DAY 73 – BEIRUT

The mosquitoes caught up with me again last night and made the most of it (me). They must have flown all the way from Hama in Syria to catch me. Well at least I know how fast they can travel, about fifty kilometres a day, give or take.

My new diet is going really well. Yesterday I lived on shuwarma, chocolate and coke (hangover food). Today I had burger king for breakfast. Fatbastardness here I come.

Also on personal issues my guts have gone again. I did promise to keep you posted after all. Don’t worry it’s not that bad since I am in a place with loads of toilets an I’m not throwing up, feeling weak or any of the other things that come with having a dodgy stomach.

After some initial tough talk from bush I had thought that we was backing off from all out war and was regaining his composure and common sense. That is until today when I saw his comments on the BBC web site about the ruling Taleban in Afghanistan. “…they follow in the path of nazism and totalitarianism … and they will follow that path all the way to where it ends: in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies.” and “every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make … either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” and them’s real fighting words so I think that things might get a bit tense here soon. Especially when you consider how one-eyed the everyday Arabs choose to be about things. They see Israel as another crusade and completely ignore the suicide bombs in Israeli cafes. They see the Iraqi sanctions and resulting deaths through starvation and lack of medicine as murder and refuse to even consider what might happen if Saddam’s regime develops a working nuke, ballistic missile or effective biological weapon. So if Bush bombs Afghanistan even further into the dark ages (how much further they could possibly go?) then the resulting Arab/Muslim deaths will unite a large percentage of the Arab/Muslim world even further against the USA/West. Possibly even to the point where the Arab leaders who enjoy American/Western financing and support so much may not be able to remain in control their own countries. A good way to explain the one-eyedness that the average street Arabs have is shown by the widely held belief here that the CIA and/or Mossad planned the hijacks. The rational for this are scary to say the least:

  1. Only those two organisations have the power or skill needed as they are both omnipotent
  2. You can’t do anything in the USA without the CIA knowing, as they are omnipotent
  3. Nobody else has anything to gain. The Americans will get a huge insurance payout and the Israelis will get even more Arab deaths, which is basically all they have ever wanted.
  4. Apparently not one Jew died in any of the attacks. So they all knew in advance and stayed away that day. Or the other one you hear is that four thousand Jews died in the world trade centre. So what were they doing there eh? Eh? Don’t you think that is a bit suspicious eh? Eh?

Before you ask. Yes a large number of people here really believe this shit and to make matters worse they seem to be getting (at least some of) their information/ideas from the (government controlled?) Arabic news television. Unbelievable.

More drooling around the streets of Beirut and have decided to risk making a run at the Israeli border despite hearing it was closed recently. My rational for this is:

  1. I didn’t come all this way to miss seeing the sights in Israel
  2. If it does ‘kick off’ here then I will be a lot safer in pro-American Israel than in one of the Arab nations.
  3. If the border is closed then I can come straight back here and take the Beirut option.

That afternoon Fouad (the other guy from Petra) picked me up from Beirut and drove me out to his house just this side of the Syrian border in Aanjar. Fouad’s convertible Mercedes is much nicer than Sako’s (sorry Sako) and Fouad definitely believes in honking. As well as swearing and vigorous hand gestures. It didn’t matter though because we flew over the mountains so fast that most of the honks sounded like they were coming from the car behind us.

Coming into the Bekaa valley we were stopped at a military checkpoint where a guy in an army uniform tried to sell us something. Fouad politely said no thanks and we passed through. He explained that the checkpoint was a fundraising venture run by the Hizboula. That’s the same Hizboula who like to fire mortars at Israeli villages. I don’t think Fouad likes them much but they’re not the sorts of people you mess with. In fact they’re not the sort of people you do anything other than be exceptionally polite to. I am reminded of the joke about what you call a three hundred pound gorilla with a baseball bat. Sir.

Twenty seconds later we passed through a Syrian checkpoint. Almost all of the military in this part of Lebanon are from Syria. They established their intelligence headquarters here during the war and haven’t decided to leave yet.

One thing we were going to do is drive by the house of one of the hijackers who only lived two towns away. Fouad even knew the guy through his sister who went to school with him. I wanted to take a photo of his house but we (or more accurately Fouad) decided not to as the locals there are a little jumpy at the moment.

Aanjar has some small roman ruins and is the home of a large number of Armenians. The Armenians moved here from eastern turkey in 1915 after the Turks tried to remove their race from the face of the planet. Aanjar completely escaped the destruction of the war in Lebanon because the local Armenians stayed neutral. Although the presence of the Syrian intelligence HQ might have helped a bit.

Fouad’s maid did all my washing and made me an excellent home cooked meal. It didn’t exactly fit in with my new grease and sugar health regime but it tasted great so I didn’t say anything. Later on Fouad met a friend in Beirut and I hung out at Sako’s where I used his computer (these emails don’t write themselves you know) and drank imported Grolsh.

I have been keeping a close eye on what is happening in the region via local newspapers, the internet and television because I want to make sure that if it suddenly gets too dodgy that I have some warning. I am starting to get a little over the CNN coverage though. The other night a reporter gave the following insightful report. “Thanks Connie. I’m standing down here at the perimeter of ground zero. There are hundreds of people holding up homemade signs thanking and supporting the rescuers and some giving descriptions of the missing people. This little boy is holding up a sign for his missing father. It gives his name, hair colour, eye colour and height, which you can see, was five foot nine and has been crossed out and is now five foot eleven. Now I ask you Connie what difference could two inches possibly make?” the reporter pauses to allow the full emotional impact to sink in “but would we do any different if it were our father? Over to you in the studio Connie (chokes back tears as camera cuts).” Thank god for the BBC is all I can say.

Later on met Fouad’s parents who are really great. Apart form being fantastic hosts they are really interesting and right up to date with all the developments in the local situation. Which isn’t always the case in this part of the world. They know way more than I do despite my best attempt to stay abreast of things through the Internet and television.

Posted in politics, religion, travel

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