What can we do? A weekend in Beirut.
On Saturday we went to the market, like we nearly always do. It was almost empty. In broken Arabic I managed to ask the man at my regular organic stall, who looks like a good-natured pirate, where and how his wife was. She is in the mountains and hamdillah (thanks to God) she is well. She will be back next month- Inshallah (God willing).
It seems half of Lebanon is in the mountains, escaping August, its heat, its unpredictability.
On Sunday, like many other Beirutis (the half who are not in the mountains) we went to the beach. Not a beach with sand and castles and sea. A beach club, with salt water pools and sun loungers and skyscrapers.
We were joined by a British friend who’s lived in Beirut for a lot longer than us and speaks Arabic well. When we discussed the current situation she used an expression I hadn’t heard before Shu mnaamol? ‘What can we do?’ Apparently it is often used by the Lebanese in the hopeless rather than the practical sense, a question left hanging in the air, not expecting an answer.
It seems that some people answer it by going to the beach, like they did during the civil war ceasefires. Last year, when I read about that in the book Bye Bye Babylon it seemed surreal. But slowly I’m beginning to understand that, like the mountains, it is just another form of escape.