Paintballin’, Blowjobs and Hizbullah

OK, so if that title doesn’t boost my page hits, I don’t know what will.

It comes from a short service taxi ride I took the other day (in service taxis, you pay a reduced fee and then the driver takes other passengers along the way).

Two boys, about 19 or 20, are sitting in the back seat when I hop into the cab near my apartment in Hamra. From their nearly perfect American English peppered with a few Arabic bas, ballah and khalas, I guessed they were students at the American University of Beirut.

They are having the sort of conversation I used to hear among boys and girls on the back of the 24 bus in San Francisco on the way home from school – who did what sexually, how far they went, the scandalous context. Voice volume is typically elevated in a sort of exhibitionism: the conversation is as much for the other passengers as it is for the kids.

In San Francisco, these conversations are lurid, and at the same time painful. One has the sense that such working-class kids – often around 16 years old – want to tell the world their activities to convince themselves of the gravity of lives too often laced with suffering. A sort of public transportation therapy.

Back in the service taxi, the kids seem to be approaching similar topics from a different angle – one less crude but more annoying.

“Oh man, so she didn’t even give you a blowjob?” says AUB Boy 1.

AUB2: “No, man.” He pauses as a girl crosses the street. “Oh, I think I know that girl. OK, I definitely know her. I can’t forget that ass. That girl has a nice ass.”

AUB2 says this as if he is trying to convince himself that he really thinks this, and maybe to show off to his friend, and to me (foreigner) that he is capable of such comments. It lacks the rawness of the SF conversations, and the undertone. It is not mixed in with other talk about who got beat up, who has a gun and the excesses of intoxication, as it would be in SF.

These kids are privileged AUB students, even if they do live in war-torn Lebanon, I think.

“Hey man, you wanna go paintballin’ sometime?” says AUB1.

“Sure man, definitely.”

*****

If the middle-aged taxi driver with Islamic prayer beads hanging from the rearview mirror understood any English (I do not think he does), he might recognize the reference to paintballin’. He is Shia, I soon learn, and a staunch supporter of Hizbullah, so there’s a decent chance he lives in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where, incidentally, the local paintballin’ facility is also located.

As we drop off the kids in front of AUB, the conversation between me and the taxi driver turns to politics. (It’s inevitable; I should never have told him I am an American. But lying – even little lies – is almost as exhausting as these political conversations.)

I learn that the taxi driver holds Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah in very high esteem. “He is the only honest politician in the world,” he says, or something to this effect. I am still getting used to the Lebanese accent, and my comprehension veers from total to foggy. He says America should leave Lebanon to its own affairs, he complains about Rice and Bush.

I agree, but I draw the line when he says Barack Obama is a liar. The driver is mad because, he says, Obama kicked out two veiled women from a campaign event. (A story based in some fact, apparently.)

He drops me off in a cheery mood – I always seem to be able to effect this with taxi drivers – and I walk by the bars of Gemayze to work.

*****

Woah, I think. These are the paradoxes of Lebanon. What will be the “conversation” that occurs between the Blowjob Bros and this taxi driver’s children one day?

Maybe what they want is not so different. Maybe, because of my vantage point, I have seen the same thing from different angles. I hope so.

One thought on “Paintballin’, Blowjobs and Hizbullah

  1. I would love to put the “Blowjob Bros” (hahaha) on the back of the 22 bus in the city where they could hear the Western Addition teenagers with their baby dreads, sagging designer jeans, and gaudy watches talk about all the things they did with “That chicken-head Danika at that party last weekend.” That’d put things in perspective for sure.

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