Yesterday Everitte and I travelled across town to General Security, to leave our passports for visa renewal. While the process is a lot simpler than it was in Damascus (due mostly to the Lebanese having a fairly good concept of how queuing works!) it still involves a fair degree of red tape such as having various forms signed in triplicate by ‘The Chief of Arabs’, who has own special uniform covered in lots of shiny badges. While waiting in a queue on the third floor yesterday a little old lady came up to us and speaking in French said to me ‘He’s very slow – change queues, change queues!’ We smiled at her and she touched my cheek and said ‘You’re very pretty’ then she looked at Everitte standing next to me and said ‘Ah, and is this your son?’. So… very pretty but also very old then, if at 24 I look capable of having a 23-year-old son!
One of my favourite misunderstandings about our relationship formed part of the lengthy epic drama that is Everitte’s feud with Libanpost. He has to go two or three times a week sometimes to post out prints of his calligraphy to people, mostly in America. The post office here is set up so that the administrative people work in the main hall, so although there are always about 8 people sitting working when you walk in, only two of them are actually there to arrange shipping.
When we first arrived in Beirut and went to the post office Everitte had his tubes for posting and I had some postcards. We were served by a pretty young Muslim girl named Noor, the only one wearing a hijab, who seemed quite taken with Everitte. The next time he went Noor was busy serving someone so he went to the other girl, Shirine, but before she could serve him Noor said ‘No, wait, I’ll serve him, he’s my friend’. After that whenever he went back Noor would serve him, and even if she was busy the other ladies would make him wait until Noor was free or even call her through from the back to serve him. Then one day at the beginning of November he asked her about getting a PO box. She told him that he could have one for $60 for the year, but that in January everyone has to renew their subscriptions, so he should wait until then so as to save money. He agreed, but later in the week decided he would have to get one anyway as he had to have some of his artwork sent out from Scotland. When he went back and told her he wanted a PO box anyway she was very offended, and although she gave him one he said that she seemed to have taken it as a personal insult that he had ignored her advice, joking that she didn’t want her future husband throwing money around. The next time he went to the post office she walked away into the back when she saw him coming, and when the other girls called her to serve him she refused to come out.
The next few time he visited she was still a bit annoyed with him, but seemed to be thawing. Then one day she asked him something about his “sister” who was with him the first day he came. Realising she meant me he said “Oh she isn’t my sister, she’s my girlfriend” at which she became so offended that she hasn’t served him since.
This has meant that the other lady who does the packages, Shirine, always has to serve Everitte. At first everything was fine, even vaguely professional. Then one day I went in with him at about 4 in the afternoon, the usual time he goes to the post office as it fits with his work schedule. She asked him ‘Why do you always come so late? You know we close at 5 and I don’t like serving you at this time’. We were both taken aback as she sounded quite angry, and it doesn’t take her anything like an hour to ship a couple of tubes, so we didn’t see how it would affect her work day. Everitte explained that he worked until 4 and then came to the post office, at which she grunted but refused to reply. The next time he went back, again at 4, she was serving someone, and when she saw him she said ‘I’m not serving you. I have someone waiting after this person, and by the time I’ve finished with him it will be five. You’ll have to come back another day’. Despite the fact that this was clearly not true he didn’t know how to react, so he left and the next day went to a different post office to post his tubes, even though it is further from the flat.
The last time he went back he stood at the front of the queue for 15 minutes, and Shirine ignored him. After waiting for 15 minutes another man came in, and asked one of the girls who works in admin where he should queue for shipping. She pointed him to the queue and then realised that Everitte still had not been served. She said to Shirine ‘Why haven’t you served this guy?’ In answer Shirine started shouting in Arabic, and though Everitte didn’t understand it was clearly about him, as everybody else in the room turned to look at him, some of them smiling and giggling. Evidently she had refused to serve him, as she began to serve the man who had come in after him, leaving the admin lady, who was clearly embarassed by her behaviour, to apologise on her behalf and serve Everitte herself.
I can’t help wondering what will happen next time he goes to post something, as both the ladies who work in shipping now refuse to speak to him, though they haven’t seen fit to explain why! He got an order last night so he’ll be going back tomorrow… updates to follow soon.