Friday, August 18, 2006

Imagine that Lebanon is a TV reality show. I can see the Israeli members of the government sitting comfortably in their couches, watching happily the after-war effect. They haven't lost completely. On the Christian channel, Lebanese citizens are divided in two: The Aoun's followers who are concerned about this unusual situation where they have to share Hezbollah's victory and the Geagea's followers who reflect their leader's fear of an armed Shia'a radical group. On the Sunni channel, Lebanese citizens quote Hariri Jr. in all their argument's discussions. The same on the Druze channel where Lebanese citizens start their sentences with "Jumblat said". And finally, on the Shia'a channel, Lebanese citizens claim their sectarian victory out loud. Any kind of patriotic speech ("the victory is for all Lebanese" or "we should be one entity facing the Israeli evil" or even "just be proud about what Lebanon did") make people look at you as if you are living in another galaxy. Meanwhile, Olmert, Peretz and co. are celebrating a job well done.

  • My favorite American-US-ambassador-e-mail-pal reporter stormed in, in a desperate need of coffee because she did not sleep well thinking of a way to back to "The Big Apple" and bla bla bla... I said: "Okay, your large cappuccino easy on milk extra espresso shot will be ready in three minutes". She turned to her New-Orleans-same-t-shirt-wearing-for-two-weeks colleague and shouted: "My God! He just takes really good care of me". Hey hon, take it easy, you have been ordering the same drink for 35 days!
  • Friday is beggars day in Hamra. The weird thing is that even beggars have changed. I used to see the same faces for years. What could have happened to them?
  • Jackson was there, talking to everybody as usual. He became a friend to all my clients. Everybody loves him. He told me that, yesterday, while he was in Maroun El Ras, Israeli soldiers shot at him, well, next to him. He was asking if he could talk to them and it seemed that he woke them up and they started shooting. A normal reaction.
  • And my favorite New Yorker suddenly decided to storm back in. "Could you be the judge of the bet we just made?" she said, and without even waiting for my reply, she went on: "What is the Arabic word for garlic? Haaah???" When I said that it was "toum", I thought that planet Earth was about to implode. She won the bet, high fived me and started asking me about the way Lebanese mix mayonnaise and lemon with garlic for the sauce.
  • Gert, the reporter from Belgium, told me that he went to Qana, Khyam and Bint Jbeil. What shocked him the most was the destruction of the jail of Khyam, now considered a tourist site, where Israelis used to keep and abuse Lebanese citizens before year 2000. "The destruction of the jail is a symbol", he said. "The jail was empty when they did that and it was not even considered as a threat".

Thursday, August 17, 2006

At noon, all the streets are empty. Is Nasrallah on TV? Well, no, it is Walid Jumblat. "Sorry, I have to run, I am watching Walid Beik in the cafe" being echoed in Hamra affected me with a different sense of deja-vu. It is the revenge of the "14th of March" patriots. "We were listening exclusively to your Nasrallah, now you have to listen to our Jumblat". What is it with you people? The least you can do is to give us, and yourselves, a time out. "No, no, I have to watch the Jumblatian attack and debate it stupidly with my friends". The patriotic feeling that Lebanese citizens surfaced out during the war is gone. No more talks about Marwahin, Qana or Shiyah. It is in the past now. Make way to internal political confusion and sectarian hatred.
  • Mahmoud has his smile back. This engineer who lost his house and his two offices, not to mention a large part of his investment, was having his espresso and his cigarette, in the same place and at the same time. I used to set up my watch when he comes. "I finally erased the past month from my memory, I am happy that my family is fine and that is the most important thing for me. I was lucky to be successful so fast, and I will do it all over again", he said happily.
  • Alaa knew from the second week of war that his apartment in Dahieh was reduced to ashes. When I asked him about his plans after Nasrallah's promise to pay the families war indemnity, he answered: "Do you know how many families are in line. I will have to wait months for my turn". Nagging is part of the Lebanese culture.
  • It has been more than a month since I last saw Sanaa. She spent her time during the war at her grandfather's house in a relatively safe village in the Bekaa, much safer than her apartment in Dahieh. "Due to the village's location, I could watch the Israeli missiles being dropped on bridges and houses. After a while, I got bored, but the sound was terrifying", she started by saying. After an espresso sip, she continued: "Since I wasn't working, I don't have enough money to go back to university. I saved just enough to buy an airplane ticket. I am traveling to visit a cousin in Germany. There, universities are much cheaper and I will try to apply".
  • A truck full of broken furniture parked down the furnished apartments next to Cafe Younes. It was the remains of a house in the South. It is everything this family owned. Hezbollah was paying $ 12,000 per family, they were one of the first to collect the indemnity and they are staying in a $ 300 per month furnished apartment. "Nasrallah won't leave us", I heard them saying, "We are staying here till we find a way to rebuild our house in the South".
  • A very polite Egyptian photographer came for his last cappuccino. "I am going back to Irak", he said, "There is no more work for me here and there, nothing has changed, people are still getting killed".
  • A "we" and "you" argument broke Hamra's afternoon street silence. Five people were debating Jumblat's speech. A machiavelic experimental scientist would have given them guns, just to see, but the results would have been obvious. As I was painfully watching them, the plan of leaving the country came back to me.

The best thing to do, to erase the pictures of this last debate, is to go back to the movie I was watching on DVD. Don't get tempted to watch a "smart-non-Hollywood-independent-low-budget" movie. You will interrupt it in the first five minutes. A nice romantic comedy will do. So, I am going back to "Prime" featuring Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman, and if you haven't seen it yet, don't.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Descarte's "Cogito Ergo Sum" (I think therefore I am) has been finally deleted from historical philosophical books. After a victorious win against their enemy, Lebanese citizens decided to confront each other, in the ugliest narcisstic way. "I am what my personal religious sect affiliation is" took over. When you witness a bitter war of words between young adults, each defending selfishly their religious fanatic affiliation, a shock of low self esteem feeling conquers whatever left of your soul. And you begin to question yourself. The perception of being isolated disarms your will. There is no place for you in this small universe, no place for those who naively still believe in the forces of good. It is with upmost disgust that I will try to portray a scene played by young actors, which we call the future generation.
  • Young Woman 1: Yaaay, I hate LBC, it reflects the Christian side with no regards for those who are dying.
  • Young Man 1: You are right. All what they think about is dancing and getting drunk.
  • Young Woman 2: We have the right to do whatever we want. It was not our war, anyway.
  • Young Woman 1: It is not your victory either.
  • Young Man 2: I don't know if this is what you call victory, with all the deaths and the destruction.
  • Young Man 1: At least we are not occupied by the Israelis nor by the Americans.
  • Young Man 2: You are right, we are occupied by the Syrians and the Iranians. I prefer to be an American state instead of being the loyal subject of those fanatics.
  • Young Woman 1: Anyway, we are the winners.
  • Young Man 1: And we should ban all TV stations except for Al Manar.
  • Young Woman 1: And especially LBC and Future.
  • Young Man 2: Yaaneh, all Christians and Sunnis?
  • Young Woman 1: Not all the Christians, you still have Michel Aoun to give you an inch of patriotism.
  • Young Man 1: And the Druze too, they are part of the "14th of March".
  • Young Woman 2: The "14th of March" freed the country from the Syrians.
  • Young Man 1: And Hezbollah freed the country from Israel.

I listened to them debating for half an hour... Then I left.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The streets are empty, emptier than ever. First, today is a public holiday, as if we need to celebrate a day this year. Second, Hamra's inhabitants who left to other villages and towns in the mountains are still hesitating to come back. Third, displaced people from Dahieh and the South went to see what is left from their houses and apartments.
  • Gert, the reporter from Belgium, was drinking his Cafe au Lait, when I first came in. He greeted me with: "Alors, c'est la paix?" (So, there is peace?). I saw Gert on Saturday and he was more pessimistic than my marital counselor. What made him change his mind?
  • For more than ten years, since I took over the coffee shop, I have been greeting Abou Anwar in the same way (Sabaho, maallem, kifak?) and he always used to reply (katter kheir allah). Today's answer should be filed in UN's historical war archives. He nodded his head and answered: "Tsssk, mish mnih (No, not well), I spent five hours (instead of the usual one hour and a half) on the road due to all those who were heading to the South. He was really pissed, he nearly burnt the coffee that was being roasted, and he was even more pissed. Yes, two things he hates the most: Being late and badly roasted coffee.
  • The good thing about today was to see your old regulars again, those who left Beirut. One of them was Mahmoud, a very successful engineer, who used to come very early for his "few drops of energy". We used to discuss all kinds of issues and he was kind of a walking encyclopedia for me. I was so glad to see him today. After he lit his cigarette he told me that his house and his office in Baalbeck were completely destroyed and his office and $50,000 worth of equipment in the South were too. He has lost his daily smile and his eternal "joie de vivre". Knowing him, I guess it is a matter of time before he gets them back.
  • Kamel too was a regular and he is back. He told me that he lived in the Cedars all this month. When I asked him if he stayed there all this time, he answered: "No, in the second week of the war, I had to go to the South to get my grandfather who is living alone. An adventure of seven hours, but I got to him safe. Two days later, we knew that his house was demolished. And when the family told him the bad news, all what he did was to answer that, 'anyway, he was not watering the tomatoes."
  • My daily question to Omar in French was: "Shou, Omar, la guerre est terminee?" (Is the war over?). He replied: "Eh, eh, cent pourrrr cent" (Yes, hundred per cent).
  • A client who was sitting by himself drinking his mochaccino, decided to interrupt my day dreaming moments and to talk to me. He told me a story about his neighborhood's fuel station: There was a huge line of cars at the fuel station, and they were selling the fuel at the regular price of LL 25,000 per 20 liters. Suddenly, with no warning, the owner of the station decided to cease all fuel filling activities, and indirectly advertised the line of drivers that he will fill the cars in the back garage for LL 50,000 per 20 liters. People started to shout but, eventually, agreed to the warlord conditions. One of those went into the garage, bought a 20 liter gallon, spilled it on the floor, and put a fire to the whole station.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mazeltov, Ehud. On behalf of the Lebanese people, I would like to thank you on a job well done. Thank you for the 1,150 dead. Thank you for the destruction of 400 cities, towns and villages. Thank you for the one million displaced. Thank you for keeping the two captured soldiers in the hands of "the enemy" so that they won't die in the battlefied. Thank you and Mazeltov. Your predecessors and those who will follow you (very soon) are so proud.
Hey, Georgie darling, what are you going to do now? Where are you planning to send Ms Rice with her fancy suit and her fake smile? I know a nice island called Sri Lanka (no, not next to Hawaii!) where the Tamil are rebelling against the government. Do you still have some Israeli left over artillery to distribute? If not, we can lend you some unused cluster bombs in the South. Tamil or government? Just throw a coin. Oh, Condie prefers the African sun! Zambia? Congo? Throw your coin!
  • A Greek reporter, who was supposed to leave on Saturday, showed up. After six cigarettes in ten minutes, I asked her what went wrong. She answered: "On Saturday, the road to Syria was very dangerous. Now I am waiting to be deported in a Greek war ship. I have to go to the Greek embassy, stay four hours there, twenty hours in the ship to Cyprus then four hours to Greece."
  • An American reporter, with a New Orleans t-shirt, ordered his large Latte. He told me that he was just one mile (is a kilometer less than a mile?) from the explosion in Shoueifat. "I am telling you man, that the whole building was shaking. I couldn't hold on to my Bud!" What are you, dude, a Swan Lake reporter?
  • Then his American colleague came in, the famous I-got-an-e-mail-from-the-US-ambassador-thanking-me-for-the-coffee, telling her New Orleans bud to shake his butt full of Bud. He was having a conversation with an Iranian customer about the after-Shah regime, so she had to wait, ordered something with lots of caffeine coz she spent the whole night on CNN, and engaged me in a one-sided conversation about the need to have a translator so that she can know what is happening on Arabic speaking TV stations because CNN and BBC broadcast late information. (1- I am sorry that the sentence doesn't end but I have to submit the exact and original magnitude of the conversation. 2- If someone is interested in being an English-Arabic TV personal translator for an American reporter (No office needed, the couch and the bed will do), please contact me). Then, believe me it never ends, she asked me for a cigarette, do not lit it please I will save it for later, and explained that she does that because the cigarettes in Lebanon cost less than two bucks while in New York they cost more than eight US Dollars and (again, sorry for the long sentence) if the prices were the same she would never ask for a cigarette because that will cost (her: brief calculating pause, me: brief relief) well it's like half a buck or something and not (another brief pause) two hundred of "your Liras". Finally, the divine intervention that I was waiting for appeared in the form of spilled coffee, I stormed out of the shop to talk non-sense to the poor client, and when I came back, she has joined the Iranian-American conversation and all what I heard was her final saying, worthy of Socrates himself: "When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail". Curtain.
  • I saw a bag packed of cleaning equipment with a woman who was ordering a pack of coffee. When she noticed that I was staring at the brooms and mops, she explained: "I am going to clean my house in Dahieh. I bought all the necessary supplies. I still have the coffee. Wish me luck."
  • An Irish reporter ordered his caramel cappuccino. His clothes and his desert-storm boots were all dusty. He told me that he just came from Dahieh and with a nice laugh he said: "With all the misery and destruction I saw, I noticed a man standing on some rocks that used to be part of a building's foundations, now leveled to the ground. He was smiling and shouting: 'I am standing on the ninth floor. I am in my apartment's bedroom'. Worthy of a Belfast-black-beer-drinking-citizen."

Attached: Saturday's pictures.

From up: Pierre and Abou Anwar, Saturday's crowd, the Israeli flyer.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Eighteen hours of electrical darkness left me as ignorant as Olmert's strategic military advisor. Yesterday was Friday and I felt like Robinson Crusoe's first day in his home town. My four minutes walk from my apartment to Cafe Younes gave mixed signals: More people on the streets, the faces lost partially their zombie-like colors, two women were talking about something like "a sabot with no heel and strass", a huge fight in a money exchange store with all kinds of possible words involving the mother and the sister (and some genitals), a few smiles from here and there...
It turned out that the war was coming to an end and my Saturday clients expressed themselves out loud.
  • An American reporter, reported her satisfaction about the UN resolution and the possible cease fire. "Although I blame the American government for helping Israel's attacks against your country, I am satisfied with their "role" in the cease fire", she told me, "And you know what, your coffee had something to do with it." "Huh???", I said. And she started explaining, in a fast forwarded speech (please read as fast as possible), how she went to the US embassy, met a friend who works there, asked if he wants anything since they are not allowed to leave the premises, him wanting coffee, her telling him that she knows the right place, her coming here to buy TWO pounds of the Ethiopian/Colombian mixture (She almost punched my face with her two fingers that I thought I was facing a Hezbollah fighter with the V sign), her receiving a surprising e-mail from the US ambassador (THE ambassador of the US of A, I am telling you man) telling her how pleased he was from the coffee... And she went on and on with information about her cat's diarrhea, her son's girlfriend's AA meetings and the lovely chocolate trip she made to Switzerland two years ago.
  • An Iranian old client came in for his latte shouting happily the only Arabic words he knows: "Shou? Khalas? El Hamdellah!"
  • "Mabrouk!", Saadeh said before ordering his espresso, "The whole block's coffee is on me."
  • At 10:00 AM, Cafe Younes witnessed a large and happy crowd. At one time, you could actually hear seven spoken languages: Arabic, French (Swiss and French), English (American, English and Scottish), Spanish (Colombian and Venezuelan), German, Armenian and a Greek on a mobile phone with her family. A New York Times reporter, sipping his espresso, was eaves dropping. Then he decided to interview me about my personal view regarding the war. I answered his questions and as he was looking for more candidates, I selfishly offered him to talk to Jamal since we both share the same opinions. Hopefully, a non edited version of these interviews will appear tomorrow in the New York Times.
  • At 1:00 PM, an Israeli military Napoleonian-Alexanderian-Hanibaalian-Cesarian-Nabuchodonosorian-Sun Tzeian-Spartacusian-Gengis Khanian-Joan of Arcian-Saladinian-Geronimoian-Zapataian-Shwarzeneggerian-Freudian-Olmertian offensive plan made the desired impact on the streets of Hamra: A plane dropped flyers offering to the amused eyes of the Lebanese an advice to avoid Nasrallah's influence and an info that the Hezbollah's leader will lead us to self destruction. All this in a poetic writing. With a colored cartoon drawing of a Lebanese cedar tree with what looks like Nasrallah's face coming out from behind the tree. Every passer by got one, it was Emily's first and she jealously kept it in her purse (a purse that she will lose anyway), it was my first too and I officially declare my flyer-virgin weeks over.
  • Mohamad, while drinking his iced cafe au lait (with no ice, of course) drew my attention on some writings made on one of the coffee shop's table: "Imagine that US and Israel do not exist in any world, how could it be." Followed by: "Israel must be drawn from our country Lebanon."
  • I was talking with a client about the fact that Olmert is being compared to Hitler. A British reporter over heard us and said: "You can't compare Hitler with Olmert. Hitler used to drive the prisoners to concentration camps and gas chambers while Olmert is better in client service; with the help of Tony, George and Condie, he brings death directly to his "clients" homes and beds at anytime of the day, even at dawn. A 24-hour service". I remember this guy, we had a little discussion four weeks ago and I recalled him arguing about Israel's right to defend itself.

PS: I forgot my digital camera in Cafe Younes. I took a lot of pictures of this day. I will publish a few on Monday.

Friday, August 11, 2006

At 4:00 AM, the so-called supremacy of Israel's army came back to life by arranging to drop a few bombs on Lebanese innocent civilians. For them, it is just another day (wake up early, turn off the alarm clock, brush their teeth, launch a few missiles) and for the Dahieh (and other towns/villages in Lebanon) inhabitants, it is another massacre.
  • Gert, a reporter from Belgium, ordered his "cafe au lait comme d'habitude s'il te plait". Yesterday, he went to Baalbeck. Though he was shocked from the tight level of security from Hezbollah's members, he was pleased to find that the precautionary measures implemented were combined with extremely polite and respectful manners. "I had some time left, so I went to visit the Roman temples...And the new ruins!", he said detailing me the horrors of what he saw. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, with the help of our loving neighbors, new tourist's sites have been declared open to what is left of the public.
  • Two clients came to order Earl Grey tea. While they were drinking their hot tea and eating their thyme mankousheh, they started telling me about the shameful Sheikh's speech they heard after Friday's prayer. "He kept on praising Fouad Saniora (Lebanon's prime minister) for his role in this war, and it went on for hours without mentioning a single word about the resistance! They are the ones who are fighting, they are the ones who are dying!" one of them said. And the other to add: "I've heard that in some Arab countries like Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Tunisia, they include the Lebanese resistance in their prayers."
  • A Kenyan journalist ordered a Mochaccino. His cab was waiting outside and the cafe was crowded. "How long would it take?" he asked. Trying to calculate how many clients haven't been served, I replied that it might take around five minutes. Realizing that he had a few minutes to chit-chat, he added: "I hope that it is not a Kenyan five minutes because I've noticed that we share a similar time table. It is too bad we have not your resistance army." For the record: Four minutes later, his Mochaccino was served.
  • At around noon, an explosion was heard. I looked at my clients and some passers by. No one reacted. A few remarks like: "It is on Dahieh" or "The wife told them to be patient, lunch is not ready yet", but life went on the way it was... With an increasing number of casualties.
  • While drinking her cinnamon cappuccino, a hotel employee and I started analyzing yesterday's events. After a few minutes, she changed the subject to tell me that the hotel she is working in gave her an unpaid leave as it did to more than 80% of the employees. "Our colleagues worldwide (the hotel is a multinational chain) are gathering a major donation to pay half of our salaries", she continued. "I am single and my family is helping me, but this salary is the only source of income for most of the employees."
  • Rami, 16 years old, came in to drink his Irish cream hot chocolate and to smoke a few cigarettes. I asked about his brother, Nabil, who is one year older. Rami answered in a low voice: "My mentally ill parents do not let us be together in the same place. We are their only children, and if something happens to one of us, they would still be having the other."