As I get older, I will be stronger,
They'll call me freedom, just like a wavin' flag.
K'Naan, "Wavin' Flag"
Traveling this summer in Greece and Lebanon, I have been on a news fast and have thus missed the day-to-day dogfights that substitute for significant events on cable TV. I have, however, been able to view a few of the perennial battles as they play out concretely in ordinary lives: the resistance to austerity in Greece, the plight of Palestinians in Beirut, and, everywhere, football (soccer to us Yanks).
All over Beirut, as in Greece, the flags of Spain, France, Germany, Paraguay, Netherlands, and"•especially"•Brazil fly in proud fanaticism. A conversation in Arabic converts to a universal Language of Sport. A joke about a Brazilian player named with the universally recognized word Kaka'is obvious in the laughter.
We broke our news fast and switched on the TV when my wife and I reached our rooms in Beirut. "Wavin' Flag," K'Naan's world cup anthem-slash-Coca Cola product placement video clip was playing on Lebanon's Al Jaras channel. Wait a minute: This is not the same clip we'd seen playing on flat screens in taverns from Athens to Mykonos. Here sharing the stage with the Somali-Canadian rapper and poet K'Naan was Lebanese hottie Nancy Ajram, singing in Arabic before a phalanx of Bollywood dancers. And wait a minute: Is that girl behind Nancy wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, or just a checked scarf vaguely suggestive, a la Rachel Ray in the Dunkin Donuts ad dog fight? With a little research, I discover there is also an official Spanish version with David Bisbal, targeting the Latin American Market. All versions of K'Naan's original lyrics have been slightly altered for Coca Cola.
The music of Beirut's streets, however, is construction. The Saudis tear down historical housing for the middle and working classes on the promontory of Ras Beirut to build pricey hotels and apartments (and mosques) for the Middle Eastern elite, while Iran rebuilds homes destroyed by Israeli bombing in 2006 in southern Beirut's Dahieh District for the more proletarian Shi'ites.
I had hoped to see Dahieh to research a novel I am working on, but Lebanese friends of all stripes tell me that suspicion about Israeli spies by Hezbollah, which dominates the district, make going there unwise. Also, the trust between the Lebanese in general and Hezbollah as the anti-Israeli resistance has been damaged badly since the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the Cedar Revolution that drove out Hezbollah's ally Syria in 2008.
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