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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

    Tuesday, December 25, 2007  
    I just read an article in the New York Times about the usual whining Lebanese expatriates visiting back home, lording it over their compatriots and criticizing their country.
    These people view their Lebanon-based compatriots the same way Ashkenazi Jews view Sephardic Jews and have created and propagated the myth of the ‘’brain drain’’ – Lebanon’s best and brightest being forced abroad, blah, blah, blah - but the opposite could quite easily be argued namely that they are the scattered detritus of Darwinian survival of the fittest, i.e. they couldn’t make it here in Lebanon.
    I’m not against people pursuing their interests but when they lord it over and demean their countrymen who chose not to abandon their country one has to react.
    Either way, these people have freely chosen to leave the country to further their own interests and are not the martyrs they carry-on to be.

    Here’s the difference - Lebanese living in Lebanon are just as intelligent and talented as Lebanese living aboard but so many factors here often stifle that intelligence and talent and prevent them from realizing their full potential.
    Whereas Lebanese living abroad are unencumbered by these circumstances and are thus free to become the head of Nissan or the guy pumping petrol into those cars at a petrol station in New Jersey (just like any other residents of those countries).

    5.30am Saturday 10th May 2007
    "Cochrane states that in addition to the exodus of large numbers of young Christians, ‘all civilized, educated Muslims, they're all leaving. We're going to be left with the bottom of the barrel. Yes, that's the trouble’’’
    - Lebanese aristocrat Lady Yvonne Cochrane to Monocle Magazine

    So people who chose to live in their own country are now ‘’the bottom of the barrel’’?

    9:00 pm

    Sunday, December 23, 2007  
    Just got back from my walk to Jounieh.
    The taxi driver on the way back was a young man from the north on his first foray into the big city.
    He told me that his family are poor and that his father was ill so he was driving his father’s taxi to help out.
    He’d worked for three days – sleeping in the car – and had made three hundred thousand lira (which isn’t too bad at all).
    He then went to the casino hoping to increase that money to help his family out, make it a good Christmas, etc, and promptly lost of all of that money (surprise, surprise!) and now barely had enough money to get back to the north and didn’t know what he was going to tell his father.
    Shades of Jack and the Beanstalk.
    He lamented the fact that Israel didn’t bomb the casino during the war last year.
    I didn’t want to sound like a wowser Victorian but I told him that if he wanted to try his luck he should try it in his taxi and wished him all the best of luck in that venture but wished him even worse luck at the casino if he was ever foolish enough to go there again so that he’d be put off it for good.
    Besides, even if he won some money he’d end up loosing it and more anyway.
    I also told him that, on the bright side, all was not lost if he learnt from this lesson and never set foot in a casino ever again he’d still emerge from this a big winner.
    The house always wins in the end and there’s a house somewhere in the north that’s lost big time this Christmas because of that and because of the foolishness and naivety of it’s scion.

    4:45 am

    Thursday, December 20, 2007  
    There is no such thing as happiness, just the absence of misery.
    Or rather the management, containment and control of misery because misery is never totally absent.

    Lebanon has been hosting a diplomatic Olympics of sorts over the past couple of months with countless foreign ministers, envoys, etc shuttling to and from Beirut to try and end the presidential impasse.
    It’s ironic that every one of these foreign envoys calls for an end to foreign interference in Lebanon.
    Foreigners shouldn’t interfere for their own sake as much as ours.
    Throughout the millennia, invaders have been seduced by the Lebanese siren song and all of them have ended up smashed against the rocks of the placid Mediterranean’s most turbulent shores.
    The commemorative inscriptions left by many of those armies on the rocky cliffs above Nahr el Kalb are literal testimony to this metaphor.
    To put it bluntly and less poetically, Lebanon’s a whore and that whore’s got AIDS so watch out.

    4:30 am

    Monday, December 17, 2007  
    I’m too lazy to lie.
    Lying is such hard work

    4:30 am

    Friday, December 14, 2007  
    I’m about to go to sleep to the sounds of a squalling motorcade winding its way up to the Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral.
    To the sounds of booming morning fireworks thundering a salute to a fallen hero.
    To the sounds of thunder, proof that even nature is paying its tribute.
    To the sounds of a howling storm and driving rain, proof that even nature is venting its fury.
    To the sounds of wailing wind, proof that even nature is bemoaning a life cut short.
    To the sounds of present-day Lebanon.
    A nation where one’s sleep is as troubled as one’s waking hours.
    The last thing I see before I close my bedroom balcony door is a funeral cortege speeding by – a hearse flanked by cars of family, friends and comrades, ambulances, military vehicles and helicopters hovering overhead.
    There’s a little boy bundled in warm winter clothing standing next to his mother on the balcony in the building next to mine waving a tiny Lebanese flag.
    The scene reminds me of John F. Kennedy Junior saluting his slain father’s coffin.
    We are all fatherless today.

    9:30 am

    Just got back from my walk to Jounieh.
    The mountain is crawling with soldiers ahead of this morning’s funeral here in Harisa for Brigadier General Françoise el Hajj, the chief of operations in the Lebanese army, who was martyred in a car bomb attack in a suburb of Beirut on Wednesday.
    This was my first ‘’unforced’’ walk (a ‘’forced’’ walk being a walk I have to talk after my second failed attempt at sleep) in my new waterproof rain suit.
    It was very rainy and stormy so it was a real baptism of…water.
    It works!
    Not only does it keep you dry but it keeps you warm too.
    Because this winter has been quite mild so far, it was 12.5 degrees outside, I couldn’t wear my tracksuit underneath because I’d get too hot so I wore pyjamas underneath, albeit a pair of trendy Gap pyjamas that the Hajji got me seven years ago but I never wore because they aren’t elasticized at the wrists, waist and ankles as is my preference in pyjamas.
    I didn’t wear my newish headlamp as I usually do when I walk in the dark and there’s no electricity because, although it was dark when I set out at 5.50am, dawn was fast approaching.
    The Achilles heal of my rain proofing is my glasses – someone joked that I need windscreen wipers for them (I’m working on it).
    Because I couldn’t see perfectly due to the bad light and rain, nor hear perfectly because I had the hood of my rain suit on, I ended up saying ‘’good morning’’ and ‘’God give you strength’’ to everything that moved and looked army green (and forests are quite green).
    And probably everything that didn’t too.
    There must be a lot of confused trees and lampposts out there (‘’hello lamppost, what ya knowin’?’’) and I apologize to them for the mistaken identity.
    The soldiers didn’t enough bother questioning me because it was clear that I was crazy (for being out in this weather when I, unlike them, didn’t have to) and not a terrorist.

    As usual, I was rewarded for my efforts with a good story from the taxi driver on the way up.
    Apropos the heavy security, I remarked that all the security in the world couldn’t help if they really wanted to get you ala the Hariri assassination that succeeded despite the millions of dollars that Hariri spent on security.
    ‘’No one other than Saint George killed Hariri’’ the taxi driver replied.
    He went on to say that it was Saint George’s revenge for Hariri building a huge mosque (the ‘’mother of all mosques’’ as Lebanese blogger Jamal Ghosn calls it) next to the nearby Saint George’s Maronite Cathedral.
    After all, ‘’the (Muslim) call to prayer can be heard from the church!’’.
    ‘’Even up until now they still don’t know who killed him – the explosion came from beneath the ground!’’ he continued.
    And he wasn’t joking, he really does believe that Saint George killed Hariri and, by George, I’m even beginning to believe it – it wouldn’t be the first time that Saint George slew a dragon.
    He’s done that kind of thing before.
    At that very location too - Hariri was assassinated at Saint Georges Bay where legend has it that Saint George slew another dragon.
    Tell the international commission.
    Case closed.
    Saint George is a force to be reckoned with and apparently quite good at extracting confessions.
    The taxi driver also told me about a Christian man who dared a Muslim man he suspected of robbing his house to accompany him to a church and swear by Saint George that he didn’t do it.
    Muslims also recognize Saint George but they know him by another name (Khodr).
    Just as the alleged perp was about to swear his innocence to Saint George he saw an apparition of a fierce Saint George brandishing a sword at him and screamed ‘’I beseech you Khodr! I did it!’’
    I don’t know whether such a confession would hold up in a court of law seeing it was extracted under apparent threat of violence.
    Going for a walk (and then catching a taxi back home) is fast becoming just as much a professional necessity for me as it is a health necessity.

    7:15 am

    Wednesday, December 05, 2007  
    Just got back from my walk to Jounieh and harvesting taxi driver tales.
    The taxi driver on the way up was telling me about one of the other taxi drivers, a crazy old mountain peasant who cackles after passengers who go with other drivers, yelling at him and accusing him of stealing his passengers when he drove his own wife and daughter home.
    This crazy chicken once brought a stuffed tripe sandwich with him to work.
    First I’ve heard of a stuffed tripe sandwich but it was apparently the leftovers of a Lebanese dish of boiled stuffed sheep intestines called ghammee.
    He put the sandwich in the car boot (I don’t know why he put it in the boot but I’m assuming that it was for safekeeping – you can’t be too careful with your stuffed tripe sandwiches these days) where it stayed in the summer heat all day until he ate it for lunch and become violently ill.

    Walking in these parts is getting even more perilous now that they’ve planted trees on the little strip by the side of the road that used to serve as some sort of footpath.
    This is the only place in Lebanon I know of that’s overdone it with greenery as opposed to the other extreme - the concrete jungle that is most of urban Lebanon these days.
    Why on earth would anyone plant trees in the middle of a forest?
    It reminds me of one of the deleted scenes from the Borat movie where, pointing to cheese in the cheese section of a supermarket, he asks an attendant ‘’what is this?’’, the attendant replies ‘’cheese’’ and Borat moves on to the next item and asks him the same question, getting the same reply and repeating the process for the length of the entire cheese section.
    What is this?
    A tree.
    And what is this?
    A tree.
    And what…

    10:30 am

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