Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bombs, Bananas and Fixers

Beirut is overcast today, reflecting the mood of the country. Nearly 1,000 killed, probably far more if we include bodies still stuck under rubble, one million displaced and $3.5 billion in infrastructure damage (Lebanon currently owes $46 billion in debt repayment, roughly 180% of GDP).

Seems as if I can’t even take a shower in peace these days, the sound of a bomb dropped on the southern suburbs destroying the tranquillity of a much needed blast of H20 to wash off the dust and sweat after a long day on the road.
Talking to a friend just afterwards who had just returned from the south to Eastern Beirut, he asked what caused the noise. “A one-tonne bomb on the southern suburbs.” “But it sounded so close.” “Yeah, even sets off car alarms here. Can you imagine what it must be like 10 minutes walk away from where the bombs are being dropped? Knock you off your seat.” Another explosion reverberated through the city ten minutes later.

The impact of a near total economic blockade is increasingly obvious as every day passes and the two oil tankers fail to dock.
Food store shelves are noticeably emptier, bananas are not to be had (roads cut to the plantations in Southern Lebanon and no imports), more shops and restaurants are shut, and newspapers are running out of paper.
The Daily Star is down to a single sheet (four pages) and is not published in conjunction with the International Herald Tribune (‘please go to the web’).
Buses have increased the price of a ticket 100%, from 500LL (US$0.33) to 1000LL ($.66). A taxi ‘service’ driver told me that he waited two hours, from 6-8am, to get 20,000LL ($18) worth of fuel. He then added, while asking me for double the usual fare, that he was ‘lucky’ to have got more than the 10,000LL maximum – ‘they know me at the garage.’
A journalist friend who worked in Iraq told me the lines for petrol reminded him of Baghdad.
It is a good time however for shopaholics, with clothes sales of up to 70%.

People that are making money – aside from the usual war profiteers – are media fixers, an industry that sprung up over night and is flourishing.
Good fixers that translate, arrange interviews and know the south (in particular) are making up to $400 a day. But not enough some say due to the risks they run.
In fact one fixer asked me to get any friend coming from Europe/US via Syria to bring him a Kevlar bullet-proof vest.
“At $1500 a good investment, modern body armour. I want the works, helmet, neck protection, visor, torso and protection for the essentials. I think you should do the same if the situation continues.”
Some fixers don’t however venture beyond Beirut, keeping journalists informed about the latest developments from the Arab media over the phone and arranging appointments with officials etc.

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