Another Day in Beirut

Today I was meeting my friend Lara near the HSBC in Hamra. I needed to take my laptop for us to do some work and of course had to carry my purse. So to avoid the abundant stealing incidents, I put all my stuff, including the laptop, in one big bag and walked there.

At the corner, facing HSBC diagonally, the road sign was still red for pedestrians on one side so I crossed the other one. And before I knew it, a pick up truck stopped abruptly near a man on the street and out jumped the middle aged driver. He grabbed the man by his shirt right below the neck. I saw all this happen in a fraction of a second. The two men pushed each other away and the middle aged man lifted his shirt and reached out to his waist, where I could clearly see a black body of a gun. I walked very fast on the street away from them, while the men were still yelling:

“Who the **** are you gonna ring?”

“It is none of your business. I’ll ring whomever I want to.”

Ok, so it was not a gun. It was a mobile phone. Shit. I slowed down and kept going, until I realized… Where is the HSBC building? It was right in front of me. And I found myself gone astray somewhere in Hamra way further from HSBC and my destination.

I cursed Lebanon and the Lebanese and the guns and my cowardice and walked back.

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..he pulled out a weapon and fired..

Just like that. On the main road. In Quraytem. In the afternoon. From the window of his car. I saw a gun slowly get out of the window. I knew it was going to shoot. I prayed for Allah not to make me see someone fall to the ground with a gunshot. And I hoped we won’t get killed with a stray bullet. I probably wished he didn’t fire. But he did.

I have to start this story from the beginning. Fact is, I was expressing my happiness out loud yesterday about me being outside the country on April 13th, the anniversary of the Civil War. I simply would rather not be around to witness people celebrate the end of a war that pretty much still lives inside many hearts and bodies. But things didn’t go as simply as I wanted them to.

Today, I left LAU at 3 o’clock and headed to Jiddo’s house for a family lunch. Since Teta passed away in November, these gatherings at her house became less frequent and often planned, rather than spontaneous. And they terribly lack her presence, which I know Jiddo feels. I stole a look at his face today and saw tears in his eyes. So I took a chance and asked how is he doing. He smiled. Our gathering at his/her house makes him happy. But it also makes him miss her badly. Just like we miss our lovers when we are happy and want them to be there to share it, and to enjoy it to the maximum. He misses her.

We had a good meal and then I was offered a ride by my aunt. So I gratefully took it. The ride from Raouche to Labban is no more than 5 minutes by car. You go up towards the Saudi Embassy then to Quraytem, near the Hariri Palace, and then take a left down to Labban. That’s it. But today’s ride suddenly became very long because of this guy who fired a gun from the car in front of us.

There was this Porsche Cayanne driving really slowly ahead. We were all starting to beg the driver to move it. My aunt was almost pushing his car with the front bumper of the GMC she drives. I noticed the Porsche had license plates with four numbers only. Someone with lots of money. Someone who likes to show off and let people know they have lots of money. We almost gave up. I told my aunt this man has the right to drive however he want. “He’s driving a Cayanne!” But I didn’t know he also had the right to do other things.

The Porsche drove past the Hariri Palace. It slowed down even more. And suddenly from the driver’s window, a pistol came out. It wasn’t steady first, it was shaky, as if searching for a prey. Then it steadied and BANG. What spans a couple of lines here almost ended my life in that car. I have never seen anybody shooting a pistol in real life. Not as far as I remember. I’ve seen men in our family shoot hunting guns. But those are for hunting animals, not killing people. The sight of a real pistol sticking out the window of a car in the middle of Beirut, in Qoraytem particularly (supposedly a heavily protected area), was shattering. I don’t want to see people killing each other. I hate whatever motive that makes any human being pull out a gun at any creature. I simply can’t live with it. Yet, here is a guy pulling out a weapon and firing it right in front of everybody on the street.

The gunshot was almost unheard. The target was a pigeon, that escaped. The driver is insane. I am still alive at the time of typing this. But that was really scary. And the worse part? No one did anything when that gun was out searching for a prey. Life froze.

I must apologize to myself for the few…

I must apologize to myself for the few posts on this blog. New/old events in Beirut never seize to happen, but time runs fast and I don’t stop to post reminders for myself and others about the uniqueness of life in this city.

Today, however, my story comes from Tripoli. This old city in North Lebanon.

But before I start with the story I have to point to a reference that we use as a joke in our daily life. The joke is about people who beat elevator doors to ask other people to close the door properly or hurry up. As I am sure you know, massive drumming on elevator doors DOES NOT make the elevator go faster. So, back to the story…

I was visiting my very good friend Sahar with Lama and Hanaa. And, contrary to customs, when she opened the door for us to leave, we actually left instead of staying at the door talking for an hour. I don’t particularly remember if Lama was holding the elevator door open or not, but I remember we walked out and directly went in to the elevator. Going down from the sixth floor. BOOM BOOM.

  • What’s that? I said.
  • Somebody wants the elevator.
  • That’s weird. We just opened the door and went in. It was vacant ten seconds ago.

The elevator goes down slooooowly. The sound gets louder.
BOOM BOOM BOOM.
Someone is about to break down the door and someone is clearly PISSED.

I got scared. I was standing right behind the door and Lama, who is more courageous and stronger than I am, was standing inside. So I tried to squeeze in to switch places with her but I couldn’t. I was seriously worried. I can’t handle anybody screaming in my face.

BOOM BOOM.

– What if he has a gun?

The elevator goes down and is about to hit ground level. I searched for the stop button but didn’t find it.

This was the technical KO for me. In another place, it might be a joke. But in this country, in Tripoli, if SOMEBODY, or somebody who is the SON of somebody, or somebody who KNOWS somebody; if these people get pissed they may shoot at you for a stupid reason like not letting their car pass or, in that moment I thought, using the elevator when THEY needed it.

The elevator finally stopped. I didn’t open the door because I was expecting the “person in a hurry” to open it. But they didn’t. I looked through the stained glass and didn’t see a big black figure (as in my mind those “armed people” (msalla7een) usually dress. That gave me some courage so I -very politely- pushed the door and found… NOBODY.

I noticed a movement on my right hand. To my surprise, I saw a young girl, and then another girl. Maybe 8 & 9 years old.

Yes, they were pissed off. But they surely didn’t have guns. I couldn’t suppress a loud laugh as I exhaled heartily, to celebrate my survival from an elevator assassination.

But, then, I was also wondering, what in the world makes these two girls at their age impatient so much to use the elevator that they almost beat it to death? And I hope I don’t make them wait at an elevator ten or twenty years later. I am sure by then they’d probably be beating the hell out of it if they don’t find it waiting for them.