View from a ’72 Benz C250 series, no. 6
I went out for dinner last night with some family visiting from out of town and a few friends. We piled into a service taxi heading down Hamra Street and gave the cabbie the address. As the old Benz lurched its way down towards the sea, my mother (who has more charisma in her little finger than I do in my whole body, and from whom I inherited my penchant for chatting with chauffeuriyyeh) took it upon herself to show me how it was done.
Cabbie: Tourist? American? English? French?
Umm Elias: What tourists? Lebanese, habibi.
Cabbie: Ah, pardon me. I thought I heard you speaking English with the others, that’s why I assumed…
Umm Elias: No, no. We’re Lebanese. From the Bekaa.
Cabbie: (perking up) Me too. Welcome, welcome…
Umm Elias: The Bekaa. Living on kishk and awarma.
Cabbie: Ahhh… now you’re talking. Is there anything more delicious than a plate of eggs and awarma, or kishk and sizzling ground beef? Where are you from in the Bekaa?
Umm Elias: Deir al-Ahmar.
Cabbie: I’m from Nabi Osman! We’re neighbors!
Umm Elias: Uh huh. (The first and last time my mom stepped foot in Deir al-Ahmar was probably 30 years ago, but she can fake local know-how with the best of them).
Cabbie: Let’s see… the Kayrouz family is from Deir al-Ahmar, right? And Rahme, Haddad…
Umm Elias: Uh huh. So tell me, what’s your cash crop in Nabi Osman?
Cabbie: Apples. What’s yours?
Umm Elias: Hashish.
Cabbie: Yeah, I know (laughing).
Umm Elias: Why? You got a problem with that?
Cabbie: No, no… We grow hashish too. But not like you folks in Deir al-Ahmar. You’re serious growers.
Umm Elias: Better believe it. We’re drug dealers.
Cabbie: Yes ma’am.
Umm Elias: Macho men. Tough guys.
Cabbie: Umm, ok.
Umm Elias: The macho men of the Bekaa, know what I mean? The real deal.
Cabbie. Uh huh… So do you vote in Deir al-Ahmar?
Umm Elias: I’m not going to vote for anyone.
Cabbie: Me neither. They’re all liars.
Umm Elias: All of them.
Cabbie: Well, not all. Sayyed Nasrallah is honest, may God keep him. And General Aoun too. I love the General.
Umm Elias: And Berri?
Cabbie: No. I don’t like him.
Umm Elias: I don’t like anyone.
Cabbie: Look, here’s how I see it. Why not try the General for four years? If he’s bad, then we’ll throw him out, right? This is democracy. It can’t hurt to try him.
Umm Elias: Sure, why not…
Cabbie: I mean, don’t get me wrong. Everyone is a sheep in this country. Some people — pardon my language — if Saniora pissed in a bowl, they would call it champagne. And for other people, even if Israel came and destroyed all of Lebanon, they would still claim it as a victory for the resistance. I’m not a sheep. But I think we should try the General. Why not?
Umm Elias: Why not…
Cabbie: Where are we going again, by the way?
Umm Elias: What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know your way around?
Cabbie: I’m sorry, madame. We were talking and I got distracted.
Umm Elias: We were talking? You were talking. Take the next right.
Cabbie: Yes madame…
Umm Elias: “We were talking,” he says… Unbelievable.