Bang Bang Beirut
Bang bang from hammers re-building as well as bombs un-building
What bad timing we have. My boss and I are in Paris, en route to Lebanon, and we read that one of the major political figures there, anti-Syrian journalist and legislator Gibran Tueni was just car-bombed. Arriving in the airport to super-tight security, we head to the hotel in a somber city.
On the way there, I look out on a wild city. Half-finished buildings compete with half-ruined, and half-rebuilt ones, the legacy of a decade of civil war followed by a decade of rebuilding, and decades of neglect. Poverty next to opulence, Christian next to Muslim, church next to mosque, it is a land of differences defining logic.
First off, is this Beirut or Beyrouth? I see these spelling compete all across the city, in official, tourist, business, informal, and graffiti writing, a city unsure of what its name should be. All the signs are in Arabic and French, the people fluent in both plus English and when talking business, fluent negotiation.
Then toss in religion and everything mixes. My Gulf Arab owned and Muslim managed hotel? Christmas music in the halls and a giant Christmas tree in the lobby. The hills around the US Embassy? Shines to Virgin Mary at every tight turn and curve. Catholic nuns at a convent in the hills of South Lebanon? Fluent in Arabic, clueless in Latin or English. Mosques at the end of every block in the rebuilt downtown? Of course, would you like to pray next to me? Shires to martyrs of Lebanon’s independence? At every soccer filed and public building in South Lebanon.
And Tueni, he’s the newest martyr. A 40 foot poster of him adorns his An-Nahar office building downtown and the week we’re there, protests over his death fill the streets. Protests that seem more youth movement than serious protest when we spy kids enjoying themselves more than rallying for a cause.
Then again, we were working too much to really get into the protests. Working with the Lebanese who are known for their business skills. Business skills that had me listening to a telemarketer’s pitch three days after I activated my cell phone line. Business skills that also had me listening to off-color jokes about women from a high-powered lawyer with his young & pretty assistant in the room.
Business skills that are apparently honed in the Boy Scouts of all places. Several times we were asked if we were part of the Scouts and told in not-so-subtle ways that the best business connections in Lebanon came through the scouts. And here I thought my Bear Scout badge wouldn’t matter!