Travelled yesterday morning from Beirut to Aleppo in Syria. Willed with all my powers (yes, I do have super powers, I’m a woman) for my driver not to be a member of the We Like Talking gang, as my pre-coffee morning mood usually oscillates between simply murderous to Hitler meets Pol Pot on a bad day.
I like the road. Maybe not in a Jack Kerouac-y fashion, drunk, high and with barely shoes to walk in, but rather in a contemplative way. I love watching people passing by, seeing landscapes moving from one Lebanese city to another, to finally arrive in a kind of no man’s land by the sea, with only one or two cows peacefully eating away their day. Leaving the luxury shops on the “autostrade” (word used by the Lebanese for “highway”) for the unbelievable beauty of Jbeil, to finally reach the busy, poorer city of Tripoli, sporting in all their glory humongous sized posters of political figures of the region, I lost myself in thoughts (and in writing notes for the post I m currently writing. In the words of the immortal Pheboe from Friends “Isn’t it too spooky”?). I also love observing people on public transports in Geneva, but this is a whole other story, not to be told with my Middle Eastern tales (Is that why I never learnt to drive? Definitely something to be looking into, and way more romantic than the plain psychological explanation of “maybe i’m too scared”).
Finally reached Lebanese boarder of Arida. Laid back atmosphere, manoukches and Pepsis being passed from one soldier to another, quick, efficient passport checks, a hint of flirting. Am I coming back to Lebanon? Why didn’t I stay longer? Do I know Jbeil? Yes, I’m coming back, Promise I’ll stay longer, Yes i know Jbeil, Officer does my closed face doesn’t give you a clue that I did not have time to get my coffee this morning? Do you really want me to break down and cry right this minute?
And on to the Syrian side. Dozens and dozens of drivers drenched in their sweat, trying to get all their passengers the stamp that will enable them to carry on their journey. Tired fans moving hot damp air in a vain attempt at refreshing even more tired officers who seemed to be drowning in official documents. “Get OUT!” bellowed one of them at the small crowd that was happily gathering at his desk. On his desk. Around his desk. Two seconds more, and he probably would have to ask for oxygen just to be able to actually breathe properly. Speaking of breathing, the syrian authorities seem to take very seriously the health of their people. A non smoking sign at the border alerts you that smoking is forbidden, and to make matters clear, it is specified that you’re not allowed to smoke a) cigarettes, b)cigars, c) pipes and d) hookahs. Geddit? You. Are. Not. To. Smoke. Of course, haven’t seen anything like that in Lebanon.
The music of stamps being slapped on passports, the rows and rows of men trying to get through as fast their bakhchich would enable them, the blend of coffee and sweat and cologne, the odd tourist looking absolutely terrified in their shorts,pressing a Lonely Planet or Guide du Routard on Syria against him as if his life depended on it, I was back in Syria.
And when I saw the white city of Aleppo lazily basking in the glorious sun, quietly baking under the 44°C , I couldn’t help but smile. After all, who am I, if not another Lebanese having yet another love-hate relationship with the Land of Zanoubiyya?