The Sleepless Nights of Lebanon’s Tripoli

If you go by the geography they teach at Lebanese schools, you are taught that Tripoli is the second biggest city of Lebanon and the capital of its Northern governorate.

The geography they taught us at school also enumerated the numerous economic riches that Tripoli boasted: its port, its proximity to the border, etc….

The civics course they gave us at school tells us about the numerous touristic advantages of the city of Tripoli: its castle, its old souks….

The sociology they taught us at school mentioned how Tripoli has one of Lebanon’s poorest regions on its outskirts. It’s mentioned only fleetingly, like something we can’t wait to bury under a pile of blissful ignorance as if it’ll make everything okay.

If you look at the latest events taking place in the country, you’d think our Northern border is not at “Al 3arida” but at Balamand. You’d think those Lebanese people of Tripoli have been annexed to the Syrian war. You’d think that this Lebanese city that many find too easy to hate is no longer Lebanese – just a burden that we can’t wait to get rid of. Let’s return it to pre-1920 days when it wasn’t part of our favorite part of Lebanon, Mount Lebanon.

My friends in Tripoli haven’t been sleeping lately. But you’re not hearing about that. You’re not hearing about the explosions going off at any moment, the bullets piercing through the silent December nights. You’re not hearing about the people dying, the children getting shot.

You’re not hearing about the people like you and me cowering away at a corner of their house all night in fear that one of those stray bullets might do them in.

It seems as if our Lebanese media has washed its hands from Tripoli. That city is just not worth the coverage – it’s a “been there done that” type of things. They’ve covered similar incidences there before. What’s the use of covering them now? It might go well with their policy of “let’s show only the good side of Lebanon for the world in order to save the Christmas tourist season.”

Our politicians couldn’t care less as well – as long as they get their share of votes next year. This city, which has one prime minister, four ministers and a bunch of MPs, has no one to speak on its behalf. It only has people who preach about what should take place as they sit in gilded seats somewhere far, far away.

“We condone the presence of arms in the city.” You often hear say. And what will your condemnation really do, mr. politician, while you’re the one secretly buying your people weapons in order to fuel the struggle that you know will bring you loads of returns in a few months’ time?

I am not from Tripoli. But Tripoli is one of my favorite cities in this God-forsaken country. It saddens me to see ignorants portray my friends as a bunch of Islamists who deserve whatever’s happening to their home. It saddens me to have people panic beyond their minds how I had to drop off a friend in Tripoli around midnight a couple of days ago. It saddens me that with each passing day, Tripoli is stripped from the identity of a city where Muslims and Christians lived side by side for years and is portrayed as a place where the next Islamists Emirate will start from.

When it comes to Tripoli, the majority of Lebanese have one thing to say: “On n’est pas concerné.”

What We Know So Far About J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy”

This year’s most anticipated book release drops this Thursday. The project has been under tight wraps from the moment it was announced, reminiscent of the supreme amount of secrecy surrounding J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter releases. Don’t you miss those?

The Casual Vacancy is 512 pages thick. The idea of it was conceived on a plane where Rowling thought “local elections” and the idea wrote itself out. She says it was the sort of idea that hits you and you know it will work. It was the same with Harry Potter.

The title was initially “Responsible.” But when Rowling stumbled on a newspaper with the words “casual vacancy” in it, she immediately knew that it fit her story better. She has been writing the book since Harry Potter was done and considered publishing it under a pseudonym but she figured it would be much braver if she published it under her own name.

And it is her name alone that’s causing this book to be a success even before it is released.

The Casual Vacancy opens with the death of a parish councillor in the village of Pagford. Barry, the councillor, had grown up on the Fields, a nearby estate that’s drenched in poverty, with which other citizens of Pagford, notably the middle class, have lost patience. If they can fill Barry’s seat with one more councillor sympathetic to their disgust, they’ll secure a majority vote to relinquish responsibility for the Fields and hand it over to a neighboring council.

The battle for the seat starts. And it’s not a simple election as one can conceive, it is the story of a town at war. Pupils at war with their teachers, sons and daughters with their parents, the rich with the poor…. It is the battle of different classes. The chairman assumes the seat will go to his son, against whom are a cold GP and a deputy headmaster with ambivalence towards his son, a self-possessed adolescent whose subversion takes the form of telling the truth.

The Fields’ most notorious family is the Weedons.

Terri Weedon is a prostitute, junkie and a victim of abuse. She is struggling to stay clean to stop social services from taking her three-year-old son away from her. But it is her daughter, Krystal, who will take up the mantle of being the mother. But the death of Barry, the only adult whom Krystal considered as a friend, leaves her alone and struggling in the poverty that she lives in.

Anonymous messages will then start appearing on the parish’s website, exposing the laundry of the people living there and the town sinks into paranoia and tragedy.

The novel is written from multiple perspectives. So it invites the reader to delve into the head of different characters. Some journalists who were offered the chance to read the book said that this differing perspective made them think the book was closer to a comedy until it really sank in and they were hit by the severity and tragedy of it all as they delved into the Weedon’s minds.

The book is about the middle class of Britain. It is a representation of what J.K. Rowling says a “phenomenally snobby society.” And she has laid it bare. It is the story of heroin addiction, teen sexuality and economical problems. So it is as an adult book as it can get without it being Fifty Shades of Grey. The book is so unlike Harry Potter, in fact, that even the language used is one that would definitely shock any Rowling fan.

Some quotes from the book are as follows:

  • “The leathery skin of her upper cleavage radiated little cracks that no longer vanished when decompressed.”
  • [A lustful boy sits on a bus] “with an ache in his heart and in his balls.”
  • And there’s a reference to a girl’s “miraculously unguarded vagina.”

The Casual Vacancy has already sold more than one million copies in pre-orders and will be the year’s top selling new release. I will review it as soon as I finish reading it upon its release this Thursday. But I have high expectations.

(Sources: 1 and 2)