Journal - Napló

Days 57-64. Tripoli (Lebanon 1.)

Posted on May 12, 2011 at 12:50 AM


In Tripoli, during Ramadan, the Islamic fasting month, under Jehova’s witness’ guidance




   From the Syrian border station we were directed to the nearby greengrocer’s to obtain an official document certifying we payed the fee for leaving. So now we were free to go to the Lebanese side, we got a visa for 15 days, and then, with two rides we got to Tripoli, the biggest town in Northern-Lebanon. We were walking in the downtown when we were adressed from a huge jeep.


   Talal lived 18 years in Norway. He moved back to his mother country not long ago, expanding the powers of the business of his Norwegian friend and him to Lebanon. His job involves buying, renovating, selling and letting of real estates and, lately, boats as well. He invited us to his place, so we hopped in the monster, he put his left foot on the dashboard and we were on our way towards the coast. At the entrance of the recreation section, the guards waved at us in a friendly way and drew up the barrier. We went round a big building split to apartment-blocks, then rolled down to the coast and parked the car right in front of the largest yacht in the small pier. Four children came rushing from the boat and said hi to their dad.


   So far, we have experienced a number of different sort of hospitality, but there are two main kinds. The first, when the guests have a central role, the family gathers around them, cook and organize programs for them. The second, where the everydays of the family aren’t adapted to the guest, they simply open the door so that the ’stranger’ could be part of their everydays. Both kinds are unforgettable experiences and oblige the traveler.

   In Talal’s case, it was the second type. He went and dealt with his tasks, made calls, his three sons and one daughter were playing on and around the boat, they were fishing. As for us, we threw our bags down on the board, helped Talal get a broken part out of the board connecting the boat with the dock; we left for the open water with a little motor boat and swam; we washed our clothes. Talal kept Ramadan, so he stayed up until dawn in order to take advantage of the last opportunity for grabbing a bite. We chatted til 3 a.m., sitting in the back of the boat, asking and listening to his stories about Norway and Lebanon.

   Not long ago, in the centre they bought an office building left almost totally empty for 10-12 years. We spent the first night on the boat but the following day, Daniel, who worked for Talal, picked us up in the afternoon and took us to town. They just moved their office to the recently purchased building – we could set up our camp there. From this day on, almost each day we met up with Daniel who showed us around in the city, get us acquainted with the Lebanese kitchen, introduced us to his family and led us into the world of Jehova’s witnesses.


   A few months ago there was still gunfire on the streets: the representants of the two major line of the Islam were shooting at each other from one side of the river going across the city to the other. The government tries to prevent this by constant military presence. At various spots of the town they set up checking points on the streets. At a post like this usually there is one tank and a few soldiers stationing and checking the passing traffic. The car drivers have to slow down, with lights on and windows open; if necessary, they need to stop. The guard takes a quick look into the car, then indicates if ’it’s okay, you can go’ or that the driver has to pull over. No matter which checking point we went through, the soldiers were always friendly – not once did we have any trouble with getting through.


   Daniel joined us admiring the bazaar hiding in the heart of the town dominated by 10-12-storey blocks of flats with huge terraces. We were staring in wonder at its almost a thousand-year-old walls, the pool covered with a cupola full of holes, the scented products of the artistic, hereditady craft of soap-making.


   He took us to the castle, where –being a strategically favourable point- soldiers served ’attendant’ functions. They secured the ’base’ with tanks, military jeeps and a shelter built of sandbags and full of loop-holes. Although they were just about to close when we got there, the guard smiling from behind his gun in a friendly way, let us in for a few minutes.


   One day –after a lot of talking and debating about faith, the Bible- Daniel invited us to the nightly gathering of Jehova’s witnesses. He asked us not to bring a camera to their illegal but tolerated get-together. We parked the car next to a building of a block of flats not far from the sea; after a couple of stairs we entered a vast, half-underground hall. The walls were snow-white and cleanness dominated the undecorated meeting-place. In the other half of the room which was separated with a transparent, plastic curtain, white chairs were lined up in front of a small platform with a pulpit.


   There might have been about 40-50 people there, youngsters and elderly as well, all dressed up nicely. Although everything was in Arabic, we were given an English-language Bible and a little manual, thus –with Daniel’s help- we could follow the events. Going along the chapters of their manual, the leader or someone else from the congregation, read aloud the relevant text, quotes from the Bible; then, there were questions at the end of the chapters which anyone, after putting their hands up, could answer. Though they called this part the discussion of the topic, the replies were always received with agreement. That night’s theme was marriage, the only acceptable aim of wooing (according to them); and also, how they could succesfully fight the temptation of masturbation and pornography. Eventually, relevant parts of the Bible were read aloud, and at the pulpit, a mother and her daughter performed a short, instructive dialogue rendered into the present.


   Daniel also took us to his home town where he introduced us to his family. We were given the opportunity to witness their weekly-held Bible evening, which, like the big gathering, was based on their little manual.


   In exchange for a little work we could camp in the office building for days. We decided we’d try to get on a boat and, working the ticket’s price, get to Singapore or another, bigger harbour. Phone calls, emails, ’taking’ the harbour of Beirut, videoblogs, debates about faith with Daniel, work and walks in the city – determinant elements of the past and upcoming days.

translated by Ágoston Galambos


Categories: English, Lebanon, by Peter

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