Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Beirut Journal Day #5: Stranger No More

For thousands of years people have been coming to Lebanon. They have come to consume and cavort; to convert and conquer. The Lebanese, in turn, have sought out on their own explorations, & they send word, and considerable sums of money, back home. The Daily Star reported on Tuesday November 10 that remittances have topped $7 billion per year (I’ll touch on this in a separate article in the coming days). This is all just to say that strangers are not strange here.

As a small case in point, I met up with Bilal Elamine yesterday. Bilal is a cofounder of LeftTurn Magazine ( and the co-owner of Tmarbouta CafĂ© here in the Al Hamra area of West Beirut. As we sat down, a friend of his, Mahmoud came in. Animated is the best, yet entirely insufficient way to describe this Palestinian puppeteer. We talked for quite some time, had some Lebanese wine, until Mahmoud had to step out to meet a friend of a friend, whom he’d never seen before, but was going to help find an apartment in Al Hamra.

“How do you know someone you’ve never seen before? What should I look for? What should I tell her? How should I describe myself?” he laughed.

He bounded out, & returned in what seemed to be an instant, with his mark: a young Palestinian-Italian woman who works for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The four of us talked for a minute, had some more wine, and then Bilal and Mahmoud hit the phones to find each of their new immigrants suitable homes.

“Listen, come here for a drink, meet her. You’ll like her…just don’t rent the room!” Mahmoud thundered through the phone to a friend of his who has a room to rent. And just as he finished this conversation, a young man came & whispered something in his ear.

“Aiwa! Tayeb!” (Yes! Okay!)

“Listen, Trevol, “ (it’s hard for native Arabic speakers to pronounce my name, “there is a place. It’s just down the road. Come, we’ll go!”

15 minutes later I had an apartment.

Just. Like. That.

I can’t imagine this happening in New York. What with the reference checks, the proof of employment, the obscenely high rents. On top of that, if a person doesn’t speak English & needs a translator to be able to speak to the landlord? In New York? Fat chance. We have set up a million obstacles to reasonable accommodation in the US. The aim is to make that paper. The effect, obviously, is to price the poor out of existence.
At any rate, I now have a place of my own. A stranger no more.

November 11, 2009

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