Friday afternoon in Hamra
Hamra means red in Arabic. Red for waiting (or not) at the lights, for warning, for danger.
I used to be afraid of her streets. Or rather my buggy used to be afraid of her streets, flinching at every flyaway scooter; balking at every badly positioned bollard; recoiling from the roar of the road and its roll of traffic.
Today, the streets are the same but the buggy is tougher, toughened, and so am I. Today red is for life, pulsing, pressing forwards (or sideways, or even diagonally, but always determinedly) to our destination.
Like everywhere in Beirut, I think of Hamra Street in landmarks.
The shady square by Fransabank at the start of Hamra Street- or awol Hamra- as I said in Arabic the first time I ever took a service taxi here, so proud of myself, for arriving at the very beginning. Today we wait here for my husband, halfway home from work. We are early, he is late, so we pass time by the fountain, and the getting-grumpy-baby is soothed by its slanted splashing. Suddenly she looks up at the square of sky above us, prompting me to do the same (why is it I always forget to look up) and we see a single bird, passing from one side to the other, its path uninterrupted, unlike ours.
Red Shoe, is a shop right in the middle of the stretch of street I usually cover. If you’re coming from Fransabank, turn left here to walk up towards Verdun and the number 2 bus stop, turn right to walk down to HSBC, Cafe Younes and Bliss Street. Today I don’t want to turn at all, just keep walking straight, but a magnificent obstacle course is laid out for me, consisting of a motorbike parked across the pavement, draped in green netting from the building site next to it; a tree planted just close enough to the edge of the pavement to tip my wheels over and of course a car trying to park on the exact same piece of pavement. I am about to give up and retrace my route, when a group of men see my predicament and somehow manage to manoeuvre me past it all, which involves some reversing, 3 point turning and stopping the flow of pedestrians through the narrow gap.
And finally we reach Starbucks where nearly a year ago my husband met the local mayor and handed over $200 in exchange for a brown envelope containing my new born baby’s birth certificates in Arabic, English and Italian (with mistakes- I am the oldest mother ever, born in 1908- but that’s another story). Today we go just beyond Starbucks into the courtyard, where tucked into a corner, next to ‘Wild Willy’ the wonderfully named toy shop, is a carved wooden door leading to the lovely t-marbouta. We settle on a sofa and eat an early dinner, keeping the baby up past her bedtime, chewing on triangles of Arabic Bread and making faces at the waiter.