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Back to Beirut

March 6, 2009

One moment, I’m gaping, recoiling in horror at the sight of a young child, perhaps six or seven years old, hanging off the passenger of a stationary long, sleek, black Mercedes. Gripping the ledge provided by an open window, the child suspended himself off the tarmac and arched his head into the vehicle, probably asking for money from the driver and eventual passengers. The car made small yet sharp, agitated jerks forward, obviously attempting to scare the child into letting go.

As soon as the oncoming traffic ceased and the car was able to make its turn, it accelerated abruptly, in another cruel attempt to rid itself of the urchin. As far as I could see, the child managed to hang on despite the aggressive manoevre, and as it disappeared down the hill towards Gemmeyze, I hoped for another impending traffic jam so that he would be able to safely disengage his small self.

Five minutes later, I find myself sipping a Bloody Mary in one of the jilted, trendy pubs in the area towards which that car had just sped off to, already allowing the chilled drink and even more chilled surroundings to help me forget the disturbing incident.

Fifteen minutes later, on the walk down Rue Gouraud between the pub and a nearby restaurant, we were pursued by a teenage boy in shabby plastic sandals, shoe-shining kit in hand. “Please mister, no money, no money mister,” he called out after us. “Please, just one thousand (Lebanese Pounds, about 66 dollar cents)! No money mister, no money!”

Although I considered my initially mild yet increasingly harsh shouts of “Khallas!” (Enough!) to be less violent than the dangerous driving of the Mercedes, it was blatant that my attitude conveyed exactly the same degree of brutal disregard and crude apathy.

I silently welcomed myself back to the habitual hypocrisy that seems to define upper-middle class and expat lifestyles in Beirut.

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