“Where are you from?” My landlord in Beirut asked.
“Manchester, UK,” I replied.
“I mean where are you really from?” he enquired.
“From Pakistan,” I replied.
“No, no. I mean where are you really, really, from?” he asked.
“Oh, that.” I’d finally understood, and replied, “From Kashmir.”
“I knew you were Iranian,” he snapped.
Lebanese bankdits are amazing in their ingenuity in denying people access to their own money. They’ve created a sort of equity, unless you are part of the selected elite, you are all not getting nothing, if you don’t have “Fresh Dollars,” and if you do, you could withdraw, $400 month, or it would start at $400.00 and by the time they add on new charges it could be $398, or less, depending on what day of the week it was, or like a little while back, nothing at all. But if you have a Lebanese bank account, and a card with it, sometimes you just don’t have a choice but to use it, especially when hungry gnaws, even whilst knowing that the bankdits had blocked international transactions.
I was at the Frankfurt airport on my way back to Beirut, and hungry. I surveyed the scene. It was a buffet, one had to collect the food and pay at the counter before sitting down to eat. This was bad, as now, I couldn’t eat first before having to pay, and if I turn up at the counter, and try to pay for my food with my card it would not be honored, and given that in the struggle between hunger and honor there was only one clear winner, I went to the cashier asked, “I am a professor from Lebanon, and I am not sure what I want to eat, can I pay you when I decide?”
“Of course, sir,” he smiled.
I got some fish, potato and salad, and decided to eat as much as I could before I got to the cashier, that way, if the card was declined, they can sort it out with my bank. But the card worked, and a Germo-lebanese banking incident was avoided.
Given that my card had worked, I finished my food and went off to have a German beer, but this would prove more difficult.
It was cold and I was wearing an Afghan hat. The bar was near my departure gate. Some people sat on tables and others on stools that went round the bar in a semicircle. A baldheaded barman served people on the semicircle. He looked at me. I smiled. He didn’t and continuing serving others. After 15 mins or so of waiting, and smiling at him, I asked, “Can I please have a beer?”
“No,” the barman snapped.
“You must have a table number?” he asked.
I got off the stool and looked. There was no number at it.
“What is the number of this table?” I asked.
“There is no table number here,” he replied after serving another customer.
“How do I get a table number?” I asked.
He picked up some empty glasses, wiped the surface and nodded to some tables and replied, “You have to sit on a table, the waiter will take your order.”
I looked across at the tables. They were all full and nodded towards people sitting next to me and said, “You have been serving these people, they have no table number, give me a beer.”
“You must go to the other side of the bar,” he said.
So I went to the other side of the bar, and sat down. Again he ignored me. I waited for another 10 minutes. As those of you who need a drink know, there is nothing worst than a drinker denied that drink.
“I want to see your manager,” I said.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Well, I need to the manager right now,” I insisted.
“Yes,” he replied.
“What the…” I checked myself midsentence and said, “What the peanut do you mean ‘Yes?’”
“I am he,” he said.
“You are the…” I held my breath and instead of saying what I was going to, said, “You are the blessed manager!”
“Yes, I am he,” he repeated.
I could call him a racist pig and get it off my chest, or throw a fit, I thought, or put in a formal complaint after I arrive in Beirut, but, but it all sounded like too much work, and thank god for hearing an announcement of a final call for my flight. I stood up to leave, smiled and said loudly and to the barman, “May Allah bless you, my friend.”
He was startled.
I continued, “May the Almighty bless you a thousand times!”
“May God put hair on your bald head, may he Bless you a million times, for you have stopped a good Muslim from the sin of drinking beer.”
I offered him my hand to shake. He looked around and accepted gingerly. I leaned forward and whispered something in his ears, which I leave to your imagination.