my sights and sounds
The morning peace from the heat is beautiful to wake up too after the fuggy twisted night of on and off sleep that graces my hotbox every night. No air conditioning, only a little fan with the sound output of a digger means I’d rather sweat the night out.
The morning begins early, I wake up to the sound of drilling every day of the week except sunday. Drilling concrete: material destruction and construction only 10 metres from my ears. The regular click clack of the coffee wallah (don’t know what they actually call them here), with a flask of turkish coffee and a flask of coffee with cardamom in each hand, he clinks together two china espresso cups like maraccas, the sound cuts through the drilling, the car beeping, and the wailing babies and draws his customers in. The builders take a break to get some coffee, which means a rest from the drilling, the pure bliss of air that doesn’t vibrate filling the sound vacuum.
Banking on it not being day 4 of the power cut cycle a cold shower puts paid to all sleep deprivation for the time being.
From my spot atop the marble work surfaces in the kitchen I can look out onto one of the few green public spaces in central Beirut, peace is restored.
I have a 5 minute walk to work, all downhill, through the neighbourhood of Geitawi in Achrafieh. Achrafieh is resoloutely Christian. There is an Armenian Evangelical Church and School that always intrigues me; I’m reading William Dalrymple’s ‘From the Holy Mountain’ and he describes the systematic forced exoduses of Armenian Christians from Turkey and other countries in the region. To find the whole Armenian churches, universities and schools was quite a surprise, I want to try and go to one of their sunday services, if possible.
There are shrines to Jesus (and the Pope) on every floor of my block of flats, and in every nook and cranny of Achrafieh. They are generally a plastic figure of Jesus with a candle and flowers, but people add all sorts of trinkets, I find them oddly comforting now. Once while I was waiting for the lift to the flat, the woman waiting with me kissed the face of Pope on a poster by the lift, making a sign of the cross and uttering a term of affection. I was a bit appalled by such veneration of a technicolour poster but its common around here.
A friend told me a newly married Muslim and Christian couple wanted to move to Achrafieh recently, but the woman, as a Muslim, was made to feel very unwelcome and so they had to go elsewhere. That, in my opinion, is too much. And given it is these sorts of feelings that cause sectarian clashes well known to Lebanon, I don’t think such annexation should be actively maintained if possible. But I guess you can’t change the demographic of an area overnight anyway.
Just after I had had a conversation with my flatmate over breakfast about how hard it is to get to grips with Lebanese history, I saw this scratching into the metal side of the steps on the way to work! My flatmate is European and studying at one of the Universities here for a year. Its a well known Lebanese university, yet, she said any lectures covering the history of Lebanon are split into before the war, and after the war, with no coverage of the war at all. So far neither of us have come across any readily available public information on the war, it seems to be swept under the carpet except for the tell-tale presence of army personnel at all the ‘green lines’ and areas of previous troubles. Perhaps understandably given the historical reasons for the civil war and clashes have not changed, there are still large numbers of Christians and Muslims co-existing in the same space, and their faiths have not changed. So very interesting to find out last week was that the Christian half of Lebanese Government has refused a census since the 1930’s. Simply because it would most likely reveal that there are far less Christians in Lebanon than were here previously, inevitably leading to the conclusion 50/50 representation of Muslims and Christians in the Lebanese Parliaments grants Christians unrepresentative power. This infographic shows that there are more Lebanese spread out across the rest of the world, than actually live in Lebanon, the comparative ease of being a Christian in a European country is perhaps very appealing….
Anyway, down the hill I go, down lots of colourful steep steps and along the road. The humid close fugg already sets in at this time of the morning, with damp patches forming at all the points of contact my rucksack makes I get into the classic apartment block rickety lift, if there isn’t a power cut here at this time because they rotate round the neighourhoods at different times on different days, and clamber up more steps to the roof of the apartment building to the IndyACT office. Stepping to the frigid air of an air-conditioned room everyone normally breathes a sigh of relief. And then, except for the power cuts/switch to the generator which involves huffing and puffing, loss of internet, and an a/c amnesty, its a full day of emails, tasks and meetings.
I like it like this.
I already have a nickname: blondie, and everyone has accepted my incredibly British (apparantly) packed-lunch habit. Though the other day I made an exception and came down from the clouds above Beirut to get some Manoushe from an Egyptian along the road. I COULD READ SOME OF THE MENU IN ARABIC. I couldn’t bloody believe it! 2 weeks of lessons and I could identify some of the words (because I knew the word, I knew what letters I was looking for); I felt like shouting to everyone “YES I can read that says ‘Za’atar’!!” but of course everyone would have thought I was a crazy-lady so I had to restrain myself to a state of inner glee.
The evening light at 5.30 when I leave work makes me want to grab a scooter, my camera, and just roam taking lots of pictures. Lack of insurance covering scooters, as well lack of funds prevents me still, but I will keep dreaming, and until then back up that hill I go….