|At the start line, 1 minute to go|
I was up at the crack of dawn. On a Sunday, no less. Not totally voluntary, I have to admit, but I had to drop off Aragu Sisay, our housekeeper, at the start line of the 6th edition of the ISF International Half-Marathon, named ‘Al Wissamein’. The race is named after Wissam Eid, an overzealous police captain who - through ingenious and skillful perseverance – almost cracked the entire Hariri murder case on his own. This sleuthing was of course not much appreciated by the other camp, and so they blew him up. (ISF stands for Internal Security Forces, of which he was a member).
|Warming up. Gun men on the left, athletes on the right|
The mood in town at such an early hour is lovely. Sassine Square, where the start line was, was covered in the pungent smell of muscle relaxant cream. Since it is an ISF race, the police force's various departments all had their contingents running. The UNIFIL from down south also came out in force. The Indians, the Spanish, the Malaysians and the Cambodians were all present. The Inter-Lebanon Road Running & Athletics Club was also participating, hence our housekeeper’s presence.
|The Indians and Spanish UNIFIL participants|
It’s a good feeling, to be surrounded by so many incredibly healthy people. The Lebanese like a good life, with long lunches, late night dinners, lots of good wine and cigars or argilehs (water pipes) to go with it. Dinner parties in this town do not get going until 10 o’clock PM, and after that clubbing follows until the early morning.
|Some wheel chair participants.|
The son of a friend of mine, after living in Holland for three years, came back home disappointed. His plan was to move to Holland and stay there. He’s half Dutch, so that made sense to us, although we did try to warn him well in advance that life in Holland was not like life in Lebanon. This place is a rollercoaster ride compared to life back home. He paid no heed. He was at university in Amsterdam, by no means a watering hole, but after 3 years living there, he analyzed it as follows; “the town is dead after 12.” No late night venues after 2 AM. Heck, that’s when things really get started here in Beirut. It is a town that never sleeps. (I stole that bit from New York) Well, maybe it does between 5 and 6. I am only speaking from hearsay, as I have pulled out of that part of the rollercoaster ride quite some time ago. Getting to work the next day and be able to function was just too much for this body.
|More Indians and Spaniards|
|Don't know. Could be Malaysians or Cambodians. Did you notice the legs!!!?? Wow.|
But Sassine Square was vibrant with healthy people with trim bodies, Lebanese and foreigners alike. It was a good mix of people. There were some wheelchair participants as well.
Sometimes Beirut can appear to be like any normal European city. That is, if you think the guns away. Because as always, there was an incredible presence of gun-toting personal. I am not quite sure why that is. It’s not like these runners are going to riot and pick up stones and throw in the windows of the numerous banks and cafes around the square. You probably won’t find a more disciplined Lebanese crowd than this. Disciplined Lebanese crowd; I had to laugh when I typed this, it’s an oxymoron.
|Security comes in|
|Protected; Both ways. This is a Christian part of town.|
But the weather was perfect, the mood good, the crowd mellow, and the security forces present. And Aragu Sisay, the housekeeper? The whole purpose of my presence was to see her pass the start line so I could take pictures which she can send to her family in Ethiopia. Well. She got lost in the crowd. I didn’t see her take off. I didn’t even get one picture of her! I guess I’ll have to drive to the finish line in Debaye, 20.2 kilometers away.
Update: Got a picture from her running group!! She's the short one in the middle.