Gate 204C: to Beirut

January 17th, 2011

In any airport in the world, as far as I can see, the gate to Beirut is a perfect slice of the city.

Surprised, Stunted, Grunting

I have to admit, I was surprised to see people in the security line peeling off their shoes and belts. We weren’t at O’Hare, I had to mind-check. Was this typical in Turkey since it’s EU-whoring and all? Or was it because we’re Beiruti’s?

“Yiiiiiii, shoo hayda? Sabbaat ma sabbaat.” She was a tidy woman, with her not yet adolescent son who dutifully started taking off his shoes; something in his eyes made me think he liked the idea.

“We have to take our shoes off now? Yiiiiii.” I wanted to place my hands over the boy’s ears (instead, I couldn’t help but laugh).

The man in front of us pulled his belt out.

“Tsk tsk tsk.”

Model Faces

The soft curve of this girl’s natural eyebrow line was barely perceptible under her harsh tattooed eyebrow, pointed straight toward her temple. I could only see the white of her eye and her long lashes that ticked with every article of clothing and layer of foundation she inspected on the girl sitting opposite her. Their similar long jet-black hairs not shading their stolen glances.

When I had sat down just a few moments before, the girl being inspected had inspected me, I could see from the corner of my eye. Then I had watched her contemplate her sharp-heeled black boot which swings to and fro from her knee. Mine were UGZ, big fat things, hardly sexy, but a trendy item these days in the ol’ Leb – and they matched the other girl’s feet, the one with the eyebrows. Hers were black as were her fingerless gloves and big studded purse.  While I couldn’t resist watching her thickly painted baby face, she couldn’t take her eyes off the other, who was busy on the phone. I wondered what it was she admired about her. Was it her long thin thigh, or her longer hair, which had an uncommon dye job, its under-layer blond and glowing under the darker top layer. Was she curious about her life – about who was on the other end of the phone? She watched and watched. She gnawed at her thick lips.

The Ladies – “No Place Like Home”

The characters:

Lady 1: This woman is tall and wears her solid patterned veil tucked into her shirt. She has a long, hard, plain face. She could be mistaken for a nun. In contrast to her plain clothes, she wears a very ornate sparkling diamond ring. When she speaks, she nods her head neatly and intermittently.

Lady 2: Woman 1’s sidekick. She is petite and has chin length wispy hair. She dresses like a wealthy village woman. And has a perpetual pessimism locked into her face and the tight way she holds her big black purse in front of her, close to her body.

Lady 3: The “sabbaat ma sabbaat” woman. She and woman 2 look a lot alike – average, middle-aged women, dressed in embroidered sweaters.

Lady 4: A homely short stocky woman, carrying tons of baggage and a cumbersome package in her arms. Her language is sprinkled with well-enunciated English.

Eyebrow Girl and her brother: She still has her eyebrows and he seems too innocent.


We are standing in line to board the plane. The ladies are re-capping and drawing conclusions after their stay in Istanbul.

Lady 1: “Turkiya is not inexpensive,” she announced, standing upright.

Lady 3: “T-t-t. Not at all! No, it’s not better than Beirut. And everyone said…”

Lady 2: “Yiiii, we could have gone halfway to Fransa with the same money.”

Lady 4: “Yes, but we got lucky with a few items,” she shifted the package from one hip to the other. “But our weather is much better!”

Lady 3: Tightens her shawl around her, “Oh please, don’t remind me! I can’t wait to get back to Beirut.”

Lady 1: “The winds were brutal today in Istanbul. Please, nobody can say anything about our weather.”

Lady 2: “Bas last year in Fransa, yiiii, no one could imagine the winds.”

Lady 1: “Ehhh, it’s a blessing this part of the world – at least we don’t have the cold they have in Europa.”

Lady 4: “But don’t forget that we were in Europa!”

Lady 3: “Ha! They wish – let’s see them get into the EU by raising the prices on their tourists. Fasharou. The best thing they did was give us coffee!”

Behind me, a separate conversation in reply to the one in front of me, begins.

The brother: To his sister, “Is Turkey somewhere we could live?”

The girl: (Matter-of-factly): “No, no, it’s not a place to live – it’s just a place to visit.

You are Most Welcome

Boarding the plane.

Person in front of me: “Marhaba.”

Captain: “Marhabtaiyn.”

Me: “Hi.”

Captain: “Hi-aiyn.”

Why does this suffix put a smile on my face every time?

Meet the Student and the Parents

An ex-student, who was always a joker, has a seat right next to me on the plane. What are the chances? This country is a fishbowl.  I think he failed my course, or came close. He is on his best behavior as his parents sit next to him, very calm and slightly “shy,” different than his usual joke-cracking self. His mother leans forward to talk. And is shocked that her son made the class laugh. She explains that her other son, who sits in front of them in a navy v-neck reading a mystery and completely ignoring them, graduated from Oxford. She explains that her sons are very different. This one has tons of friends while the other just reads.

Happy New Year!

I wasn’t prepared for the packed airport. The Saudis et al were in town, and that meant a few things, and one thing in particular at the airport.

The first taxi driver was standing at the exit. He “offered” me a ride for 45 thou, a ride that usually costs 15. I furrowed my brows and brushed him off like a true local, yet he did not call after me with an “ah-you’re-one-of-us” price. It was late, and I wondered how I’d get home in this situation.

The next taxi pulled up in a white Mercedes.

“To Sanayeh.”

He gestured with his head to get in.

“How much?”

“$30.” [45 thousand]

“What?! Nevermind!”

“How much do you want to pay?”

“15 thousand.” [10 dollars]

“Get in.”

(I always wonder, at this point, is it safe to get in the car with a scammer? And then I wonder, why do I?)

One Response to “Gate 204C: to Beirut”

  1. Lis says:

    God I miss Lebanese women! Women here all look like polar bears – and they don’t speak!

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