Sunday – nearly all the shops are shut. Walk down the Corniche – the road just outside the apt block I’m staying in. Loads of people out – jogging, power walking or just chatting in groups. People set up on the side-walk and on the ‘beach’ (rocks) with plastic chairs, shisha and tea.
Fishermen – boys and men out going for a swim – I want to join but there are no females out there, I’m by myself and I don’t have a swimming costume. Man in camo fatigues with a small fluffy dog. Maureen tells me dogs are new thing as they are considered dirty in Islam. It is now a status symbol to have them.
Two of the areas I walk through are Al Hamra and Ras Beirut. Find me some Arabic kahwa – strong black coffee. It’s muggy and even begins to spit a little – I’m sorry Beirut for bringing British weather. See 2 starbucks, a mac donalds and a crispy crème. Sad. Shops, cafes, everyone speaks english and french although I try a couple words and phrases – shokran, a7wa, laa, na3am.
Internet café – all Beiruti young guys but don’t feel threatened in the least. The odd yell and victory chant (yes it sounds the same the world over) has me looking around to see the whole place is playing what looks like world of warcraft. Yes they are each sitting at their station waging virtual war against each other.
Concert at AUB in the evening – invited by Maureen. So tired having wondered about in circles on own, but really enjoyEinw Symphonie-Cantate(Mendelssohn).
Food: Manoosheh bil jabna wa zatar and dinner lots of things – shwarma, hommos, eggplant but not babaganoush, balloon pitta. And Arak, mmmm. Now all I need to do is remember all the words for this and find someone to go smoke a Narjilah with me.
Just arrived in Beirut. Saturday night is in full swing – car horns honking, music pumping, loads of people walking down the road which happens to be the Corniche, Ein Mreisse, ‘the’pace to hang out on a Saturday night in Beirut. Groups of people are relaxing, chatting, smoking nargileh (shisha) and listening to their car radios. I have found my self in a beautiful building on the main promenade looking out over the sea. I am staying with my friend’s mum and I can’t believe my luck First meal, Persian food from the farmers market, Souk El Tayeb (note: rice with orange peel really works) I realized just how little Arabic I know on the plane over despite taking over 40 hours of Arabic classes as I was wracking my brain for a polite way to say ‘I am headed to Corniche Ein mresisse’ let alone how to pronounce Ein Mreisse. But I was fortunate because I had a cab waiting for me and even a lovely driver with my name on a sign, stylish arrival. And once I got to look at Beirut I saw the billboards with English and Arabic and realized I didn’t have a clue what the Arabic meant, but Beirut at least would cut me some slack as there is English and French everywhere. I have a steep learning curve… But it’s incredible here. We drove through downtown and I realized just how glitzy and modern this city is. My driver Bachir can speak English (as well as several other languages) and told me he left Beirut during the civil war but that he’d lost his money on a gamble in Europe. Oh? A restaurant that went belly up? A flaky European girl? No gambling, it had all gone on gambling.
My flight was fine and somehow the army of wailing babies simmered down for the flight – there was one who growled like a panther (?!) The flight was bound for Khartoum, I could have stayed on, just think of the adventure… Next time. Well hopefully next time I’ll take the train across, and a boat from Cyprus or Turkey, now that would really be stylish. Visa was really easy – think my white blazer did the trick.
Thinking Damascus might be the place to go to learn Arabic, just got to negotiate a good price. My hostess is incredible and has helped write material for the American University of Beirut – can’t believe my luck! I’ll figure out classes on Monday. Tomorrow is for exploring. I can’t believe I’m here but the honking is unmistakable.