26.03.2010 - 07.04.2010
We arrived in Beirut from Damascus and headed straight to AUB. We used my old AUB card to blag in, and then headed to Mitch's room. He was pretty surprised to see me again. We immediately set about making the most of Beirut's culinary scene, heading straight to Domino's and getting three large Pizzas between us. Then we spent most of the evening arguing over gun control in the US, before going to a student bar down in Gemmaizeh, called Charlie's Bar. We met a Scandinavian there, which had been an aim for ages, so we judged the night to be a success and stumbled back to AUB, where we blagged our way in using a fake name and student ID no. for Kit.
Mitch said it was fine for us to stay a few days in AUB over the weekend, as he could sleep in his friend's room, whose roomate was away. We weren't going to turn down a free room, so we slept there that night.
Next day we lounged about in AUB until the evening. The difficulty in getting onto and off campus meant that we just spent time within the campus. We went back to Charlie's Bar that night. It's an awesome bar, extremely lively with awesome music. It was a Saturday, so everyone was dancing on the bar, us included. First time I've been on a bar :p. Again, we blagged our way back into AUB, and slept there. The next day, however, it transpired that the admin were onto us. They had apparently asked Mitch whether anyone was staying in his room, which he had denied. So, after watching "Seven" with some more Dominos, we hid out on the balcony to avoid detection in any mid-night raids. The Marble floor and nearby vocal Mosque didn't make the night any easier, but tbh it was pretty nice being out in the open, plus the sun always wakes you up nice and early.
As a result of the fact that AUB were onto us, we set off in search of a hotel. We went down to the Chalres Helou area and eventually found "Talal Hotel", which cost 8$ a night if you slept on the roof/balcony/reception. We agreed and slept there that night.
The next day was my 19th birthday, and we set out looking for a relaxed day. We went down to AUB bookstore and Kit bought "The Israel Lobby"-Mearsheimer & Walt, whilst I got "The Three Trillion Dollar War" by Stiglitz + a book on the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Then we headed down to the "Rmei l Baidar" beach and lay there reading in the sun, watching the Lebanese couples enjoying the more liberal Beiruti culture. We chatted in French to a Lebanese bloke who was working in the Diamond trade in Africa. Then as the sun went down, we headed back to AUB, and to a restaurant in Hamra where we spent 20 quid on steak and beer.
From there we went to a local student bar to meet Mitch and had a couple of beers. Pathetic though it is, I was pretty knackered, so we began to head back to the hotel. Guess I was showing my age :p.
On the walk back, we had to cross the double-laned road to the hotel. We had only been around the area for about a day, so we didn't realise how fast a road this was. In the daytime it's always completely clogged anyway, so I just thought of it as any other Urban road. Before crossing the road I looked left and saw a car far away in the distance. The decision to cross was completely unconscious, and we strolled slowly across the road. About halfway across, I looked again and caught a glimpse of this vast SUV bearing down on us at some insane rate. I screamed "FUUUUCK". Kit immediately began sprinting across the front of the car. He later told me that he never even looked, he just acted on the panic in my voice.
I hesitated for a potentially fatal tiny fragment of time before I followed him. In hindsight, this was totally the wrong decision. I was a metre or so behind Kit and wasn't quite overlapped with the SUV. I could easily have taken a couple of steps back from the car, allowing it to rush past my front.
But the neurones were in "this-is-fucking-bad" mode, and they were instructing my legs to fucking pace. I guess it seems dangerous to stop in the middle of a road and sit there longer than you initially intended, and it seemed that Kit had made the decision that he could make it. Whatever the reasons, minute electric circuits had me throwing myself in front of a lethal two-tonne American entertainment complex on wheels. For a moment I stared into two giant Xenon eyes before falling past them. The corner of the bumper clipped my foot, and I fell onto one knee.
The car stopped and I began shouting at him. I think he was probably drunk, as he was under 25, driving a rich-boy car at 3-4 AM on the road from one of Beirut's biggest clubs (BO18). He had barely reacted to the whole incident. He barely braked or swerved when Kit started running round his front. He'd also been going probably twice the speed I had expected. He shouted back at us, slapped Kit through the window, then drove off.
Immediately afterwards the adrenaline wore off, and I started shaking. I could barely walk on my foot, but I limped my way to a nearby snack shop, and bought some chocolate and Sprite. I was as shaken as I've ever been, but we met some cool guys, one Spanish and one French, who were pretty sympathetic and cool. They were pretty interesting too. They worked on a boat that worked in wreck excavation, and were in Beirut to work on the Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed off Beirut earlier this year.
We set off back to the hotel. We were actually about 100m from the hotel, but I ended up hobbling a massive 1 km circle before working this out. Then we went to bed. In accordance with sod's law, this was the first time I didn't have the trauma pack on me (I had left it in AUB), so I just washed my cut in water and then fell asleep in the lounge/reception. Eventful birthday at the least! Doubt I'll forget that one..
After that we didn't do much for a while. My ankle swelled up to two times the size of the other one. I went to AUB medical center, and they told me it probs wasn't broken, and to take Ibuprofen and take it easy. They then tried to charge me $200 for the pleasure!
So we didn't do much. Mostly we just read books and watched Max.
Max spent all day insulting everyone in the hostel. His basic activity was to try and get people to rise and argue. Given the setting, the easiest way to achieve this was generally to make some anti-Palestinian comments. Inevitably an argument would ensue in which Max would argue (simply and loudly) against whoever was speaking, regardless of what they were saying. Generally, this meant a lot of pro-Israeli rhetoric.
Of course, the first time we came across him we began arguing with him. However, it didn't take long to work out what was going on, and we generally just sat back and watched him arguing, laughing at anyone who got offended at the things he said, or who took them seriously enough to argue with him. It didn't take us long to work him out, and when he eventually talked to us seriously, everything he said made sense. He was a rich boy from OC, California, and owned a Ford Mustang and Nissan 350Z bought by his parents. His whole act disguised the fact that he was seriously intelligent, knowledgeable, liberal and impressive (he spoke fair Hebrew and Arabic, and composed music for adverts in the ME).
The basic aim of the act was to shag girls. Max himself described the process to us:
"It works to filter out the ones who are going to fuck. Insult them and offend them,
be a total dick. Already you're something interesting to them. Shout at them for nothing, then mumble an apology later. Make them think there's something underneath it all, make them think they can change you. Then you're in. I hate myself for acting like a dick, but I worked out when I was 16 that being nice got you nowhere."
His technique was delivered with clinical precision on every girl that walked through the hostel, and it delivered. Every girl he got with was a bitch though.
The days passed quickly. Not much was achieved, though I managed to file for the return of my deposit from AUB. We spent days watching Max, going to Hamra, reading, and talking to other travellers in the hostel.
One other interesting person we met was Carl, a Canadian studying in London who wanted to set up his own conflict-resolution NGO. He was an awesome guy, and we had a good chat about the Middle East and university.
On Easter day we went for a walk to the Corniche. We came across a Free Palestine rally, and then on the way back through Beirut Souks, we came across an Easter parade. We followed it around and were given the rabbit costumes that all the kids were dressed in. We followed the kids round and round the Souks in rabbit costumes dancing to the music from the band, and joking about how long it would have taken to be arrested in the West.
After the parade ended, we headed back to Talal and chilled. We wanted to go out, but nothing was open, so we gave up.
We only went out once more, to a club called Basement. Initially they wouldn't let us in due to our clothes. So we enlisted the help of a German girl in the hostel who walked in with us, and then doubled back. We win. It was a cool club, though we only had an hour or so there, and never got drunk enough for it to be a properly good night.