Tuesday, August 15, 2006

So, Three Guerrillas Walk Into a Bar . . .

So, Three Guerrillas Walk Into a Bar . . .

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

BEIRUT -- With a bit of fortitude and loads of wit, there are laughs to be had, even in wartime.

Barely a week into a war that sent the hopes of many Lebanese tumbling down with their bridges, buildings and roads, stunned civilians trapped in the crossfire started trading self-deprecating gags about their situation.

As sad as the tales of death and the exodus of 1 million people displaced from their homes into empty schools and government buildings have been, the Lebanese have found ways to make light of their own plight.

As one joke has it, residents fleeing the Shiite suburbs of Beirut were flashing the victory sign -- to indicate that only two buildings were still left standing.

It was followed by excited speculation that real estate values in the poor neighborhood of Ain al-Rummaneh, a crowded cluster of aging buildings overlooking the southern suburbs, had shot up by 50 percent. Why? It now has a sea view.

People are petrified of honoring their dental appointments out of fear they may have bridgework done, goes another favorite. So contagious have these stories been that in one refugee center, Marwa Saad, 15, whose family was driven out by fierce fighting near the southern market town of Nabatiyeh, did not dare utter a word without covering her mouthful of braces.

"Everyone keeps teasing me; they bully me to keep my mouth shut so we don't get hit by Israeli jets," she said about her friends, giggling with her hand to her mouth.

Another story has Haifa Wehbe, the curvaceous bombshell of Lebanese music videos, dispatched by the Hezbollah leadership to Israel to conduct negotiations. She returns pregnant. When confronted about her condition, the anecdote goes, Wehbe insisted she was only trying to help: "I thought I would get you another small hostage."

Some jokes target the Syrians for causing the crisis by allowing arms to flow to Hezbollah and pressuring the Lebanese government to let the group keep its arms. One joke says the Israelis cannot aim at the Syrian inhabitants of Homs. Why? Because the Israelis only have smart bombs.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is also the butt of some humor. The elderly women of the Christian neighborhood of Ashrafiyeh regard Nasrallah as their new idol and sex symbol, goes one line, because he has taken them back 40 years.

Another joke extols Nasrallah, saying he is now worthy of a statue since he managed to put the entire Shiite Muslim community, with its high rate of illiteracy, in schools.

The most popular joke about this round of war in Lebanon is crafted around a fictitious Archie Bunker-like figure who is a fumbling caricature of all the failings of the Lebanese. During 30 years of war, jokes about the character, Abul Abed, have carried many a social event into the early morning hours with thigh-slapping, fall-off-the-chair laughter.

The latest installment recounts how Abul Abed calls Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and boasts that he has four neighborhood thugs who will really make life difficult for Israeli soldiers if they dare venture north of the border. Olmert laughs and says that just one Israeli brigade could overrun his whole neighborhood in hours. "I'll get back to you," barks Abul Abed.

When he calls Tel Aviv again, Abul Abed threatens to collect every bar bouncer, alley hoodlum and thug from Tyre to Tripoli to fend off the Israeli assault. Olmert simply tells him that he will send the air force, naval fleet and ground forces to invade. "I'll call you after I have conferred with my generals," Abul Abed says confidently.

He calls back boasting to Olmert that he has now collected thousands of followers of the Abul Abed Movement who are ready with shoulder-mounted rockets like the Mujahedeen of Afghanistan. Olmert whistles facetiously: "You will be no match for the 2 million Israeli soldiers massed along the border, ready to attack."

"Two million?" asks Abul Abed. "In that case I am going to have to surrender. We simply do not have enough room to keep 2 million hostages."

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