Fast Times in Beirut

My Friends,
   Allow me if you will to recap the events, thoughts and reflections of the last few days in a neat & tidy manner, organized under headings.

Take a Pimp to Work Day
   The other day I accompanied my host here in Lebanon, Imad, to work.  I requested this ride-along with him and it was partly interest in his job but also a desire to perhaps help him out some during the day in return for the hospitality shown to me by he and his wife.  The job in question is structural engineer/waterproofing consultant, and my interest stemmed from the fact that I hope to invest my ill-gotten hard-earned financial gains on a crib sometime in the near future (because that’s what adults apparently do) and waterproofing seems like one of those things I should know about.  As it runs out, theres not much help a holder of a history degree can provide to an engineer on a jobsite, but there is plenty of help a young whippersnapper can provide to an older gentlemen who recently had knee-surgery: And so it was, the greatest help I was able to provide was doing the monkey-work of lifitng heavy pails of waterproofing compound and loading the car with stuff to take to jobsites.

Pictured: Me moving “Pails of Water-Proofing Compound.”
Also Pictured: One of the mustachioed A-rabs so common in this part of the world

   I have a healthy respect for manual labour; not just because its difficult, but because its the purest form of work there is.  Still, I find that it is just about the only work I do and I should really endeavour to find employment which utilizes my (considerable) mental faculties.

Police State
   Everywhere you go in Beirut there are military and police personnel standing guard, conducting traffic or trying to look threatening on the street.

Certified Bad Motherf#%kers

   Now since both the coppers and military wear camo so it can be hard to distinguish who is who, but I think the general rule is that the woodland coloured camo (read: green) denotes miltary, while the white, grey and black, urban/arctic camo denotes police force.  It is s a funny choice for the latter because even in an urban environment, the police would be better served by desert camo seeing as its still a sandswept (as opposed to snowswept) urban landscape in the Middle East.  And while one could raise the point that the police dont want to be camoflaged, but to remain visible, I would offer the rebuttal: “Why opt for a camoflage-themed pattern in the first place?”  I find the ridiculousness of the police unifroms mitigate my distaste for an excessive police presence only slightly: While they are comical to watch, their uniforms do stand out to the point that I notice them when I would much rather not.
   With regard to the military (at least as numerous as the police in the city), their saving grace is that their unifrom color actually makes a semblance of sense (the aforementioned woodland green).  My qualm with the military however, aside from their excessive presence, relates to their weapon discipline.  Now being in the Canadian military, I am reluctant to poke fun at the quality/limitations of the equipment that another army has; a Canadian soldier knows better than anyone that it is no reflection of the soldier who uses it.  So I don’t fault the Lebanese military personnel for wielding, variously, AK-47s, M-16s, or frequently no rifle at all, but their lack of control over the direction of their muzzles chafes me.  Frequently, the guns are pointed upward, towards crowds, passersby and in other unsafe directions, and this is exacerbated by the fact that every time I walk within a few feet of one of these guys I look at their rifles only to see that they are readied and on safe
   For those who are not in the know, safe is not as safe as it sounds, for the moving parts are all coiled up ready to fire and could do so if the firearm was violently jarred or dropped.  Given the deteriorated state of repair most of these weapons seem to be in, I wouldn’t consider it outside the realm of possibility that the interior parts are worn down to the point where this violent jarring need not be very violent at all.  This makes me feel incredibly safe as I walk by a bunch of soldiers who have carelessly leaned their readied weapons on a roadblock because they were simply too heavy.  Ironic that the biggest threat to my safety thus far in this conflict-ridden part of the world is the legitimate government forces. 

Driving as a Contact Sport
   In my previous entry, “Be Vewy Qwiet … I’m Hunting Hezbowwah …” (27 November 2011),  I alluded to the haphazard way in which commuters commute in Beirut.  The scooters in particular weave in and out of traffic and I find I am as impressed by their skill/ballsiness as I am hopeful they learn a lesson for driving so recklessly.  Well, last night sitting in the car with my friends here, we were stopped at an intersection in the dark and one such scooter driver came whipping by on our right in the narrow gap between us and the parked cars on that side of the road.  I looked up as I heard a loud crash and saw scooter-pie face-plant on the ground ten feet in front of us.  It turns out the driver of one of the parked cars had opened his door without checking for opportunistic scooterists, and dumb-fuck scooterist (sans a helmet FTR) clipped the corner of the door and was thrown over the handlebars. 
   I quickly jumped out of our car to take control of the scene of the accident collision,

” ‘Accident’ implies noone is at fault.”

figuring that even with my superficial medical knowledge I was probably better equppied to deal with trauma than the general population of a country with 3-hour daily blackouts.  I was right of course, but also wrong as I found out.  I jumped into the scene with a sense of urgency and told one guy to call 911 and told another guy not to move the body of the semi-conscious motorist until we could ascertain that there were no spinal/neck injuries.  The two guys looked at me for a second and almost took me seriously but then were like “no dont worry, he is our friend and he’s fine.”  This made me suspicious because it seemed that the other first responders didnt want the hospital called some reason.  I asked the guy giving me assurances if he had been the guy who opened the car door.  He said he wasn’t and before I could really ascertain what was going on the other responders had picked the guy up by the waist and were dragging his limp body to the sidewalk.  They kind of just held him for a few seconds, feet strewn along the ground and arms dangling, while a deck chair was brought out for him.  They sat him in it and he didn’t seem like he would be receptive to my questions.  So, seeing that he wasn’t bleeding perceptibly and that he seemed to be in caring (even if not skillful) hands, and also reasoning that my help wasn’t wanted, I got back into the car kind of humbled and feeling like I over-reacted to a man’s near-death. 
   My friends in the car didn’t seem to rattled by what happened: Imad assured me that this happened everyday and Lina kept playing with her daughter Jana in the back seat.  So with a bad case of heroes-remorse I kept mostly silent and reflective on the ride home.  I remember thinking though for a brief second while dude was still sprawled grotesquely on the ground while we were still deciding what to do with him, “Look at you! Look at you now you stupid fuck! Not even wearing a helmet. Hopefully you’ve learned your lesson!” Sadly, I am fairly certain he has not. 

   While I have been having a good time here in Lebanon it is about time I peaced out.  I had planned to leave last week, but, good houseguest that I am, my hosts insisted I stay another week.  The problem with staying in one place too long, especially a place with relative comfort and warmth, is that you begin to grow wary of getting back out on the road, when really it is what makes me feel alive.  I figure I will book a flight for Tuesday to Cairo, and spend a brief day there seeing those over-hyped triangles out in the desert before heading North-East to infinity Israel and beyond.  You’ll probably hear from me soon.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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