The last time I went to Tripoli was over a year ago. My children played at the island park in the Al Mina neighborhood. We walked along the corniche. Children were shooting around on scooters. Older men sat together and smoked argile. There were hawkers; some sold cheap imitations of Disney princess dolls, some others sold sesame kaak or coffee which they carried on their backs. Lebanon was a very different place back then. The Revolution hadn’t happened. Inflation wasn’t wrecking the economy. Covid 19 wasn’t even coined yet. In this broken new world we’re living in, Tripoli is an invalid.
Yesterday, My husband and I went to Al Mina to meet Ahmad. We found Ahmad on Facebook advertising his furniture repair shop. His work looked satisfactory, so we called him up. As we’ve been stuck inside most of the time since March, our house has become a part of us. We are wearing the house. The walls have become the permanent background to our lives, so we got them newly painted. We decided that bailey’s and soft jade complimented us better than off white. Then we realized that the 10 year old couch cushions needed changing.
Tripoli is known for affordable craftsmanship and sweet shops. Al Mina is known for its furniture shops, and antique stores.
The Tripoli Adnan and I arrived at yesterday resembled the tired, half-life version of the city I remembered from last year. Lebanon has been in full lockdown for the past two weeks. All shops are closed except for pharmacies, bakeries and grocery stores. There’s an enforced curfew from dawn to dusk. Most of the people out in the streets were men looking or waiting for work. Not one of them was wearing a mask. There was steady traffic all around us. No one stopped. No one smiled.
We found Ahmad’s shop through an alleyway. He said he had to relocate because of the Covid 19 restrictions. “This is the only way I can stay open,” he explained as he showed us the little garage that was his workshop. He seemed eager to work; he needed the work. We picked out the fabric, and type of foam we wanted. Ahmad said he’d come by the house the next day to take the measurements of the cushions and couches. We meandered back to where we parked the car. We had to watch where we put our feet or else land in a pothole still filled with last week’s rain water.
From Al Mina we drove to central Tripoli. We went along the corniche, which was mostly empty, except for a few fishermen standing out on the rocks with their long lines cast out into the still sea. The once aesthetic bushes and trees along the divider were overgrown. Their tenuous branches reached into the road and slapped cars as they passed. New buildings have been abandoned. Rust and negligence are pervasive throughout the city. After driving past streets lined with boarded up shops, we found an open oasis, Hallab bakery. We bought a box of petits fours, sfouf, and walnut pastries. With the inflation the price of these desserts has gone up three fold. Nevertheless the bakery was popular. There was an endless stream of people coming and going.
Although, there are charitable organizations that have been helping the poorest of the poor, most people have to fend for themselves. Making our way out of the snaky city Adnan stopped and asked for directions. A man told us how to find out way back to the highway towards Beirut. Then he asked if we knew anyone who needed a workman. He said he had three children and no work. He really wanted a job, any job. My husband apologized, saying he didn’t know anyone, and wished him luck. Then, Adnan and I looked at each other and said in unison, “I think he needs help.” Adnan gave him 20,000 lira.
On the way home, I sat in the passenger seat and looked out the window at the slow moving sea. I started to think about what Tripoli might look like the next time I visit. I couldn’t imagine it. I shifted my focus and thought about going home.