Let’s Be Dogs in Vienna

When my brother returned to Lebanon after a near 10 months stay in the United States, we went out to a restaurant in Batroun. After picking whatever food he felt like eating, I asked him what he wanted to drink. He said: a glass of water.

I replied: You’re not in Portland anymore. A glass of water isn’t an option here. You have to pay for a bottle.

In fact, the price of a water bottle in most Lebanese restaurants is outrageous. When I can buy the same bottle for about 300LL at any hypermarket and they’re selling it for about 3000LL as an average price, imagine the steep profit they’re making off of you absolutely needing that vital fluid.

It doesn’t stop at water though. Even beverages are so steeply overpriced you can’t but wonder if they’re aiming at making a profit solely off selling them. 5000LL for a soft drink can that can be bought anywhere else for 500LL.

A friend of mine recently came back from Vienna and she told me something that contrasts drastically with the water situation in Lebanese restaurants. As she sat in a restaurant that was all non-smoking, the lights outside turned off after a certain hour – not dimmed but totally turned off. Why’s that? Because the area was residential and people have a right to relax without excessive visual pollution. Hello Gemmayzé and Hamra?

But that’s not the point.

As she sat there having dinner, a man strolled in with his dog. The restaurant didn’t have a no-pets policy. In fact, what the restaurant (and many others on different occasions) did was to bring in a small bowl for the dog, bring out a bottle of mineral water, open it and pour it down for the dog to drink. Free of charge.

Even when it comes to drinking water, we are figuratively raped in Lebanon and that’s without addressing all the other “luxuries” the dog gets without even needing them. So why not be dogs in Wien? It beats being melting bugs in the Beirut July heat.

Two Days in the Life of a Lebanese in Beirut

It starts early in the morning. You wake up and the heat is already beyond an acceptable value. You look at your phone. Nothing on that lockscreen.

You had forgotten. The country has been disconnected from the internet for two days now. You get out of bed forcibly. The day must start. You flick on the light switch. Nothing.

So they’re cutting it 6 am – 9 am today? Neat. At least you’ll have power when you get home, right? You go towards the kitchen to prepare some coffee. You hold the teapot under the water valve. Nothing comes out. No coffee for you? But no. You are more than prepared. Hello Tannourine bottles!

A day at work or class later, you go back home. There’s electricity. But the internet and water are still nowhere to be found. The former is unusual while the latter is typical for any Beiruti summer.

As you get out of your clothes for something more relaxing, you look at the time. 3:30 pm. And the light goes out. You wonder if the switch (disjoncteur) had been overpowered by something you might have turned on by mistake. You run down the stairs of your old Beiruti building which doesn’t have an elevator and you find out that no, it’s not the switch.

You run back up the stairs and reach the landing of your apartment, sweating like a pig. Perhaps going back home hastily was a bad idea.

30 minutes later, your only source of cooling in that house, the A/C, springs to life. You praise any deity you could think of and type away at your computer, finishing up some leftover work stuff because you don’t have internet to check Facebook, Twitter or even your email. Before you know it, the screen on your laptop dims. You look at the laptop’s electricity plug and you find its light off. You glance at your watch. It’s 4:00 PM.

Thank you for 30 minutes of electricity? But it’s not done yet. 30 minutes later, you hear your fridge hum again only to hear it die down 30 minutes later. Christmas lights-esque electricity from 3 to 6 pm? You bet.

So you sit there, looking at the wall in front of you. You have no electricity, no internet and no water. It’s too hot outside for you to wander somewhere – anywhere – and for the first time in your existence in Lebanon, despite everything, you feel like you are living in a third world country.

But as it is with you being the deservedly proud Lebanese that you are, you shrug it off. Tomorrow is another day. And then your phone buzzes. You look at it and behold, there’s an iMessage there! Yes, tomorrow is another day indeed.