Abu Ali


I was walking down the pier, doing my usual rounds. Every night, between three and four in the morning, and between four and five, I have a fifteen minute break, in between, where I go to sit with my friend, Abu Ali Zibrin, who has spent so much time around the port, we sometimes refer to it as his. And I swear, I have even had people come to me from abroad, foreigners, and they specifically say, Do you know the port of Abu Ali? I always laugh. What should I say? I love this, about this place, this will never change. We know so many things about each other. I prefer it like this. Like a family, and for those of us who live without kids, this is better for us, this way. So when I came to the yacht, at four in the morning, during my round between four and five, I found a small light inside, lit from the night before, and I thought I should turn it off, as I hadn’t seen someone there in a while.

The boat is owned by Sit Rasha Kanaan, I know her very well. She used to come around to the neighborhood, two or three times a year. I used to see her, walking her dog, crossing over the Boulevard Haggar, meeting some friends at the port. During the day, I sometimes sit with the older men, from my father’s generation. Because I have to stay up so late, and I don’t have the burden of children to take care of in my life, I leave work around six or seven, after my last round, and on the way I pick up a manouche, from the Sfeir Bakery, the oldest in this part of town. I prefer the old way of making the manouche, with wheat and baked straight in the oven, instead of using oat or something else to make the bread, and to bake it over a saj. The walk is nice, and I like to eat the manouche hot while I walk. I live just over the People’s Bakery, by the way, one of the oldest in the country, so I always try to finish my manouche before arriving, in case the owner or his sons were outside. It’s a much larger establishment than Abu Sfeir, who until only last year was run only by Abu Sfeir and his wife, but his two sons have since taken over.

I’ve tried the manouche from the People’s Bakery, it isn’t that bad, to be honest, I would love to eat from there as well, to support them even if they’re a much larger establishment. But they work so much on delivery and I hate the sound of all their motorcycles, all day in the morning, turning on and turning off, or left running, sputtering and coughing when I’m trying to sleep. To keep this from happening, I tried to get my windows fixed, since they never shut properly, but the man I asked, a friend of my cousin’s, said it would be too expensive, even if I convinced them to do it for free, the materials alone would cost a fortune. A fortune for me, I suppose. There are people who can afford to install the windows, and to build a new balcony, to install a new wall. I was never going to be one of them. I never held this against anyone, really. I believe I’ve been treated fairly, in this city.

When the FLN first came to power, it was such a shock. We had no idea they were so determined, to enforce an equality on us. I have lived here all my life, and I have only traveled once. To Korban, after all, before the occupation, before the annex of Tal Khar. The FLN are decent creatures, but they fell into an idealist trap. I remember, Sami Gibril, the son of one of the founders, he was so fixated on the issues we were facing, the country was really falling apart, and he was certain he could root out corruption from inside. When he came to us, to get our attention, he sat with a group of us in a building just off Avenue Najjar, and after feeding us some pie and chocolate, just after iftar, he told us, I will resolve the issues you think can never be solved. But you are the ones who have to weed out corruption. This is in your hands, you work with the families. You know how it is. Everywhere I go, every district I visit, I tell them this.

Afterwards, he came to see us, to sit with me and some of the men, sitting outside, having coffee from a kiosk. I was eating from a bag of chips, and I listened mainly to the other men speaking, mostly about him, when he came outside. I was impressed by him, I won’t lie. He wore a certain attitude I like in boys of his generation. He grew up rich, of course, but that’s not the point. The point is he looked after his father, and you can tell, he paid attention. His father was never the richest man, among his circle of leaders, not the wealthiest of the politicians. But he led from the inside out, he learned how to please the ambassadors of every country, and he made himself indispensable to us. To our country. Of course the socialists were already in power, and the FLN, though not yet founded, was already on the cusp of birth. People were happy to accept a new set of families to lead us. 

Listen, I never wanted a democracy. To live like they do in other countries, where every few years there is a new set of powers in the parliament, and the country takes a new civil direction. Nothing is ever accomplished, because they are always changing. The people in power get lazy. The opposition. Every four to eight years, a fresh opposition emerges victorious, and all of us are pulled into one of two poles, and we have so little direction. I find this to be a horrible way to lead a country. When the FLN first came to the scene, we were ready. Leftists, with a pure ideology. Sami Gibril was one of the fresh young faces, straight out of college, to come back to the country, when the occupation lifted, to learn from his father, how to lead a country, to pull power from inside. The convention is, to pull the influence of an outside power, to dominate on your behalf. But for the FLN, and the PSP, by the way, they ruled from inside, like Moqtada al Sadr in Iraq. How did he lift his people to reject occupation while also shielding them from the scourge of war, impressing his ideology on rival factions? Did he bully his people? No, he curried their favor, acting out in the manners expected of him, being his father’s son.

Ali Gibril, whose mother was a Muslim, by the way, practicing in old leftist circles, he introduced his son to the establishment very young, and he rose almost alongside Nader Habib, who grew up to become the leader of the party, after a stint in academics. The Habibs were by far superior to the Gibrils, intellectually at least, this was their power. They controlled how people thought, how they thought of themselves, of the country. If Nader’s grandparents hadn’t founded the Mission, a conglomerate of some fifteen daily media companies, this country would be a different country. We would not have been introduced to socialism so early. That’s the interesting thing, even for me, and I’ve grown out of love with politics, it’s become such a circus, and the leaders now, they live like celebrities, like they own the seat, they own everything. But we always have one or two families, every few years, who made their money abroad, who come back here and they introduce something, a new way of living, or a new food to eat. People here are very accepting. This is why, maybe, we change ideologies so often, and we change regimes. If you ask me, who rules now, how do I know? That was the last time I saw Sami Gibril, in person, in three or four years.

But the FLN are onto something. I can see they have some plans, for the new elections. I can see this now. It’s always going to appear fiercely contested, when you see from outside. Today I think the PSP are on the rise, while the FLN are doomed, because I think the younger generation don’t know how to fight, and they don’t give a shit about anything.

So, like I was saying, it was special for me. I was standing on the harbor that night. And I decide to see for myself, what’s up, and I can feel like there is someone, suddenly, when I find the young Rasha Kanaan sitting with some friends inside. I excuse myself, and I walk away, and I go about my life. I had heard she had moved, to a colder country, and her elder siblings were born in Almaaz. It’s always a pleasure, for me to see one of the younger children, of her generation, still coming to us. I know very little about Sami Gibril. Even when I went to visit his father, there was no mention of him. I’m sure he‘s around. When you have the connections he has, chances are you make use of them. Where would he go? Outside, away from here, he is nothing. He has nowhere to go. Here, he can have anything he wants, when he wants it. And the younger kids, they know how to use this. Just look at the boy, Tanzim Bey, would you believe this guy? His yacht is at least five times as large as the Gibrils or Kanaans. How long has he lived with riches? All his life. All his life, until now.

What would I give? I always felt my responsibility not to have any kids, until further notice, until I could at least pay for their education. With all due respect, to the public-school system, I would have wanted my children to be friends with Tanzim Bey, with Sami Gibril. Even though they are spoiled, they are safe. They have opportunities. When the MLP, God bless their children, offered to find me a wife, I ignored their advances. Something told me, she will bring you trouble, more than you can afford. I said, very bluntly, thank you, but no. I’m fine the way I live now. This is easy for me. Ali Rasheed, the son of the boss, he told me flat out, I have four wives myself, are you dumb? Whenever I want, I can fuck any one I want. Does this mean I have to have children? But it was a feeling I had, not to get myself involved. Now, I suppose I’m living alone, this is why. I get lonely sometimes, but so what? Even my father, until the end of his life, was always alone, and he had children and wives. The difference is, this is a different time. Today, when the neighbors see me, or when some of the evening guests leave the harbor, there is a glimmer of sadness, when we lock eyes. They always bring me gifts, I know they feel guilty. Guilty for what? I have a job, but I never had children. So what? Without children, I am wealthy. I am rich with experience. I am free. I have so many stories to tell you, you could not even imagine, the things I have seen.