Friday, January 9, 2009

So, we're in Beirut

Beirut, Lebanon

So, we’re in Beirut.

I was going to write about Jakarta and then we were going to have a week to hang out in Java and wait for our flights to Beirut, but we were getting tired of Indonesia and we didn’t have anywhere particular in mind to spend that week, but it was clear we didn’t want to stay in Jakarta any longer, so we changed our flight and now we’re in Beirut.

Beirut is amazing. Parts of this town are so beautiful it would knock your socks off, and other parts of this town are so broken and ugly it would knock your socks back on again. More than 15 years after the civil war ended, parts of the city are still in ruin. There are at least two ruins that are more than twenty stories tall still hanging in there on the horizon, full of bullet pocks and bomb holes. Other parts of downtown, though, have been completely and beautifully reconstructed, and there are dozens of construction projects busily building the new Beirut.

Beirut is a very European city. People here dress like Parisians, except that most of them have bigger noses than most Parisians. The architecture is European with a few Arabic flourishes, and most of the population speak Arabic most of the time, except that they say merci, when they want to say thanks instead of saying it in Arabic.

I haven’t learned to say thank you in Arabic yet — I’ve been too busy saying merci. I did learn to count to ten in Arabic on our flight over here, though. The plane had TV screens with movies and video games on demand, and one of the video games was a Berlitz language game that could teach the speakers of any of thirty different languages how to say fifty or so words in any one of twenty-nine other languages, so I learned how to count to ten in Arabic. The flight attendants must have thought I was Erin’s pet mental defective, sitting there, ordering free cheap scotch and counting to ten in their native language under my breath over and over again.

Counting to ten in Arabic is hard. I swear I’ve learned to count to ten in at least a dozen languages over the years, including Japanese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Russian, Mongolian, Mandarin, Thai/Lao, Malaysian/Indonesian and now Arabic. (I’ve never been to Japan, but I took a judo class when I was 8 or 9.) Oddly, I am incapable of having a conversation in any language other than English. I am a genius at memorizing a few superficial words and questions in other languages, but I am an utter moron when it comes to actual fluency.

We’re staying in a hotel across the street from the American University of Beirut, which has had that name since 1920. The neighbourhood is full of students, and consequently, kebab-sellers. Nearby is a high street where Parisian-dressed locals clop up and down the street in their high heels and shop for clothes. That’s where Erin and I went clothes shopping. Winter in the middle east isn’t the same as it is in equatorial Indonesia, and we don’t have anywhere near enough socks or pants to hang out here for long without starting to stink.

So, I’m sure that many of you have been watching the news and getting the impression that the whole region is about to go up in hellfire. We arrived in Beirut just before midnight, and when we woke up in the morning, the first thing the man on the tee-vee said is that some pack of morons in south Lebanon launched some rockets into Israel. This is the kind of thing I was worried about happening, but I’m finding it hard to be scared here. The locals just keep shopping and going to school and dressing like Parisians, and none of them seem to be worried about a thing.

I’ve talked to a few of the people about the security situation, and their finely-tuned understanding of the politics of the region tells them not to be worried about a thing. The rocket attacks weren’t officially Hezbollah-sanctioned and the Israelis know that. So far, the news has borne out their analysis. It’s difficult for me to quiver and cower when I’m surrounded by happy college kids and businessmen in suits and mothers with children, all of them going about their daily business. What makes me so much more fragile than these people, that I have to run and hide while they go on working and saving and shopping and building?

We are going to leave Lebanon soon, though. There’s no point in keeping all of our loved ones in nervous suspense, wondering if Erin and I (of the millions of people in the country) are going to be the first two in Lebanon to get bombed by Israelis.

TV news makes the world a scary place. Actually being in the world isn’t very scary at all. I can’t wait until TV news start covering traffic deaths — nobody would ever get in a car again. More than 2000 Canadians die on the road every year! Kinda makes being scared of war seem silly — Canadians haven't died at that rate in a war since the 1950s.

1 comment:

  1. Have fun dudes... and take care; overly nervous Canadian TV watchers or not. Please.