Stories from Afar & Up Close

This Country Is Too Small And I Have Proof

Incriminating Evidence #1:I was doing research for my master’s thesis on the Lebanese Upper Class. To avoid the notorious snowball-effect (asking only my friends and their friends and the friends of their friends), I decided to approach random customers of upper-class venues. Based on the first conversation I overheard in a coffee / lunchroom, I asked a young man if I could interview him, and he agreed. Turned out? He had gone to primary school with one of my friends, was the former class-mate of a girl I interviewed, and had graduated same university, same major, same year as the sister of another friend.

Incriminating Evidence #2: I had just started working for an NGO in South Lebanon when I accompanied a colleague to a meeting with some other NGOs. A woman with curly hair, one of the participants in the program, was introduced to me as the cousin of another colleague. I know this woman, I thought, and kept thinking this until 30 minutes later she suddenly turned to me and said wait, are you from the Netherlands? At which moment it dawned on me: she was my boyfriend’s aunt, the wife of his uncle.

Incriminating Evidence #3: This past weekend we went to Hermel, all the way up in North Lebanon. The road there is bad, very bad, and it was no surprise that one of our tires deflated to the point where we thought we needed to replace it. So we chose a random car-mechanic out of an endless number of them along the road into the city of Baalbeck (at least an hour and a half away from Beirut). A minute later, another car stopped; also had a problem with the tire. While waiting for the mechanic to look at the wheels, Walid and the driver made small talk, and it wasn’t long before one said I’ve seen you before, I think and the other replied yes, you do look very familiar as well. You can see where this is going: what else than they both frequent Barometre, a tiny pub in our neighborhood in Beirut.

Incriminating Evidence #4: Just before returning to the Netherlands at the end of my research period in 2006, a friend gave me the name and phone number of his cousin, Bilal A., because he lives in Holland. Which city he was living in, he didn’t know. I wasn’t looking for random Lebanese friends everywhere, so I never called the guy. Then, one day, I gave a talk on young Lebanese on the ‘Libanon-Day’ in a café in Utrecht, a city in the middle of the Netherlands. As I was packing up my stuff at the end of the afternoon, a young man approached me, telling me he had been on his way to the city center when he passed by the café and since he was from Lebanon, he couldn’t but walk in. He asked to know my name. I asked his. I laughed as he started saying Bilal A…. When I told him I already had his phone number, he wasn’t even surprised. He knew how small this country is.