Yep, we finally left Beirut!
01.05.2010 0 °C
According to the computer, it's the first of May which means that I've been away for two months. It doesn't really feel like that long, although I suppose that would imply that two months is itself a long time. Strange how things which happened in Aleppo or Tartus, for example, seem so long ago when re-reading the diary entries, yet going to work and being in Oxford doesn't. Another thing to consider as I put off writing, as there is not really a huge amount to write about. It's a different style of entry, perhaps, to before, as the earlier ones in Syria predominantly were focused on the places that we have been and so forth, but our time in Beirut is comprised mainly of great conversations or fun parties that went on in the hostel or out.
Well, I'll talk about the few other trips that we did during our second stay - to Sour, or Tyre, depending on language. A fun day out in a quiet little town, pretty much the geographical peak of Hezbollah's popularity so yellow and green flags everywhere, as was Nasrallah's cheeky grinning face and UN troops. Loads of Unifil, in their 4x4s and tanks littering up the side of the road - I've become quite a lot more cynical about the UN since being out here, several rants to several probably indifferent people about how it's fundamentally flawed and as a result will continue to just be a waste of time, not just in peace-keeping situations. We wandered the streets and pondered how much it would be to rent a little rowing boat and cruise off but that plan got nipped in the bud by the M16-toting militia who said that all foreigners needed permission to leave the gate of the harbour. Instead we settled in to a great cheap restaurant and had some fantastic fish in a very middle-aged manner, it was great. We chatted to the owner of the place about the war (of course) and his prediction (soon), as well as about Qana - not about the bombings, but before when it was discovered (or something along those lines) that it was the spot in which Jesus turned water into wine (the owner was a Christian), apparently a load of nearby Muslims sent their children to break the statues in the gorge and so even before the bombings it was completely trashed. It is so hard to work out what is real and what is just sectarian racism, so who really knows. Even in Bcharré there was intense racism, it being a very strong Maronite place - we met a guy who slated all Muslims saying that they were barbarians and it was because of them that the whole country was dirty because they themselves are dirty.. In downtown Beirut we saw some graffiti that has a crossed out star of David with an arrow saying 'Fuck Jews' - it is so arbitrary now that it is several generations down the line, simply just inherited antipathy towards various others with no real justification. Of course that is simplistic and a generalisation, but in most cases it would be fair to say that it is true.
Another time we visited Shatila - surprisingly few people, even who were staying here, know what it is - the Palestinian refugee camp in South Beirut. Of course, we had hundreds of warnings not to go there as it is dangerous and full of bad people, but naturally we ignored this kind advice as it is most likely founded also in plain racism. Not really sure if we actually made it to Shatila or just to Sabra, which is another refugee camp nearby, there were massacres in both in 1982, graveyards were all over the place. There were Hamas martyr posters all over the place, glorifying those who had died in suicide bombings, and recruitment posters stuck on to bullet-holed buildings and trashed vans. The place was clearly poor, but I must admit that it was not as bad as I was expecting. That could be because we did not go in far enough, but there certainly wasn't a higher level of ostensible poverty than elsewhere in the poor areas of Beirut. On the walk home, we walked through the heavily Shia areas and much like in Sour there were Nasrallah's all over the place, along with the flags and certainly no tourists whatsoever. In the next war, much like in the last one, that will probably be the place first and worst hit if Beirut gets bombed again.
For the most part of our remaining time we just hung out in the hostel, going out for food and for bars, but not any long trips anywhere. It certainly wasn't a waste of time though, fantastic late night talks about any number of subjects with various people staying in the hostel, finishing when the sun comes up in true Beat fashion, people watching in Downtown or falling in 10-minute-love with some beautiful girl, it was a crazy time. Goodbyes were long and sad, but friendships were solid and future travel plans were certain. The flag that I appropriated I got people to write on and so now it is covered in fond memories as well as (ironic?) Zionist propaganda and warm welcomes back to the hotel from the owners. One final Maghlouf sandwich and one final Lion bar (feed the addiction) and we were in a service taxi to Damascus again, passport stamps signaling the end of what was a great stay in Lebanon. What a fascinating country, what an eclectic combination of paradoxes, I will certainly be back and not just because the owners of the hostel promised half price dorms!