of Australians who work for an English daily here had been telling me how the same thing had happened just three months ago. Presently power has been shut off throughout most of the city minus the main business section where I happen to be staying. But, where the Aussies live it's being rationed. "You use it when it's on, and you don't when it's off." said Mike. Sounds like sage advice to me. And I'll have to agree with that because in a few hours I'm packing up and moving into the flat just below them.

(I rolled into Tripoli on a slow Sunday afternoon.
Not too many people were out since Sunday is the weekend in Lebanon.)

(There happened to be a crafts fair scheduled where I ran into this soap exhibition.)

(And, just around the corner from the crafts all the citizens of Tripoli hid, doing their Sunday shopping in the food souqs of the old city.)

May 11, 2000:

If you hold your hand out in front of you in a fist it would be the size of the cockroaches that inhabit my one-room flat. I have never in my life seen such creatures. My mother used to tell a story about visiting my father while he was in the army down in Texas: she, opening the door to his apartment and seeing a mouse run across the floor and up the wall, exclaimed, "Did you see that mouse climb the ceiling?" My father, responding quite un-amusedly I'm sure, said, "That was not a mouse." Besides the bugs, though, it's nice to have over a dozen feral cats living right outside my window to help drown out the sound of scrambling roaches on cement floors. Even the birds join the fun early in the morning by sitting on a windowsill chirping away lest you forget the day has begun.

I can only imagine Beirut 10 years ago, and similar birds waking up the city, as I walk around through the many neighborhoods which the Spring temperature and a cool breeze off the sea make pleasant. People smile, wave, ignore me as I stroll by and taxis continuously honk, thinking I need a lift. "Where are you going?" one shouted and stuck out his hand and twisted it like you might do if you were opening an imaginary door -- the Arab signal for 'What'. The UN House was a kilometer down the road and I was popping in to get some information. "Just walking." I replied. "Oh," said the driver, "You can do that now."

Years of civil war destroyed Beirut. Bombed out buildings sit scattered in between newly renovated ones. The television and the news ridicule Lebanon's attempts at forming a solid government but looking at where they started I'd say they've come along way... At least its citizens can walk the streets freely.

(Bombed out buildings are being restored. And along with its sea rocks and a newly constructed downtown, Beirut, in 50 years, is aiming (again) to be one the world's top vacation sites.)

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