Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Avatar in Ashrafieh

Aug'10 - Ashrafieh, view from the terrace of my friend's flat.

2 August 2010 - Beirut, Lebanon.

I landed in Beirut like an avatar in a video game – a crisp animation of myself wandering into the unimaginable next corridor. All I can do is go through the motions until the camel arrives with my karma.[bxA]

Derek picked me up from Rafic Hariri International Airport on a sunshiny Monday morning. He teased me by leaving a red handkerchief from our Sri Lanka trip on the passenger seat of his car to remind me of an inside joke. It appeared in a different dimension of color, a token from another exotic corridor of the video game my life had suddenly become.

Bleary-eyed from the all night flight I wondered about the slew of billboards at the airport featuring a new Arab leader I didn’t recognize. Who’s that? I don’t remember the answer. My memory streamed with never ending images of the much loved King of Thailand.

Dec'09 - Bangkok, Thailand. Streetside shrine to the King.

A giant bucket of KFC hovered above the exit booths. We asked a soldier standing nearby for permission to take a photo. During my lazy days in Siem Reap, Cambodia I read Colonel Sanders’ biography on Wikipedia because KFC has been more ubiquitous than McDonald’s in my travels.

Aug'10 - Beirut, Lebanon. Rafic Hariri International Airport parking lot.

Also, I have that thing about the chickens.

On our way to Hamra we drove through a forest of concrete buildings and the neighborhood farangs often refer to as “Hezbollah Land.” I marveled at all the cars, so few motorbikes. A completely different world.

Aug'09 - Beirut.

Derek and I agreed to only a quick coffee since he needed to work and I needed sleep. We had a decadent breakfast in a cozy upstairs outdoor café just two blocks from the flat where Alyssa and I spent last summer.

Aug'10 - Hamra, upstairs at Cello.

The sign on the table told me Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drink was a Mojito at a bar in Cuba called Bodeguita, but he probably would have loved them here in Beirut. I imagined the Phuket bars with 50 baht beers and the kind pretty faces of young Thai bar girls. I’m not in that corridor anymore, but since I’m an avatar I can always go back.

A little girl’s hair bow was nestled in the tree by our table and Derek told me a wonderfully imaginative story about how it may have gotten there. I don’t remember what he said but for a few moments it lifted me out of the video game and nestled me in a cozy children's storybook.

After a few hours of non-stop talk, we abandoned our plans for sleep and work. Derek asked me if I wanted brains for lunch...

...but instead we opted for one of my favorite London eateries - Nando’s in Hamra. An adorable young waiter named Mohammed was exceptionally sweet about making sure there was no mayonnaise on my sandwich. This was never an easy negotiation in Thailand.

After many hours of comfort with a friend, it was time to settle into my next phase in a new place. An American friend had generously offered me her flat while she goes trekking in the Himalayas. She lives in Ashrafieh, a Christian neighborhood in East Beirut that is pretty foreign to me.

I was glad to spend my first hours in Hamra because the familiarity made my day seem almost real.

Beirut / Phuket

Everything is only almost real when you’re an avatar.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Sounds fab indeed.

Anonymous said...

it looks like you belong to beirut