A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

suitably at-tired in Beirut: the strike begins

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on January 23, 2007

One of the good things about a tire burning is how obvious it is. There is no element of unpleasant surprise, no wondering “if I go down this street, will I find burning tires at the next intersection”? You can see them – the flames help, but what really stands out is the smoke – and you can smell them.

Its a beautiful day in Beirut – so sunny and warm that I have yet to turn on my heater. The sky is clear, a bright blue – at least it is at this moment, in this neighborhood. It is a welcome change.

When I left for the gym this morning, around 6:40, the sky was hazy with smoke. Morning comes early here – although the sky is dark when I wake at 6:00, by 6:15 the sky is lightening, and by 6:30 the light is almost full. Today the sky was a yellow grey, with a massive cloud of smoke rising up from Kantari and other, smaller tendrils rising further west. It was eerie – not frightening, but eerie.

I wasn’t the only one out – the coffee vendor at the park’s gates was there, with a smaller crowd of his usual morning customers. But the neighborhood belonged to the fifty soldiers stationed in front of the Interior Ministry. They were being given a briefing as I walked past, one serious enough to prevent the usual series of “bonJOUR”s that I associate with groups of men in uniform here.

Rue de Rome/Rachid Karame was open, surprisingly enough – I had thought that it would be one of the first streets tired. So was Hamra. Still, I prefer the back streets – as I learned this summer, life often continues there even when the main streets are closed down and forbiddingly empty.

I began walking on Makdisi/Rebeiz, which was largely empty, as it often is so early in the morning. My fellow passersby, like me, were more hunched, more cautious, more … aware. It would have been difficult in any case to forget the difference between this morning and any other – the skies and the harsh air were constant reminders.

Again, I am grateful that tires are such showy burners. Coming towards Omar bin Abd al-Aziz street (I often imagine myself to be the only Beirut resident who has learned the street names; it is entirely useless knowledge, as both expats and locals use landmarks), I saw smoke, dark and thick, and … I turned, first down toward AUH and then left again on Sidani Street. When I crossed Abd al-Aziz, I looked up the street and saw the piles of tires, burning darkly all over the street. The smoke was too thick for me to see clearly, but I saw no one there – no protesters, no government. and no me – I continued on.

The air cleared towards Bliss Street, where dozens more soldiers guarded the area around Prime Minister Siniora’s house. Looking out over the sea as I descended towards the gym, I could see the haze, floating thickly above the city, as well as more tell-tale plumes rising up from the Corniche.

As the gym, life was as normal: loud music from Radio One, whose djs determinedly made no mention of the events transpiring around the city and the rest of the country. When I arrived, the trainers were gathered around the upstairs food & drinks shop, watching al-Manar.

They looked at me; I looked at them. We watched the large screen television for some time, trying to guess which areas al-Manar was showing (“College Georges, wayno?” “Hay Achrafieh wa la la?”). Finally, they switched to everyone’s post-war favorite channel: New TV.

Soon enough they were told to return to their posts, and the cashier turned the channel to “Star Movies”. Please, I said, leave it on the news. What was he thinking, I wondered – that I preferred old (and often bad) American films to real-time news?

After a few minutes, the head trainer came over. I’m sorry, he told me, but we have been given orders. We cannot show the news here. He conferred with the cashier briefly, and they settled on “Fashion TV” as the one most suited for me. Lots of runway shots; not so much Lebanon.

Oh, you damn Lebanese, I thought, annoyed. Does the manager think that by prohibiting the news coverage I will be better off? I need to know how things will be when I leave.

Perhaps the prohibition had nothing to do with me; after all, Lebanon’s news channels each belong to a political ‘party’. The manager might merely have feared the negative effects of gym goers fighting over which channel to watch – a fight with much deeper implications than, say, ABC vs CBS, or even CNN vs Fox.

Having caught up on this season’s resort collections, I packed my bag and began the walk home. The sky was clearer; shops in Hamra were opening. Almost no cars were on the roads, and those that were careened past at top speed – which is how the Lebanese drive anyway.

The men assigned to guard the Interior Ministry were sitting on its concrete wall, riot gear scattered on the sidewalk, soaking up the sun and laughing with one another. In my apartment, the electricity is on, but the drinking water is off, something that rarely happens.

Who knows what this means?



3 Responses to “suitably at-tired in Beirut: the strike begins”

  1. intlxpatr said

    I love this post. I feel like I was there with you.

  2. yiiiiiii ya khalti. I mean this only in the nicest way … but … I’m so glad you weren’t here! If you were, I would have felt compelled to act responsibly and stay home.

    Also, while I’m happily ensconced at home (where the drinking water just came back on:-)), I have friends out covering the hotspots and … they are hot. And – no surprise – its not the army getting involved, but those super aggro Christian militias.

    Someone needs to sit them down and remind them that its not the size of the crosses they wear around their necks but how well they follow Christ’s teachings (“love thy neighbor as thyself” and “turn the other cheek” come to mind, for starters) that makes them “Christian”.

    Not that I support the strike – I think it raises the level of confrontation between the parties here. “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”; Lebanon has far too many in the latter camp and far too few in the former.

  3. […] on January 24, 2008 One year and one day ago, Lebanon experienced the chaos of a general strike (which I wrote about from a very small, very housemouse perspective). One year minus one day ago, Lebanon started […]

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