Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

One Man

Today I picked up a hitchhiker on my way to Beirut. I knew he was going to ask for money the moment I noticed the rosary around his neck as he stepped into the car. Overt religious symbols worn by non-clergy usually indicate an intent to predispose others towards charity. Sure enough, he spent the first ten minutes of the ride entreating God to reward me with sucess, health, and the fruits growing in heaven for picking him up. Then, he started talking about himself.

He was from the South, from Cana, he said. I felt that asking if his home had been destroyed in teh war last summer would be too insensitive. He explained to me that he was looking for a job, any job, even if it paid $150 per hour, washing dishes, sitting watch over a villa, whatever. He was 71 years old, and those who did not turn him away outright told him plainly that he was too old. He listed all the Christian neighborhoods of Beirut and a lot of the mountain and said he had scoured them on foot and got the same answer. I did not have a villa in need of guarding, so I asked him if he had any children.

He did, and they had brough this upon him, he said. I prepared myself for hearing a family soap opera of alleged madness and shady real estate deals. Instead, I heard the story of Lebanon, notavailable on any TV station that I can receive with my satallite dish.

He had two sons and a daughter. He had spent all his retirtement money getting them college educations, he said. Then one day they told him that higher education was free in Russia, and they were going to emigrate there becasue there ws nothing for them here. His wife left with them, taking the last $4,000 he had left, and they promised to write him. Three years ago. He visits the post office every month, asking if there is anything in his name, and nothing arrives.

I thought about how everyone want to leave Lebanon. I thought about how those in charge had given lucrative monopolies on the post office, telecommunications, and tons beside to well-connected incompetents. I thought about how housemaids from the Philppines now ask for $500 per month and this guy cannot get $150. Day laborers from Syria now make $25 a day. The hithchiker kept on talking about how faith in God was so lacking these days and how someone who picks up a 71-year-old hitchhiker is a rarity in this day and age. I started thinking about how much money I shoulf give this poor guy when we stopped. It crossed my mind that he might have too much dignity to even ask. I sheepishly wondered out loud where he wanted to be dropped off.

"After the overpass" he said. There was a small town coming up and he though he could find many villas there, some possibly needing a 71-year-old watchman. I slowed down and dutifully stopped after the overpass.

"I wonder if you can help with a buck" he stammered. "I have not had breakfast." I reached into my wallet and gave him a twenty. He was flabbergasted. It seemed to me that this was not a denomination whose appearance he remebered. I told him what it was. He understood. Tears came into his eyes. I gave him a bottle of water and some slices of apple that my mom had packed me. He was nto sure he could chew with his remaining teeth, but he was sobbing so much he has to point to make me understand. I wished him luck, more in my heart than out loud and was on my way.


  • At 29/11/06 12:33 AM, Blogger Doha said…

    Thanks for sharing with the blogosphere this story. It is moving.

    I know a family where the children all moved to the States, the mother has all her family living there, but the father his family all live back in the day3a in Lebanon. The mother wants to be with her kids and family, but her husband will not leave the day3a. They're struggling right now.

    Some Lebanese don't let go and don't function well when they leave their country, but on the other hand, the Lebanese in general have been conditioned to emigrate and settle well abroad. It's a struggle and yes families are losing more and more of their members as even the elderly are emigrating as well and family houses are left vacant, collecting dust.

  • At 30/11/06 12:10 AM, Blogger Go said…

    hey, great heart-warming story.
    Something like that happened to me a few years back, BUT my old man was a foxy fellow, I gave him a ride in the rain, his tears showed up cause no-one else stopped. After his life story, and that he needed money to buy medicine, I gave him some 'help' money, I can't remember how much. And as I dropped him off, he thanked me, then hurried in search of the next victim, I could almost see horns growing on the back of his head!

  • At 30/11/06 4:36 AM, Blogger Hamze said…

    ya3teek il 3afyeh.

    I feel that 1/2 of the people in Lebanon are 71 year olds looking to make their ends meet.

  • At 30/11/06 9:58 AM, Blogger Walid said…

    Doha and Hamze: thanks
    go: I too have been conned before, but this time I did not get the same feeling. There is that micro-gesture you probably see that subconsciously makes you feel "horns growing on his head", and as you might guess from the beginning of my post, I too expect most people who approach me to be in that category. In fact, there is one guy I see all the time prowling around Bliss street who once gave me a "money for the bus" sob story - near the French embassy (5 miles away.)

    Anyway this guy is either the real thing or a whole different league of conmanship.

  • At 30/11/06 3:49 PM, Blogger Go said…

    Just sharing the nearest I have been to your experience, not really hinting your 71 year old was a con.

    In all cases , it's sad to see in Lebanon.

  • At 6/12/06 6:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am from the South and I just feel so bad when people use the word south or cana or shahid or whatever to get money..I am not talking about your man, because at least he was looking for a job to get paid. I Know I might come accross as insensitive, but you know there are lots of poor people in the south but they do not go around yesh7ado..I just happen to be a proud lebanese southerner, and I know for a fact that there are lots of people of good will that do help and try and find jobs for the poor..I just hate it when people beg and use the south as their pretext, just use your own name/situation.

    btw nice post and blog overall :)


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