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  • prequel

    "Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.” -Jane Perrone, The Guardian

    Saturday, January 15, 2005  
    - night of the long walks

    Just got back from a walk to Jounieh.
    The weather’s quite mild for this time of year, so I was quite hot by the time I got there.
    Despite that, I “had” to close the taxi window during the ride back up here because the taxi driver said I should as I’d been sweating and would suffer a “strike of the wind” (direct translation from Arabic of a purported malady blamed for everything from colds to JFK’s assassination) and I didn’t want to offend his animist sensibilities (he’s only nominally Christian).
    There’s a fear of the elements here bordering on animism.
    Local superstitions include: you can’t go outside if you’ve had a shower (I find it hilarious that grown adults will tell you ‘’I can’t go out now because I just had a shower’’ and not be jokingly imitating Borat at the same time), can’t drink something cold in winter (especially if you’ve got a cold), you have to wear a singlet at all times of the year (I myself have submitted to that – although I did put up a fight at first but resistance is futile), you must drink a glass of room temperature water before going outdoors in winter and, the big one, NO DRAUGHTS!
    I heard so much carrying-on about draughts over the years that I finally decided to create one – by opening my balcony door and the kitchen balcony door at the other side of my apartment (the Christian south of level 2 as opposed to the animist north, the other apartment, where my parents are) I manufactured my very own crosswind and now harness wind spirits to ventilate the apartment for an hour in the morning in winter and cool the place in summer.
    And it works – we practically have two climate zones on the second floor here.
    It’s nature’s own air-conditioning – “refugees”, visitors from the animist north that I occasionally bring over to cool off, remark on the difference and ask me if I’ve actually got the air-conditioning on.
    The northern sector is a zero-gravity environment due to lack of oxygen - just like in outer space, you have to hold on to things to prevent yourself from floating away.
    I’m quite responsible about it though – I warn animist visitors (mainly mum) that there are wind spirits about and offer to turn off the crosswind for them.
    I tease mum about how she must be so conflicted over the fighting in Southern Sudan – torn between supporting the Muslim North and the animist South.
    How’s that for conflicting loyalties!
    Sometimes when looking after my young cousins I get quite confused trying to remember who’s just had a bath thus can’t go outside, who’s got a cold thus can’t drink something cold, who can’t eat no lean, who can’t eat no fat! And end up getting them mixed up – “you can’t have a cold drink young man, you’ve just had a bath!”
    It just shows that children will believe anything their parents inculcate into them.
    It’s just a bit weird and unnatural to see children, who are meant to be carefree and impulsive, acting like old people.
    A friend of mine told me she overheard her grandmother and her friends trying to ascertain how she (the grandmother) had caught a cold and eventually determined that it must have been a “strike of the wind” when she opened the freezer.
    Who knows – it may very well of been.
    Maybe if you believe in it so much it will happen.
    Just like some Aborigines in Australia will lay down and die when an elder ''points the bone'' at them.
    When you combine this animism with cargo cult science (add that to the cargo cult culture, education, democracy, judiciary etc often practiced here) you get specious ‘’medicine’’ practiced with an almost religious intensity.
    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing – there might be a kernel of scientific truth in these idée fixe (e.g. if you roll around naked in the snow you’ll catch hypothermia) but whatever speck of truth that existed is magnified and distorted and blown out of all proprtion to the extent that it becomes a fetish.
    Literally worshipping at the altar of ignorance.
    And this often backfires on its ignorant practitioners – one of the reasons people get more colds in winter is, not because of the elements they’re trying to protect themselves from, but ironically because, out of fear of these elements, they batten down the hatches hermetically sealing their houses and sealing in germs along with that.
    Simply put, one of the reasons people have more colds in winter is not because there are more germs around in winter (there aren’t) but because people ventilate their houses less in winter.
    This fear of the elements is counterintuitive and counter-evolutionary – we would not be alive or have evolved in our environment if something as elemental as wind (it’s everywhere!) was detrimental to our well-being and existence.
    And if you think I’m being a bit harsh, bear in mind that lack of oxygen in a house of slavishly half closed windows (as if that was some magical formula to guard against the wind spirits) in the middle of summer does that to you.
    Caffeine is another good example.
    Many people tell me the obvious, that caffeine is a stimulant and is thus not advisable for insomniacs but don’t realize that most things that you ingest are stimulants – anything that nourishes stimulates, after all isn’t that what nourishment is?
    Besides if caffeine can keep you up for twenty four hours or more, as often happens with me, then it’s a miracle substance.
    Insomnia, in my opinion, is often an act of God, not that God is keeping you awake but that it is so random and unpredictable that if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen regardless of any external factors or anything you do or don’t do.
    There are times when I’ve drunk a Red Bull or two to stay awake and then fallen asleep soon after.
    The only thing about so-called energy drinks that keeps you awake is the price – ‘’I paid that much for jumped-up cola!?’’.
    By the way, when I say “my apartment”, I’m not implying that it’s entirely mine – it’s my brother and sister’s too but they’re not in Lebanon at the moment (unfortunately).
    In their absence, I have appointed myself Custodian of the Two Holy Sanctuaries (their rooms) and keep an eye on them.
    I also use my sister’s room as my walk-in closet and my brother’s room as my “powder room” - where I spray on my deodorant (I’m not going to spray that crap in my room!).
    It used to be vice-versa, brother’s room closet and sister’s room powder room, but my brother visited last summer so I had to get my stuff out of his room before he came.
    When my sister visits, I’ll do another switcheroo and switch them back again.
    But, as I said, I do look after the rooms too – I once killed a spider in my sister’s room!
    There you go!
    I can confess all of this with impunity and immunity because none of my family and friends read this anyway and if they do, it’ll be well worth it just to have them aboard.
    Also with a clear conscience because we’re very close - how else could you explain my brother using my toothbrush?
    When he can, my brother uses my toothbrush to freak me out (he tells me after he’s used it).
    So, whenever he’s around I hide my toothbrush in a very safe and secure place (I can’t, you’ll understand, disclose in which bank’s vault) and put up a decoy toothbrush in the bathroom.
    Someone who doesn’t know my brother will wonder why I don’t do the same to him.
    The answer to that is that he just doesn’t care!
    E.g. I tried implying that I’d done all sorts of things to some orange juice I’d got for him and he just didn’t care!
    Anyway, how can you fight someone who’s not afraid of using somebody else’s toothbrush!?!
    It’s like the dilemma of fighting modern terrorism – how do you fight someone who isn’t afraid of dying?
    He also thinks it’s funny to move my pillow.
    When I make my bed, the pillow has to be in the exact center of the bed.
    I’ve developed quite an eye for this and quite some accuracy – once or twice I’ve measured the distances afterwards, as a sort of quality control just to make sure my calibration was right, and it has indeed been spot on (give or take half a centimeter or so which is well within my permissible margin of error).
    Suffice to say, this is not easy and can take up to five minutes to do sometimes.
    Once I had a fight with my brother and went back to my room later to find that he had moved my pillow as a form of revenge.
    I factor in and cost in one pillow movement a day when he’s here but anything more than that is beyond the pail.
    Whilst I’m divulging my eccentricities, I can also reveal that I have a special book for killing mosquitoes.
    No, not an actual instruction manual on how to kill mosquitoes (which someone once thought I meant when I told them about it) but a book that I have selected as the exclusive book I use to smash mosquitoes with.
    It is Henry James’s The Europeans - not my favorite book as you’ve probably gathered.
    I don’t think it’s a mosquito’s favourite book either.
    I salve my conscience over my “mosquitocide” with the fact that it is a very literary end (literally) for a mosquito and that they’re not subjected to the whole book, as I was, but only the “ending” (I use the back cover - “This book is about…SPLAT!”).
    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing for mosquitoes around here.

    I never actually sit down and watch television but will see what’s on whilst having a cigarette or snack.
    Today I came across the Lebanese version of Star Academy (the second season of which started a week ago).
    Like all other reality TV shows, it appears to me to solely consist of people sitting around on couches eating apples.
    I don’t get it.
    I hadn’t realized that there was such a big demand for programs depicting people sitting around on couches eating apples.
    Who would have thought?

    3.45 am
    I’m ten minutes into my second walk to Jounieh this evening.
    I would have preferred to have caught a service up to Daroun and then walked the half an hour back down to my place but that didn’t transpire.
    Although I did stop a service just outside my place but declined it because the four (including the driver) youngish men in it looked a bit dodgy to me.
    What sealed it was that the driver side door and the left side rear door were opened seemingly in synchronization as soon as they stopped the car.
    What are they - commandos or something?
    “Woof, woof…”
    Talk to the dictaphone buddy!
    What is it about dogs and this stretch of road?
    They’re all over the place – every restaurant has a dog.
    It’s like bloody China.
    I’ve just passed some more dogs, two dogs in the same establishment actually.
    They’re meant to be guard dogs but what is it exactly that they’re guarding – plastic chairs and tables, a secret manouchie recipe?
    Twenty minutes into the walk, just past Bkerke now, and I’m already out of breath – I got to smoke more.
    Twenty-five minutes and all’s fine – still trying to out walk and escape my insomnia.
    It’s not easy – you have to get up very early in the morning to beat insomnia.
    Actually, maybe I hit the nail right on the head.
    Maybe that’s exactly what it takes – getting up early, thus being able to sleep.
    Logical but not guaranteed – insomnia doesn’t play by any rules.
    It’s pretty crafty and tricky too – it will often fool you by telling you that you’re tired and that it’s okay to go to sleep now, only to jump you when you lie down to go to sleep.
    I feel like some of those characters in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel that walked to another village to escape an insomnia plague in their village.
    Well I haven’t seen any evidence of an insomnia plague in this village.
    Except for those dogs and chickens crowing in the background.
    I don’t know why Lebanese chickens crow at night – don’t they know what time it is?
    They ought to listen to the radio more – that’s all you hear on the radio these days.
    All over the place there are paths snaking down from the main road and I’ve contemplated taking some of them to get down quicker but I don’t trust them – maybe I’ll walk down one of them for five minutes and end up in a private driveway or in China.
    Nope – I’m not falling for that one.
    Thirty-five minutes on and my faith in dogs has just been restored – I’ve met three friendly dogs, two Maltese and one mongrel, and they appear to have decided to accompany me (maybe they can’t sleep too).
    I don’t know whether that’s a very good idea – I don’t want them to get lost but dogs can’t get lost can they?
    So, I’ve become a sort of pied piper to the village dogs.
    The two Maltese have dropped out but the mongrel is still in the race – “you do realize that you’ll have to walk back up don’t you, I can’t very well take you back up in the taxi with me can I?”
    I feel guilty dragging this dog along with me but he seems happy, nobody’s forced him.
    Lost him – he’s just dropped out.
    This must be the delineation of his territory.
    And to think that I thought that he was some sort of Scooby Doo dog who was going to stick with me and help me solve mysteries.
    “You want the truth? – You can’t handle the truth!”
    Fifty minutes finds me on flat land – walking though the side streets of Jounieh to get to the central square to catch a taxi back up.
    I’m whispering because I’m on hobo alert – this is the street where the hobo lives and seeing a hobo, by very definition, has no fixed address, he may not be in the exact same place I encountered him yesterday (prior to that, I’d seen him somewhere else on this street).
    So I have to be on my guard and presume that he could be anywhere.
    Just passed him now and he’s sound asleep – “shhh, don’t wake up the hobo”.
    Just left hobo street.
    Just arrived at my destination having walked for an hour.
    Another hobo**, a friendly one having a coffee and a cigarette at the taxi rank, greeted me with “welcome Father” (mistaking me for a priest).
    It’s not the first time, that’s happened.
    Have to wait a little while for the owner’s son (who’s on duty tonight) to materialize – someone at the snack place that the taxi scion has just opened next door has gone off to the nearby “Super Nightclub” to get him.
    I had always thought that a “Super Nightclub” was a really good nightclub (super!) but it’s not – it’s a sanitized whorehouse staffed mainly by Eastern Europeans.
    He rushes out soon after, telling me that he’d been “delivering an order”.
    Yeah right – is that what they call it these days?
    Since when do delivery boys wear a shirt, tie and blazer?

    I ended up going for another (third) walk after that one at around 7.00am.
    Man – it was like an all night shuttle service between Harisa and Jounieh!
    Even the dogs couldn’t keep up with me.
    Which is no mean feat considering that they spend all their lives just walking around (from what I can fathom).
    Obviously my insomnia chose not to accompany me on those walks but rather to wait for me at home instead.
    I finally got to sleep at around 10.30 am after my insomnia excused itself – it had a gig to do on the other side of the world (Seoul I believe).

    *My younger cousin once asked me what time I ended up getting to sleep the previous day and I told him “you don’t want to know”.
    His older brother chimed in with “don’t tell him, he’ll be frightened”
    **The taxi drivers tell me that he used to be very rich but squandered all his money gambling – the typical romanticized hobo legend.

    12:00 am

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