In an effort to get to know the person who yells at my dog every time she tries to urinate outside his carpet shop, I interviewed the owner, a man who is approaching his eighty-fourth birthday in April. Najib, who prefers to be called Abu Saeed, is a charming man who grew up in Beirut. He and his four siblings grew up in a house in the suburbs of Achrafieh before fleeing to the mountains in the 1980’s. He now resides in an apartment right above his shop in a much quieter area, Hazmieh.


(Image via Old Beirut)

Beirut.com:Why won’t you let me take your picture?

Abu Saeed: I don’t want to be famous, fame gives you a headache.

Beirut.com: Do you remember what the happiest times in Beirut were?

Abu Saeed:We were poor but happy, that’s what I remember – even people who could not afford to buy anything, they had no form of entertainment or a reason for happiness, but still they were happy; you would see everyone smiling. The happiest time was definitely right before the war, businesses were booming and the world was advancing, we were so excited.

Beirut.com:What was a typical Saturday night like?

Abu Saeed:Well, our neighbor bought a television one summer. If you saw it now you would laugh, the screen is small and it had no color, but still it was something amazing. We would all gather at my neighbor’s house and watch Tele Liban, they would air interviews with celebrities at the time. Of course everything was filmed and aired live, and I remember being so fascinated by the fact that all this was happening and we were watching it at the same time.

Beirut.com: What crosses your mind now when you see how your grandchildren live? All the things they have available to them.

Abu Saeed:(Laughs) I always tell my grandson that he can be an astronaut! Everyone now has the ability to go to college and study anything they want. When I was young, you only went to school a few years then the wealthiest people would be able to go to colleges or travel for work. My grandson now can look at any information in the world on his computer.

Beirut.com:What was the biggest struggle you faced?

Abu Saeed:We had many struggles. People struggled with paying rent and providing for their children, then when the war started, our biggest struggle was staying alive. I have six children who used to go to school, and I would make them stay home for weeks at a time because I was scared they would never come home in one piece. It was scary to have boys because they were young and wanted money, so they would join militias and get themselves into trouble – that was always my biggest fear.

Beirut.com: Do you remember your favorite place to go in Beirut?

Abu Saeed:My older brother worked at a shop in downtown Beirut, so I would go and help him. Each time he got paid we would walk to Hamra to the Piccadilly cinema; I think it’s still there. We would watch a movie then walk down to the main street where there was a falafel vendor. My brother would buy us two sandwiches and we would take off again and walk back home. Then when I got married I would take my wife to a hotel in Aley, there would be a new singer there every Saturday and she loved watching the shows. We have been married for sixty years now!

Beirut.com:You have a very handsome face but I can’t imagine having to look at it for sixty years! What is the secret to a happy marriage?

Abu Saeed:(Laughs) who said I am happy?

Beirut.com: Come on…

Abu Saeed:There is no secret, you love and respect the person. People think that divorce is a good solution, but when you love someone there is no divorce. You respect your wife, and you love her – she will always be yours.

Beirut.com:Last question - are you going to start loving my dog and allowing her to urinate in peace without inserting yourself in her business?

Abu Saeed:Your dog is small, like a mouse.

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