In mid-August I finally landed in Beirut sometime after midnight and swiftly took a cab to meet my roommate Genny at her hotel. In the heavy darkness of the hour, the hotel seemed like it was located in an obscure part of Beirut. But sooner or later, in the light of day, this obscure location would instead reveal itself as the very familiar Bliss Street, lining the North of the city. As the first days in Lebanon quickly matured into the first weeks, I would sooner than later become acquainted with the pristine sight of American University of Beirut, coffee shop dwellers and medical students congregating in front of Shawarma vendors for a cigarette. I would also become accustomed to the site of barefooted children gathering around the main intersection, stopping sympathetic strangers, like myself, in their tracks.
At first, I couldn’t ignore the touch of their little but stubborn hands pulling at my shirt and the sight of their open palms and big round eyes. I would often walk from my apartment in Hamra to Bliss Street to satisfy a Shwarma craving. I would order a sandwich and ‘sucker’ myself into adding a few more, avoiding the unimpressed looks from the vendor, who is well aware to who they are for, “you shouldn’t do that, you know” they would say.
Regardless, I was delighted to share my pocket money to ease the hunger of these innocent children. All in all, isn’t it adults who should protect the young?
Then the weeks would mature into months, and as I cozied up to a coffee shop patio on the iconic Hamra street, a beautiful little girl with big round eyes would ask me for a little change to buy food. My belly was full, so I handed her the last of my Lebanese liras, but this time not quite in delight but more shamefully, in the relief for her to go away. Then from what seemed out of thin air, a couple little boys who witnessed the scene, ran over with their hands out, mindlessly begging, almost zombie-like.
“I have no more” I pleaded with them. I shrugged. I shook my head. I kept my eyes laser tight onto my magazine. No matter what I did, their palms remained perpetually open as if they were stuck that way while their words remained frozen in repetition “please, please, please”.
Over the months, the more my bank account emptied the more my skin hardened. Soon there was only enough change in my pocket for one shawarma. Earphones in place, avoiding my surroundings instead of observing them, I became as hard shelled as the daily inhabitants of this urban landscape. But in the heat of a Lebanese sun, this hard shell would sooner or later have to melt away…