Journal - Napló

Tripoli & Beirut

Posted on September 20, 2009 at 9:40 AM

These past couple of weeks we've had base camp at Talal Haider's office here in the downtown of Tripoli. As I mentioned in the last blog, we had been asking Talal if we could do any work for him in return for being allowed to stay at his office. After some days he said we could wash the steps and the entrance. Not a big job by any measure and considering that we've been staying at his office for over two weeks, it was the least we should do. Getting the steps clean wasn't to easy though. We have gone over all five flights of steps five times and still it's not as clean as we would like it to be. Some days ago we also cleaned up his office and moved a lot of junk up two floors to another office there. This other office we moved to, I bet it hadn't been cleaned since it was built 30 years ago. There was a layer of dust in there as thick as a pencil. But now it's nice.

Life at the office is good. Our stuff is safe, we have couches, electricity (sometimes), internet, water cooler, air condition. It is absolute luxury. One of the nice things about staying in one place for a while is the acquaintances you get. Like the guy at the coffee shop, the felafel place or at the Tibne stand, (A delicious pancake with cheese). I don't know their names, but just that we can recognize and be recognized gives the feeling, somehow, of being a insider. That we have a rightful place here. Off course it's only an illusion of belonging, but still, it's a nice feeling. An Austrian guy we met in Belgrade told me something about living in a foreign country versus traveling through. He said that when you live somewhere you have the chance to relate to people for good and bad. When you travel you always choose the good parts. If you like where you are, who you meet or what you do then you stay there, but if you don't then you simply move on. Because of this freedom to just move on, you never experience the parts of society that you don't want to see. As opposed to, for instance, if you go work in a foreign country. Then if there is a problem or a conflict, you will have to face it and deal with it, not just leave it behind.

We've been spending a lot of time here with Daniel. He has been dedicated at showing us two things. The first is Lebanese food. He took us to a famous Lebanese restaurant up in the mountains with his family. When he comes to the office in the morning he almost always brings some Arabic sweets or other stuff he says we have to taste. We went to his village and had food, he is showing us street food and bringing stuff from his home. Because of him I have tasted so many new and delicious things here. The other thing he is dedicated at showing us is the good news about the kingdom of heaven.

Twice we've gone with him to Jehovah's witness meetings. The first one was just outside Tripoli, in Arabic. I remember feeling like a school kid again and wondering how I ever managed to survive twelve years at school. However I am glad we went, even though we didn't understand anything we still got the chance to meet some people after the meeting. Some days later we went with him to a meeting for an English speaking congregation in Beirut. This time we could understand, unfortunately. Basically they were preaching chastity and damning fornication. They would read verses from the bible and excerpts from a book they use called ?What does the bible really teach?? The witnesses study the Bible very carefully. It is the word of God, so by knowing it, they will know God better. That way they will know how to act like God wants them to. One thing I liked very much about this meeting though, was how multicultural it was. Daniel told me there were 15 different nationalities represented in the congregation. There is a lot of foreign workers here in Lebanon. Construction workers are mostly from Syria and there are for instance many from the Philippines and Nigeria that come to work as house keepers. We drove to the meeting from Tripoli with Agnes, Jane and her son Kingdom. Jane was from Nigeria and Agnes from Ghana / Nigeria / slash, slash. After the meeting we spent the afternoon together. They told us their story and revealed a dark side of Lebanon. A racist one. Kingdom, Jane's son who is born here in Lebanon does not have a Lebanese citizenship. He has no rights here. You could see the tears building up in Jane's eyes when she told the story of how people would talk to her, what they would call her. She said she would go back to Nigeria if she could.

One of the wonderful things about the Jehovah's witnesses is their open mindedness for different people and cultures. They don't exclude anyone. They will try to change you which, granted, can be very annoying, but they welcome everyone. That is maybe why there are so many immigrants here that find their community with the witnesses.

One day Daniel invited us to his village. The calm and quiet, the smell of flowers and the mountain air was a welcome change from the heat and noise of Tripoli. We had great food on the back porch before we went in to join the rest of the family. We noticed that something was going on. There were Bible's all over the place and they seemed to be settling in for something that was going to last for a while. The father explained to us that they were now going to have their weekly family Bible study session. We were welcome to join them, in fact they seemed to want that very much, but he said, if we wanted to go do something else we were free to do what we wanted. Off course we stayed. Before continuing I should mention that they had younger son too. Just to explain the topic which was ?peer pressure? and ?dating?. They were saying that many people don't take dating seriously enough. The message was that the purpose of dating was marriage, not fornication. We argued that bonds forged without God can be just as strong as those that are between people strong in their faith. Spoken like true fornicators.

Although I don't share Daniel's faith, I do admire him for his commitment to it. If you believe in something then you should live your life accordingly. That is exactly what Daniel is doing.

One day Talal said we could go and spend the afternoon at the yacht. There is no shower here at the office, so we didn't turn down the opportunity to clean ourselves up a bit. When we got there it was already starting to get a bit windy. As the evening drew on the winds just kept picking up. Some hours after nightfall I noticed that one of the ropes between the dock and the stern of the boat was completely slack and that the other one was really tight. It seemed off, but it didn't occur to me that something serious had happened. What I should have noticed, but didn't, was that the clearance between the yacht and the dock was only a fraction of what it should have been. Luckily Talal came back before we would learn about the loose anchor from the sound of the yacht hitting the docks. The following five hours we spent working with Talal and some other guys trying to secure the boat. Some people went down diving to try to find hooks or rocks out in the harbor where we could fix a rope. Because the murky water made visibility close to zero there were some difficulties, but in the end it all worked out. In addition to the rope we also pulled up the anchor, put it in a small boat which took it out in the harbor and dropped it there, then when we pulled it back in it sort of got a decent hold.

Our first trip to Beirut was to attend the English Jehovah's witness meeting, the second time we went to visit Nassir and to have a look around the port of Beirut for ships. On our way out of Tripoli we got our first ride with mopeds. They only took us about a kilometer, but still, it was with mopeds. Hitch hiking without heavy back packs has its advantages. Going to Beirut we had one ride with two off duty police officers and another with a bus. As always there are a lot of buses and mini buses stopping when we are hitch hiking. It's not the first time either that we've had free bus rides like this. When ever we do I feel guilty. We tell them that we don't have money when in fact we have plenty of money. It's just that when they see us standing at the side of road with a Beirut sign, and the bus is going there, then because of the language barrier, the only sure way to communicate why we don't want to go with the bus is to say ?no money?. Any other way almost always leads to confusion. So when they then reply by saying come, come, no problem. Then we don't have any excuse not to go anymore and we end up sitting in the bus feeling like assholes. We got to Beirut and had a lovely evening with Nassir and his wife. We ate great food and even had our first beer since Istanbul. The next morning we went out to look for ships. The first and as it turned out, only problem, was to get into the harbor. This time however we decided to play with open cards and tell them exactly what we wanted instead of trying to make up a story about some fictitious captain we knew inside. The good thing was that they all spoke English there. We told them that we wanted to talk to the captains at ships in the harbor to ask for work. Although everyone we talked to were very helpful and seemed to be sympathetic to what we wanted, it didn't get us very far. The guard directed us to the chief guard who in turn directed us to some chief office where they then told us that the only way to get work on a boat was to contact the offices of the shipping companies. He gave us some directions and we went out in search of these. We went to at least a dozen offices. Each time they would say sorry, no can do, maybe you can try the such and such company. Sometimes being directed back to the office we had been at just before. In the end we decided to have another go with the harbor chief. He hadn't really said that it was forbidden to go inside, just that we wouldn't be able to get work by talking to captains. On our way there we walked past a different gate to the harbor and decided to try it there instead. We walked up and said we were wondering how to get permission to go inside. To which the guard just looked at us and waved us in. Sweet! Let the search begin.

We went on a recon of the harbor first. It was huge. One thing in particular that they seemed to be doing there was to import wrecked cars. Buying them for nothing somewhere, fixing them up and then exporting them again. After some recon we started to talk to people on the ships. We had been told that it would be really difficult to get on a ship to talk to the captain. That is simply not true. Of the seven ships where we found people, only once were we refused to come on board. We would simply go talk to anyone that was on or close to the ship and say that we wanted to work on the boat and if it would be possible to talk to the captain. On three of the ships the captain wasn't there though. Two of the captains we talked to told us it was impossible to for us to come along on the ship. Still, one captain gave us hope. He was very friendly and told us to sit down for a chat. We explained that we wanted to work on the ship. He asked us if we had sailor's passports. We said no. He asked if we had ever worked on a boat before. We said no. But I said. This is a ship transporting live cattle isn't it? It was. Well I said, my grandparents have a dairy farm in Norway and I have worked a lot there. Laying it on thick I told him how much experience I had with cattle. This seemed to be enough for him so he called the first mate and told him to take us down for another interview. We were asked the same questions again and then told to call them in some days about the job.

Some days passed and we wanted to make the call. The problem was that the number he had given us made no sense. It certainly wasn't a Lebanese number. Anyway we couldn't get through to him and decided we would have to make a third trip to Beirut if we wanted to know about this job. Our first business in Beirut was to visit the Police HQ to take care of our expired visas. We had been at the HQ in Tripoli three days in a row asking about our visas. Finally that day they told us to go to Beirut to take care of it. So we went all the way there and found the guy in charge of this stuff. He looked at our passports a grand total of maybe two seconds, looked up and said: ?No problem. You pay 50.000 at the border? The same we would have had to pay for renewing the visa. If only the guy in Tripoli could have told us that the first time we went to the Police there.

After the Police we went to the port and headed for the gate. THE GATE. Damn nuisance. Off course it hadn't miraculously gotten a lot easier to get into the harbor. Turned out that we had been very lucky with the guard who let us in at the small gate last time. This time we were turned away without question. Our problem, well one of them, was that we couldn't remember the name of the ship. And on the note where the chief mate had written his number, he also just wrote chief mate. So we didn't have any names of the people we wanted to talk to. First things first, the most important thing was to know the name of the ship. We decided to look for higher ground and try to spot the name on the ship. Eventually we found a really tall apartment building where you had a view of the ship from the roof. With the help of both optical and digital zoom we managed to discern the name. Boi Branco.

Next up was trying to convince the guards to give us permission to go talk to the people on the ship, or give us a phone number of someone on the ship. It wasn't easy. We met a guy that we'd talked to in the harbor last time. He knew all the connections and tipped us about the owner of the ship, the agent and best of all, a shop that did business with the ship. The people at the shop showed me some guy standing at the street and said I should talk to him. I couldn't understand why, but went over and explained that we wanted to talk to the chief mate on the Boi Branco about work there. After thirty seconds he had called the agent and the agent was calling the ship. Turned out that the captain and chief mate were both in Syria for Eid, (the end of Ramadan celebrations) so no news. In the mean time Peter had got into the harbor through the help of one soldier sympathetic to us. The soldier managed to convince his commanding officer to let Peter in if he left his stuff at the gate. Peter found some high ranking person on the ship. No news about the job, but at least this time we have a phone number that is Lebanese and a name to go with it. The boat leaves for South America in the beginning of October. By then at least we will know if we go or not.

I really hope we get the it. It was a huge ship with a lot of workers on it. Getting on the inside of the community on a ship like that would be an amazing experience. Also just working with animals in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Imagine spending hours and hours feeding and tending to the thousands of animals that this ship surely can carry, then going up on the deck and see nothing but blue. And as Peter commented, not being able to take a swim.

After Eid we go with Talal on his yacht to Cyprus. He might just be staying for a night, in which case we are only coming along for the fun of it. But if it turns our that we stay a little longer then we'll also try to have a look around the harbor to see if we can find some willing captains there too.

Categories: English, Lebanon, by Kenneth

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Reply Kaia
6:36 AM on September 21, 2009 
Paraguay, I understand, is landlocked!!! Sure you haven't misunderstood the destination?
Reply kepesita
7:09 AM on September 21, 2009 
Kaia says...
Paraguay, I understand, is landlocked!!! Sure you haven't misunderstood the destination?

So it seems:) Thank you for the heads up. I guess maybe the boys on the ship were having a laugh on us.
Reply thomea
10:51 AM on September 22, 2009 
cool story bro, great read as always! :D

oh, and you gotta stop confusing 'off' with 'of', it's been driving me insane lol
Reply kepesita
4:30 PM on September 22, 2009 
Off course bro:)
Reply thomea
5:09 PM on September 24, 2009 
lol you provocative bugger

make me admin so I can run this joint :D