Journal - Napló

Day 117. Rendez-vous (Lebanon 5.)

Posted on September 10, 2011 at 1:50 PM
   Sousou worked in a nearby shop that sold mostly sweet pastry. Her ravishing smile attracted me every day to check all Lebanese sweets. Communication was via plain smile and showing the appropriate number of fingers (how many I want from which sweets) until one evening her boss was also there, who spoke English. 
   I was waiting for the aromatic, cheesy mankoush at our regular ”Syrian” place, when Sousou waved at me from behind the cake counter beside it. I went over to her, where her boss (a ca 40 year old lady) started to talk to me and translated also for Sousou and this is how I got to know that (also) the girl finds me “sympathetic.” When I told them what I was doing in Lebanon and what I am currently involved, they asked for my number, to call me sometimes to ask if I am all right. 

   The day after I entered the shop with the intention of inviting Sousou for a coffee. As there was nobody there to help in communication, I quickly grabbed a little notepad and drew a table with two coffee cups, two chairs and two figures (one with long hair and one with short) and showed it to her, with a question mark on my face. She seemed to understand and her answer was a nod and  a smile. Using my rudimentary knowledge of Arabic, I asked ”when”? She indicated she doesn’t know how to inform me about the time and date. On my mobile I entered the calendar function and gave it to her and she started nodding heavily. 
   I pointed in front of me with a question:  ”today”? She shook her head and said in English ”tomorrow”.  ”When”? I asked, making circles on my wristwatch with my finger. She showed 5 fingers, indicating the time. I made circles in the air, looking at the street, to which she showed  ”here, in this place”, that is, that we should meet in the shop. Eventually I also bought some of the sweets.

   The next afternoon I appeared in the shop at 5 pm in my only (but still quite reasonable) pair of long pants and a shirt with short sleeves. She was clearly still working and she asked me kindly to enter. A gentleman entered the shop after me and asked me in English what I wanted to buy. I started to explain that right now I want nothing, this is not what I am here for, and so he asked me to join him and pointed at a plastic chair out on the sidewalk. I thought that this was the father. I got a chair from Sousou and so we sat down at the sidewalk.

   In the next one and a half hours I talked with him, Sousou served the customers in the meantime and chatted (obviously about us) and giggled with other ladies around . 
   As it soon turned out, it was the uncle of Sousou I was facing. He asked me what I was doing in Lebanon, what I do for a living, do I have a wife or girlfriend, do I have money or have a rich family supporting me and how long I will stay here and whether I want to marry a Lebanese woman. I got to know that he spent years living in Canada and has business interests in numerous countries, and that he has 27 shops in Tripoli and that Sousou is married and will soon give birth to a child. He spoke kindly but with authority.
   ...he told me about Islam in Lebanon, which is more liberal than for example Islam in Saudi Arabia, but is still very different from Europe(ans). While in our countries a women can marry after losing her virginity and can say she was in love with another man previously, this is why she is not untouched – this is no problem. However, in Islamic Tripoli women will preserve their virginity for their marriage without any exceptions.

   He told me that the people of Lebanon pay a double bill for almost everything (electricity, television, insurance, etc.). For electricity for example they pay the State and also the person operating the local aggregator, who provides services during hours of blackout of state electricity (4-6 hours a day). They pay for education as well and if you have no money or no powerful politician among your friends, you will be left out of medical care. What keeps then people alive in 3-4 million strong Lebanon? The regular support of the 17 million Lebanese, who live in other countries of the world and (usually being successful businessmen) do not forget their families. A Lebanese father, if earning USD 200 a month, can only survive if he has e.g. 5 sons or other close relatives, who work abroad and support him with 100-100 dollars a month. 

   He himself spent 6 years in Canada, 3 years of the 6 he spent working 110 hours a week. Then he came home and opened a little shop. Then another one. Then a third one...and  so on. Now he has 27 shops in Tripoli only. 
   “Perhaps we will have several further discussions, I will get to know you as a good person and maybe invite you for a coffee to my home. You could work in my new café (which he will soon open in place of the cake and Syrian mankoush shop). Maybe. We shall see.”...

   When I was on my way to the “rendez-vous”, I was prepared for many things. That perhaps Sousou’s parents and siblings will be there and watch the “appropriateness” of the meeting from nearby. Maybe – although I have told them – it is not clear to her/them that I will soon carry on with the trip and if they get to know this they will call off the whole thing or think badly of me. Or maybe we misunderstood each other and only a chair will be waiting for me so that I can consume the purchased sweets on the spot. And a lot of similar contingencies...
   But that Sousou is married and that I, instead of becoming an enemy of the family, make a friendly and very educational contact with her well-travelled uncle – this is something I did not think of in advance.
translated by Szegi

Categories: English, Lebanon, by Peter

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