There are a countless number of sayings about how traveling is the best learning experience one can get from life. You get to know news places, new cultures and sometimes even new languages. But if you want to learn what the Lebanese are like you don’t really need to travel TO Lebanon. You just have to travel WITH Lebanese. That is something I learned from taking a short trip to Dubai.
Like most other airports today Beirut-Hariri International Airport has gone no smoking. At least that’s what the signs say. But under every single sign were 2-3 people standing and puffing away on their cigarettes. And not one single person passing by (including the airport staff) seemed to find this strange. Which I guess explains why even some of the heavy smokers I know don’t seemed the least bit concerned when people mention a general smoking ban in Lebanon. It might come, but who says one has to follow it? Kind of like red lights in traffic…
When I arrived at the gate the place was filled up quite well with a nice mixture of women wobbling around in too high heels and men with open shirts and thick gold necklaces. I was traveling on a Friday, so there were quite a few families as well. Of course, it was almost impossible to tell which child belonged with which adult. The children were busy running around, while their Sri Lankan nannies tried to keep up with them and make sure no one got hurt. However, when a child once in a while did fall and start to cry, it would immediately run to his or her mother, who in turn would yell at the nanny for not looking after the child.
It became clear that we would be delayed when by the time we were actually supposed to take off the plane taking us still hadn’t arrived. But the delay wasn’t very many minutes long before the first man went up to the counter and then the next and the next and the next…. Within 15 minutes 30-40 men has surrounded the counter, demanding to find out what was causing the delay and would there be any kind of compensation. I was beginning to feel sorry for the poor woman at the desk until I noticed that one smile from her perfectly made up lips was enough to calm the men down. And within one hour we were up in the air.
The plane ride was actually surprisingly calm and even the children managed to stay quiet. At least until we were asked to fasten our seatbelts and prepare for landing. For some reason once that was announced half of the passengers suddenly decided they needed to use the toilet. So for the following 15 minutes there was a constant coming and going to and from the toilet, despite the fact that the poor stewardess tried to convince everyone to just wait a bit longer.
The trip back from Dubai was also very calm, although I think one stewardess came close to having a minor tantrum after 10 times having asked the same four people to move back to their seats. Apparently their seats were in the back of the plane, but they wanted to sit in the front (which should have meant an extra charge). And seeing that only half the passengers had boarded, the stewardess kept asking the four to go back to their original seats and then move up once the doors were closed. But after having repeated herself 10 times she gave up and the passengers were lucky enough that no one came and claimed those seats.
During the flight I was given the opportunity to test how much Arabic I’ve learned during the past three and a half months. In front of me sat a father, a mother and their little girl of about 7 years. The parents were desperately trying to teach the girl some Arabic and kept asking her different questions. The girl, however, would only answer them in French! I’ve met a few people who only speak French or English to their child, saying that it will learn Arabic once school starts anyway. But the truth is that very many Lebanese never quite get to master Arabic (at least not written). And seeing that they never quite get to master French or English either, you have a nation full of people who speak two or three languages 90%, but not a single language 100%. But that’s a whole other blog!
Now, all these examples might sound very negative. But if you ask me there’s a positive side to all of them as well. And I can’t help thinking of the time my mother and I were returning from a trip to Beirut. The airport personnel were on strike so we couldn’t get our luggage. At least not until a group of men from our flight decided they were tired of waiting. About 15 of them went out to the place where our luggage was waiting. And within less than 10 minutes all of a sudden the baggage belt was rolling and everyone got their bags. That is everyone coming on the plane from Beirut