Ariel, our correspondent in Lebanon, divided in 4 parts the account of his latest fascinating adventure on Beirut land. Here is the penultimate episode of Tripoli Express:
“Wake up French man!” These are the early screams I could make out from the man who was guarding my cell. I jumped to my feet, simultaneously with my friends Antoine and Karim, we were looking forward to getting out. The guard slid the gate open and escorted us through the long corridor.
I wasn’t dreaming: natural daylight was illuminating the detention facility, we had spent the night here, we did it. I was pushed into a small study where there was nothing apart from a man, a new one, sat in front of two big mysterious devices. He told me to have a seat and started another interrogation. It was only then that I discovered the purpose of the two machines: one of them was used to track my retina, the other was used to record the movement of my fingers.
The Lebanese authorities were now in possession of more information about me than my own country.
After the interrogation, my belongings were returned to me, yet I was in no rush to turn on my phone. I left the detention facility. It was a hot Sunday morning, dry and sunny. Two guards that I had seen the night before had suddenly decided to be friendly.
They offered coffee and cigarettes, and asked me if I liked Lebanon. Their question made me chuckle. I stretched and breathed the air as if I had been in custody for all my life. I thought about the fact that this Sunday morning felt like the worst hungover of my life, and that luckily, I had only seen a small part of the horror that you see in prison.
I shook Antoine and Karim’s fathers hands. I was not looking for the explanation of how we got out and why, the only thing that mattered to me was to return to my room in Beirut. I hoped in Antoine’s parents’ car and they took me back home. As we were driving for an hour, no one spoke. I turned my phone one: nobody was worried of my absence. From an outsider’s perspective, my Saturday evening was like any other, I could have done anything.
All the better. My energy and emotions had been drained, making it difficult to recount my mishaps. I was not even recovering from this meditative state in which I had fallen. I was able to sleep, but I was having lucid dreams relating to my night in custody. The worst of all, a genuine nightmare, was when I could see the soldiers violently packing my stuff and bringing me to the airport of Beirut. Looking back at this dream, I laughed nervously. I had not smoke a single joint the night before, and not only had I slept terribly, but I was dreaming about it a lot.
I tried to have a nice Sunday, but in the afternoon, my phone kept on ringing. My colleagues, my relatives, my boss: all of them called me to ask how I was doing and what had happened. But how did they know? I did not understand a thing. I slowly discovered that during that night, my friends’ parents who were worried about their sons’ absence and their phones being turned off, had issued wanted notices in Lebanon. They thought that we had been caught in an avalanche during our mountain excursion, or victims of a car accident. They had travelled throughout the country for the whole night looking for us. A picture of us three which Karim had posted on Instagram started going viral on social media. I received screenshots of articles written in Arabic with a picture of me. I had been warned: Lebanon is a small world, everybody knows one another. I was even mentioned in an article in one of the major newspapers of the country the next day, referring to me by my initials.
That same day, I returned to the office where I work and I was welcomed by a guard of honour, between laughs and applause. “Now you have fully experienced Lebanon! Nearly more than we have!” my colleagues were telling me (I am the only foreigner of the company). Nobody worked on that morning, everyone was listening to my accounts of my stay in a prison in Tripoli. That story was absurd and comic. However, the good mood and the general excitement were interrupted by Antoine’s phone call. “We need to return to Tripoli. They are annoyed. They needed to do a urinal test which they forgot. They want us to go back.” I left the office instantly and felt like vomiting. It seemed like the worst hangover of my life was not over as of yet.