As I laboriously proof read the draft of my forthcoming book focusing on Eastern Europe, my mind has started to wander to think about starting my next one, most likely to chronicle my travels in The Middle East & Far East.
In my usual style, I have started sending myself e-mails as I commute to and from work. They are just bits and pieces at the moment, but I thought I would share one with you…….
To set the scene, it was May 2000 and we (Hamish my long-term travel buddy & I) had just arrived in Beirut. The story starts just after we checked in at our downtrodden hotel………
So here we were in Beirut, a city synonymous with civil war throughout my teens, a city that had been divided by religion and ruled by militia.
Terms such as Druze, Hezbollah and Jihad became as familiar to me in those ’70s & ’80s formative years as Cold War, Communism and Iron Curtain.
As we taxied from the airport and ignoring our irritating driver for a few moments, my mind turned to a documentary that I had seen many years before on the conflict, whilst it still raged. This centred on the seemingly continuous religious feud, the like of which have been erupting violently for centuries and of course continue to do so. As always appears the case it seemed that there was no answer to the issue, just periods of uneasy peace punctuated by flare-ups.
The war in Lebanon lasted 15 years (1975-1990) and enabled Hezbollah to hold an ever-increasing influence over the nation that was now ‘protected’ by Syria at the time of our visit. It also gave The Human League a hit record.
For now, all was relatively peaceful, as I had assured my future wife before making the trip.
As darkness fell outside, we had just laid on our beds to enjoy Fashion TV (something we discovered for the first time and was to become a staple entertainment ever since on our trips together), when we were shocked to hear the rasping sound of what appeared to be gunshots.
“Blinking heck, what was that,” I exclaimed. Hamish agreed it was gunfire. Exactly what you do not want to hear within your first few hours of arriving in Beirut.
The volleys of shots rang out from several directions and lasted over twenty minutes, before apparent calm was restored.
Our imaginations ran riot. The first shots of a new bloody conflict had been fired and we would be stuck, as the city would become paralysed once more.
The news wires around the world would be full of it and the soon to be Mrs Wilbur and the long-standing Ms Hamish would be worried sick. How could we have been so irresponsible as to visit Beirut, and me only five months away from my nuptials?
We were pretty concerned I can tell you. Hamish decided to go downstairs to reception to ask their opinion. He returned ten minutes later grinning from ear to sizeable ear.
What we had witnessed was in fact firecrackers, set off to mark the fact that the Lebanese champions (Sagesse) had just been crowned Asian Basketball Confederation champions in the city by defeating their Saudi opponents narrowly in the final (55-52)!
What a relief that was. Pretty inconsiderate of the Beirutis, but a relief all the same. We momentarily switched from FTV to a local sports channel and this confirmed the truth, thank goodness!