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."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

"Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight, whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle, will arrive exhausted."
Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

  • The Colombian embassy postponed Latifa's and Amale's departure. There was no valid excuses, they just have to wait. Latifa came in the morning with the best gift ever, a "Chiva". It is a handicraft model of a car that carries passengers and supplies from a village to another in the mountains of Colombia (see picture attached). I loved the gift, although it made me think that I will never see these "ninas" again. It was like a" good bye for ever" gift.
  • There was this article in a newspaper that made a laughing scene in Cafe Younes. The article was about a Syrian lost in Beirut, trying to find the Southern Beirut Suburbs, to be enrolled with Hezbollah. The newspaper was passed from one hand to another and it helped to ease the over all tension of the suffocating heat and humidity of the day.
  • Two explosions at noon. Hamra was empty in minutes. I still don't know why Cafe Younes hosted the biggest crowd ever. People getting in trying to figure what was going on. Since the phone lines were completely jammed, rumors were flying between the cappuccinos and the cigarettes: "It is Dahieh, I know it from the sound of the missile" or "No, they targeted Hariri's palace", or even "It seems they are destroying Beirut Central District". Fifteen minutes later, the info came that the Israelis have hit two old and unused antennas in Ras Beirut and there were no casualties. After being relieved, my coffee drinkers started to debate the political meaning of the bombing: "It is a clear message to Nasrallah's threat", or "They are trying to persuade Hariri to shift to the other camp", or even"The Israelis' last hope to win this war is to surface out the Lebanese tensions among themselves".
  • An hour later, Hamra streets were crowded again.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A promise is a promise, right? Wrong! A Lebanese promise is 20 percent of a promise. Well, I got the 20 percent, a few bags of Colombian coffee, instead of the promised 50 bags of Brazilian and Ethiopian coffee... And ridiculously over-priced!!! But, quoting an e-mail from a German friend, I will stay open even if I am serving just water. Thanks Christina.
  • A bank employee parked his bike next to the shop. As he was ordering some coffee beans he told me that he will get me some pictures of his colleagues going to work on scooters and on bicycles. The irony was that the bank management, discovering their employees' new means of transportation, decided to cut on their transportation expenses!
  • Hassan's new pastime. When the electricity is off, is to go and look for an open fuel station. "I drive around, sniffing for fuel, and when I find a station, I park my car in line, open my book and read. At least I occupy myself with the car airconditionning on."
  • Rodney, an American reporter, was having his large mochaccino, when we started talking about the difference between George W. Bush and some other presidents. "I don't like the guy, I hate his government and I did not vote for him", he said. "But, wherever I go, when I introduce myself as American, I can see the hatred in people's eyes", he added. Well, Rodney, you should know where a part of your tax dollars is going! Rodney then asked me where he can find a radio because when he was at the refugees' center in the Sanayeh public garden, a family broke theirs and he offered to buy them one. Good humanitarian act, Rod.
  • I could have sworn that I knew this guy from somewhere! He ordered two espressos for him and his friend. Very familiar face. I remember! From a picture taken of Israeli soldiers holding Nasrallah's picture that I saw last night on my favorite blog ( I am imagining things now. Or is it true? And the guy, obviously an Israeli spy, is walking calmly in the middle of Hamra streets?

I would like to thank all the e-mails I am receiving and I am sorry that it is taking me ages to answer. My excuses are: no electricity, no time, anger and depression and August's severe sinus headache. Thanks again.

Attached: Early morning clients.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

On my way to work, I crossed the street to see, for the second day in a row, a long line of more than 400 cars waiting for their turn to fill up fuel (see picture attached). It reminded me of the previous wars in Lebanon, when I used to sleep in the car next to a fuel station to be one of the first to fill up the car's tank. Now, maybe maturity plays a big role in my decision, I prefer to use my feet.

  • The 20-pages Daily Star newspaper is now 4 pages only.
  • One year ago, Fadi Toufic, a Lebanese young writer, published a book entitled: "Bilad Allah Al Dayika" (God's narrow nations) about the social life of the people of Dahiyeh. He told me today that he is wanted to make three seminars about his book. "A sudden interest", he said, "But I swear I have nothing to do with the war". A great book by the way.
  • How about a cat story? Two weeks before the war, Nour, the responsible of the silverware shop just next to Cafe Younes took a small cat from the streets and kept it in her shop. One week later, she asked me if I can home it because she is guilty that the cat is staying in the shop alone at night and on weekends. I took it and I called it Lupa (wolf in Italian). A week and $200 worth of cat equipment later, I returned Lupa to its initial owner after I discovered that I had a severe cat allergy. Lupa turned out to be the street's mascot, a tourist attraction for all of Cafe Younes's clients. The war kept Lupa in the closed silverware shop because Nour, who lives in Dahieh, couldn't come to Hamra. My clients, seeing Lupa through the shop's glass window, were crushed. Two days later, Nour showed up, saying that she had to bear all the risks to come for Lupa and she took the cat with her. A week later, Nour, her family and Lupa left their apartment in Dahiyeh to a relatively safer place next to Dahieh. I saw Nour and Lupa today. When I asked her why she brought Lupa with her, she replied that the poor cat is terrified from the sound of the bombs and it is better to keep it at a neighbor's shop till everything is over. "I prepared food and water supply for three days", she added, "I even added some aspirin in the water to ease up Lupa's tension!"
  • A displaced family from the South, living in the building nearby, came down with five chairs, three nargilehs and some fruits. They installed the chairs on the sidewalk in front of some closed stores, near the coffee shop, and started smoking and eating. A client I hardly know looked at them with despise and said: "That is the last thing we want. Due to this shitty war, we have to see more of those. They will add garbage in our streets and sidewalks and bad influence to our kids." Unfortunately, we still can witness comments like these among Lebanese citizens. After thinking that I should serve him an espresso with a sneezer, I told the man in a rude manner that they are people like you and me and they deserve every respect we can show. And, of course, he didn't reply. An hour later, the displaced family gathered its stuff and the woman took a broom and started cleaning the sidewalk, putting the left overs in a bag, to throw it later in a garbage disposal. I wished the client was here to see that, but I will be sure not to spare any detail when I see him again.
  • Two American photographers came in and ordered two "caaaaappuccinows". They started telling me how they went yesterday to the collapsed building in the Shiyah area, next to Dahieh. "It is the worst massacre of all", one of them said with a Californian accent, "Even worse than Qana. We have never seen something like that... And we've been in Irak." And when I asked them if they are staying in Lebanon, the other photographer answered: "We have nothing to do when the war is over, we are leaving tomorrow night". A small hope that the war might be over soon?
  • My best friend Abbas passed by for a visit. He was waiting for his nephew Bahige to fill up the car with fuel. "He will wait an hour for his turn", he said. And he calls him to see if he is still in line and the station is still open. (You could easily be waiting for three hours and the station would be out of fuel and you will be screwed). "I have around a hundred cars in front of me", Bahige answered. The story of "Bahige In Line" was the interest of all the clients at Cafe Younes. When the latest info revealed "twenty cars left", clients started laughing and shaking Abbas's hands. Bahige returned victoriously with only 15 liters of fuel in the car, because the station allows just LL 15,000 of fuel per car.
  • This was Marcelo's, the Brazilian reporter, last day in Lebanon. He came for his final espresso, "to keep the flavor in his mouth". In the morning, he had a three hour meeting with Dr. Kamal Salibi, an AUB professor, a very well known historian specialist in the history of Lebanon and the Middle East. Marcelo was more than pleased with the interview. He told me about his last question that deals with the fact that some Lebanese Christians are in conflict with Lebanese Shiaa due to Hezbollah's war against Israel and their role in the present conflict. Salibi answered: "What we need are good manners. If you hate Nasrallah, you do not have to shout it out loud to all the Shiaa you encounter". After having our picture together taken, Marcelo said: "I wish you and Lebanon the best". And we promised to stay in touch. Although I have known him for a week, I will miss this extremely nice guy.
  • It was the day of good byes. First there was Samer, a daily client who is in love with Cafe Younes. He came to tell me, with tears in his eyes, that it was his last day and he is leaving to Canada for good. And to top it all, the very sad news of the departure of Latifa and Amale to Colombia. Those two, the nicest girls you can ever meet, will be extremely missed. So, Marcelo, Samer, Latifa and Amale, I wish you the best.

Monday, August 07, 2006

One of the miracles that Lebanese perform is the following: They change the universal time table. And they do it easily. For them/us, 5 minutes=50 minutes, 10 minutes=1 hour and 32 minutes, Monday=Wednesday afternoon, next week= varies between next month and the next millennium. There are no mathematical rules to follow and you don't have to hold a calculator in your hand to expect what you should be expecting. For normal people like me, who think of themselves as a know-how-the-Lebanese-do-their-business shop owner, I get always the wrong answer. I am failing the "special time table 101 course" and I am always repeating it. Yep, I was promised a coffee supply by the afternoon (today is Monday, right?), instead I got a new promise for Wednesday followed by my favorite business word "Inshallah".
I woke up at 5:30 AM, like a normal those-who-are-living-in-Lebanon-in-shitty-times-like-these-creatures, at the sound of bombs. All TV stations showing their non creative report: "Now, another Israeli air raid on Dahieh". They/we should be more creative than that, like, I don't know: "Olmert's grumpy morning" or "Today, I am in a generous mood, says Peretz" or even "How about a wake up call at 5:30?" Yes, it is just a game for them, a losing game anyhow.
  • Toufic, the son of Abou Toufic, came to order two kilograms of coffee for his father. I know Toufic since he was 12. Now he is a 20 years old soldier in the Lebanese army. He parked half his jeep on the sidewalk (no! The other half is on the street) and walked in proudly. When I asked where he is stationed, he answered with this inseparable smile of his: "3 days in Awkar, near the American consulate, and 3 days in Saida. This means I shit in my pants 3 days a week."
  • A client rushed in to order some coffee. After the usual "Kifak" (how are you), he replied that his uncle died two days ago from an Israeli air raid on Bint Jbeil. In fact, he used the sacred word of "martyr". He is going to Saida to recover his uncle's body for a proper funeral in Beirut.
  • A group of university students passed by. Attached on their t-shirts a sign with the words "Mouwatinoun" (citizens), a local NGO formed two days after the beginning of the war. A young girl, with the help of two of her friends started the group doing sandwiches of Arabic bread and Picon cheese and distributing them to displaced families. Now "Mouwatinoun" is a group of more than a hundred members responsible of three schools and more than two hundred displaced families.
  • A joke to ease the tension told shyly by one member of the "Mouwatinoun" group: Two guys on a motorcycle were speeding heading outside Dahieh showing the V (victory) sign. A man asked them: "Hey, did we win the war?" They answered: "No, there are still only two standing buildings left".
  • A small competition among a dozen of my regulars was held in Cafe Younes to choose the most horrible war picture. And the winner was: The famous picture taken of Israeli children writing on the army missiles: From the children of Israel to the children of Lebanon.

Attached: Two clients with their water gallons supply.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I have a problem. A business problem. I am lucky enough to face this kind of trouble on the 25th day of the war. Some other shop owners (and I restrict the long list to shop owners only and not employees, farmers, drivers, airplane pilots, tourist guides, Green Peace staff, Olmert's shrink, Rice's personal priest...) have not been working from day 1. So I am relatively lucky but my luck is showing the alarming "empty" signal. My coffee stock is coming to an end, leaving me with only 10 days of supply. All my efforts to try to secure coffee sources went down. I still have one more shot on Monday... Or a cease fire resolution during the weekend. The expected fragile cease fire was the main topic of the day, people hoping more than using the logical part of their brain. Me too.
  • Bahige, a bank employee, was having his early coffee. He told me his story: "My family and I were stuck in the South for four days. I made an adventurous drive of nine hours nearly destroying my car. We were finally safe in Beirut. The next morning I went to the bank to be surprised by the manager telling me that these four days of absence were reduced from my monthly salary."
  • Two young men, working in a famous hotel in Beirut, came in to order their iced grenadine soda (cold grenadine soda since my ice trays are full of water due to electricity failure). Their usual suits were traded with jeans and t-shirts. They explained that the hotel gave a forced unpaid leave to 95% of its employees. "We understand their decision", one of them added, "And they were kind enough to give us our full pay before we leave unlike some other institutions where their employees were forced to unpaid leaves receiving less than half of what they have worked for."
  • Rayane dropped by to say hi. She is part of the staff of The Coffee House, another coffee shop I own with a partner. She told me that she used all the money she has put aside to buy clothes. "I am buying clothes with a discount of 70 and 80%", she said with a smile, "And with some bargain, I even get a free top. This is my way of getting the stress out".
  • I heard the slow footsteps of good old Omar ten minutes before he showed his grumpy face. After ordering his only-half-a-cup-weak-espresso, I intercepted him with a "Comment ca va, Omar?" He loves that. This is his way of showing that he is gifted with an added French language. "J'ai lu dans les jourrrrneaux qu'il va y avoirrr un changement dans les prrrochains jourrrrs parrrceque les deux sont en equilibrrre", he said with a mixture of French-Beiruti accent. Translation: "I read in the newspapers that a change is about to happen in the days to come because the two (referring to Hezbollah and Israel) are in balance". And Thus Spoke Omar.
  • Samer is one of the many Lebanese who were subjects to the heavy influence of the Lebanese-March 14th media attack. Hating the Syrian government and the Syrian citizens, blaming them for the murder of Rafic Hariri, Samer used to make his anti Syrian statements loud in the open. While having one of his four espressos serie, Samer called me and showed me his own handwriting on a piece of paper with a title: "Ouzran Souriya" (Sorry Syria). It was a poem he made yesterday. He explained: "I was so naive to blame Syria for the Hariri's murder, now I am sure that the Israeli planned and performed the assassination".

Attached: Good old Omar and Jackson.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Absolute silence. Total silence. No cars. No footsteps. No talks. No whispers. Nothing: Hassan Nasrallah was giving a speech. It was around 8:00 PM yesterday. Those who were lucky (blessed with the electrical/generator luxury) were totally absorbed by his talks. Of course, I was part of the unlucky group of candle light holders. I heard his voice from the street, coming out from the small restaurant-cafe-nargileh place down the road. As I rushed to my car to drive towards a friend living in a generator-equipped building, I crossed the cafe in question, that used to host world cup matches on a giant screen. I could recognize the same crowd, the same nargileh smells and the same big screen. But instead of the projected image of the rectangular green pitch there was the charismatic face and voice of the Hezbollah's leader. Nearly one month ago, in the evening of the world cup final between Italy and France, two groups of supporters were sitting in the same setting: The French team's supporters and the Italian team's supporters. Those who supported Italy shouted happily when the French missed a penalty. Now, maybe the same groups of people were converted to pro-Hezbollah team and those who are against. The same happy cheers were loudly heard when Nasrallah mentioned that Tel Aviv will be hit if anything happens to Beirut. Italy won the world cup at the end. Is there a sign somewhere?
In the morning, after the stupid Israel's military nonsense bombing of four bridges in the North, Hamra streets were empty. Instead of the usual crowd of coffee drinking clients I used to find on the small terrace outside Cafe Younes, only four clients were exchanging anxiously the newspapers. Of course the talks were all about Nasrallah's speech.

  • I gathered some comments: "This guy is very logical. I hate him because he says the truth. I have never seen a leader like that. I will marry him if he wants. He's giving us back our dignity. He is a blood sucking maniac. I love his personality..."
  • ... And some people made fun of the Israeli commando on Baalbeck capturing a grocery shop owner unfortunately named Hassan Nasrallah: "Highly decorated Israeli officers and hundreds of soldiers won the war by capturing a young man called Hassan. They even called Rambo for reinforcement. Half of the Israeli population is starving due to the cost of the operation. I bet that the Israeli government still believes they have captured the right guy even after watching the real Nasrallah on TV..."
  • Abou Anwar is a 67 years old employee of Cafe Younes. He is what we call in coffee language, a master roaster or a coffee roasting specialist. He started working with my grandfather when he was 18. After nearly 50 years, he still opens the shop at 6:30 in the morning and leaves at 3:00 to his village in the Lebanese Shouf mountains: A drive of one and a half hour. He is still strong like a bull, able to carry a 60 kgs coffee bag in one hand, and, besides working, he loves to have those endless talks about the beautiful Paris-of-the-Orient pre-war Beirut. And I witnessed, again, a nostalgic discussion of the Lebanon of the fifties and the sixties. Three elderly clients, and Abou Anwar, gathered in the cafe trying to remember the name of the over weight policeman who used to hit on cars to make them stop, or the long waiting line in front of the first Lebanese theater, or even their early sexual experience with a prostitute in the Zaytouneh area. I used to, and I still do, listen to everything they say. Today, I was happy to realize that they did not mention the present situation. They live happily in their past, unaware of the present drastic situation.
  • Karim came in to order his espresso. Karim is a regular, early twenties, Lebanese student who skips classes, wakes up late in the day and likes to go out every night. After dropping his sunglasses in one corner, his pack of Marlboro in another and his keys in another, Karim started to talk about what he is doing nowadays. "I wake up early", he proudly started, "to go help my father. Then I go to unload cases of food, sheets and other necessities in the neighboring school that is now a place for displaced Southerners. In the evening I go back home to sleep for two or three hours then go back to the school at night for my surveillance duty till 4 AM. I am exhausted but very happy." This young boy has changed. He is now a responsible adult. I always used to say that the war develops the best in us and makes us stronger. One of the many proofs is Karim.
  • Latifa and Amale are two Colombian-Lebanese sisters. I witnessed a family argument today. The family is planning an "evacuation" by the Colombian government. Latifa doesn't want to go and Amale is eager to see herself in her Colombian island eating mango and drinking coconut milk. "I want to stay here", Latifa said, "I can't see myself in Colombia!" And Amale replied: "Did you sleep yesterday night with all the heavy bombing and the sound of airplanes? Do you want to die?" And it went on for several minutes. They even have different opinions regarding the role of Hezbollah in the war! And this changed into an open discussion involving all the clients in the coffee shop. I should have charged my clients for participating.

Attached: Emily, Jamal, Latifa and Amale.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Yesterday evening, I chose to go out to have a drink with some friends and leave my TV alone. I came back home nearly after midnight to find the electricity gone. I couldn't believe that I lasted an entire evening without watching the news. I went straight to bed knowing that it would be hard to sleep in this heat and humidity. I woke up at 2:30 AM at the imperceptible sound of the phone charger's beep, signaling that the electricity is back on. Instinctively, I left the sweaty sheets of my bed and ran towards my favorite TV couch... For 15 minutes... Until the electricity went out again. In the morning, I couldn't remember what I saw on the news.

  • There was Pierre of course. And there was also Omar. Omar is one of the most faithful clients in Cafe Younes. Around 60 years of age but looking 90, diabetic, short sighted, partially deaf, with high amounts of cholesterol, Omar has nothing to do in life but to spend around four hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon in Cafe Younes and to give each one of my customers his share of my three sets of newspapers... And no one is allowed to read it for more than 15 minutes. When I greeted him, Omar answered: " Yes, yes, how are you... Why did you close early yesterday, ha, I took a long walk to find your place closed!!!" When I explained that I closed early yesterday because there was no one on the streets due to the rumor of an Israeli bombing on Beirut, he commented angrily: "Allah yimhi Israil (May God erase Israel)".
  • Emily, with her lovely smile, showed me a shot of a video film she took on her way to the South. It was about people stuck in front of a partially destroyed bridge. "Lebanese have a solution to everything", she said when I saw a few citizens inventing a rudimentary way to create a narrow passage for the cars to pass through. While other reporters and journalists portray the massacres and the agonizing victims, Emily pictures normal people facing successfully the obstacles of war.
  • A British photographer came to order my famous combination of Colombian and Ethiopian beans. The she said while she was sniffing lovingly the coffee bag and looking at the main page of a newspaper showing Qana's massacre: "I went to Qana three days ago to try to take some pictures of locals there. The whole area was totally empty and all what I got were pictures of dogs, cats and goats."
  • Then Abed and his muscles showed up. Abed is the owner of a fitness club a few blocks away. He always advises his clients to have a "Younespresso" before starting their sessions. When I asked him the regular how-is-work question, he replied: "It is relatively good. Although I lost a few foreigners, people are coming abundantly to release their stress."
  • A Lebanese photographer, specialized in weddings and galas of the Lebanese high class "bourgeoisie" came in. Instead of ordering his usual kilogram of Guatemala coffee, he ordered a cheaper half kilogram of Brazilian coffee. Without asking him the reason, he said: "I am officially out of work and I will not switch to taking pictures of Israeli crimes. I am a "happy moments" specialist and not a crime publisher."
  • Three of the regular students came in and ordered their flavored iced soda drinks. Each one was carrying a transparent folder showing their personal passport and some other documents. "Traveling somewhere, guys?", I asked. "Yeah, unfortunately, I am going to Bahrain to work with my father, he is going to Australia to work with his brother and she is trying to continue her degree in Canada", one of them answered. The three are still in their junior year at the university.

Attached is a picture of good old Omar.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Those who follow my blog will know how I will start today's journal: No electricity, bad coffee, bad news, empty and dirty streets, faceless people... Well, I hate to NOT disappoint you, you are right. No need to focus on these introductory statements today.

  • A very old lady, who has been maybe my grandfather's client, came in today. "As long as people drink coffee, the world is fine", she said when she saw my morning clientele. I didn't want to contradict her by replying that the people she is referring to are mostly reporters, drinking their coffee in Lebanon because her world is not fine. Anyway, I am sure that, at her age, she is war-proof, probably witnessing over 10 wars in Lebanon, since the first world war.
  • I had the nicest conversation with Emily (I mentioned her blog yesterday). If you think that her writing is great, you should listen to her talking. While sipping her cappuccino, she started talking about her trip to the South and what she saw there. All her words reflecting the human nature of this conflict, things that you can't see or hear on the media. I will not add anything more, it is all in her blog. But I wish that all the foreigners (and locals) think the same way she does.
  • I met Marcelo, a Brazilian journalist. He works for the famous Brazilian newspaper, Folha de Sao Paolo, and came to Lebanon nearly two weeks ago. Our main conversation revolved around coffee, Brazilian coffee mainly, and how I was able to get coffee in the middle of this crisis. Then he asked for the permission to take some pictures, mainly a picture of the old 1950 German roaster I am so proud of. While he was showing me the digital pictures he just took, a picture of Emile Lahoud, the Lebanese president of the republic, made him comment: "I was interviewing him this morning. I should go now to write the article about the interview and I will follow it with an article about you. Both articles are about the war, in a different way".
  • Georges showed me two A4 papers while he was ordering his one shot espresso. Both papers are print outs of Google Earth's satellite pictures of Beirut Southern Suburbs before the war and now. I looked at the updated version and noticed a huge empty square made from the effect of the Israeli bombings. "They are erasing the map of Lebanon", Georges said and continued on studying the map, with the help of his friend, to try to localize some geographical points. In no time, a circle of clients gathered to comment about what was Beirut Suburbs.
  • At 3 PM, Hamra started to empty due to the Israeli rumor spread that they are intending to hit the heart of Beirut. I started to close after a while not expecting to have more work today. I turned off the coffee machine when a client entered, wanting something highly caffeinated to "ease up his strong headache". I turned him down explaining that I had to close earlier than usual due to the effect of the rumor. "They want to hit Beirut? Let them try!!! I wander how many dead bodies will Olmert want before realizing that he has lost this war!" he replied angrily.

Attached is a picture of reporters having their morning coffee.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The after Qana effect... While drinking my awfully bad-tasting instant coffee (no electricity in all of Beirut), intense, blurred, uncomfortable, irrelevant thoughts were speeding through my head: Is the ice cream in my fridge need to be thrown, should I water the plants, does my mom need anything, should I shave, what is my ex-wife doing at the moment, I guess I have some pasta left, did they found any more victims in the South, should I go to work or go protest somewhere??? This is the third traumatizing event in my life: There was my father's death, my unfortunate failed marriage and now Qana. Same dirty streets, same generators sound, same faceless people. There is something more on people's faces, something in their eyes that I can't explain... I guess it is the Qana effect...

  • Jackson, the American reporter, was sitting on the bench drinking his double shot cappuccino. He looked tired and angry. He told me that his landlord raised his rent due to the higher demand on apartments in Beirut. He and his roommates couldn't afford the raise and he is now looking for an apartment. "Not in Ashrafieh", he said, "I want something affordable in Hamra so that I can be close to your shop".
  • Yesterday, Emily from Germany went to the South. She came back with a few stories: She went to see the collapsed building of Qana but she mostly insisted on what she called "the lack of privacy of the victims": Journalists and reporters running all over the place walking over children's school books, family pictures, refrigerator's manual... Then she told me the story of Mohamad, from Sudan, who came to Lebanon two months ago to work with a family in Bint Jbeil, in the South. On the 18th of July, the family was killed and he survived with a serious head injury. He stayed alone for two weeks, suffering from his wound, in the collapsed building until he was found by a BBC group walking in Tibnin, another southern village. Two days ago, he decided to walk, to go anywhere. Emily, with the help of her friend Jamal, contacted the embassy of Sudan. He will be home tomorrow. Please check Emily's blog: and Jamal's:
  • A Baptist preacher came in to order his usual 200 grams of Colombian coffee with extra cardamom. I felt the urge of asking him: "In these moments of crisis, are people more faithful?" He replied: "No, of course not, they blame everything on God. They believe that they don't need Him and they are better off on their own."

But what I definitely saw, heard and felt on this hot and humid Tuesday, is the fear on most people's eyes, the fear of the future: The war after the war, the war of religions, the war of classes and the war for power. I tried my best to be contagious, to share my optimism. In vain.

Attached are a few pictures of Hamra Street in the morning... So that you can put yourselves in my shoes...