Journal - Napló

Days 70 and 74. Boat hunt in Beirut (Lebanon 3.)

Posted on July 20, 2011 at 8:45 PM

 Days 70-74. Boat hunt in Beirut (Lebanon 3.)

 

 

   Even before stepping on Lebanese lands we decided we’d try to get on a ship. We wouldn’t have been the first ones to pay off in labour and travel on a vast ship. Emails and phone calls were in vain so we devoted two days to leave for the capital from Tripoli in order to ’investigate’ personally.

   On the first occasion our goal was to get to the pier and contact some captains. Desperately, trying to make the impression of knowing what we’re doing and where we’re going, we attempted to ’break through’ the main entrance guarded by soldiers. Of course, we were ordered to stop. When we explained we were looking for a job and wanted to talk to captains, to enquire about which ship goes where, we were directed to a nearby little office where we could be (could have been) given permission for entering. Of course, we were not. Instead, they sent us to various agencies dealing with transport of goods: most of them stood in a big building, close to the pier.




   A great silent film could have been shot of us running this way and that among the levels, from one agency to the other. Anyone who we talked to, directed us to a different office where we either had been before, or from where we were sent to a third place. Once we unsuccesfully ’executed’ the entire building, we went on to visit two other offices a few blocks away. After a couple of hundred metres, we ran into the other entrance of the dock which also was guarded but we deemed it to be worth a shot. We couldn’t even finish our story properly, the guard waved that we can go in. We couldn’t believe, but we were in!

   We’re winding in the maze of containers and trucks until we got to the moles. There were about 15 freighters in the pier – we visited all of them. Most of them were heading for Syria and Egypt. One of them was loaded with stones weighing many tons, the other one was transporting grain, the third one had net of iron on board, the biggest one was just being loaded with cars and was on its way to Panama. Most of the times we couldn’t talk to the captain but we were payed attention everywhere, even when at the end our ’offer’ got regretfully refused.




   However, the second biggest ship raised our hopes. They were just working on it, some parts of it were being renovated. Getting inside the hull, we saw numerous sheepfolds on many levels. They were transporting living animals from South-America. The captain listened to our story, then directed us to one of his high-ranking employees. Sharing our former ship experiences with him probably didn’t increase our chance but hearing about our farm past (both of us have worked on farms, with animals) made him start to think about it and eventually, he gave us his number and asked to call him in 3-4 days.

   Still, we visited the remaining ships as well but once we were out of the gate of the dock, the South-American ship was our only potential ride.

   On the third day we tried to call the number in vain: it didn’t even ring. It wasn’t a Lebanese number, it didn’t have a country code. We needed to go to Beirut anyway, to the police: when we found out that our expired visa was not a problem (we should just pay for the new one when leaving the country), we were heading for the pier once again.

  Where formally we were let in, now we weren’t. At the main entrance we didn’t even want to try as our only information was a wrong number. We didn’t know the name of the ship, nor that of the captain. A sudden idea came to Kenneth’s head about how we could find out at least the name of the ship. Getting on top of a tall building near the pier, he took a picture of the ship and zooming it the name became legible: Boi Branco.




 

   On the piece of paper we got on the ship and had the phone number on it, we wrote down the name as well so we were approaching the main entrance with a little hope. A young soldier took sides with us but he couldn’t convince his superior who did not give permission to entering. Another officer tried to help us out as well, he told us to wait two minutes, he’d be back soon. 20 minutes passed but he didn’t show. However, we ran into a third gentleman who we met before, three days ago at a ship. He suggested that we follow him: he’ll help us get in. Kenneth went along with him, I stayed back at the gate in case the officer showed up.

The young soldier tried to talk to his superiors on our behalf many times but he got refused all the time. In the meantime, Kenneth talked to a manager of a shop who sold pipes to the leaders of the Boi Branco as the ship was being renovated. He spoke with the agency on the phone, then went to visit the agent personally. After about two hours of waiting, I stepped to the guards and showed I’d leave my bag and passport at them – anything, they just let me in for 10 minutes. The younger one indicated he’d do it but I need to talk to his superior. So I turned to the officer who, right at that second, got sent for from the gate. In the company of the young soldier, I now turned to another officer. A gentleman wearing civilian clothes joined us, too, and we were pursuading the officer so hard that eventually, he nodded on my offer. I gave him my bag, my papers. A soldier walking right there even offered to give me a ride to the ship.

  When we first were there, it was practically illegal so we didn’t want to cause a stir with all our video cameras. At the second time I had to leave all my stuff at the gate…

   I climbed up the long stair swinging against the hull; but I didn’t step on board until someone from the ship gave permission. As it turned out, both the captain and his first officer were in their homeland, Syria. They’ll be back after the three-day festival following Ramadan and the ship will set out towards South-America in 10-14 days – depending on how fast the renovation goes. The second officer gave us his number so that we call him after the festival.

   Kenneth didn’t find the agent in there but still we had a thing to celebrate: we had a phone number with a name at us – plus, it was a Lebanese number! We stayed in the capital until late evening, so we only made it back to Tripoli, by hitch-hiking, for dawn. The little coffee house where we left the key of the office for Daniel before our journey, was already closed. We went up to the topmost level of the building and on two huge plaster cardboards we fell asleep.

translated by Ágoston Galambos


 

 

Categories: English, Lebanon, by Peter

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