Journal - Napló

Last weeks together in Tripoli

Posted on November 15, 2009 at 2:15 PM

We have been waiting a lot the past couple of months. We waited for an answer from the Iranian foreign ministry about our visa application. We waited for an answer from the ship Boi Branco if we can come along. We waited for Happy Fox to go to Cyprus. The result was that we spent a lot of our time in a relatively small area close to the office where we are sleeping in downtown Tripoli. After a month we decided it was time to move on, no matter what. The coming Sunday we would leave Lebanon. The repairs on Boi Branco had been completed and they said it would set sail by the end of that week. The plan was to pack our bags and head for the port of Beirut when the ship was ready to set sail and then cross our fingers that some sailors would fail to show up. Maybe that way we would be allowed a place on board. We were still short of all the papers we needed. Like the STCW 95 certificate. A safety course required for all sailors in international waters regardless of nationality. Still we wanted to try our luck. Time would tell what we needed, what we’d get, where we’d go and how. All I knew was that it was time to see something else.


Then late that week the offer from Talal entered into the equation. It was far from an easy decision, but after a lot of careful consideration we agreed to split up for a little while and see what might come of the work here in Tripoli.


That was about three weeks ago. (Three since I first wrote this, five since it got published. Sorry..) Because we had overstayed our visas in Lebanon with almost a month, it was necessary for both of us to apply for residence permit. In my case so that I could stay longer, in Peter’s case so that he wouldn’t have any trouble on the border going out. We’ve been laughing about it that he’s been staying here without a visa for almost a month and a half. Then when he finally gets his papers saying that it’s legal for him to be here, he leaves.

Although we did not intend to spend a lot of time here in Lebanon, let alone in Tripoli, we do not regret it a bit. We’ve had the opportunity to see more of life here. Like how the coffee shop on the corner is used as a middleman. For instance we leave the key for the building with him in case someone needs it later when we are not here. A guy came on the door with a bill for the owner of the building. He asked me to ask the owner to leave the money at the coffee shop for him.



We’ve learned about aspects of his society that stand in stark contrast to the one I know from Norway. A guy working in his parents shop just around the corner tells me that he has four university degrees, but that he can't get a job. People don't care about education here he says, they care about who you know. I have heard of academic inflation, but four degrees and no job! That's “too much” as Daniel would say. You don’t have a meritocracy in Lebanon another guy told me, you have feudalism.


Another aspect of society here we’ve witnessed if that of the relationships between men and women. As some people tell is, it is not allowed for a man and woman to live together unless they are married. At least in Tripoli, Beirut is different. It is perfectly normal for someone in their late twenties to live at home with his or her parents. According to a guy I met on the boardwalk near the port, there is not a single hotel in Tripoli where you can check into the same room with a girl unless you have a marriage certificate. This obstacle is overcome however by going to Beirut.



The difference between Tripoli and Beirut is immense. You drive forty minutes from the one city to the other and it’s like going to a different world. While Beirut is ever liberalizing and gentrifying, Tripoli remains very much conservative and neglected by government investments. When we tell people in Beirut that we’ve spent almost two months here in Tripoli, the response is always the same: “Why?!?” They invariably view Tripoli as a backward, chaotic and dirty city. Be that as it may, I like it very much here. We have met so many friendly and interesting people here and we’ve had the opportunity to see some parts of life here from the inside. The company El Simsaar, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Talal and his family, the list goes on. After being in the neighborhood only a couple of months we’re already greeting more acquaintances on the street than I do at home in Oslo. Partly due to us attracting attention on account of being just about the only tourists in town, but also because people here are much more extroverted. I like that very much about this and other countries we’ve been traveling in. Staying longer in a place really lets you experience what this extroverted mentality can do for the number of smiles you see in the course of a day.


Besides hanging around the office, searching for boats and trying to spread the word about KEPESITA on various sites on the internet we've also been out and about a bit. The anchor we did work on earlier needed to be taken apart again. We spent hours in the little hole in the front of the boat trying to get the damn thing back in place when it was finally fixed. It was worth it though. On a break we took we went to a sushi restaurant, compliments of Talal together with a cousin of his living in Australia. The cousin had a family business back in Australia running various restaurants and bars and he promised us work there when we got to Australia. The day after, we scrubbed the entire yacht down with some powerful boat washing stuff. The whole front part was all covered with “oil footprints” after having worked with the anchor engine. Later that week we went to Beirut again to attend an African Yam harvest festival we had been invited to by Jane, the Nigerian woman we met through Daniel going to the meeting of the English congregation for Jehovah's witnesses in Beirut. It was also an experience, we had yam (like a potato, only much bigger) watched traditional dances and where served beer for the first time since visiting Nassir. After the program was over we went all over town with some Nigerians who wanted to find a place to dance. In the end we just went home to one of them. We had some nuts and a chat, watched some Nigerian music videos, then went to the home of another, witnessed a small dispute between two of them over what the daughter of one of them was wearing. Then we had some more food, another chat and then went on our way. A little unclear that last part maybe, but you'll have to excuse me, the last part of that evening, where we went and who decided what and where was a little unclear to me too.



Happy Fox has been center stage during our visit here in Tripoli. We’ve spent time on it, in it and even quite some time under this yacht. It was where we spent our first night in Tripoli. Since then when we’ve been staying downtown at the office on Azmi street, we’ve been free to visit it whenever we like. Since there is no shower and let alone washing machine in the office, it has been nice to be able to go down for a swim and a shower plus a movie while waiting for our clothes to wash. Besides going down some times in the afternoon we have also been out with it twice. Both times we went out to some islands that I think are called El Mina. In any case it is beautiful out there. You have a great view of the Tripoli peninsula, the water was crystal clear and the sun was shining. We were diving off the fly bridge, zooming around in the zodiac, fishing, chilling, and you name it. With the anchor secure, the generator working and no ropes in the propellers, it was a relaxed paradise. That however was not always the case. Instead of relaxation we often had some action. Getting the anchor to secure was a problem because it was bent out of shape and because the generator didn’t work, so neither did the anchors electrical engine. A bit inconvenient given that we often had to pull up the anchor several times before it got a proper hold. Some times we simply swam down to the bottom close to ten meters down and moved the anchor in place by hand. Then there were the ropes. Twice we had the bad luck of getting ropes stuck in the propellers and twice we were diving under the boat to get them loose. The first time was scary going underneath a boat in between huge propellers, but after a while we started getting the hang of it. We’ve probably made somewhere between fifty and a hundred dives under the boat each to get those ropes loose. Not an easy job I tell you. Talal will testify, although he was the best one at it. They become so tightly wrapped around the shaft that it hard to wedge the knife in anywhere. Albeit difficult, with some persistence we did manage. The second time was worse though, because that time we where in the harbor and visibility was only about ten centimeters. It was damn scary knowing that you were under water, under a boat in just about complete darkness. The fact that it not completely dark was what made it safe although it was scary. While working with the propellers you could see shimmers of light on three sides and pitch black darkness on one side. Starting to swim in the direction of the pitch black when the urge for oxygen came creeping would have been bad, but seeing that we saw the light, we followed it.



We made a trip to Beirut with the intention of buying some books and a daypack. And perhaps having a little party with a couple we had met on the road. We got the books, skipped the pack, enjoyed some drinks and went on to enjoy what by far was the best reason to go to Beirut that day. The Sujuk. It is some kind of Armenian sausage wrapped in a sandwich and it is damn good. They have it here in Tripoli too, but the one in the Armenian district in Beirut is necessarily far better.


We went back to Beirut a couple of days later. We had got a tip that there was something called a National geographic dive center in Junie. We walked way further than was healthy before we finally found the damn place, but once we did and hooked up with the people there it was worth every meter. We were hanging out with the chief for some hours while more and more people where showing up. There was no dive scheduled for that day, but as people started nagging, he finally gave in and they geared up to go dive. We could tag along they said. He had asked us if we had a license. I said only to eighteen meters. Too bad, they were going to thirty five. As they were going down I started to realize what I was going to miss. The water was crystal. They came back up and said they had had twenty five meters plus visibility. It was a wreck dive and they had seen practically the whole thing. Damn!! (Exclamation mark, exclamation mark!) Anyway, we cruised back in the little zodiac holding three happy divers and four envious boat watchers, got ashore and headed into town. We met up with the lovely Karageuzian’s and ate to our hearts content at an all you can eat deal of Armenian food. While sitting stuffed in the resturant and mustering the strength to make for the next destination I asked them if they would like to join in on a free hugs campaign in Beirut. They answered unequivocally yes and so, with the help of people we have met while hitch hiking, there will be a free hugs campaign in Beirut on the twentieth of November.


Categories: English, Lebanon, by Kenneth

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