Postcard from... Beirut


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Ibrahim Najem lives in what’s left of the little port of Ein Mreisse, just back from the Beirut seafront were he used to dive. He’s a magpie of a man who collects. And collects.

He lost the use of his legs emerging from an 80-metre dive in a vain attempt to rescue a fisherman friend in 1982. Now he sits outside his door, a bright rug over his useless legs, talking with enthusiasm about his Phoenician pots, clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms, mortars, keys, radios, cameras, coffee grinders, plates and colonial helmets. And firemen’s helmets. Mr Najem was a fireman, you see.

He started by collecting seashells. Now there are telephones, ancient typewriters, even a machine gun on a tripod, a collection of revolvers found beneath the sea and a plate with a sinister black Swastika and the words “Germany Bavaria 1939”, collected from an elderly German resident in Mr Najem’s block.

“I need a bigger place,” Mr Najem said. Beirut’s property developers, who have done more to destroy the Lebanese capital than the civil war militias, have ringed his home with high-rises. What is a man to do with 30,000 bits and pieces in a world that worships the young rather than its older residents?