Day 11: Beirut, Lebanon
Early morning streak continues. I shower by 7:30 to avoid having to wait for a shower in the shared bathroom. Downstairs at breakfast two other people are already there - an older woman with a map planning a trek and a young guy with a laptop. The food is the standard middle eastern morning spread and again I have olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, two hardboiled eggs and a bunch of labneh but this time with zatar. I use the combo on everything but the olives. I drink more than my fill of coffee, download an offline google map since my SIM card is not working here and head off to a barber shop 49 minutes away. I chose this place because it has an Arabic name and looks like a local and humble spot rather than the salons that keeping popping up when I do my search.
The temperature is low 70s and I have a sleeveless jumpsuit over a tank top on which feels ideal since I am immediately faced with another giant staircase upon leaving the hostel. I go from my artsy neighborhood and briefly through the downtown area to what is clearly the more Arabic-centric district. I take pictures all along the way, frequently checking in on my blue dot self moving along the map to make sure I’m heading in the right direction. More the deep I get into the district I feel more compelled to put on the long-sleeved shirt I stuck in my bag and I stop on a corner to do so. Beirut has suffered much violence over the years and there are beautiful buildings everywhere bearing the scars - back walls, ceilings and interior floors gone, stone facades blackened and crumbling. Some areas appear to be recovering and in the more posh downtown district I passed through earlier, there is much construction. But here that is not the case. People are living in buildings attached to crumbling walls and lots filled with rubble. Most cars seem to be rusted compacts from the 70s.
I arrive at my destination and gesture with my hand to indicate that I want my head buzzed. This is my first time in a barber shop ever as my shaved head is a recent thing and was first done by a friend in his apartment and then again by my own hand in my apartment bathroom. The one barber in the shop is already working on shaving a man’s face with a straight razor and he pauses to stick his head out the front door and call to someone in Arabic; the young man who comes in will be the one working on me. He doesn’t speak any English but I figure numbers are pretty universal so I run my hand over my head and say “1” which is the level on the clippers I had used at home. He understands and starts wrapping me with one of those cape things. He then wraps some paper tape around my neck as a collar but I get really long neck hairs so I pull it down to mime “please shave this”. The level “1” here is not the same as home and I try to indicate I would like it lower and we manage to work it out. After I am buzzed he mimes asking if I want my head washed and I’m like, sure why not? There is a low, flat sink on the counter in front of my chair and he pushes me towards it and indicates to bend my head down. I lean over and he washes and conditions my head, even cleans in my ears which tickles and feels pretty delightful - I even get rubbed with some sort of after shave or lotion. The whole thing costs 10,000LBP which is about $6.60 and I give him 11,000LBP and mime if I can take a picture and then gesture for him to stand behind me so I can capture us both in the mirror. I give thank him in Arabic and smile with double thumbs up so he knows I am very happy. He asks me in broken English where I’m from and I say US, then the states and then America and finally he understands; I ask him the same and he says Syria. I shake his hand and thank him again and head back on another adventure. I look at my phone and the path is gone from the map so I only see a pin for my hostel and navigate my way there with more phone checking but basically just heading north and west. I’m exhausted from the heat and my 2-hour plus walk as I took many detours because this city is endlessly fascinating and such a mix of cultures I wanted to see it all. Arabic, French and English are all spoken here and the different neighborhoods reflect the majority in that particular area - the street and city signs are all in about 4 languages and you can use US dollars here OR the Lebanese Pound - this seems crazy to me but I roll with it and have both in my pocket.
Back at the hostel I nap for 3 hours and when I wake up I realize I am late for the recovery meeting I had planned to attend, my first of the trip, and I get there 10 minutes late but it’s all OK. Afterwards I take the long way back and detour to go down a street that looks interesting and select a falafel shop with an old man inside and several customers. I order by pointing to the item on the wall since the men behind the counter don’t speak English; I get a dozen with vegetables and tahini - the ‘vegetables’ turns out to be parsley, mint and basil with radishes and tomatoes. The tomatoes are the best I’ve had in recent memory and the falafel is hot and delicious. The whole thing is delicious and I am very happy. I walk and walk some more and finally get back to the hostel. I make some Nescafe downstairs and buy a piece of freshly made turmeric cake, chatting with one of the employees. There are loud booms outside and I ask if it is a building collapsing or fireworks; he explains in Beirut unfortunately it could be bombings but this is fireworks, probably there is a wedding. He also explains that despite how fragile the bombed out buildings look, they do not collapse and assures me that I do not have to worry about that happening or a bombing as things have been relatively peaceful since about 2006. We talk some more and before I head up to my room I ask one last question about a food item on the table I can’t identify. There are small furry green pods in the fruit dish that I attempted to eat this morning but wasn’t sure what it was and if I was just supposed to eat the inside which is what I did. Turns out they are unripe almonds and you are supposed to eat the entire thing which we do; it didn’t taste like much this morning but now I realize it tastes like a tart apple minus the sugar. I don’t enjoy fuzzy foods and will not be eating any more.
Upstairs I enjoy the breeze and city noises from having the wood shuttered doors on the balcony open and discover a new British crime drama on Netflix and watch an episode on my laptop before going to sleep.