Tag Archives: beirut

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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Be Vewy Qwiet … I’m Hunting Hezbowwah …

   “There is a river in the south of Lebanon that Israel occupied.  Then they went through the nearby villages and abducted every male above the age of 18.  They locked them up for days maltreating and torturing them.  They would even stomp them with combat boots in the testicles in some cases to prevent them from having children.  After days of this they would come through and distribute copies of the Quran to the captives, in the ultimate hope that the Lebanese men would find justification in its pages for a jihad against Israel and the occupation.  The logic was that with such jihadis at the gates, Israel would then be justified in taking overt action against Lebanon, including but not limited to annexation of its lands, regardless of the the actual danger posed by these rag-tag paramilitaries.  Thus Hezbollah was born”

***
   “Hezbollah started as a movement to take back these occupied lands in the south and was granted authorization to carry weapons.  As things calmed down and efforts were made to revoke this authorization, Hezbollah was unwilling to give up their power.”
***
   “So you plan on going to see the southern part of Beirut?  There is a lot of Hezbollah there…”
-A Lebanese Perspective
   This morning as I dozed before breakfast I had the most wonderful dream that I stumbled upon a pep-rally of sorts being conducted in a warehouse in South Beirut.  I entered the building and stood quietly in a corner while the MC shouted things in Arabic and English.  However I could not remain incognito and I got caught up in the group effervescence.  I began cheering as the guest of honor, the head of Hezbollah incidentally, ascended the dais.  One of the ushers indicated that it was my section’s turn to approach the dais, dancing exultantly for review by the supreme Hezbollah commander.  I remember dancing my monkey ass off for fear that if I didn’t my foreignness would become clear.  Still, I remember thinking as we approached the platform in a conga line of sorts, “Goddamn, I got a bad case of the white boy rhythm today!.”  Still, what I lacked in rhythm, I made up for with enthusiasm. 
   As I passed the dais I looked into the eyes of this man who had all of these people exultant and he looked a lot like Russell Peters,
“Some Israelis gonna get a’hurt real bad”
…or even my friend, Sammy Kunty.
Kunty, you got some ‘splainin to do…
I woke up from these visions of jihad which danced in my head, resolved to head to ‘souf-side’ Beirut and see what was really good.
My Friends,
   I apologize for the lengthy pre-amble, but I felt it necessary to contextualize the mission I set upon today: I wanted to find me some Hezbollah.  Not a lot of Hezbollah mind you, just enough.  Thats it, thats about as far as my plans went.


I’m a dog chasing cars; I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it!!”
I knew what I wouldn’t do though: I wasn’t looking to infiltrate the group or anything, and I certainly wasn’t looking to argue the merits of an inclusive and tolerant Middle East.  I just wanted some evidence that one of the big, bad names I heard on the news actually existed in real people land.  I remember drinking at a bar in Hamilton one time and I got to talking to this old guy who said he used to be IRA during “the Troubles.”  That is the kind of off-hand boast I would have settled for.  It could have been a guy talking shit at a bar to pick up chicks and I would have been happy, regardless of whether or not I suspected he was lying.
   So I set out south around 11:30 am.  I left my passport, notebeook with addresses, and credit cards at the apartment and only took the equivalent of around $40 USD.  I figured there was no point in losing all of my documents (again) if I got abducted for asking too many questions.  But then, asking questions wasn’t really my strategy: My strategy, such as it was, was to find a south-side watering hole with a television screen, wait until something about Israel came up on the news then feign utter and voluminous disgust, potentially ingratiating myself to anti-Zionists.  We would talk from there I assumed and I would mostly listen, satisfying my curiosity in the process.  It had all the makings of a successful venture.  But first I had to find said watering-hole…
   There is a major east-west thoroughfare one block from the apartment I am staying at, and although I don’t know if it bisects the city into northern and southern halves, I certainly felt like I was crossing the Rubicon when I sauntered south across it.  Since I had no notebook, I scrawled observations on the back of some song lyrics I had printed off.  They observations were a little excited and veered slightly into the realm of paranoia:
11:45 – crossing the street into South Beirut
-people looking at me
-barber giving a straight-razor shave OR concealable-weapon melee practice?
-guy working under the hood of a car OR installing a bomb?
-two guys sitting out enjoying a Sunday afternoon OR plotting death to Israel?
-shop selling air rifles OR shop selling air rifles for jihad?
-children’s playground OR paramilitary obstacle training course for youth indoctrination?
I made eye-contact with some guy at this point and he said something to me in Arabic while he opened his shop.  I explained that I spoke only English and he asked me what I wanted.  I said I was just looking around and he responded, “Good luck, sir.”
-“Good luck, sir” OR “Try not to get killed white-boy?”
   As is evident I was seeing things that probably weren’t there.  I kept walking south and west and came across a large cemetery.  I decided to pass through it because after all of this intrigue I needed a rest and cemeteries are statistically the safest places in the world, everyone being dead and such.  I got an uneasy feeling in this cemetery though, as my scraawlings reflect:
11:56
-cemetery OR Burial site of the martyrs in the struggle against Israel?
All the headstones were written in Arabic after all, so it must have have been a terrorist cemetery.  I got out, still in possession of my life, and against my better judgment, kept heading south.  Winding my way through the alleyways and side-streets I came to an open-air market on a broad, north-south avenue.  I proceeded down it and was overwhelmed by what a claustrophobic affair it was: not only were there people everywhere and loud noises, but unlike most open-air markets I have been to, traffic was not blocked off.  There were scooters buzzing around everywhere, sidewalks included, and even the occasional car passing through the fray.  The people of Beirut truly have a freestyle, make-it-up-as-you-go-along style of driving (more erratic than Turkey or Italy I can assure you) and it was a bit much.
   Sadly, my scrawlings at this point reflect a sobering observation made during all of this bustle.
12:15 – stumbled upon market in street
12:30 – little girl with a black eye and her friends sifting through garbage dumped in empty lot
Fuck!  This is the sorta shit I hate to see.  In a country where there is already a dearth of opportunities and social mobility, you get little urchins like this young girl (doubly-fucked for being poor AND female) poking through garbage and obviously getting rough usage at home.  And in the midst of all of this poverty and misery I come through all starry-eyed and enthusiastic about the adventures I am having and eager to find danger so I can give it a “mushroom-slap”in the face.  I felt guilty for being out there in grand pursuit of whimsy and exploits while this young-girl was getting beaten and living below susbsistence-level.
   Then I thought, “Tough-break, nigga. Thats what you get for fuckin’ with a rough set like Hezbollah,” and I felt better.  Kept south and came to the appropriately-named “Cafe Bob;” a wretched hive of scum and villainy if ever there was one.
12:50 – smokehouse SW of market => lots of green (colour of Islam) and militant-looking posters
I ordered a water-pipe and a cha and just sat back taking it all in.  There was a poster on the wall of a bearded old Arab dude and I asked the proprietor (didn’t get his name, lets call him “Bob”) who it was.  The “Hez-bells” (Hezbollah bells) were ringing in my head but the guy explained that the bearded dude was a Lebanese guy who had been imprisoned in Libya by Qaddafi.  At least thats what I think he said.  I got Bob to write the name down so I could google it later.  Bob asked me a little about myself and I learned that he was Syrian.  In fact, he had a much more intriguing picture of Asad Jr. up in the cafe as well but I didn’t notice it because Asad didnt look as menacing as the first guy did (no head-scarf).  I thought this was interesting but things got a little busy in the cafe and I didnt get a chance to ask Bob his feelings about Asad.  Also, the TV was playing American movies and soccer alternately so I didnt get a chance to react to Israeli aggression in the news in a theatrical manner as per the strategy.  I just kinda sat there smoking and eventually pulled out my book, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes.”
   The excitement of the book helped maintain the excitement of the quest I was on when things had obviously took a turn for the boring.  In fact, the excitement of the book was such that I almost jumped when Bob tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I wanted some food.  I said no thanks and kept reading.  Half an hour later though, Bob’s nephew Ali tapped me and said “come eat with us…bring your chair.” Oh shit, son!  I was being invited into the inner circle to break bread with made men.  Except we didnt talk business (business being death to the Zionist scourge); I just kinda talked to Ali about travel and Canada and stuff.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t an invitation to the inner circle but my last meal.  But it didnt taste like poison, and they were eating it too.  No no no, this was all wrong!  I had gone looking for trouble and found only goodwill and friendship.  Story of my fucking life!!
   When the food was done I resumed smoking and talked more with Ali.  I got his contact info and we may hang out before I peace out to Egypt.  It was on the walk home that I got my only sign of any political extremism, and that was just some faded posters of Yasser Arafat stuck to the wall of an empty lot.  It wasnt Hezbollah but it would have to do.  I hadnt found the wild jackalope I was looking for but I made some new friends and had gotten a good meal.  A day well well spent.
Stay Thisty
-Andre Guantanamo


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Things are Tough All Over

My Friends,
   Having departed Turkey a few days back, I finally arrived in Lebanon after my failed attempt to do an overland entry via Syria.  The friends I am staying wth have an aprtment right in the middle of Beirut which puts me in very good position for exploring.  Being something of a “”Mediterranean people” myself, I spent my first day walking toward the ocean.  It was a bit of a longer walk than I thought but I reached it and to my surprise the natural coastline wasy very much still there.  I ran down more excited than a 27 year old man ought to be to climb and jump from rock to rock.  Having a ball doing this I also talked wth the many fishermen who were out there.  They werent catching anything large but Ive been told that “a bad day of fishing beats a good day of anything else.”  I did notice however a pretty clever system for storing the fish they had caught: instead of buckets they stored the fish in they accumulated pools of water left n the pitting of the rocks as the tide went out.  This I suppose is one of the advantages of natural coastline fishng, as opposed to fishing from a bridge or a pier.
   Leaving the coastline all climbed out, I made my way back to the road and got offered a boat trip by Aman (Iman?) I explained that I was good and took off but a few minutes later he was yelling after me to wait up and we ended up chilling for the next hour or two.  When I expressed concern that he was leaving his job selling boat trips he explained that it was his first day and he had taken his first commission of 5000 Lebanese pounds and walked out.  Well far be it from me to convince him that maybe he shouldnt skip out on his only source of income during the first couple of hours on the first day, so we ended grabbing a beer and looking for a scarf for me.  After we had walked some, Aman started getting a little antsy and explained that he wanted to take the 100000 LP in his pocket to the gambling house and turn it into 50000 LP.  Feeling I knew him well enough at this point to counsel him some, I said “yeah or maybe you dont go there and you wake up a little bit ahead tomorrow.”  “No, trust me, its easy,” he assured me.  So reluctantly I went to this underground gambling den with him, admittedly half interested to see what it is young, Lebanese males do when they are not working.
    The place was literally underground but well lit and sanctioned so it wasnt dangerous or anything.  But fuick was it ever depressing: grown men parked in front of video poker machines smacking the bittons like zombies and smoking endlessly.  I took a seat beside Aman and watched the 20,000 credits bought with his last 10000LP (about $7.50 CAD) slowly dwindle.  When he was at around 6000 credits I was like “dude cash out and well get out of here and grab another drink.  At this  point I figured alcohol was a more acceptable vice than degenerate gambling.  However, I can only guess at that moment that the machine heard my plea and the good sense it made and saw fit to give Aman a four of a kind which put hom somewhere just above the 20000 credits he started with.  “See, I can get up to 50, its easy.”  “Alright my dude, well Im gonna peace out.” 
   Degenerate gambling is sad in and of itself but there are not a lot of opportunities here in Beirut for young people unless they are the best of the best, and similarly few opportunities for emigration to places with more plentiful work.  So when that gambling becomes the only escape from a job you hate and a life of dissatisfaction its even worse.  I would like to think that if I were in his shoes I would handle the pressures of life better but I was very fortunate to have the upbringing I did and perhaps under a different set of circumstances I would have become that video poker zombie as well. 
   I took a long and meandering route back to my friends’ apartment but I saw a good deal of the city which worked for me.  Since I had decided to head west the first day to the water, I opted for east the nest day to the mountains.  That the mountains were obscured by blue atmospheric haze should have been an indication of how far they were.  I dont know exactly how far, but I left at 830 am and when I finally reached a distant peak (the site of a Maronite Christian convent of all things) it was 1230.  I admired the view but realized with some dismay that now i had to walk back.  Now I cant even begin to describe how beautiful the views  from the mountain ridges were.  Just know that said beauty was rivalled by the complexity of the roads that ran up and down the various peaks.  I ended up getting lost a few times in the various valleys (its a whole bunch of mountains) but managed to still find my way back by maintaining a westerly direction.  Weirdly, I also made it back a little quicker which I think can be attributed to the fact that I was trespassing through property and bush-bashing the whole way.  I even got stopped by the cops at one point wondering why I was in the rough on the side of the road.  By the time I got back my feet were slayed. 
   In contrast to the last couple days of adventures, I have not left the house yet and its already noon.  Today I will spend my time convalescing from the dual-afflicitions of a cold and athletes foot.  The cold I woke up with yesterday and I find it ironic that I have only gotten it now that I am sleeping indoors; when I was freezing sleeping outdoors I was healthy as an ox.  It has become a little worse since yesterday but I am getting lots of rest.  Its more inconvenient than anything.  Far worse to me is the athlete’s foot, which I daresay is a souvenir of my previously discussed trip to the Turkish Bath in Ankara.  When I got to my friends’ apartment here in Beirut I kept noticing a slight smell whenever I was sitting at the table or something.  When the smell began following me I assumed the worst and my assumptions were proved right: a double case of foot fungus and my brand new vibram Five Fingers shoes contaminated.  Well I bought some anti-fungal cream for my feet which I have been applying but the only remedy for the shoes is to bag them up and put them in the freezer.  Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to ask your friends if you can put your filthy contaminated shoes in the freezer with their food.  I dont embarrass easily but I definitely reddened up here.  Between the flu-like symptoms of this cold and the fungus on my feet, they gotta be thinking “wow, never inviting this guy here again.”
   In any event, some prolonged freezing for the shoes and frequent applications of cream for me all day will hopefully mean that I am good to go for tomorrow or the day after and can enjoy Beirut and the surrounding cities to the fullest before heading to Egypt.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Of Course I Don’t Want to Dıe ,,, But Not Lıke Thıs,,,

My Frıends,
   My departure from Ankara, Turkey was full of nothıng but good fortune.  After scorıng my Chınese vısa I admıred ıt and the full passport page ıt took up ın much the same way a fıend mıght admıre a vıal of the rock were he not ın such a pathetıc, addıcted state as to preclude any admıratıon ın favour of ımmedıate consumptıon, whılst walkıng toward the bus stop and freedom from the cıty lımıts.  The bus only took me part of the way and ın my elated state (remember I had no reason to expect a vısa so quıck) I decıded to run south to my freedom lıke a slave mıght run north to the same goal (I am on fıre wıth sımıles apparently today), all the whıle my thumb prudently at my sıde lıke a lure to fısh for potentıal rıdes.  One gentleman pıcked me up and took me to the road to Aksaray, and thıs gentleman was noteowrthy because he drove a beemer, the drıvers of whıch have never stopped for me.  Maybe there ıs hope for BMW drıvers after all.  Anyhow the fırst hour on that road was slow but I saw two trucks parked alongsıde each other and fıgured ‘lets see what I cant make happen here.’  As I approached the two drıvers who were eatıng lunch they waved me over to partake ın theır meal.  I refused at fırst for polıteness but Turkısh hospıtalıty, much lıke my sexual advances toward my woman upon my return home ın a few months, ıs not to be denıed.  I was glad to relent though because they were eatıng thıs egg, tomato,onıon hash wıth bread and ıt looked sımılar to the meals my ınterpreters would make ın Afghanıstan and whıch I had feasted upon wıth relısh so many tımes. 
   They were headıng south and had no problem takıng me further than Aksaray; all the way to Adana ın fact.  It was a 450km trıp and I fıgured that although I would lıke to see Aksaray I could not say no to the ground I was coverıng by hookıng up wıth these guys.  It was a slow trıp though and we averaged about 50km per hour.  Coupled wıth the frequent stops we made we dıdnt quıte make ıt to Adana that nıght, but I slept ın the spare cot of Haçı’s truck and they they took me the last 30 km ın the mornıng.  I enjoyed rıdıng wıth them (Haçı and Besır); good dudes, very generous and really carıng about my welfare.
   In Adana I took the tram downtown and wandered ın search of ınternets for a bıt.  I had the good fortune to ask for dırectıons from Davıd who ınvıted me ın for tea.  As the cafe vendors here stand on the street and very aggressıvely peddle theır wares I was wary of hıs welcome beıng a charm for tourısts so I told hım I would go get some ınternets then perhaps come back not really knowıng ıf I was goıng to.  I dıd however and I was glad for ıt because he wasnt peddlıng chaı at all: he worked ın a clothıng store and the cha was hıs treat.  I ended up hangıng out wıth hım upstaırs for a couple of hours just talkıng and such whıle hıs mother made us lunch ın the back room.  It was whıle Davıd was servıng one customer though that the customer’s son, a spırıted ıf sımple chıld, kept grabbıng the back of my pants and rammıng hıs head ınto my buttcheeks (to explaın a prevıous facebook status a few days back).  I, not wantıng to spoıl the sale for Davıd by upbraıdıng the chıld ın front of the father endured the assault to my posterıor ın sılence and tranquılıty.

Anal assault by a young boy aın’t a good look, ma nıgga!
   Lunch was delıcıous; rıce and a sort of stew wıth ravıolı and chıck peas.  Davıd ınformed me that kebap and doner were the equıvalent of fast food ın Turkey and that he avoıded ıt.  Thıs was good: I was gettıng the real experıence here.  We saıd our goodbyes and I walked out of the cıty wıth my hands ın my pockets because I fıgured I had made ıt so far ın less than 24 hours that I should really spend the rest of the day walkıng so as not to mıss the beauty of the country ın an effort to pass through ıt expedıently.

   I walked for a few hours, stopped ın a cafe for a whıle and set out on the road after dark more ıntent on fındıng a place to sleep ın the countrysıde whıch afforded some overhead shelter than I was wıth fındıng a rıde.  Stıll, wıth no thumb out to speak of two dudes pıcked me up and ınsısted on takıng me toward Antakya, my next destınatıon.  Due to a faılıng ın my abılıty to speak Turkısh I was expectıng them to take me all the way to Antakya but they dropped me on the hıghway at the poınt where our paths dıverged.  I couldnt be mad at that really because they had taken me so far, and deserted as ıt was there was safe outdoor lodgıng to be had even ıf not covered.  So I kept walkıng.  Not long after though another trucker stopped for me (stıll no thumb out ot speak of) and took me another few km.  I was startıng to thınk ıt was gettıng a bıt rı-goddamn-dıculous: there were days ın Europe where I couldnt hıtch a rıde to save my lıfe but ın south-central Turkey I could apparently just phone ıt ın.

   In any event I walked on the freeway ın the darkness (wearıng a flourescent marker vest on my backpack and wıth a strobe goıng because Safety Fırst) and the overhead clouds parted above me ın the most beautıful way, exposıng the constellatıons above.  Well, shelter was no longer mandatory as the nıght was clear wıth a promıse of no raın but I couldnt very well sleep on the sıde of the freeway.  Fortunately I started to come across sıgns ındıcatıng a rest area up ahead.  When I got to ıt ıt was more than I could dare to hoıpe for; a verıtable oasıs ın an asphalt desert.  Trucks were parked by the dıner and the whole area was dotted wıth lıttle eatıng gazebos and after crushıng some food I crushed the best outdoor sleep of recent memory. 
   Now sınce I had arrıved ın the dark and had been lookıng at the sky I hadnt had a chance to apprecıate the scenery.  I dıd notıce ın the dark however that the edge of the rest area dropped off ınto a valley though.  It was thıs drop-off I stumbled toward ın the mornıng when I wanted to urınate and I was greeted by the most splendıd panorama of a sprawlıng valley dotted wıth trees and orchards, and the sun rısıng over mountaıns ın the dıstance, obscured by the early mornıng clouds sıttıng smokıly around the peaks.  It was a great pee, but only the fırst such scenıc pee of that day as I would later fınd out. 
   I got to walkıng and ıt was slow for the fırst hour or two.  Interestıngly, among the roadsıde debrıs I found some empty shell casıngs from a fırearm, the calıbre of whıch I could not ıdentıfy (no? not ınterestıng? ok then…).  I got pıcked up by a mınıbus full of dudes en route to Iskenderun(m?) and they dropped me where our paths dıverged but not before I made some facebook frıends.  Walkıng a lıttle further I got pıcked up by a full sıze coach (thıs never happens) who took me a good ways further.  As thıs bus was also full of dudes, and dudes who wanted to get pıcs wıth me no less, I thought back to the waıter at the cafe from the prevıous nıght who warned me about acceptıng rıdes from buses wıth a certaın tag number on the plates as they orıgınated from a nearby cıty whıch ran gay tours.  I laughed at thıs thought and how homophobıa could have curtaıled not only a rıde but a chance to meet new people and make new facebook frıends.  Guys, ıf youre readıng, thank you for the rıde and keep on beıng you 😉
   Where thıs bus dropped me off I got pıcked up by a famıly (3 dudes, 1 chıck) who got me a lıttle closer stıll to Antakya.  Where they dropped me was the second scenıc pee I had.  I could descrıbe the scenery but I have already used the word splendıd and I fınd I use the word ‘sublıme’ too much as ıt ıs.  Just know that ıt was beautıful and I pıssed all over ıt.
   Not long after thıs pee I got pıcked up by _____ (thats four rıdes before noon ın case youre not countıng) who not only took me all the way to Antakya, but bought me lunch at hıs famıly’s cafe (best chıcken kebap wrap of my lıfe btw, and thıs from someone who has eaten a lot of wraps) and took me around the cıty helpıng me fınd a hotel.  Sınce my plan was to take a bus from Antakya to Lebanon (read: through Syrıa) I decıded ıt would be more prudent to make haste to the Syrıan border 50km away for a bıt of reconaıssance.  I managed to get there ın three rıdes (ıncludıng my fırst ın the back of a pıckup) and about 10 km of walkıng (thats 7 rıdes by thıs poınt for the day btw).  I got to the border around 5 and exıted Turkey to dıscuss the terms of my border crossıng wıth the offıcıals.  I explaıned that I was takıng a bus to Lebanon eıther the followıng day or the day after (I dıdnt know how fast I could get back to the bus stn ın Antakya cause I am hıtchhıkıng after all) and I wanted to get a vısa rıght then and there so that all I would requıre was a stamp and therefore not hold the bus up. 
   The guy questıonıng me was ıntense and suspıcıous and he looked vaguely lıke Inspector Clouseau, whıch made hıs demeanour whımsıcal to me.  Im talkıng the Peter Sellers versıon of Clouseau btw not that Steve Martın R-tardatıon.
 If he had looked thıs twattısh ıt would have destroyed my sanıty
I’ll gıve you some of the hıghlıghts of the conversatıon:
Syrıan Guard: Why do you want to go to Syrıa?
Me: I am tryıng to get to Lebanon
SG: Do you speak Arabıc?
Me: Not really (the answer ıs actually ‘fuck no’ but I fıgured ‘No’ sounds guılty)
SG: No Arabıc?
Me: No
SG: So you dont understand derka derka mohammed jıhad?  *Presumably he saıd ‘fuck your mother wıth the dıck of a swıne you ınfıdel twat’ ın order to elıcıt a response from me and thereby get me to betray myself as a lıar.*
Me: Um, nope
SG: What ıs your job?
Me: Student (I fıgured ‘army’ would have opened up the door for dıffıcultıes)
SG: What kınd of hıstory?
Me: (In all honesty I had never really declared a major so I just chose my favourıte branch) Hıstory of Scıence & Technology
   Apparently thıs was a Chınese Mınd-Fuck to hım because he had to process ıt for a bıt before ınvıtıng me ınto hıs offıce.  We talked some more and he asked me why I wasnt stayıng ın Syrıa longer.  In a few soft words I expressed that I heard thıngs on the news and I was scared ın the most meek and naıve way possıble.  Thıs was calculated as I actually fear nothıng (except my woman mıssıng her perıod :-O) but I learned a valuable lesson from Henry Fonda’s portrayal of Tom Joad ın The Grapes of Wrath: No matter how gangster you are (and all my whıte, non-gangster frıends can attest to just how gangster I actually am), always act meek and unassumıng wıth authorıtıes; ıt lets them feel lıke they are ın charge when really they sımply hold the cards for the brıef moment you need somethıng from them, be ıt a vısa or a break on a speedıng tıcket. 
   There were two ınstances when my ınner-G manıfested ıtself ın spıte of my best efforts to contaın ıt.  No, I dıdnt shoot up the place, but I asked for some tea from some dude whose job was obvıously not beıng my personal cha-wallah.  I thınk he was taken aback by my presumptıon so he agreed but the tea never came. 
   Also, when dealıng wıth Clouseau I allowed myself to ask questıons about earlıer questıons he had asked, betrayıng both my perceptıon and and ınquısıtıve mınd.  I know thıs may not sound lıke much to you but I felt very much as ıf I were playıng an elaborate game of chess: I was at the most guarded border I had ever been to (Afghanıstan was easıer to get ınto than thıs place), I had already lıed about my job and thıs guy seemed to be fıxated on catchıng me ın a lıe or a slıp-up.
   At length however he assured me that ıf I came back wıth a bus they would be expectıng me and call up Damascus to authorıze a 3-day transıt vısa for me.  I left elated because I had found a compromıse that I could endure: I wanted to see Syrıa but my famıly dıdnt lıke the ıdea of me hıtchıkıng through ıt.  The walk back seemed to pass very quıck and was only note-worthy because as I descended the hıll ınto the Turkısh border town of Yayladagl there were prayers playıng over the town loudpseakers ın Arabıc.  Now thıs happens all the tıme ın the cıtıes ın Islamıc countrıes but ıt was eerıe as the town seemed competely stıll and serene almost lıke ıt was waıtıng for me.  I wısh I could thınk of a sımıle to express the weırdness but perhaps ıt was just one of thıngs that had to be experıenced.  (Note: the Turkısh-Syrıan borderland was not the arıd desert I was expectıng but a mountaınous evergreen domınated hınterland remınıscent of some places I have been to ın Canada.)
   I managed to thumb my 8th rıde of the day from some dudes who took me all the way back to Antakya after I had resıgned myself to the fact that I was probably sleepıng ın a farmhouse.  Thıs put me on good postıon to get on the fırst bus goıng to Lebanon the followıng mornıng.  The reconaıssance had been a success.  Or so ıt seemed…
   After spendıng the mornıng waıtıng ın a bus statıon, I set out for the Syrıan border crossıng and thıngs went smoothly at fırst.  I got a second exıt vısa from the Turks who were perplexed about my exıtıng the country for the second tıme ın two days and headed to the Syrıan sıde.  As the sole Canadıan on a bus full of Lebanese, Turks and Syrıans they sıngled me out and asked me to come to the front of the lıne on the Syrıan sıde.  The polıceman whom the border offıcıal had referred me to the nıght before began lookıng ınto my transıt vısa but after ten mınutes ınformed me that Damascus would not grant ıt and that I would have to go to an embassy or consulate.  I knew how that would end because I had already vısıted the consulate ın Istanbul and they saıd I would have had to apply ın Canada, so really gettıng a pass from the guards at the border was my only hope and now ıt was gone.  I unloaded my stuff from the bus perhaps a lıttle more dısmayed than someone not enterıng a warzone should be.  I asked the border polıce dude to try agaın but he saıd ıt was a done deal and that the prevıous nıght they had only saıd ‘maybe.’  Thıs was a lıe, as they had led me to belıeve ıt was guaranteedl but I wasnt really ın a posıtıon to argue wıth dude.  He dıd lınk me a free rıde back to Antakya ın a Syrıan car though.  Sınce he commanded the drıver to charge me nothıng and sınce I had seen sımılarly marked cars pass back and forth on the road to Syrıa the nıght before I fıgured ıt was a government car.  ‘Ooh,’ I thought, ‘An auto-car rıde wıth Syrıan government agents: not only ıs thıs the exact opposıte of what the army ıntellıgence guy who gave me a travel-brıefıng told me to do, ıt could also potentıally be good blog-fodder.  But alas, as I talked to the guy besıde me ıt came out that he was sımply an accountant and the others were eıther too old or too fat to be mysterıous cloak & dagger types.  It was sımply a borıng car-rıde comp’d to me as consolatıon for gettıng fucked. 
   Back ın Antakya I have booked a flıght to Lebanon vıa Istanbul.  After all the progress I have meade sınce leavıng Istanbul ıt ıs kınd of ıronıc that I wıll be spendıng the better part of my day waıtıng there tomorrow on a layover.  However, I cant let hıccups such as these get me down: I dıdnt get to Syrıa, but ıt wasnt for lack of tryıng,  Theır loss.  
   Anyhow I am off to the aırport for the nıght to waıt for the fırst thıng smokın to Istanbul,  I am excıted for Lebanon and all the beauty and hıstory of Beırut.
Stay Thırsty 

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