June 03, 2007

Have a Nice Day

This place is so surreal. I just got back from Nahr el-Bared, where the army has re-opened the main road that runs alongside the Palestinian camp. You can now drive along the entire east side of the camp, separated from the main road with less than 100 meters of orchards and farmland, while the army is inside battling with Fatah Islam. You cannot just hear the rockets’ impact, you can see and feel them as well. Great bursts of dust, sometimes white smoke, sometimes black smoke (I’ve been told there is a difference in impact, but I forgot what it was). Constant machine gun fire accompanies the heavy thunder of the 155 millimeters. You wonder whether it is actually really safe. After all, the rockets explode about a 100 meters from your car. What if they miss, and hit the road? Does anyone even notice there is a war going on on the side of the road? But everybody else seems to be driving that road, and they’re not going at breakneck speed, so it must be safe.

Anyway, while I got back to Beirut, and just sat down on my balcony, about to relax from my workday up north, I hear a strange crackling sound. I look around, and sure enough, at the back of the building facing my building, the famous Yacobian building (although this one is in Beirut, and not Cairo), at the ground floor, something’s burning. It must be electric wires, because I see white sparks, as if something short-circuits. Thick black smoke billows up.
Doesn’t anyone else see this’? I wonder and I search for my camera.
By the time it reaches the 3rd floor, it is clear to me that the residents of the Yacobian building are unaware that their building is on fire.
I want to call the fire department. But no phone book, remember?
So I call 112. I have no idea what 112 is, but it is written on police cars.
Now may not be the moment to use my Arabic ‘ta’abein’, I decide. After all, if I am going to direct them to a fire in my Arabic, god knows where they might end up.

So I ask if they have someone who speaks English.
Eh, bas, shoe fie. Ya’ani, shoe andik?’ request a man on the line (‘yes, okay, but what is it, what do you want?’)
Well, I want to speak in English, and I want to report a fire. You know, ‘naar, fie naar.” (fire, there is a fire)
lezem techke Arabi (you should speak Arabic).
Anyway, he’ll look for someone who speaks English.
The fire reaches the fourth floor.
The fire reaches the fifth floor.
No one.
Fie hada ehke Englesi,” (is there someone that speaks English?) I hear them ask?

The fire is in the 6th floor.
Someone gets on the line.
There is a fire!”
In Caracas, at the back of the Yacobian building.”
Well, shouldn’t you come?”
Who’s calling?”
Me? Mrs. Xxxxxx. But I don’t live in the building.”
Okay. Have a nice day.”
What do you mean, have a nice day, there is a fire!”
Yes, have a nice day,” and the guy hangs up.

Have a nice day.
Well, 3 fire trucks showed up. In less than 4 minutes, I might add (Pretty fast, no?)
The Yacobian building did not burn down. But the residents will be without electricity, phone, Internet and cable for a while.


M Bashir said...

"have a nice day"

I bet he was trying to be polite and calm under pressure to impress the foreign lady :-)

but this is weird, I can't believe no one else saw it. unless, maybe someone else called, because the fire trucks arrived in record breaking time which is even weirder.
(i think 125 is the no. for the fire dept)

Anyway, have a nice day, and great job reporting from the north and the refugee camps.

marijke said...

Well, we did see it from the beach, but we couldn't see where and what. Someone said: maybe the electricity just got cut and they turned on the generator!
At least, you did a good thing, had some fun, and got a story on your blog out of it!

adiamondinsunlight said...

Oh, yikes. These are some of my almost-fallen-asleep-but-jolted-back-awake-in-fear fantasies - what to do if my apartment catches fire, or someone tries to break in.

Sietske, good for you for persevering. And thank you (and thanks to Moussa too!) for the 112 & 125 numbers. I can just see myself wandering around the city following some emergency, looking for a police car so I can call the station!