Sunday, December 31, 2006

Holiday festivity levels … A la Libanaise

Festivity Level 1: You have invited twenty to thirty people from all walks of life you met in the last couple of years doing your work all over the country. They are a true representative sample of Lebanese society. You even went out of your way to insist on inviting the local Hezbollah representative you struck a friendship with doing work in that borderline southern village.
Your guests are chatting amiably with each other, admiring the Christmas tree, some of them have gathered around the oud and piano players and are humming along that western-eastern fusion tune of Jingle Bells. All are enjoying Parfait Amour liqueur, Baileys or Drambuie and of course a panoply of fruit juices and sodas for those who don’t consume alcohol. Hors D’oeuvres specially delivered from Noura(1) are having all the ravings of the ladies without the calorie accounting.
Conversations are very civil and little laughters and “Allah Ykhallik – Allah Yi7fazak” (2) can be heard emanating from around the room.

Festivity Level 2: You notice that the conversation pitch has distinctly heightened. Some guests are talking loudly to each other, some to no one in particular. The Hezbollah guy has moved next to the Baileys bottle. Others are gulping down Drambuie as if it was seltzer water. A group is wolfing down hors d’oeuvres like there is no tomorrow. The oud player has a Stolichanaya bottle hidden under his chair while the piano player has switched tunes and is playing an eerie version of the Pointers Sisters’ “I am so excited”. You can sense that the room has divided into “Aounisti”(3) versus “Moustaqabalista”(4) and the apartment feels warmer just by the heat of the conversation!A woman is rearranging your Christmas tree ornaments.

Festivity Level 3: The guests are arguing violently about which shade of color is better to rule the country. You notice the Hezbollah guy has finished half the bottle of Baileys, you whisper in his ear: “Ya Hajj, this is Irish cream and it has tons of alcohol in it!” and he springs on his feet and screams his lungs out: “Mitil Irish!!! (5) I love the feeling it is giving to my head and yummy yum it tastes greaaaaaaaaaat”.
All your alcohol beverages are out and you notice that no one touched the juices. The oud player has taken a chord out of his instrument to floss out pieces of salmon stuck in his teeth. Although you made it abundantly clear to the musicians that you want them to play that famous Christmas song by George Michael, “I want your sex” was not what you had in mind, at least not for this “holy” occasion. The political debate is reduced to loud blabber even though you see some of the “belligerents” are starting to take pieces of their clothes off.
Noura shows up in person at your doorstep, her hair is a mess, she’s holding a half empty Jack Daniels bottle and she is going on and on about who makes the meanest “Tarte aux poireaux”(6) in town.

Festivity Level 4: The piano player is placing hors d’oeuvres in the piano to try new sounds. The oud player has somehow managed to stick his head inside the oud and he is trying all kinds of sounds for echo.
The woman rearranging the Christmas tree ornaments is now hanging Hors D’oeuvres on the tree. She has set fire to the gifts underneath the tree because she wants you to taste the salmon “Flambé”.
Opposition and pro government debaters are smearing “Paté de Foie” over their naked upper bodies and starting a ritual war dance around the burning Christmas tree.
You dash out quickly to the balcony and find that the “Makhfar Hbeich”(7) patrol is circling around your building as you hear fire engine sirens getting closer.
The Hezbollah guy is making out with Noura in your kitchen after unloading all the items from the refrigerator!!!
You stand there and evaluate the situation for a second and realize that you don’t even remember why you held this party.

PS: If you ever decide to hold such a party, make sure you keep the festivity level at around three!!!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All of You.

(1) A famous Beirut caterer.
(2) “God bless you”.
(3) A leading opposition party.
(4) Pro-Government political entity.
(5) An Arabic expletive involving male genitalia.
(6) some kind of quiche with leeks and vegetables.
(7) The Vice Squad of Beirut.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

All in an afternoon of much ado about nothing.

The following events “unraveled” yesterday afternoon. I was sitting in my office, feeling kind of bored actually. I am between projects currently, I just got back from a business trip where I had to present a project I had been working on for the last 4 months and the results were at best not up to par to what I expected. It is the week before Christmas, so work is kind of slow and I was in a blue of a mood.

I hooked the speakers to my laptop and let Dave Brubeck rip his way through the room.

At exactly 13:10 the following joke landed in my inbox:
Dear Zaven,
I am a crack dealer in Basta(1) who has recently been diagnosed as a carrier of the HIV virus. One of my sisters, who lives in Jounieh, is married to a transvestite. My father and mother have recently been arrested for growing and selling marijuana in their small garden and are currently dependent on my other two sisters who are prostitutes in Maameltein.(2)
I have two brothers. One is currently serving a non-parole life sentence at Roumieh(3) for murder of a teenage boy in 1994. The other brother is currently being held in the Trablos(4) Jail on charges of neglecting his three children.
I have recently become engaged to marry a former Thai prostitute who lives in Jiyeh and, indeed, is still a part-time "working girl" in a brothel.
My problem is this: I love my fiancee and look forward to bringing her into the family and of course I want to be totally honest with her.
Should I tell her about my uncle who voted for Michel Aoun?(5)
(Worried About My Reputation!)

I had heard this joke before it was about George Bush. I still found it to be hilarious even though I did not agree with its political connotations. It was nonetheless a very good joke.

The person who sent me this is a fellow Lebanese blogger and she had compiled a mailing list of about 30 recipients and sends stuff regularly. I did not ask her to add me to the list nor asked her to take me off especially that I did not agree with most of the political content of the emails sent. I accepted her messages under the freedom of speech mantra I am trying so desperately to spread around me.

BUT!!! I was bored. So at exactly 13:48 I send out the following reply to ALL the people on the mailing list:

Dear Zaven:
I failed to mention that both my brothers (the murderer and the child abuser) will vote for Geagea(6) as soon as they go out of jail - As for my "Ho" sisters and fiancee, they are die hard tayyar Mustaqbal(7)Voters ...
Nice Family BTW hayda Lebnen (This is Lebanon) (NOT)
Merry Xmas to you all ...

I am currently reading Malcom Gladwell’s book the Tipping Point which basically covers the issues of word of mouth epidemics in groups. I thought what better venue to put some of what I am reading to practice, throw some bait out and just sit and wait for someone to bite.

I did not have to wait for long. Eleven minutes later I got this reply from the person who inspired this post, her initials are AS (yes it is only one S, but as you will read on you will realize that the second S is virtual!!!)

Chou osstak bitdallak natira 3al mafra2 la “Sender”
Ba3dena don’t you ever reply to someone that you don’t know (“Sender” plz Bcc next time)
And you “min Beirut” ma hay2tak min libnan bil assass.. Bi khssouss Aoun and Geagea wman yantami illa al mou3asskarayn, “Grow UP people” you are destroying our country… fikoun thilllo ba2a 3annna w 3an libnan
In summary she is blaming me for picking on “Sender” because of a reply to another email about a month ago. But goes on and says you don’t seem to be Lebanese and regarding the political bickering between the opposition and the government it is destroying the country and that we should leave her and the country alone.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic. So I jacked the music even louder and wrote her back:

1-Whatever is between me and “Sender” is none of your business. If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen!!!
2-Ba3dena I am free to reply to whomever I feel like, if you don't like it you can either reply back or hit delete or ask “Sender” to take YOU off the mailing list
3-If you don't see the humor in all this then it is too bad for you - I think it is hilarious and I am having a blast ...
4-Don't worry ana min libnan (I am Lebanese) as much as you are (I will leave it at this, don't take up the issue again - friendly advice)
5-Did you take your Lexotanil(8) today ???

Brubeck was playing his very famous Take Five and I thought this was so appropriate. I was so full of anticipation to get the reply. In the mean time others on the list were replying with some really lame, politically correct statements which I really don’t want to bother you with and which I ignored in the first place. “AS” had me mesmerized for the afternoon.

It took her half an hour to respond. She wrote:

You consider yourself funny?
I think “Sender” will take YOU off her mailing list
You know you are such a jerk
And I can do better then delete (add you to my block list as I do for junk e-mails)
By the way, I never heard about Lexotanil! Maybe you are an expert in it?
GOD protect Lebanon from you and the likes of you!

Whoaaaaaaaa!!! Oh yes …talk dirty to me baby !!!!

I immediately replied:

I love you too ...Hayeteh..... ;-)
May you find an exit to all that build up anger ... I think I provided some help today...if you feel like unloading more please don't hesitate...besides my perpetual work in promoting free speech I also help in providing a crying shoulder for people in need of venting off.
And yes I am an expert on many issues in life and apparently you are in desperate need for my expertise. Doctors who prescribe medicine are not themselves sick but are attending to the well being of others!!!

PS: you are a government clerk ... what are you doing wasting my tax money on useless exchanges...please engage in your hobbies on your own time not the taxpayers'.

PPS: I thought you were capable of a civil exchange but you resorted to insults ... that speaks volume about you and your character ... I shall put an end to this conversation ... I only engage people who have made it past the 18th century.

I shall remind you of this saying of Dante:
The darkest places in Hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.
Have a happy and a prosperous life.

She did not reply.

Now I think I hit three birds in one stone here:
1- I got the satisfactory feeling that whatever books I am reading have actually a way to apply them in a real life situation. The chapter I was at speaks of getting responses!!! Not necessarily angry ones, but hey I did get her to exchange a couple of them with me.
2- It has been a while since I last engaged in my favorite hobby of getting under a woman’s skin. Back when I was married I used to drive my wife crazy with wise ass arguments and discussions. I miss that to tell you the truth. And don’t get me wrong she used to enjoy them as well and it always ended in ….(you know!!!)
3- I think “Sender” finally grasped where I am coming from regarding freedom of speech because as I was checking my emails this morning I was happy to know that I was still on her mailing list.

(1): A poor area in Beirut
(2): The Lebanese infamous red light district
(3): The largest Lebanese jail
(4): A city in the North of Lebanon
(5): A leading opposition figure who is famous for loosing it at times
(6): A convicted criminal and warlord who happens to support the government…for now
(7): The political movement of the late Rafic Hariri. They have been marred in financial scandals although no convictions have been issued …Yet.
(8): Number one tranquilizer medicine on the Lebanese market.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Take me back…for Heaven’s sake!!!

I am writing this sitting in the departure lounge of an Arab country national airport. The country in question has not made it yet to the exclusive club of “progressive economies” and/or “neo-con democracies” that litter the Arab region but it is desperately trying. Meanwhile it lingers under the great socialist economic policies of the “pre-Marx” era. (for those of you who are not History aficionados that’s about 1807 … AD of course)

I have been here for 5 days now and frankly I feel that my political respiratory system has lost its ability to absorb and synthesize oxygen. I’ve always wondered on the ability of Arab regimes to affect the biology of their citizens to inhibit their bodies’ ability to take in oxygen or any gas for that matter … however, they do wonders on shoving the portraits and statues of the “el presidente supremo” down everybody’s throats and the people have done an even better job at “digesting” while keeping their mouths shut. If any one from the committee determining the new seven wonders of the world is reading this please take the aforementioned as a hint.

My journey started with the taxi driving me to the airport at 7:10 AM. The driver refused to put the meter on.
I said what’s wrong with your meter?
Nothing he replied, but the ride to the airport is set at 10 dinars.
I said, is that so?
Oh he replied, that’s the general “Truth”. It is well known all over the country that the ride to the airport is 10 dinars.
Even if the hotel is in the airport area? I replied.
Yes he said. This is still part of the truth.

I hate it when the truth bug infects a whole region.

I told him, listen my friend, you either put your meter on or I am going to give you the “Fatfat” treatment (1). He said no thanks I already had tea for breakfast but since you are Lebanese I will put my meter on. The ride ended up costing 1.7 dinars. I compromised and gave him five. After all, the guy refused the “Fatfat” treatment!!! It pays to award honor.

I arrive at the check-in counter and immediately head to the shortest line. There were three people ahead of me. I stand in line and look over to the counter. The check-in guy was arguing with a passenger and an old lady. I didn’t make much of it and decided to just wait it out. After about six or seven minutes, the line was not making any progress while all the others on each side of the check-in counter were advancing.
I decided it was time to take action.

I go over and ask the clerk what was the problem and why are we being held this long in line. He said that the passenger had some overweight and is refusing to pay the extras and he was bargaining with him to lower the penalty.
Oh lovely, just what I need at 7:30 AM a bazaar of some sort with no end in sight while I wait in line.

I told the clerk, listen man, I have only one baggage it should come only to 13 kg or so, please give my allowable seven more kilos to this guy and let’s get on with it. He said ok no problem but his suitcase weighed in at 63 Kgs!!! so he is still 36 Kgs overweight counting in your seven kilos contribution.

I thought what in God’s name has this guy packed? Is that a suitcase or a Mini-Van he is trying to get on-board?

As he took his suitcase off the check-in scale, I heard crackle sounds coming from his packed mallet. I thought my God this guy has packed his pots and pans and …. Oven!!!
I mean someone should tell him that the logistics of worldwide food delivery have been resolved more than fifty years ago and wherever he was going he will be able to find something to eat. There is no need to pack the kitchen.

I obtain my boarding pass and go through customs. On the security check there was the x-ray machine and the metal detector and passengers were putting their carry-on in the x-ray machine and walking through the metal detector as in every airport I have seen so far. However, the odd thing is that there was this security clerk with a handheld metal detector checking ALL passengers coming out of the metal detector: even if the metal detector did not beep you were still being “hand grabbed” by this fellow to check for that hidden “tactical neutron bomb” made from polyethylene plastic unrecognizable to metal detectors!!!

I put my laptop through the x-ray machine and walk into the metal detector. No beep. But “Fabio” there wants to hand check me. So he starts “feeling me up” from top to bottom. Arriving to my waist area, his grabs are becoming more forceful, he then puts his hands to the back and starts feeling up my ass without even asking me for dinner first!!!
I look at him, he’s unfazed.
I thought to myself let it go man, this is the closest you will get to homosexual love, just think of it as an experience!!! I walked on thinking it’s good all my clothes are still on.

This was not the end of it though. As I am walking out of the security area another bozo in a suit comes along and asks me:
Do you have any currency?For a minute there I thought he was begging for some cash. I thought should I tell him that I don’t, since I have been pan handling in your country for the last 5 days but could not even get enough for breakfast but decided against it.
He said again, “you cannot take out national currency from the country”. Usually, these retro socialist economic misfits of countries don’t like it if you take hard currency out but their own national currency? I was intrigued.
I pull whatever of their cash I had in my pocket and it amounted to about 35 US dollars. He said again: “next time you should exchange them before leaving”.
Hmmm, I thought my $35 worth of their cash is going to rock their financial stability? Damn, I never thought I was this much powerful financially.

As I entered the gate departure lounge I bumped into the MEA (2) crew. I looked over and saw the captain of the plane, we exchanged looks and I immediately said:
“Dakheel Ijrek, Khidneh 3a Beirut” (I am begging you take me to Beirut, already!)
He quipped right back: “Mista3jleen aktar minnak” (I am in a more hurry than you are!)

(1): Fatfat was the interim interior minister during the July war. He is the modern version of “Richard Coeur de Lion” when it comes to defending your country by making tea for invaders.
(2): Middle East Airlines, the Lebanese national carrier company.