Dan Azzi
September 2017


Random Encounters

Dan AzziDan Azzi

Actual Message sent September 14, 2017, from the US Consulate in Beirut to its citizens:

Due to ongoing threats to locations such as the Casino Du Liban in Jounieh, Lebanon, the US Embassy in Beirut has barred any movement of US government staff to that Casino.

As always, the U.S. Embassy will continue to evaluate the movements of its personnel, and encourages all U.S. citizens to be aware of their immediate surroundings at all times and take appropriate measures to ensure their safety and security. Terrorist incidents may occur with little or no warning. In the event of a security incident, avoid the area and monitor the media for the latest developments.

For further detailed information regarding travel and security in Lebanon:

· Visit the State Department’s travel website Travel.State.Gov to review the Travel Warning for Lebanon, Country-Specific Information for Lebanon, and the Worldwide Caution.

· Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive the latest security updates and make it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you in an emergency.

· Contact the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, located at Awkar facing the Municipality, PO Box 70-840, Beirut, at (961) (4) 542600 or (961) (4) 543600. The Embassy is open Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 4:30 PM. The after-hours emergency number for U.S. citizens is (961) (4) 542600 or (961) (4) 543600.


So I’m sitting here in the shade, on this cloudy, but hot, Saturday morning, on the outside terrace of my favorite coffee shop, in downtown Beirut, minding my own business, when I’m approached by this dark, handsome guy, sporting a long, bushy beard, but no mustache. He was carrying a bag pack, and wearing a beige hunting-vest, with packed pockets and loose wires hanging from his clothes. He was sweating profusely, probably due to the Beirut summer heat and the significant weight he was carrying. The place was totally empty, maybe because four or five Western embassies had issued a security warning to all its citizens against frequenting public area, malls, and restaurants. Or maybe it was empty because a Cappuccino goes for $6. I’m not really sure. Either way, I enjoyed the peace and quiet, smoking my favorite Cuban cigar, drinking a cup of the best hot chocolate in town, while doing some reading, in between bouts of daydreaming.

The stranger then approaches me and initiates a conversation:

“Assalamu aleikum, Brother.” [Peace be upon you]

“Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatouhou.” [And upon you peace be and the mercy of Allah and his blessings.”

“Which direction is the casino, Brother?”

“The casino is about 26 kilometers north of here, on the seaside highway. But I don’t recommend you go there. They have a dress code. You have to wear a suit and tie and maybe shave that beard. They like the preppy types over there, so they probably won’t let you in. Besides, all the major embassies have issued a security advisory. Apparently, there’s a risk of a terrorist attack over there.”

“Thank you, Brother. Why are you here alone?”

“I like to be alone. I enjoy the solitude and to get lost in my own thoughts.”

“When does this place fill up?”

“It doesn’t really fill up anymore. It’s expensive and people can’t afford it, but at noon, it gets a bit more crowded, and, at best, maybe half the tables might get filled.”

At this point, I offered the gentleman a cigar, but he replied,

 “No thanks. My body is Allah’s temple and I can’t poison it like this. I also advise you against smoking – it’s very dangerous for your health and goes against the will of Allah. I will take your leave now and come back in a couple of hours. Will you still be here?”

“Probably not. I’m going up to the mountains to have lunch at my dad’s – my weekly ritual.”

“My loss. Assalamu Aleikum, Brother.”

And he gracefully glides off into the urban horizon …

“Nice chap,” I thought to myself, “but a little too serious for my taste.”

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