I park my car on the number three slot. It is a muggy night in Beirut. I have had to drive against traffic twice to get here, obeying the delusional Waze which dutifully gets me to this alley, somehow avoiding the much-dreaded traffic.
I get my bags out of the rental. The Airbnb host is supposed to meet me in the open air parking, in front of slot three. I stand there, not sure of what to do next. Crickets. My phone rings, playing my beloved GOT ringtone. “Hi, it’s the friend of the host. He said that he went out for a quick chore. He will be here soon”.
Ah, the magic word ‘soon’. It could mean anything between fifteen minutes to three months in Beirut. Time obeys no rules in Lebanon. It is mostly a metaphysical construct. Operating on a separate parallel axis, like Hogwarts if you will.
As my doubts about my host ever showing up start taking over after thirty seconds of waiting, egged on by memories of years of frustration with the Beirut time warp, Fayez shows up. Smiley, giggling even, and announces; “Damn, I have the wrong key.”
“Excellent!” is all I could manage.
Zoom, he disappears again.
Bam! He’s back before I could think of any swear words to silently launch in his general direction.
He opens the gate to the little Airbnb with the tiny garden and the fairy lights in front. He tries to open the front door. He squeals with delight. “Ha, it’s already open!” *Facepalm* was my eloquent answer.
We go in. “Electricity is now Dawleh. Government. When the electricity goes off, the generator will kick in. It’s all automatic. You don’t need to do anything. If you use the AC and the other lights and try to heat water. It will click. Then you need to flick this switch. Okay?” *Sighs*
There’s a gas stove. “How do I light it?” was my seemingly impertinent question. “With a lighter”, was the logical answer.
” I see no lighter anywhere”.
“Damn!” he says.
“Let’s go get one. This way you’ll know where the dekkeneh (corner store) is”. “Cool, let me grab my wallet. I need a few things for breakfast.”
We go to the corner store. An amused guy with a beard sits on a chair. “May I have a lighter?” My host starts ordering the rest of what he imagines I would want, he gets the cheese, bread, labneh, Arabic ground coffee (he only gives me the right to choose with or without cardamom), then we get honey, and half a dozen eggs. To watch this scene in the store with all the jokes and laughter, you’d think we were lifelong friends. We ask for salt. The guy brings out a two pound bag. My host says: “No, leave it. I’ll get you some salt from home.”
I pay. As we’re leaving, I ask the bearded shopkeeper. “Any cucumbers?”
“Try the vegetable store on the next corner. It might still be open” he says with lukewarm confidence.
Fayez energetically leads the way, carrying all my groceries, and entrusting me with the fragile eggs that I try to hold steady with all the laughter when he asks me NOT to comment or praise him for doing my shopping for me on the airbnb site. “There’s no way I’m doing this for every guest. Don’t tell them.” I am now sworn to secrecy (no promises about my blog though).
We go back to the flat. He says that I have a next door neighbor who’s staying for a week. We run into her as we go in. She’s a writer who’s half Syrian and half Dutch, lived all her life in London, and has just written a novel about a Syrian girl living in Damascus in the 70s. She asked whether I would be interested in attending the book launch in a couple of days. I asked about the details, and it turns out that the launch will consist of her reading passages of her book while her Greek friend sang (or did she say wail) passages in Greek, while projecting paintings by the same singer on the walls. All the while, my Airbnb host is carrying all my groceries, having added fresh green cucumbers and pears to the mix, and muttering about getting me some salt from his home, and a new frying pan as the one in the cupboard is judged to be subpar, especially for such nice eggs.
Meanwhile, the writer and I discover we have a few friends in common. We casually talk about Trump, as one does. We promise to have cardamom-less coffee the next morning, and she hurries back to her flat as it seems that the Greek singer is getting hungry and needs to be fed, implying that said lady was kind of mad and she didn’t want to risk her going off.
So that’s a Beirut minute for you. Absolutely random, and kind of nuts. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And yeah, it seems I’m finally writing again. Just like that.