Journal - Napló

City-life in Tripoli (Lebanon 7.)

Posted on October 2, 2011 at 8:25 AM

   „Our office” is situated in one of the office buildings of the central, one-way Azmi street. Apart from us, two families live on upper levels, otherwise the offices have been empty for more than 10 years now. 3 rooms, a bathroom, office tables, computers and two couches which unfortunately don’t let you stretch out but still function as excellent beds. Talal moved here not long before our arrival so everything was pretty much just thrown into the rooms.


   To bath we usually visited Talal’s yacht – these times we always swam in the sea and then showered on the ship. Talal often works on renovating the yacht by himself, and now and then called us to help him. One thing we had to do was that we squeezed ourselves in a tiny hole where we removed and lifted out the engine responsible for lowering and pulling the anchor, to be repaired (in the meantime, a gentleman working in the pier offered us work for next summer). Another day’s job was cleaning the whole yacht, from top to toe. There was work to do in the office buliding, too. We cleaned the stairway, moved office stuff from one level to another, gave office-like look to three rooms where we were living so that the clients won’t be scared away by the chaos. Several times we went with Daniel and made photo shots about the apartments waiting to be sold.


   Looking at it from Europeans’ point of view, the Lebanese traffic might seem to be chaotic but once you get used to it, you’ll see how well it actually works. Though there are no traffic lights in Tripoli (to be precise, there are some but they never work), the traffic only stops rarely for long. Ahead only in the roundabouts and one-way streets only exist theoretically. Why these cars have indicator in them is beyond me. Priority on the right… maybe never existed. Parking at corners… you won’t see one free corner in the entire city.


   The tiny mopeds are permanent participants of the everydays. People have mastered themselves in how to take full advantage of these things. Long wooden boards, coffee-cans, huge, round trays full of baker’s ware – people are able to transport anything with these two-wheelers. The youngsters swerve this way and that, or wind among cars on one wheel, many times with more than one people on the little motorcycle.


   The honk, here in Lebanon as well, has become an important communication language but still, generally, it has a warning function.

   Here, it is not the car’s colour or a sign that marks cabs but the type of the car and its red license plate. All these cars traveling in the city called ’service’ are old-school Mercedeses. They go in certain directions and are trying to gather as many passengers as possible (sometimes two people are sitting next to the driver). There are ’service’ rides (these are minibuses) to Beirut nearly every 15 minutes. At larger centres and main roads they literally recruit passengers. Walking by that spot, it’s easier to get to Beirut than not to. Of course, this high taxi traffic doesn’t make a hitch-hiker’s life easier but sooner or later someone will stop to pick you up.

   As we were living in our ’workplace’, we met Daniel almost every day. He got us acquainted with the cream of the Lebanese cuisine whereas we explored the world of ’streetfood’.

   One of the most prevalent ingredients is the chickpea. This is what falafel (meatball) and humus (creamy stuff, enriched with nut and mintleaves) is made of but it is also consumed cooked, supplemented with nut and meat as stuffing for the round, flat, two-layered pita (bread-like). All the meals include the spicy tomatoe salad, the tabouleh.

   The little bakeries offer salted cheese on pizzapasta-like base (hallum), cream very much like spiced sheep’s cheese, minced meat, vegetables or chocolate cream with banana pieces.

   It was a Syrian gentleman’s little buffet that became our favourite place where we could eat freshly-baked mankoush. He rolled the little loaf with a couple of gestures out, laid it on a pillow with the help of which he threw the thin pasta on the hot, hemisphere-shaped baking plate that was heated from the inside, with gas. He spread oil and put grated cheese on it. A few minutes later we could enjoy the wrapped mankoush.


   The protagonist of the small, manually controlled, wheeled buffet cars is the round, sesame-seedy, toasted, crunchy pita bread with hallum inside. It is frequently eaten without cheese, blown up.

   Coffee is part of everyday’s life, it has the power to assemble dozens of men at coffee houses. Occupying the pavement, in smaller or bigger groups, social life goes on for hours.

   However, if ’men won’t come to the coffee, the coffee must come to men’. ’Coffee people’ are walking down the streets with two coffee-cans. Two cans, one containing sweet, the other having regular coffee.


Day 123.


   In the morning, we hitch-hiked over the pier of Jounieh next to the capitol because we were told National Geographic had a diving centre there. After some walking and enquiring about, we did find it, in the yard of a sea-side hotel, the diving school in a tiny building. It was closed but with the help of the nearby coffee house’s waiter, we reached Roger on the phone, who’s one of the owner of the five-star PADI Centre. In Lebanon it’s the only one giving out NG certificate. Not long afterwards all the three of us were sitting in front of the club building.


   The Atlantis Diving College ( is not just offering diving courses. They educate in the spirit of stressed preservation of natural values and they teach how to dive in a responsible way. They do all that with the latest, quality equipments and not least, they have a great social atmosphere. As a proof of this, we suddenly found ourselves in the company of two other divers, the girlfriend of one of them and another gentleman. After a bit of joking around, the diving suits were found and we were off to the wavy sea with bottles, in a motor boat. We reached our destination completely wet: a buoy indicating the place of a sunk freighter.


   In Lebanon, the sea does not attract those interested in diving with plentiful world of corals but with ship wrecks (WWII submarine, a freighter sunk during the war against Izrael, etc.) and underwater caves.


   Of course we were not allowed to submerge but we were caught up in the wave of the three divers’ enthusiasm. They spent about a half-hour down there. Crawling back to the boat, they said it was one of the best dives of the season. They could explore the freighter sunk a few years ago under perfect visual conditions and without any water traffic – as it was near the end of the season.


   …A couple of weeks and they are off skiing in the nearby mountains. Sliding on snow, then the very same day submerging in the sea – there are not many countries where you can do that.

   On the way back, Roger told us about one of his plans, organizing a ’cleaning day’ when 40-50 divers would go side by side and free the sea at the nearby Byblos’ shore of the plenty junk…


   One of them took us in the downtown. Two siblings of Armenian birth who gave us a ride a few days ago, invited us to an Armenian restaurant (in Beirut, the Armenians occupy an entire district). Then, joining their friends, we visited a bar at the Gemayze street famous for its night life. Later on, some of us went to a salsa-evening where up until 1 am, amongst flushed, happy faces we tried to acquire the basic steps of this Latin dance.


   Hitch-hiking back that night, we were given a ride for a while to Tripoli by a two-seated sports car. Not long after we said goodbye to its driver, the 30-year-old guy showed up again and invited us for a drink. Sitting on the beach with one beer each, surrounded by cars moving from the passion of young, active couples in the distance, we were talking about nudism, traveling, the night life of Beirut. It was already dawn when we wearily fell flat on the office’s couches.

translated by Ágoston Galambos

Categories: English, Lebanon, by Peter

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