2006 was the beginning of the end of what I will call the “soul of Beirut”. I had just turned 18; the war with Israel had just ended and I had just been accepted at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.So I packed my bags, moved out of my parents’ house and started the most amazing 4 year long adventure, in which I witnessed the gradual death of the city I love.
First let me start by defining Beirut. Beirut is in my opinion a concept, an emotion on its own. It’s like a gorgeous funny smart naked woman, but who is also in a constant state of PMS. It’s a destroyed building that somehow looks romantic; it’s simple coffee shops and good food. Cool people, funny beggars (rich little bastards) and a few crazy homeless dudes (the legend of the ex AUB professor amazes me still). It’s Khaled (abou khzene) and his cigarettes; it is pure simplicity and innocence. It’s college students acting dumb, it’s uncle deek and the corniche at 5a.m, it’s the amazing sound of morning prayers.
Beirut is nagging cab drivers and hippy foreigners. Beirut is a struggle to find the right spot to engage in deviant sexual acts inside AUB; It is a place where you can say hello to anyone on the street literally ANYONE and you’ll get yourself a nice conversation and a cool night. It’s the lower gate, the upper gate, the main gate, the C and a fucked up luna park that scares the shit out of me on Manara (why is it not bankrupt yet?).
Beirut is that tall police man on Hamra that is supposed to organize the traffic (why doesn’t he grow old?!), it’s that guy that stands with a pile of money in his hands next to Eldorado (why doesn’t he get robbed?!). It’s a place where every single corner holds a beautiful story; where every bullet hole holds an inspiring war tale, it is a place where every old man or old woman’s life can be shot into a movie. It is a city that holds the most courageous coolest simplest fun caring hip people in the world.
It is also definitely Marrouch in Hamra (the guy that does the chicken sandwich doesn’t die… he doesn’t), Le Chef in Gemmayze (that chef is not a chef, he just screams) and Barbar (epic cat/koala meat).
There was a feeling that I could not explain, whenever I walked out of my apartment in Hamra… or Zarif… or Gemmayze (the following formula explains why I moved every year: Salary – (Rent + alcohol money) = hunger… you move out)
Every day felt like I was discovering a new city, a feeling that no matter what was happening; you were somehow safe in Beirut. The people of Beirut don’t hurt you, they have been through too much and love life too much to fuck up…. But they fucked up… They changed…
Beirut in 2006 was a place where, Muslims and Christians did not care who the fuck was a Muslim or a Christian. But suddenly they not only cared, they also cared what TYPE (there are many types apparently) of Muslim or Christian you are.
So these questions started popping up.
First the barber started asking you, then the cab driver, then the waiter you worked with, then the parking guy, then my grandmother asked me (but to be fair she doesn’t know who she is)…. And just like any other Lebanese who has been raised at the hands of non fanatics my answer to the famous “enta chou?” was always “I’m Lebanese” and to the other famous “tab men wen?” was always “from Lebanon”….
After a few years this answer just got silly. And a cool party in sporting reminded me of what Beirut really is. Simple, fun, everyone knows everyone and no one cares about anything but enjoying their time. And seeing where the country is heading; that party broke my heart.
So I decided I needed to elaborate my answer to the “what is your religion” question a bit more…
Here it is:
I came out of a vagina somewhere that had also previously come out of a vagina somewhere that is labeled as something, judged by someone, who said something a long time ago to a bunch of people that made them believe they were part of something that you can’t see (take a moment to read that again). How that helps you define one another is beyond my understanding. The gods and prophets you worship be it Allah, God, Mohammad, Jesus or Pikachu most probably did not want us stabbing or blowing each other up. There is no fucking way that the god you believe created the universe in all of its complexities and beauty; wants you (tiny human) to fulfill a divine purpose here on earth that drives you to hate another tiny human.
Get your gods out of the streets of Beirut. She has had enough of them.