Monday, July 31, 2006

Cafe Younes always closes on Sundays. That Sunday morning, I took the liberty to sleep a few hours more to wake up to the horrifying news that all the world witnessed: The Qana holocaust. After one hour of TV watching, I felt that my head is exploding. Is it because I cried like a child while the "rescue" scenes were pictured in the media? At least I have the luxury of a headache... I am sure that the Qana victims would have given anything for a headache but all we might give them are those tears...

What was supposed to be a busy Monday morning is a sad mourning day. Cafe Younes is closed for a second day in a row. I will take the time to read (mainly Robert Fisk's articles on The Independent) and talk with some friends about what I have seen on TV.

I attached the picture of Abou Ahmad, a fruit vendor, who offers me daily an orange, an apple or a pear each time he orders an espresso.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pierrot, Rea, Marc, Greg, Rana, Pierre and the others...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I had to watch the news on the internet. When I woke up, there was no electricity due to the Israeli bombing of the Jiyeh power plant two weeks ago. Six hours of daily darkness is a fair deal relative to the 1996 Israeli war's total blackout. What I noxiously realized was the "drug obligation" of having to watch TV as soon as you wake up knowing that the last thing I did before going to sleep was to turn off the TV! What could have happened during these five or six hours of sleep? TV and coffee in the morning... A very bad coffee this morning by the way: I had to absorb my necessary dose of caffeine out of a stove top hot water and a bad tasting instant coffee instead of my beloved strong fresh Colombian filter coffee, unfortunately electrical. This Saturday morning, the heavy silence of the streets was disturbed by the loud noise of the generators. Those huge generators that are suddenly present to pinpoint the awful bitter truth of the war. These power making machines are owned by the faithful servants of the lords of war, the few people who have a greedy smile on their faces when they hear the first explosion.

  • I asked a Daily Star (an English language Lebanese newspaper) reporter drinking his caramel latte the reason behind the eight pages newspaper instead of the usual twenty pages. "Shortage of paper", he explained sadly, "We have a two-week stock of paper left, then we won't know what to do".
  • After five strong espressos, a client decided to go for the sixth. His friend and I decided to stop him. "I didn't sleep yesterday and I have a long drive to the North this morning, I have to stay awake", he said with a yawn. Then he added: "You know what you should do, you should open a branch on the Israeli border... The resistance army will drink your potion then we'll definitely win the war!"
  • "My fight is not to fight", concluded an American musician sipping his usual large hot chocolate. A very "high spirit" conversation was engaged. "I love this country", he started saying when I asked him if he was planning to leave. "I went to Egypt and Jordan, places I liked a lot, but I love it here and I am willing to stay even if I am not working at the moment. But I am sure that my saxophone and my jazzy tunes will be needed when the war is over". And he continues with a sorry smile: "I am witnessing something unique, different and more cruel than anything I have ever seen or heard. And I am very interested. I was naive to think that 9-11 was the worst catastrophe in the history but now I have so many things to say back home."
  • You can recognize and Italian from miles away: White pants, brown docksides shoes, Armani colored shirt, well groomed, perfectly tanned. This middle aged Italian reporter of Il Giornale di Milano was sipping with satisfaction his one shot ristretto when I asked him about his weekend's plans. "My friend", he said with this musical talk Italians are famous for, "I am going to Tyre. I went to Beirut Southern Suburbs and to Baalbeck, now I have to see what is happening in Tyre." When I asked him if he is not scared to go to these places, he answered indifferently: "It is the same all over the world. I reported from Kosovo, Afghanistan and twice from Iraq. It is the same. Anyway, if I come on Monday for my morning coffee, you will know that I am alive."
  • I was very pleased to meet Shashank, an American reporter working for "Knight Ridder" in Kenya. He read this blog and he came for a cappuccino. So Shashank, it was very nice meeting you.
  • Of course Pierre was here. He was waiting for his university colleagues to join him in what they call a Saturday Cafe Younes ritual. They all came. I was a bit sad when they started kissing and hugging: War separates! I tried to listen to some pieces of their loud and joyful conversation about the significance of this war and about the way they all are contributing and helping. In the middle of the Iced hazelnut mochas, the cappuccinos and Rea's creation of Iced Nescafe Nestle, I felt proud that I am Lebanese. Greg, Marc and Rea were talking about the Venezuela president Chavez's position against the war in Lebanon and about Blair's insignificant talks. Catherine was saying how calmly Nasrallah talks relative to Olmert and Bush's shaky talks. Rana and Pierre were exchanging websites and e-mails with others. (By the way, go to Rana and Pierre website: Very interesting). Again, I am very proud to be Lebanese.

Friday, July 28, 2006

I am late. I woke up earlier than usual but stayed nearly two hours in front of the TV watching the news... Of course nothing new: Same talks of humanitarian crisis, same position of the US against the cease fire, more deployment of Israeli soldiers, more pictures of death. The streets are still empty and sad, the few people I encounter are still faceless. I realized that I can actually hear my footsteps on the sidewalk. The garbage is back where it belonged: on the streets between the cars. It seemed that the cleaning awareness campaign was not very fruitful. At least I saw the old guy with the shoe-shine equipment who used to sit at a busy corner in Hamra. He is one of the many trade marks of Hamra street. I am happy that he is back. But I am really late so I will talk to him tomorrow.

  • Those of you who visited Cafe Younes and who are reading these lines are surely waiting to hear about Pierre. Pierre is a daily client who waits at 5:30 AM for the cafe to open and helps us in closing. Pierre, maybe 50 years old, maybe 190 cms and 110 kgs. Pierre, with his inseparable Harley Davidson and the assorted black clothes. Pierre, a design teacher at a famous French university in Lebanon, with the looks of an alien gangster but with a heart of gold. Pierre who lives with his mother and considers Cafe Younes as his first home. I was very happy when I heard the high and obnoxious sound of his motorcycle because although he called me everyday on the phone I really missed him and so does the whole neighborhood. He has been out of sight for more than two weeks. While he was drinking his own creation of a very condensed milk cappuccino, Pierre started talking, and when he talks he never stops. He has the capacity of telling you hundred of stories per minute. I decided to select a few: Like most Lebanese citizens, Pierre and his mother decided to let one of the employees of a nearby restaurant live with them and they are even paying him around 200 US Dollars per month as pocket money. Moreover, his sister who lives in Paris, gave her Jounieh apartment's keys to a homeless family of nine. And like most Lebanese, he is satisfied from the contribution he is doing. He told me the sad story of one of his relatives, driving away from the Israeli planes flying on a very low altitude, couldn't notice that the bridge he was driving on was partially destroyed. The car fell off the bridge and he is now in the hospital with, luckily, one broken arm and a broken leg. Due to the limited number of megabytes, it would be impossible for me to type all of Pierre's stories he spent nearly two hours to finish. I am sure I will include more tomorrow.
  • Where is Brian, the British reporter? He never missed one morning since the beginning of the war. Is he alive, is he wounded, did he go back to England???
  • Haytham, one of Libanlait (a major Lebanese/French milk company) representatives paid me a visit. Their main factory in the Bekaa valley was completely destroyed by Israeli planes. 12 million US Dollars loss for what Israel suspected to be a company run by a Hezbollah management. "All lies", Haytham said, "But the French government is suing the Israeli government and even if it is known that it is a lost case, I am glad they are doing it". For the time being, Haytham is jobless.
  • I have to admit that most of my stories are biased and subjective, but a small part of my objective persona is emerging throughout the next lines. One of the main actors in this theater of Lebanese drama is a group of young men and women who spend their time contributing and volunteering to help war displaced people. Just to show the other dark side of the Lebanese society, I will forward what Rima and Nadim, two young students full of life and hope for a better Lebanon, told me today: In the middle of the crisis and what is happening in the country, displaced children were entertained by some local help groups. The cheapest and easiest entertainment is drawing. The children, unaware of the catastrophe they are witnessing, were more than happy drawing lively colored houses, big suns, vast green gardens and even shiny red Coca Cola cans. Nadim was shocked to see the parents ordering their children to draw tanks, guns, war scenes and the famous Hezbollah's missile Raad 1. Rima couldn't believe her ears when she heard a woman include in her list of basic needs, between the words of bread, water and soap, deodorant and perfume for her 18 years old son who wants "to go out at night"... And we shouldn't forget the newly wed couple who insisted on a private room while the whole refugee's school they are in is hardly able to contain hundreds of families. Of course, these are minorities that should not be accountable for!!!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

At 7:30 AM, Hamra streets are still empty and sad. On my way I passed by an old man singing: "Ya Jnoub Ya Layla Ya Jnoub" translated roughly as such: "South Layla South" in reference to a famous traditional Lebanese song. The good thing in this humid and hot day of July is that the streets were less dirty than they were yesterday. This is due to yesterday's cleaning awareness campaign done by Lebanese citizens. Will see how they will appear tomorrow.

  • Brian, the British reporter, ordered his cappuccino. I was dying to ask him about yesterday's UN convoy of food and medicine to Tyre (see yesterday). "It arrived safely", he told me, "and it will do the same routed shipment today, but still at its own risk since they have not received any clearance from the Israeli authorities."
  • I have to tell you the story of Oum Ibrahim. Oum Ibrahim is the nicest person you could ever meet. A martyr's widow, whose husband was killed by the Israeli army a few years ago, Oum Ibrahim lives in an apartment in Beirut Southern Suburbs with her two young boys, surviving on Hezbollah's monthly help and some relative's assistance. I met this middle aged woman a few years ago when she insisted on buying one of the most expensive coffee beans in the shop. She then was hooked buying several kilograms per month. "A good cup of coffee is all what is left", she used to say. I decided to make her an important discount and since she never came empty handed, carrying bags of home made sweets and jars of her Southern village's thyme for my employees and me. A month ago, Oum Ibrahim ordered three times as much coffee than her usual and when I asked her about the reason, she replied that she is inviting everyone in the building to celebrate the last payment of her apartment's 15 years loan. "It is finally mine", she said... Oum Ibrahim's brother came today and ordered the usual coffee beans. He told me that Oum Ibrahim and her children are safe and living with her cousin but the building is a small hill of dust and cement...
  • Manuel, a young man from Sudan living in Lebanon for ten years, was drinking his espresso and smoking his Gitanes Lights when I asked him if he wants to go back to Sudan due to what is going on in Lebanon. "I prefer staying here even if there is nothing left but ruins", he answered. I don't know if I should be happy that Lebanon is not the planet's worst country to live in or be sad that somewhere else in the world people are enduring even more.
  • Tanya, 20 years old, decided to wait before taking her bath yesterday night. She was terrified from the sound of the Israeli war planes flying at a really low altitude over Beirut. "I don't want to die naked", she muttered shyly. Half an hour later, after the planes disappeared from the Lebanese sky back to their airbase of terror, and after a quick shower, Tanya packed three suitcases "just in case"... And she slept in her mother's pajamas not willing to take out her packed ones!

I would like to thank Salia for her support.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It is 8:00 AM. Hamra streets, usually clean, busy and happy are dirty, empty and sad. This is the second week of the war, a so-called Israeli self defense war. Surely they were scared of the little 2 year old boy they massacred while trying to find a safe place to hide!!!

  • One of my first clients was Brian, a British reporter. "I just came from the port of Beirut", he said. "they were delivering food and medicine from Greece. A UN convoy of ten trucks... Food for 40,000 people that could last 3 weeks and medicine for 50,000 people that should last 3 months to be delivered to Tyre. But there was no Israeli clearance and they are going anyway. If things get back on their way, they will drop everything in Saida". I already prepared my question for tomorrow...
  • One of my clients spilled his coffee. "You know that it is good luck to accidentally spill coffee", his friend said. He looked at him and almost crying, he shouted: "What I really wish for is a cease fire". It turned out that he lost his apartment in Beirut southern suburbs.
  • Alaa entered. He wanted his espresso but he's in a hurry. Usually, he sits for two hours reading three newspapers and sipping 4 to 5 espressos. Alaa is in a hurry because two of his friends died from Israeli bombings in the southern suburbs. He said that there was no Hezbollah presence in their neighborhood.
  • Jackson, an American reporter, came in and asked for his cappuccino. I was worried because I haven't seen him for 3 days. He was in Tyre. "I saw what is happening there. It is scary and very sad. I am not going back", he said.
  • Ali, who was an employee of mine when I had a coffee outlet in the southern suburbs 8 years ago, told me that he saw on TV that the building where he lived and where my shop was is leveled with the ground. "Hamdellah", he said, "The most important thing is that we still have our dignity and we should thank Sayyed Hassan for that", in reference to Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader.
  • Mr. Ammache, a manager in the Meridien hotel, told me while drinking his Ethiopian filter coffee, that the hotel provided 44 rooms free of charge for their employees and their families who lost their homes.
  • Jamal's grandfather lives in Yaroun, a village bordering Maroun el Ras. For those who do not know, Maroun el Ras is the closest village to the Israeli border, a strategic location now in the hands of the Israeli army. Jamal woke up this morning on the news that Yaroun was severely bombarded and there were lots of victims. There was no news from his grandfather for 3 days. He told me that he should accept the old man wishes. "My grandfather does not want to leave, he wants to die next to my grandmother who passed away 5 years ago".

Is Santa Claus dead???

I own a small gourmet cafe in Hamra, a busy and commercial part in Beirut, Lebanon. Lebanon is in the middle of a bloody war with Israel... And we're sick of it, again. But Lebanon is a unique country with unique citizens, so strong from the inside that they can stand in front of tanks, missiles and American-Israeli weapons of mass destruction.

A friend of mine went to talk to war refugees in a public garden in Beirut. She saw a little girl writing on a piece of paper. "I am writing to Santa Claus", she said... Then after a pause, she asked: "Is Santa Claus dead?"

I decided to portray a daily picture of Lebanon that is not a picture of war scenes, refugees or political analysis. It is a picture of those who are still in Lebanon (Lebanese and non-Lebanese) trying to have an unsuccessful break from the daily terror seen on TV. I hope that some of you, by reading this, could answer the little girl's question. I can't.

Amin Younes