Story Travels: Beirut

“I’ve found the most Mezrab possible place for you” says my friend Raffi.  And indeed, the little corner cafe with its performance basement has all the elements that make my heart race. On the wall there’s a lovingly drawn icon of the city of Beirut, a sexy picture of Che Guevara (which you can appreciate in earnest or ironically), toilet walls covered in intense underground comics, and most importantly, a programming schedule that includes feminist talks and drag shows for which double the amount of people show up that could comfortably sit in the place. There’s European women sitting at tables with Arabic men to learn the language (why not the other way around? Do Arabic women not teach? Do European men not want to learn Arabic?) and French, English and even German is routinely answered by the staff. The Lebanese are as linguistically versatile as the Dutch it seems. One of the perks of having the little country syndrome.

The manager, Hussain, tells me that the ones who don’t get it think this is a hipster place. It’s bullshit of course. Being Hipster means buying overpriced food uptown. This is a place that is consciously anti-fascist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic. Set up by owners who all do other things in addition to owning the place: Being a painter/sculptor, a carpenter, a DJ…

Apparently it is also one of the many little battlefronts in keeping Beirut for the Beirutis. If you worry about gentrification in Amsterdam (and you should) then Beirut will break your heart. Whole neighbourhoods are left to delipidate, after which the blocks are torn down and replaced by luxury high rises. But that’s a worry for the outside. Inside, an open mic starts that moves you with how similar is the need to express in different countries.Spoken word pieces are read directly from the screen of a phone. Stand-up comedy is tried in both Arabic and English, two young men even try a rap battle (with no music but with one of them choking), and all range from pretty bad to quite ok. It’s in this setting that I do a bit of storytelling. A personal story of revolution. It has elements of comedy and poetry in it, enough to make a connection with what’s happening, but still very much its own thing. When that’s done there’s one feeling that remains. Can we do this? Can we share our stories without pouring them into the mold of comedy or spoken word? When the host tells them I’ve been invited to do a full storytelling show on Saturday I’m sure more than a few will show up. What’s more exciting for me is what happens after. When I return, will one or two have decided to tell their stories as… you know, a story?


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