May 16, 2013

Some More Old Stuff

The Syrian Army in Hamra, 1990. My little bike is in the forefront
Some more pictures from my old collection. Here’s one of the Syrian army, and my little motorcycle. That little bike I bought of some shady character in Hamra, and I was very glad I could get rid of it 3 months later as it was a piece of junk.  Of course I was new to the country, and was not aware of the fact that people who appear very friendly and nice and willing to help you, are equally willing to screw you if they can get away with it. I paid $500 for it!!!  Even some 20 years later, a bike of this caliber wouldn’t fetch even half of that price.
But I did not know anything about bikes, nor about local prices, and when the friendly man said that this was a very good and fair price, almost a steal, I believed him. He did teach me how to ride the thing though.
Another thing I did not know then was that you had to watch out for the Syrian soldiers. One day, after a photo mission from the top of Bourj el-Murr (this is 1990, and I wanted to get an overview of downtown, which was then much like a jungle overgrown with of trees), I walked in downtown and it was getting dark. There was only one sandy road, going from the Normany checkpoint to the Port and then East-Beirut. I did not like getting caught in the dark there, there were no street lights there at the time, and since there were very few cars passing by, I flagged down the very first car I saw coming my way; a Mercedes.
A Syrian check point. Regular soldiers were in uniform. The guys to watch out for were the plainclothes one; they were Mughabarat (Secret Service)
In the back were two soldiers sitting, kalashnikoffs on their lap. “Can I get a ride to Hamra?” I asked the chauffeur. I did not speak Arabic at the time. He had this deer-caught-in-the-headlight look. He raised his eyebrows a couple of times up and down, looking very seriously. It was not clear to me what he was telling me.
So . . .  can you take me to Hamra,” I asked again.
His eyes only got wider, and now he raised his eyebrows even further up, creating wrinkles in his forehead.
I had no idea what he was trying to tell me. I waited.
Ehhhh, no place,” he finally said.
What no place, I thought, only two soldiers. You tell me I don’t fit.
“Sure there’s place,” I replied. The two soldiers in the back were looking the other way as I got into the front seat.
I turned around, trying to strike up a conversation. “So, you are from around here?” I said.
They briefly looked at me, and replied “Arabeh.”
They speak no English,” translated the driver for me.
And this is what many shops and houses looked like; sandbagged to the top.
And in total silence we drove out of the downtown zone, in those days a no-man’s land. It was dark now.
At the crossing of Hamra and Rue du Rome (near the old An-Nahar building) the soldiers got out. The driver almost deflated the moment he pulled up again. He let out the longest sigh ever. “Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffff.”
I am just around the corner,” I said, “You can drop me off here. "
“Oh no,” he replied, “It is not safe at night, “I will drop you at your front door,” and so we proceeded to my little shack on Rue d’Amerique.
As I got out, he said: “Don’t you ever ride with Syrian soldiers again. They can do terrible things to you. You must not ever get in a car with them again.” I had no idea they were Syrians; all uniforms looked the same to me. The Syrians were the occupiers then.
“So how come you took them?” I asked him.
We have no choice. They stop us, you stop. They ask for a ride, you give it. They ask for your money, you give that too.”

Amal militia members; they also had their check points. This one was in Qas-qas. Look at that Rambo guy on the right; probably a pot-bellied house father now with 5 kids.


Geanina Alina Danila said...

I have really enjoyed reading this interesting post, just as much as all the previous ones! Congratulations for this amazing blog! Greetings from Romania!

Anonymous said...

what's wrong with a pot-bellied father with 5 kids? You better you no tell me bitch!

Tony said...

Very interesting photos and story! I get shivers down my spine reading posts like this one, just because they bring back so many stories and memories...

I would be very curious to see if you still happen to have the photos from the Burj El Mur, that would be very fascinating to see as I am sure not many people can say they have been up there!