Beirut Journal – Barbeer Shawarma, 2am

by Alex Ray

As I wait alone for my pre-flight dinner of greasy sliced lamb, hoping not to ruin my last clean T-shirt, a tall impeccably groomed young man arrives at the counter, his teeth gleaming in competition with his watch.

He announces his presence to the worn-out middle-aged cook with a gratuitous “Greetings yaa ghali*” as if he has known him since school. “How are you? What’s new?” the young man continues.

The chef knew his part, “Good evening yaa za’im* how was your evening? Did you have a party?”

“Yes we did, but nothing major” he says in his tuxedo. “Listen habibi can you make it quick? The lady is waiting,” nodding towards a yellow sports car.

“Straight away sir!”

“Thanks yaa Basha*,” he says, collecting his meal and spinning toward the car.

With that the empty words had worked, though no tip trickled down from the night’s celebration.

I look at the chef, “Yeh I’m not that busy, 2am is my favorite time of the day.”

Detecting my sarcasm the cook asks “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to the airport …”

“Yalla habibi I’ll give you some extra lamb,” he reassures me.


*ghali [lit. expensive] A term of respect denoting success, powerful and/or wealth.

*basha – Arabic for Pasha, refers to a high rank in the Ottoman political and military system, typically granted to governors, generals, dignitaries and others.

*za’im [pl. zu’ama] – Familial and political leaders of the clientelist  patronage system in Lebanon and other Arab countries. Many of the zu’ama became warlords during the Lebanese Civil War before returning to political positions in peace time.

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