Friday, December 2, 2016

Beirut Mayhem-ek by Tarek Chemaly (Part V)

Beirut mayhem-mek part V:

"Hello this is Camille… I saw your ad in Al Waseet about your hotline…"
"Hello Camille. The Lord be with you. What is troubling you my child?"
"I work in a massage center, my passport was confiscated when I entered Lebanon. I cannot escape. I feel helpless."
"Calm down Camille. Please tell me from the beginning."
"My sister and I, her name is Madeleine, we come from Ukraine and we came here. And…"
"Don't cry Camille. Don't cry. The Lord sees your trouble and sympathizes."
"Calm down my child."
"Maybe I should go – tonight we are working at the Super night club. There's a shortage of girls so we have double shift."
"Confide in me. It will help you."
"Now that there are all the United Nations soldiers, we have to work harder. So many men came in. But sometimes they're nice and they offer "extra." They even open me and Madeleine a bottle of champagne. Of course, everyone knows that the bottle is just sparkling wine but we like to call it champagne, it makes us feel better about ourselves. Maybe I should go now."
"Camille don't hang up. I have the perfect solution to stop your tears!"
"Really? What is it?"
"Johnson's baby shampoo… It has a "no more tears" stickers on it, I am sure the bible recommends it somewhere…"
"Oh thank you for the great advice. Goodbye. I just hope my grandmother Sophie is not seeing this from heaven. Goodbye."

Azizati Amal…
"Dear Hope", or so began those sobbing letters in "Samar" magazine, basically a local adaptation of the Italian photoromanze, with such household names as Paola Pitti, Katiuschia, Maria Antoinetta, Simona Pelei, and Michele Laroque, or their male counterparts such as Frank O'neil, Franco Dani, and the Italian heartthrob Franco Gasparri. When the latter had a motorcycle accident, Samar organized a competition for the best love letter dedicated to him, and throughout the Arab region legions of die-hard fans started pouring their gut out, in sympathy, in agony and in solidarity with the star.

Azizati Amal,…
I could never forget the letter where the "tormented Khalil" promised her that if she ever managed to bring him closer to his beloved they'd call their first female newborn – what else but! – "Amal"… Of course, some other letter where at the thin edge of either social disaster or a full-blown prank, such as the one coming from Egypt where a teenager supposedly came home quicker than expected to find his father's room locked. Peeping through the door he finds his sister in bed with his father and her husband watched.

Azizati Amal,…
I find it difficult living in Beirut where things eventually crumble no matter how hard we build them. Do you advise me to leave?
The tormented S.

Dear tormented S.,
Living in Beirut? Imagine like living near a volcano, or on the fault lines where earthquakes are recurring, or in some seashore shantytown. Every other year, you’d have 10 to 15 thousand people dying… The difference is that Beirut’s fate is not a matter of elements of nature. It’s man made. But perhaps these men are behaving without considering the implications of their actions, maybe that makes them as senseless as the elements of nature. So you'd better live with it unless aunt Sumayya from the US sends you an invitation. Patriotism only gets you so far.

… And there was another assassination in Beirut, and I found myself…
Strange how some statements seem ageless and dateless, as if their only reference is simply their own being. The above could have taken place anytime between 1975 and 1990, then sporadically – yet recurrently – after that, although choosing 1990 and 2006 would give a better statistical opportunity of be dead on. Excuse the pun.
It seemed the same as saying “the sun rises”, a benign statement with no implications whatsoever in the grand scheme of things, a mechanic, repetitive act – a little like sex when the initial impulse of the discovery of the other’s body has gone.

Another assassination in Beirut? The sun rises? – Harmless statements in ready-to-dismiss formats which bring the fundamental question “What’s the weather like according to the paper?” For those not paying attention, “the sun rises” was a direct plagiarism of the weather pages. Zap immediately to the sports section, it will save you time.

Never a dull moment in this country. I remember the time back when we believed, and I can't believe that we don't believe anymore. What shall we do with the slogans now? What shall we do with the pins? Or the wristbands, or the T-shirts or the scarves? So many flags waved and so many fears braved, how do we get rid of them? Where do we bury them? And what if we need them once more?

In case we go back to believing. Yes. Back when we believed, we chanted and shouted, and talked to strangers, with luster in our eyes, we claimed that we believed. And now, we believe no more, and wonder how come we once did, back when we believed, and I can't believe, that we don't believe anymore. Am I repeating myself?

Mondays for manifestations, and Tuesdays for sit-ins, Wednesdays for night shifts, Thursdays and Fridays for anticipation, and then the weekend begins. I think we eventually got sold, I just hope they got a good price. But well, for a time at least, it was nice, just to think that we actually believed. So? Did you finish with the banana split? Good… Let me ask for the bill. It may be an unorthodox thanksgiving meal with not gravy or turkey or whatever, but under the circumstances, it was the best thing I could offer you. And remember that you still did not tell me what you are grateful for…. The bill please!"