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Words and Deeds in Beirut Lebanon

 

 
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Words and Deeds in Beirut Lebanon
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Joined: 09 Mar 2007
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Much amusement may be derived from the difference between the way people talk and the way they act. Once in the nineteen-sixties, I was sauntering along Carpenters Street in downtown Beirut when I was hailed by a gentleman sitting in front of his furniture shop. He was one of the very charming and honest old Sunnite bourgeoisie of Beirut and he invited me to sit down and take a coffee with him. Seeing that I was a foreigner, he took pride in telling me something about his own country of Lebanon.

After a time, four young Kurdish porters arrived. They were refugees from Turkey, where their Kurdish Socialist Part was in conflict with the authorities. Fine strapping young fellows, very honest, they shifted furniture sold by my host. Their irregular status in Lebanon prevented them from having regular salaried employment, so only odd jobs were available to them. Soon one of them began praising the Soviet Union, saying how in Communist Russia the government provided everybody with work, free education, and free health and social services.

“Well,” I said, “the Russian embassy is only half-an-hour’s walk away. Ask the consulate for a visa. They would be delighted to have strong young fellows like you in Soviet Russia.”

Do not imagine that the four men threw down their toggles and rushed off to the embassy. They just shuffled their feet and looked at each other awkwardly, while the shop-owner hid a smile. Shortly after, I was amused once again. Some men turned up by chance from my wife’s village in the North Beqaa valley. They were in full Arab dress, kaffiyeh, agal, kumbaz, cummerbund and aba. They embraced me boisterously in their sturdy arms and thundered, “Marahaba, ya suherna, Hail our brother-in-law!” The slightly built furniture dealer, who had been telling me about Lebanon, but was a confirmed townsman, had obviously never met such people and looked as if he wanted to run away.

In 1974 I came up against another example of inconsistency between speech and deed. At that time, outside interests were agitating the several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees in little Lebanon, hoping to dump them in Lebanon for good or to use them to overturn the regime in neighboring Syria. This caused trouble between the Palestinians and Lebanese and in addition there were several hundred thousand Syrians in the country, working mostly as building laborers. They accepted for much lower wages than either Lebanese or Palestinian refugees could, as they brought their food from their Syrian villages, and spent their money there, where the necessities of life were very much cheaper. As a result there was acute tri-partisan tension. Lebanese nationalists were chalking or painting on the city walls, “ صار الغرباء اكثر من اللبنانيين The strangers have become more (numerous) than the Lebanese!”

I was teaching English one day in a class of senior schoolboys, one of whom was the very zealous son of a member of a Lebanese nationalist political party, a major building contractor incidentally. Suddenly this boy jumped up and shouted, “Sir, don’t you think the foreigners have become more than the Lebanese?”

I said, “Well, isn’t the doorman janitor of your father’s apartment block a Syrian? Isn’t the driver of his car a Syrian? And all the workmen on his building sites, aren’t they all Syrians? And the girl helping your mother in the kitchen, isn’t she Egyptian?”
The young man stuttered. “Do – do you mean we shouldn’t employ them?”

“I’m not going to tell you what you should do. All I say is that you can’t bring in outsiders to employ them and then blame them for being here. One or the other, you can’t have it both ways!”

He slumped down in his chair and looked down at his knees, while his classmates watched him with amusement. Evidently they were rather tired of his political enthusiasm, enthusiasm which did not work out in practice.

Kenneth Mortimer
Sun Jul 02, 2017 6:31 pm View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
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