“I need a shower badly” I said to my friend Karin, “but I just want to take a quick photo of your view”.
“My little slice of Beirut, eh?”
We laughed as I stepped back from the balcony into the simple hostel room that has been her home for the past three months. I surveyed the space taking in the high ceilings, bare white walls and flat tiled floor which felt cool to my feet.
“There’s plenty of room for my sleeping mat on the floor, this will do perfectly”.
She hopped up off the bed saying:
“I forgot to say, I realized the room next door is empty – and the windows are never closed – the lady isn’t around today but we can sort it out with her tomorrow…”
She trailed off, grinning, standing in the doorway of the sliding window doors which partitioned the indoor/outdoor space of her hostel room, her arm pointing across the low wall between her balcony and the one next door. My jetlag-addled brain took a minute to catch up. I stuck my head past her arm and saw that the balcony doors next door were also open, the single bed, desk, chair and closet empty of any belongings.
“You’re suggesting I hop over the wall and sleep there? Good plan.” grinning myself now too, “You’re sure I can sort it out with the lady tomorrow?”
“She’s not around very much but when we find her we can get you a key. It’s only for four nights.”
“Worst case I can leave money with you, right? How much are you paying a night anyway?”
“I pay by the month but it’s only $10 a night.”
That evening Karin gave me a whirlwind walking tour of central Beirut from the Corniche, past the luxury yachts and expensive restaurants on the marina, to the newly rebuilt and eerily quiet pedestrian streets downtown.
We had dinner with some of her UNHCR friends. Over traditional Lebanese food (Best. Hummus. Ever.) I learned about the challenges and complexities of their work with Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“It’s interesting work because it’s complex. The Lebanese don’t want any more refugees, healthcare here is expensive and then there’s Hizbollah.”, said Vincent who designs and builds refugee camps.
Our dinnertime conversation ranged over everything from Karin’s research work on c-sections in Syrian refugee population to the public health challenges in these informal tented settlement camps to the practical, political and logistical difficulties of their work.
By 10pm my travel tiredness had caught up with me. We hopped in a servico, a shared taxi, for a cheap ride back to our hostel. Dizzy and barely awake, I clambered over the balcony wall and crashed hard on the bare bed in the room next to Karin’s.
Sometime after 3am I lay awake on my “borrowed” bed. Karin, in her room, soundly asleep and undisturbed by my jet-lagged wakefulness. I grinned to myself and tried to get back to sleep listening to the male voices in prayer-song at a nearby mosque, like a melody above the rhythm of the Beirut traffic.