There are 4 million people in Lebanon, and more than 10 million Lebanese abroad, and I had met many on my trips in West Africa, Brazil, and the Balkans. They are beautiful, educated, worldly people, and most everyone speaks Arabic, English and French fluently, switching between them without hesitation.
My favourite guy was Assaad, who I met in Accra 2 years ago, but he was still in Ghana when I arrived in Beirut. But his mother Randa was in town, who I had also met in Ghana, and she took me in like a daughter. I spent 2 days with her, and we were more productive in these two days than the other 6 I spent in Lebanon. Randa took me from Beirut to Byblos, a town famous for its long history, old citadel, and beautiful Christmas Decorations. We drove through the churches of Batroun and nearly drove her car into the walls of the narrow old city, and then returned to Byblos to see the Christmas lights at night. We stayed at her beachhouse nearby, ate breakfast in Tripoli, and spent the next day preparing her home furniture and decoration store for opening day. Then we drove into Kadisha valley, passing the town where Assaad grew up, the home of Khalil Gibran in Bsharri, and finally the snow peaked mountains near the cedar forests. We ate lunch and took some hitchhikers back with us to town, and then went to the best hairdresser in Lebanon for a haircut and blowdry. All of these things being standard Lebanese fare.
Randa introduced me to her friend, a gorgeous and famous singer who took me to the infamous BO18 80’s nightclub with her gay best friend. She lent me clothes to fit in and the bar gave out fedora hats, so this plus my new stylish hair cut had me feeling better than ever. It also helped to have a gay guy to grind on all night, they’re always the best dance partners.
I couchsurfed the rest of my time with Ziad, who also treated me with inexplicable kindness. He slept on the couch, and I moved into the king sized bed in the master bedroom. His best friend, who fed us the best sandwiches in Beirut from his sandwich shop, also stayed with us, and I met many of his other friends on our outings for food, drinks, or partying (and there was SO. MUCH. GOOD. FOOD!). They smoked like chimneys and knew the lyrics to every old-school rap song I could think of, and noone ever let me pay for anything.
I spent maybe one day alone, being a proper paying tourist, to the Jeita caves. They were an underground marvel of stalagmites and stalactites, and parts of it I visited on a boat on the underground river. I wanted to take a bus back but wasn’t sure if there was one, so I asked the only bus parked in the parking lot if he was going to Beirut. He didn’t speak English, but the woman beside him spoke a few words of French and I understood that I could go with them. When I got on the bus, there were a few sleeping children and eventually the bus filled with women coming out of the caves. It was a family trip, a bus full of mothers, daughters, cousins and grandmas, and some of them bellydanced in the isles the entire 1 hour journey back to Beirut while one of the younger girls played a drum. I was fed bananas and chocolate and coffee and chips and I really didnt want to get off after they invited me to finish their family trip with them. But, all good things must come to an end, and I wasn’t ready to leave Lebanon either, but I took my flight to Jordan with a pang of sadness for all the hospitality I knew would have to wait for next time.