An ode to a legendary friend
This photo was taken many years ago on a boat in the scorching sun while on the way to spend a couple of nights deep inside Lower Zambezi National Park. Those nights were magical to say the least. This was time spent with people who were and are family, more than friends. Every one of us on this trip shared a special bond. The three of us and the many others who were with us came from different backgrounds, cultures and countries but had a common zeal for life and were always looking to have a great time and live life to the fullest in this warm and beautiful country of Zambia. Life is at its best with people around you who make you feel at home. Who you keep around you lets you know who you are. The person on the left (bald, beardy and shirtless for some reason) of the photo is somebody who always lived life to the fullest. He would wake up and be a live wire until he went to bed. With a cheeky and witty sense of humour, he would keep everyone entertained throughout the day. The person wearing a yellow cap backwards is me. I guess I was young and silly at that time. The person on the right (wearing black sunglasses) is a random guy and there isn’t much to say about him.
The trip was unforgettable. The food, the booze, the fishing, the snoozing, the swimming, the game drives, the stars, the night sky, the moon, the silence, the sounds, the booze, the booze, the booze, the insects, the animals, the booze, the WATER, the river, the peace, the tranquility, the nature, the booze, the booze, the birds, the booze and the booze made this trip one to remember and cherish for life. We were, are and always will be brothers no matter where life takes us or doesn’t. This bond resulted in many years of friendship and love and continues to be strong to this day and it always will be.
For the purpose of this column I am going to call the bald and beardy guy “legend” and the random guy “dude.” Dude was getting married and all of us and our families had found ourselves in Beirut, Lebanon. This is the home country of both legend and dude. You need to understand, Lebanon is like a buffet. You do not know what to expect until you try the food. Once you try the food though, you fall in love with the place. I had been to Beirut for work a couple of times but this was the first time I was going to just have fun and spend time with people near and dear to me.
The innate quality of humans is to be biased. We look at a particular person and have a preconceived notion of who they are or what they do or how they would behave. Though this isn’t the right thing to do, it is just in us and has been since the dawn of mankind. It is definitely not going to change. Legend and his lovely wife (also a legend) had warned my wife and me about the bias that exists in Lebanon. In Lebanon a lot of people of my ethnicity make a livelihood doing janitorial jobs. (I’m all for dignity of labour, back in the day I did janitorial jobs while living in a certain country.) Due to biases, when people in Lebanon see someone of my ethnicity they start wondering if they should hand us a broom so we can get to work.
My wife and I got to Beirut in the early hours of the morning and took a cab to our hotel. We were staying in a nice hotel just outside of the downtown area and were met with suspicious looks by the person checking us in. We got into our room, showered and decided to have breakfast. This being summer both of us went down to the restaurant in our shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. As soon as we walked into the buffet room, we were convinced that this is not our hotel and somehow we were teleported to Kensington Palace and we had entered the queen’s ballroom. The women were impeccably dressed with striking makeup, high heels, manicured nails and handbags which I am sure cost more than my kidneys. The men had gelled hair, wore polo shirts, jeans and loafers and some wore sunglasses indoors. The smell of the various perfumes the guests were wearing was making me high. I am a simple man and have never really bothered about my looks but in that instance I wanted to hide behind a curtain.
Once we were fully stuffed (Lebanese food is among the best in the world) and stared down enough by everyone around us, we headed back to our room to rest for the day before leaving for the pre-wedding party that night. The party was at a large upmarket place downtown and I knew it would be a mind bender and made sure to get enough sleep. Legend and his wife picked us up and drove us through downtown, showing us magnificent sights of the city before we headed to the party.
You need to understand something about the Middle East, when we call something posh and extravagant, we are not talking about an extra pillow on the bed shaped so weirdly that functionally it is of no use. When a Lebanese person refers to something as posh don’t be surprised if Posh Spice herself is part of the décor. This place was astounding: people dressed to impress, expensive alcohol flowing, many live bands performing, fireworks, expensive acoustics and cigars.
As soon as we were allowed in, after the bouncers gave me several dirty looks, legend told me that the only restroom is at the entrance and I should use it if need be as the place gets packed and it could be difficult to access later. With a pre-decided mind set on having a lot of alcohol, I approached the restroom. The first thing I saw was a man of my descent who was leaning against a wall, cigarette in one hand and a mop in the other. He assumed I had come to take over his shift. After lighting my cigarette (I have since quit smoking) and explained that I was invited for a party at the place. The man was impressed and almost emotional because someone like him was breaking a stereotype. I thanked him for his confidence in me and told him that I was going to party more than anyone ever had in that place.
Legend taught me one thing on that trip – “Jible tnen double whiskey,” which if you rightly guessed translates to “Please bring me a double whiskey.” This has to be one of the most useful sentences I have ever learnt. It kept me happy the entire trip. I overused the sentence that night and I ended up not remembering much of it. All I remember is that legend and I were having too much of a good time, to everyone else’s annoyance. I don’t even remember much of the night but for my wife waking me up the next morning to have breakfast again, this time I was in a shabbier state. The same stares and confusion ensued as before.
That afternoon we left for the wedding in the mountains of Lebanon. Details again are blurry as there were a lot more spirits flowing. Legend and I were especially having a great time. At the end of the night we wished the newlywed couple the best in life and then left. Even before leaving Zambia I was promised by legend that he would take me for a spin in his fast car. Without sounding ostentatious this is a car that will cost more than the house I don’t even own. It has two seats and will go from zero to sonic in a few seconds. I always wanted to be in that car of a crazy brand and he had driven to the wedding in it so he can fulfill my wish. That’s just him, that’s how he always was.
His wife offered to drive my wife back to the hotel so that he and I could go for a spin. So there we were; I was pretty high on life and booze, sat next to a man who knew how to handle a car so low that I probably lost weight due to my bottom scraping the tarmac. There is a lot to my bottom. We leave in this rearing and roaring car and for a second I was convinced that I was sitting with Evel Knievel. Legend drove like him and before I realised it we had moved out of the mountains and onto the highways. We finally had to get off the highway and the exit was in sight. We were, however, moving so fast that I was convinced that we would take the next one. But this wasn’t legend’s plan. He stepped hard on the brake, pulled the hand brake and turned the steering wheel. We were now drifting sideways in the middle of the night on the highway trying to make it to an exit. I was convinced we wouldn’t. None of this fazed him and he has steely eyed determination and confidence that we were going to make it.
We did! Not just my heart but many other organs were having an out of body experience. Soon we reached the hotel I was staying at. All the while I was completely silent and my adrenaline was having adrenaline of its own. One thing to remember is that I was not completely sober and I was guaranteed a hangover for the next few days. I was fixed in less than half an hour of driving. I could see legend’s wife and mine standing at the entrance of the hotel anxiously waiting for us. I will never forget the night when my dream of being in a great machine was fulfilled and to make it better, it was driven by one of my greatest friends.
The night didn’t end there; he also showed me what it was to be treated like royalty. While saying goodbye at the hotel that night, he walked up to the receptionist and said, “I am sure you do not know this couple, they are two of the biggest industrialists from Africa,” and left. For the record, we are a simpleton couple that lives a simple life. However, over the next two days we were treated like sheikhs and for that we will never complain. We got a lot of complimentary stuff and people of my ethnicity love that.
Legend was someone that lived life to the fullest and always wanted to do so while having his family and friends be a part of his energy, his care, his concern and his unparalleled love. Nobody was ever judged for any attribute but for being a human. Everyone was always instantly mystified by his personality and presence. I use the word “was” as the recent blasts in Beirut claimed his life. Though he is gone, his legend will always live on. Those who know him would agree with one thing – he was a man’s man.
Dooderonomy will resume later. Nehme, go well. Until we meet again.